FPGA plays Mario like a champ

fpga-controls-mario-bros

This isn’t an FPGA emulating Mario Bros., it’s an FPGA playing the game by analyzing the video and sending controller commands. It’s a final project for an engineering course. The ECE5760 Advanced FPGA course over at Cornell University that always provides entertainment for us every time the final projects are due.

Developed by team members [Jeremy Blum], [Jason Wright], and [Sima Mitra], the video parsing is a hack. To get things working they converted the NES’s 240p video signal to VGA. This resulted in a rolling frame show in the demo video. It also messes with the aspect ratio and causes a few other headaches but the FPGA still manages to interpret the image correctly.

Look closely at the screen capture above and you’ll see some stuff that shouldn’t be there. The team developed a set of tests used to determine obstacles in Mario’s way. The red lines signify blocks he will have to jump over. This also works for pits that he needs to avoid, with a different set of tests to detect moving enemies. Once it knows what to do the FPGA emulates the controller signals necessary, pushing them to the vintage gaming console to see him safely to the end of the first level.

We think this is more hard-core than some other autonomous Mario playing hacks just because it patches into the original console hardware instead of using an emulator.

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Teaching a computer to play Mario… seemingly through voodoo

computer-learning-mario

Some people know [Tom Murphy] as [Dr. Tom Murphy VII Ph.D.] and this hack makes it obvious that he earned those accolades. He decided to see if he could teach a computer to win at Super Mario Bros. But he went about it in a way that we’d bet is different that 99.9% of readers would first think of. The game doesn’t care about Mario, power-ups, or really even about enemies. It’s simply looking at the metrics which indicate you’re doing well at the game, namely score and world/level.

The link above includes his whitepaper, but we think you’ll want to watch the 16-minute video (after the break) before trying to tackle that. In the clip he explains the process in laymen’s terms which so far is the only part we really understand (hence the reference to voodoo in the title). His program uses heuristics to assemble a set of evolving controller inputs to drive the scores ever higher. In other words, instead of following in the footstep of Minesweeper solvers or Bejeweled Blitz bots which play as a human would by observing the game space, his software plays the game over and over, learning what combinations of controller inputs result in success and which do not. The image to the right is a graph of it’s learning progress. Makes total sense, huh?

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X-Labs hackerspace completes a big 2-year Tesla coil build

x-labs-tesla-coil-build

It’s a bit difficult to estimate the size of the Tesla coil from this picture, but look closely at the hand rail on the red-orange wall to the left and that helps. The 10-foot tall musical Tesla Coil project has been on-going for about two years. But the team at X-Labs — a hackerspace affiliated with the University of South Florida — finished it just in time for the University’s engineering expo later in the month. There’s some information about it to be found in the recent student newspaper article on the project. A lot more build details are found on the groups website, although that post is quite old.

You can’t call it a musical coil unless there’s a demo video, and that can be seen after the jump. What better to test the thing than by playing the Super Mario Bros. theme? We’re actually more partial to the Imperial March (it’s also fun to hear played on stepper motors).

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Kitchen timer makes Mario your Sous-chef

[Alan] was unimpressed by the cheap ticking egg timers that grace many of our kitchens. He decided this was an execllent opportunity to ply his skills with microcontrollers. He built this kitchen timer complete with an enclosure and audible alarm.

The device is Arduino based, which makes driving the graphic LCD quite easy thanks the libraries associated with that platform. As you can see above, his user interface makes use of virtual buttons – three tactile switches whose function is listed at the top of the display.

But we think the alarm sound really earns this a place in his kitchen. He used the same hardware as that that Super Mario Bros. Toilet project to play classic video game sounds when your soufflé needs come out of the oven. We haven’t come across them ourselves, but apparently there’s a line of key chains for sale in Japan (yes, we need to plan a trip there!) that have the tunes programmed into them. They’re easy to crack open and it beats dealing with a speaker and amp circuit.

Hackaday Links: April 16, 2011

Induction cook top provides power too

We’re familiar with induction cook tops but we never thought to power a microcontroller with one. [Thanks Hadez]

Ping-Pong Uranium

We’ve been big fans of the chain reaction demonstration using ping-pong balls and mouse traps ever since we saw [Mr. Wizard] do it back in the day. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, check out this demonstration that is analogous of a fission reaction. [Thanks nateL]

Phone tripod enclosure

If you’re interested in using your smart phone for some photography, [Mike] has a nice wood and elastic mount for an iPhone which you might try yourself.

Bicycle snow tires

Admittedly we’re a bit late on this one. But keep it in mind for next year: you can use some zip ties for added traction on your bike when it snows. [Thanks Rob]

Now you can BE mario

A little Kinect script lets this gentleman play Super Mario Bros. with his body. Now you can have all the fun that goes along with being a pixellated character stuck in a two-dimensional environment (plus, there are shrooms). [Thanks Das_Coach via Slashdot]

AI via Super Mario evolution

Can Super Mario teach you to think? That’s the idea behind using a simple version of the game to teach artificial intelligence. [Oddball] calls this The Mario Genome and wrote at program that can take on the level with just two controls, right and jump. He gave the script 1000 Marios to run through the level. It then eliminates the 500 least successful and procreates back to 1000 using the 500 most successful. In this way the program completed the level in 1935 generations and completed it in the quickest possible time in 7705 generations. He’s posted the script for download so that you can try it yourself. It’s an interesting exercise we’d love to see applied to more random games, like Ms. Pac-Man.

[via Reddit]

Halloween Prop: Mario Bros. with full sound effects

Creativity abounds in putting together this pair of Super Mario Bros. costumes. [Rob] and his wife didn’t stop with a well-assembled troupe of familiar wardrobe items, but decided to go for authentic sound effects as well. It started by finding a few of his favorite Mario sounds on the Internet. From there he grabbed a greeting card that allows you to record several message. He recorded each of the sounds and removed the electronics from the card. From there an Arduino mini was connected to the playback buttons and to a Wii nunchuck. After the break you can see that when the kids press a button, the card plays back the sound of jumping, shooting fireballs, etc. So far it’s the best use of an audio greeting card that we think eclipses its intended use.

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