HoloLens NES Emulator For Augmented Retro Gaming

[Andrew Peterson] was looking for a way to indulge in his retro gaming passions in a more contemporary manner. His 3D NES emulator “N3S” for Windows brings Nintendo classics to the HoloLens, turning pixels into voxels, and Super Mario into an augmented reality gingerbread man.

To run NES games on the HoloLens, [Andrew’s] emulator uses the Nestopia libretro core. Since AR glasses cry for an augmentation of the game itself, the N3S re-emulates the NES’ picture processing unit (PPU), allowing it to interpret a Nintendo game’s graphics in a 3D space. [Andrew] also put together a comprehensive explanation of how the original Nintendo PPU works, and how he re-implemented it for the HoloLens.

The current version of the N3S PPU emulator automatically generates voxels by simply extruding the original pattern data from the game’s ROM, but [Andrew] is thinking about more features. Users could sculpt their own 3D versions of the original graphic elements in an inbuilt editor, and model sets could then be made available in an online database. From there, players would just download 3D mods for their favorite games and play them on the HoloLens.

According to [Andrew], the emulator reaches the limits of what the current pre-production version of the HoloLens can render fluently, so the future of this project may depend on future hardware generations. Nevertheless, the HoloLens screen capture [Andrew] recorded makes us crave for more augmented retro gaming. Enjoy the video!

Calculator Built In Super Mario Level. Mamma Mia!

Most people use the Super Mario Maker to, well, create Super Mario game levels. [Robin T] decided to try something a little different: building a working calculator. Several hundred hours later, he created the Cluttered Chaos Calculator, which definitely lives up to the name. What this Super Mario level contains is a 3-bit digital computer which can add two numbers between 0 and 7, all built from the various parts that the game offers. To use it, the player enters two numbers by jumping up in a grid, then they sit back and enjoy the ride as Mario is carried through the process, until it finally spits out the answer in a segment display.

It’s not going to be winning any supercomputer prizes, as it takes about two minutes to add the two digits. But it is still an incredibly impressive build, and shows what a dedicated hacker can do with a few simple tools and a spiny shell or two.

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FPGA plays Mario like a champ


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


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

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]