Mustachioed Nintendo Virtual Boy Gone Augmented Reality

Some people just want to watch the world burn. Others want to spread peace, joy and mustaches. [Joe Grand] falls into the latter group this time around. His latest creation is Mustache Mayhem, a hack, video game, and art project all rolled into one. This is a bit of a change from deconstructing circuit boards or designing electronic badges, but not completely new for [Joe], who wrote SCSIcide and Ultra SCSIcide for the Atari 2600 back in the early 2000’s.

Mustache Mayhem is built into a Nintendo Virtual Boy housing. The Virtual Boy itself was broken, and unfortunately was beyond repair. [Joe] removed most of the stock electronics and added a BeagleBone Black, Logitech C920 webcam, an LCD screen and some custom electronics. He kept the original audio amplifier, speakers, and controller connector. Angstrom Linux boots into [Joe’s] software, which uses OpenCV to detect faces and overlay mustaches. Gameplay is simple: Point the console at one or more faces. If you see a mustache, press the A button on the controller! The more faces and mustaches on-screen at once, the more points, or “mojo” the player gets. The code is up on Github, and can be built with Xcode targeted to the Mac, or directly on the BeagleBone Black.

[Joe’s] goal for the project was to make a ridiculous game that looks like it could have come out in the 90’s. He also used Mustache Mayhem as a fun way to learn some new skills which will come in handy for more serious projects in the future.

We caught up with [Joe] for a quick interview about his new creation.

How did you come up with the idea for Mustache Mayhem?

blockI was selling a bunch of my video game collection at PRGE (Portland Retro Gaming Expo) a few years ago and had a broken Virtual Boy that no one bought. A friend of mine was at the table and said I had to do something with it. I thought “People wear cosplay and walk around at conventions, so what if I could do something with the Virtual Boy that you could walk around with?” That was the seed.

A few months later, Texas Instruments sent me the original production release of the BeagleBone Black (rev. A5A). Eighteen months after that I actually started the project. The catalyst was to do something for an upcoming Portland, OR art show (Byte Me 4.0), which is an annual event that shows off interactive technology-based artwork. I wrote up a little description and got accepted. I had less than 2 months to actually get things working and it ended up taking about a month of full-time work. It was much more work than I expected for such a silly project. I originally was going to do something along the lines of walking around in a Doom-like perspective and shooting people when their faces were detected.

That would be pretty darn cool. How did you get from Doom to Mustaches? 

I saw a TI BeagleBoard demo called “boothstache” which drew mustaches on faces and tweeted the pictures. I thought that doing something non-violent with mustaches would be more suitable (and funny) to actually show my kids. I also secretly wanted to use this project as a way to experiment with Linux, write some code, and learn about face detection and image processing with OpenCV, which I plan to use for some actual computer security research in the future. Mustache Mayhem turned out to be a super cool project and I’m really happy with it. I sort of feel guilty spending so much time on it, since it’s basically just a one-off prototype, but I just got so obsessed with making it exactly as I wanted.

You mentioned on your website that Mustache was “designed to challenge the paradigms of personal privacy and entertainment.” What exactly did you mean there?

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Giving the VirtualBoy a VGA out


Nintendo’s VirtualBoy – the odd console-inside-a-pair-of-goggles  and arguable ancestor of Nintendo’s 3DS – was a marvelous piece of technology for its time. In a small tabletop unit, you were able to play true 3D video games at an impressive 384 x 224 pixel resolution. Of course the VirtualBoy was a complete failure, but that doesn’t mean hardware tinkerers are leaving this wonderful system to video game collectors. [furrtek] has been playing around with his VirtualBoy and managed to add VGA out.

As a 3D system with two displays, any sort of video out was rightfully ignored by the VirtualBoy system designers. Still, [furrtek] wanted some sort of video out on his system, so he began poking around with a small FPGA board to generate some VGA signals.

The two displays inside the VirtualBoy aren’t your normal LCD display – as seen in this iFixit teardown. they’re really two linear LED arrays that generate a single line of 244 pixels, with mirrors scanning the line in the in the Y axis. These LED arrays are controlled by the VirtualBoy CPU through a series of shift registers, and by carefully tapping the lines of each LED array, [furrtek] was able to copy all the image data into the RAM of an FPGA.

After stuffing an XESS XULA-200 FPGA board inside the case of his VirtualBoy, [furrtek] wired up a few resistors for a DAC and installed a VGA out port on the underside of his console. Everything worked the first time he powered it up, and he began playing his VirtualBoy on his big screen TV.

Because [furrtek] is only reading one of the VirtualBoy’s displays, all the 3D data – and the main feature of the VirtualBoy – is lost when it’s displayed on a TV. 3D TVs do exist, though, and we’d love to see an improved version of this that captures data from both of the VirtualBoy displays.

You can see [furrtek]’s video of his mod in action below.

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