NES Light Gun Turned (Video) Synthesizer

[Russell Kramer] made our day today. We’re tremendous fans of minimalism in electronics design, dirty noise hacks, and that old NES  light gun. He’s posted up a project that combines all three to make a light-gun controlled, VGA video display that makes bleepy-bloopy noises to boot. Check out the video below!

To appreciate this hack, you really need to read through the project logs in detail. Start with the VGA signal creation, for instance. The easiest way to go these days is to throw a microcontroller at the problem. But because he’s done that to death, [Russell] takes a step back thirty years and generates the sync pulses periodically with a relaxation oscillator and a binary counter IC. The rest of the build follows this aesthetic choice: everything is op amps and CMOS logic. The rainbow effect, for instance, is created from the audio signal through a three-stage, 120-degree phase-shift oscillator sent to the R, G, and B channels. Kudos!

The high-level overview is that the light intensity and position hitting the gun’s sensor is converted into a voltage that drives an audio-frequency oscillator. This audio output is then piped back into the video generator. Watching the video, it’s obvious that pointing the gun at different parts of the screen changes the pitch, but playing a given pitch is nearly impossible on this thing with all the feedback going on. [Russell] added a bit of more control into the system — when the gun’s trigger is pulled, it registers full-brightness regardless of the video input — but even so, we’d be hard-pressed to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.

But that’s not the point. The point is awesome, light-gun-waving noisy madness set to a responsive colorful video background. And that’s been achieved in spades!

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Giving The Pi Zero USB, Ethernet, And Serial Over USB

Just as the USB port on your phone can serve as a serial connection, mass storage device, and a network connection, the Pi Zero can do the same. We’ve seen a few people turn the Zero into a single USB gadget, but what about turning the Zero into a USB HID device, network connection, and serial port all at the same time? That’s what [Tobias] did, and his method is even easier than the old one.

The old method of turning the Pi Zero into a USB device required the user to modify and recompile the kernel. Obviously, this isn’t an ideal solution. [Tobias]’ implementation fixes this by putting everything into userland. Everything is configurable through a script and a few tweaks to how the Pi starts up.

The result is a Raspberry Pi Zero that will appear as any USB peripheral. [Tobias] goes through the usual examples: setting the Pi up as a serial device for hacking and code cracking in a terminal, as an Ethernet device to give the Pi Zero networking capabilities, as a keyboard to send keypresses to another computer, and as a mass storage device so that other computers can read a small portion of the Pi’s SD card.

There are plenty more USB gadgets the Pi can emulate, from printers to audio devices to MIDI adapters to webcams. If you can wrap your head around what a Pi Zero could do when configured as one of these devices, drop a note in the comments.