Picopad Is A New Open Source Game Console

Microcontrollers are so powerful these days that you can build color handheld games with them that match or exceed what you’d ever get on the Game Boys and Game Gears of yesteryear. The Picopad aims to offer just this, in an open-source hackable format that’s friendly to experimenters.

As you might have guessed from the name, the Picopad is based on the Raspberry Pi Pico and its RP2040 microcontroller. It features four face buttons and a D-pad, along with a small color LCD with a 320×240 resolution. There is also a microSD slot upon which programs can be stored, and also an expansion port with headers for a variety of IO from the RP2040 itself including both GPIOs, serial, I2C and analog input pins. The housing is constructed out of PCBs, with some cheerful gaming artwork adding a fun aesthetic. Development is via a custom C SDK, with support for Micropython as well.

If you want to build your own and don’t fancy starting from scratch, kits are available online. We’ve seen some other great gaming experiments with the Raspberry Pi Pico before, too, like an open-world 3D game and ZX Spectrum emulators. Video after the break.

18 thoughts on “Picopad Is A New Open Source Game Console

  1. I always find it sad to see that people put so much effort in some custom gaming console and then make it practically unusable by using the worst possible buttons.

    Also, 4 directional buttons does not make a dpad.

    1. unless you’re re-using parts from other game controllers, the hardest part of making a dpad like any commercial pad is the rubber membrane between the board and the dpad; we can now 3dprint the actual cross, but the part in the middle is usually specific to the controller

      1. a cross over these clicky button is an acceptable alternative, much better than 4 distinct clicky buttons at least and not hard to do… nothing really beat the old manbrane thing but well, as you say, it’s not something you can build yourself easily, just reuse some from other consoles.

    1. Well, you can buy repair kits for membranes from AliExpress for most if not all consoles gamepads, just search for something along the lines of “nes rubber pads” and be inspired. And i bet you can barter some deal when you need a hundred or even a thousand of them. But at a thousand you could start checking what it would take to get your own ones made.

  2. The “Kits are available online” link doesn’t lead to the kits.

    That’s at https://picopad.eu/en/index.html – US prices are around $42 at current exchange rates, no idea about shipping or even if they do internationally.

    Unfortunately, my days of building hardware (especially surfact mount, which was designed for the very young, robots, and ants) are over due to poor eyesight and shaky hands. If someone has a domestic supplier of pre-built versions, I’d jump at it.

    1. Well, if your definition of Domestic is China… Temu has large numbers of handhelds that run lots of emulators. Wicked Gamer & Collector on YouTube is apparently attempting to review all of them. There’s one class that just emulates the early stuff like SNES and older, perhaps with NEO-GEO and arcades, sometimes with Playstation 1. Another class may do all of that and add N64, PS2, Dreamcast, Saturn, PSP and more advanced arcades. Most of them are really bad at PSP and other consoles of the era. A few of the units he’s reviewed have come quite close to running DC and PS2 at full scoot while still falling in their face with PSP.

      The best of the handhelds are running Batocera Linux but the hardware is a bit underpowered. Batocera is a distro that comes with a ton of freeware console and arcade emulators, with game launchers etc. It’s all game optimized so a decent PC *should* be able to run most anything older than Playstation 4 and Xbox One, with some exceptions for especially demanding games that strained their consoles capabilities.

      Some of the handhelds are running Android with EmuELEC, but for some reason almost all of those have Android and EmuELEC locked down super tight so you can’t access any of the settings to tweak any of the emulators for better performance, or update to newer versions of the emulators.

      Some of these various handhelds do include more than one emulator for some consoles, and let the user select which emulator to use for each game.

  3. I want to like it, but the home grown build system that they’ve come up with is spaghetti code. It’s just a mess of batch files that I just can’t even begin to follow

  4. We chose these buttons in order to minimize costs and make the console accessible to a wider range of users. Our goal was to create an low cost educational device that brings you half the joy just from assembling it yourself, and then allows you to play preloaded games and eventually even program on it. BTW, the entire project was carried out by only two people.

    Regarding the SDK, there are code variants available for VSCode and cmake on GitHub, allowing you to explore and enhance the console according to your own preferences.

    And yes, it’s true! DOOM runs on this! https://twitter.com/svermigo/status/1675028969232515075

    1. Here’s a free idea. Make a D-pad X with a piece of PCB, a small coil spring and a small, solid rivet. Cut the X out of PCB material. Drill a hole in the center of it, so that it’s a quite snug fit for the rivet when it’s plated as a via, or put a grommet in it that the rivet fits snugly into. In the center of the switch button holes in the top layer of the PCB, drill a hole that’s a quite loose fit for the rivet. Insert the rivet up through that hole, place the spring over it. Push the PCB X onto the rivet and solder it.

      To keep the X from rotating there could be a second hole somewhere between the switches and a pin soldered to the bottom of the X. Or instead of an X just use a circle and don’t care if it can rotate.

      This alone could be the subject of a HaD article.

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