Clone Console Cribs Ben Heck’s Classic SNES Caché

“I don’t get mad when people rip me off. I actually think its kinda cool, because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” — Ben Heckendorn

For some “hacking things together” can mean heavily borrowing from other’s work in order to make a new, derivative work. Though longtime hardware hacker, Ben Heckendorn, didn’t expect one of his early SNES handheld projects to become the inspiration for a Famicom-style clone console. There have been a number of clone consoles available online for years, and all have been made to varying levels of build quality. The subject clone console in question is called the Easegmer 12-bit Retro Console, so [Ben] decided to record his teardown of the handheld borrowing from his original design. (Video, embedded below.)

The Easegmer handheld has a “surprising” list of features according to its packaging including: sports games, logic games, memoyr games, USB charger management, double power supply option, and dirunal double backlight option. All big (and slightly misspelled) promises though the most egregious claim has to be that, “No violent games, your child’s body and mind get full exercise.”. The statement may have a modicum of truth to it, except for the fact that game 84 of 220 is literally named “Violent”. Dunking aside, the handheld does feature a standard size rechargeable battery in addition to the option of powering the device with three AAA batteries. There’s even a “fun size” screwdriver and a few replacement screws included which is more than you can say for most modern electronics.

It has been almost twenty years after [Ben] originally published his SNES portable project on his website. So as a long awaited follow-up, [Ben] plans to make a “meta-portable”. This meta portable will start with the Adobe Illustrator files he kept from that SNES portable in 2001 and incorporate pieces of the Easegmer clone console. Thus spawning a new clone of the clone of his clone…or whatever that project ends up being its sure to be worth repeating.

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Zelda II Redux ROM Hack Plays How You Remember The Original

Going back to classic games can be a difficult experience. The forward passage of time leaves technology to stagnate, while the memories attached to those old games can morph in mysterious ways. Therein lies the problem with how you remember a game playing versus the reality of how it actually does. Developer [Jorge] saw that situation arising around Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, and it inspired him to create the Zelda II Redux ROM hack.

Years in the making, Zelda II Redux takes a relatively light-handed approach to revising the original NES game. Graphical enhancements include: a reworked HUD complete with the series’ tradition of hearts, animated enemy icons in the over world, a new title screen, and giving Link the shield from the Famicom Disk System release’s box art. Text speed has been increased and a revised translation of the Japanese script has been incorporated. Under the hood, all sorts of boss battles have been re-balanced while casting magic spells doesn’t require multiple return trips to the pause menu. Though Zelda II Redux’s most important feature may be the inclusion of manual saving via “Up + A” on the pause menu. There are also a whole host of other changes Zelda II Redux incorporates in order to bring Link’s second adventure more inline with the rest of the Legend of Zelda series that can be found on the project’s change log.

To play Zelda II Redux requies an IPS patching program, like LunarIPS, along with a clean dumped image of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Dumping NES cartridges is easier than ever these days due to many cartridge dumper devices being plug-and-play over USB. A successfully patched ROM file can be played in an emulator or on actual NES hardware through a flash cart. A video of a tool-assisted speedrun has been included below, so there may be some new strategies to employ.
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Xbox Series S Teardown Shows A Glimpse At The Future

Console launch season is upon us. A time for billion dollar corporations ingratiate themselves with “Johnny Consumer” by promising the future of entertainment is finally available to one-and-all. The focus of this new generation of consoles has been the battle for 4K supremacy between Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. Interestingly, Microsoft also created another iteration of their Xbox Series for those satisfied with games in 1080p, and thanks to [Dimitris] we have been able to see the internals of the Xbox Series S (XSS).

Xbox Series S Teardown SSD Photo
The Xbox Series S features standard m.2 slot that could be used for future storage expansion.

Microsoft’s choice to produce an all-digital console has greatly affected the internal design of the XSS. With the lack of a disc-drive there is only a single cable, the fan cable, tying the components together. The heat sink covering the 197mm² AMD APU takes up nearly 60% of the motherboard surface area. Though the XSS may be diminutive by modern console standards, its cooling fan is huge, somewhere in the 140 mm range. What little space is left by the heat sink and fan assembly is taken up by the internal power supply. As a fun nod, the PSU sports a Master Chief insignia to denote the location of the two-pronged connector beneath.

On the underside of the motherboard lies the biggest surprise of the “little brother” console. The system storage SSD is socketed rather than directly soldered to the board itself. The primary design goal of the XSS was to provide a cheaper alternative for players, but this standard m.2 slot reveals that Microsoft has plans for future expansion. This SSD, while not user-accessible in a traditional sense, will likely provide an alternative method to expanding storage outside of Microsoft’s proprietary external offerings. For a look at the teardown in process, [Dimitris’] video from his Modern Vintage Gamer YouTube channel is below.

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Console Identity In The Age Of PlayStation 5 And Xbox Series

Consoles are obsolete the minute they are released. The onward march of silicon innovation ensures that consoles never are able to keep up with the times, but technical superiority rarely results in being remembered. That kind of legacy is defined by the experiences a device provides. A genre defining game, a revolutionary approach to media, or a beloved controller can be enough to sway popular opinion. But really…it all boils down to a box. All the spurious promises of world-class hardware specs, all the overly ambitious software ship dates, and even the questionable fast-food crossover promotions exist in service to the box. The boxes vying for attention in 2020 A.D. are the PlayStation 5 (PS5) and Xbox Series X/S/Seriessss (XSX or whatever the common nomenclature eventually shakes out to be). These boxes likely represent the minimum spec for the next decade in big-budget video games, however, it is the core identity of those consoles that will define the era.

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3D Print A Piece Of Nintendo History Before The Real One Is Gone

Nintendo wasn’t always in the videogames business. Long before Mario, the company was one of the foremost producers of Hanafuda playing cards in Japan. From 1930 until 1959, Nintendo ran its printing business from a four-story art deco style building that featured distinctive plaques at the front entrance. We now have a chance to print those former Nintendo HQ plaques at home thanks to [Mr. Talida] who shared some 3D models on Twitter. Talida, a self-described “retro video game archivist”, recreated the plaques via photogrammetry from a number of reference photos he took from a visit to the Kyoto site late last year.

These 3D models come at a crucial time as the old Nintendo HQ building, which sat dormant for years, is set to be turned into a boutique hotel next year. According to JPC, the hotel will feature twenty rooms, a restaurant, and a gym and is expected to be completed by summer 2021 (although that estimate was from the “before” times). The renovation is expected to retain as much of the original exterior’s appearance as possible, but the Nintendo plaques almost assuredly will not be included. For a first-person tour of the former Nintendo headquarters building, there is a video from the world2529 YouTube channel provided below.

It is encouraging to see examples of this DIY-style of historical preservation. Many companies have proven themselves to be less-than-stellar stewards of their own history. Though if his Twitter timeline is any indication, [Mr. Talida] is up to something further with this photogrammetry project. A video export exhibiting a fully textured 3D model of the old Nintendo headquarters’ entrance was published recently along with the words, “What have I done.”

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Raspberry Pi 4 And The State Of Video Game Emulation

The modern ideal of pixel art is a fallacy. Videogame art crammed onto cartridges and floppy discs were beholden to the CRT display technology of their day. Transmitting analog video within the confines of dingy yellow-RCA-connector-blur, the images were really just a suggestion of on-screen shapes rather than clearly defined graphics. Even when using the superior RGB-video-over-SCART cables, most consumer grade CRT televisions never generated more than about 400 lines, so the exacting nature of digitized plots became a fuzzy raster when traced by an electron beam. It wasn’t until the late 90s when the confluence of high resolution PC monitors, file sharing, and open source emulation software that the masses saw pixels for the sharp square blocks of color that they are.

More importantly, emulation software is not restricted to any one type of display technology any more than the strata of device it runs on. The open-source nature of videogame emulators always seems to congregate around the Lowest Common Denominator of devices, giving the widest swath of gamers the chance to play. Now, that “L.C.D.” may very well be the Raspberry Pi 4. The single board computer’s mix of tinker-friendly IO at an astonishingly affordable entry price has made it a natural home for emulators, but at fifty bucks what options unlock within the emulation scene?

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MDFourier Project Seeks The Genesis Of SEGA 16-bit Sound

It always sounded a bit crunchy, but crunchy in a good way. SEGA’s 16-bit console, whether you call it the Genesis or Mega Drive, always had a unique sound thanks to it’s Yamaha YM2612 sound chip. The chip’s ability to reproduce shredding guitars and blasting bass drums was a joy to hear when placed in the hands of capable game developers. Games such as Toe Jam & Earl, Streets of Rage 2, and Sonic the Hedgehog 3 provided some of the most incredible game soundtracks of the ’90s; and while the retail shelf life of those games may have passed, their influence on sound design should not. One individual that is seeking to preserve that quintessential SEGA sound is [Artemio] whose MDFourier project seeks to capture it for future generations to hear.

Sega Mega Drive model 1 motherboard. (Bertram, Wikimedia Commons)

MDFourier is a crowd sourced project. Users are asked to use two pieces of software to first generate common audio through a videogame console, and another to analyze the output as to form an audio signature of that machine. Of course SEGA were not always known for their stellar manufacturing record. Throughout the dozen or so board revisions of the Model 1 console there were factory bodge wires, there was also the Model 2 console, Model 3 console, Nomad handheld, Mega Jet, CDX/Multi-Mega, and Wondermega karaoke machine. Each new revision of machine created a slightly new soundscape, and no single piece of emulation software takes them all into account. [Artemio] wants to aggregate all of this data in order to improve SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive emulators, FPGA implementations, or whatever else the future may hold.

Fans of the suite of SEGA consoles, or even fans of great documentation, can take a look at some of initial results as well as the written procedure for contributing to the MDFourier project. For those seeking a more visual step-by-step approach there is this video from YouTube channel RetroRGB below: If you’d like that Sega sound for your MIDI instrument, take a look at this MIDI synth using a Genesis sound chip.

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