38 Years Later, The Atari 2600 Learns To Speak

Back in the early 1980s, there was a certain fad in making your computer produce something resembling human speech. There were several hardware solutions to this, adding voices to everything from automated telephone systems to video game consoles, all the way to Steve Jobs using the gimmick to introduce Macintosh to the world in 1984. In 1982, a software-based version of this synthesis was released for the Atari 8-bit line of computers, and ever since them [rossumur] has wondered whether or not it could run on the very constrained 2600.

Fast-forward 38 years and he found out that the answer was that yes, it was indeed possible to port a semblance of the original 1982 Software Automatic Mouth (or SAM) to run entirely on the Atari 2600, without any additional hardware. To be able to fit such a seemingly complicated piece of software into the paltry 128 bytes (yes, bytes) of RAM, [rossumur] actually uses an authoring tool in order to pre-calculate the allophones, and store only those in the ROM. This way, the 2600 alone can’t convert text to phonemes, but there’s enough space left for the allophones, which are converted into sound, that about two minutes of speech can fit into one cartridge. As for why he went through the trouble, we quote the author himself: “Because creating digital swears with 1982 speech synthesis technology on a 1977 game console is exactly what we need right now.”

For this project, [rossumur] has written an incredibly interesting article on speech synthesis in order to explain the SAM engine used here. And this isn’t his first time on the website either, always cramming software where it shouldn’t fit, such as a “Netflix”-like streaming service, or 8-bit console emulators, both on nothing but an ESP32 microcontroller. Check this one out in action after the break.

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Appeasing Chicken Tastes With 3D Printing

Like most of us, [Hunter] and his partner [Katyrose] have been in quarantine for the past few months. Unlike most of us, they spun a 3D printed chicken playground design hackathon out of their self-isolation. The idea is simple: to build a playground full of toys custom-tailored to appease each chicken’s distinctive taste. The execution, however, can be proven a little tricky given that chickens are very unpredictable.

For each of the four select chickens in their coop, the couple designed separate toys based on their perceived interests. One, showing a fondness for worms, inspired the construction of a tree adorned with rice noodles in place of the living article, and moss to top it off. For late-night entertainment, the tree is printed in glow-in-the-dark filament. The others were presented with a print-in-place rotating mirror disguised as a flower, and a pecking post covered in peanut butter and corn. As a finishing piece, the fourth toy is designed as a jungle gym post with a reward of bread at the top for the chicken who dares climb it. Since none of the chickens seemed interested in it, they were eventually hand-fed the bread.

With no other entries to their hackathon, [Hunter] declared themselves as the winners. The 3D files for their designs are available for their patrons to print, should they have their own chicken coops they want to adorn. While the hackathon might’ve been a success for them, their chickens in particular seemed unimpressed with their new toys, only going to show that the only difference between science and messing around is writing it down, or in this case, filming the process. If you’re looking for other ways to integrate your chickens into the maker world, check out this Twitch-enabled chicken feeder, or this home automation IoT chicken coop door. Meanwhile, check out the video about their findings after the break.

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No, The Nintendo Leak Won’t Help Emulator Developers, And Here’s Why

If you haven’t heard from other websites yet, earlier this year a leak of various Nintendo intellectual properties surfaced on the Internet. This included prototype software dating back to the Game Boy, as well as Verilog files for systems up to the Nintendo 64, GameCube and Wii. This leak seems to have originated from a breach in the BroadOn servers, a small hardware company Nintendo had contracted to make, among other things, the China-only iQue Player.

So, that’s the gist of it out of the way, but what does it all mean? What is the iQue Player? Surely now that a company’s goodies are out in the open, enthusiasts can make use of it and improve their projects, right? Well, no. A lot of things prevent that, and there’s more than enough precedent for it that, to the emulation scene, this was just another Tuesday.

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Nintendo Switch Laptop Isn’t As BASIC As It Looks

Remember the days when computers booted up straight into a BASIC screen, where theoretically you could program yourself a full game without any further software needed? Well, in reality most of us were amused enough making it print “butts” over and over again, but there are those who are adept in the dark arts of making impressive things with such a limited language. [Bugtaro] is one of those people, and to help with his game development in SmileBASIC 4 on the Nintendo Switch, he built himself a dock that turns it into a laptop with an integrated keyboard.

Details on the build are scarce as it’s only outlined in his Twitter account, but there’s enough to give us an idea about what it’s composed of. The Switch slides into the top just like the official dock it comes with, and the laptop shell takes advantage of those functions. Inside it is a 5000 mAh battery to extend the portable life of the whole ensemble, plus a USB hub which gives it its built-in keyboard and allows for a mouse to be plugged in as well. The laptop also gives the Switch its docked TV output mode and can hold the Joy-cons slotted on its sides.

This project would pass for any other case mod here at Hackaday if it weren’t for the fact that [Bugtaro] is in fact a programmer that has been releasing BASIC software on Japanese magazines since the 1980s and worked on several cult classic Mega Drive games with Wolf Team and NexTech during the 1990s. His latest game is GIVERS P3D, a game programmed in SmileBASIC using a 3D engine of his own design and one of the flagship games for the platform. It would be interesting to see if more SmileBASIC programmers end up coming up with their own solutions to aid their development experience following this project.

If you’re interested in the possibilities of custom-made Switch docks like these but don’t fancy giving it a keyboard, how about this one that wraps a Gamecube controller around the screen? And if you don’t have a Switch yet and are looking for a bigger challenge, well, you can make your own from scratch.

[Via GoNintendo]

Doom Clone Shows What An Alternate-Reality Amiga Could’ve Had

Can you run Doom on the Amiga? No, not really, and arguably that was one of the causes for the computer’s demise in the mid-90s as it failed to catch up on the FPS craze of the PC world. [Krzysztof Kluczek] of the Altair demogroup has managed not exactly to remedy that status with the original article, but to show us how a potential contender could’ve been designed for the unexpanded Amiga hardware back in the day.

Many developers tried to emulate the thrill and ambiance of the id Software shooter, but they all required high-end Amigas with faster processors and expanded memory, limiting their player base on an already diminished demographic. Not only that, but even with fancier hardware, none of them quite managed to match how well Doom ran on your run-of-the-mill 486 at the time. [Krzysztof] isn’t trying to port Doom itself, but instead creating an engine custom-designed to take advantage of, and minding the limitations of the OCS Amiga as it existed in 1987. The result is Dread, a 2.5D engine that resembles the SNES port of Doom and uses assets from the Freedoom project in order to remain copyright-abiding.

It might not be Doom, but it’s a good peek at what the 33-year old hardware could’ve done in the right hands back then. Technically it already surpasses what the Wolfenstein 3D engine could do, so there’s an idea if someone ever aims to make a straight up port instead of their own game. If you like seeing Doom run on machines it wasn’t meant to, boy do we have some posts for you. Otherwise, stick around after the break for two videos of Dread’s engine being demonstrated.

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Time Enough At Last: Reviving An Heirloom Typewriter

You may find yourself living in interesting times. The world we knew two months ago is gone, and there is time enough at last, to finally go through those projects we’ve been putting off for one reason or another. Today, I wanted to explore and possibly repair an old unidentified typewriter that belonged to my late aunt for many decades.

A small disclaimer though, I am not an avid typewriter collector or connoisseur. I enjoy looking at them and using them, but by no stretch of the imagination I want to claim to be an expert in their history or inner workings — I’m a hacker after all. What follows is a layman’s adventure into her first typewriter repair, an exciting tale that explores typewriter anatomy and troubleshooting. Let’s dig in.

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Checking In On Relatives Using Old Android Tablets

With social distancing it can be harder to stay in touch with our relatives, especially those who are elderly and not particularly tech-savvy. Looking for a solution to that end for his own grandmother, [Steve] came up with the idea of using an inexpensive used tablet and a mobile data plan in order to mail her a “video phone” that works out of the box.

This method requires zero button presses in order to pick up a video call.

Since the tablet is configured to use cellular networks rather than WiFi, it requires no setup process at all to the recipient. And with the Android version of Skype, it’s possible to configure it so that calls are automatically picked up and video chat enabled. That way, whoever gets the tablet after it’s prepared doesn’t have to tap a single button on the screen in order to receive a call.

[Steve] has also developed the simple idea into a full-fledged easy-to-follow tutorial so that just about anyone is able to replicate the process for their own loved ones. And if you’re still having any trouble with it, there’s a team of volunteers right on the website who can help you with tech support. Just remember to disinfect whatever device you’re sending, since viruses can typically stick to surfaces like plastic and glass for longer.

Now, if showing up to your relatives as a disembodied video screen doesn’t cut it for you, then you might want to send them something more substantial like this cute little telepresence robot that can drive around on a desk.