Arduboy On The Big Screen

We’re big fans of the Arduboy here at Hackaday, but we’ll admit its tiny screen isn’t exactly ideal for long gaming sessions. There are some DIY builds of the open source handheld that use a larger SPI OLED display, though you’re relatively limited on what kind of changes can be made to the hardware before the games start balking. But as [Nick Bild] shows with his Arduboy home console, hacking the core system library opens up a lot of interesting possibilities.

Games written for the Arduboy make use of a common library that handles all the low-level hardware stuff, which includes a display() function to push the graphical data out to an SPI-connected OLED display. What [Nick] has done is re-write that function to instead output to a custom VGA generator running on the TinyFPGA BX. He had to delete support for the Arduboy’s RGB LEDs because he needed the extra pins, but that shouldn’t cause much of a problem in terms of software support.

This does mean that games need to be recompiled against the modified library to work on his hardware, but as the vast majority of Arduboy software is open source anyway, that’s not much of a problem. We particularly like the Super Game Boy style borderĀ  you get around the display at no extra cost.

At this point the hardware looks less like a console and more like a breadboard filled with jumpers, so we’re interested in seeing this project taken to its logical conclusion. A custom PCB, enclosure, and possibly even support for using the original NES controllers would turn this into proper system worthy of any hacker’s game room. You could even put the games on custom cartridges if you wanted, though a flash chip that holds the system’s entire library would be quite a bit more convenient.

Arduboy FX Mod-Chip: Now You’re Playing With Power

Traditionally, a forum full of technical users trying integrate their own hardware into a game system for the purposes of gaining unfettered access to its entire software library was the kind of thing that would keep engineers at Sony and Nintendo up at night. The development and proliferation of so called “mod chips” were an existential threat to companies that made their money selling video games, and as such, sniffing out these console hackers and keeping their findings from going public for as long as possible was a top priority.

But the Arduboy is no traditional game system. Its games are distributed for free, so a chip that allows users to cram hundreds of them onto the handheld at once isn’t some shady attempt to pull a fast one on the developers, it’s a substantial usability improvement over the stock hardware. So when Arduboy creator Kevin Bates found out about the grassroots effort to expand the system’s internal storage on the official forums, he didn’t try to put a stop to it. Instead, he asked how he could help make it a reality for as many Arduboy owners as possible.

Now, a little less than three years after forum member Mr.Blinky posted his initial concept for hanging an external SPI flash chip on the system’s test pads, the official Arduboy FX Mod-Chip has arrived. Whether you go the DIY route and build your own version or buy the ready-to-go module, one thing is for sure: it’s a must-have upgrade for the Arduboy that will completely change how you use the diminutive handheld.

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Arduboy Gets Even Smaller With New Nano Edition

One of the selling points of the Arduboy is how slim [Kevin Bates] was able to get the Arduino-compatible game system, which is perhaps less surprising when you realize that it originally started out as a design for an electronic business card. But compared to the recently unveiled Nano version, it might as well be the old school “brick” Game Boy.

Now to be clear, [Kevin] isn’t looking to put these into official production. Though it does sound like the bare PCBs might be going up for sale in the near future. This was simply an experiment to see how far he could shrink the core Arduboy hardware while still keeping it not only playable but also code-compatible with the full-size version. While “playable” might be a tad subjective in this case, the video after the break clearly demonstrates that it’s fully functional.

Inside the 3D printed case is the same ATmega32U4 that powers the Arduboy, a 64×32 0.49″ OLED display, and a tiny 25 mAh pouch battery. There’s even a miniature piezo speaker for the bleeps and bloops. All of the pinouts have remained the same so existing code can be moved right over, though the screen is now connected over I2C. [Kevin] has released the schematics for the board in keeping with the general open nature of the Arduboy project, though for now he’s decided to hold onto the board files until it’s clear whether or not there’s a commercial future for the Nano.

We’ve seen attempts to shrink the Arduboy down before, most notably down to the point it could fit inside of a Dreamcast Visual Memory Unit, but the Nano certainly raises (or is that lowers?) the bar considerably.

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Official Arduboy Upgrade Module Nears Competition

We’ve been big fans of the Arduboy since [Kevin Bates] showed off the first prototype back in 2014. It’s a fantastic platform for making and playing simple games, but there’s certainly room for improvement. One of the most obvious usability issues has always been that the hardware can only hold one game at a time. But thanks to the development of an official add-on, the Arduboy will soon have enough onboard storage to hold hundreds of games

Even the rear silkscreen was a community effort.

The upgrade takes the form of a small flexible PCB that gets soldered to existing test points on the Arduboy. Equipped with a W25Q128 flash chip, the retrofit board provides an additional 16 MB of flash storage to the handheld’s ATmega32u4 microcontroller; enough to hold essentially every game and program ever written for the platform at once.

Of course, wiring an SPI flash chip to the handheld’s MCU is only half the battle. The system also needs to have its bootloader replaced with one that’s aware of this expanded storage. To that end, the upgrade board also contains an ATtiny85 that’s there to handle this process without the need for an external programmer. While this is a luxury the average Hackaday reader could probably do without, it’s a smart move for an upgrade intended for a wider audience.

The upgrade board is currently available for pre-order, but those who know their way around a soldering iron and a USBasp can upgrade their own hardware right now by following along with the technical discussion between [Kevin] and the community in the “Project Falcon” forum. In fact, the particularly astute reader may notice that this official upgrade has its roots in the community-developed Arduboy cartridge we covered last year.

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3D Printing For Wire Paths Yields An Arduboy Minus The PCB

What is part way between a printed circuit board and a rats-nest of point-to-point wiring? We’re not sure, but this is it. [Johan von Konow] has come up with an inspired solution, 3D printing an Arduboy case with channels ready-made for all the wires. The effect with his 3DPCBoy is of a PCB without the PCB, and allows the console to be made very quickly and cheaply.

The Arduboy — which we originally looked at back in 2014 — is a handheld gaming console in a somewhat Gameboy-like form factor. Normally a credit-card sized PCB hosts all the components, including a microcontroller, display, and buttons. Each has a predictable footprint and placement so they can simply be wired together with hookup wire, if you don’t mind a messy result.

Here the print itself has all the holes ready-created for the components, and the path of the wires has a resemblance to the sweeping traces of older hand-laid PCBs. The result is very effective way to take common components — and Arduino pro micro board for the uC, an OLED breakout board, and some buttons — and combine them into a robust package. This technique of using 3D prints as a combination of enclosure and substrate for components and wiring has an application far beyond handheld gaming. We look forward to seeing more like it.

[Via the Arduboy community forum, thanks Kevin Bates for the tip.]

The Arduboy, Ported To Desktop And Back Again

A neat little hacker project that’s flying off the workbenches recently is the Arduboy. This tiny game console looks like a miniaturized version of the O.G. Game Boy, but it is explicitly designed to be hacked. It’s basically an Arduino board with a display and a few buttons, anyway.

[rv6502] got their hands on an Arduboy and realized that while there were some 3D games, there was nothing that had filled polygons, or really anything resembling a modern 3D engine. This had to be rectified, and the result is pretty close to Star Fox on a microcontroller.

This project began with a simple test on the Arduboy to see if it would be even possible to render 3D objects at any reasonable speed. This test was just a rotating cube, and everything looked good. Then began a long process of figuring out how fast the engine could go, what kind of display would suit the OLED best, and how to interact in a 3D world with limited controls.

Considering this is a fairly significant engineering project, the fastest way to produce code isn’t to debug code on a microcontroller. This project demanded a native PC port, so all the testing could happen on the PC without having to program the Flash every time. That allowed [rv] to throw out the Arduino IDE and USB library; if you’re writing everything on a PC and only uploading a hex file to a microcontroller at the end, you simply don’t need it.

One of the significant advances of the graphics capability of the Arduboy comes from exploring the addressing modes of the OLED. By default, the display is in a ‘horizontal mode’ which works for 2D blitting, but not for rasterizing polygons. The ‘vertical addressing mode’, on the other hand, allows for a block of memory, 8 x 128 bytes, that maps directly to the display. Shove those bytes over, and there’s no math necessary to display an image.

This is, simply, one of the best software development builds we’ve seen. It’s full of clever tricks (like simply not doing math if you’ll never need the result) and stuffing animations into far fewer bytes than you would expect. You can check out the demo video below.

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Arduboy In A Dreamcast VMU

The Arduboy is a tiny, credit-card sized sized video game console that you can build yourself. The Dreamcast VMU was also a tiny, pocketable video game system, but really that’s just where we stored our saves for Crazy Taxi. What do you get when you combine the two? [sjm] did just that, giving us an Arduboy tucked into a Dreamcast VMU.

The guts of the Arduboy is simply an ATMega32u4, the same chip found in many Arduinos, an I2C OLED, and a few other various electronics for USB, power, and battery protection. In short, it’s an easy circuit, and something just about anyone with the skills can build themselves. Since just anyone can get a PCB fabbed, and the Dreamcast already has nice silicone buttons built into the enclosure, it was a simple matter for [sjm] to create a Dreamcast VMU-shaped PCB with all the guts of an Arduboy. The only real difference is the size of the OLED — this one uses a 0.96″ 128×64 OLED, where the original used one with the same resolution but with a significantly larger size.

Yes, we’ve seen this same project before, but now thanks to the magic of the Hackaday Prize, it’s now in the running for the greatest hardware competition on the planet. You can check out the entire build video and a short demo after the break. Of course, this isn’t the first repurposing of the Arduboy circuit, we’ve seen a flex circuit version, and a version with a crank like the Playdate developed by Teenage Engineering and Panic.

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