Show that Sega Saturn Save Battery Who’s Boss

Breaking out the Sega Saturn out of the closet for a hit of 90’s nostalgia comes with its own set of compromises: the wired controllers, the composite video, and worst of all that dead CR2032 battery behind the backdoor. Along with the death of that battery went your clock and all those precious hours put into your game save files. While the bulk of us kept feeding the insatiable SRAM, a friendly Canadian engineer named [René] decided to fix the problem for good with FRAM.

The issue with the battery-backed memory in the Saturn stems from the particularly power-hungry factory installed SRAM chip. Normally when the console is plugged-in to a main power source the CR2032 battery is not in use, though after several weeks in storage the battery slowly discharges. [René’s] proposed solution was to use a non-volatile form of RAM chip that would match the pinout of the factory SRAM as close as possible. This would allow for easier install with the minimum number of jumper wires.

Enter the FM1808 FRAM chip complete with a whopping 256 kb of addressable memory. The ferroelectric chip operates at the same voltage as the Saturn’s factory SRAM, and has the added benefit of being able to use a read/write mode similar to that of the Saturn’s original memory chip. Both chips conform to a DIP-28 footprint, and only a single jumper wire on pin 22 was required to hold the FM1808 chip’s output-enable signal active-low as opposed to the active-high enable signal on the Saturn’s factory memory chip. The before and after motherboard photos are below:

After a quick test run of multiple successful read and writes to memory, [René] unplugged his Saturn for a couple days and found that his save files had been maintained. According to the FM1808 datasheet, they should be there for the next 45 years or so. The only downside to the upgrade is that the clock & calendar settings were not maintained upon boot-up and reset to the year 1996. But that’s nothing a bit of button-mashing through couldn’t solve, because after all wasn’t the point of all this to relive a piece of the 90s?

For more Sega Saturn goodness, check out how the Sega Saturn was finally cracked after 20 years.

Final Fantasy Exploit Teaches 32-bit Integer Math

One of the fun things about old video games, besides their obvious nostalgia, is that some of the more popular games have been pried apart and tinkered with for years, leading to a lot of new “development” within the games. This often uncovers some hidden gems that gamers might not have had any knowledge of during the game’s heyday, like this coding oddity found in Final Fantasy 7 that illustrates a lot about how 32-bit processors do math.

The original PlayStation used a 32-bit RISC processor, but the most significant bit could be used for integer signing. This means that if you have an integer that has a value of 2,147,483,647 (01111111111111111111111111111111 in binary) and you add one, the value is suddenly negative 2147483648 because the most significant digit is also an indicator of the integer’s sign. In this situation, the integer is said to “overflow”. In Final Fantasy 7, if you can somehow get a character to deal 262,144 damage in one hit (much less than two billion, due to the way the game does damage calculations), the game has a little bit of a meltdown.

[4-8Productions] had to do a lot of work to show how this glitch can be exploited in the game as well. Usually damage in this game is limited to 9,999 but under certain configurations (admittedly obtained by using other exploits and tools available for FF7 like a savegame editor) two of the characters can deal more damage than this critical value, exposing the 32-bit processor’s weak spot.

Even though integer signing is a pretty basic concept for most of us, the video is definitely worth a watch especially if you’re fans of the classic game. Of course, Final Fantasy 7 isn’t the only classic that has been exploited and reverse-engineered to the extreme. You can use a Super Mario World level to implement a calculator now, too.

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This Xbox 360 is Powered by Steam

Now that we’re far enough into the next generation of home video game consoles that we can’t really keep calling them that anymore, yard sales are sure to be full of lonely Xbox 360s and PS3s that have been put out to pasture. You’ll probably even find a Wii U or two out there that somebody accidentally purchased. This is great for hackers who like cramming new electronics into outdated consumer gear, and accordingly, we’re starting to see the fruits of that generational shift.

Case in point, this Xbox 360 which has been transformed into a “Steam Box” by [Pedro Mateus]. He figured the Xbox 360 was the proper size to fit a full PC plus PSU, while still looking contemporary enough that it won’t seem out of place in the entertainment center. Running SteamOS on Fedora 28, it even offers a traditional game console experience and user interface, despite the decidedly PC internals.

On the outside, the only thing that really gives away this particular Xbox’s new lease on life (when the purple LEDs are off, anyway) is the laser cut acrylic Steam logo on the top that serves as a grill for the internal CPU cooler. Ironically, [Pedro] did spray the Xbox white instead of just starting with a black one, but otherwise, there wasn’t much external modification necessary. Inside, of course, is a very different story.

It’s packing an AMD Ryzen 5 2400G processor with Radeon RX Vega 11GPU and 8GB of Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 3200MHz RAM. Power is provided by a Seasonic SS-300TFX 300W, and a Noctua NH-L9a-AM4 keeps the system cool. Even with all that gear in there, the thing is probably still quieter than the stock Xbox 360.

[Pedro] helpfully provides quite a few benchmarks for those wondering how this hacked-up Xbox fares against a more traditional gaming setup, though peak performance was obviously not the goal here. If you’ve got 45 minutes or so to spare, you should check out the video he’s put together after the break, which goes over the machine’s construction.

We’ve seen it done with the original Xbox, and now the Xbox 360. Who will be the first to send in their build that guts a current-generation Xbox and turns it into a PC for Internet fame?

[Thanks to Mike for the tip.]

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Retro Console Upgrade Gives Atari Flair

If you’re desperate for a sense of nostalgia for video games of yore but don’t want to shell out the big bucks for an NES classic, you can always grab a single arcade-style game that’ll plug straight into your TV. Of course it’s no longer 1980, and playing Space Invaders or Asteroids can get old after a while. When that happens, just replace the internals for an upgraded retro Atari 2600 with all the games from that system instead of just one.

As expected for something that has to fit in such a tiny package, this upgrade is based on a Raspberry Pi Zero. It’s not quite as simple as throwing RetroPi on it and calling it a day, though. For one, [Blue Okiris] is still using the original two-button controller/joystick that came with the Ms. Pac-Man game this build is based on, and that added its own set of challenges. For another, RetroPi didn’t have everything he needed so he switched to another OS called Recalbox. It also includes Kodi so it could be used as a media center as well.

The build looks like a hack in the truest sense of the word. The circuit board sticks out the bottom a little bit, but this is more of a feature than a bug because that’s where some extra buttons and the power switch are. Overall, it’s a great Retro Atari system that has all the true classics that should keep [Blue Okiris] entertained until Atari releases an official system one day. If you’d like to go a little deeper in the Atari world, though, you could always restore one instead.

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Unleash Your Inner Starship Captain with this Immersive Simulator Console

We like a good video game as much as the next person. Heck, a few hours wasted with “Team Fortress 2” on a couple of big monitors is a guilty pleasure we’ll never be ashamed of. But this starship bridge simulation console brings immersive gameplay to a new level, and we wholeheartedly endorse it even if we don’t quite get it.

The game in question is “Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator”, a game played by anywhere from 2 to 11 players, each of whom mans a different station on the bridge of a generic starship, from Engineering to Communications to the vaunted Captain’s chair. The game is generally played on laptops linked together in a LAN with everyone in the same room, and as cool as that sounds, it wasn’t enough for [Angel of Rust]. The whole mousing back and forth to control the ship seemed so 21st-century, so he built detailed control panels for each of the bridge stations. The level of detail is impressive, as is the thought put into panel layouts and graphics. The panels are mostly acrylic in MDF frames, which allows for backlighting to achieve the proper mood. With the help of a bunch of Arduinos, everything talks to the game software over DMX, the protocol used mainly for stage lighting control. There’s a cool demo video below.

This is uber-nerd stuff, and we love it. Pyrotechnics and atmospherics would be a great addition for “realistic” battles, and dare we hope that someday this ends up on a giant Stewart platform flight simulator for the ultimate experience?

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Raspberry Pi Foosball Scoreboard

Foosball, also known as table football, is a classic game from the 1920s that is completely devoid of the bells and whistles of modern gaming. Players control stoic little figures with the most simplistic of input devices in order to move a tiny ball to and fro on the playing field. So naturally, somebody thought they should add a Raspberry Pi to it and drag the whole thing kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

The team at [Matmi] spend a good portion of their down time huddled over a foosball table, but they found the experience was significantly less exciting for the spectators than the players. To add a little more pomp to their sessions they added a flashy display that not only shows the current score, but makes individual scores a bit more exciting by showing some celebratory confetti.

Micro switches mounted in the ball return tubes of the table allow the Raspberry Pi to know who scored and when. This information is picked up by the web-based scoreboard written in Vue.js and served out by nginx. The actual scoreboard is being displayed by a laptop that’s connected to the Pi over Wi-Fi.

If the software setup seems a bit convoluted, it’s because the project itself was something of a learning experience for HTML5 and web programming in general. Further updates are planned to streamline the system a bit to make it more self-contained, as well as adding more features to the scoreboard such as tournaments and randomized matches.

Interestingly, we’ve seen quite a few foosball hacks over the years. It seems these tables are somewhat ubiquitous in offices and hackerspaces. From turning it into an online-enabled experience to building an AI table you can play against, there’s plenty of ways to inject some new life into this nearly 100-year-old game.

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Modern PC Crammed Into an Original Xbox

When the original Microsoft Xbox was released in 2001, one of the most notable features of its design was that it used a number of off-the-shelf computer components. Inside contemporary offerings from Nintendo and Sony you’ll see almost nothing but proprietary components, whereas cracking open the Xbox reveals an IDE hard drive, a customized PC DVD-ROM drive, and an Intel Pentium III CPU. Depending on which team you were on, the Xbox’s close relation to PC hardware of the day was either a point of honor or ridicule in the early 2000’s console wars; but regardless of politics, it ended up being instrumental in all of the hacks and mods the console got over its lifetime.

In that light, [P8ntBal1551] managing to jam a modern computer into the shell of an Xbox is like having the last laugh in this nearly two-decade-old debate. Wanting to build an HTPC that wouldn’t look out of place in his entertainment center, he figured the Xbox would make a suitable home for his Intel 4460 powered build. Not to say it was easy: getting all of the hardware and associated wiring inside the case took a bit of cheating, but the end result looks good enough that we’ll give him a pass.

The key to this project is the 3D printed structure inside the Xbox’s case that holds everything together. Painstakingly designed to align all of his components and cooling fans, it took over 58 hours to print just the base plate alone on his CR-10.

Even with all of his primary components installed, [P8ntBal1551] still had to wrestle with an absolute rat’s nest of wiring. He couldn’t find smaller versions of a number of the cables he needed, so he had to resort to some creative wire management to get everything packed in there. In the end, there was simply too much gear for the Xbox’s case to legitimately fit, so he ended up printing a spacer to fit between the bottom and top halves. Though in the end even this worked out in his favor, as it gave him a place to mount the integrated FLIRC IR receiver without having to cut a hole in the original front panel. The end product looks close enough to stock to be almost unnoticeable to the casual observer.

Its been a while since we’ve seen a hack for Microsoft’s original black and green monster, most of the Xbox projects we see are in relation to its significantly more popular successor. It’s always nice to see people keeping the classics alive in their own way.

[via /r/pcmasterrace]