Game Boy Macro Build Retains DS Compatibility

Building a so-called “Game Boy Macro” is a great way to salvage a Nintendo DS that has a broken hinge or top screen, as the system only needs the lower display to play Game Boy Advance games. Naturally, DS games that were designed to use both screens would no longer be playable. Or at least, that’s what we thought. But as [Facelesstech] shows, it’s actually possible to play DS games on a Game Boy Macro if you do a little extra soldering.

It turns out that there are two test points on the original DS motherboard where you can pick up the signal for the top and bottom screens respectively. With just three wires and a simple switch, you can select which signal gets fed into the bottom screen in real-time with no image degradation. Now, this won’t do you any good on games that make constant use of both the top and bottom DS displays, but for many titles, the bottom screen was used for little more than a map or inventory display that you only need to glance at occasionally.

Installed screen switch. Note USB-C upgrade module.

With the ability to switch between them at will, a large number of DS games are perfectly playable with just one screen. Interestingly, the touch panel still works the same regardless of which video feed is being pipped in; so if you memorize which areas need to be touched to perform different actions, you don’t even need to flip the images. In the video below, [Facelesstech] demonstrates the concept with New Super Mario Bros, which would otherwise be unplayable as the action usually is shown on the top screen.

This hack is only possible because the two displays on the DS are identical beyond the touch overlay, which as we learned during a previous deep-dive into the technology behind this revolutionary handheld, was a trick Nintendo used to squeeze as much performance as they could out of its relatively meager 3D hardware. Unfortunately, it seems like the modification is much harder to pull off on the DS Lite, so it wouldn’t be compatible with the slick Game & Watch styled Game Boy Macro we covered recently. Continue reading “Game Boy Macro Build Retains DS Compatibility”

Unmasking The Identity Of An Unusual Nintendo DS

The Nintendo DS family encompasses a dizzying array of portable game systems released over a span of 17 years. The original DS received several refreshes and special editions, and when the next generation 3DS came along, it spawned a whole new collection of spin-offs. But even among all those machines there’s a name that even Mario himself would never have heard of: the Nintendo DS ML.

In a recent video, [The Retro Future] says he discovered this oddball system selling for around $25 USD on Chinese shopping site Taobao and bought one so he could get a closer look at it. Externally the system looks quite a bit like the refreshed DS Lite, but it’s notably larger and the screens look quite dated. That was already a strong hint to its true identity, as was the placement of its various buttons and controls.

Note the conspicuous absence of Nintendo’s name.

But it wasn’t until [The Retro Future] cracked the system open that he could truly confirm what he had on his hands. This was an original Nintendo DS, potentially a new old stock unit that had never been distributed, which was transplanted into a custom enclosure designed to look like one of the later upgraded models. As for what this seller meant by calling this chimera the DS ML is anyone’s guess, though one of the commenters on the video thought “Maybe Legal” had a nice ring to it.

Now assuming these really are brand new systems that were simply installed in fresh cases, $25 is arguably a good deal. So long as you aren’t concerned with playing the latest titles, anyway. But at the same time its a reminder that you get what you pay for when dealing with shady overseas sellers. It’s just as likely, perhaps even more so, that these were used systems that got spruced up to make a quick buck.

Fake components are everywhere. In fact there’s an excellent chance most of the people reading this site have received some fake parts over the years, even if they didn’t realize it at the time. When there’s fly by night companies willing to refurbish a nearly 20 year old Nintendo handheld for $25, what are the chances that Bosch actually made that $2 temperature sensor you just ordered on eBay?

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Hidden TV-Out On The Nintendo DS Lite

The DS Lite was one of Nintendo’s most popular handheld gaming consoles, but unbeknownst to all, it has a hidden feature that could have made it even more popular. Digging through the hardware and firmware, the [Lost Nintendo History] team discovered the System-on-Chip (SoC) in the DS Lite can output a composite video signal.

The SoC can output a 10-bit digital output running at 16.7 MHz, but it is disabled by the stock firmware early in the boot process, so custom firmware was required. It still needs to be converted to an analog signal, so a small adaptor board with a DAC (digital-analog converter) and op-amp is attached to the flex cable of the upper screen. A set of buttons on the board allow you to select which screen is displayed on the TV. The adaptor board is open source, and the Gerbers and schematics are available on GitHub.

The current version of the adaptor board disables the upper screen, but the [Lost Nintendo History] team is considering designing a pass-through board to eliminate this disadvantage. The TV-out mod can also be combined with the popular Macro mod, in which the upper screen is removed to turn it into a Game Boy Advance. The Nintendo DS is a popular hacking subject, and we’ve been covering them for well over a decade.

A Look At How Nintendo Mastered Dual Screens

When it was first announced, many people were skeptical of the Nintendo DS. Rather than pushing raw power, the unique dual screen handheld was designed to explore new styles of play. Compared to the more traditional handhelds like the Game Boy Advance (GBA) or even Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP), the DS seemed like huge gamble for the Japanese gaming giant.

But it paid off. The Nintendo DS ended up being one of the most successful gaming platforms of all time, and as [Modern Vintage Gamer] explains in a recent video, at least part of that was due to its surprising graphical prowess. While it was technically inferior to the PSP in almost every way, Nintendo’s decades of experience in pushing the limits of 2D graphics allowed them to squeeze more out of the hardware than many would have thought possible.

On one level, the Nintendo DS could be seen as a upgraded GBA. Developers who were already used to the 2D capabilities of that system would feel right at home when they made the switch to the DS. As with previous 2D consoles, the DS had several screen modes complete with hardware-accelerated support for moving, scaling, rotating, and reflecting up to four background layers. This made it easy and computationally efficient to pull off pseudo-3D effects such as having multiple backdrop images scrolling by at different speeds to convey a sense of depth.

On top of its GBA-inherited tile and sprite 2D engine, the DS also featured a rudimentary GPU responsible for handling 3D geometry and rendering. Hardware accelerated 3D could only used on one screen at a time, which meant most games would keep the closeup view of the action on one display, and used the second panel to show 2D imagery such as an overhead map. But developers did have the option of flipping between the displays on each frame to render 3D on both panels at a reduced frame rate. The hardware can also handle shadows and included integrated support for cell shading, which was a particularly popular graphical effect at the time.

By combining the 2D and 3D hardware capabilities of the Nintendo DS onto a single screen, developers could produce complex graphical effects. [Modern Vintage Gamer] uses the example of New Super Mario Bros, which places a detailed 3D model of Mario over several layers of moving 2D bitmaps. Ultimately the 3D capabilities of the DS were hindered by the limited resolution of its 256 x 192 LCD panels; but considering most people were still using flip phones when the DS came out, it was impressive for the time.

Compared to the Game Boy Advance, or even the original “brick” Game Boy, it doesn’t seem like hackers have had much luck coming up with ways to exploiting the capabilities of the Nintendo DS. But perhaps with more detailed retrospectives like this, the community will be inspired to take another look at this unique entry in gaming history.

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3D Print That Charging Dock For Your 3DS

The Switch is the new hotness and everyone wants Nintendo’s new portable gaming rig nestled in a dock next to their TV, but what about Nintendo’s other portable gaming system? Yes, the New Nintendo 3DS can get a charging dock, and you can 3D print it with swappable plates that make it look like something straight out of the Nintendo store.

[Hobby Hoarder] created this charging dock for the New Nintendo 3DS as a 3D printing project, with the goal of having everything printable without supports, and able to be constructed without any special tools. Printing a box is easy enough, but the real trick is how to charge the 3DS without any special tools. For this, [Hobby Hoarder] turned to the small charging contacts on the side of the console. All you do is apply power and ground to these contacts, and the 3DS charges.

Normally, adding contacts requires pogo pins or hilariously expensive connectors, but [Hobby Hoarder] has an interesting solution: just add some metal contacts constructed from LED leads or paper clips, and mount it on a spring-loaded slider. A regular ‘ol USB cable is scavenged, the wires stripped, and the red and black lines are attached to the spring-loaded slider.

There is a slight issue with the charging voltage in this setup; the 3DS charges at 4.6 Volts, and USB provides 5 Volts. If you want to keep everything within exacting specs, you could add an LDO linear regulator, but there might be issues with heat dissipation. You could use a buck converter, but at 0.4 Volts, you’re probably better off going with the ‘aaay yolo’ theory of engineering.

[Hobby Hoarder] produced a few great videos detailing this build, and one awesome video detailing how to print multicolored faceplates for this charging dock. It’s an excellent project, and a great example of what can be done with 3D printing and simple tools.

Continue reading “3D Print That Charging Dock For Your 3DS”

Gaming System Built With Kite, The DIY Android Kit

As a gamer, [Lexie Dostal] dreamed of a smartphone that was a viable gaming platform: something with enough power to run the games and emulators he was interested in, with the controls to make playing them feel natural. So when he got his hands on an early version of Kite, the modular open hardware platform designed to be hacked and customized, that’s exactly what he decided to build. The Kite kit would provide the touch screen and Android-equipped motherboard, he just needed to design a case and integrate controls to make it a real gaming device.

The case design [Lexie] came up with is inspired by the bottom half of the Nintendo 3DS, and ended up only a few centimeters wider than the stock case from the Kite kit. Unfortunately, his delta 3D printer wasn’t large enough to fit the device’s case, so he ended up having to break it into five separate pieces and glue them together. With the case in one piece he worked his way from 220 to 400 grit sand paper, filling any voids in the print with glue as he went. A few coats of primer, more sanding, and a final matte texture spray give the final case a very professional-looking finish.

Not only was the Nintendo 3DS an inspiration for the device, it was also a donor for some of the parts. The directional pad, analog “nub”, and buttons are replacement 3DS hardware, which is interfaced to the KiteBoard with an Arduino Nano. When he couldn’t find springs small enough to use for the shoulder buttons, he bought some thin music wire and wound them himself. Talk about attention to detail.

There’s quite a bit of gear packed into the case, but [Lexie] thinks there’s probably still room to make some improvements. He could free up some room by dropping the connectors and soldering everything directly, and says he’d like to come up with a custom PCB to better interface with the 3DS’s hardware to cut down on some of the wiring required. With the extra room he thinks the battery, currently a 3200 mAh pack designed for the LG V20 smartphone, could probably be replaced with something even bigger.

Readers may recall that the Kite is currently in the running for the 2018 Hackaday prize. Seeing Kite already delivering on the promise of making it easier to develop powerful Android devices is very exciting, and we can’t wait to see what else hackers will be able to do with it.

Creating New Nintendo 3DS Hardware

For the last five years or so, Nintendo has been selling the 3DS, the latest in a long line of handheld consoles. Around two years ago, Nintendo announced the New Nintendo 3DS, with a faster processor and a few other refinements. The new 3DS comes in two sizes: normal and XL. You can buy the XL version anywhere in the world, but Nintendo fans in North America cannot buy the normal version.

[Stephen] didn’t want the jumbo-sized New 3DS XL, both because it’s too large for his pockets, and because there are no fancy cases for the XL. His solution? Creating a US non-XL 3DS with god-like soldering skills.

In manufacturing the XL and non-XL versions of the 3DS, Nintendo didn’t change much on the PCBs. Sure, the enclosure is different, but electronically there are really only two changes: the eMMC storage and the Nintendo processor. 3DS are region-locked, so simply swapping out the boards from a normal 3DS to an XL 3DS wouldn’t work; [Stephen] would also like to play US games on his modded console. That leaves only one option: desoldering two chips from a US XL and placing them on the board from a Japanese 3DS.

With a board preheater and heat gun, [Stephen] was able to desolder the eMMC chip off both boards. Of course this meant the BGA balls were completely destroyed in the process, which means reballing the package with solder bits only 0.3mm in diameter. With the US eMMC transplanted to the Japanese board, [Stephen] ended up with an error message that suggested the processor was reading the memory. Progress, at least.

[Stephen] then moved on to the processor. This was a nightmare of a 512 pin BGA package, with 512 pins that needed a tiny dot of solder placed on them. Here, sanity gave way and [Stephen] called up a local board and assembly house. They agreed to solder the chip onto the board and do an x-ray inspection. With the professional rework done, [Stephen] assembled his new US non-XL 3DS, and everything worked. It’s the only one in the world, and given the effort required to make these mods, we’re expecting it to remain the only one for a very long time.