Investigating the World’s Rarest Game Boy

Early last year, a very unique Game Boy Color showed up on Chinese shopping site Taobao. Rather than the rather anemic-looking display of the original GBC, this version was modified with a modern IPS LCD. Even in the pictures shown on the product page, it was clear the display on this unit was far more advanced than anything Nintendo ever packed into a Game Boy. The retro gaming community went wild, and soon the site was overwhelmed with orders. The majority of the sales were canceled by the seller, and it’s believed as few as 75 of these hacked GBCs were actually shipped out.

Thanks to one of his viewers, [Colin] was able to get his hands on one of these extremely rare customized handhelds. Clearly a man after our own heart, his first inclination was to tear the thing apart and see how they built it. While he had a fairly good idea of how they managed this hybrid of modern and classic technology, there were a couple of surprises inside.

The device has a completely stock main board, and as such works and plays like a normal GBC. But upon flipping the main board over, [Colin] found a nest of thin magnet wire connecting the new display controller to individual buttons on the front panel. As he later confirmed when he reassembled the system, this allows the user to adjust the display’s brightness by holding “Select” and using the directional pad.

As for the screen itself, the big surprise was that it’s clearly pulled out of a relatively recent smartphone. The screen is physically much larger than the opening in the GBC’s front panel, but through some software trickery the image is displayed only in the area that’s visible to the player. [Colin] managed to get a hold of a few contacts “in the know” who confirmed to him that both the hardware and software for the display controller were specifically created for this application, and are unlikely to be duplicated by anyone else.

Considering most of the Game Boy hacks we cover are about somebody jamming modern hardware into them, it’s an interesting change of pace to see a group that was so adamant about retaining as much original hardware as possible while still managing to improve the user experience.

[Thanks to Doc Oct for the tip]

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Repairing A Sunburned Game Boy Screen

The original Game Boy is a classic. Sure, it had no backlight, but there is something special about playing on that classic green screen. Unfortunately, some of these older systems are suffering a terrible fate — screen burn. Game Boy’s played best with lots of light — especially out in the sun. But that same sun did terrible things to the screen. A black splotch in the center of the LCD is the telltale sign of a burned Game Boy. You might think that screen replacement is the only option, but [The Retro Future] shows us how to repair this issue.

A reflective LCD is a layer cake made up of polarizers, two panes of glass, and a reflector. The burns often seen on Game Boy screens usually are in the polarizer and the optically clear glue which attaches the plastic polarizer to the glass. We’re guessing these burns happen when someone leaves their Game Boy out in the sun. Between the sun rays directly striking the top polarizer and the rays bounced back from the reflector at the rear of the screen, that poor polarizer doesn’t stand a chance.

Repairing the burn is a delicate operation, as one false move could crack the thin LCD glass. The first step is to carefully peel off the burned polarizer. This leaves a mess of dried glue, which can be scraped off or dissolved with alcohol. A new linear polarizer can then be placed on the front of the screen. [The Retro Future] chose not to glue the polarizer, but we’re betting some UV cure LOCA (Liquid Optically Clear Adhesive) from a cell phone screen protector would do the trick.

If you love the look of the classic Game Boy, but want to play just about any classic game, grab a Raspberry Pi zero, and build a retro Pi Boy.

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Building a Supersized Game Boy Advance

Unless you really look closely at the image above, you might not realize you aren’t looking at a normal Game Boy Advance; which is sort of the point. Even though it retains the looks of the iconic Nintendo handheld, this version built by [Akira] is supersized for adult hands. How big is it? To give you an idea, that screen is 5 inches, compared to the 2.9 inch screen the original sported.

Unlike most of the portable gaming hacks we’ve covered recently, this big-boy GBA isn’t powered by a Raspberry Pi. Internally it’s packing a genuine GBA motherboard, which has been wired into a portable screen originally intended for the PlayStation.

Though that may be understating things a bit, as getting the round PCB of the original screen into the rectangular shape of the GBA meant it had to be cut down and the traces recreated with jumper wires. The original CCFL backlight of the screen had to go in the name of battery life, and in its place is the backlight system pulled from a Nintendo DSi XL.

But where did [Akira] get a giant GBA case to begin with? No, it isn’t 3D printed. It’s actually a hard carrying case that was sold for the GBA. The carrying case obviously didn’t have a cartridge slot or openings for buttons, so those sections were grafted from a donor GBA case. So despite the system overall being so much bigger than the original, the D-Pad, face buttons, and cartridge slot on the back are at normal GBA scale.

The GBA XL is really a labor of love; browsing through the build log you can see that [Akira] actually started the project back in 2014, but it kept getting shelved until more research could be done on how to pack all the desired features into the final device.

While this may be the most historically accurate attempt at making a bigger Game Boy, it certainly isn’t the first. There seems to be a fascination with turning the quintessential pocket game system into something that’s quite the opposite.

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Arduino Saves Gameboy Camera

[Brian Khuu] bought a few Gameboy cameras on the Internet and found that they still had pictures on them from a previous owner. The memory in the camera has a backup battery and if that battery dies, the pictures are history. [Brian] bravely decided to extract the pictures to a PC. He knew the protocol for how the Gameboy talked to the companion pocket printer was available, so he used an Arduino and a Web browser to extract the photos. The resulting code is on GitHub if you want to save your pictures.

Although Brian didn’t have to crack the protocol, he does offer a good explanation of it. There’s even some sniffed displays. The Arduino does all the communications and fools the game into thinking it is the companion printer. However, it simply streams the data out and a Javascript decoder handles the actual decoding. In fact, in the blog post, you can enter data, click a button, and see the resulting Gameboy picture.

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FatPiBoy: Respin Game Boy with a Pop-Out Controller

Have you ever found yourself wishing you had a clone of the Game Boy, except it was actually twice as wide, and instead of holding it in your hands you pop a tiny separate controller out of the middle and play it that way? No? Well, neither have we. But that didn’t stop [Christian Reinbacher] from designing and building exactly that, and by the looks of the finished product, we have to say he might be onto something.

To be fair, the charmingly-named FatPiBoy is not really meant to be played like the GameBoy of yesteryear. It’s more like a game console with built in display; you prop the console up on something, and then remove the controller from the system and play that way.

The controller itself is a commercial product, the 8bitdo Zero, but [Christian] based the rest of the system on parts intended for the Adafruit PiGRRL. For the battery, [Christian] used a 4,500 mAh pack that was originally from his Nexus 7 tablet; a tip to keep in mind next time you’re looking for a big and cheap lithium-ion battery.

[Christian] notes that the case design isn’t perfect. There’s currently no external access to the Pi’s USB ports, and the recess for the 8bitdo Zero could be a few millimeters deeper. Still, we think he did an excellent job finishing the case and giving it a professional look; the case and controller look like nearly a perfect match.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a Raspberry Pi put on a GameBoy costume, but the FatPiBoy does bring something new to the table with its removable controller. Of course, if you think the controller [Christian] selected for this build is a bit too small, you can always substitute your own

Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3 in a GameBoy Original

[Kite] has been making custom PCBs for GameBoys for a long time. Long enough, in fact, that other people have used his work to build even more feature-rich GameBoy platforms. Unfortunately some of their work had stagnated, so [Kite] picked it up and completed a new project: a GameBoy that uses a Raspberry Pi running on his upgraded GameBoy PCB.

At its core the build uses a Raspberry Pi 3, but one that has been shrunk down to the shape of a memory module, known as the Compute Module 3. (We featured the original build by [inches] before, but [Kite] has taken it over since then.) The upgrade frees up precious space in the GameBoy case to fit the custom PCB that was originally built by [Kite], and also eliminates the need to cut up a Raspberry Pi and solder it to the old version of his PCB. The build is very clean, and runs RetroPie like a champ. It has some additional features as well, such as having an HDMI output.

For anyone looking for that retro GameBoy feel but who wants important upgrades like a backlit color screen, or the ability to play PSP games, this might be the build for you. The video below goes into details about how it all fits together. If you’re looking for more of a challenge in your GameBoy hacks, though, there’s an ongoing challenge to build the tiniest GameBoy possible as well.

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LAMEBOY is Handheld Gaming on the ESP8266

We’ve had our eye on [davedarko’s] LAMEBOY project for a while now, a handheld setup in roughly the same form factor as the classic Nintendo Game Boy. It’s remarkable how approachable portable electronic design has become, and that’s really what makes this interesting. The design is beautiful, and the closer you look, the more respect you have for what [dave] is doing.

Right now his proof of concept has a 3D printed enclosure whose face is the printed circuit board. We love how the lower left corner of the PCB slips under a pocket in the case, which makes it possible to use just one screw to secure the two together in the upper right.

The LAMEBOY is built around an ESP8266 module. Anyone who has used one knows this chip contains a fair amount of horsepower, but very little I/O. [Dave] has a lot going on with an LCD screen, six user buttons, a USB to I/O chip, and an SD card slot. He took two approaches to solve this dilemma. First he grabbed a PCF8574 port expander, and second he’s offloaded the color control of the screen backlights to an ATtiny85 (running a BlinkM clone).

Below you can see some early game tests on the perfboard prototype. We haven’t seen game play on the most recent prototype (there is a screen color test video in his latest project log) but it sounds as though [dave] plans to make use of the Gamebuino framework. This should mean that there will be no shortage of cool ROMs to load.

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