The Nintendo Game Boy was a very popular handheld in its time, but its display technology has not aged gracefully. Ripping out the original screen and dropping in a modern IPS LCD is a popular mod, but that often comes with a weird flicker now and then. [makho] is here to explain why.
The problem was that the Game Boy didn’t have any way to do transparency in the original hardware. Instead, sprites that were supposed to be a little bit transparent were instead flickered on and off rapidly. The original LCD was so slow that this flicker would be largely hidden, with the sprites in question looking suitably transparent. However, switch to a modern IPS LCD with its faster refresh rate, and the flickering will be readily visible. So it’s not a bug — it’s something that was intentionally done by developers that were designing for the screen technology of the 1980s, not the 2020s.
IPS screens have become the must-have upgrade for modern Game Boy users. Most would tell you the improved image quality and rich color is worth a little flicker here and there.
Retro gear is beloved, both for what it can do, and what it reminds us of. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, after all. But then, so is corrosion — and the latter has a habit of killing hardware and driving up prices for remaining units. Thankfully, hard workers like [NatalieTheNerd] are out there, creating reproduction PCBs to keep old hardware alive. Her Game Boy Advance (GBA) reproduction PCB is a great tool for the restoration and modding communities.
The board was reverse engineered, with [Natalie] sharing various scans and schematics of the GBA’s motherboard on the Modded Game Boy Club website. The project recreates the AGB-CPU-03 version of the GBA, and is designed to be produced on a 1 mm board with an ENIG process. You can combine the PCB with some salvaged parts and a new shell and build yourself a remarkably fresh GBA, if you so desire.
Beyond it’s intended use, [Natalie] points out the board outlines could be used as a basis for RetroPie or ESP32 projects that fit into a standard Game Boy Advance form factor. We love that idea. We’ve seen [Natalie’s] work before too, in the form of this neat little macropad. Nifty as always!
We all know the Nintendo Game Boy camera peripheral, and we’ve seen plenty of hacks for it on these pages over the years. We like [Raphael Boichot]’s camera then, as instead of including a Game Boy or emulating one, it talks directly to the sensor from an RP2040. The result is a standalone camera with slightly better quality than the original, and with near-limitless storage and easy retrieval of pictures.
For us the interesting revelation from this project comes in the light it sheds on the sensor module, the Mitsubishi M64282FP, but it’s no slouch as a camera beside that. There are motion sensor and timelapse modes, as well the ability to take high dynamic range pictures, and as if that’s not enough it also has all the tweakable things you’d expect from a “proper” camera. The oldest adage in photography is that the best camera in the world is the one in your hand, and we’d say that this one’s better than a real Game Boy Camera should the once-in-a-lifetime picture come while you’re holding it.
Despite having been technologically obsolete for a decade or two, analog photography is still practiced by hobbyists and artists to achieve a particular aesthetic. One might imagine a similar thing happening with early digital cameras, and indeed it has: the Game Boy Camera has seen use in dozens of projects. [Michael Fitzmayer] however decided to combine the worlds of analog and early digital photography by equipping a Holga with the image sensor from a Game Boy Camera.
The Holga, if you’re not familiar, is a cheap film camera from the 1980s that has achieved something of a cult following among retro-photography enthusiasts. By equipping it with the sensor from what was one of the first mass-market digital cameras, [Michael] has created a rather unusual digital point-and-shoot. The user interface is as simple as can be: a single button to take a photo, and nothing else. There’s no screen to check your work — just as with film, you’ll have to wait for the pictures to come back from the lab.
The sensor used in the Game Boy Camera is a Mitsubishi M64282FP, which is a 128 x 128 pixel monochrome CMOS unit. [Michael] hooked it up to an STM32F401 microcontroller, which reads out the sensor data and stores it on an SD card in the form of a bitmap image.
With no film roll present, the Holga has plenty of space for all the electronics and a battery. The original lens turned out to be a poor fit for the image sensor, but with a bit of tweaking the Game Boy optics fit in its place without significantly altering the camera’s appearance.
[Michael] helpfully documented the design process and shared all source code on his GitHub page. Holgas shouldn’t be hard to find to find, but if none are available in your area you can just roll your own. The Game Boy Camera is actually one of the most versatile cameras out there, having been used for everything from video conferencing to astrophotography.
There are very few legal ways of obtaining ROM files for video games, and Nintendo’s lawyers are extremely keen on at least reminding you of the fact that you need to own the game cart before obtaining the ROM. With cart in hand, though, most will grab a cart reader to download the game files. While this is a tried-and-true method, for GameBoy games this extra piece of hardware isn’t strictly required. [Travis Goodspeed] is here to show us a method of obtaining ROM files from photographs of the game itself.
Of course, the chips inside the game cart will need to be decapped in order to obtain the pictures, and the pictures will need to be of high quality in order to grab the information. [Travis] is more than capable of this task in his home lab, but some work is still required after this step.
The individual bits in the Game Boy cartridges are created by metal vias on the chip, which are extremely small, but still visible under a microscope. He also has a CAD program that he developed to take this visual information and extract the data from it, which creates a ROM file that’s just as good as any obtained with a cart reader.
This might end up being slightly more work especially if you have to decap the chips and take the photographs yourself, but it’s nonetheless a clever way of obtaining ROM files due to this quirk of Game Boy technology. Encoding data into physical hardware like this is also an excellent way of ensuring that it doesn’t degrade over time. Here are some other methods for long-term data storage.
The original Nintendo Game Boy is a stout piece of hardware in a solid plastic enclosure. [Raphael Stäbler] recreated the popular handheld on a breadboard instead, in a fully-functional way, to boot.
[Raphael]’s build doesn’t rely on a real Game Boy CPU or components. Instead it’s emulated with the aid of a Teensy 4.1 microcontroller. [Raphael] coded up an emulator from scratch, instruction by instruction, something he’s documented on his own blog. The Teensy is placed on a breadboard, and hooked up with a series of 8 buttons to serve as the controls. Audio output is via a LM386 acting as a simple audio amp, hooked up with an original Game Boy speaker for more authentic sound. Display is thanks to a FT81x display driver running a small LCD. Games are loaded via an SD card formatted in the FAT32 file system.
While it’s not as ergonomic as the original Nintendo console, it works, and works well! It’s an impressive project to see the Game Boy recreated from scratch inside a powerful microcontroller. We’ve seen other projects go to similar lengths before. Video after the break.
The games were crafted using a platform called GB Studio. It’s a tool that allows the drag-and-drop creation of games for the Game Boy and Game Boy Color handhelds. It’s capable of creating ROM files to run in an emulator, within a web page, or they can be flashed to a cartridge and played on real Nintendo hardware.
For the full effect, [Pigeonaut] went with the latter method. Four games were created: Phantom Shock, Climbing Mount Crymore, Cozy Cat Cafe, and A Tiny Hike. Each was flashed onto a real cart and given a high-quality label to make a lovely tangible gift. Upon gifting, [Pigeonaut]’s friends and partner were able to play their way through their personalized titles on a GameCube running the Game Boy Player accessory.
It’s hard to imagine a more touching gift than a personal game crafted from the ground up. Getting to play it on a real Nintendo is even better, and we’ve seen hardware that can achieve that before. Try out the games in your web browser via the links above, or send us in your own cool homebrew hacks to the Tipsline!