Micro-Sized Flex For Commercial Quality Bodging

We love watching the creativity unleashed by the democratization of once-exotic technologies. The casualness by which one can order a cheap, small run of PCBs has unlocked a flood of fine pitch components and projects which look commercial quality even with a total build volume of one. Now the once mythical flex PCB has been falling from it’s stratospheric pricing and with OSHPark’s offering it feels like we’re at the inflection point. [qwertymodo] leveraged this by creating a beautifully twisted flex to add link port support to the Super Game Boy

In the mid-90’s Nintendo released the Super Game Boy, a cartridge for the SNES which allowed you to play Game Boy games on the big screen. Each cartridge was in fact an entire Game Boy with the appropriate hardware to present it in a way the host console could interface with, but missing some of the hardware a standalone Game Boy would include like a link port to connect it to another system. This mod fixes this limitation by bridging the correct pins out from the CPU to a breakout board which includes the link port connector. For general background on what’s going on here, check out [Brian]’s article from April describing a different mod [qwertymodo] executed to the same system.

What’s fascinating is how elegant the mod is. Using a a flex here to create a completely custom, strangely shaped, one-of-a-kind adapter for this random IC, in low volume is an awesome example of the use of advanced manufacturing techniques to take our hacks to the next level. It reminds us a little of the method [Scotty] used to add the headphone jack to his iPhone 7 back in 2017. At the time that seemed like a technology only available to hackers who could speak a little Mandarin and lived in Shenzhen.

Detailed information on this hack is a little spread out. There is slightly more info in these tweets, and if you have a Super Game Boy crying out for a link port the adapter flexes are sometimes available here. Look beyond the break to see what the mod originally looked like sans-flex.

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The Arduboy Gets A Crank Mod

You’ve seen VR headsets and wearable video game controllers and flight yokes and every other type and kind of video game controller, but a crank? Yes, the Arduboy now has a crank modification in tribute to (or blatant ripoff of) the PlayDate, a video game console created by Panic and Teenage Engineering.

The basis for this build is the Arduboy, a miniature game system the size of a credit card. This game console features candy-like buttons, compatibility with the Arduino IDE, and a community that has produced dozens of games already. Where there’s software developers there’s inevitably a few hardware engineers waiting in the wings, and this is no exception. [bateske] created a crank mod for the Arduboy that gives this miniature, toy-like game console a crank. Ready to write a bass fishing simulator? This is your shot.

The hardware for this build consists of a 360° rotary encoder for the internals of the device. For the handle, [bateske] found an interesting ‘premium grinder for herbs and spices’ on Amazon. Shockingly, this crank handle just sort of works with the rotary encoder.

As for games, this is a brand new user interface for the Arduboy game console, so of course there are some interesting possibilities. There’s a fishing simulator that’s more interesting than real fishing and something like Flappy Bird only instead of flapping it’s bouncing over bottomless pits. You can check out this crank console out below.

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Booting The Game Boy Advance Into Bluetooth

While it might not be quite as revered as its predecessor, the Game Boy Advance is arguably the peak of “classic” handheld gaming, before things got all 3D and dual screen on us. One of its best features is the so-called multiboot mode, which allows the GBA to download a program from its link port. Officially this feature was introduced so you could play multiplayer with your friends even if they didn’t have the game cartridge, but naturally it didn’t take long for hackers to realize you can use it to run arbitrary code on an unmodified system.

[Shyri Villar] has put this capability to excellent use with a plug-in board that allows a stock GBA to be used as a general purpose Bluetooth HID controller. Now you can emulate GBA games on your computer while using the real thing as your input device. Or if that’s a bit too redundant for you, then any 2D game you think could benefit from the classic Game Boy control layout.

An ATmega328P on the board initiates the multiboot sequence when the system powers up, and feeds it the GBA program that’s stored on a W25Q32 chip. Once the code is running on the GBA, it communicates with a common HC-05 Bluetooth module through the same link port. To perform this handoff, [Shyri] uses a HCF4066 switch IC to literally change the pin assignments in the connector from the SPI used to upload the ROM to the UART lines of the Bluetooth module.

With everything powered from the 3.3 V provided by the GBA’s link port, and some software niceties like the ability to store Bluetooth pairing information for subsequent device connections, this is actually a very practical gadget. The fact that you can do this on a completely stock GBA is very compelling, especially considering some of the previous Bluetooth Game Boy modifications we’ve seen. Granted the market might be somewhat limited, but with a custom PCB and a 3D printed enclosure, we could see this potentially being a popular accessory for the classic handheld. It’s not like it can be any more niche than using the GBA as a remote display for your multimeter.

Super Mario Land DX ROM Hack Shows What Game Boy Could Have Looked Like

It was about time (Mario Time) that Super Mario Land for the original Game Boy was revisited. The game served as the entry point into the world of portable gaming for millions, and it was an early example of the type of adventure players could expect from a handful of AA batteries. The original Game Boy system itself may have only been able to display four shades of grey, however, that never stopped players of Super Mario Land from imagining what the game would have looked like in stunning color. Now thanks to [toruzz] we no longer have to imagine, because their Super Mario Land DX ROM Hack does just that…and then some.

The Super Mario Land DX ROM hack adheres to the Game Boy Color’s 16-bit color palette, so it actually runs on real hardware. No changes to the gameplay were made and it also runs in the native 10:9 aspect ratio for the Game Boy. According to the patch readme file, it is recommended to use a legally sourced dump of the 1.0 version of Super Mario Land and utilize Lunar IPS to apply the patch. Additionally a CRC check sum is provided to ensure everyone is working from the same starting point.

Super Mario Land was a launch title for the Game Boy in 1989, but there was another handheld game system that released that year as well (the Atari Lynx). The Lynx featured a full color backlit LCD display, so it was not as if handheld game systems of the era were restricted to being monochromatic. Granted the Lynx came with a price tag nearly twice that of the Game Boy, but a transformative ROM hack such as the Super Mario Land DX one can serve almost as an alternate history. An alternate history that we all can experience now be it on a desktop or in true portable form.

To see the Super Mario Land DX ROM Hack in motion, there is the gameplay video from YouTube user Vincent Hernandez below:

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Circuit-Level Game Boy: Upping Emulation Ante By Simulating Every Cycle

Usually when writing emulation software for a system like the Game Boy, one makes sure to take as many shortcuts as possible in order to reduce the resources required for the emulation. This has however the unfortunate side-effect that it reduces the overall accuracy of the emulation and with it the compatibility with games on the system.

This is the basic reasoning behind projects which seek to abandon simplistic abstractions in favor of cycle-accurate, full compatibility approaches, of which MetroBoy is probably the most extreme one. Instead of abstracting away the hardware, it instead does the emulation at the circuit level. As with such other projects, this means that the emulator requires a lot more CPU cycles to get things just right. On the bright side, one can likely still run this emulator on any modern system.

As the MetroBoy author explains, he implemented code in C++ which allowed him to construct circuits in an HDL-style manner, which should theoretically also allow him to generate a Verilog (or VHDL) softcore out of the project. As a demonstration of implementing HDL in C++ it’s decidedly interesting.

An approach like this is pretty much the exact opposite of a project like the UltraHLE (ultra high-level emulator) Nintendo 64 emulator, which used the knowledge that Nintendo 64 games are written in C as a first step to creating libraries that the code in the Nintendo 64 ROMs would call instead of the native (Nintendo) libraries. This allowed N64 games to directly run on the target system, with the graphic and system calls translated by UltraHLE into native OS calls, using the 3dfx Glide API for accelerated graphics.

While an approach like UltraHLE took allows for the most minimal use of system resources by essentially foregoing emulation completely, for retro systems like the Game Boy where games were implemented in assembly on bare hardware, using this circuit-level emulation ensures that one gets the most accurate match with the original handheld console experience.

As a word of caution to those who are now itching to try out MetroBoy, its Github site notes that it currently lacks support for game saves, uses a mixture of original Game Boy (DMG) and Game Boy Advance SP (AGS) hardware that confuses some games and has rather buggy sound support.

If playing around with software-defined Game Boy circuits isn’t enough and would like to literally look inside a real Game Boy, the X-ray image from the top of the article is something Chris over at Elektronaut pulled off several years ago.

Clock Mod Brings Super Game Boy To Competitive Arena

For one time small window between 1994 and 1998, you could play Game Boy games in color with a Super Game Boy. This was a cartridge that plugged into a Super Nintendo, and using proprietary Lock-On™ technology, you could play Game Boy games on the big screen. Inside the Super Game Boy was the guts of a real Game Boy. This was, and still is, the best way to experience everything from Kirby’s Dream Land or the Pokemon of Kanto.

Unfortunately, the Super Game Boy doesn’t exactly replicate the Game Boy experience. The crystal in the Super Game Boy means that games and sound run between 2 and 4% faster. The Super Game Boy is out for competitive speed running, and if you’re using Little Sound DJ, you’ll be out of tune with the rest of the band. The Super Game Boy doesn’t have link cable support, either.

Now, [qwertymodo] over on Tindie has the solution to the faster Super Game Boy. It’s a clock mod, but it’s not just swapping a crystal. This is a board that solders to existing pads, and still allows you to access the speed up and slow down functions available from the Commander controller from Hori. It’s a slightly impressive bit of PCB art, and certainly something that deserves notice.

This mod fixes the 2-4% speedup of the Super Game Boy, but then there’s still one feature missing: the link cable. Well, hold on to your butts, because there’s a mod for this one too. The Super Game Boy Link Port is a small little breakout board that requires fly wires to the main chip in the Super Game Boy. The installation isn’t quite as clean as the crystal hack, but if you’re fixing the clock, you might as well add the link cable port while you’re in there.

[qwertymodo] has a comparison test of the Super Game Boy running Pokemon Red, and this thing is dead on. It runs at exactly the same speed as an original Game Boy, only in color, on a TV. You can check that out below.

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It’s (Almost) Two Keytars In One!

All the best retro-1980s chiptune acts should possess a keytar. It’s the Law, or something. [Theremin Hero] has reminded us of this with a new video we’ve shown below featuring an instrument he had a part in creating alongside [Sam Wray] and [Siddharth Vadgama] a few years ago. The Blade is a 3D-printed keytar featuring two Guitar Hero necks and an integrated pair of Game Boys to provide the sound from the authentic silicon.

To describe it in those terms though is to miss a wealth of other components and featured. The keyboard itself is from a Rock Band keytar which feeds MIDI to a Raspberry Pi running PD Extended that handles all the button press mappings. An Arduino Mega performs the same task for the two Guitar Hero necks. Midi from the various sources is processed by an Arduino Boy which then feeds the Game Boys that make the sounds. Oh – and there’s a Leap Motion 3D motion controller in the mix as well, though that doesn’t seem to be used directly in the chiptune synth functionality.

We’ve had a few keytars here over the years, but this one makes us think of the Commodore 64 instrument created by [Jeri Ellsworth].

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