Bringing The NES Cartridge Into The USB Age

An NES cartridge in its most basic form is a surprisingly simple device, it contains two ROMs hosting all the code and assets of its game, and a Nintendo code chip that provided what was a state-of-the-art consumer DRM system for the 1980s. Decades later its inner workings have been extensively reverse-engineered, and there have been quite a few custom and reprogrammable cartridge designs produced.

This hasn’t stopped [Troy Denton] and [Brad Taylor] making a cartridge of their own though, and the result of their labours is a fully USB reprogrammable cartridge for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It provides nonvolatile storage and is a simpler design than you might expect, using a pair of 1 megabit Flash chips and emulating Nintendo’s DRM with an ATtiny microcontroller.

In itself it’s an interesting enough design, but what makes the write-up stand out is the description of having the boards manufactured by a PCBA service, and their subsequent debugging. A surface-mount micro USB socket that shorted out the USB power required a bit of rework to place Kapton tape beneath it, while another clever patch uses the NES clock signal to provide a read-only line for the memory. It’s also interesting to hear about their manual “crowdfunding” approach which was to ask around if anyone else wanted one so they could bring unit cost down by producing more cartridges.

If you’re interested in the NES DRM system, it’s a subject we’ve touched on in the past.

Projector And NES Mini Hide Out Inside The Real Thing

Taking a page out of the Xzibit Engineering Handbook, [Geeksmithing] recently decided that the gutted carcass of an original Nintendo Entertainment System would make a perfect home for…a smaller NES. Well, that and two wireless controllers. Plus a projector. Oh, and batteries so it can be used on the go. Because really, at that point, why not?

The video after the break starts with a cleverly edited version of a legitimate NES commercial from the gaming glory days of the 1980s, and segues into an rundown of all the modern hardware [Geeksmithing] crammed into the case of this legendary console. It helps that the official NES Classic used for the project is so much smaller than its more than thirty year old predecessor, leaving plenty of room inside to get creative. We particularly like the dual wireless controllers which are conveniently hiding inside the original cartridge slot.

Frankly, that alone would have made this project worthwhile in our book, but [Geeksmithing] didn’t stop there. He also added in a pico projector that’s normally covered up by the black facia on the rear of the console, complete with a “kickstand” to tip the system up to the appropriate angle. Continuing with the theme of enabling ad-hoc NES play sessions, he also packed in enough batteries to keep the system running for a respectable amount of time. There’s even put an inductive charging coil in the bottom of the system so he can top off the batteries just by dropping the system on a modified SNES mousepad.

Last time [Geeksmithing] checked in, he was embedding a Raspberry Pi into a Super Mario Thwomp that was made from real concrete. We can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

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That Game Cartridge Isn’t As Straightforward As You’d Think

Classic games consoles played their games from cartridges, plastic bricks that held a PCB with the game code on it ready to be run by the console hardware. You might therefore expect them to be an easy prospect for emulation, given that the code can be extracted from whatever ROM they contain. But as anyone with an interest in the subject will tell you, some cartridges included extra hardware to boost the capabilities of their games, and this makes the job of an emulator significantly more complex.

[Byuu] has penned an article exploring this topic across a variety of consoles, with in-depth analyses of special-case cartridges. We see the obvious examples such as the DSP coprocessors famously used on some SNES games, as well as Nintendo’s Super Game Boy that contained an entire Game Boy on a chip.

But perhaps more interesting are the edge-case cartridges which didn’t contain special hardware. Capcom’s Rockman X had a copy protection feature that sabotaged the game if it detected RAM at a frequently used save game address emulated by copiers. Unfortunately this could also be triggered accidentally, so every one of the first generation Rockman X cartridges had a manually attached bodge wire that a faithful emulator must replicate. There is also the case of the Sega Genesis F22 Interceptor, which contained an 8-bit ROM where most cartridges for this 68000-powered platform had a 16-bit part. Simple attempts to copy this cartridge result in the upper 8 bits having random values due to the floating data lines, which yet again an emulator must handle correctly.

It’s a subject with a variety as huge as the number of console developers and their games, and a field in which new quirks are constantly being unearthed. While most of us don’t spend our time peering into dusty cartridges, we’re grateful for this insight into that world.

We’ve visited the world of emulators a few times before, such as when we looked at combatting in-game lag.

10-Way Game Console Lets Everyone Play

[Bitluni]’s motto seems to be, “When you’re busy, get busier.” At least that would explain adding even more work to his plate in the run-up to the Hanover Maker Faire and coming up with a ten-player game console from scratch.

As for this being extra work, recall that [bitluni] had already committed to building a giant ping pong ball LED wall for the gathering. That consisted of prototyping a quarter-scale panel, building custom tooling to get him past the literal pain point of punching 1200 holes, and wiring, programming and testing the whole display. Building a game console that supports ten players at once seems almost tame by comparison. The console is built around an ESP32 module, either WROOM or WROVER thanks to a clever multifunctional pad layout on the slick-looking white PCBs. [bitluni] went with a composite video output using the fast R-2R ladder network DAC that he used for his ESP32 VGA project. The console supports ten Nintendo gamepads for a simple but engaging game something like the Tron light cycles. Unsurprisingly, players found it more fun to just crash into each other on purpose.

Sure, it could have been biting off more than he could chew, but [bitluni] delivered and we appreciate the results. There’s something to be said for adding a little pressure to the creative process.

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SNES Drone Aims To Rock The SPC700

Way back when, home computers and consoles didn’t have the RAM or storage space for full-length recorded audio tracks. Instead, a variety of techniques were used to synthesize music on the fly. The SNES was no exception, using the SPC700 Wavetable Synthesis chip to bust out the tunes. [Foxchild] wanted to use this chip as a standalone synthesizer, but didn’t want to hack up a console to do so. Thus, the SNES Drone was born!

Instead of gutting the console for the juicy chips inside, à la most SID based builds, the SNES Drone takes a different approach. It consists of a cartridge which interfaces with a stock SNES console, making the install easy and non-invasive.

The build is in an alpha state, with the oscillators in the SNES generating continuous tones, with frequency and volume controlled by potentiometers mounted on the cartridge. Having physical controls on the cartridge makes the build feel more like a real synth, and promises to look awesome on stage for a chiptune performance.

[Foxchild] is looking for others to get involved to help get the project to the next stage, so if you’re interested, reach out on the Hackaday.io page. We’ve seen other projects to liberate the awesome chip sounds of yesteryear, too. Video after the break.

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RuneScape GBA Controller Is A Nostalgic Mash-Up

For gamers, the early 2000s certainly stand out as a memorable era. The dawn of the 21st century ushered in the sixth generation of home video game consoles, with Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft all releasing their systems within a few years of each other. Nintendo also released their Game Boy Advance at around the same time, representing a minor revolution for mobile gaming. On the PC front, a free-to-play MMORPG called¬†RuneScape was redefining people’s expectations of browser-based software.

Now, thanks to modern technology and the expert guidance of [TiKevin83], these varied bits of video game history can be used in conjunction for maximum rose-tinting effect. Using homebrew software on the GameCube and a healthy collection of wires and adapters, the GBA can be used as a controller for your adventures through the realm of Gielinor. After nearly two decades, the dreams of gamers everywhere have come true.

Well, that might be a stretch. In fact, we’d wager that nobody in human history has ever looked at the GBA and thought it would be a particularly good controller for an MMORPG. Watching the video after the break, it’s not hard to see why. Using the handheld system’s digital pad to control the mouse in RuneScape looks to be precisely as clunky as you’d imagine. But of course, that’s hardly the point.

So how is it accomplished? A homebrew tool for the GameCube’s “Game Boy Player” accessory allows the GBA, when connected to the console via the appropriate adapter cable, to mimic a standard controller. Once the GBA is running in this mode, it can then be connected to the computer using a Wii U to USB adapter. Finally, the program JoyToKey is used to map the GBA’s buttons to mouse and keyboard input for “Old School” RuneScape.

If you’d like to do something similar but aren’t quite committed enough to collect up all the Nintendo-branded ephemera this method requires, you may be interested in this DIY adapter that allows the venerable GBA to be used as a standard Bluetooth controller.

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NES Gets A Slick Acrylic Casemod

Those alive during the 1990s will remember the clear or “crystal” versions of various home consoles. Made with the usual injection molding processes, they usually came out somewhere closer to a smoky translucency and didn’t reveal much of the insides. [BitHead1000] likes to do things right though, and has busted out an awesome acrylic case mod for his NES.

The build starts with the disassembly of the original console, naturally, and the RF shielding is discarded in order to provide an unobstructed view of the internals. The acrylic case is then built up piece by piece, using the original case as a template. Flame polishing is used to treat the edges, and everything is stuck together using what appears to be acrylic cement. For a nice finishing touch, the cartridge door gets a frosted Nintendo logo, thanks to some careful work in the sandblasting booth.

The final product looks stunning, and the transparent case lends itself excellently to edge-lighting thanks to a few LEDs. We’ve seen [BitHead1000’s] work before, with the stunning flamethrowing N64 build. Video after the break.