Until recently, most video game systems didn’t need their own operating systems in order to play games. Especially in the cartridge era — the games themselves simply ran directly on the hardware and didn’t require the middleman of an operating system for any of the functionality of the consoles. There were exceptions for computers that doubled as home computers such as the Commodore, but systems like the NES never had their own dedicated OS. At least, until [Inkbox] designed and built the NES-OS.
The operating system does not have any command line, instead going directly for a graphical user interface. There are two programs that make up the operating system. The first is a settings application which allows the user to make various changes to the appearance and behavior of the OS, and the second is a word processor with support for the Japanese “Family Keyboard” accessory. The memory on the NES is limited, and since the OS loads entirely into RAM there’s only enough leftover space for eight total files. Those files themselves are limited to 832 bytes, which is one screen’s worth of text without scrolling.
While it might seem limited to those of us living in the modern era, the OS makes nearly complete use of the available processing power and memory of this 1980s system that was best known for Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. It’s an impressive build for such a small package, and really dives into a lot of the hardware and limitations when building software for these systems. If you need more functionality than that, we’d recommend installing Linux on the NES Classic instead.
The cartridge was first modeled to match the original as closely as possible, and 3D printed for a fit check. From there, a test cartridge was machined out of a block of aluminium to verify everything was correct. It’s a wise step, given the build relies on a 1-kilogram bar of silver worth roughly $750.
With everything checked and double-checked, machining the silver could go ahead. Every scrap of silver that could be saved from the CNC machining was captured in a box so that it could be recycled. Approximately 28 grams of silver was lost during the process. WD40 was used as a coolant during the machining process, as without it, the silver didn’t machine cleanly. The final cart weighed 164 grams.
It’s not a particularly hard project for an experienced CNC operator, but it is an expensive one. Primary expenses are the cost of the silver bar and the Pokemon cart itself, which can be had for around $50 on the usual auction sites.
However, the “heft and shine” of the finished product is unarguably glorious. Imagine handing that over to a friend to plug into their Game Boy! Just don’t forget to ask for it back. If you’re rich enough to do the same thing with Pokemon Gold or Platinum, don’t hesitate to drop us a line.
The device itself folded up like a laptop, and on the two surfaces had four IR LED/sensor pairs. All of these combined would localize your fist in space for playing Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, or would work with various other passive controller add-ons like a flight yoke for playing Top Gun. (One of the coolest bits is the flip-out IR reflectors triggered by the buttons in the yoke.)
All-in-all, the video’s take is that a number of factors doomed the U-Force to play second fiddle to the Power Glove. Battling Mattel’s marketing prowess is obvious, but other things like manufacturing problems due to bad hinges and inconsistent IR sensors delayed release and added cost. In the end, though, [Dave Capper], the U-Force’s inventor, puts it down simply to non-convincing gameplay. There were no blockbuster games that used it to its full potential.
We think there’s interesting hacker potential in a simple interface like this. Perhaps its biggest Achilles heel outside of the lack of a killer application was the fact that it required calibration. We can imagine all sorts of awesome interactions, and we’re not afraid of a little tweaking. Or maybe we would update the sensors to something more modern, like those inexpensive time-of-flight distance units.
Thanks [Karl Koscher] for bringing this documentary to our attention in the comments about the very similarly interesting laser theremin project we featured last year. It’s definitely opened our eyes to an old interaction of the past that would seem no less magical today.
The build began with a Revision C GameCube motherboard, which comes without the digital video port and the second serial port. It also comes with an integrated power supply on the motherboard which makes it much easier to slim down into a smaller form factor. The main space saving, though, came from removing the rarely-used ports on the bottom of the console and the DVD drive. The latter was replaced with PicoBoot, which allows ISOs to be loaded from an SD card.
Once trimmed down and fitted with a replacement cooling fan, the console then got a custom half-height 3D-printed case. It’s tidy and functional, but we’d love to see a more finished resin-printed version more accurately aping the traditional GameCube aesthetic.
If you want something even more portable, consider building a pocket-sized Wii. Video after the break.
Running unofficial code on a Nintendo Game Boy has long been a solved problem. However, you still need a way to get that code onto the handheld console. The Squareboi cartridge promises to do just that, as created by [ALXCO-Hardware].
It’s a well-featured cartridge, with up to 4 MB of ROM storage onboard. It also features a ferromagnetic RAM part for savegame storage, which doesn’t need a battery to hang on to your precious data. It’s designed to be compatible with the vast majority of Game Boy and Game Boy Color games, with efforts made to support the most common mapping schemes. It can be built using entirely through-hole components, and is readily programmable via an Arduino.
For those eager to tinker with code on the Game Boy, diving into the Squareboi is a great way to get closer to the bare metal and understand what’s really going on at the low level. Those interested in building their own can get all the relevant details over on Github.
We’ve seen similar hacks before, too, like the cartridge that brought Wikipedia to the humble Nintendo handheld. If you’ve been whipping up your own Nintendo hacks, be sure to drop us a line!
If Nintendo is known for anything outside of their characters and admittedly top-notch video games, it’s being merciless to fans when it comes to using their intellectual property. They take legal action against people just for showing non-Nintendo hardware emulating games of theirs, and have even attempted to shut down the competitive scene for games like Super Smash Bros. To get away from the prying eyes of the Nintendo legal team extreme measures need to be taken — like building your Nintendo console clone behind the Iron Curtain.
[Marek Więcek] grew up in just such a place, so the only way to play Famicom (a.k.a NES) games was to use a clone system like this one circulating in the Eastern Bloc at the time called the Pegasus which could get the job done with some tinkering. [Marek] recently came across CPU and GPU chips from this clone console and got to work building his own. Using perf board and wire he was able to test the chips and confirm they functioned properly, but had a problem with the video memory that took him a while to track down and fix.
After that, he has essentially a fully-functional Famicom that can play any cartridge around. While we hope that living in Eastern Europe still puts him far enough away to avoid getting hassled by Nintendo, we can never be too sure. Unless, of course, you use this device which lets you emulate SNES games legally.
As much as we all love the Game Boy Camera, it’s really just an add-on to the popular handheld console. Twitter user [@thegameboycam] decided to build a dedicated camera platform using the hardware, and the result was the Game Boy DSLR.
Camera pedants will note that it’s not really a DSLR, but that’s not really the point. It’s a Game Boy with the camera accessory built into a proper camera-like housing. There’s a CS/C mount for the lens, and it’s got a custom shell with leatherette, just like the cameras of last century. It’s also got a cold shoe, and a 1/4″ screw thread for tripod mounting. Oh, and strap lugs! So you can really rock that old-school aesthetic with your tweed suit on.
More practical modern features include a 1800 mAh battery that charges over USB Type C and a backlit IPS display. The screen has been turned through 90 degrees, and the cartridge port and buttons are relocated to create a more traditional camera-like form factor. If you really want, though, you can still play it like a regular Game Boy. Just swap out the modified camera cart with the lens mount for a regular Game Boy Camera or another game cartridge.
It’s a fun hack that scores big on style points. No longer can you be the cool kid just by rocking a Game Boy with a big ol’ lens hanging off the back. Now you gotta compete with this!
Our tipsline is waiting for when you’ve got the next big thing in Game Boy Camera hacks. Video after the break.