The NES Classic Mini was one of the earlier releases in what became a wider trend for tiny versions of classic retro consoles to be released. Everybody wanted one but numbers were limited, so only the lucky few gained this chance to relive their childhood through the medium of Donkey Kong or Mario Brothers on real Nintendo hardware. Evidently [Albert Gonzalez] was one of them, because he’s produced a USB adapter for the Mini controller to allow it to be used as a PC peripheral.
On the small protoboard is the Nintendo connector at one end, an ATtiny85 microcontroller, and a micro-USB connector at the other. The I2C interface from the controller is mapped to USB on the ATtiny through the magic of the V-USB library, appearing to the latter as a generic gamepad. It’s thought that the same interface is likely to also work with the later SNES Classic Mini controller. For the curious all the code and other resources can be found in a GitHub repository, so should you have been lucky enough to lay your hands on a NES Classic Mini then you too can join the PC fun.
The mini consoles were popular, but didn’t excite our community as much as could be expected. Our colleague Lewin Day tool a look at the phenomenon last summer.
Nintendo’s Game Boy is legendary for being the meat in the handheld gaming revolution, as well as being nigh-on indestructible whether in the custody of children or soldiers in the Gulf War. However, [Jiri] decided to see if he could whip up a tribute of his own, in brass instead of plastic.
The hardware is based on the Odroid GO emulator firmware for the ESP32, running on a 2.2″ color TFT screen. It’s a great base for a custom build, which avoids gutting any precious classic hardware. It’s then assembled behind front plate milled out of brass, with delicate point-to-point brass wires giving it an artistic circuit sculpture look. The brass did prove difficult to work with at times, acting as a heat sink which prevented easy soldering of the standoffs in place. To get around this, [Jiri] used a hotplate to heat the plate from below, keeping it warm enough so that a hand iron could do the job.
The final result is a fun Game Boy emulator in a stylish case – though one you shouldn’t throw in a back pack lest it short out the exposed conductors. It would make a great gift for any lifelong Nintendo fan. [Jiri] is no strange to circuit sculpture, as we well know – we’ve featured his tools and methods before. Video after the break.
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Companies like Google and Microsoft have been investing heavily in the concept of cloud gaming, where a player uses their computer or a mobile device to stream the video feed of a game that’s running on powerful machine tucked away in a data center somewhere. With this technology you can play the latest and greatest titles, even if the device you’re using doesn’t have the processing power to run it locally.
Considering the Switch is already a portable system, it’s not too surprising Nintendo doesn’t seem interested in the technology. But that didn’t stop [Stan Dmitriev] from doing a bit of experimentation on his own. With little more than a Raspberry Pi 4 and Trinket M0, he’s demonstrated that users can remotely interact with the Switch well enough to play games in real time.
The setup is fairly straightforward. A cheap HDMI capture device is used to grab the video from the Nintendo Switch dock, which is then streamed out to web with the help of the Pi’s hardware video encoder. Input from the user is sent over the Pi’s UART to the Trinket, which itself is running a firmware specifically developed for mimicking Nintendo Switch controllers. With so many elements involved, naturally some latency comes into play. The roughly 100 millisecond delay [Stan] is reporting isn’t exactly ideal for fast-paced gaming, but is certainly adequate for more relaxed titles.
On the software side of things, the project is using a SDK developed by [Stan]’s employer SurrogateTV. Right now you need to apply if you want to get your game or other interactive gadget up on the service, though he says it will be opened up to the public next year. But even without all the details, we’ve got a clear idea of how both the video capture and user input sides of the equation are being handled. For personal use, all you’d really need to do is put together a simple web interface to tie it all together.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a microcontroller used to interface with the Switch. Other consoles are a bit more selective about what kind of hardware they will talk to, but the Microsoft Adaptive Controller could potentially allow you to do something similar on the Xbox.
Though it was famously started by Linus Torvalds as “a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones“, the Linux kernel and surrounding operating system ecosystems have been ported to numerous architectures beyond their x86 roots. It’s therefore not unusual to hear of new ports for unsupported platforms, but it is extremely unexpected to hear of one when the platform is a games console from the mid-1990s. But that’s what [Lauri Kasanen] has done, announcing a fresh Linux port for the Nintendo 64.
This isn’t a Linux from 1996 either. The port builds on an up-to-date kernel version 5.10 with his N64 branch and a tantalising possibility that it might be incorporated into the main Linux source for the MIPS-64 processor architecture. That’s right, the Nintendo 64 could be an officially supported Linux platform.
It would be stretching the story a long way to call this any kind of distro, for what he’s produced is a bootloader that loads the kernel and creates a terminal with busybox loaded. With this on your flashcart you won’t be replacing that Raspberry Pi any time soon, so why other than [Lauri]’s “because I can” would you be interested in it? He supplies the answer and it lies in the emulation scene, because having a Linux for the platform makes it so much easier to port other software to it. If this tickles your fancy you can see the source in his GitHub repository, and we’re certainly looking forward to what the community will do with it.
We are more used to seeing the N64 as a subject for case-modding, whether it be as a handheld or a an all-in-one console.
Via Phoronix, and thanks [David Beckershoff] for the tip.
Header image: Evan-Amos, Public domain.
A niche activity in console fandom is the shrinking of full-size consoles to smaller formats, taking what could once only be played on the family TV into portable formats that fit in the pocket. In a particularly impressive example of the art, [GmanModz] has made what he claims is the world’s smallest portable Nintendo 64. What makes it particularly noteworthy is that he’s done it not with an emulator or a custom PCB, instead there is a real Nintendo 64 motherboard in there having undergone a significant quantity of trimming.
The video below the break goes into detail on the state of the art in these mods, and shows how he has eschewed the latest tech and instead restricted himself to only using commercially available breakout PCBs and off the shelf modules. The N64 board trimmed down particularly aggressively, requiring a lot of fine magnet wire soldering for the various PCBs replacing the parts removed. The cartridge slot is brought out to the back of the board at a right angle, jutting out from the rear of the 3D printed case above a space for an 18650 cell and allowing an original game cartridge to be played. There is a microcontroller to facilitate a few compromises on lesser uses of the Nintendo control pads, but the result is a fully playable mini handheld console. He does admit that “The battery life sucks, it’s uncomfortable to hold […] But hey — it fits in my pocket. Does your N64?” We can’t fault him on that.
This isn’t the first portable N64 we’ve seen, but will it hold the title of smallest for long? Only time will tell.
Continue reading “Is This The World’s Smallest Nintendo 64?”
When it comes to competitive fighting games, having the right controller in your hands can make the difference between victory and defeat. Many tournaments have strict rules around controllers for this very reason. [Akaki Kuumeri] has recently put together a custom controller, aimed at maximising performance in Super Smash Brothers: Ultimate on the Nintendo Switch. (Video, embedded below.)
The build is assembled in an attractive 3D-printed body, made to be reminiscent of the original Nintendo Entertainment System controller. Inside, a cheap third-party Gamecube controller is used to interface with the console. Mechanical keyboard switches are used to replace the buttons and even the analog sticks, with a special modifier key that enables walking and running across the stage. This is pulled off with a handful of resistors emulating the intermediate position of the analog sticks, and makes pulling off advanced combos easier.
It’s a fun build, and we can imagine the precise digital key inputs having some benefits over analog controls. It also pays to note that such a build wouldn’t be as easy without the ready supply of mechanical key switches thanks to the custom keyboard subculture. We’ve seen these satisfying switches cropping up in many controller builds in recent times.
Continue reading “Building A Smash Bros. Controller With Keyswitches”
A trick famously used by Nintendo to keep its slowly aging SNES console fresh against newer competition was to produce new games with extra support chips in the cartridge to push out hitherto-unthinkable performance. Chips such as the famous SuperFX gave us 3D polygonal graphics, but it would have been a few more years before even much faster platforms could achieve real-time ray-tracing. Nintendo may not have managed it, but here in 2020 [Ben Carter] has a SNES on his bench rendering a complex 3D ray-traced world.
Ray tracing refers to the practice of rendering a scene with accurate lighting by tracing the rays of light that go towards making each pixel. It can achieve results that even approach photorealism, but it remains an extremely computationally intensive job for any computer. To do this with a SNES he hasn’t resorted to a modern computer like the excellent Raspberry-Pi-based NES DOOM cartridge, instead he’s tried to create something that might have graced a Nintendo custom chip back in the 1990s. The tool may be a thoroughly modern DE10-Nano FPGA dev board, but what it implements could conceivably have been made as a 1990s-spec ASIC. In it are three ray tracing cores that do the work, but the final rendering is handled by the SNES itself. At 200 x 160 pixels and 256 colours it’s no graphical powerhouse, but the maximum frame rate of 30 fps makes it no slouch for the day. The video below the break supplies extra detail.
Perhaps an unexpected takeaway of the rendered scene lies in how of its era it seems. It comes from an age in which checker-board floors, mirrored balls, and azure blue skies looked so futuristic, and just before the likes of Toy Story redefined what the general public might expect from 3D rendering. If Nintendo had produced a ray-traced SNES game using a chip like this one, it would have certainly been a defining moment for gaming in that decade.
Continue reading “A SNES, Ray Tracing”