Tiny Game System Is An Experiment In Minimalism

Many people assumed the smartphone revolution would kill the dedicated handheld game system, and really, it’s not hard to see why. What’s the point of buying the latest Nintendo or Sony handheld when the phone you’re already carrying around with you is capable of high-definition 3D graphics and online connectivity? Software developers got the hint quickly, and as predicted, mobile gaming has absolutely exploded over the last few years.

But at the same time, we’ve noticed something of a return to the simplistic handheld systems of yore. Perhaps it’s little more than nostalgia, but small bare-bones systems like the one [Mislav Breka] has entered into the 2019 Hackaday Prize show that not everyone is satisfied with the direction modern gaming has gone in. His system is specifically designed as an experiment to build the most minimal gaming system possible.

In terms of the overall design, this ATMega328 powered system is similar to a scaled-down Arduboy. But while the visual similarities are obvious, the BOM that [Mislav] has provided seems to indicate a considerably more spartan device. Currently there doesn’t seem to be any provision for audio, nor is there a battery and the associated circuitry to charge it. As promised, there’s little here other than the bare essentials.

Unfortunately, the project is off to something of a rocky start. As [Mislav] explains in his writeup on Hackaday.io, there’s a mistake somewhere in either the board design or the component selection that’s keeping the device from accepting a firmware. He won’t have the equipment to debug the device until he returns to school, and is actively looking for volunteers who might be interested in helping him get the kinks worked out on the design.

The Arduboy, Ported To Desktop And Back Again

A neat little hacker project that’s flying off the workbenches recently is the Arduboy. This tiny game console looks like a miniaturized version of the O.G. Game Boy, but it is explicitly designed to be hacked. It’s basically an Arduino board with a display and a few buttons, anyway.

[rv6502] got their hands on an Arduboy and realized that while there were some 3D games, there was nothing that had filled polygons, or really anything resembling a modern 3D engine. This had to be rectified, and the result is pretty close to Star Fox on a microcontroller.

This project began with a simple test on the Arduboy to see if it would be even possible to render 3D objects at any reasonable speed. This test was just a rotating cube, and everything looked good. Then began a long process of figuring out how fast the engine could go, what kind of display would suit the OLED best, and how to interact in a 3D world with limited controls.

Considering this is a fairly significant engineering project, the fastest way to produce code isn’t to debug code on a microcontroller. This project demanded a native PC port, so all the testing could happen on the PC without having to program the Flash every time. That allowed [rv] to throw out the Arduino IDE and USB library; if you’re writing everything on a PC and only uploading a hex file to a microcontroller at the end, you simply don’t need it.

One of the significant advances of the graphics capability of the Arduboy comes from exploring the addressing modes of the OLED. By default, the display is in a ‘horizontal mode’ which works for 2D blitting, but not for rasterizing polygons. The ‘vertical addressing mode’, on the other hand, allows for a block of memory, 8 x 128 bytes, that maps directly to the display. Shove those bytes over, and there’s no math necessary to display an image.

This is, simply, one of the best software development builds we’ve seen. It’s full of clever tricks (like simply not doing math if you’ll never need the result) and stuffing animations into far fewer bytes than you would expect. You can check out the demo video below.

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Arduboy In A Dreamcast VMU

The Arduboy is a tiny, credit-card sized sized video game console that you can build yourself. The Dreamcast VMU was also a tiny, pocketable video game system, but really that’s just where we stored our saves for Crazy Taxi. What do you get when you combine the two? [sjm] did just that, giving us an Arduboy tucked into a Dreamcast VMU.

The guts of the Arduboy is simply an ATMega32u4, the same chip found in many Arduinos, an I2C OLED, and a few other various electronics for USB, power, and battery protection. In short, it’s an easy circuit, and something just about anyone with the skills can build themselves. Since just anyone can get a PCB fabbed, and the Dreamcast already has nice silicone buttons built into the enclosure, it was a simple matter for [sjm] to create a Dreamcast VMU-shaped PCB with all the guts of an Arduboy. The only real difference is the size of the OLED — this one uses a 0.96″ 128×64 OLED, where the original used one with the same resolution but with a significantly larger size.

Yes, we’ve seen this same project before, but now thanks to the magic of the Hackaday Prize, it’s now in the running for the greatest hardware competition on the planet. You can check out the entire build video and a short demo after the break. Of course, this isn’t the first repurposing of the Arduboy circuit, we’ve seen a flex circuit version, and a version with a crank like the Playdate developed by Teenage Engineering and Panic.

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Midiboy, The Portable Gaming Console With MIDI

The ArduBoy is a tiny little gaming console that’s also extremely simple. It’s only a small, cheap, monochrome OLED display, a microcontroller with Arduino-derived firmware, and a few buttons. That’s it, but with these simple ingredients the community around the ArduBoy has created a viable gaming platform. It has cartridges now, and one version has a crank. Now, the MIDIboy is bringing something like the ArduBoy to the world of electronic music.

Inside the MIDIboy is what you would expect from any review of the ArduBoy schematics. There are six buttons, a speaker, a USB port, and a SPI OLED display. In addition to all of this are two big chonkin’ DIN-5 ports for MIDI in and MIDI out, and yes, the MIDI in port has an optoisolator.

As for what you can do with a tiny little game console connected to MIDI, there are already a few choice apps — the MIDI Chords app creates chords, obviously, and the MIDImon sketch is a MIDI monitor. There are some controllers for MIDI synths, and of course this device is completely open source. If you’ve ever wanted a DIY controller for your favorite MIDI synth, this is what you need.

If an ArduBoy with MIDI doesn’t sound exciting, just check out Little Sound DJ. That’s a Game Boy cartridge that turns your old brick Game Boy into a music production workstation. Yes, it sounds great and there’s a lot of potential in a pocket game console with MIDI ports.

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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School’s In Session With Arduboy Curriculum

It’s hard not to be impressed by the Arduboy. In just a few short years, [Kevin Bates] went from proof of concept to a successful commercial product without compromising on his original open source goals. Today, anyone can develop a game for the Arduboy and have it distributed to owners all over the world for free. If you’ve ever dreamt of being a game developer, the Arduboy community is for you.

Realizing the low-cost hardware and open source software of the Arduboy makes it an excellent way to learn programming, [Kevin] is now trying to turn his creation into a legitimate teaching tool. He’s kicking off this new chapter in the Arduboy’s life with a generous offer: giving out free hardware to educators all over the world. Anyone who wants to be considered for the program just needs to write-up a few paragraphs on how they’d utilize the handheld game system in their class.

[Kevin] already knows the Arduboy has been used to teach programming, but those have all been one-off endeavours. They relied on a teacher that was passionate enough about the Arduboy to put in their own time and effort to create a lesson plan around it. So one of the main goals right now is getting an official curriculum put together so educators won’t have to start from scratch. The community has already developed 16 free lessons, but they’re looking for help in creating more and translating them into other languages.

While the details are still up in the air, [Kevin] also plans to travel to schools personally and help them get their Arduboy classes off the ground. He’s especially interested in developing countries and other areas that are disadvantaged educationally. Believing that the Arduboy is as much a way to teach effective leadership and teambuilding as it is programming, he thinks this program can truly make a difference.

Since [Kevin] first Rickrolled us with his prototype in 2014, we’ve seen the Arduboy project spread like wildfire through the hacker community. From figuring out how to play its games on other gadgets to developing an expansion cartridge for the real thing, the Arduboy has already done its fair share of inspiring. Here’s hoping it has just as much of an impact on the next generation of hackers once they get their hands on it.

Hackaday Podcast Ep23: Everything Breaks… Raspberry Pi, ADS-B, Hackaday Website, And Automotive Airbags

Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams talk news and great hacks from the past seven days. Sad word this week as Maker Media, the company behind Make Magazine and Maker Faire, have closed their doors. There seems to be a lot of news about broken hardware and software to discuss, with ADS-B problems grounding hundreds of flights in the US, Hackaday itself having a site outage, the Raspberry Pi 3 B+ can be bricked with a really easy mistake, and Lewin wrote a great overview of the Takata airbag debacle. Don’t worry there are still plenty of hacks as we look at old computers that sing, microcontrollers that chiptune, beat boxes that are actually boxes, and some very neat cartridge hacks for NES and Arduboy.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (60 MB)

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