Extraterrestrial Excavation: Digging Holes on Other Worlds

We humans are good at a lot of things, but making holes in the ground has to be among our greatest achievements. We’ve gone from grubbing roots with a stick to feeding billions with immense plows pulled by powerful tractors, and from carving simple roads across the land to drilling tunnels under the English Channel. Everywhere we go, we move dirt and rock out of the way, remodeling the planet to suit our needs.

Other worlds are subject to our propensity for digging holes too, and in the 50-odd years that we’ve been visiting or sending robots as our proxies, we’ve made our marks on quite a few celestial bodies. So far, all our digging has been in the name of science, either to explore the physical and chemical properties of these far-flung worlds in situ, or to actually package up a little bit of the heavens for analysis back home. One day we’ll no doubt be digging for different reasons, but until then, here’s a look at the holes we’ve dug and how we dug them.

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Arcade Asteroids, Now In Colour

Asteroids is one of the classic games of the early arcade era. Launched in 1979 by Atari, it relied upon using an XY vector monitor to deliver crisp graphics for its space-based gameplay. One of the limitations of the original arcade games was that the game was only rendered in a single colour, white. Over 30 years later, [Arcade Jason] decided to see what it would take to build a color Asteroids machine.

The ROM hack also modified the shapes of several in-game objects.

The hack relies on the fact that the original game used a four-bit resistor ladder DAC to draw vectors in different intensity levels. Through some ingeniously simple hardware, this DAC is repurposed to denote different colours instead. It’s laced together with a 74LS08 AND gate chip, along with a handful of resistors and diodes. Three bits are used for red, green, and blue, respectively, with the fourth used as a “white boost” signal to allow the differentiation of colours like red and pink, or dark and light blue. It’s then all wired into an RGB vector monitor for final display. After that, it’s just a matter of a simple ROM hack to set the colors of various on screen objects.

Vector monitors are notoriously hard to film well, but it’s clear that in person the output is rather impressive. Making color versions of old retro games is actually a hobby of [Arcade Jason]’s – we’ve featured his color Vectrex before. Video after the break.

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Light Replaces Electrons for Giant Vector-Graphics Asteroids Game

For all its simplicity, the arcade classic Asteroids was engaging in the extreme, with the ping of the laser, the rumble of the rocket, the crash of crumbling space rocks, and that crazy warble when the damn flying saucers made an appearance. Atari estimates that the game has earned operators in excess of $500 million since it was released in 1979. That’s two billion quarters, and we’ll guess a fair percentage of those coins came from the pockets of Hackaday’s readers and staff alike.

One iconic part of Asteroids was the vector display. Each item on the field was drawn as a unit by the CRT’s electron beam dancing across the phosphor rather than raster-scanned like TV was at the time. The simple graphics were actually pretty hard to create, and with that in mind, [standupmaths] decided to take a close look at the vector display of Asteroids and try to recreate it using a laser.

To be fair, [Seb Lee-Delisle] does all the heavy lifting here, with [standupmaths] providing context on the history and mathematics of the original vector display. [Seb] is a digital artist by trade, and has at the ready a 4-watt RGB laser projector for light shows and displays. Using the laser as a replacement for the CRT’s electron beam, [Seb] was able to code a reasonably playable vector-graphic version of Asteroids on a large projections screen. Even the audio is faithful to the original. The real treat comes when the laser is slowed and a little smoke added to show us how each item is traced out in order.

All [Seb]’s code is posted on GitHub, so if you have a laser projector handy, by all means go for it. Or just whip up a custom vector display for your own tabletop version of Asteroids.

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Most Beautiful Mini-Galaga-Pi Ever!

The problem with click-bait titles, besides the fact that they make the reader feel cheated and maybe a little bit dirty for reading the article, is that they leave us with nothing to say when something is truly outstanding. But the video of [Tiburcio de la Carcova] building up a mini-Galaga cabinet (complete with actual tiny CRT screen from an old portable 5″ TV) is actually the best we’ve ever seen.

Plywood is laser-cut. Custom 3D printed parts are manufactured and assembled, including the joysticks and coin door. Aluminum panels are cut on a bandsaw and bent with a hand brake. Parts are super-glued. In short, it’s a complete, sped-up video of the cutting-edge of modern DIY fab. If that’s not enough reason to spend four minutes of your time, we don’t know what is.

[Tiburcio] has also made a mini Space Invaders, and is thinking of completing the top-20 of his youth. Pacman, Asteroids, and Missile Command are next. We can’t wait.

There are (ahem) a couple of Raspberry-Pi-powered video game emulators on Hackaday, so it’s a little awkward to pick one or two to link in. We’ll leave you with this build that also uses a small CRT monitor to good effect albeit in less-fancy clothing.

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ASTROGUN is like Asteroids on Steroids


As the Jerusalem mini Makerfaire approached, [Avishay] had to come up with something to build. His final project is something he calls ASTROGUN. The ASTROGUN is a sort of augmented reality game that has the player attempting to blast quickly approaching asteroids before being hit.

It’s definitely reminiscent of the arcade classic, Asteroids. The primary difference is that the player has no space ship and does not move through space. Instead, the player has a first person view and can rotate 360 degrees and look up and down. The radar screen in the corner will give you a rough idea of where the asteroids are coming from. Then it’s up to you to actually locate them and blast them into oblivion before they destroy you.

The game is built around a Raspberry Pi computer. This acts as the brains of the operation. The Pi interfaces with an MPU-9150 inertial measurement unit (IMU). You commonly see IMU’s used in drones to help them keep their orientation. In this case, [Avishay] is using it to track the motion and orientation of the blaster. He claims nine degrees of freedom with this setup.

The Pi generates the graphics and sends the output to a small, high-brightness LCD screen. The screen is mounted perpendicular to the player’s view so the screen is facing “up”. There is a small piece of beam splitting glass mounted above the display at approximately a 45 degree angle. This is a special kind of glass that is partially reflective and partially translucent. The result is that the player sees the real-world background coming through the glass, with the digital graphics overlaid on top of that. It’s similar to some heads-up display technologies.

All of the electronics fit either inside or mounted around a toy gun. The display system was attached with a custom-made fiberglass mount. The code appears to be available via Github. Be sure to watch the video of the system in action below. Continue reading “ASTROGUN is like Asteroids on Steroids”

Vector Graphic Flappy Bird Harder Than It Should Be

The dark room at Maker Faire was loud,  after all it’s where Arc Attack was set up plus several other displays that had music. But if you braved the audio, and managed not to experience a seizure or migraine from all the blinking you were greeted with these sharply glowing vector displays on exhibit at the TubeTime booth. We did the best we could with the camera work, but the sharpness of the lines, and contrast of the phosphorescent images against the black screen still seems to pop more if viewed in person.

This isn’t [Eric’s] first attempt at driving high-voltage tube displays. We previously covered his dekatron kitchen timer. But we’d say he certainly stepped things up several notches in the years between then and now. He blogged about Asteroids, which is running on the same hardware as the Flappy Bird demo from our video above. An STM32F4 Discovery board is running a 6502 emulator to push the game to [Eric’s] CRT vector driver hardware.

Just before we were done at the booth, [Eric] turned to us with a twinkle in his eye. He confessed his delight in purposely leaving out any button debounce from the Flappy Bird demo. As if it wasn’t hard enough it tends to glitch after passing just a few of the pipe gates. Muhuhahaha!

Making Asteroids Miniature


Mini arcade cabinet builds are fairly common, but we’ve never seen anything like [Jurgen]’s mini vector Asteroids cabinet that takes an original Asteroids circuit board and a true vector monitor and shrinks it down to table top size.

Unlike the raster monitors of a later generation’s arcade games, the original Asteroids cabinet used a vector monitor just like one would find in an oscilloscope. [Jurgen] found the perfect CRT in, of all places, a broken Vectrex console. The video circuitry in the Vectrex was rather primitive and the beam deflection was far too slow for the video signals generated by the Asteroids PCB. To get around this, [Jurgen] added a custom XY driver board. While the Asteroids game – and other vector Atari games – were designed for a screen with 1 MHz of bandwidth, [Jurgen] found that 300 kHz was ‘good enough’ to display proper Asteroids graphics.

While the cabinet isn’t a miniaturized version of any proper cabinet, [Jurgen] did manage to build a rather nice looking case for his luggable version of Asteroids. The exposed PCB on the back is a great touch, and an awesome project for any ancient video game aficionado.