Two Joysticks Talk To FPGA Arcade Game Over A VGA Cable

We really love when hacks of previous hacks show up in the tip line. It shows how the hardware hacking community can be a feedback loop, where one hack begets the next, and so on until great things are everywhere. This hacked joystick port for an FPGA Pac Man game is a perfect example of that creative churn.

The story starts with Pano Man, a version of the venerable arcade game ported to a Pano Logic FPGA thin client by [Skip]. We covered that story when it first came out, and it caught the attention of [Tom Verbeure], particularly the bit in the GitHub readme file which suggested there might be a better way to handle the joystick connections. So [Tom] took up the challenge of using the Extended Display Identification Data (EDID) circuit in the VGA connector to support an Atari 2600 joystick. The EDID system is an I²C bus, so the job needed the right port expander. [Tom] chose the MCP23017, a 16-bit device that would have enough GPIO for dual joysticks and a few extra buttons. Having never designed a PCB before, [Tom] fell down that rabbit hole for a bit, but quickly came up with a working design, and then a better one, and then the final version. The video below shows it in action with Pano Man.

We think the creative loop between [Skip] and [Tom] was great here, and we can’t wait to see who escalates next. And it’s pretty amazing how much IO can be stuffed over two wires if you have the right tools. Check out this VGA sniffing effort to learn more about EDID and I²C.

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Racing the Beam and Dropping Some Beats

The heart of the Atari 2600 wasn’t the 6502 (or the 6507 for the pedants), it was the TIA chip. This is the chip responsible for drawing graphics on the display, racing the beam, and extremely limited support for sound generation. We haven’t seen many attempts of using the Atari 2600 for chiptunes, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. [John Sutley]’s Syndrum, a take on an Atari 2600 drum machine is nearly a work of art. It’s a custom cartridge for the wood-paneled Atari, and an impressive input device that turns this classic console into a beat machine

Did the Atari 2600 ever come with a drum machine cartridge? Maybe. Probably not. [John] originally built this project to experiment with the TIA chip, but found it was less tonal than a kazoo. That struck ‘Atari synthesizer’ off the list and replaced it with an ‘Atari drum machine’. There are two key parts of the build here, the first being a repurposed Asteroids cartridge that had the PROM replaced with a ZIF socket. This allows [John] to easily burn new code to an EEPROM, stuff it in the socket, and run it on the Atari. All the code was developed with batari Basic, a BASIC-inspired language that spits out .bin files for the Atari.

But running code on the Atari is just one half of this build. To do a drum machine, you somehow need to tell the Atari when to play each sound. Given the lack of expansion capabilities for the Atari, [John] turned to the controller port. The Syndrum uses Arduino Nano to bridge the DE9 controller connector to a MIDI port. Yes, it’s real MIDI, on a machine that could probably never do MIDI natively (although we’d love to see someone try).

Need a video of this mind-blowing hack in action? Here you go:

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Atari 2600 in a Game Cartridge

[PJ Evans] had a ruined game cartridge lying around, just waiting for a project. As Activision’s F-14 Tomcat game for the Atari 2600 console, it seemed ripe for use as a project enclosure of some sort. When he came across a couple of 9-pin D-sub joystick ports, he had an idea. He realized his Rasperry Pi Zero could fit inside the cartridge. Add a power button, TV color selector, difficulty switch, as well as select and reset buttons, and you have an emulator.

[PJ]’s Pi Zero had more than enough GPIO pins to accommodate all of those buttons and switches plus a bunch more for the joysticks. Why not put the emulator inside a game cartridge? In terms of software [PJ] looked into Adafruit’s Retro Gaming with Raspberry Pi resource, which has tons of suggestions for setting up game emulators. He decided on the RetroPie operating system to help him map out all of the pins, with Stella doing the actual Atari 2600 emulation.

Thanks, @seb_ly]!

Atari Now Runs Java, Thankfully Doesn’t Require Constant Updates

Java Grinder is a tool that compiles Java programs to run on platforms like microcontrollers and consoles, by outputting native assembly code and using APIs to work with custom hardware like bespoke graphics and sound chips. Amongst other hardware, Java Grinder supports the Commodore 64, which uses a variant of the 6502 CPU. [Michael Kohn] realized the Atari 2600 shares this processor, and figured he’d get started on making Java Grinder work with the Atari by expanding on the C64 work done by [Joe Davisson]. Together, they brought Java to the Atari 2600 and made a game along the way.

According to [Michael], parts of the project were easy, as some Java routines compile down into as little as 1 or 2 instructions on the 6502. Other parts were harder, like dealing with the graphics subsystem, and modifying Java Grinder to output 8-bit bytecode to fit into the Atari’s tiny 4K ROM limit. Even with this tweak, they still couldn’t fit in a game and title screen. In the end they relied on bank switching to get the job done. [Joe]’s game is pretty solid fare for the Atari 2600 — blocky graphics and bleepy sounds — and they’ve uploaded it to the page so you can try it yourself in an emulator.

At the end of the day, porting Java code to a system with 128 bytes of RAM probably isn’t going to be particularly useful. However, as a coding exercise and learning experience, there’s a lot of value here in terms of building your skills as a coder. Other such experiments have shown us Java running on other unexpected devices, like the Sega Genesis or the MSP430. Video after the break.

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An Atari 2600 In Your Pocket

If there’s one console that holds a special place in the hearts of console gamers of a certain age, it’s the Atari 2600. A 6502 based system with a cartridge slot and a couple of joysticks, it plugged into your home TV and if you had one for Christmas in the late ’70s you were suddenly the coolest kid in the neighbourhood.

The last new 2600s were sold in the early 1990s, but all was not lost for 2600 fans. In the last decade the format was revived as the Atari Flashback, an all-in-one console containing a selection of games and no cartridge slot. The Flashback had a flaw though, it stayed true to the original in that it needed a TV set. Rather a pity in a world of hand-held consoles.

[Lovablechevy] set out to release the Flashback from the TV set, and created a very tidy hand held Atari 2600 console with sound and a screen, all in the casing of an original 2600 cartridge.

There isn’t a lot of room in a 2600 cartridge, so as her worklog shows, she had to cut up the PCB and be very careful with her wiring to ensure it all fits. She’s using the Flashback 2 as her source console, and she tells us it has 42 games to choose from.

If the worklog pictures weren’t enough she’s posted a video of the device in action, and it shows a very neat and playable hand-held console. We would have done anything to get our hands on one of those had it been available in 1980!

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Philly Fixers Guild Will Teach You How to Fish

One crisp Saturday afternoon a couple of weeks ago, the Philly Fixers Guild held its second Repair Fair. Not second annual, mind you; the first fair was held in September. People came from miles around, hauling with them basement and attic treasures that needed, well, fixing. [Fran] is one of the Guild’s volunteer fixers, and she shot some video of the event which is waiting for you after the break.

The Philly Fixers Guild aims to promote sustainability in the surrounding community by teaching interested parties to repair their possessions that might otherwise end up in a landfill. The fairs are not meant to be a drop-off repair site—attendees are expected to stay and learn about what’s wrong with their item and how it can or can’t be fixed.

The Guild is open to volunteers who are interested in teaching people how to fish, as it were. Expertise is not limited to electronics repair; guild members are just as interested in teaching people how to sew a replacement button on their winter coat or building that thing they bought at IKEA.

Nowhere near Pennsylvania? Several groups like the Philly Fixers Guild have already been established in a few larger US cities. If you’re not near any of those either (and we can sympathize), you could do worse than to start your own. If you’re part of a ‘space, creating such a guild would be a good way to spread the word about it and the gospel of DIY.

In the video, [Fran] discusses an Atari 2600’s control problem with its owner. She re-seats the 6532 RIOT chip and explains that this may or may not have solved the problem. If not, [Fran] is confident that new old stock chips are available out there on the hinterwebs. There might still be some landfill carts on ebay if the owner gets it up and running. [Fran] also fixes the controls on a Peavey amp and gets some Pink Floyd to issue forth from a previously non-functioning Zenith portable AM/FM radio that’s old enough to have a snap cover.

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Atari Video Game Burial Hits Ebay

1983 was the year of the great video game crash, and after the chiefs of Atari realized they had produced more copies of Pac-Man than consoles sold, these games, along with other ‘treasures’ were loaded into trucks, shipped out to the desert, and buried in a New Mexico landfill. Last year, these consoles were rescued. Now, thanks to the efforts of the Tularosa Basin Historical Society, these cartridges are for sale again.

Want to grab your own copy of E.T., Asteroids, Star Raiders, or Centipede rescued from a landfill in a desert? Here’s a link to the seller on eBay, with the highest auction being E.T., in box, going for $400 with nine days left. The auction comes with a certificate of authenticity from the city of Alamogordo.

This is only the first batch of cartridges and boxes rescued from the dump, with the Tularosa Basin Historical Society putting at least another 700 items up for sale if this batch goes well.

With the rousing success of this bit of dumpster diving, we must point out another techno-archeological myth/legend: there are several thousand Apple Lisas in a Utah landfill, just waiting for someone to come in and pick through the remnants of an Apple tax writeoff.