Introducing The Universal Atari Keyboard Case

[10p6] wondered what it would be like if Atari had used a standardized keyboard across its 16-bit and 32-bit computer lines in 1985. Imagination is fun, but building things is even better, and thus they set out to create such a thing. Enter the Universal Atari Keyboard Case.

The case design is flexible, and can accept a keyboard from models including the Atari ST and Falcon. The keyboard can then be used with an Atari Mega, TT, or desktop-style Atari computers without mods. It also brings modern peripherals to bear on these old Atari platforms, enabling the use of modern USB mice while also using the two onboard joystick ports. Power and floppy LEDs are present, but subtly hidden beneath the case, only becoming visible when illuminated. It also includes 5-watt stereo speakers for getting the best out of the Atari’s sound hardware.

The final part, a full 473mm long, was 3D printed in resin for a high-quality surface finish. The results are so good it almost looks like a genuine factory keyboard.

If you’re regularly playing with your vintage Atari machines and you want a great keyboard to use with them, this could be the design for you. [10p6] has promised to soon upload the design files to Thingiverse for those eager to replicate the work.

We’ve also seen retro Atari keyboard converted to work with modern machines. Video after the break. Continue reading “Introducing The Universal Atari Keyboard Case”

Reverse Engineering The SEGA Mega Drive

With the widespread adoption of emulators, almost anyone can start playing video games from bygone eras. Some systems are even capable of supporting homebrew games, with several having active communities that are still creating new games even decades later. This ease of programming for non-PC platforms wasn’t always so easy, though. If you wanted to develop games on a now-antique console when it was still relatively new, you had to jump through a lot of hoops. [Tore] shows us how it would have been done with his Sega Mega Drive development kit that he built from scratch.

While [Tore] had an Atari ST, he wanted to do something a little more cutting edge and at the time there was nothing better than the Mega Drive (or the Genesis as it was known in North America). It had a number of features that lent the platform to development, namely the Motorola 68000 chip that was very common for the time and as a result had plenty of documentation available. He still needed to do quite a bit of reverse engineering of the system to get a proper dev board running, though, starting with figuring out how the cartridge system worked. He was able to build a memory bank that functioned as a re-writable game cartridge.

With the hard parts out of the way [Tore] set about building the glue logic, the startup firmware which interfaced with his Atari ST, and then of course wiring it all together. He was eventually able to get far enough along to send programs to the Mega Drive that would allow him to control sprites on a screen with the controller, but unfortunately he was interrupted before he could develop any complete games. The amount of research and work to get this far is incredible, though, and there may be some helpful nuggets for anyone in the homebrew Mega Drive community today. If you don’t want to get this deep into the Mega Drive hardware, though, you can build a cartridge that allows for development on native Sega hardware instead.

An Atari 130XE's keyboard made mechanical with Kailh box pinks and 3D-printed keyswitch stems.

Atari 130XE Keyboard Now Goes Clack

Performing a resto-mod on a beloved piece of childhood technology can be quite a ride. In [Bertrand]’s case, it was the keyboard to their Atari 130XE. Although it has those cool double-shot keycaps, they’re hiding a crappy membrane underneath that could really benefit from a mechanical upgrade. Relax — the membrane part was broken.

[Bertrand] designed and printed some new stems for Kailh box pinks that can accept both of the two known variants instead of the standard Cherry MX receptacle. He also made a new PCB (natch) and a keyboard adapter to replace the membrane interface, and had a steel keyswitch plate custom cut. The so-called Atari 130MX mod can be used with an Atari 130XE computer, or as a regular keyboard for a PC if you solder in a Pico.

[Bertrand] says that this labor of love was meant to be reproduced and told us that for some folks in the Atari community, it’s already on like Donkey Kong. If you’re going to attempt this mod, know that filament printers won’t work well at all for these tiny and precise parts. [Bertrand] printed the stems on an Elegoo with a resolution of 1/20 mm (50 micrometers). On the bright side, old-new stock Atari keycaps are not that hard to find. Check it out after the break.

We love to see vintage keyboards get modern upgrades. Did you see the nuclear missile silo keyboard/trackball combo? When we read that it came from ebay, our wallet took itself to DEFCON 1.

Continue reading “Atari 130XE Keyboard Now Goes Clack”

Video Gaming Like It’s 1983: New Game Cartridges From Atari

If you remember anything from 1983, it’s likely to be some of the year’s popular culture highlights, maybe Return of the Jedi, or Michael Jackson’s Thriller. For anyone connected with the video gaming industry though, it’s likely that year will stick in the mind for a completely different reason, as the year of the infamous Great Video Games Crash. Overcapacity in the console market coupled with a slew of low quality titles caused sales to crash and a number of companies to go out of business, and the console gaming world would only recover later in the decade with the arrival of the Japanese 8-bit consoles from Nintendo and Sega. You might expect Atari to shy away from such a painful period of their history, but instead they are embracing it as part of their 50th anniversary and launching three never-released titles on cartridges for their 8-bit 2600 console.

Game footage from Aquaventure.
Game footage from Aquaventure.

The three games, Yars’ Return, Aquaventure, and Saboteur, are all unreleased titles from back in the day that never saw publication because of the crash, and are being released as limited edition specials through AtariXP, a new venture that the company says will offer “previously unreleased titles from Atari’s expansive library, rare-and-hard-to-find Atari IP physical media, and improved versions of classic games“. It’s fairly obviously an exercise in satisfying the collector’s market rather than one of video game publishing, but it will be interesting to see what emerges. In particular we hope someone will tear down one of these cartridges; will they find a set of old-school EPROMs inside or an EPROM emulator sporting a microcontroller and other 2020s trickery?

This is not of course the first time we’ve reported on collectable 2600 cartridges, but these ones haven’t spent 30 years in a landfill site.

Header image: Evan-Amos, Public domain.

Yo Dawg, We Heard You Like Retrocomputers

The idea of having software translation programs around to do things like emulate a Super Nintendo on your $3000 gaming computer or, more practically, run x86 software on a new M1 Mac, seems pretty modern since it is so prevalent in the computer world today. The idea of using software like this is in fact much older and easily traces back into the 80s during the era of Commodore and Atari personal computers. Their hardware was actually not too dissimilar, and with a little bit of patience and know-how it’s possible to compile the Commodore 64 kernel on an Atari, with some limitations.

This project comes to us from [unbibium] and was inspired by a recent video he saw where the original Apple computer was emulated on Commodore 64. He took it in a different direction for this build though. The first step was to reformat the C64 code so it would compile on the Atari, which was largely accomplished with a Python script and some manual tweaking. From there he started working on making sure the ROMs would actually run. The memory setups of these two machines are remarkably similar which made this slightly easier, but he needed a few workarounds for a few speed bumps. Finally the cursor and HMIs were configured, and once a few other things were straightened out he has a working system running C64 software on an 8-bit Atari.

Unsurprisingly, there are a few things that aren’t working. There’s no IO besides the keyboard and mouse, and saving and loading programs is not yet possible. However, [unbibium] has made all of his code available on his GitHub page if anyone wants to expand on his work and may also improve upon this project in future builds. If you’re looking for a much easier point-of-entry for emulating Commodore software in the modern era, though, there is a project available to run a C64 from a Raspberry Pi.

Thanks to [Cprossu] for the tip!

Cloud-Based Atari Gaming

While the Google Stadia may be the latest and greatest in the realm of cloud gaming, there are plenty of other ways to experience this new style of gameplay, especially if you’re willing to go a little retro. This project, for example, takes the Atari 2600 into the cloud for a nearly-complete gaming experience that is fully hosted in a server, including the video rendering.

[Michael Kohn] created this project mostly as a way to get more familiar with Kubernetes, a piece of open-source software which helps automate and deploy container-based applications. The setup runs on two Raspberry Pi 4s which can be accessed by pointing a browser at the correct IP address on his network, or by connecting to them via VNC. From there, the emulator runs a specific game called Space Revenge, chosen for its memory requirements and its lack of encumbrance of copyrights. There are some limitations in that the emulator he’s using doesn’t implement all of the Atari controls, and that the sound isn’t available through the remote desktop setup, but it’s impressive nonetheless

[Michael] also glosses over this part, but the Atari emulator was written by him “as quickly as possible” so he could focus on the Kubernetes setup. This is impressive in its own right, and of course he goes beyond this to show exactly how to set up the cloud-based system on his GitHub page as well. He also thinks there’s potential for a system like this to run an NES setup as well. If you’re looking for something a little more modern, though, it is possible to set up a cloud-based gaming system with a Nintendo Switch as well.

Continue reading “Cloud-Based Atari Gaming”

Rooting The Atari VCS 800

The Atari VCS 800 is a modern product, a hybrid of a PC and a games console. Fundamentally, its a bunch of modern chips in a box running Linux that will let you browse the web or emulate some old games. Now, thanks to [ArcadeHustle], you can have persistent root access to the VCS 800 at your leisure.

The trick is simple, and begins by interrupting the systemd startup scripts on boot. One can then merge files into the /etc directory to achieve root access, either by the tty terminal or over TCP. It’s all wrapped up in the script available at the Github link above.

You can actually run a variety of OSs on the hardware, as it’s powered by an AMD Ryzen R1606G CPU and runs straightforward PC architecture. However, if you want to customize the existing OS to do your bidding, this hack is the way to go.

Hacking to get root access is key if you want to get anywhere with a system. We’ve seen it done on thin clients as well as car infotainment systems to give the owner full control over the hardware they own. If you’ve got your own root exploit you’d like to share, do drop us a line, won’t you?