The retro-facing side of British social media has been abuzz for the last few days with a very neat piece of marketing form the catalogue retailer Argos: they’ve digitised all their catalogues since 1975 and put them online. While this contains a cross-section of over four decades’ styles, fads, and ephemera, it also gives the browser a fascinating look at a host of retrotechnology from a contemporary viewpoint rather than through the rose-tinted glasses of 2019. It may not be a hack, but we guarantee you’ll spend a while browsing it!
Classic games consoles played their games from cartridges, plastic bricks that held a PCB with the game code on it ready to be run by the console hardware. You might therefore expect them to be an easy prospect for emulation, given that the code can be extracted from whatever ROM they contain. But as anyone with an interest in the subject will tell you, some cartridges included extra hardware to boost the capabilities of their games, and this makes the job of an emulator significantly more complex.
[Byuu] has penned an article exploring this topic across a variety of consoles, with in-depth analyses of special-case cartridges. We see the obvious examples such as the DSP coprocessors famously used on some SNES games, as well as Nintendo’s Super Game Boy that contained an entire Game Boy on a chip.
But perhaps more interesting are the edge-case cartridges which didn’t contain special hardware. Capcom’s Rockman X had a copy protection feature that sabotaged the game if it detected RAM at a frequently used save game address emulated by copiers. Unfortunately this could also be triggered accidentally, so every one of the first generation Rockman X cartridges had a manually attached bodge wire that a faithful emulator must replicate. There is also the case of the Sega Genesis F22 Interceptor, which contained an 8-bit ROM where most cartridges for this 68000-powered platform had a 16-bit part. Simple attempts to copy this cartridge result in the upper 8 bits having random values due to the floating data lines, which yet again an emulator must handle correctly.
It’s a subject with a variety as huge as the number of console developers and their games, and a field in which new quirks are constantly being unearthed. While most of us don’t spend our time peering into dusty cartridges, we’re grateful for this insight into that world.
We’ve visited the world of emulators a few times before, such as when we looked at combatting in-game lag.
What’s sitting on [Bob Alexander]’s desk in the video below did not start out life as the desktop calculator it appears to be. Turning it into a standalone calculator with features the original designers couldn’t imagine turned out to be an interesting project, and a trip down the retrocomputing rabbit hole.
A little explanation is in order. Sure, with its Nixie display, calculator keypad, and chunky mid-century design, the Wang 360 desktop console looks like a retro calculator. But it’s actually only a dumb terminal for a much, MUCH bigger box, called the Electronic Package, that would fit under a desk. The foot-warming part that was once connected to [Bob]’s console by a thick cable that had been unceremoniously lopped off by a previous owner. [Bob] decided to remedy the situation with modern electronics. The console turned out to have enough room for a custom PCB carrying a PIC32, some level-shifting components, power supply modules that include the high-voltage supply for the Nixies, and a GPS module because Nixies and clocks just go together. The interesting bit is the programming; [Bob] chose to emulate the original Wang methods of doing math, which include multiplication by logarithmic addition. Doing so replicates the original look and feel of the calculator down to the rapid progression of numbers across the Nixies as the logarithms are calculated using the display registers.
We normally frown on vintage gear being given modern guts, but in this case [Bob] hit just the right balance of new and old, And given that the Electronic Packages these consoles were connected to go for $1500 or more on eBay, it was a better choice than letting the console go to scrap. A similarly respectful approach was taken with this TRS80 Model 100 revival.
Playing a video game online is almost second nature now. So much so that almost all multiplayer video games have ditched their split-screen multiplayer modes because they assume you’d rather just be alone at your house than hanging out with your friends. This wasn’t always the case though. In the early days of online multiplayer, systems had to rely on dial-up internet before broadband was readily available (and still had split screen if you didn’t even have that). Almost no one uses dial up anymore though, so if you still like playing your old Dreamcast you’re going to have to do some work to get it online again.
Luckily for all of us there’s a Raspberry Pi image to do almost anything now. This project from [Kazade] uses one to mimic a dial-up connection for a Dreamcast so you can connect with other people still playing Quake 20 years later. It’s essentially a network bridge, but you will need some extra hardware because phone lines use a high voltage line that you’ll have to make (or buy) a solution for. Once all the hardware is set up and working, you’ll need to make a few software configuration changes, but it’s a very straightforward project.
Granted, there have been ways of playing Dreamcast games online before, but this new method really streamlines the process and makes it as simple as possible. The Dreamcast was a great system, and there’s an argument to be made that the only reason it wasn’t more popular was that it was just slightly too far ahead of its time.
Thanks to [Rusty] for the tip!
The Dreamcast was a proud moment for Sega, at least initially, being the first console to launch of a new generation. Unfortunately this didn’t translate into massive sales, and the plug was pulled far earlier than expected. The console retains a dedicated fanbase to this day however, who continue to tinker with the hardware. [DreamcastChannel] is one of them, and put together a nifty plug-and-play hard drive mod.
The mod is based on earlier work, which consisted of manually soldering the 44 lines of an IDE cable on to the main Dreamcast motherboard. This allowed an IDE hard drive to be neatly mounted inside the shell, but [DreamcastChannel] knew it was possible to do better.
Starting from scratch, the GDROM optical drive assembly is gutted, leaving just its metal case and PCB. The IDE cable for the hard disk is then soldered to the pads on the PCB. A 3D printed mount is used to fix the hard drive to the metal case. This allows the entire assembly to slot neatly into the Dreamcast, using the GDROM’s original connector.
It’s a hack that makes putting a hard drive into the Dreamcast neat and tidy. Combined with a hacked BIOS and Dreamshell, it makes playing backup games a breeze. We’ve seen plenty of Dreamcast hacks before, too – the VMU is often a key candidate for attention. Video after the break.
A retro game console is a fun all-arounder project. You’ve got electronics, mechanical design, and software considerations. For this year’s Hackaday Prize, is going all in. The Portable Retro Game Console with 7.9-inch Display is a work of art, and everything that a retro console could be.
This build is based on the Raspberry Pi 3 A+ instead of the B model for space-saving considerations. The screen is a beautiful 7.9 inch IPS panel with 2048 x 1536 resolution. Stereo 3 W speakers pump out the tunes, and an 8000 mAh provides somewhere between 3 and 6 hours of play time.
While using a Raspberry Pi 3 for retro gaming is fun, there’s a world of oppurtunity for emulating bigger and badder consoles thanks to more powerful single board computers. The Nvidia Jetson Nano is far more powerful than the Raspberry Pi 3, and could conceivably emulate N64 and PlayStation games. The Atomic Pi, the fantastic computer that totally isn’t industrial surplus repackaged as an educational computer, already is proven to emulate N64 games. Imagine taking a portable console out of your backpack and playing Conker’s Bad Fur Day on the bus. Oh, that’s cheeky, but it is possible thanks to the amazing work of hardware creators.
Before there were Nintendo Switches, there were Game Boys. And before that there were all the successive generations of Game Boys and other consoles right back to the Game and Watch, and then those handheld Simon and Space Invaders games of the late 1970s. These devices typically packed a 4-bit microcontroller and an array of discrete LEDs, and movements in-game were simply created by alternate LEDs on the game field being flashed.
The TeleBall from [sv2002] is a handheld game in the vein of those early handheld games, in that it features a matrix of LEDs as a screen on which it can display simple games. So far it plays Breakout, and Tennis for Two, which might seem odd were it not for its built-in radio for two-person play with two consoles.
Inside the TeleBall is an Arduino Nano, a Maxim display driver for the LED matrix, and the familiar Nordic Semiconductor RF module. Control is via a potentiometer, and everything sits in a smart 3D-printed case. Everything is open-source, so should you wish to have your own you can head over to the project’s web site and grab all the files. You can watch it in action playing tennis with two consoles in the video below the break.
The original Tennis for Two created in 1958 was an oscilloscope game using an analogue computer, and is credited as the first video game created purely for entertainment purposes. If you’d like to see a recreation of it, we covered one over a decade ago.