Console Controller Mod Gets Amputee Back In The Game

No matter how it happens, losing one or more fingers is going to change one’s life in thousands of ways. We’re a manipulative species, very much accustomed to interacting with the world through the amazing appendages at the ends of our arms. Finding ways around the problems that result from amputations is serious business, of course, even when it’s just modifying a game console controller for use with a prosthetic hand.

We’ve gotten to know [Ian Davis] quite well around these parts, at least from his videos and Instagram posts. [Ian]’s hard to miss — he’s in the “Missing Parts Club” as he puts it, consisting of those who’ve lost all or part of a limb, which he has addressed through his completely mechanical partial-hand prosthetic. As amazing as the mechanical linkages of that prosthetic are, he hasn’t regained full function, at least not to the degree required to fully use a modern game console controller, so he put a couple of servos and a Trinket to work to help.

An array of three buttons lies within easy reach of [Ian]’s OEM thumb. Button presses there are translated into servo movements that depress the original bumper buttons, which are especially unfriendly to his after-market anatomy. Everything rides in an SLA-printed case that’s glued atop the Playstation controller. [Ian] went through several design iterations and even played with the idea of supporting rapid fire at one point before settling on the final design shown in the video below.

It may not make him competitive again, but the system does let him get back in the game. And he’s quite open about his goal of getting his designs seen by people in a position to make them widely available to other amputees. Here’s hoping this helps.

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A Look Behind The “Big Boards” At Mission Control In The Golden Age Of NASA

Certified space-nerd and all-around retro-tech guru [Fran Blanche] has just outdone herself with a comprehensive look at how NASA ran the Mission Control “Big Boards” that provided flight data for controllers for Apollo and for the next 20 years of manned spaceflight.

We’ve got to admit, [Fran] surprised us with this one. We had always assumed that the graphs and plots displayed in front of the rows of mint-green consoles and their skinny-tie wearing engineers were video projections using eidophor projectors. And to be sure, an eidophor, the tech of which [Jenny] profiled a while back, was used on one of the screens to feed video into Mission Control, either live from the Moon or from coverage of the launch and recovery operations. But even a cursory glance at the other screens in front of “The Pit” shows projections of a crispness and clarity that was far beyond what 1960s video could achieve.

Instead, plots and diagrams were projected into the rear of the massive screens using a completely electromechanical system. Glass and metal stencils were used to project the icons, maps, and grids, building up images layer by layer. Colors for each layer were obtained by the use of dichroic filters, and icons were physically moved to achieve animations. Graphs and plots were created Etch-a-Sketch style, with a servo-controlled stylus cutting through slides made opaque with a thin layer of metal. The whole thing is wonderfully complex, completely hacky, and a great example of engineering around the limits of technology.

Hats off to [Fran] for digging into this forgotten bit of Space Race tech. Seeing something like this makes the Mission Control centers of today look downright boring by comparison.

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A VGA Retro Console With Everything Generated From A Single ARM Cortex M0

The later game consoles of the 8-bit era such as Nintendo’s NES or Sega’s Master System produced graphics that went beyond what owners of early 1980s home computers had come to expect from machines with the same processors, but they did so only with the help of powerful custom chipsets for their day that took care of the repetitive hard work of assembling frames and feeding them to the display device. Reproducing their equivalent with more modern hardware requires either some means of creating similar custom silicon, or a processor significantly more powerful such that it can do the work of those extra chips itself. But even with a modern microcontroller it’s still a significant challenge, so [Nicola Wrachien]’s uChip, a VGA console that does the whole job in software on a humble ARM Cortex M0 is a significant achievement.

If you are familiar with the home computers that used the processor to generate the display output, you’ll know that they spent most of their time working on the lines of the display and only had a few milliseconds of the frame blanking period for the device to perform any computing tasks before returning to the next frame. The 320×240 at 57 frames per second gives a line sync frequency of 30 kHz, and the computing happens while the display is sent the black space at the top and bottom of the screen. This is reckoned to be equivalent of the ATSAMD21E18 microcontroller on the uChip module the system uses running at only 10MHz rather than the 48MHz it is running at in reality, and with these resources it also runs the game logic, USB controller interfacing, reading games from the SD card, and game sound.

The result is a complete game console on a small PCB little longer on its longest side than its connectors. We may have largely seen the demise of VGA on the desktop several years after we called it, but it seems there is plenty of life in the interface yet for hardware hackers.

Console Identity In The Age Of PlayStation 5 And Xbox Series

Consoles are obsolete the minute they are released. The onward march of silicon innovation ensures that consoles never are able to keep up with the times, but technical superiority rarely results in being remembered. That kind of legacy is defined by the experiences a device provides. A genre defining game, a revolutionary approach to media, or a beloved controller can be enough to sway popular opinion. But really…it all boils down to a box. All the spurious promises of world-class hardware specs, all the overly ambitious software ship dates, and even the questionable fast-food crossover promotions exist in service to the box. The boxes vying for attention in 2020 A.D. are the PlayStation 5 (PS5) and Xbox Series X/S/Seriessss (XSX or whatever the common nomenclature eventually shakes out to be). These boxes likely represent the minimum spec for the next decade in big-budget video games, however, it is the core identity of those consoles that will define the era.

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Sleeper PlayStation Hides A Raspberry Pi 4

[Andreas Wilcox] wanted to get his brother a birthday gift that reflected their shared love for the early days of 3D gaming, but just handing him a second-hand original PlayStation lacked a certain style. So he decided to gut the classic system and replace its dated internals with a shiny new Raspberry Pi 4. But rather than taking the easy way out, he put in the time and effort to integrate the new hardware so seamlessly that the nearly 25 year old console still looks stock from the outside.

The fact that the front ports are functional and work with the original controllers really helps sell the stock look. [Andreas] found a USB to PlayStation controller adapter, liberated the PCB, and soldered it to the back of the system’s ports. Even the memory card slots got in on the action, thanks to female USB connectors installed where the original connector went. It was a tight fit, but the final result was well worth it.

We also love the GPIO-controlled cooling fan complete with a duct designed to blow across the notoriously toasty Pi, and check out that carefully designed holder for the power and reset buttons. This entire project is really a fantastic example of how 3D printed parts can give your projects a far cleaner and more professional look than the hacker’s old standby of hot glue; though of course it demands a considerable time investment.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a Raspberry Pi shoehorned into a classic video game console, but it’s absolutely one of the cleanest examples we’ve ever seen. Though if we lump Raspberry Pi portables into the running, the competition is considerably fiercer.

The Book Of Dreams Brings Back All Your Memories

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!

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That Game Cartridge Isn’t As Straightforward As You’d Think

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.