Trimmed Dreamcast Board Makes For Perfect Portable

In the last year or so we’ve been seeing an array of portable game system builds based around “trimmed” Wii motherboards which have literally been cut down to a fraction of their original size. It turns out that most of the board is dedicated to non-essential functions, with the core Wii system contained within one specific area that can be isolated with a steady hand. But as [Gman] shows in his latest build, the same concept can also be applied to the Sega Dreamcast.

But of course, there’s a bit more to it than just taking a hacksaw to a Dreamcast motherboard. [Gman] had to supplement the trimmed system with quite a bit of additional hardware, such as a power management board he originally designed for portable Wii projects.

Other components were specifically built for this project. For example there’s a custom PCB that handles emulating the Dreamcast controller using a PIC32MZ microcontroller. He’s also using a LM49450 to pull digital audio from the motherboard over I2S, completely bypassing the analog output.

While not currently functioning, [Gman] also included an SPI OLED display and the hardware necessary to emulate basic functionality of the system’s unique Visual Memory Unit (VMU) right in the front of the system. We’re looking forward to seeing him revisit this feature in the future when he’s got the software side of things worked out.

The Nintendo 2DS inspired enclosure is completely 3D printed. A Prusa i3 with textured PEI bed was used to achieve the gorgeous dappled look on the system’s front panel, while the buttons were done on a Form 2 SLA printer. With a mold made from the printed buttons, [Gman] was able to cast the final pieces using a variety of colors until he found a combination he was happy with.

If you’re not Team Sega and would rather hack up your own tiny versions of Nintendo’s hardware, look no further than this fully functional trimmed Wii built into an Altoids tin.

Run Your Own Phone To Bring The Dreamcast Back Online

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!

Dreamcast Gets A Plug-n-Play Hard Drive Mod

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.

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Arduboy Brings New Life To Dreamcast VMU

The Dreamcast VMU was a curious piece of hardware. Part memory card, part low-end LCD gaming toy, its fate was sealed once SEGA abandoned the console platform on January 31, 2001. With a limited market penetration and no major killer app, the VMU is a largely forgotten piece of ephemera from a past era. All the more reason to refit one with an Arduboy, instead.

[sjm4306] has taken the Arduboy and repurposed it into a VMU-friendly form factor. The PCB is designed to fit snug inside the plastic case, with conductive traces for the original rubber membrane buttons already in place on the main board. There are some minor fit and finish issues with the first prototype – problems with drill sizes, and connectors that don’t quite fit flush with the housing. Mistakes like these are familiar to any maker who has built a custom PCB or two in their time, and [sjm4306] is confident the bugs will be worked out in the second revision.

It’s a fun project that brings some fun gaming action to an otherwise forgotten platform. If an Arduboy isn’t enough, you could always try to fit a Pi Zero instead. And if you don’t have a VMU, you can always emulate one. Video after the break.

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Completely Owning The Dreamcast Add-on You Never Had

If you’ve got a SEGA Dreamcast kicking around in a closet somewhere, and you still have the underutilized add-on Visual Memory Unit (VMU), you’re in for a treat today. If not, but you enjoy incredibly detailed hacks into the depths of slightly aged silicon, you’ll be even more excited. Because [Dmitry Grinberg] has a VMU hack that will awe you with its completeness. With all the bits in place, the hacking tally is a new MAME emulator, an IDA plugin, a never-before ROM dump, and an emulator for an ARM chip that doesn’t exist, running Flappy Bird. All in a month’s work!

The VMU was a Dreamcast add-on that primarily stored game data in its flash memory, but it also had a small LCD display, a D-pad, and inter-VMU communications functions. It also had room for a standalone game which could interact with the main Dreamcast games in limited ways. [Dmitry] wanted to see what else he could do with it. Basically everything.

We can’t do this hack justice in a short write-up, but the outline is that he starts out with the datasheet for the VMU’s CPU, and goes looking for interesting instructions. Then he started reverse engineering the ROM that comes with the SDK, which was only trivially obfuscated. Along the way, he wrote his own IDA plugin for the chip. Discovery of two ROP gadgets allowed him to dump the ROM to flash, where it could be easily read out. Those of you in the VMU community will appreciate the first-ever ROM dump.

On to doing something useful with the device! [Dmitry]’s definition of useful is to have it emulate a modern CPU so that it’s a lot easier to program for. Of course, nobody writes an emulator for modern hardware directly on obsolete hardware — you emulate the obsolete hardware on your laptop to get a debug environment first. So [Dmitry] ported the emulator for the VMU’s CPU that he found in MAME from C++ to C (for reasons that we understand) and customized it for the VMU’s hardware.

Within the emulated VMU, [Dmitry] then wrote the ARM Cortex emulator that it would soon run. But what ARM Cortex to emulate? The Cortex-M0 would have been good enough, but it lacked some instructions that [Dmitry] liked, so he ended up writing an emulator of the not-available-in-silicon Cortex-M23, which had the features he wanted. Load up the Cortex emulator in the VMU, and you can write games for it in C. [Dmitry] provides two demos, naturally: a Mandlebrot set grapher, and Flappy Bird.

Amazed? Yeah, we were as well. But then this is the same guy emulated an ARM chip on the AVR architecture, just to run Linux on an ATMega1284p.

Surfing Like It’s 1998, The Dreamcast’s Still Got It!

If you were a keen console gamer at the end of the 1990s, the chances are you lusted after a Sega Dreamcast. Here was a console that promised to be like no other, a compact machine with built-in PowerVR 3D acceleration (heavy stuff back then!), the ability to run Windows CE in some form, and for the first time, built-in Internet connectivity. Games would no longer be plastic cartridges as they had been on previous Sega consoles, instead they would come on a proprietary DVD-like Sega disc format.

It was a shame then that the Dreamcast never really succeeded in capitalizing on its promise. Everyone was talking about the upcoming Sony Playstation 2, and disappointing Dreamcast sales led Sega to withdraw both the console, and themselves from the hardware market entirely.

There remains a hard core of Dreamcast enthusiasts though, and they continue to push the platform forward.The folks at the Dreamcast Junkyard decided to go backwards a little when they resurrected the console’s dial-up modem to see whether a platform from nearly twenty years ago could still cut it in 2017. This isn’t as easy a task as you’d imagine, because, well, who uses dial-up these days? Certainly in the UK where they’re based it’s almost unheard of. They were able to find a pay-as-you go dial-up provider though, and arming themselves with the most recent Dreamkey V3.0 browser disc were able to get online.

As you might expect, the results are hilariously awful for the most part. Modern web sites that rely on CSS fail to render or even indeed to load, but retro sites like those in the Dreamcast community appear as they should. There is a video we’ve put below the break showing the rather tortuous process, though sadly they didn’t think to load the Hackaday Retro Edition. It does however feature the rarely-seen keyboard and mouse accessories.

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A SEGA Dreamcast Controller With A Built-in Screen

[Fibbef] was hard at work on a project for a build-off competition when he accidentally fried the circuit board. Not one to give up easily, he opted to start a new project with only two days left in the competition. He managed to modify a SEGA Dreamcast controller to hold a color screen in that short amount of time.

The Dreamcast controller’s shape is somewhat conducive to this type of mod. It already has a small window to ensure the view of the visual memory card is not obstructed. Unfortunately [Fibbef’s] screen was a bit too large for this window. That meant he would have to expand the controller and the circuit board.

After taking the controller apart, he desoldered the memory card connectors. He then cut the circuit board cleanly in half vertically. He had to re-wire all of the traces back together by hand. It turned out initially that he had messed something up and accidentally fried the right half of the controller. To fix it, he cut a second controller in half and soldered the two boards together.

With some more horizontal space to work with on the PCB side of things, [Fibbef] now needed to expand the controller’s housing. He cut the controller into several pieces, making sure to keep the start button centered for aesthetics. He then used duct tape to hold popsicle sticks in place to make up for the missing pieces of the case. All of the sticks were then covered with a thick layer of ABS cement to make for a more rigid enclosure. All of this ended up being covered in Bondo, a common trick in video game console mods. It was then sanded smooth and painted with black primer to make for a surprisingly nice finish.

The screen itself still needed a way to get power and a video signal. [Fibbef] built an adapter box to take both of these signals and pass them to the controller via a single cable. The box as a USB-A connector for power input, and a composite connector for video. There’s also a USB-B connector for the output signals. [Fibbef] uses a standard printer USB cable to send power and video signals to the controller. The end result looks great and serves to make the Dreamcast slightly more portable. Check out the demo video below to see it in action. Continue reading “A SEGA Dreamcast Controller With A Built-in Screen”