Exploring The World Of Nintendo 3DS Homebrew

When Nintendo officially ended production of the 3DS in September 2020, it wasn’t exactly a surprise. For one thing, some variation of the handheld system had been on the market since 2011. Which is not to say the product line had become stagnant: the system received a considerable mid-generation refresh, and there was even a more affordable variant introduced that dropped the eponymous stereoscopic 3D effect, but nearly a decade is still a fairly long life in the gaming industry. Of course Nintendo’s focus on the Switch, a hybrid device that blurs the line between console and handheld games, undoubtedly played a part in the decision to retire what could effectively be seen as a competing product.

While putting the 3DS out to pasture might have been the logical business move, a quick check on eBay seems to tell a different story. Whether it’s COVID keeping people indoors and increasing the demand for at-home entertainment, or the incredible library of classic and modern games the system has access to, the fact is that a used 3DS in good condition is worth more today than it was when it was brand new on the shelf this time last year.

I’ve certainly made more expensive mistakes.

In short, this was the worst possible time for me to decide that I finally wanted to buy a 3DS. Then one day I noticed the average price for a Japanese model was far lower than that of its American counterpart. I knew the hardware was identical, but could the firmware be changed?

An evening’s worth of research told me the swap was indeed possible, but inadvisable due to the difficulty and potential for unexpected behavior. Of course, that’s never stopped me before.

So after waiting the better part of a month for my mint condition 3DS to arrive from the land of the rising sun, I set out to explore the wide and wonderful world of Nintendo 3DS hacking.

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Building The Dolphin Emulator In Ubuntu On A Nintendo Switch

[LOE TECH] has made a habit of trying out various emulation methods on his Nintendo Switch and recording the results for our benefit. Of that testing, some of the best performance he’s seen makes use of the Dolphin emulator running in Ubuntu Linux, and he has made a tutorial video documenting how to build the project, as well as how to make some performance tweaks to get the most out of the mod.

We love seeing Linux run on basically anything with a processor. It’s a classic hack at this point. Nintendo has traditionally kept its consoles fairly locked down, though, even in the face of some truly impressive efforts; so it’s always a treat to see the open-source OS run relatively smoothly on the console. This Ubuntu install is based on NVIDIA’s Linux for Tegra (L4T) package, which affords some performance gains over Android installations on the same hardware. As we’ve seen with those Android hacks, however, this software mod also makes use of the Switchroot project and, of course, it only works with specific, unpatched hardware. But if you’ve won the serial number lottery and you’re willing to risk your beloved console, [LOE TECH] also has a video detailing the process he used to get Ubuntu up and running.

Check out the video below for a medley of Gamecube game test runs. Some appear to run great, and others, well… not so much. But we truly appreciate how he doesn’t edit out the games that stutter and lag. This way, we get a more realistic, more comprehensive overview of unofficial emulation performance on the Switch. Plus, it’s almost fun to watch racing games go by in slow motion; almost, that is, if we couldn’t empathize with how frustrating it must have been to play.

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RetroArch Open Hardware Aims For Plug-and-Play

At its core, the RetroArch project exists to make it easier to play classic games on more modern hardware. The streamlined front-end with its tailored collection of emulators helps take the confusion out of getting your favorite game from decades past running on whatever gadget you please, from your smartphone to the venerable Raspberry Pi. But there’s always room for improvement.

In a recent blog post, the folks behind RetroArch took the wraps off of an exciting hardware project that’s been in the works for about a year now. Referred to simply as “RetroArch Open Hardware”, the goal is to develop a fully open source cartridge adapter that will integrate seamlessly with the RetroArch software. Just plug in your original cartridge, and the game fires right up like back in the good old days.

Now to be clear, this isn’t exactly a new idea. But the team at RetroArch explain that previous devices that blurred the line between hardware and emulation have been expensive, hard to find, and worst of all, proprietary. By creating an open hardware project, they hope to truly unleash this capability on the community. Instead of having to deal with one vendor, multiple companies will be free to spin up their own clones and potentially even improve the core design. Should none of the ones on the market fit your particular needs, you’d even be free to build your own version,

What’s more, the gadget will also make it easier to create your own ROMs from cartridges you own. By appearing to the operating system as a USB Mass Storage device, users can literally drag and drop a game ROM to their computer’s desktop. No arcane software fired off from the command line; as much as we might enjoy such things, it’s not exactly intuitive for the gaming community at large. The same technique will also allow users to backup their saved progress before it’s inevitably lost to the ravages of time. The device demonstrated by the team currently only works on Nintendo 64 games, but presumably compatibility with be expanded to other cartridges in the future.

Over the years, we’ve seen a number of hombrew devices designed to read and copy game cartridges. We’ve even seen some rather polished examples that were released as open hardware. But those devices never had the public backing of such a well known group in the emulation scene, and we’re excited to see what kind of development and adoption can be spurred on by this level of legitimacy.

[Thanks to Nick for the tip.]

3D Printed Pi Arcade Is An Emulation Horn Of Plenty

Let’s be honest, building a home arcade cabinet isn’t exactly the challenge it once was. There’s plenty of kits out there that do all the hard work for you, and they even sell some pretty passable turn-key units at Walmart now. If you want to put a traditional arcade cabinet in your home, it’s not hard to get one.

Which is why this wild build by [Rafael Rubio] is so interesting. The entirely 3D printed enclosure looks like some kind of art piece from the 1970s, and is a perfect example of the kind of unconventional designs made possible by low-cost additive manufacturing. Building something like this out of wood or metal would be nightmare, especially for the novice; but with even a relatively meager desktop 3D printer you’re only a few clicks away from running off your own copy.

Removable side panels allow access to the electronics.

Inside the nautilus-like enclosure is a Raspberry Pi running Retropie, a 10″ LCD panel from Pimoroni, and a GeeekPi interface board that connects up to the 8-way joystick and arcade buttons. [Rafael] has included a Bill of Materials and an assembly overview that you can follow along with, though the cavernous internal dimensions of the enclosure certainly give you ample of room for improvisation if you’d rather blaze your own path.

Like the retro-futuristic computer terminals created by [Oriol Ferrer MesiĆ ], this arcade machine completely reinvents a traditional design that most people take for granted. Is this layout actually better than the standard arcade cabinet? It’s not really our place to say. But it’s certainly a new and unconventional approach to “solved” problem, and that’s what we’re all about.

ESP32 Altair Emulator Gets Split Personality

If you wanted me to demo CP/M running on an emulated Altair 8800, I’d pull out a tiny board from my pocket. You might wonder how I wound up with an Altair 8800 that runs CP/M (even WordStar), that fits in your pocket and cost less than $10. Turns out it’s a story that goes back to 1975.

When the Altair 8800 arrived back in 1975, I wanted one. Badly. I’d been reading about computers but had no hands-on experience. But back then, as far as I was concerned, the $400 price tag might as well have been a million bucks. I was working for no real pay in my family’s store, though in all fairness, adjusted into today’s money that was about $2,000.

I’d love to buy one now, but a real Altair costs even more today than it did back then. They also take up a lot of desk space. Sure, there are replicas and I’ve had a few. I even helped work the kinks out of Vince Briel’s clone which I’ve enjoyed. However, the Briel computer has two problems. First, it takes a little work to drive a serial port (it uses a VGA and a PS/2 keyboard). Second, while it’s smaller than a real Altair, it is still pretty large — a byproduct of its beautiful front panel.

So to quickly show off CP/M to someone, you need to haul out a big box and find a VGA monitor and PS/2 keyboard — both of which are becoming vanishing commodities. I made some modifications to get the serial port working, but it is still a lot to cart around. You could go the software route with a simulator like SIMH or Z80pack, but now instead of finding a VGA monitor and a PS/2 keyboard, you need to find a computer where you can install the software. What I really wanted was a simple and portable device that could boot CP/M.

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Run Your Favorite 8-bit Games On An ESP32

Here at Hackaday HQ we’re no strangers to vintage game emulation. New versions of old consoles and arcade cabinets frequently make excellent fodder for clever hacks to cram as much functionality as possible into tiny modern microcontrollers. We’ve covered [rossumur]’s hacks before, but the ESP_8-bit is a milestone in comprehensive capability. This time, he’s topped himself.

There isn’t much the ESP 8-bit won’t do. It can emulate three popular consoles, complete with ROM selection menus (with menu bloops). Don’t worry about building a controller, just connect any old (HID compliant) Bluetooth Classic keyboard or WiiMote you have at hand. Or if that doesn’t do it, a selection of IR devices ranging from joysticks from the Atari Flashback 4 to Apple TV remotes are compatible. Connect analog audio and composite video and the device is ready to go.

The system provides this impressive capability with an absolute minimum of components. Often a schematic is too complex to fit into a short post, but we’ll reproduce this one here to give you a sense for what we’re talking about. Come back when you’ve refreshed your Art of Electronics and have a complete understanding of the hardware at work. We never cease to be amazed at the amount of capability available in modern “hobbyist” components. With such a short BOM this thing can be put together by anyone with an ESP-32-anything.

There’s one more hack worth noting; the clever way [rossumur] gets full color NTSC composite video from a very busy microcontroller. They note that NTSC can be finicky and requires an extremely stable high speed reference clock as a foundation. [rossumur] discovered that the ESP-32 includes a PLL designed for audio work (the “APLL”) which conveniently supports fractional components, allowing it to be trimmed to within an inch of the desired frequency. The full description is included in the GitHub page for the project and includes detailed background of various efforts to get color NTSC video (including the names of a couple hackers you might recognize from these pages).

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No, The Nintendo Leak Won’t Help Emulator Developers, And Here’s Why

If you haven’t heard from other websites yet, earlier this year a leak of various Nintendo intellectual properties surfaced on the Internet. This included prototype software dating back to the Game Boy, as well as Verilog files for systems up to the Nintendo 64, GameCube and Wii. This leak seems to have originated from a breach in the BroadOn servers, a small hardware company Nintendo had contracted to make, among other things, the China-only iQue Player.

So, that’s the gist of it out of the way, but what does it all mean? What is the iQue Player? Surely now that a company’s goodies are out in the open, enthusiasts can make use of it and improve their projects, right? Well, no. A lot of things prevent that, and there’s more than enough precedent for it that, to the emulation scene, this was just another Tuesday.

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