A Primer For The Homebrew Game Boy Advance Scene

As video game systems pass into antiquity, some of them turn out to make excellent platforms for homebrew gaming. Not only does modern technology make it easier to interact with systems that are now comparatively underpowered and simpler, but the documentation available for older systems is often readily available as well, giving the community lots of options for exploration and creativity. The Game Boy Advance is becoming a popular platform for these sorts of independent game development, and this video shows exactly how you can get started too.

This tutorial starts with some explanation of how the GBA works. It offered developers several modes for the display, so this is the first choice a programmer must make when designing the game. From there it has a brief explanation of how to compile programs for the GBA and execute them, then it dives into actually writing the games themselves. There are a few examples that [3DSage] demonstrates here including examples for checking the operation of the code and hardware, some simple games, and also a detailed explanation the framebuffers and other hardware and software available when developing games for this console.

While the video is only 10 minutes long, we recommend watching it at three-quarters or half speed. It’s incredibly information-dense and anyone following along will likely need to pause several times. That being said, it’s an excellent primer for developing games for this platform and in general, especially since emulators are readily available so the original hardware isn’t needed. If you’d like to build something from an even more bygone era than the early 2000s, though, take a look at this tutorial for developing games on arcade cabinets.

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Modernizing The Game Boy Advance

[Zekfoo] decided to honor the Game Boy Advance’s 20th birthday by redesigning it at the circuit level to give it a more modern twist. To quote the project readme:

I really want to like the Game Boy Advance. Growing up with a GBA SP, I was spoiled by its clicky buttons, rechargeable battery, and illuminated screen. When I finally got my hands on an original GBA, I couldn’t be more disappointed by the stark difference in feel and function. While today’s retro modding scene has produced many improvements for the GBA (referred to from now on as its codename AGB), the console still has many quirks that simple modding hasn’t been able to fix, but that can be addressed in a circuit redesign.

The four-layer board looks great and there a number of modernized features.

For example, this new version is rechargeable. The unit has proper switches, which most people will prefer over the mushy membrane switches. There’s also a screen light and an improved power supply that helps produce cleaner audio, among other things.

We were disappointed that the repository only has images and audio files — if you want to duplicate the build you are on your own. He’s also done a clone of the Game Boy Color, but — alas — no design files there either. Still, a couple of good-looking projects.

We always enjoy seeing old products given a facelift. If you think you just need an emulator, they sometimes don’t exactly mimic real hardware.

Tiger Boy Advance Is A 90s Kid Dream Come True

From the release of the DMG-01 in 1989 until the final Micro variant hit store shelves in 2005, the Nintendo Game Boy line represented the epitome of handheld gaming for hundreds of millions of players. But that’s not to say there weren’t a wide array of other handheld systems that aimed to chip away at the Japanese gaming giant’s monopoly. SEGA and Sony released high-tech systems that brought impressive technical innovations, while Tiger Electronics famously took the opposite approach with ultra-cheap handhelds that leveraged simplistic games based on popular children’s franchises.

[Chris Downing] had to make do with these budget Tiger games as a child, and now as an adult, he’s determined to made things right with the Tiger Boy Advance. As the name implies, this retro hybrid combines the look and feel of a branded Tiger game with the power and software compatibility of a legitimate Nintendo Game Boy Advance (GBA) circa 2001. It even sprinkles in some modern niceties, like USB-C charging and a backlit display. While most of its charm is probably lost on anyone who didn’t grow up within a fairly narrow range of years, the video below seems to prove that even modern kids can appreciate this one-of-a-kind creation.

From an electronics standpoint, the system is essentially just a gutted GBA crammed into a 3D printed approximation of an old Tiger game from around the mid 1990s. But what makes this project special is the nostalgia-fueled attention to detail that [Chris] brings to the table.

Take for example the custom manufactured faceplate that combines artwork from some of the era’s best known games. Getting the image printed on the back of the CNC-cut piece of clear acrylic proved to be quite a challenge, but the final result looks incredibly professional. Instead of using the GBA’s stock buttons and directional pad, [Chris] decided to 3D print replacements that mimic the look of the original Tiger controls. It all culminates in a device that perfectly recreates the unique look of the original Tiger games.

Some will argue that he’d have done better to equip the system with a Raspberry Pi Zero 2 and the latest build of RetroPie, and frankly, it’s easy to see the appeal of going that route. But [Chris] didn’t make this for us, he built it to encapsulate a very specific time from his own childhood. We’re just glad that the technology now available to the individual maker allowed him to turn this particular dream into reality.

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GBA Remote Play Upgrade Lets You Play PlayStation On The Bus

The Nintendo Game Boy Advance was basically the handheld gaming situation of its era, by virtue of the fact that it had no serious competitors in the market. The system was largely known for 2D games due to hardware limitations.

However, [Rodrigo Alfonso] has recently upgraded his GBA Remote Play system that lets him play PlayStation games and others on his classic Game Boy Advance. We first featured this project back in July, which uses a Raspberry Pi 3 to emulate games and pipe video data to the handheld for display, receiving button presses in return.

Since then, [Rodrigo] has given the project some upgrades, in the form of a 3D-printed case that mounts a battery-powered Pi directly to the back of the console for portable play. Additionally, overclocking the GBA allows for faster transfer rates over the handheld’s Link Port, which means more pixels of video data can be clocked in. This allows for more playable frame rates when running at 240×160, the maximum resolution of the GBA screen.

The result is a Game Boy Advance which you can use to play Crash Bandicoot on the bus just to confuse the normies. Of course, one could simply build a Raspberry Pi handheld from scratch to play emulated games. However, this route takes advantage of the GBA form factor and is pretty amusing to boot. Video after the break.

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Modded GBA SP Does Its Best Switch Impression

The whole idea behind the Nintendo Switch is that the system isn’t just a handheld, but can be converted into a more traditional home game console when placed into its dock. The wireless controllers even pop off the sides so you can kick back on the couch and enjoy your big-screen gaming from a distance. Judging by how many units Nintendo has sold of their latest system, it’s clearly a winning combination.

Which is probably why [Tito] of Macho Nacho and his friend [Kyle Brinkerhoff] decided to recreate some of the Switch’s core features using one of Nintendo’s older handhelds, the Game Boy Advance SP. There was already a video-out mod kit on the market for the GBA SP that would let them play games on the TV, but the team still had to figure out how to make a dock for the 18 year old handheld, plus get it working with the official Switch Joy-Cons.

Wiring the custom PCB into the GBA SP

Lucky, this crew is no stranger to developing impressive GBA SP add-ons. Last month they took the wraps off of an expanded 3D printed rear panel for the system that housed a number of upgrades, such as an expanded battery pack and support for Bluetooth audio.

This mod uses a similarly expanded “trunk” for the GBA, but this time it’s to hold the rails the Joy-Cons mount to, as well as the electronics required to get the modern controllers talking to the Game Boy. Namely, a Raspberry Pi Zero and a custom PCB designed by [Kyle] that uses a dozen transistors to pull the system’s control inputs low when the Pi’s GPIO pins go high.

[Tito] doesn’t seem to mention it in the video below, but we’re assuming the dock component of this project is just a 3D printed box with a connector sticking up for the GBA SP’s link cable port, since that’s where the TV-out modification outputs its video. Incidentally that means you don’t really need the dock itself, but it certainly looks cool.

At the end of the video [Tito] goes over a few of the rough edges of the current build, including the rather lengthy pairing process to get the Joy-Cons talking to the Raspberry Pi. But ultimately, he says that not only does the system feel good in his hands, but playing those classic games on the big screen has been a nice change of pace.

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THICC GBA SP Mod Gets Easy Install Ahead Of Release

Back in August we covered a unique modification for the Nintendo Game Boy Advance SP which replaced the handheld’s rear panel with an expanded version that had enough internal volume for an upgraded battery, a Bluetooth audio transmitter, and support for both Qi wireless and USB-C charging. The downside was that getting the 10 mm 3D printed “backpack” installed wasn’t exactly the most user-friendly operation.

But today we’re happy to report that the dream team behind the so-called THICC BOI SP have not only made some huge improvements to the mod, but that they intend to release it as a commercial kit in the next few months. The trick to making this considerable upgrade a bit more forgiving is the use of a bespoke flat flex cable that easily allows the user to solder up all the necessary test points and connections, as well as a custom PCB that pulls together all the hardware required.

In the video below, [Tito] of Macho Nacho Productions goes over the latest version of the mod he’s been working on with [Kyle] and [Helder], and provides a complete step-by-step installation tutorial to give viewers an idea of what they’ll be in for once the kit goes on sale. While it’s still a fairly involved modification, the new design is surprisingly approachable. As we’ve seen with previous console modifications, the use of flat flex technology means the installation shouldn’t pose much of a challenge for anyone with soldering experience.

The flat flex cable allows for an exceptionally clean install.

Some may be put off by the fact that the replacement rear panel is even thicker this time around, but hopefully the unprecedented runtime made possible by the monstrous 4,500 mAh LiPo battery pack hiding inside the retrofit unit will help ease any discomfort (physical or otherwise) you may have from carrying around the chunkier case. Even with power-hungry accouterments like an aftermarket IPS display and a flash cart, the new battery can keep your SP running for nearly 20 hours. If you still haven’t beaten Metroid: Zero Mission by then, it’s time to take a break and reflect on your life anyway.

According to [Tito], the logistical challenges and considerable upfront costs involved in getting the new rear panels injection molded in ABS is the major roadblock holding the release of the kit back right now. The current prototypes, which appear to have been 3D printed in resin, simply don’t match the look and feel of the GBA SP’s original case well enough to be a viable option. A crowd funding campaign should get them over that initial hump, and we’ll be keeping an eye out for more updates as things move along towards production.

The previous version of this mod was impressive enough as a one-off project, but we’re excited to see the team taking the next steps towards making this compelling evolution of the GBA more widely available. It’s a fantastic example of what’s possible for small teams, or even individuals, when you leverage all the tools in the modern hardware hacking arsenal.

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two hands holding a wider version of a purple gameboy advance

The Stretch Limo Of Game Boys

Here at Hackaday, we see all sorts of projects, some born out of a deep necessity or itch that couldn’t be scratched. Others are born out of a world of “why not” and it is perhaps these projects that put the biggest smile on our faces. The WideBoy Advance by [Elliot] of Retro Future is one such project.

Starting with a working Game Boy Advance and a donor one with a busted motherboard, the frankenstein-ification could start. A Dremel split one case in half and removed the sides on another, while trusty old car body filler helps fill and smooth the gaps. A particularly clever trick is to use the Dremel to create channels for the filler to adhere easier. Several areas had to be built up with filler and glued in bits of plastic as a base. As you can see in the video below, the countless hours of sanding, priming, sanding, and more priming led to a beautifully smooth finish. The choice of purple paint really sells the impression of a factory-fresh Game Boy Advance.

The working circuit board was desoldered and the donor board was cut into pieces to fit in the extended sides. Using some magnet wire, connections were bridged over to the original motherboard via the test points on the PCB. [Elliot] didn’t opt to swap the screen to an IPS display or add a backlight. These quality of life improvements are nice, but a dead giveaway that Nintendo didn’t make it. The goal is to get the user to wonder, even if just for a second, what if Nintendo just happened to make this wide one-off handheld console.

[Elliot] made it simply because he found it interesting and enjoyed the form of the thing he made. Is it a hack? Is it art? Probably a little bit of both. This isn’t his first modified Nintendo handheld either. He previously made a long Nintendo Gameboy DMG-01. We love seeing all the wild hacks and tweaks made to Game Boy line, such as this Game Boy Color inside the DMG-01.

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