Spilled OJ Does A Number On Zelda Game Boy Cartridge

When [Taylor Burley] first opened up the cartridge for The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons, it certainly didn’t look like it had been dunked in corrosive orange juice. But looks can be deceiving, and while the game’s owner certainly did an admirable job of cleaning up the surface of the PCB, the cartridge was no longer functional. Clearly, this was a sticky situation.

After removing all of the components from the PCB, [Taylor] was quickly able to piece together what had happened. Despite the vigorous cleaning the game received after the spill, juice had found its way under each IC on the board. Left to sit in these nooks and crannies for who knows how long, the juice started to eat away at the traces on the PCB. Getting the game back up and running would naturally require considerable board repairs, but they don’t call him Solderking for nothing.

Corrosion lurking under each chip.

In the video below, you can see [Taylor] methodically scraping away the corrosion on the board before he starts recreating damaged connections with solid 30 gauge wire. Using tweezers and viewing the action through a digital microscope, he deftly bends the wire around to fit the shapes of the original traces and tacks the new conductors down with solder. He even goes ahead and repairs the traces that go to various test points on the cartridge; it’s a completely unnecessary extravagance, but we’re certainly not complaining. There’s a relaxing quality to watching him work, so we were in no rush to see his latest video end.

After fixing the board back up, he replaces all the components and takes it for a test drive on an original Game Boy Color. Confirming that Link’s 2001 outing is working as expected, he finishes the job with a few coats of spray-on conformal coating. With any luck, the next time this particular cartridge has to go face-to-face with some spilled juice, it will roll right off.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen [Taylor] laboriously rebuild a Game Boy cartridge, and it certainly isn’t the first time we’ve seen him pull off some particularly impressive feats of soldering, either. His work always reminds us that patience and a steady hand can really do wonders.

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A conventiongoer plays Pokemon on a working Color Game Boy costume.

Convention Plays Pokemon On Giant Color Game Boy Costume

Standard cosplay is fun and all, but what is there for admirers to do but look you up and down and nitpick the details? Interactive cosplay, now that’s where it’s at. [Jaryd Giesen] knows this, and managed to pull together a working color Game Boy costume in a few days.

The original plan was to use a small projector on an arm, like one of those worm lights that helped you see the screen, but [Jaryd] ended up getting a secondhand monitor and strapping it to his chest. Then he took the rest of the build from there. Things are pretty simple underneath all that cardboard: there’s a Raspberry Pi running the RetroPie emulator, a Pico to handle the inputs, and two batteries — one beefy 12,000 mAH battery for the monitor, and a regular power pack for the Pi and the Pico.

As you’ll see in the build and demo video after the break, nearly 100 people stopped to push [Jaryd]’s buttons. They didn’t get very far in the game, but it sure looks like they had fun trying.

Since we’re still in a pandemic, you may want to consider incorporating a mask into your Halloween costume this year. Just a thought.

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Game Boy Color Makes Itself At Home In A DMG-01

When we last checked in with [The Poor Student Hobbyist], he had just finished cramming a Game Boy Advance (GBA) SP motherboard into the body of the iconic Game Boy DMG-01, complete with an aftermarket IPS display. Unfortunately, after a few weeks of using the system, he ran into a few issues that sent him back to the drawing board.

This time, he’s revamped Nintendo’s classic handheld with the internals from its successor, the Game Boy Color (GBC). Obviously that means this new build can’t play any GBA titles, but that was never actually the goal in the first place. It might seem obvious in hindsight, but owing to their general similarity, it ended up being far easier to fit the GBC hardware into the Game Boy’s shell. Though we still wouldn’t call this an “easy” swap by any stretch of the imagination…

Whether you want to follow his footsteps towards portable gaming bliss or just want to live vicariously through his soldering iron, [The Poor Student Hobbyist] has done an absolutely phenomenal job of documenting this build. While he cautions the write-up isn’t designed to be a step by step instructional piece, there’s an incredible wealth of information here for others looking to perform similar modifications.

The build involved removing much of the original Game Boy’s connectors and controls, such as the volume wheel, Link Port, and even headphone jack, and grafting them onto a GBC motherboard that’s been physically trimmed down. At a high level it’s not unlike the trimmed Wii portables we’ve seen, but made much easier due to the fact the GBC only used a two-layer PCB. It also helps that [The Poor Student Hobbyist] has once again used an aftermarket IPS display, as that meant he could literally cut off the LCD driver section of the GBC motherboard. Of course there have also been several hardware additions, such as a new audio amplifier, power regulation system, LiPo charger, and 2000 mAh battery.

There’s a lot of fantastic details on this one, so if you’re remotely interested in what made the Game Boy and its successors tick, we’d highly recommend taking the time to read through this handheld hacking tour de force. His previous build is also more than worthy of some close study, even if it ended up being a bit ungainly in practice.

Original Game Boy Powered Up With GBA Motherboard

The Game Boy DMG-01 is about as iconic as a piece of consumer electronics can get, but let’s be honest, it hasn’t exactly aged well. While there’s certainly a number of games for the system that are still as entertaining in 2021 as they were in the 80s and 90s, the hardware itself is another story entirely. Having to squint at the unlit display, with its somewhat nauseating green tint, certainly takes away from the experience of hunting down Pokémon.

Which is precisely why [The Poor Student Hobbyist] decided to take an original Game Boy and replace its internals with more modern hardware in the form of a Game Boy Advance (GBA) SP motherboard and aftermarket IPS LCD panel. The backwards compatibility mode of the GBA allows him to play those classic Game Boy and Game Boy Color games from their original cartridges, while the IPS display brings them to life in a way never before possible.

Relocating the cartridge connector took several attempts.

Now on the surface, this might seem like a relatively simple project. After all, the GBA SP was much smaller than its predecessors, so there should be plenty of room inside the relatively cavernous DMG-01 case for the transplanted hardware. But [The Poor Student Hobbyist] made things quite a bit harder on himself by deciding early on that there would be no external signs that the Game Boy had been modified; beyond the wildly improved screen, anyway.

That meant deleting the GBA’s shoulder buttons, though since the goal was always to play older games that predated their addition to the system, that wasn’t really a problem. The GBA’s larger and wider screen is still intact, albeit hidden behind the Game Boy’s original bezel. It turns out the image isn’t exactly centered on the physical display, so [The Poor Student Hobbyist] came up with a 3D printed adapter to mount it with a slight offset. The adapter also allows the small tactile switch that controls the screen brightness to be mounted where the “Contrast” wheel used to go.

An incredible amount of thought and effort went into making the final result look as close to stock as possible, and luckily for us, [The Poor Student Hobbyist] did a phenomenal job of documenting it for others who might want to make similar modifications. Even if you’re not in the market for a rejuvenated Game Boy, it’s worth browsing through the build log to marvel at the passion that went into this project.

Some would argue [The Poor Student Hobbyist] should have just put a Raspberry Pi into a Game Boy case and be done with it, but where’s the fun in that? Sure it might have been a somewhat better Bitcoin miner, but there’s something to be said for playing classic games on real hardware.

Comparing Bare Silicon On Two Game Boy Audio Chips

We always look forward to a new blog post by [Ken Shirriff] and this latest one didn’t cure us of that. His topic this time? Comparing two Game Boy audio chips. People have noticed before that the Game Boy Color sounds very different than a classic Game Boy, and he wanted to find out why. If you know his work, you won’t be surprised to find out the comparison included stripping the die out of the IC packaging.

[Ken’s] explanation of how transistors, resistors, and capacitors appear on the die are helpfully illustrated with photomicrographs. He points out how resistors are notoriously hard to build accurately on a production IC. Many differences can affect the absolute value, so designs try not to count on exact values or, if they do, resort to things like laser trimming or other tricks.

Capacitors, however, are different. The exact value of a capacitor may be hard to guess beforehand, but the ratio of two or more capacitor values on the same chip will be very precise. This is because the dielectric — the oxide layer of the chip — will be very uniform and the photographic process controls the planar area of the capacitor plates with great precision.

We’ve decapsulated chips before, and we have to say that if you are just starting to look at chips at the die level, these big chips with bipolar transistors are much easier to deal with than the fine and dense geometries you’d find even in something like a CPU from the 1980s.

We always enjoy checking in with [Ken]. Sometime’s he’s taking apart nuclear missiles. Sometimes he is repairing an old computer. But it is always interesting.

The Nintendo Game Boy Color Is An Aircon Remote

Those of you who are familiar with 1990s handheld consoles may recall that Nintendo’s Game Boy Color had an infra-red receiver and transmitter. The thought of a handheld computer with infra-red capabilities interested [jg], who immediately set about converting it into a remote control for an air conditioner.

The Game Boy doesn’t have dedicated infra-red remote control hardware, instead the IR diodes appear to be connected to I/O lines. Thus the bitstream bas to be bit-banged, and takes the processor’s entire attention when transmitting. The software is neatly placed on a reprogrammed bootleg cartridge.

It’s an interesting read in terms of the approach to reverse engineering, for example finding the parameters of 37 kHz infra-red remote control by trial and error rather than by a quick read up on the subject, or searching for information on National air conditioners and finding nothing, but not searching the National brand itself to find that a search on Panasonic air conditioners would likely give all the information needed. But the end result operates the appliance, so it’s good to record a success.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a Game Boy control something, though we can’t recall seeing another using the IR. Need a brilliant overview of the Game Boy?  We’ve got you covered.

Thanks [Roel] for the tip.

Header image: Evan-Amos / Public domain.

Investigating The World’s Rarest Game Boy

Early last year, a very unique Game Boy Color showed up on Chinese shopping site Taobao. Rather than the rather anemic-looking display of the original GBC, this version was modified with a modern IPS LCD. Even in the pictures shown on the product page, it was clear the display on this unit was far more advanced than anything Nintendo ever packed into a Game Boy. The retro gaming community went wild, and soon the site was overwhelmed with orders. The majority of the sales were canceled by the seller, and it’s believed as few as 75 of these hacked GBCs were actually shipped out.

Thanks to one of his viewers, [Colin] was able to get his hands on one of these extremely rare customized handhelds. Clearly a man after our own heart, his first inclination was to tear the thing apart and see how they built it. While he had a fairly good idea of how they managed this hybrid of modern and classic technology, there were a couple of surprises inside.

The device has a completely stock main board, and as such works and plays like a normal GBC. But upon flipping the main board over, [Colin] found a nest of thin magnet wire connecting the new display controller to individual buttons on the front panel. As he later confirmed when he reassembled the system, this allows the user to adjust the display’s brightness by holding “Select” and using the directional pad.

As for the screen itself, the big surprise was that it’s clearly pulled out of a relatively recent smartphone. The screen is physically much larger than the opening in the GBC’s front panel, but through some software trickery the image is displayed only in the area that’s visible to the player. [Colin] managed to get a hold of a few contacts “in the know” who confirmed to him that both the hardware and software for the display controller were specifically created for this application, and are unlikely to be duplicated by anyone else.

Considering most of the Game Boy hacks we cover are about somebody jamming modern hardware into them, it’s an interesting change of pace to see a group that was so adamant about retaining as much original hardware as possible while still managing to improve the user experience.

[Thanks to Doc Oct for the tip]

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