What was the first video game console? If you said the Atari 2600, you would be wrong, but we’d forgive you. After all, the Atari was early and widely sold. It also had the major features you expect from a video game. However, there was an earlier console available. the Magnavox Odyssey.
This system was black and white, had two wired controllers, and while it didn’t quite have cartridges, you could select from one of several games. The system seems inexpensive today at $100 (not including the optional light gun). However, adjusting for 1972 currency value, that’s equivalent to about $600 today.
It was not an impulse buy, and the differentiation between games was mostly an exercise in imagination. But the the Magnavox Odyssey nevertheless brought computer technology into the home and that was exciting. It proved a market existed for home video gaming, and served no small part in the success of Atari.
Continue reading “A Video Game Odyssey: How Magnavox Launched the Console Industry”
Any maker worth their bits will look for new ways to challenge themselves. [Robert Fotino], a computer science student at the University of California, is doing just that: designing and building his own lightweight hobbyist game console that he has appropriately named Consolite.
[Fotino] wrote his own compiler in C++ that converts from C-like languages to a custom-designed assembler that he has dubbed Consolite Assembly. To test his code, he also wrote an emulator before loading it onto the Mimas V2 FPGA board. Presently, Consolite uses 64KiB of main memory and 48 KiB of video memory; a future version will have 32 bit support to make better use of the Mimas’ 64 MiB of on board ram, but the current 16-bit version is a functional proof of concept.
An SD card functions as persistent storage for up to 256 programs, which can be accessed using the hardware switches on the Mimas, with plans to add user access in the form of saving game progress, storage outside of main memory, etc. — also in a future update that will include audio support.
As it stands, [Fotino] has written his own versions of Breakout, Tetris, and Tron to show off his project.
Not wanting for diligence, [Fotino] has provided thorough documentation of nearly every step along the way in his blog posts and on GitHub if you are looking for guidelines for any similar projects you might have on the back burner — like an even tinier game console.
Numbers are wonderful things when applied to technical specifications. Take [Bobricius]’ handheld Arduino-based game console. With an 8×8 LED matrix for a display it’s not going to win any prizes, but while he’s pushing the boundaries of dubious specification claims he’s not strictly telling any lies with his tongue-in-cheek statement that the graphics are 64-bit.
Jokes aside, it’s a neatly done build using a DIP version of the Arduino MCU and all through-hole components on a custom PCB. Power comes from a CR2032 cell, and it includes three buttons and a small piezoelectric speaker. He’s implemented a whole slew of games, including clones of Pong, Breakout, and Tetris, and judging by the video below it’s surprisingly playable.
Now you might look at this console and wonder what the big deal is. After all, there are plenty of similar designs to be found, and it’s nothing new. Of course, it’s a neat project for any hacker or maker, but we can see that this would make a great starter project for the younger person in your life who wants to try their hands at building something electronic. All through-hole construction for easy soldering, and a neat game at the end of it all.
He’s posted a full write-up of the design process as well as the hackaday.io page linked above, so if you fancy building one yourself there’s nothing to stop you too squeezing 64 bits of graphical goodness from an Arduino.
Continue reading “This Arduino Console Has 64 Bit Graphics”
There’s no holy war holier than establishing whether PC games are superior to console games (they are). But even so, there’s no denying that there are some good console titles out there. What if you’d still like to play them using a mouse and keyboard? If you’re [Agent86], you’d build up the most ridiculous chain of fun electronics to get the job done.
Now there is an overpriced off-the-shelf solution for this problem, and a pre-existing open-source project that’ll get the same job done for only a few bucks in parts. But there’s nothing like the fun in solving a problem your own way, with your own tangle of wires, darn it all! The details of the build span four (4!) pages in [Agent86]’s blog, so settle down with a warm cup of coffee.
Here’s the summary: an Xbox 360 controller is taken apart and turned into an Xbox controller. The buttons and joysticks are put under computer control via a Teensy microcontroller. GPIOs press the controller’s buttons, and digipots replace the analog sticks. Software on the Teensy drives the digipots and presses the buttons, interpreting a custom protocol sent over USB from the computer, which also gets some custom software to send the signals.
So if you’re keeping score: a button press on a keyboard is converted to USB, sent to a PC, converted to a custom serial protocol, sent to a Teensy which emulates a human for a controller that then coverts the signals back into the Xbox’s USB protocol. Pshwew!
Along the way, there’s learning at every stage, which is really the point of an exercise like this. And [Agent86] says that it mostly works, with some glitches in the mouse-to-joystick mapping. But if you’re interested in any part of this crazy chain, you’ve now got a model for each of them.
The official theme of the 2015 Hackaday Prize is to build something that matters. Solving the challenges facing the world is hard, and retro video games, despite what you read on Hackaday, do not matter.
That doesn’t mean there’s not space for the weird, esoteric builds out there; we have a best product prize that will dump $100k, a six month residency in the Hackaday Design Lab, and contacts with a lot of engineers with expertise in manufacturing. [Alex]’s extremely ow cost game console on a Pic32 is exactly what this prize category is looking for.
[Alex]’s project – XORYA – is based on the Pic32MX170F256, a chip that runs up to 50MHz, has 256kB of flash, and a full 64k of RAM. This is far beyond what the guys at Atari imagined back in the 70s, allowing the XORYA to have some amazing graphics.
Right now most of the build is dedicated to fleshing out the video system, and [Alex] has a great demo: rendering the Mandelbrot set in real time in 16 colors on an NTSC display with a resolution of 160×100. That’s a single-chip game console that’s right up there with the Uzebox, and a great example of the potential of the best product category for this year’s Hackaday Prize.
There are a few dozen classic re-imaginings of classic game consoles, using hardware ranging from the ATMegas of the Uzebox to everyone’s favorite, stuffing some ROMs on a Raspi and calling it a day. You don’t necessarily learn anything doing that, which puts [Mike]’s custom game console head and shoulders above the rest.
The build started off as a plan for a Z80 computer with a dual ATMega GPU. He progressed far enough in the design where it would have been a masterpiece, but the inability to mill double-sided boards at home killed the design. Plans then moved on to an FPGA, then to an ATMega with the Analog Device AD725 PAL/NTSC encoder chip. That idea had a similar architecture to the Uzebox, but [Mike] wanted more power. He eventually settled on a PIC32 with the AD725.
This setup was capable of pumping out some impressive graphics, but for moving bits to a screen, you need DMA. [Mike] ran into a problem where the DMA timer runs at a maximum rate of 3.7 MHz. It’s a problem documented in a few projects, leading [Mike] to change his plan once again, this time to the STM32F4.
The bugs are worked out, and now [Mike] can stream a whole lot of pixels to a screen while still having some processing power left over to play a game. It’s a project that’s more than a year and a half old at this point, and so far he’s learned a lot.
The PC Engine was pretty popular in Japan, but only the coolest kids in America had the US edition, the TurboGrafx16. These two systems weren’t exactly the same; the TurboGrafx-16’s data bus was flipped so the games were made to be incompatible, and the US games have a region lockout. [Kaz] looked at the existing hacks for running Japanese games on US systems, and every single one of them required modding a console. Thinking he could do better, he came up with the PC-Henshin, an adapter and CPLD that allows Japanese game to run on US consoles.
To take care of the mixed up lines on the PC card connector between the US and Japanese variants, a few adapter cards are available. That’s great, but they only solve one part of the compatibility problem. The region lockout routine found on nearly every American title mean PC Engine consoles can’t run TurboGrafx-16 games. [Kaz] used a small, cheap CPLD to read the data bus, patch everything as it is read out, and turns a Japanese console into something that can play American games.
Continue reading “A PC Engine to TurboGrafx-16 Converter”