How One Company Cracked The GameCube Disc Protection

The Nintendo GameCube was the first console from Big N with disc-based media. Gone were the cartridges that were absurdly expensive to manufacture. In theory games could be cheaper (yeah, right), and would hold more textures, pictures, and video. Around the time the GameCube hit shelves, your basic home computer started getting DVD burners, and you could walk into Circuit City and buy those tiny little DVD-Rs. But you couldn’t do it. You couldn’t burn GameCube games, at least without advanced soldering skills.

One company did. Datel, a British company that produced the Action Replay, the ‘Game Genie of the GameCube’ figured out how to get around the GameCube’s disc protection. Not only that, but in a decade and a half since the Action Replay came to market, no one has managed to copy their methods. In a fascinating video, [Nathan] takes us around the disc to see how this disc protection scheme actually worked, and how to exploit it to load homebrew games from an SD card.

The Nintendo GameCube disc format is almost, but not quite, the same as a DVD format. On (nearly) every DVD, and almost every GameCube disc, there’s a ‘barcode’ of sorts on the inside of the optical tracks. This burst cutting area (BCA) is unique to every copy that comes off a single master. Additionally, this BCA can only be cut with a YAG laser that’s significantly more powerful than the laser diode in a DVD writer.

But the Action Replay disc from Datel didn’t have this BCA. Why not? The BCA effectively writes over the pits and lands in the first blocks of data in a DVD. Since the BCA is written over data that is already there, you can just encode whatever data the BCA should hold into the raw data of the pits and lands. It’s a brilliant technique that allows consumer equipment to create the Action Replay disc. But surprisingly, this technique wasn’t popularized with the GameCube homebrew scene.

Not that it really mattered, anyway; modchips existed, and with the SD to Memory Card adapter you could run homebrew works without having to burn a disc. That’s exactly what [Nathan] did with his GameCube setup, you can check out the video below.

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A Practical Portable Wii Emerges from the Memes

A few months ago, [Shank] built what will almost certainly go down in history as the world’s smallest portable Nintendo Wii. As it turns out, the Wii motherboard is home to a lot of unnecessary hardware, and with a careful hand and an eye for detail, it’s possible to physically cut it down to a much smaller unit; allowing this particularly tenacious hacker to put an actual Wii, along with everything else required to make it portable, into an Altoids tin.

As you might expect, between the cramped controls, comically short battery life, and the fact that the whole thing got hot to the touch during use, it was a miserable excuse for a portable console. But the incredible response the project received inspired [Shank] to dust off an earlier project: a far more practical portable Wii that he calls PiiWii. This time around the handheld is a more reasonable size, a useful battery life, and proper controls. It even has an integrated “Sensor Bar” so you can use real Wii Remotes with it. It might not be the prettiest portable console conversion we’ve ever seen, but it certainly ranks up there as one of the most complete.

[Shank] actually “finished” the PiiWii some time ago, but in his rush to complete the project he got a little overzealous with the hot glue and ended up with a device that was difficult to diagnose and fix when things started to go wrong. He shelved the project and moved on to his Altoids tin build, which helped him refine his Wii shrinking skills. With a clearer head and some more practical experience under his belt, the PiiWii was revamped and is clearly all the better for it.

Unlike previous Wii portables we’ve seen, there’s no attempt at adding GameCube controller ports or video out capability. It’s built to be a purely handheld system, and that focus has delivered a system that’s roughly the size of the original Game Boy Advance. Beyond the cleverly sliced Wii motherboard, the inside of the PiiWii features a 3.5 inch display, a custom designed audio amplifier PCB, four 3400 mAh cells which deliver a run time of around four hours, a 3DS “slider” analog stick, and a generous helping of Kapton tape in place of hot glue.

If there’s any criticism of the PiiWii, it’s likely going to be about the system’s boxy exterior. But as [Shank] explains, there’s an excellent reason for that: it’s literally built into a project box. He simply took a commercially available ABS project box, the Polycase SL 57, and made all his openings on the front with a laser cutter. Other than the fact taking a laser to ABS releases hydrogen cyanide, he found it a good way to quickly knock out a custom enclosure.

Last year we took a look his ridiculously small Altoids tin Wii, and while that was an impressive project to be sure, we’re glad he revisited the PiiWii and showed that a portable Wii can be more than just a novelty. Compared to other systems, the Wii doesn’t seem to get the portable treatment that often, so we’re always glad to see somebody come in and do the concept justice.

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Editing GameCube Memory With A Raspberry Pi

[James] has been working with GameCubes, emulators, and Animal Crossing for a while now, and while emulators are sufficient, he’d like to play on real hardware. This means he needs to write to a GameCube memory card. While there are a few options to do this, they either require a Wii or hardware that hasn’t been made in a decade. The obvious solution to this problem is to reverse engineer the GameCube memory card to read and write the memory with a Raspberry Pi.

There’s an incredible amount of unofficial documentation for every console, and [James] stumbled upon a GC-Forever forum post that describes the electrical signals inside the GameCube memory card. There’s your standard compliment of power and ground pads, along with a DI, DO, CS, Clk, and an INT pin. [James] broke out the magnet wire and soldered up a pin header to these cards. Data was then captured with a Salae logic analyzer, and lo and behold, it looked like a standard SPI protocol.

With the low-level protocol worked out, [James] checked out the Yet Another GameCube Documentation to get the main functions allowed through the SPI bus. The ‘read block’, for instance, starts off with 0x52 and an address offset. A little bit of Python on a Raspberry Pi meant [James] could read and write the entire GameCube memory card. Right now the code is a little rough, but all the work is available should you want to edit your Animal Crossing save with a Raspberry Pi.

This work follows [James]’ earlier work on getting into the debug menu of Animal Crossing, allowing him to add items to his inventory. With this latest advancement, it’s only a matter of time before we plug Raspberry Pis directly into a GameCube.

Eight Player GameCube Adapter is Ready for Smash

With the release of Smash Ultimate fast approaching for the Nintendo Switch, [Patrick Hess] wanted to get ahead of the game and make sure his squad had the equipment they’d need. Namely, support for the GameCube controllers that serious Smash Bros players demand. But it wasn’t enough to have one or two of them hooked up, or even four. Not even six GameCube controllers could satiate his desire. No, he needed to have support for eight simultaneous GameCube controllers, and he wanted to look good doing it too.

Enter his meticulously designed eight player GameCube to USB adapter. Made out of dual official Nintendo GameCube to USB adapters (intended for the Wii U) merged together in a 3D printed case, the final result looks like something that could earn the coveted Nintendo Seal of Approval. Or at least, something that might pop up on the import sites in the next month or two for a few bucks.

[Patrick] started the project by recreating the official adapter PCBs and their housings in 3D using a pair of calipers. After a couple of test prints to make sure he had all the dimensions right, he could then move on to designing his final enclosure knowing he had accurate data to model around.

In addition to the two adapter boards, there’s also a four port USB hub inside the device’s case. Each adapter has two USB leads, here shortened to fit inside the case, which connect up to the hub. The integrated hub allows connecting all eight GameCube controllers through only a single USB connection. All controllers worked as expected during intense testing on the Wii U’s version of Smash Bros, though at this point [Patrick] can only assume it will work when the Switch version is released.

If there’s a downside to this project, it’s that the design for the 3D printed case is so intricate that [Patrick] was only able to print it on a machine that supported water-soluble PVA supports. A somewhat tall order for the average hacker; it would be interesting to see if somebody could make a second pass on the enclosure that is geared more towards printability than aesthetics.

While the design of the GameCube controller remains somewhat controversial after all these years, there’s no denying it retains an impressive following. Whether turning them into USB devices, shrinking them to preposterously small dimensions, or just finding increasingly creative ways to use them on Nintendo’s latest console, hackers are definitely in love with the gonzo little controller that’s now pushing 20 years old.

Get Nostalgic with these GameCube Themed Joy-Cons

There are a lot of good reasons to think fondly of the Nintendo GameCube. Metroid Prime and Rogue Leader knocked it out of the park. The Game Boy Player was cool. There’s even something to be said for having a convenient carrying handle on a system designed for couch multiplayer. But if you ask anyone who played Nintendo’s sixth generation console what part they missed the least, it would probably be the controller. With all the visual flair of a Little Tikes playset and ergonomics designed for an octopus, it’s a controller that works well for first-party Nintendo titles and little else.

So it’s probably for the best that these Switch Joy-Cons created by [Madmorda] focus on recreating the aesthetics of the GameCube controller for Nintendo’s latest money-printing machine rather than its feel. With a surprising amount of work required to create them, these definitely count as a labor of love by someone who yearns for the days when gaming was more…cubic.

To start with, nobody makes Joy-Con cases in that signature GameCube purple so [Madmorda] had to paint them herself. The longevity of a painted controller is somewhat debatable, but the finish certainly looks fantastic right now.

For the left analog stick [Madmorda] was able to use the cap from a real GameCube controller, which fit perfectly. Apparently, Nintendo has been pretty happy with their analog stick sizing decisions for the last two decades or so. The right analog stick was another story, however, and she had to cut the shaft down to size with a Dremel to get the cap to fit.

Finally, molds were made of the original face buttons, which were then used to cast new buttons with colored resin to match the GameCube color scheme. Since the original Switch buttons don’t have indented lettering to get picked up by the mold, she had to laser etch them. This little detail goes a long way to selling the overall look.

The final result looks great, and compared to previous attempts we’ve seen to bring some of that early 2000’s Nintendo style to the Switch, this one is certainly less destructive. Check them out in action after the break!

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Unlocking Animal Crossing’s Debug Mode

Originally released on the Nintendo 64 in 2001, Animal Crossing was the first entry into what has become a massively successful franchise. But while the game has appeared on more modern Nintendo consoles, most recently Android and iOS, the version released on the GameCube holds a special place in many fan’s hearts. The GameCube version was the first time those outside of Japan got a taste of the unique community simulation offered by Animal Crossing, and maintains a following nearly 20 years after its release.

[James Chambers] has recently been investigating creating mods for the GameCube version of Animal Crossing, and in the process uncovered some interesting references to a debug mode. That launched a deep dive into the game’s assembly code in an attempt to find what the debug functions did and if they could be enabled without having to patch the game ROM. In the end, he was able to find a push button code that enables debug mode on the retail copy of the game.

[James] starts by using the debugger provided by the Dolphin GameCube emulator to poke around and figure out exactly what flags need to be modified to activate the debug mode. This leads to a few interesting finds, such as being able to pop up a performance monitor graph and some build info. Eventually he finds the proper incantation to bring up a functional debug display in the game, but there was still the mystery of how you do it on the real hardware with a retail copy of the game.

It wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that some special dongle or development version of the GameCube would be required to kick the game into debug mode. But through careful examination of the code path, [James] was able to figure out that hitting a specific combination of buttons on the controller was all that was required to use the debug mode on the stock game. Once the debug mode is started, a controller plugged into the second port allows the user to navigate through options and perform tasks. Not everything is currently understood, but some progress has been made, such as figuring out how to add items to your inventory.

It’s hardly Nintendo’s most popular console, but there’s still a healthy interest in GameCube hacking as the machine approaches its 20th anniversary. We recently saw some impressive work being done to reverse engineer the system’s wireless controllers, though some people are more interested in just cutting the thing in half.

[Thanks to Tim Trzepacz for the tip.]

Gamecube Dock For Switch Mods Nintendo with More Nintendo

[Dorison Hugo] let us know about a project he just completed that not only mods Nintendo with more Nintendo, but highlights some of the challenges that come from having to work with and around existing hardware. The project is a Gamecube Dock for the Nintendo Switch, complete with working Gamecube controller ports. It looks like a Gamecube with a big slice out of it, into which the Nintendo Switch docks seamlessly. Not only that, but thanks to an embedded adapter, original Gamecube controllers can plug into the ports and work with the Switch. The original orange LED on the top of the Gamecube even lights up when the Switch is docked. It was made mostly with parts left over from other mods.

The interesting parts of this project are not just the attention to detail in the whole build, but the process [Dorison] used to get everything just right. Integrating existing hardware means accepting design constraints that are out of one’s control, such as the size and shape of circuit boards, length of wires, and often inconvenient locations of plugs and connectors. On top of it all, [Dorison] wanted this mod to be non-destructive and reversible with regards to the Nintendo Switch dock itself.

To accomplish that, the dock was modeled in CAD and 3D printed. The rest of the mods were all done using the 3D printed dock as a stand-in for the real unit. Since the finished unit won’t be painted or post-processed in any way, any scratches on both the expensive dock and the Gamecube case must be avoided. There’s a lot of under-cutting and patient sanding to get the cuts right as a result. The video (embedded below) steps through every part of the process. The final screws holding everything together had to go in at an odd angle, but in the end everything fit.

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