Making A Kid-Friendly Computer As A Present: Or How To Be The Cool Aunt At Christmas

This article was meant to be finished up before Christmas, so it’ll be a little late whenever you’re reading it to go and prepare this for the holiday. Regardless, if, like me, should you ever be on the lookout for something to give a toddler nephew or relative, it could be worth it to look into your neglected old parts shelves. In my case, what caught my eye was a 9-year-old AMD laptop catching dust that could be better repurposed in the tiny hands of a kid eager to play video games.

The main issues here are finding a decent selection of appropriate games and streamling the whole experience so that it’s easy to use for a not-yet-hacker, all the while keeping the system secure and child-friendly. And doing it all on a budget.

This is a tall order, and requirements will be as individual as children are, of course, but I hope that my experience and considerations will help guide you if you’re in a similar boat.

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PyGame Celebrates 20 Years By Releasing PyGame 2.0

Python is an absolutely fantastic language for tossing bits of data around and gluing different software components together. But eventually you may find yourself looking to make a program with an output a bit more advanced than the print() statement. Once you’ve crossed into the land of graphical Python programming, you’ll quickly find that the PyGame library is often recommended as a great way to start pushing pixels even if you’re not strictly making a game.

Today, the project is celebrating an incredible milestone: 20 years of helping Python developers turn their ideas into reality. Started by [Pete Shinners] in 2000 as a way to interface with Simple DirectMedia Layer (SDL), the project was quickly picked up by the community and morphed into a portable 2D/3D graphics library that lets developers deploy their code on everything from Android phones to desktop computers.

Things haven’t always gone smoothly for the open source library, and for awhile development had stalled out. But the current team has been making great progress, and decided today’s anniversary was the perfect time to officially roll out PyGame 2.0. With more than 3,300 changes committed since the team started working on their 2.0 branch in July of 2018, it’s a bit tough to summarize what’s new. Suffice to say, the library is more capable than ever and is ready to tackle everything from simple 2D art up to 4K GPU-accelerated applications.

Rip and tear in PyGame 2.0

If you haven’t given PyGame a try in awhile, don’t worry. The team has put special effort into making the library as backwards compatible as possible, so if you’ve got an old project kicking around that you haven’t touched in a decade, it should still run against the latest and greatest version. If you’ve never used it before, the team says they’ll soon be releasing new tutorials that show you how to get the most out of this new release.

Whether you’re putting together your own implementation of Conway’s “Game of Life” or creating the graphical front-end for your own Linux distribution, PyGame is a powerful tool to have in your collection. Our sincere congratulations to all PyGame developers, past and present, for making it to this auspicious occasion. We can’t wait to see what the next decade will bring.

[Thanks to deshipu for the tip.]

Myst ‘Demake’ For The Apple II

Making certain games run on systems which were never designed to run such games (or any games at all) is a favorite hobby of some, with [deater] being no exception. His latest creation involves porting Myst to the Apple II, or ‘demake’ in his own words. This means taking a game that was released in 1993 for MacOS and later for Windows 3.1 and the original PlayStation, and creating a version that works on an 8-bit system from 1977.

Obviously the graphical fidelity has been turned down some compared to the 1990s version, but at this stage much of the game’s levels have been implemented. For anyone who has ever played the game before, much of the visuals will be instantly recognizable. According to [deater], the game should run on any Apple II/II+/IIe, with at least 48 kB of RAM, but 64 kB needed for sound effects. If a Mockingboard sound card is installed, it will even play the intro theme.

On the project page the (currently) three floppy disks can be downloaded, with the source available on Github. While one is there, one can also check out [deater]’s ‘Another World’ port to the Apple II which we covered last year.

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Tic-Tac-Toe Implemented In Single Call To Printf()

[Nicholas Carlini] programmed a C implementation of two-player Tic Tac Toe, and he did it in a single call to printf(). The arguments for that single function call get mind-bendingly complex, so it may come as no surprise that it was written for The International Obfuscated C Code Contest (IOCCC).

Most of us are aware that printf() is one of those functions that is considerably more complex under the hood, and capable of far more, than it may appear to be. But did you know that it is capable of Turing-complete computation?

[Nicholas] clearly steps through the theory, so give it a read. In short, a maze of arguments handles the logic of the game while an embedded scanf() reads user input, and printing the game board is always preceded by an escape code to clear the screen.

[Nicholas] is certainly no stranger to in-depth understandings; we’ve seen his work before in demonstrating how to fool speech recognition with hidden commands, including a powerful example showing how two virtually identical-sounding audio files transcribe entirely differently.

A Retro Gaming Console For The New Generation

Ostensibly the ESPboy is an open-source hackable game engine built as an IoT platform for STEM education and play, but there’s no way [RomanS] could have been inspired by anything other than retro gaming consoles from the near past. For anyone who grew up playing with Tamagotchi pets or Palm Pilots, this project is going to be a major throwback.

The Saint Petersburg-based microcontroller hobbyist utilizes a ESP8266 microcontroller to build a series of modules for different game play modes, including a TFT display, GSM phone, MP3 player, GPS navigator, FM radio, and keyboard module. He has plans to build even more modules, including a LoRa messenger and thermal camera, to really expand the system’s capabilities.

Since the board has built-in WiFi, firmware can be uploaded to the device without a wired connection and compiler. The nature of the project makes the board compatible with the Arduino IDE and Micropython, which makes hacking the software even easier.

A TP4056 battery charging module charges the LiPo, although depending on the battery capacity, the charging current (set by the R3 resistor on the controller) does require some change. A MCP4725 I2C DAC is used for smooth driving the LCD’s backlight. In order to extend the battery life, the battery controller uses sleep mode to periodically wake up to measure and send data, which allows it to extend its battery life without external power. There’s also transistor driven buzzers that provide a little extra feedback to the user when playing games, complete with a variable resistor to adjust the sound volume.

A number of free pins run along the periphery for connecting to other modules, including pins for GPIO extension, sensor adapters, connectors to addressable LEDs, and an extension slot for actuators. For anyone interested in making their own version of the ESPboy, the PCB schematics are accessible online.

Projects like the Arduboy have shown that a small microcontroller-based game system can be equal parts fun and educational, so we’ve been excited to see more of these types of projects popping up during the course of the 2019 Hackaday Prize.

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Entombed Secrets Partially Unearthed As Researchers Dissect Clever Maze-Generating Algorithm

If you look at enough of another developer’s code, you will eventually say, “What were you thinking, you gosh-darn lunatic?” Now, this exchange can precede the moment where you quit a company and check into a padded room, or it can be akin to calling someone a mad genius and offering them a beer. In the case of [Steven Sidley]’s 1982 game Entombed, [John Aycock] and [Tara Copplestone] found a mysterious table for generating pseudo-random mazes and wrote a whitepaper on how it all works (PDF). The table only generates solvable mazes, but if any bits are changed, the puzzles become inescapable.

The software archaeologists are currently in a labyrinth of their own, in which the exit is an explanation of the table, but the path is overgrown with decade-old vines. The programmer did not make the table himself, and its creator’s name is buried somewhere in the maze. Game cart storage was desperately limited so mazes had to be generated on-the-fly rather than crafted and stored. Entombed‘s ad-hoc method worked by assessing the previous row and generating the next based on particular criteria, with some PRNG in places to keep it fresh. To save more space, the screen was mirrored down the center which doubles the workload of the table. Someday this mysterious table’s origins may be explained but for now, it is a work of art in its own right.

Aside from a table pulled directly from the aether, this maze game leaned on pseudo-random numbers but there is room for improvement in that regard too.

Via BBC Future.

Tinker Pilot Project Cranks Cockpit Immersion To 11

One of the more interesting ideas being experimented with in VR is 1:1 mapping of virtual and real-world objects, so that virtual representations can have physically interaction in a normal way. Tinker Pilot is a VR spaceship simulator project by [LLUÍS and JAVI] that takes this idea and runs with it, aiming for the ability to map a cockpit’s joysticks, switches, and other hardware to real-world representations. What does that mean? It means a virtual cockpit with flight sticks, levers, and switches that have working physical versions that actually exist exactly where they appear to be.

A few things about the project design caught our eye. One is the serial communications protocol intended to interface easily with microcontrollers, allowing for feedback between the program and any custom peripherals. (By the way, this is the same approach Kerbal Space Program took with KSPSerialIO, which enables custom mission control hardware at whatever level of complexity a user may wish to implement.)

The possibilities are demonstrated starting around 1:09 in the teaser trailer (embedded below) in which a custom controller is drawn up in CAD, then 3D-printed and attached to an Arduino, and finally the 3D model is imported into the cockpit as a 1:1 representation of the actual working unit, with visual positional feedback.

Unlike this chair experiment we saw which attached a Vive Tracker to a chair, there is no indication of needing positional trackers on individual controls in Tinker Pilot. In a cockpit layout, controls can be reasonably expected to remain in fixed positions relative to the cockpit, meaning that they can be set up as 1:1 representations of a physical layout and otherwise left alone. The kind of experimentation that is available today even to individual developers or small teams is remarkable, and it’s fascinating to see the ideas being given some experimentation.

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