LEGO And Minecraft Team Up For Custom Gaming PC Case

There are probably few parents who haven’t watched their kids sitting on the floor, afloat on a sea of LEGO pieces and busily creating, and thought, “If only they could make a living at that.” But time goes on and kids grow up, and parents soon sing the same refrain as the kids sit transfixed by the virtual equivalent of LEGO: Minecraft.

Finding a way to monetize either LEGO or Minecraft is a bit difficult for the young enthusiast; combining both obsessions into a paying proposition would be a dream come true. [Mike Schropp] did it, and this Minecraft-themed LEGO computer case was the result. Intel wanted a LEGO case for their new NUC mini-PC motherboard, and as a sponsor of the Minefaire event, the case needed to be Minecraft themed.

[Mike] chose the block that any Enderman would choose: the basic grass block. Each of the ten cases he made for the show had about 1000 of the smallest LEGO pieces available, to recreate the texture of the grass block in all its faux 8-bit glory. The 4″ x 4″ (10cm x 10cm) 8th Gen NUC board was a great fit for the case, which included slots for ventilation and SD card access, plus pop-out covers to access the board’s ports. It’s not exactly a screamer, but playing Minecraft on a grass block made from LEGO bricks is probably worth the performance hit.

We’ve seen [Mike]’s work a time or two here, most recently with a full-scale LEGO rack-mount server. Our hats off to him for another fun and creative build, and for proving that you’re never too old to LEGO. Or Minecraft.

How A Secret Gaming Scene Emerged In Communist East Germany

During the late 1980s, a gaming scene emerged in East Germany just before the fall of communism. Teenagers gathered in buildings like the “House of Young Talents” (HdjT), originally Palais Podewils, to watch and play Commodore 64 games. There were 20 similar clubs in Berlin alone, sometimes with more than 70 people crowded into a single room. Above all, the computers they were in possession of were all made in the West.

At a point in time when loyalties were frequently questioned, the club of self-proclaimed “freaks” soon attracted the attention of the Stasi, GDR (East Germany) intelligence agents who kept close tabs on the group. As one Stasi agent warned:

Given that there are also members within the interest groups or computer clubs with a verifiably negative attitude toward the socialist state and social order, there is a potential danger that the interest groups or computer clubs will go in a negative direction.

Domestically produced computers – the KC 85 from VEB Mikroelektronik Wilhelm Pieck Mühlhausen and the KC 87 from VEB Robotron – did not have the quality of C128 and C64s from Commodore. Surprisingly, even while microelectronics remained on the list of embargoed products imported to East Germany, C64s managed to make their way into the state. The GDR customs officials didn’t have any problem with Western imported hardware – what they were worried about was the software.

By the end of the 80s, modern data traffic over telephone lines had arrived in East Germany, causing fear that software would soon be disseminated without the need of a physical medium. For the gamers of GDR, however, many didn’t even have access to a phone line. They just wanted to go to computer clubs to swap software. Since computer games from the West were only available in government-run Intershop stores and not in normal shops, teenagers had to rely on the computer clubs to access these games. Games like Frogger and Rambo would be copied to cheaper cassette tapes – it wouldn’t even be violating the saw law since software was not protected by copyright within the country.

A few politically charged games – “Raid Over Moscow” and “Kremlin” – were forbidden to ensure that the HdjT wouldn’t be shut down. Towards the end of the GDR, the Stasi desperately tried to gain control of games “relating to the increasing activities of the political opponent”, but by this point the political situation was already heading towards the fall of the Wall. [Stefan Paubel], founder of the HdjT reflected that he was disappointed the Stasi didn’t try harder to report on the computer clubs.

They had everything critical in the reports: Swapping software, a complete list of all the games glorifying war and computers from the West.

It appeared that microelectronics were sacred to the GDR, since officials were trying to get more young people to engage with computers. The regime’s concern for their reputation led them to prioritize other forms of surveillance than technology. For a while after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the computer club continued to exist. It wasn’t until August 1990, two months before reunification, that the remaining members decided to dissolve the club.

[Thanks to Frank for the tip!]

When Your Car Breaks Down, Simply Hack It Into A Simulator

When [Nishanth]’s Subaru BRZ came to a sudden halt, he was saddened by the wait to get a new engine installed. Fortunately, he was able to cheer himself up by hacking it into a car simulator in the mean time. This would have the added benefit of not being limited to just driving on the Road Atlanta where the unfortunate mishap occurred, but any course available on Forza and similar racing games.

On paper it seemed fairly straight-forward: simply tap into the car’s CAN bus for the steering, throttle, braking and further signals, convert it into something a game console or PC can work with and you’re off to the races. Here the PC setup is definitely the cheapest and easiest, with a single part required: a Macchina M2 Under the Dash kit ($97.50). The XBox required over $200 worth of parts, including the aforementioned Macchina part, an XBox Adaptive Controller and a few other bits and pieces. And a car, naturally.

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The Macchina M2 is the part that listens to the CAN traffic via the OBD2 port, converting it into something that resembles a USB HID gamepad. So that’s all a matter of plug’n’play, right? Not so fast. Every car uses their own CAN-based system, with different peripherals and addresses for them. This means that with the Macchina M2 acquired, [Nishanth]’s first task was to reverse-engineer the CAN signals for the car’s controls.

At this point the story is pretty much finished for the PC side of things, but the XBox One console is engineered to only accept official peripherals. The one loop-hole here is the Adaptive Controller, designed for people with disabilities, which allows the use of alternative inputs. This also enables using a car as an XBox One controller, which is an interesting side-effect.

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Tilt Five: A Fresh Take On Augmented Reality Tabletop Gaming

Tilt Five is an Augmented Reality (AR) system developed by Jeri Ellsworth and a group of other engineers that is aimed at tabletop gaming which is now up on Kickstarter. Though it appears to be a quite capable (and affordable at $299) system based on the Kickstarter campaign, the most remarkable thing about it is probably that it has its roots at Valve. Yes, the ones behind the Half Life games and the Steam games store.

Much of the history of the project has been covered by sites, such as this Verge article from 2013. Back then [Jeri Ellsworth] and [Rick Johnson] were working on project CastAR, which back then looked like a contraption glued onto the top of a pair of shades. When Valve chose to go with Virtual Reality instead of AR, project CastAR began its life outside of Valve, with Valve’s [Gabe] giving [Jeri] and [Rick] his blessing to do whatever they wanted with the project.

What the Tilt Five AR system looked like in its CastAR days. (credit: The Verge)

Six years later Tilt Five is the result of the work put in over those years. Looking more like a pair of protective glasses along with a wand controller that has an uncanny resemblance to a gas lighter for candles and BBQs, it promises a virtual world like one has never seen before. Courtesy of integrated HD projectors that are aimed at the retroreflective surface of the game board.

A big limitation of the system is also its primary marketing feature: by marketing it as for tabletop gaming, the fact that the system requires this game board as the projection surface means that the virtual world cannot exist outside the board, but for a tabetop game (like Dungeons and Dragons), that should hardly be an issue. As for the games themselves, they would run on an external system, with the signal piped into the AR system. Game support for the Tilt Five is still fairly limited, but more titles have been announced.

(Thanks, RandyKC)

Magnets Make This Panda Move

A single board computer on a desk is fine for quick demos but for taking it into the wild (or even the rest of the house) you’re going to want a little more safety from debris, ESD, and drops. As SBCs get more useful this becomes an increasingly relevant problem to solve, plus a slick enclosure can be the difference between a nice benchtop hack and something that looks ready to sell as a product. [Chris] (as ProjectSBC) has been working on a series of adaptable cases called the MagClick Case System for the LattePanda Alpha SBC which are definitely worth a look.

The LattePanda Alpha isn’t a run-of-the-mill SBC; it’s essentially the mainboard from a low power ultrabook and contains up to an Intel Core M series processor, 8GB RAM, and 64GB of eMMC. Not to mention an onboard Atmega32u4, WiFi, Gigabit Ethernet, and more. It has more than enough horsepower to be used as an everyday desktop computer or even a light gaming system if you break PCIe out of one the m.2 card slots. But [Chris] realized that such adaptability was becoming a pain as he had to move it from case-to-case as his use needs changed. Thus the MagClick Case System was born.

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Run Your Own Phone To Bring The Dreamcast Back Online

Playing a video game online is almost second nature now. So much so that almost all multiplayer video games have ditched their split-screen multiplayer modes because they assume you’d rather just be alone at your house than hanging out with your friends. This wasn’t always the case though. In the early days of online multiplayer, systems had to rely on dial-up internet before broadband was readily available (and still had split screen if you didn’t even have that). Almost no one uses dial up anymore though, so if you still like playing your old Dreamcast you’re going to have to do some work to get it online again.

Luckily for all of us there’s a Raspberry Pi image to do almost anything now. This project from [Kazade] uses one to mimic a dial-up connection for a Dreamcast so you can connect with other people still playing Quake 20 years later. It’s essentially a network bridge, but you will need some extra hardware because phone lines use a high voltage line that you’ll have to make (or buy) a solution for. Once all the hardware is set up and working, you’ll need to make a few software configuration changes, but it’s a very straightforward project.

Granted, there have been ways of playing Dreamcast games online before, but this new method really streamlines the process and makes it as simple as possible. The Dreamcast was a great system, and there’s an argument to be made that the only reason it wasn’t more popular was that it was just slightly too far ahead of its time.

Thanks to [Rusty] for the tip!

Salty? Tip Canister To Rage Quit Games

Do you long for a more pronounced way to rage quit video games? Smashing buttons comes naturally, of course, but this hurts the controller or keyboard. You can quit your longing, because [Insert Controller Here] has an elegant solution that’s worth its salt.

The Salty Rage Quit Controller is simple. The cup is filled with distilled water. When you pour salt in it, the two bolt terminals tell the Arduino Micro that the resistance in the water has decreased. The Micro sends whatever keystrokes you want, so you could call out your deadbeat medic before quitting, or just plain leave. [Insert Controller Here] has example code on his site to get you started. Click calmly past the break to watch the demo and build videos, or we’ll have to ban you for aggro.

With the right tools, you can turn anything into a game controller. Check out this car controller that uses Python and CAN bus sniffing.

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