Can You Visualise a Sega Cart from 2017?

The Sega Genesis, or Mega Drive if you’re not from North America, isn’t exactly this summer’s hottest new console, but it still has a huge following 29 years after launch. Fans range from retro Sonic enthusiasts to hardcore chiptune composers, and this year, Catskull Electronics is releasing a Genesis compilation album on a cartridge with a rather special feature.

The cartridge sports an 8×8 LED matrix, which acts as a visualiser for the audio coming out of the console. They’re controlled with a combination of data and address lines with some buffers and 74-series glue logic to make it all work together. Special attention was paid to make sure the LED matrix doesn’t just respond to all activity on the bus, though it would perhaps be cool to see some blinkenlights on a 90s console one day.

Each row of LEDs is attached to an address line, and each column to a data line. It’s a fairly basic multiplexing setup which sees each LED only actually lit for a fraction of a second, but sweeping the display at speed creates a lasting display. The image data is stored as an 8×8 sprite in the system RAM, and updated with the sound level of each channel from the Genesis’s audio subsystem.

The team are looking to release the ROM code in future to inspire copycat designs, which has the potential to spawn even more Genesis cart releases in future. We look forward to seeing what else the community comes up with. And if you’re a die-hard Genesis fan, there are other ways to listen to those classic tunes too.

Hackaday Links: December 18, 2016

You can fly a brick if it has offset mass and you can fly a microwave because it breaks the law of the conservation of momentum. A paper on the EM Drive was recently published by the Eagleworks team, and the results basically say, ‘if this works, it’s a terrible thruster that shouldn’t work’. Experts have weighed in, but now we might not have to wait for another test in the Eagleworks lab: China will fly an EM Drive on their space station. Will it work? Who knows.

The ESP32 is just now landing on workbenches around the globe, and already a few people are diving into promiscuous mode and WiFi packet injection.

The Large Hadron Collider is the most advanced piece of scientific apparatus ever built. It produces tons of data, and classifying this data is a challenge. The best pattern recognition unit is between your ears, so CERN is crowdsourcing the categorization of LHC data.

Holy crap this is cyberpunk. [SexyCyborg] created a makeup palette pen testing device thing out of a Rasberry Pi and a few bits and bobs sitting around in a parts drawer. The project is cool, but the photolog of the finished project is awesome. It’s exactly what you would use to break into the Weyland-Yutani database while evading government operatives on the rooftops of Kowloon Walled City before escaping via grappling hook shot into the belly of a spaceplane taking off.

The Mini NES is Nintendo’s most successful hardware offering since the N64. This tiny device, importantly packaged in a minified retro NES enclosure, is out of stock everywhere. That doesn’t matter because now there’s a mini Genesis. The cool kids had a Genesis. You want to be a cool kid, right? Mortal Kombat was better on the Genesis.

The Arduino (what once was two is again one) launched a new vowel-hating model: MKRZero. The narrow board is powered by USB or LiPo, centers around an Atmel SAMD21 Cortex-M0+ chip, and sports both an I2C breakout header and a microSD card slot. Just watch those levels as these pins are not 5v tolerant.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science is holding a Scientific Maker Exhibit during its annual meeting. This type of exhibit isn’t a poster or presentation — it’s just some table space and a chance to show off a 3D printed apparatus, a new type of sensor, equipment, or some other physical thing. Details in this PDF. This is actually cooler than it sounds, and a significant departure from the traditional poster or presentation found at every other scientific conference.

Did you know Hackaday has a retro edition made specifically for old computers connected to the Internet? That’s my baby, and it’s time for a refresh. If you have any feature requests you’d like to see, leave a note in the comments.

Hackaday Links: November 13, 2016

The Travelling Hackerbox is going International. I wrote a post on this earlier in the week, and I’m still looking for recipients for the box that are not in the United States. The sign-up form is right here, [the sign up form is now closed] and so far we have good coverage in Canada, Australia, NZ, Northern Europe, and a few in Africa. If you ever want to be part of the Travelling Hackerbox, this is your chance. I’m going to close the sign-up sheet next week. Sign up now.

Like the idea of a travelling hackerbox, but are too impatient? Adafruit now has a box subscription service. Every quarter, an AdaBox will arrive on your doorstep packed to the gills with electronic goodies.

The very recently released NES Classic edition is the 2016 version of the C64 DTV — it’s a Linux system, not as elegant, and there’s little hacking potential. If you want to increase the amount of storage, desolder the Flash chip (part no. S34ML04G200TFI000), and replace it with a larger chip. The NES Classic edition isn’t the coolest retro system coming out — Genesis is back, baby. Brazil has had a love affair with the Genesis/Mega Drive because of their bizarre import restrictions. Now, the manufacturer of the Brazilian Sega clones is releasing a Linux-ified clone. Does anyone know how to export electronics from Brazil?

The CFP deadline for the SoCal Linux Expo is fast approaching. You have until the 15th to get your talks in for SCALE.

Let’s talk about dissolvable 3D printer support material. One of the first materials able to be printed and removed by dissolving in water was PVA. Makerbot sold it for use in their dual extruder machines. PVA does dissolve, but it degrades at higher temperatures and kills nozzles. HIPS can be dissolved with limonene, but it’s really only for use in conjunction with ABS. This week, E3D released their Scaffold support material. It’s a PVA/Polyvinyl alcohol filament — ‘the stuff gel caps are made out of’ was the line we got when E3D previewed Scaffold at MRRF last March. It’s a support material that’s water dissolvable, compatible with most filaments, and is able to produce some amazing prints. It’s available now, but it is a bit pricey at £45 for half a kilo. Brexit is a good thing if you’re paid in dollars.

If you’re into chiptunes, you’ve heard about Little Sound DJ. LSDJ is a cart/ROM capable of toggling all the registers on the Game Boy sound chip, sequencing bleeps and bloops, and generally being awesome. The recently released Nanoloop Mono is not Game Boy software. It’s a few op-amps and a PIC micro pasted on a board that turns the Game Boy into a synth. You get a significantly more 80s sound with the Nanoloop Mono over LSDJ, audio input, and a step sequencer.

Hacklet 119 – Retrogaming Console Hacks

If you haven’t heard, retrogaming is a thing. 40-somethings are playing the games of their youth alongside millennials who are just discovering these classic games. There are even folks developing new homebrew games for consoles as far back as the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Atari 2600. This week on the Hacklet, we’re highlighting some of the best retrogaming console hardware hacks on Note that I did say hardware hacks. The focus this week is on games played on the original hardware. Don’t worry though, I’ll give emulated projects some love in a future Hacklet.

bankerWe start with [danjovic] and Atari 2600 Bankswitch Cartridge. The Atari 2600 is a legendary system. Millions of hackers’ first exposure to gaming came through its one button joystick. To make the unit affordable, Atari used a MOS Technology 6507 processor. Essentially it’s a 6502 in a 28-pin package. This meant several features got nerfed, most notably the address space. The 6507 can only address 8KB of RAM. In the Atari, only 4KB is available to the cartridge. Games got around the 4KB limit by bank switching – write a value to a magic address, and the bank switching logic would swap in a whole different section of cartridge ROM. There were several different bank switching schemes used over the years. [Danjovic] has created his own version of this bank switching logic, using only classic 74 series logic chips.


nesmodNext up is [ThunderSqueak] with Top Loader NES composite mod. Toward the end of the NES’s life, Nintendo introduced a cost-reduced version known as the “top loader”. This version had a top loading cartridge and no DRM lock-out chip. Unfortunately it also did away with composite AV ports. The only way to hook this NES to your TV was through the RF modulated output. [ThunderSqueak] and a number of other intrepid hackers have fixed this problem. All it takes is a 2N3906 PNP transistor and a few jellybean parts. The video and audio outputs are pulled from the motherboard before they enter the RF modulator. One nice feature is the clean connectors. [ThunderSqueak] used connectors from modular in-wall AV boxes for a setup that looks as good as it works.

segaNext we have [makestuff] with USB MegaDrive DevKit. Sega’s MegaDrive, or Genesis as it was known here in the USA, was a groundbreaking console. It used a Motorola 68000 16-bit CPU while most other systems were still running a Z80 or a 6502. People loved this console, and there are plenty who still want to develop software for it. Enter [makestuff] with his development kit. On a card with a $40 USD bill of materials, he’s managed to fit SDRAM, an FPGA, and a USB interface. This is everything you need to load and debug software on an unmodified console. The FPGA had enough logic left over that [makestuff] was able to implement a continuous bus cycle tracer over USB. Nice work!

robbbFinally, we have our own [Joshua Vasquez] with R.O.B. 2.0. The original NES came in a deluxe version with a special pack in – a robot. Robotic Operating Buddy, or ROB for short, would play games with the player. Unfortunately ROB was a bit of a flop. It only worked with two games, Gyromite and Stack-Up Ice Climber. Most ROB units eventually found their way to the recycling bin. [Joshua] is building a new version of the ROB, with modern controls. He’s already modeled and 3D printed ROB’s head. I can’t wait to see this project come together!

If you want to see more retrogaming goodness, check out our new retrogaming hardware hacks list. See a project I might have missed? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!

3 Billion Devices And A Sega Genesis Run Java

A few years ago, [Mike]’s friend gave him an old Sega Genesis with the very cool and somewhat rare SegaCD drive attached. The SegaCD gave him an idea – while it’s not easy to burn a cartridge and play homebrew games on a real Genesis console, everyone has a CD burner somewhere. [Mike] began writing his demo and then realized adding Java would be easy on the 68000. The result is Java on three billion devices and a Sega Genesis.

This project is built around Java Grinder a Java byte code compiler that will compile classes, factories, and all the horrible Java into assembly language. Already, there are a lot of platforms supported by Java Grinder, including the Commodore 64, the TI99, and thanks to some work from [Joe Davisson], the Apple IIgs

With a byte code compiler, an assembler, and an API for the Sega-specific hardware, [Mike] set about building his demo. Since this was a Sega, it needed the ‘SEGA’ sound at the start. [Mike] ended up recording his voice saying ‘JAVA!’ This plays through the Z80 on the Genesis.

The complete demo – viewable in its emulated format below – has everything you would expect from a proper demo. Starfields, dancing sprites, and even a Mandelbrot pattern make it into the three-minute long demo.

Continue reading “3 Billion Devices And A Sega Genesis Run Java”

Winning the Console Wars – An In-Depth Architectural Study

From time to time, we at Hackaday like to publish a few engineering war stories – the tales of bravery and intrigue in getting a product to market, getting a product cancelled, and why one technology won out over another. Today’s war story is from the most brutal and savage conflicts of our time, the console wars.

The thing most people don’t realize about the console wars is that it was never really about the consoles at all. While the war was divided along the Genesis / Mega Drive and the Super Nintendo fronts, the battles were between games. Mortal Kombat was a bloody battle, but in the end, Sega won that one. The 3D graphics campaign was hard, and the Starfox offensive would be compared to the Desert Fox’s success at the Kasserine Pass. In either case, only Sega’s 32X and the British 7th Armoured Division entering Tunis would bring hostilities to an end.

In any event, these pitched battles are consigned to be interpreted and reinterpreted by historians evermore. I can only offer my war story of the console wars, and that means a deconstruction of the hardware.

Continue reading “Winning the Console Wars – An In-Depth Architectural Study”

It’s a Sega It’s a Nintendo! It’s… Unique!

Before the days of the RetroPie project, video game clones were all the rage. Early video game systems were relatively easy to duplicate and, as a result, many third-party consoles that could play official games were fairly common. [19RSN007] was recently handed one of these clones, and he took some pretty great strides to get this device working again.

The device in question looks like a Sega Genesis, at least until you look closely. The cartridge slot isn’t quite right and the buttons are also a little bit amiss. It turns out this is a Famicom (NES) clone that just looks like a Sega… and it’s in a terrible state. After a little bit of cleaning, the device still wasn’t producing any good video, and a closer inspection revealed that the NOAC (NES-on-a-Chip) wasn’t working.

Luckily, [19RSN007] had a spare chip and was able to swap it out. The fun didn’t stop there though, as he had to go about reverse-engineering this chip pin-by-pin until he got everything sorted out. His work has paid off though, and now he has a video game system that will thoroughly confuse anyone who happens to glance at it. He’s done a few other clone repairs as well which are worth checking out, and if you need to make your own NES cartridges as well, we’ve got you covered there, too.