MIDI Synthesizer From A Sega Genesis

[Aidan] is really into FM synthesis chips for creating audio, and one of the most interesting chips from that era is found on the Sega Genesis. Anyone involved in the console wars at that time certainly remembers the classic, unique sound that those video game systems were able to produce, so [Aidan] built a device using a sound chip from a Genesis to play any piece of music from any game. The second iteration of that project, though, is able to use those same sound files as a MIDI synthesizer.

The interesting aspect of these chips is how they use registers to change the audio output. Essentially, there is a complicated register map (one section of his write-up is simply called “Register Hell”) that can be called in order to access the various types of effects one would normally see on a synthesizer. It’s not straightforward at all, though, and got even more complicated once [Aidan] started adding MIDI functionality to it as well. Once he finished sifting through the Sega Genesis technical manuals and a bunch of registers, though, he had a unique synthesizer working that doesn’t sound like anything you’ve ever heard, unless you’ve ever played a Genesis.

If you’d like to check out his first project, the MegaBlaster, which plays the sound files of the old Genesis games directly, we featured that a while ago. Keep in mind though that his latest project isn’t just an updated MegaBlaster, though. He built this entire thing from the ground up.

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Raspberry Pi Breathes Life Into A Scale Model SEGA

Miniature game consoles are all the rage right now. Many of the big names in gaming are releasing their own official “mini” versions of their classic machines, but naturally we see plenty of DIY builds around these parts as well. Generally they’re enclosed in a 3D printed model of whatever system they’re looking to emulate, but as you might expect that involves a lot of sanding and painting to achieve a professional look.

But for SEGA Genesis (or Mega Drive as it was known outside the US) fans, there’s a new option. A company by the name of Retro Electro Models has released a high-fidelity scale model of SEGA’s classic console, so naturally somebody hacked it to hold a Raspberry Pi. Wanting to do the scale detailing of the model justice, [Andrew Armstrong] went the extra mile to get the power button on the front of the console working, and even added support for swapping games via RFID tags.

[Andrew] uses the Raspberry Pi 3 A+ which ended up being the perfect size to fit inside the model. Fitting the Pi Zero would have been even easier, but it lacks the horsepower of its bigger siblings. The RFID reader is connected to the Pi over SPI, and the reed switch used to detect when the power switch has been moved is wired directly to the GPIO pins. The system is powered by a USB cable soldered directly to Pi’s PCB and ran out a small hole in the back of the case.

For input, [Andrew] is using a small wireless keyboard that includes a touch pad and gaming controls. Unfortunately, it has a proprietary receiver which had to be integrated into the system. In a particularly nice touch, he used snipped off component leads to “wire” the receiver’s PCB directly to the pins of the Pi’s USB port. Not only does it look cool, but provides a rigid enough connection that he didn’t even need to glue it down to keep it from rattling around inside the case. Definitely a tip to keep in the back of your mind.

The software side of this project is about what you’d expect for an emulation console, though with the added trickery of loading games based on their RFID tag. At this point [Andrew] only has a single “cartridge” for the system, so he simply drops the tags into the cartridge slot of the console to load up a new title. It doesn’t look like Retro Electro Models is selling loose cartridges (which makes sense, all things considered), so there might still be a job for your 3D printer yet if you want to have a library of scale cartridges to go with your console.

For those of you who were on Team Nintendo in the 1990’s, we’ve seen a similar build done with a 3D printed case. Of course, if even these consoles are a bit too recent for your tastes, you could build a miniature Vectrex instead.

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How To Interface Sega Controllers, And Make Them Wireless

The Sega Genesis, or Mega Drive as it was known outside North America, was a popular console for the simple fact that Sega did what Nintendidn’t. Anachronistic marketing jokes aside, it brought fast scrolling 16-bit games to a home console platform and won many fans over the years. You may find yourself wanting to interface with the old controller hardware, and in that case, [Jon Thysell] is here to help.

[Jon] has done the work required to understand the Sega controller interface, and has shared his work on Github. The interface is an interesting one, and varies depending on the exact console and controller hardware used. The original Master System, with its D-pad and two buttons, simply uses six pins for the six switches on the controller. The 3-button Genesis pad gets a little more advanced, before things get further complicated with the state-machine-esque 6-button pad setup.

[Jon] helpfully breaks down the various interfaces, and makes it possible to interface them with Arduinos relatively easily. Sharing such work allows others to stand on the shoulders of giants and build their own projects. This nets us work such as [Danilo]’s wireless Genesis controller build. By combining the knowledge of the Sega protocol with a few off-the-shelf Arduinos and Bluetooth parts, it makes whipping up a wireless controller easy.

In this day and age, most console controllers can be readily interfaced with a PC with a variety of simple solutions – usually USB. You might feel like trying something harder though, for instance interfacing modern Nintendo controllers to a C64. Video after the break.

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A Genesis Inspired Synthesizer That Has Nothing To Do With Phil Collins

Chiptune is a musical genre built upon the creation of music through the use of chip-based sound synthesizers, found in early game consoles. The Commodore 64’s venerable SID chip and the Game Boy Sound System are the by far the most popular on the scene. However, the Sega Genesis took a different path at the end of the videogame chipmusic era, packing a YM2612 FM synthesis chip to deliver fat basslines and searing solos. [Thea] has always been a fan of these electric 90s sounds, and thus decided to build the Genesynth.

The synth initially allowed only for playback of existing video game scores, but its capability has been expanded as [Thea] took the project from breadboard to protoboard to custom PCBs – with anime artwork, to boot. The synth uses a Teensy 3.5 as the brains, speaking USB to enable the synth to receive MIDI commands from music software. All parameters are exposed over the interface, and [Thea] has several videos showing the Genesynth under control from an Ableton Push.

The sound capabilities of the YM2612 are of an entirely different character to most chiptunes, by virtue of the FM synthesis engine. FM synthesis is a little less intuitive then classical additive synthesis, but we still see it crop up now and then.

 

Cramming A Pi Zero Into A Cheap Handheld Game

At this point, we’ve seen the Raspberry Pi jammed into what amounts to every retro game system, handheld or otherwise, that was ever released. While they’re always fun builds, invariably somebody will come along who is upset that the original hardware had to be gutted to create it. It seems as if with each post, a classic gaming aficionado out there has his or her heart broken just a bit more. Will no one put an end to the senseless slaughter of Game Boys?

As it so happens, not all hardware modders are such unconscionable brutes. [Starfire] recently sent his latest creation into the tip line, and it’s designed specifically to address the classic gaming massacre in which Hackaday has so shamefully been a collaborator.  His build sacrifices a portable Genesis built by AtGames, and turns it into a Raspberry Pi Zero portable running RetroPie.

Opening up the back panel of his portable Pi shows an incredible amount of hardware smashed into the tiny package. Beyond the obvious Pi Zero, there’s a iUniker 2.8-inch LCD, a 2,200 mAh battery, a two-port USB hub, a Teensy microcontroller, a USB sound card, an audio amplifier, a LiPo charging module, and a boost converter. [Starfire] measured peak power consumption to be 500 mA, which should give about a 3.5 hour run time on the 2,200 mAh battery.

This is all the more impressive when you realize the original AtGames PCB is still in the system, albeit with the center cut out for the Pi’s LCD to fit in. Rather than having to figure out a new way to handle input, [Starfire] simply connected the existing inputs to the digital pins on the Teensy and used some code to convert that into USB HID for the Pi. A few case modifications were necessary, namely the removal of the battery compartment from the back panel and covering up the original SD card slot and ports; but otherwise the finished product looks completely stock.

If you don’t mind tearing into a real Game Boy to make your portable Pi, you can check out a few of the stand out examples which we’ve covered here in the past.

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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.