A Look At How Nintendo Mastered Dual Screens

When it was first announced, many people were skeptical of the Nintendo DS. Rather than pushing raw power, the unique dual screen handheld was designed to explore new styles of play. Compared to the more traditional handhelds like the Game Boy Advance (GBA) or even Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP), the DS seemed like huge gamble for the Japanese gaming giant.

But it paid off. The Nintendo DS ended up being one of the most successful gaming platforms of all time, and as [Modern Vintage Gamer] explains in a recent video, at least part of that was due to its surprising graphical prowess. While it was technically inferior to the PSP in almost every way, Nintendo’s decades of experience in pushing the limits of 2D graphics allowed them to squeeze more out of the hardware than many would have thought possible.

On one level, the Nintendo DS could be seen as a upgraded GBA. Developers who were already used to the 2D capabilities of that system would feel right at home when they made the switch to the DS. As with previous 2D consoles, the DS had several screen modes complete with hardware-accelerated support for moving, scaling, rotating, and reflecting up to four background layers. This made it easy and computationally efficient to pull off pseudo-3D effects such as having multiple backdrop images scrolling by at different speeds to convey a sense of depth.

On top of its GBA-inherited tile and sprite 2D engine, the DS also featured a rudimentary GPU responsible for handling 3D geometry and rendering. Hardware accelerated 3D could only used on one screen at a time, which meant most games would keep the closeup view of the action on one display, and used the second panel to show 2D imagery such as an overhead map. But developers did have the option of flipping between the displays on each frame to render 3D on both panels at a reduced frame rate. The hardware can also handle shadows and included integrated support for cell shading, which was a particularly popular graphical effect at the time.

By combining the 2D and 3D hardware capabilities of the Nintendo DS onto a single screen, developers could produce complex graphical effects. [Modern Vintage Gamer] uses the example of New Super Mario Bros, which places a detailed 3D model of Mario over several layers of moving 2D bitmaps. Ultimately the 3D capabilities of the DS were hindered by the limited resolution of its 256 x 192 LCD panels; but considering most people were still using flip phones when the DS came out, it was impressive for the time.

Compared to the Game Boy Advance, or even the original “brick” Game Boy, it doesn’t seem like hackers have had much luck coming up with ways to exploiting the capabilities of the Nintendo DS. But perhaps with more detailed retrospectives like this, the community will be inspired to take another look at this unique entry in gaming history.

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Hackaday Links: January 24, 2021

Code can be beautiful, and good code can be a work of art. As it so happens, artful code can also result in art, if you know what you’re doing. That’s the idea behind Programming Posters, a project that Michael Fields undertook to meld computer graphics with the code behind the images. It starts with a simple C program to generate an image. The program needs to be short enough to fit legibly into the sidebar of an A2 sheet, and as if that weren’t enough of a challenge, Michael constrained himself to the standard C libraries to generate his graphics. A second program formats the code and the image together and prints out a copy suitable for display. We found the combination of code and art beautiful, and the challenge intriguing.

It always warms our hearts when we get positive feedback from the hacker community when something we’ve written has helped advance a project or inspire a build. It’s not often, however, that we learn that Hackaday is required reading. Educators at the Magellan International School in Austin, Texas, recently reached out to Managing Editor Elliot Williams to let him know that all their middle school students are required to read Hackaday as part of their STEM training. Looks like the kids are paying attention to what they read, too, judging by KittyWumpus, their ongoing mechatronics/coding project that’s unbearably adorable. We’re honored to be included in their education, and everyone in the Hackaday community should humbled to realize that we’ve got an amazing platform for inspiring the next generation of hardware hackers.

Hackers seem to fall into two broad categories: those who have built a CNC router, and those who want to build one. For those in the latter camp, the roadblock to starting a CNC build is often “analysis paralysis” — with so many choices to make, it’s hard to know where to start. To ease that pain and get you closer to starting your build, Matt Ferraro has penned a great guide to planning a CNC router build. The encyclopedic guide covers everything from frame material choice to spindle selection and software options. If Matt has a bias toward any particular options it’s hard to find; he lists the pros and cons of everything so you can make up your own mind. Read it at your own risk, though; while it lowers one hurdle to starting a CNC build, it does nothing to address the next one: financing.

Like pretty much every conference last year and probably every one this year, the Open Hardware Summit is going to be virtual. But they’re still looking for speakers for the April conference, and just issued a Call for Proposals. We love it when we see people from the Hackaday community pop up as speakers at conferences like these, so if you’ve got something to say to the open hardware world, get a talk together. Proposals are due by February 11, so get moving.

And finally, everyone will no doubt recall the Boston Dynamics robots that made a splash a few weeks back with their dance floor moves. We loved the video, mainly for the incredible display of robotic agility and control but also for the choice of music. We suppose it was inevitable, though, that someone would object to the Boomer music and replace it with something else, like in the video below, which seems to sum up the feelings of those who dread our future dancing overlords. We regret the need to proffer a Tumblr link, but the Internet is a dark and wild place sometimes, and only the brave survive.


Vulkan For The Older Raspberry Pi

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the newer Raspberry Pi 4 gets all the love. For instance, the Raspberry Pi Foundation is working on drivers for the GPU to  support the Vulkan 3D graphics API.

But those of you with crusty old Pi boards shouldn’t despair. [Martin Thomas], a  developer working for Nvidia has produced a driver in his spare time that brings Vulkan to the Broadcom VideoCore IV. He’s hailed it as the first low-level driver for this GPU, and shown it running Quake III on a Pi 3.

Technically it’s not officially Vulkan as it doesn’t have all the required standards conformance, but it’s as near as possible given the limitations of the hardware. Full instructions for building the driver and for installing the Vulkan loader are given in the repository, so it should be possible for tinkerers to have a try. This is likely to be of most interest to gamers as many game engines support Vulkan.

The Pi 4 might be about to take the family further in a 64-bit direction, but this proves that there’s life in the old dogs yet.

A Jaw-Dropping Demo In Only 256 Bytes

“Revision” is probably the Olympics of the demoscene. The world’s best tiny graphics coders assemble, show off their works, and learn new tricks to pack as much awesome into as few bytes as possible or make unheard-of effects on limited hardware. And of course, there’s a competition. Winning this year’s 256-byte (byte!) competition, and then taking the overall crowd favorite award, was [HellMood]’s Memories.

If you watch it in the live-stream from Revision, you’ll hear the crowd going (virtually) wild, and the announcer losing his grip and gasping for words. It’s that amazing. Not only are more effects put into 28 bytes than we thought possible, but there’s a full generative MIDI score to go with it. What?!?

But almost as amazing is [HellMood]’s generous writeup of how he pulled it off. If you’re at all interested in demos, minimal graphics effects, or just plain old sweet hacks, you have your weekend’s reading laid out for you. [HellMood] has all of his references and influences linked in as well. You’re about to go down a very deep rabbit hole.

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Designing Sci-Fi Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, October 9 at noon Pacific for the Designing Sci-Fi Hack Chat with Seth Molson!

We all know the feeling of watching a movie set in a galaxy far, far away and seeing something that makes us say, “That’s not realistic at all!” The irony of watching human actors dressed up as alien creatures prancing across a fantasy landscape and expecting realism is lost on us as we willingly suspend disbelief in order to get into the story; seeing something in that artificial world that looks cheesy or goofy can shock you out of that state and ruin the compact between filmmaker and audience.

Perhaps nowhere do things get riskier for filmmakers than the design of the user interfaces of sci-fi and fantasy sets. Be they the control panels of spacecraft, consoles for futuristic computers, or even simply the screens of phones that are yet to be, sci-fi UI design can make or break a movie. The job of designing a sci-fi set used to be as simple as wiring up strings of blinkenlights; now, the job falls to a dedicated artist called a Playback Designer who can create something that looks fresh and new but still plausible to audiences used to interacting with technology that earlier generations couldn’t have dreamed of.

Seth Molson​ is one such artist, and you’ve probably seen some of his work on shows such as TimelessStargate Universe, and recently Netflix’s reboot of Lost in Space. When tasked to deliver control panels for spacecraft and systems that exist only in a writer’s mind, Seth sits down with graphics and animation software to make it happen.

Join us as we take a look behind the scenes with Seth and find out exactly what it’s like to be a Playback Designer. Find out what Seth’s toolchain looks like, how he interacts with the rest of the production design crew to come up with a consistent and believable look and feel for interfaces, and what it’s like to design futures that only exist — for now — in someone’s imagination.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, October 9 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.


HDMI From Your Arduino

Creating a video signal from a computer, a job that once required significant extra hardware, is now a done deal with a typical modern microcontroller. We’ve shown you more NTSC, PAL, and VGA projects than you can shake a stick at over the years. Creating an HDMI video signal however is not so straightforward. It’s not a loosely defined analogue standard but a tightly controlled digital one upon which the clever hacks that eke full colour composite video from a single digital I/O pin will have little effect. Surely creating them from a simple microcontroller will be impossible! Not according to [techtoys], who has created an Arduino shield that creates an HDMI output from an SPI control input.

At its heart are two interesting integrated circuits that give us a little bit of insight into creating graphics at this level. First up is an RA8876 MIPI TFT controller which is a full graphics engine that produces a digital RGB output, followed by a CH7035B HDMI encoder that produces an HDMI output from the RGB. This combination of chips is particularly interesting one, because the RA8876 supports a variety of different interfaces that between them should be able to talk to most microcontrollers. In the Arduino world the only other HDMI options come via the use of an FPGA.

This is a project that seems to have been around for a couple of years, but which is still an active one. The classic Arduino shield form factor may now seem a little past its zenith, but as this board shows it’s still capable of being used for interesting new applications.

Thanks [th_in_gs] for the tip.

Zach Archer: Live Coding 500 Watts For ToorCamp

ToorCamp is a five-day open air tech camping event held every two years somewhere around the northwest corner of Washington state. Think of it as something like Burning Man, except you can survive for three hours without water, there aren’t a whole bunch of scenesters and Instagram celebs flying in on private planes, and everyone there can actually build something. Oh, and ToorCamp has delivery drones that will send you creme brulee. These mini creme brulees were probably made with the hot air gun hanging off a soldering station. Don’t worry, you’re getting fresh air that’ll balance out the heavy metal poisoning.

For last year’s ToorCamp, the biggest welcome sign was a 40-foot-long illuminated ToorCamp sign. This was designed, built and coded by Zach Archer, and he was at the 2018 Hackaday Superconference to give us the details on how he made it and how it was coded.

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