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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Pew Pew In The Palm Of Your Hand

It’s often said that “getting there is half the fun”, and we think that can be just as true when building hardware as it is during the roadtrip to your favorite hacker con. Many of us enjoy the process of planning, designing, and building a new gadget as much as playing with it when it’s done. We get the impression [Radomir Dopieralski] feels the same way, as he’s currently working on yet another iteration of his PewPew project.

For the uninitiated, [Radomir] has already created a number of devices in the PewPew line, which are designed to make programming games on “bare metal” easier and more approachable for newcomers by using CircuitPython.

The original version was a shield for the Adafruit Feather, which eventually evolved into a standalone device. The latest version, called the M4, includes many niceties such as a large TFT screen and an acrylic enclosure. It’s also switched over to the iconic Game Boy layout, to really drive home that classic gaming feel.

As [Radomir] explains, previous versions of the PewPew were designed to be as cheap and easy to manufacture as possible, since they were to be used in game programming workshops. But outside of that environment, they left a little something to be desired. With the M4, he’s created something that’s much closer to a traditional game system. In that respect it’s a bit like the Arduboy: you can still use it to learn game development, but it’s also appealing enough that you might just play other people’s games on it instead.

Tiny Game System Is An Experiment In Minimalism

Many people assumed the smartphone revolution would kill the dedicated handheld game system, and really, it’s not hard to see why. What’s the point of buying the latest Nintendo or Sony handheld when the phone you’re already carrying around with you is capable of high-definition 3D graphics and online connectivity? Software developers got the hint quickly, and as predicted, mobile gaming has absolutely exploded over the last few years.

But at the same time, we’ve noticed something of a return to the simplistic handheld systems of yore. Perhaps it’s little more than nostalgia, but small bare-bones systems like the one [Mislav Breka] has entered into the 2019 Hackaday Prize show that not everyone is satisfied with the direction modern gaming has gone in. His system is specifically designed as an experiment to build the most minimal gaming system possible.

In terms of the overall design, this ATMega328 powered system is similar to a scaled-down Arduboy. But while the visual similarities are obvious, the BOM that [Mislav] has provided seems to indicate a considerably more spartan device. Currently there doesn’t seem to be any provision for audio, nor is there a battery and the associated circuitry to charge it. As promised, there’s little here other than the bare essentials.

Unfortunately, the project is off to something of a rocky start. As [Mislav] explains in his writeup on Hackaday.io, there’s a mistake somewhere in either the board design or the component selection that’s keeping the device from accepting a firmware. He won’t have the equipment to debug the device until he returns to school, and is actively looking for volunteers who might be interested in helping him get the kinks worked out on the design.

Building An ESP8266 Game System With MicroPython

After a seemingly endless stream of projects that see the ESP8266 open doors or report the current temperature, it can be easy to forget just how powerful the little WiFi-enabled microcontroller really is. In fact, you could argue that most hackers aren’t even scratching the surface of what the hardware is actually capable of. But that’s not the case for [Brian Wagner] and his students from the Kentucky Country Day School.

Their project, the GamerGorl, is a completely custom handheld game system running on a Wemos D1 Mini development board. The team’s PCB, which was developed over several iterations, is essentially a breakout board which allows them to easily connect up peripheral devices. Given the low total component cost of the GamerGorl and relative simplicity of its construction, it looks like a phenomenal project for older STEM students.

Beyond the ESP8266 board, the GamerGorl features a SSD1106 1.3″ OLED display, a buzzer for sound effects, two tactile buttons, and an analog joystick originally intended for an Xbox controller. Around the backside there’s a WS2812B RGB LED strip that’s at least partially for decoration, but it’s also actively used in some of the games such as the team’s take on Simon.

Even if you aren’t in the market for a portable game system, the GameGorl does provide an interesting case study for MicoPython applications on the Wemos D1 Mini. Browsing through the team’s source code as well as the helpful hints that [Brian] gives about getting the software environment up and running could be useful if you’re looking to expand your ESP8266 programming repertoire. We’d also love to see this device running the “ESP Little Game Engine” we covered recently.

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Super Mario Land DX ROM Hack Shows What Game Boy Could Have Looked Like

It was about time (Mario Time) that Super Mario Land for the original Game Boy was revisited. The game served as the entry point into the world of portable gaming for millions, and it was an early example of the type of adventure players could expect from a handful of AA batteries. The original Game Boy system itself may have only been able to display four shades of grey, however, that never stopped players of Super Mario Land from imagining what the game would have looked like in stunning color. Now thanks to [toruzz] we no longer have to imagine, because their Super Mario Land DX ROM Hack does just that…and then some.

The Super Mario Land DX ROM hack adheres to the Game Boy Color’s 16-bit color palette, so it actually runs on real hardware. No changes to the gameplay were made and it also runs in the native 10:9 aspect ratio for the Game Boy. According to the patch readme file, it is recommended to use a legally sourced dump of the 1.0 version of Super Mario Land and utilize Lunar IPS to apply the patch. Additionally a CRC check sum is provided to ensure everyone is working from the same starting point.

Super Mario Land was a launch title for the Game Boy in 1989, but there was another handheld game system that released that year as well (the Atari Lynx). The Lynx featured a full color backlit LCD display, so it was not as if handheld game systems of the era were restricted to being monochromatic. Granted the Lynx came with a price tag nearly twice that of the Game Boy, but a transformative ROM hack such as the Super Mario Land DX one can serve almost as an alternate history. An alternate history that we all can experience now be it on a desktop or in true portable form.

To see the Super Mario Land DX ROM Hack in motion, there is the gameplay video from YouTube user Vincent Hernandez below:

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Thumbs Up For This CRT Handheld Gaming Console

Despite all the progress video game graphics have made, it is safe to say that we won’t see any decline in oldschool 8-bit games any time soon. For some it’s about nostalgia, for others it’s just a great and simple-enough first step into game development itself. For [gocivici] it was a bit of both when he built this camcorder style, one-button gaming console.

With a Raspberry Pi Zero running PICO-8 at its core, [gocivici] salvaged the viewfinder of an old camcorder for the display, and that way turned it into a whole other kind of handheld console. For full ergonomic handling, one single, thumb-operated push button serves as only control option. This of course makes it a bit challenging to re-use existing games that would require more input options, so he and some friends decided to just write a suitable game on their own with the hopes that others might follow.

Unfortunately we don’t see a lot of projects using these old camcorder viewfinders, and considering modern LCD and OLED options it’s not really that surprising, but there’s just something intriguing about these tiny CRTs. So in case you want to see more of them, have a look at this tiny Atari display, and the DIY night vision monocle from a few years back. And to keep your eyes safe and sound, [gocivici] got you covered as well.

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ESP8266 Gets Its Game On With Open Source Engine

This is likely not to come as much of a shock to you, but the ESP8266 is pretty popular. At this point, we’re more surprised when a project that hits the tip line doesn’t utilize this incredibly cheap WiFi-enabled microcontroller. If you’re making a gadget that needs to connect to the Internet, there’s a good chance some member of the ESP family is going to be a good choice. But is it a one-trick MCU?

ESP Little Game Engine Logo

Well, judging by software frameworks like the “Little Game Engine” created by [Igor], it looks like the ESP is expanding its reach into offline projects as well. While it might not turn the ESP8266 into a next-gen gaming powerhouse, we’ve got to admit that the demos shown off so far are pretty impressive. When paired with a couple of buttons and a TFT display such as the ILI9341, the ESP could make for a particularly pocket-friendly game system.

The game engine that [Igor] has developed provides the programmer with a virtual screen resolution of 128×128, a background layer, and 32 sprites which offer built-in tricks like collision detection and rotation. All while running at a respectable 20 frames per second. This environment is ideal for the sort of 2D scrolling games that dominated the 8 and 16-bit era of gaming, and as seen in the video after the break, it can even pull off a fairly decent clone of “Flappy Bird”.

In addition, [Igor] created an online emulator and compiler which allows you to develop games using his engine right in your web browser. You can load up a selection of example programs and execute them to see what the engine is capable of, then try your hand at developing your own game before ever having to put the hardware together. Incidentally, the performance of this online development environment is fantastic; with even the fairly complex “Flappy Bird” example code compiling and starting in the emulator nearly instantaneously.

This isn’t the first handheld game we’ve seen powered by the ESP8266, but it would be fair to say this one is a generational leap over its predecessors. Of course, if you really want to start throwing around some pixels, you might want to make the leap to the ESP32; which is the heart of the incredibly awesome (and tiny) PocketSprite.

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