The new PewPew with an LCD showing some patterns, being held in someone's hand.

Hackaday Prize 2022: PewPew LCD Plays With Python

[deshipu] aka [Radomir Dopieralski] has been building educational handhelds for a good part of a decade now, and knows how to design hardware that makes for effective teaching. Today, we are graced with the PewPew LCD project, latest in the PewPew student-friendly handheld series, powered by CircuitPython.

The PewPew LCD from the other side, showing the simple PCB-built-in CR2032 battery holderThe goal for all of these devices has been consistent — making game programming accessible and fun. This time, as an entry in the Reuse, Recycle, Revamp round of Hackaday Prize, the new PewPew receives an upgrade – from an 8×8 LED matrix to an LCD display. This might not sound like much, but the change of display technology itself isn’t the main point. [deshipu] is working on ways to bring down the price and assembly complexity of PewPew handhelds, and he’s found there’s plenty of old stock RH-112 displays, previously used on cellphones like Nokia 1202, which these days go for as little as $1.30 a piece.

It’s exceptionally simple to get into writing games for the PewPew – one of the reasons why it’s a strong platform for workshops and individual learning. There’s already a slew of games and tutorials, and we can’t wait to see all the cool games people can build when given all the extra pixels! And, of course, we appreciate setting an example for giving new life to old displays – displays that’d otherwise inevitably end up in a trash container behind a warehouse in China.

The Reuse, Recycle, Revamp Hackaday Prize 2022 round is going on for two more weeks. If you’re making good use of something that would otherwise be discarded, please do share it with us, so that we can all learn and draw inspiration from your projects!

An Up-To-Date Development Environment For The Nokia N-Gage

One of the brave but unsuccessful plays from Nokia during their glory years was the N-Gage, an attempt to merge a Symbian smartphone and a handheld game console. It may not have managed to dethrone the Game Boy Advance but it still has a band of enthusiasts, and among them is [Michael Fitzmayer] who has produced a CMake-based toolchain for the original Symbian SDK. This is intended to ease development on the devices by making them more accessible to the tools of the 2020s, and may serve to bring a new generation of applications to those old Nokias still lying forgotten in dusty drawers.

In much of the public imagination, the invention of the smartphone came with the release of the first Apple iPhone in 2007. Hackaday readers will of course trace the smartphone back much further than that to an original IBM prototype, and will remind any doubters that the Nokias which the iPhone vanquished were very successful smartphones without any of Cupertino’s magic in sight. Nokia’s tragedy was that they appeared not to understand what they had in Symbian, and released a bewildering array of devices intended to satisfy every possible market without recognizing that the market they needed to serve was their customers being easily able to run the apps of their choice on the things.

Symbian itself has long ago become a piece of abandonware, but during its chequered history there was a period in which an open-source version was released. It would be nice to think that projects such as this one might revive interest in this capable yet forgotten operating system, as with the passage of a decade the cost of hardware which might run it has fallen to the point of affordability. Does anyone want to relive the 2000s?

Header image: Evan-Amos, Public domain.

Tetris Handheld Powered By Tritium Cell, Eventually

The idea of a tritium power cell is pretty straightforward: stick enough of the tiny glowing tubes to a photovoltaic panel and your DIY “nuclear battery” will generate energy for the next decade or so. Only problem is that the power produced, measured in a few microwatts, isn’t enough to do much with. But as [Ian Charnas] demonstrates in his latest video, you can eke some real-world use out of such a cell by storing up its power over a long enough period.

As with previous projects we’ve seen, [Ian] builds his cell by sandwiching an array of keychain-sized tritium tubes between two solar panels. Isolated from any outside light, power produced by the panels is the result of the weak green glow given off by the tube’s phosphorus coating as it gets bombarded with electrons. The panels are then used to charge a bank of thin-film solid state batteries, which are notable for their exceptionally low self-discharge rate.

Some quick math told [Ian] that a week of charging should build up enough of a charge to power a knock-off handheld Tetris game for about 10 minutes. Unfortunately, after waiting the prescribed amount of time, he got only a few seconds of runtime out of his hacked together power source.

His best guess is that he got a bad batch of thin-film batteries, but since he could no longer find the exact part number he used originally, he had to design a whole new PCB for the second attempt. After waiting two long months to switch the game on this time, he was able to play for nearly an hour before his homebrew nuclear energy source was depleted.

We wouldn’t consider this terribly practical from a gaming standpoint, but like the solar harvesting handheld game we covered last year, it’s an interesting demonstration of how even a minuscule amount of power can be put to work for intermittent applications. Here it’s a short bout of wonky Tetris, but the concept could just as easily be applied to an off-grid sensor.

Continue reading Tetris Handheld Powered By Tritium Cell, Eventually”

Arduboy Gets Even Smaller With New Nano Edition

One of the selling points of the Arduboy is how slim [Kevin Bates] was able to get the Arduino-compatible game system, which is perhaps less surprising when you realize that it originally started out as a design for an electronic business card. But compared to the recently unveiled Nano version, it might as well be the old school “brick” Game Boy.

Now to be clear, [Kevin] isn’t looking to put these into official production. Though it does sound like the bare PCBs might be going up for sale in the near future. This was simply an experiment to see how far he could shrink the core Arduboy hardware while still keeping it not only playable but also code-compatible with the full-size version. While “playable” might be a tad subjective in this case, the video after the break clearly demonstrates that it’s fully functional.

Inside the 3D printed case is the same ATmega32U4 that powers the Arduboy, a 64×32 0.49″ OLED display, and a tiny 25 mAh pouch battery. There’s even a miniature piezo speaker for the bleeps and bloops. All of the pinouts have remained the same so existing code can be moved right over, though the screen is now connected over I2C. [Kevin] has released the schematics for the board in keeping with the general open nature of the Arduboy project, though for now he’s decided to hold onto the board files until it’s clear whether or not there’s a commercial future for the Nano.

We’ve seen attempts to shrink the Arduboy down before, most notably down to the point it could fit inside of a Dreamcast Visual Memory Unit, but the Nano certainly raises (or is that lowers?) the bar considerably.

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WiFi Networks Turned Targets In This Pocket Game

Looking for a way to make his warwalking sessions a bit more interactive, [Roni Bandini] has come up with an interesting way to gamify the discovery of new WiFi networks. Using a Heltec WiFi Kit 8, which integrates an OLED screen and ESP8266, this pocket-sized device picks up wireless networks and uses their signal strength and encryption type as elements of the game.

After selecting which network they want to play against, a target is placed on the screen. The distance between the target and the player is determined by signal strength, and how much damage the target can take correlates to how strong its encryption is. As you can see in the video after the break, gameplay is a bit reminiscent of Scorched Earth, where the player needs to adjust the angle of their artillery to hit distant targets.

The Heltec board is attached to a 3D printed front panel, which fits neatly into an Altoids tin. The controls consist of a button and a potentiometer, and with the addition of a battery pack salvaged from an old cell phone, this little device is ready to do battle wherever you roam.

While this is just a fun diversion for the time being, [Roni] says it wouldn’t take much to actual log networks to a file and generate some statistics about their strength and encryption type. If the idea of a portable WiFi scanning companion seems interesting, you should definitely check out the Pwnagotchi project.

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Trimmed PCB Makes The Ultimate Portable N64

One of the most impressive innovations we’ve seen in the world of custom handhelds is the use of “trimmed” PCBs. These are motherboards of popular video game consoles such as the Nintendo Wii and Sega Dreamcast that have literally been cut down to a smaller size. As you can imagine, finding the precise shape that can be cut out before the system stops functioning requires extensive research and testing. But if you can pull it off, some truly incredible builds are possible.

Take for example this absolutely incredible clamshell N64 built by [GMan]. After cutting the motherboard down to palm-sized dimensions, he’s been able to create a handheld system that’s only a bit larger than the console’s original cartridges.

Incidentally those original cartridges are still supported, and fit into a slot in the rear of the system Game Boy style. It’s still a bit too chunky for tossing in your pocket, but we doubt you could build a portable N64 any smaller without resorting to emulation.

In the video after the break, [Gman] explains that the real breakthrough for trimmed N64s came when it was found that the system’s Peripheral Interface (PIF) chip could be successfully relocated. As this chip was on the outer edge of the PCB, being able to move it meant the board could get cut down smaller than ever before.

But there’s more than just a hacked N64 motherboard living inside the 3D printed enclosure. [Gman] also designed a custom PCB that’s handling USB-C power delivery, charging the handheld’s 4250 mAh battery, and providing digital audio over I2S. It’s a fantastically professional setup, and you’d be forgiven for thinking the board was part of the original console.

Considering how well designed and built this N64 SP is, it probably will come as no surprise to find this isn’t the first time [Gman] has put something like this together. He used many of the same tricks to build his equally impressive portable Dreamcast last year.

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You’ll Flip For This Toggle Switch Handheld Game

Teacher says that every time a toggle switch clunks, a hacker gets their wings. Or something like that. All we know is that there are few things the hardware tinkerer likes more than the satisfying action of a nice flip. Which by extension means this handheld game built by [Roman Revzin] and controlled by nothing more than three toggle switches will likely be a big hit at the hackerspace.

The parts list for this game, which [Roman] calls the ToggleBoss, is about as short as it gets. There’s a NodeMCU ESP8266 development board, a common SH1106 OLED display, and a trio of suitably clunky toggle switches. Add a bit of wire, toss it all into a 3D printed enclosure, and you’re halfway to thumb flicking nirvana.

Naturally, you might be wondering about the sort of games that can be played with three latching digital inputs; after all, it’s not exactly the most conventional controller layout. But there is where ToggleBoss really shines. Instead of trying to shoehorn traditional games into an exceptionally unconventional system, [Roman] has come up with several games which really embrace the limited input offered to the user.

In a platforming game not unlike the classic Mario Bros, the positions of the physical switches are mapped to virtual walls that are raised and lowered to control a character’s movement through the level. Another game shows the player three dots which correspond to the intended switch states, which they have to match as quickly and as accurately as possible. [Roman] has released the source code to his current lineup of games, which hopefully will inspire others to try their hand at creating software for this fascinating little system.

With the availability of cheap OLED displays and powerful microcontrollers, we’ve started to see more of these bespoke gaming systems. While some will undoubtedly prefer a pocket full of Nintendo’s classics, we think there’s something special about a game system that you can truly call your own.