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.

A case in point is 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.

Arduino Handheld Game System Gets A Grip

With little more than an Arduino, an OLED display, and some buttons, it’s easy to build your own faux-retro game system. There’s even a growing library of titles out there that target this specific combination of hardware, thanks in no small part to the Arduboy project. But unless you’re content to play Circuit Dude on a breadboard, at some point you’ll probably want to wrap the build up in a more convenient form.

Like many that came before it, the OLED handheld created by [Alex Zidros] takes inspiration from a Nintendo product; but it’s not the Game Boy. Instead, his design is based on a 3D printed grip for the Switch Joy-Cons that he found on Thingiverse. After tacking on a holder for the PCB, he had the makings of a rather unique system.

We especially like the offset SSD1306 OLED display. Not because we think a game system with an asymmetrical layout is a particularly sound design decision, but because it gives the whole build a rather cyberpunk feel. When combined with the exposed electronics, the whole system looks like it could have been cobbled together from a futuristic dumpster. Which is high praise, as far as we’re concerned.

Opposite the display is a LiPo pouch battery that [Alex] says was liberated from a portable speaker, and down below is an Adafruit Feather 328P. There are two tactile switches mounted to the front of the Feather, and in something of a departure from these sort of builds, there are two more on the shoulders of the 3D printed case. Everything is held together with nothing more exotic than a scrap of perfboard, making it easy for anyone who might want to build their own version.

If you prefer your Arduino and OLED gaming to come in a slightly more familiar form factor, the build that was done inside of a Dreamcast Visual Memory Unit (VMU) has always been a favorite around these parts.

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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