Turning GameCube & N64 Pads Into MIDI Controllers

It’s fair to say that the Nintendo 64 and GameCube both had the most unique controllers of their respective console generations. The latter’s gamepads are still in high demand today as the Smash Bros. community continues to favor its traditional control scheme. However, both controllers can easily be repurposed for musical means, thanks to work by [po8aster].

The project comes in two forms – the GC MIDI Controller and the N64 MIDI Controller, respectively. Each uses an Arduino Pro Micro to run the show, a logic level converter, and [NicoHood’s] Nintendo library to communicate with the controllers. From there, controller inputs are mapped to MIDI signals, and pumped out over traditional or USB MIDI.

Both versions come complete with a synth mode and drum mode, in order to allow the user to effectively play melodies or percussion. There’s also a special mapping for playing drums using the Donkey Konga Bongo controller with the GameCube version. For those eager to buy a working unit rather than building their own, they’re available for purchase on [po8aster’s] website.

It’s a fun repurposing of video game hardware to musical ends, and we’re sure there’s a few chiptune bands out there that would love to perform with such a setup. We’ve seen other great MIDI hacks on Nintendo hardware before, from the circuit-bent SNES visualizer to the MIDI synthesizer Game Boy Advance. Video after the break.

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A Model Of Dry Humor

If you want to see a glorious combination of model bananas in a treehouse mixed with a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor, you will appreciate [Studson]’s build video. Video also after the break. He is making an homage to Donkey Kong 64 from 1999, which may be a long time ago for some folks’ memory (Expansion Pak). Grab a piece of your favorite banana-flavored fruit and sit tight for joke delivery as dry as his batch of baked bark.

The treehouse uses a mixture of found material and crafting supplies. In a colorful twist, all the brown bark-wielding sticks are green, while the decorative greenery came from a modeling store shelf. It all starts with a forked branch pruned from the backyard and a smooth-sided container lid that might make you look twice the next time you nuts are buying a bin of assorted kernels. If you thought coffee stirrers couldn’t be used outside their intended purpose, prepare to have your eyes opened, but remember to wear eye protection as some of the wood clippings look like they could achieve escape velocity. The key to making this look like an ape abode, and not a birdhouse, is the color choices and finishing techniques. Judging by the outcome and compared to the steps, making a model of this caliber is the sign of an expert.

If you wish to binge on wooden Donkey Kong, we can grant your desire, but if you prefer your treehouses life-sized, this may launch your imagination.

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RetroArch Open Hardware Aims For Plug-and-Play

At its core, the RetroArch project exists to make it easier to play classic games on more modern hardware. The streamlined front-end with its tailored collection of emulators helps take the confusion out of getting your favorite game from decades past running on whatever gadget you please, from your smartphone to the venerable Raspberry Pi. But there’s always room for improvement.

In a recent blog post, the folks behind RetroArch took the wraps off of an exciting hardware project that’s been in the works for about a year now. Referred to simply as “RetroArch Open Hardware”, the goal is to develop a fully open source cartridge adapter that will integrate seamlessly with the RetroArch software. Just plug in your original cartridge, and the game fires right up like back in the good old days.

Now to be clear, this isn’t exactly a new idea. But the team at RetroArch explain that previous devices that blurred the line between hardware and emulation have been expensive, hard to find, and worst of all, proprietary. By creating an open hardware project, they hope to truly unleash this capability on the community. Instead of having to deal with one vendor, multiple companies will be free to spin up their own clones and potentially even improve the core design. Should none of the ones on the market fit your particular needs, you’d even be free to build your own version,

What’s more, the gadget will also make it easier to create your own ROMs from cartridges you own. By appearing to the operating system as a USB Mass Storage device, users can literally drag and drop a game ROM to their computer’s desktop. No arcane software fired off from the command line; as much as we might enjoy such things, it’s not exactly intuitive for the gaming community at large. The same technique will also allow users to backup their saved progress before it’s inevitably lost to the ravages of time. The device demonstrated by the team currently only works on Nintendo 64 games, but presumably compatibility with be expanded to other cartridges in the future.

Over the years, we’ve seen a number of hombrew devices designed to read and copy game cartridges. We’ve even seen some rather polished examples that were released as open hardware. But those devices never had the public backing of such a well known group in the emulation scene, and we’re excited to see what kind of development and adoption can be spurred on by this level of legitimacy.

[Thanks to Nick for the tip.]

A Fresh Linux For The Most Unexpected Platform – The Nintendo 64

Though it was famously started by Linus Torvalds as “a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones“, the Linux kernel and surrounding operating system ecosystems have been ported to numerous architectures beyond their x86 roots. It’s therefore not unusual to hear of new ports for unsupported platforms, but it is extremely unexpected to hear of one when the platform is a games console from the mid-1990s. But that’s what [Lauri Kasanen] has done, announcing a fresh Linux port for the Nintendo 64.

This isn’t a Linux from 1996 either. The port builds on an up-to-date kernel version 5.10 with his N64 branch and a tantalising possibility that it might be incorporated into the main Linux source for the MIPS-64 processor architecture. That’s right, the Nintendo 64 could be an officially supported Linux platform.

It would be stretching the story a long way to call this any kind of distro, for what he’s produced is a bootloader that loads the kernel and creates a terminal with busybox loaded. With this on your flashcart you won’t be replacing that Raspberry Pi any time soon, so why other than [Lauri]’s “because I can” would you be interested in it? He supplies the answer and it lies in the emulation scene, because having a Linux for the platform makes it so much easier to port other software to it. If this tickles your fancy you can see the source in his GitHub repository, and we’re certainly looking forward to what the community will do with it.

We are more used to seeing the N64 as a subject for case-modding, whether it be as a handheld or a an all-in-one console.

Via Phoronix, and thanks [David Beckershoff] for the tip.

Header image: Evan-Amos, Public domain.

Is This The World’s Smallest Nintendo 64?

A niche activity in console fandom is the shrinking of full-size consoles to smaller formats, taking what could once only be played on the family TV into portable formats that fit in the pocket. In a particularly impressive example of the art, [GmanModz] has made what he claims is the world’s smallest portable Nintendo 64. What makes it particularly noteworthy is that he’s done it not with an emulator or a custom PCB, instead there is a real Nintendo 64 motherboard in there having undergone a significant quantity of trimming.

The video below the break goes into detail on the state of the art in these mods, and shows how he has eschewed the latest tech and instead restricted himself to only using commercially available breakout PCBs and off the shelf modules. The N64 board trimmed down particularly aggressively, requiring a lot of fine magnet wire soldering for the various PCBs replacing the parts removed. The cartridge slot is brought out to the back of the board at a right angle, jutting out from the rear of the 3D printed case above a space for an 18650 cell and allowing an original game cartridge to be played. There is a microcontroller to facilitate a few compromises on lesser uses of the Nintendo control pads, but the result is a fully playable mini handheld console. He does admit that “The battery life sucks, it’s uncomfortable to hold […] But hey — it fits in my pocket. Does your N64?” We can’t fault him on that.

This isn’t the first portable N64 we’ve seen, but will it hold the title of smallest for long? Only time will tell.

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Dumping A N64 Development Cartridge Safely

Retro gaming enthusiasts have always had great interest in rarities outside the usual commercial titles. Whether they be early betas, review copies, or even near-complete versions of games that never made it to release, these finds can be inordinately valuable. [Modern Vintage Gamer] recently came across a pre-release version of Turok 3 for the Nintendo 64, and set about dumping and preserving the find. (Video, embedded below.)

With one-off cartridges like these, it’s important to take the utmost care in order to preserve the data onboard. Simply slapping it into a regular console might boot up the game, but carries with it a non-zero chance of damaging the cart. Instead, the first step taken was to dump the cart for archival purposes. When working with a prototype cart, commodity dumpers like the Retrode aren’t sufficient to do the job. [Modern Vintage Gamer] notes that a Doctor V64 or Gameshark with a parallel port could work, but elects to use a more modern solution in the form of the Ultrasave and 64drive.

With the cartridge backed up and duplicated onto the 64drive, the code can be run on a real console without risk of damage to the original. At first glance, the game appears similar to the final retail version. Analysis of the dump using a file comparison tool suggests that the only differences between the “80% Complete” ROM and the retail edition are headers, leading [Modern Vintage Gamer] to surmise that the game may have been rushed to release.

While in this case the dump didn’t net an amazing rare version of a retro game, [Modern Vintage Gamer] does a great job of explaining the how and why of the process of preserving a vintage cartridge. We look forward to the next rare drop that shakes up the retro world; we’ve seen efforts on Capcom arcade boards net great results. Video after the break.

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New Controllers On Old Nintendos With USB64

The Nintendo 64 made a big splash when it launched in 1996, not least of all for its innovative controller. Featuring a never-before-or-since seen trident design, and with an analog stick smack bang in the center, it changed what gamers expected from consoles from that day forward. Of course, those controllers are now much worse for wear, and technology has moved on somewhat. The latest development from [Ryzee119] aims to rectify this somewhat.

The result of that work is USB64, a tool designed to allow the use of USB controllers on the Nintendo 64. Using a Teensy 4.1, it builds upon earlier work to get the Xbox 360 controller working on the platform. However, the feature set has been greatly expanded, covering almost any use case imaginable. Mempacks are now efficiently emulated, and save files can be backed up to a PC via SD card. Additionally, the GameBoy Transferpak is emulated, meaning data can be transferred between GameBoy ROMs on an SD card and games on the N64. Even the N64 mouse is supported, and can be emulated with a regular USB mouse. Capable of doing all this for all four players, work is ongoing to increase the number of compatible aftermarket controllers for the utmost flexibility. [Ryzee119] also coded up a useful test ROM for the N64, which is invaluable when debugging controller hardware.

Console controllers take a lot of punishment, particularly from serious gamers, so we’re always eager to see projects that allow modern replacements to be used with old hardware. We’ve featured other great projects in this area before, too!