Nintendo 64 Homebrew Via Game Shark

The Nintendo 64 is a classic console now, and much loved, despite losing in commercial stakes to the dominating PlayStation from Sony. It’s one that doesn’t always get as much attention in the homebrew and hacker scene, compared to platforms like the NES and Game Boy. This means the tools required to work with the console aren’t as well-known. However, there’s a remarkably easy way to load homebrew on to the Nintendo 64, if you’ve got the right hardware.

To pull this off, you’ll need a N64 Gameshark, particularly a version higher than 3.0. These included a parallel port and the relevant onboard logic to allow the console to receive data and commands from an attached computer. [Nathan] demonstrates using the gs_libusb utility to deliver homebrew code to the console, using a USB to parallel adapter to make it easy from a modern computer.

The tools are available on github if you wish to try the hack for yourself. Most hacks we see of the platform are of the portable variety, but if you’ve got something fresh, you know who to call.

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“Yell To Press B” Mod Makes N64 Controller Worse

There’s probably no reason anyone would actually desire a mod like this. Well, no good reason. But [William Osman] had been pondering what it would be like to play some classic games with inputs other than buttons, and decided to make an audio sensor responsible for pressing the B button on an old N64 controller. This “Yell To Press B” mod was also something unique to show his hosts when he visited the YouTube video game aficionados, [Game Grumps].

[William] acknowledges that the build is a bit of a hack job, but the project page does a good job of documenting his build process and covering the kinds of decisions involved in interfacing to a separate piece of hardware. After all, most budding hackers have sooner or later asked themselves “how do I make my gadget press a button on this other thing?” [William] ends up using a small relay to close the connection between the traces for the B button when triggered by a microphone module, but he points out that it should be possible to do a non-destructive version of the mod. Examples exist of reading the N64 controller’s state with an Arduino, which could form the basis of a man-in-the-middle approach of “Yell To Press B” (or anything else) instead of soldering to the button contacts. A video is embedded below, in which you can watch people struggle to cope with the bizarre mod.

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The N64 Controller Gets Brass Gears Through 3D Printing

The controller for the Nintendo 64 is a masterpiece of design, and despite being more than two decades old, people are still using this controller competitively. Smash Bros, you know. Those competitive gaming enthusiasts are hard on their controllers, and after decades and tournaments, the analog stick will wear out. Previously, this required a rebuild or simply replacing the entire controller. Now there’s another option: a completely re-engineered analog stick, all made possible thanks to 3D printing.

[Nam Le] is a student at Cal Poly, and as would be expected for a very specific subset engineering students, had to track down new N64 controller every few months. The stick on these controllers wear out, so [Nam] decided to make the most durable joystick that has ever fit inside an N64 controller.

The design of the N64 stick is pretty simple, and exactly what you would expect if you’ve ever opened up an analog joystick. There’s the stick itself, which is connected to gears on the X and Y axes, which are in turn connected to encoders. This entire assembly sits in a bowl. After twenty years, the mating surface between the stick and the gears wear down, and the bowl becomes deformed. The solution here is obviously to engineer something sturdier, and despite what most of the 3D printing community will tell you, ABS and PLA just won’t cut it.

[Nam] re-designed the gears and bowl out of brass using lost-wax casting using 3D printed parts. These brass parts were mated with 3D printed gears and an enclosure for the bowl. The stick is nylon, an important design choice because this is the first part to wear down anyway, and it’s also the easiest part to replicate. Yes, this is designing an analog stick for the strength of materials and Real Engineering™ for those of you keeping track at home.

Right now, the joystick works as intended, and lasts much longer than the stock version. The goal now is to get this stick tournament-legal for some serious Smash time, in the hopes of not replacing controllers every few months.

Add-On Board Brings Xbox 360 Controllers To N64

Many of the games released on the Nintendo 64 have aged remarkably well, in fact a number of them are still considered must-play experiences to this day. But the years have not been so kind to the system’s signature controller. While the N64 arguably defined the console first person shooter (FPS) genre with games like “Goldeneye” and “Perfect Dark”, a modern gamer trying to play these classics with the preposterous combination of analog and digital inputs offered by the N64 controller is unlikely to get very far.

Of course, you could play N64 games in an emulator and use whatever controller you wish. But where’s the challenge in taking the easy way out? [Ryzee119] would much rather take the insanely complex route, and has recently completed work on an add-on board that let’s you use Xbox 360 wireless controllers on Nintendo’s 1996 console. He’s currently prepping schematics and firmware for public release, with the hope that support for additional USB controllers can be added by the community.

Nintendo historians may recall that the N64’s controllers had an expansion port on the bottom where you would connect such accessories as the “Rumble Pak” and “Controller Pak”. The former being an optional force feedback device, and the latter a rather oddly named memory card for early N64 games which didn’t feature cartridge saves. Only “90’s Kids” will recall the struggle of using the “Rumble Pak” when a game required the “Controller Pak” to save progress.

Thankfully [Ryzee119] has solved that problem by adding battery backed storage to his adapter along with some clever code which emulates the “Controller Pak”. Similarly, the “Rumble Pak” is emulated by the Xbox 360 controller’s built-in force feedback and a bit of software trickery. Specific button combinations allow for enabling and disabling the various virtual accessories on the fly.

But the best part of this modification might be how unobtrusive the whole thing is. Not only does it allow you to still use the original controllers and accessories if you wish, but it only requires soldering a handful of wires to the console’s motherboard. Thanks to the surprising amount of dead space inside the system’s case, it’s not even a challenge to fit the board inside. You do need to use the official USB Xbox 360 controller receiver, but even here [Ryzee119] opted to put a USB port on the board so you could just plug the thing in rather than having to cut the connector off and trying to solder it to the board yourself.

It probably won’t come as a surprise that this isn’t the first time [Ryzee119] has fiddled with the internals of a classic Nintendo system. We’ve previously covered his fantastic custom PCB to fit a Raspberry Pi Zero into a GameBoy Advance.

[Thanks to Gartral for the tip.]

N64 Emulated In VR Makes Hyrule Go 3D

The Nintendo 64 had some groundbreaking and popular 3D games, and [Avaer Kazmer] felt it was only right to tamper with things just enough to trick an emulator into playing Ocarina of Time in VR, complete with stereoscopic 3D. The result is more than just running an emulator on a simulated screen in virtual reality; the software correctly renders a slightly different perspective of the world of Hyrule to each eye in order to really make the 3D pop in a way the original never could, and make it playable with VR controllers in the process. The VR emulator solution is called Emukit and works best with Exokit, a JavaScript web browser for AR and VR environments for which [Avaer] is a developer.

It turns out that there were a few challenges to work around and a few new problems to solve, not least of which was mapping VR controllers to control an N64 game in a sensible way. One thing that wasn’t avoidable is that the N64’s rendered world may now pop in 3D, but it still springs forth from a rectangular stage. The N64, after all, is still only rendering a world in a TV-screen-sized portion; anything outside that rectangular window doesn’t really exist, and there’s no way around it as long an emulated N64 is running the show. Still, the result is impressive, and a video demo is embedded below where you can see the effect for yourself.

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Printing Nintendo Portables With SLA

Downing] is no stranger to building portable consoles, employing all manner of techniques in the process. However, when it came time to start on this commission, [Downing] decided to take a different tack – employing a Form 2 SLA printer in this Nintendo 64 portable build.

Modifying home consoles to become portables often involves tricks like Frankencasing – hacking together original factory parts such as controllers, cases, and accessories, and using body filler and a lot of sanding to create a template for vacuum moulding, which then results in a seamless final product. It’s possible to get some really impressive results, but it does limit the builder to relying on existing parts.

By using the Form 2, [Downing] was able to take advantage of the SLA printer’s ability to create parts with good surface finish that would normally require a lot of post-print finishing when 3D printed with more common FDM technology. This was particularly useful as it allowed the creation of custom buttons and small parts that “just fit” – normally such parts are made from stock pieces that are then modified.

The build also features a few other cool features – there’s a breakout box which allows the connection of extra controllers, as well as hosting AV out for hooking up to a television. The breakout box connects to the portable over an HDMI cable. It’s a tidy choice – it’s a standard cable that has an abundance of conductors available so you don’t have to be particularly tricky to get 3 controllers and a few analog signals talking over it.

In the end, [Downing] wouldn’t use SLA printing again for the case itself – the process was too slow and expensive. In this respect, FDM may require more work after printing but it still comes out ahead in terms of time and money. But for small custom parts like buttons and structural brackets, the Form 2 is the machine for the job.

Video after the break.

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Hackaday Links: October 23, 2016

It’s the Hack ‘O Lantern edition! First up, Slic3r is about to get awesome. Second, Halloween is just around the corner, and that means a few Hackaday-branded pumpkins are already carved. Here’s a few of them, from [Mike] and [yeltrow]:

The latest edition of PoC||GTFO has been released. Holds Stones From The Ivory Tower, But Only As Ballast (PDF and steganography warning). This edition has a reverse engineering of Atari’s Star Raiders, [Micah Elisabeth Scott]’s recent efforts on USB glitching and Wacom tablets, info on the LoRa PHY, and other good stuff. Thanks go to Pastor Manul Laphroaig.

Oh cool, we can be outraged about something. The Freetronics Experimenters Kit is a neat little Arduino-based ‘Getting Started In Microcontrollers’ kit. This kit was sold by Jaycar. Recently, Jaycar ripped off the kit and sold it under the Duiniotech name. The box was copied, the instruction manual was copied, and there’s a lot of IP being violated here. Can Freetronix do anything? Legally, yes, but it’s not worth it.

[Oscar] broke his phone, but it still works great as an SMD soldering camera/microscope thing.

Pobody’s Nerfect in Australia so here’s a 3D printed didgeridoo. What’s a didgeridoo? It’s an ancient instrument only slightly less annoying than bagpipes. It’s just a tube, really, and easily manufactured on any 3D printer. The real trick is the technique that requires circular breathing. That’s a little harder to master than throwing some Gcode at a printer.

[Chris Downing] is the master of mashed up, condensed, and handheld game consoles. His latest is another N64 portable, and it’s a masterpiece. It incorporates full multiplayer capability, uses an HDMI connector for charging and to connect the external breakout box/battery, and has RCA output for full-size TV gameplay. Of note is the breakout board for the custom N64 chip that puts pads for the memory card and a controller on a tiny board.