No matter your age or background, there’s an excellent chance you’ll recognize the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) at first glance. The iconic 8-bit system not only revitalized the gaming industry, but helped to establish the “blueprint” of console gaming for decades to come. It’s a machine so legendary and transformative that even today, it enjoys a considerable following. Some appreciate the more austere approach to gaming from a bygone era, while others are fascinated with the functional aspects of console.
The NesHacker YouTube channel is an excellent example of that latter group. Host [Ryan] explores the ins and outs of the NES as a platform, with a leaning towards the software techniques used to push the system’s 6502 processor to the limits. Even if you aren’t terribly interested in gaming, the videos on assembly programming and optimization are well worth a watch for anyone writing code for vintage hardware.
Continue reading “A Guided Tour Of The NES” →
We’ve talked about feature creep plenty of times around here, and it’s generally regarded as something to be avoided when designing a prototype. It might sound good to have a lot of features in a build, but this often results in more complexity and more difficulty when actually bringing a project to fruition. [Brendan] has had the opposite experience with this custom handheld originally designed for Game and Watch games, though, and he eventually added NES and Game Boy functionality as well.
As this build was originally intended just for Game and Watch games, the screen is about the size of these old games, and while it can easily mimic the monochrome LCD-style video that would have been present on these 80s handhelds, it also has support for color which means that it’s the perfect candidate for emulating other consoles as well. It’s based around a Raspberry Pi Zero 2W and the enclosure is custom printed and painted. Some workarounds for audio had to be figured out, though, since native analog output isn’t supported, but it still has almost every feature for all of these systems.
While we’ve seen plenty of custom portable builds from everything from retro consoles to more modern ones, the Game and Watch catalog is often overlooked. There are a few out there, but in this case we appreciate the feature creep that allowed this build to support Game Boy and NES games as well.
The world of console modding leads us to some extremely impressive projects, and a recent one we featured of note was a portable NES produced by [Redherring32]. It was special because the original NES custom DIP chips had been sanded down to something like a surface-mount QFN package. Back when our colleague [Arya] wrote up the project there wasn’t much information, but since then the full details have been put up in a GitHub repository. Perhaps of most interest, it includes a full tutorial for the chip-sanding process.
To take irreplaceable classic chips and sand them down must take some guts, but the premise is a sound enough one. Inside a DIP package is a chip carrier and a web of contact strips that go to the pins, this process simply sands away the epoxy to expose those strips for new contacts. The result can then be reflowed as would happen with any QFN, and used in a new, smaller NES.
Along the way this provides a fascinating insight into DIP construction that most of us never see. If any of you have ever managed to fatigue a pin off a DIP, you’ll also no doubt be thinking how the technique could be used to reattach a conductor.
You can read our original coverage of the project here.
You can achieve a lot with a Dremel. For instance, apparently you can slim the original NES down into the hand-held form-factor. Both the CPU and the PPU (Picture Processing Unit) are 40-pin DIP chips, which makes NES minification a bit tricky. [Redherring32] wasn’t one to be stopped by this, however, and turned these DIP chips into QFN-style-mounted dies (Nitter) using little more than a Dremel cutting wheel. Why? To bring his TinyTendo handheld game console project to fruition, of course.
DIP chip contacts go out from the die using a web of metal pins called the leadframe. [Redherring32] cuts into that leadframe and leaves only the useful part of the chip on, with the leadframe pieces remaining as QFN-like contact pads. Then, the chip is mounted onto a tailored footprint on the TinyTendo PCB, connected to all the other components that are, thankfully, possible to acquire in SMD form nowadays.
This trick works consistently, and we’re no doubt going to see the TinyTendo being released as a standalone project soon. Just a year ago, we saw [Redherring32] cut into these chips, and wondered what the purpose could’ve been. Now, we know: it’s a logical continuation of his OpenTendo project, a mainboard reverse-engineering and redesign of the original NES, an effort no doubt appreciated by many a NES enthusiast out there. Usually, people don’t cut the actual chips down to a small size – instead, they cut into the mainboards in a practice called ‘trimming’, and this practice has brought us many miniature original-hardware-based game console builds over these years.
Continue reading “Making A Handheld NES By Turning DIP Chips Into…QFN?” →
Back in 2016, artist and video game historian [Rachel Weil (HXLNT)] was hanging out with her friend and hacking on console stuff, as friends do. [Rachel] was galvanized by the idea of having an iconic game like Super Mario Bros be interrupted by push notifications, and set out to bring a Twitter feed to her NES gaming experience. What she ended up with is ConnectedNES — a charming combination of a custom Twitter modem and a hacked Super Mario Bros ROM, creating a social media experience you have to see for yourself.
The technical side is as immaculate as the visuals. Data is transferred to the NES through the controller port using a Particle Photon that’s emulating a NES controller, and everything is encased in an adorable shell made out of yarn needlework.
The Photon currently taps into the Twitter feed through a proxy server run locally, and listens for tweets with specific keywords, relaying them to the ROM through mimicking controller port inputs. The ROM, now bearing the name Social Media Bros, went through some careful assembly trimming work. In particular, [Rachel] had to sacrifice Green Mario to the bit bucket gods.
Playing this game has to be quite the experience. Thankfully, source code for everything — the proxy server, the Photon firmware and the NES ROM — is on GitHub for all of us NES enthusiasts to hack at. If simply reading the feed is not enough, you can send tweets from your NES as well.
Until recently, most video game systems didn’t need their own operating systems in order to play games. Especially in the cartridge era — the games themselves simply ran directly on the hardware and didn’t require the middleman of an operating system for any of the functionality of the consoles. There were exceptions for computers that doubled as home computers such as the Commodore, but systems like the NES never had their own dedicated OS. At least, until [Inkbox] designed and built the NES-OS.
The operating system does not have any command line, instead going directly for a graphical user interface. There are two programs that make up the operating system. The first is a settings application which allows the user to make various changes to the appearance and behavior of the OS, and the second is a word processor with support for the Japanese “Family Keyboard” accessory. The memory on the NES is limited, and since the OS loads entirely into RAM there’s only enough leftover space for eight total files. Those files themselves are limited to 832 bytes, which is one screen’s worth of text without scrolling.
While it might seem limited to those of us living in the modern era, the OS makes nearly complete use of the available processing power and memory of this 1980s system that was best known for Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. It’s an impressive build for such a small package, and really dives into a lot of the hardware and limitations when building software for these systems. If you need more functionality than that, we’d recommend installing Linux on the NES Classic instead.
Continue reading “The NES Gets Its Own OS” →
If Nintendo is known for anything outside of their characters and admittedly top-notch video games, it’s being merciless to fans when it comes to using their intellectual property. They take legal action against people just for showing non-Nintendo hardware emulating games of theirs, and have even attempted to shut down the competitive scene for games like Super Smash Bros. To get away from the prying eyes of the Nintendo legal team extreme measures need to be taken — like building your Nintendo console clone behind the Iron Curtain.
[Marek Więcek] grew up in just such a place, so the only way to play Famicom (a.k.a NES) games was to use a clone system like this one circulating in the Eastern Bloc at the time called the Pegasus which could get the job done with some tinkering. [Marek] recently came across CPU and GPU chips from this clone console and got to work building his own. Using perf board and wire he was able to test the chips and confirm they functioned properly, but had a problem with the video memory that took him a while to track down and fix.
After that, he has essentially a fully-functional Famicom that can play any cartridge around. While we hope that living in Eastern Europe still puts him far enough away to avoid getting hassled by Nintendo, we can never be too sure. Unless, of course, you use this device which lets you emulate SNES games legally.
Continue reading “Hackaday Prize 2022: An Eastern Bloc NES Clone” →