An NES cartridge in its most basic form is a surprisingly simple device, it contains two ROMs hosting all the code and assets of its game, and a Nintendo code chip that provided what was a state-of-the-art consumer DRM system for the 1980s. Decades later its inner workings have been extensively reverse-engineered, and there have been quite a few custom and reprogrammable cartridge designs produced.
This hasn’t stopped [Troy Denton] and [Brad Taylor] making a cartridge of their own though, and the result of their labours is a fully USB reprogrammable cartridge for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It provides nonvolatile storage and is a simpler design than you might expect, using a pair of 1 megabit Flash chips and emulating Nintendo’s DRM with an ATtiny microcontroller.
In itself it’s an interesting enough design, but what makes the write-up stand out is the description of having the boards manufactured by a PCBA service, and their subsequent debugging. A surface-mount micro USB socket that shorted out the USB power required a bit of rework to place Kapton tape beneath it, while another clever patch uses the NES clock signal to provide a read-only line for the memory. It’s also interesting to hear about their manual “crowdfunding” approach which was to ask around if anyone else wanted one so they could bring unit cost down by producing more cartridges.
Before you even ask, it’s an open source trackball and you’re gonna like it. Hackaday Editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams get down to brass tacks on this week’s hacks. From laying down fatter 3D printer extrusion and tricking your stick welder, to recursive Nintendos and cubic Castlevania, this week’s episode is packed with hacks you ought not miss.
Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!
Taking a page out of the Xzibit Engineering Handbook, [Geeksmithing] recently decided that the gutted carcass of an original Nintendo Entertainment System would make a perfect home for…a smaller NES. Well, that and two wireless controllers. Plus a projector. Oh, and batteries so it can be used on the go. Because really, at that point, why not?
The video after the break starts with a cleverly edited version of a legitimate NES commercial from the gaming glory days of the 1980s, and segues into an rundown of all the modern hardware [Geeksmithing] crammed into the case of this legendary console. It helps that the official NES Classic used for the project is so much smaller than its more than thirty year old predecessor, leaving plenty of room inside to get creative. We particularly like the dual wireless controllers which are conveniently hiding inside the original cartridge slot.
Frankly, that alone would have made this project worthwhile in our book, but [Geeksmithing] didn’t stop there. He also added in a pico projector that’s normally covered up by the black facia on the rear of the console, complete with a “kickstand” to tip the system up to the appropriate angle. Continuing with the theme of enabling ad-hoc NES play sessions, he also packed in enough batteries to keep the system running for a respectable amount of time. There’s even put an inductive charging coil in the bottom of the system so he can top off the batteries just by dropping the system on a modified SNES mousepad.
Doom was a breakthrough game for its time, and became so popular that now it’s essentially the “Banana For Scale” of hardware hacking. Doom has been ported to countless devices, most of which have enough processing ability to run the game natively. Recently, this lineup of Doom-compatible devices expanded to include the NES even though the system definitely doesn’t have enough capability to run it without special help. And if you want your own Doom NES cartridge, this video will show you how to build it.
We featured the original build from [TheRasteri] a while back which goes into details about how it’s possible to run such a resource-intensive game on a comparatively weak system. You just have to enter the cheat code “RASPI”. After all the heavy lifting is done, it’s time to put it into a realistic-looking cartridge.
To get everything to fit in the donor cartridge, first the ICs in the cartridge were removed (except the lockout IC) and replaced with custom ROM chips. Some modifications to the original board have to be soldered together as well, since the new chips’ pinouts don’t match perfectly. Then, most of the pin headers on the Raspberry Pi and the supporting hardware have to be removed and soldered together. Then, [TheRasteri] checks to make sure that all this extra hardware doesn’t draw too much power from the NES and overheat it.
The original project was impressive on its own, but with the Doom cartridge completed this really makes it the perfect NES hack, and also opens up the door for a lot of other custom games, including things like Mario64.
Those alive during the 1990s will remember the clear or “crystal” versions of various home consoles. Made with the usual injection molding processes, they usually came out somewhere closer to a smoky translucency and didn’t reveal much of the insides. [BitHead1000] likes to do things right though, and has busted out an awesome acrylic case mod for his NES.
The build starts with the disassembly of the original console, naturally, and the RF shielding is discarded in order to provide an unobstructed view of the internals. The acrylic case is then built up piece by piece, using the original case as a template. Flame polishing is used to treat the edges, and everything is stuck together using what appears to be acrylic cement. For a nice finishing touch, the cartridge door gets a frosted Nintendo logo, thanks to some careful work in the sandblasting booth.
The final product looks stunning, and the transparent case lends itself excellently to edge-lighting thanks to a few LEDs. We’ve seen [BitHead1000’s] work before, with the stunning flamethrowing N64 build. Video after the break.
“But can it run Doom?” is perhaps the final test of hacking a platform. From calculators to thermostats, we’ve seen Doom shoehorned into a lot of different pieces of hardware. Many times we’re left scratching our heads at the mashup, and this is no exception.
[TheRasteri] wasn’t satisfied with the existing ports of Doom, so he decided to bring the classic game to a classic console, the NES. In the video embedded after the break, he helpfully points out the system requirements for running Doom, and compares them with the specifications of the NES. Spoilers: not nearly enough.
How did he manage the feat? Taking inspiration from Nintendo’s own SuperFX chip, he embedded a co-processor in the cartridge, and fed the video stream from the cartridge back into the NES. It might not be fair to call it a co-processor, since it’s a Raspberry Pi with thousands of times the processing power of the 6502 that powers the NES. The idea might seem familiar, and in fact it was partially inspired by [Tom7]’s similar hack last year.
Using a Cypress USB controller to feed the graphics bus, [TheRasteri] is able to run Doom on the Raspberry Pi, take the visuals from the game, and convert them into blocks of graphics the NES expects to load from the cartridge. The best trick is that he apparently managed to squeeze everything into a normal NES cartridge. He plans to release a build video on his channel, so keep an eye out.
Rather than work with an original NES, [kevtris] chose to instead work with the NT Mini, an FPGA-based clone of his own design. Having picked up an EL640.480-AA1 screen, formerly from a DEK 265LT pick-and-place machine, he hunted down a data sheet and got to work. With the document outlining the required video input specifications, it was a simple matter of whipping up some Verilog and an adapter cable to get things working.
Mario, Kirby and friends can now run around, looking resplendent in the 9 colors of the red/green EL display. [kevtris] notes that the screen performs well with fast motion, and estimates the refresh rate to be in the vicinity of 60Hz. For those of you playing along at home, such screens are available online, though they’re not exactly cheap.