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 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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N64 Power Adapter Works Around The World

Modern electronics such as phone and laptop chargers are pretty versatile no matter where you find yourself in the world. Capable of running off anything from 100-250V, all you need is a socket adaptor and you’re good to go. Video game consoles of the 1990s weren’t so flexible however. [MattKC] was tired of messing around with step down transformers to run his US market N64, and decided to rectify this, building a universal adapter to run the console instead.

It’s a proper hacked build, assembled out of a jumble of old parts. An broken N64 power adapter was harvested for its case and unique DC plug, which carries 12V and 3.3V to the console. Few compact power supplies exist delivering this pair of voltages, so [MattKC] got creative. An old router was sourced for its 12V 2A supply, and was combined with a 3.3V buck converter to supply both rails. With some creative bodging and plenty of mounting tape, the supplies were crammed inside the original case and wired up to the original jack and a figure 8 cable, allowing easy socket changes in different countries without the use of ugly adapters.

While few of us routinely travel with 25 year old Nintendo consoles, for those that do, the convenience of a single universal supply can’t be overstated. Fitting a step-down transformer into carry-on luggage simply isn’t practical, after all. We’ve featured similar hacks as far back as 2006, or more recently, a project seeking to rebuild a new PSU for the venerable Amiga 500. Video after the break.

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Cube64 Puts The Good Controllers On The GoldenEye Console

The Nintendo 64 was lauded for bringing quality 3D graphics and analog stick controls to the console realm, way back in 1996. Unfortunately, those analog sticks were never very good; if you’ve ever played four player Mario Kart 64, you know how it feels to be stuck with that controller. For a superior experience, consider building an adapter and upgrading to the GameCube controller instead.

Cube64 is a project that allows GameCube controllers to work with the original Nintendo 64 hardware. Using a PIC18F14K22 in its DIY version, or a PIC18F24Q10 in the SMD version, it’s the product of much work by [scanlime] and [darthcloud] to reverse engineer the N64 and GC controller protocols. The GameCube’s many buttons and sticks allow for easy mapping to the N64’s original button layout, and the hardware provides plenty of calibration options and maps to get things working exactly the way you like for the game you’re playing.

Given that original N64 controllers are getting hard to come by, a GameCube upgrade is a great way to go. They’ll likely be in production for years yet, thanks to the commercial influence of Super Smash Bros. Of course, the two consoles have been fine friends for years, as evidenced by this mashup console we featured back in the distant, peaceful past of 2013.

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!