Thinking Inside The (Cardboard) Box With Nintendo Labo Hacks

Cardboard is one of the easiest ways to build something physical, far easier than the 3D printing and laser cutting we usually write about here. So when Nintendo released their Labo line of cardboard accessories, it doesn’t take a genius to predict the official product would be followed by a ton of user creations. Nintendo were smart enough to provide not only an internet forum for this creativity to gather, they also hold contests to highlight some of the best works.

The most impressive projects in the winner’s circle combined the one-of-a-kind cardboard creations with custom software written using Toy-Con Garage, the visual software development environment built into the Nintendo Switch console. Access to the garage is granted after a user runs through Nintendo Labo’s “Discover” activities, which walk the user behind the scenes of how their purchased Labo accessories work. This learning and discovery process thus also serves as an introductory programming tutorial, teaching its user how to create software to light up their custom cardboard creations.

It’s pretty cool that Nintendo opened up a bit of the mechanism behind Labo activities for users to create their own, but this is only a tiny subset of Nintendo Switch functionality. We have different hacks for different folks. Some of us enjoy reverse engineering details of how those little Joy-Cons work. Others hack up something to avoid a game puzzle that’s more frustrating than fun. And then there are those who are not satisfied until they have broken completely outside the sandbox.

[via Engadget]

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Nintendo Switch Gets Internal Trinket Hardmod

If you haven’t been following the Nintendo Switch hacking scene, the short version of the story is that a vulnerability was discovered that allows executing code on all versions of the Switch hardware and operating system. In fact, it’s believed that the only way to stop this vulnerability from being exploited is for Nintendo to release a new revision of the hardware. Presumably there are a lot of sad faces in the House of Mario right about now, but it’s good news for us peons who dream of actually controlling the devices we purchase.

To run your own code on Nintendo’s latest and greatest, you must first put it into recovery mode by shorting out two pins in the controller connector, and then use either a computer or a microcontroller connected to the system’s USB port to preform the exploit and execute the binary payload. It’s relatively easy, but something you need to do every time you shut the system down. But if you’re willing to install an Adafruit Trinket M0 inside your Nintendo Switch, you can make things a little easier.

Stemming from work done by [atlas44] and [noemu], the final iteration of this mod was created by [Quantum-cross]. The general idea is to strip down the Trinket M0 board to as small as possible by removing the USB port and a few capacitors, and then install it inside the Switch’s case. By wiring it up to power, the back of the USB-C connector, and the controller connector, the Trinket can interact with all the key components involved in the exploit.

You can even use the Switch’s USB port to update the firmware on the Trinket to load different payloads, though in his walkthrough video after the break, [xboxexpert] mentions eventually this won’t really be necessary as the homebrew software environment on the Switch matures. Indeed, there will almost certainly come a time when performing this exploit on every boot of the system will be made unnecessary, rendering this modification obsolete. But until then, this is a pretty slick way of getting your feet wet in the world of Switch hacking.

It was only six months or so back that we were reading about the first steps towards running arbitrary code on the Nintendo Switch, and just a few months prior to that we saw people experimenting with controlling the system with a microcontroller.

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Reverse Engineering Nintendo Labo Waveform Cards

The Nintendo Switch portable gaming system is heavily locked down to prevent hacking, but the Labo add-on looks like it might be a different matter. The Labo is a series of add-on devices made of cardboard that does things like turn the Switch into a musical keyboard that plays a waveform on a card that you slot in. [Hunter Irving] decided to try a bit of reverse engineering on these cards to see if he could 3D print his own. Spoilers: he could.

[Hunter] started by taking one of the cards that come with the Labo and looking at the layout. These cards are, like the rest of the Labo, very simple: they are just shaped pieces of card that fit into the back of the keyboard add-on. When you press a button, the Switch camera reads the card to create the waveform. So, the process involved figuring out the required dimensions of the card to create a template. [Hunter] then created simple waveforms (square, sine, sawtooth) in Inkscape, and used this to create a 3D printable waveform card. A quick bit of 3D printing later, he had several cards ready, and these worked without problems. As well as the synthetic waveforms, he tried real ones, such as an organ, taking the waveform shape from the zoomed-in sample and using that to print. This post describes the process nicely and offers downloads of 9 sample cards and a template to create your own.

We suspect that this is only scratching the surface of what can be done with the Switch, Labo, and some ingenuity. Unlike the Switch itself, the Labo seems to be built for hacking, using simple, easy to use components to create surprisingly complex mechanisms that could be adapted for any number of purposes.

We’re sure this isn’t the only Labo hack we’ll be covering over the coming year. Not sure what all the fuss is about? Read our reporting on its arrival.

LEGO Meets Nintendo Switch

As you probably know, the Nintendo Switch is the incredibly popular console of the moment. You of course also know that LEGO has been popular since the beginning of recorded history. So it was only a matter of time before somebody decided that these two titans of youthful entertainment needed to combine up like some kind of money-printing Voltron. You know, for science.

[Vimal Patel], a known master of all things plastic brick related, decided to take up the challenge with a few experimental LEGO accessories for the Switch. These add-ons are largely designed to make playing the Switch a bit more comfortable, but represent an interesting first step to more complex hardware modifications down the road.

The key to these experiments are a set of 3D printed rails which allow you to attach standard LEGO parts to the Switch. With the rails installed, [Vimal] demonstrates a simple “kick stand” which improves the system’s stability when not being used in handheld mode.

A few different steering wheel modifications are also demonstrated, which use an impressive bit of engineering to move the controller’s analog stick left and right with rotational input on the wheel. Both variations are shown in-use with Mario Kart, and seem to do the job.

It will be interesting to see what kind of projects will be made possible at the intersection of Switch and LEGO when Nintendo Labo goes live later this month.

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Gamecube Dock For Switch Mods Nintendo with More Nintendo

[Dorison Hugo] let us know about a project he just completed that not only mods Nintendo with more Nintendo, but highlights some of the challenges that come from having to work with and around existing hardware. The project is a Gamecube Dock for the Nintendo Switch, complete with working Gamecube controller ports. It looks like a Gamecube with a big slice out of it, into which the Nintendo Switch docks seamlessly. Not only that, but thanks to an embedded adapter, original Gamecube controllers can plug into the ports and work with the Switch. The original orange LED on the top of the Gamecube even lights up when the Switch is docked. It was made mostly with parts left over from other mods.

The interesting parts of this project are not just the attention to detail in the whole build, but the process [Dorison] used to get everything just right. Integrating existing hardware means accepting design constraints that are out of one’s control, such as the size and shape of circuit boards, length of wires, and often inconvenient locations of plugs and connectors. On top of it all, [Dorison] wanted this mod to be non-destructive and reversible with regards to the Nintendo Switch dock itself.

To accomplish that, the dock was modeled in CAD and 3D printed. The rest of the mods were all done using the 3D printed dock as a stand-in for the real unit. Since the finished unit won’t be painted or post-processed in any way, any scratches on both the expensive dock and the Gamecube case must be avoided. There’s a lot of under-cutting and patient sanding to get the cuts right as a result. The video (embedded below) steps through every part of the process. The final screws holding everything together had to go in at an odd angle, but in the end everything fit.

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Nintendo Switch Gets Making with Labo

Over the years, Nintendo has had little trouble printing money with their various gaming systems. While they’ve had the odd misstep here and there since the original Nintendo Entertainment System was released in 1983, overall business has been good. But even for the company that essentially brought home video games to the mainstream, this last year has been pretty huge. The release of the Nintendo Switch has rocketed the Japanese gaming giant back into the limelight in a way they haven’t enjoyed in a number of years, and now they’re looking to keep that momentum going into 2018 with a killer new gaming accessory: a cardboard box.

Some of the contraptions feature surprisingly complex internal mechanisms.

Well, it doesn’t have to be a box, necessarily. But no matter which way you fold it, it’s definitely a piece of cardboard. Maybe a few bits of string here and there. This is the world of “Nintendo Labo”, a recently announced program which promises to let Switch owners create physical objects which they can interact with via specially designed software for the console.

The Labo creations demonstrated in the bombastic announcement video make clever use of the very unique Switch hardware. The removable Joy-Con controllers are generally still used as input devices, albeit in less traditional ways. Twisting and tilting the cardboard creations, which take varied forms such as a fishing rod or motorcycle handlebars, relays input to the appropriate game thanks to the accelerometers and gyroscopes they contain.

Many of the more complex contraptions rely on a less-known feature of the controller: the IR depth camera. By pointing the controller’s camera inside of the devices, the motion of internal components, likely helped along by IR-reflective tape, can be tracked in three dimensions. In the video, the internal construction of some of the devices looks downright intimidating.

Which leads into the natural question: “Who exactly is this for?”

Clearly some of the gadgets, not to mention the folded cardboard construction, are aimed at children, an age group Nintendo has never been ashamed to appeal to. But some of the more advanced devices and overall concept seems like it would play better with creative teens and adults looking to push the Switch in new directions.

Will users be empowered to create their own hardware, and by extension, associated software? Will hackers and makers be able to 3D print new input devices for the Switch using this platform? This is definitely something we’ll be keeping a close eye on as it gets closer to release in April.

The popularity of the Switch has already given rise to a surprising amount of hacking given how new the console is. It will be interesting to see if the introduction of Labo has any effect on the impressive work already being done to bend the console to the owner’s will.

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34C3: Hacking the Nintendo Switch

There’s a natural order to the world of game console hacking: every time a manufacturer releases a new game console they work in security measures that prevent the end user from running anything but commercially released games, and in turn every hacker worth his or her salt tries to break through. The end goal, despite what the manufacturers may have you believe, is not to run “bootleg” games, but rather to enable what is colloquially referred to as “homebrew”. That is to say, enabling the novel concept of actually running software of your choice on the hardware you paid for.

At 34C3, noted console hackers [Plutoo], [Derrek], and [Naehrwert] have demonstrated unsigned code running on Nintendo’s latest and greatest and while they are keeping the actual exploit to themselves for now, they’ve promised that a platform for launching homebrew is coming shortly for those who are on firmware version 3.0.0. From the sound of it, after 9 months on the market, Switch owners will finally have complete access to the hardware they purchased.

The key to running the team’s own code was through a WebKit exploit that was already months old by the time the Switch was released. Loading up an arbitrary webpage was the tricky part, as the Switch generally uses its web browser for accessing official sources (like the online game store). But hidden away in the help menus of Tetris, the developers helpfully put a link to their website which the Switch will dutifully open if you select it. From there it’s just a matter of network redirection to get the Switch loading a webpage from your computer rather than the Internet.

It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

But as the more security-minded of our readers may have guessed already, that just gets you into the browser’s sandbox. The team now had to figure out a way to break out and get full control of the hardware. Through a series of clever hacks the team was able to learn more about the Switch’s internal layout and operating system, slowly working their way up the ladder.

A particularly interesting hack was used to get around a part of the Switch’s OS that is designed to check which services code is allowed to access. It turns out that if code doesn’t provide this function with its own process ID (PID), the system defaults to PID 0 because the variable is not initialized. In other words, if you don’t ask the operating system which functions you have access to, you will get access to them all. This is a classic programming mistake, and a developer at Nintendo HQ is likely getting a very stern talking to right about now.

But not everything was so easy. When trying to get access to the boot loader, the team sniffed the eMMC bus and timed the commands to determine when it was checking the encryption keys. They were then able to assemble a “glitcher” which fiddled with the CPU’s power using FPGA controlled MOFSETs during this critical time in an attempt to confuse the system.

The rabbit hole is pretty deep on this one, so we’d recommend you set aside an hour to watch the entire presentation to see the long road it took to go from a browser bug to running their first complete demo. It’s as much a testament to the skill of  [Plutoo], [Derrek], and [Naehrwert] as it is the lengths at which Nintendo went to keep people out.

We’ve seen other attempts at reverse engineering Nintendo’s hardware, but by the looks of it, the Switch has put up a much harder fight than previous console generations. Makes you wonder what tricks Nintendo will have up their sleeves for the next generation.

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