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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Reverse Engineering the Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons

The Switch is Nintendo’s latest effort in the console world. One of its unique features is the Joy-Cons, a pair of controllers that can either attach directly to the console’s screen or be removed and used individually. But how do they work? [dekuNukem] decided to find out.

The reverse engineering efforts begin with disassembly. Surprisingly, there is no silkscreen present on the board to highlight test points or part numbers. This is likely to conflate intended to stymie community efforts to work with the hardware, as different teams may create their own designations for components. Conversely, the chips inside still have their identifying markings present, which does ease identification somewhat.

There are some interesting choices made – the majority of the buttons are scanned in a matrix configuration by the on-board microcontroller, making it harder to spoof button presses. The controllers communicate over Bluetooth, switching to a physical serial connection when attached directly to the screen. This runs at a blistering 3,125,000 BPS after the initial handshake is completed.

Overall it’s a fairly comprehensive reverse engineering effort, and [dekuNukem] has provided excellent detail in the writeup for anyone else looking to get involved. There’s still some work left to do, like investigating the rumble messages, but it’s an excellent start and very comprehensive.

Perhaps you’re more interested in older Nintendo hardware? Check out this comprehensive effort to figure out NES console-to-cartridge security methods.

Teensy Script Plays Nintendo Switch, Strikes Out

The most recent of the Zelda franchise, Breath of the Wild, is known for its many, many puzzles.  One of the more frustrating ones involved bowling with a giant snowball at the top of a hillside.  [Bertrand] did not like this, so he cheated the system hacked the Nintendo Switch so that he “genuinely earned” a strike every time he played.  He achieved this by writing a script for a Teensy module that got him those sweet rupees.

The Teensy houses an Atmel 90USB1286 microcontroller.  When paired with LUFA software, it can emulate numerous controllers including keyboards, joysticks, etc.  It also handily has a Mini-B USB connector located on its rear, allowing it to communicate to the Switch with ease.  After confirming the hardware was compatible, [Bertrand] looked towards the software side noticing the similarity between what already existed and what he was attempting to accomplish.  He happened upon this in a Splatoon 2 fork that allows players to draw posts. 

In essence, it takes image files as input and emulates the controls and buttons to draw a 1-bit version of the image automatically.  This takes care of syncing the hardware as well as how to simulate the button presses.  But instead of reading an image file, it needed to take a custom script as the input.  This required starting from scratch.  The first logical step — of course — was to create a language similar to Logo, a name that surely brings back memories of the time of big hair and shoulder pads.  He only needed a handful of simple commands to control Link:

typedef enum {
	UP,
	DOWN,
	LEFT,
	RIGHT,
	X,
	Y,
	A,
	B,
	L,
	R,
	THROW,
	NOTHING,
	TRIGGERS
} Buttons_t;

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A Switched Game Boy Advance SP

After Nintendo’s wild success with the Wii U, Nintendo released it’s Nintendo Switch. The switch functions primarily as a home console, stagnantly connected to a display. However, Nintendo switched things up a bit: the Switch can be removed from its dock for standalone tablet-like use. But there’s a slight problem: when the Switch is in portable mode, it leaves behind a bleak and black box. What’s one to do? Worry not: [Alexander Blake] is here to save the day with a Game Boy Advance SP and an X-Acto knife.

After casually noting that the main control board of the Switch was roughly Game Boy Advance SP sized, [Alexander Blake], aka [cptnalex], knew it was meant to be. After retrieving his broken Game Boy Advance SP from his closet, [cptnalex] set to work turning his Game Boy into a Nintendo Switch dock. When he was done, the results were stunning, especially considering the fact that this is his first console mod. Moreover, the very fact that he did it all with an X-Acto knife rather than a Dremel is astounding.

With the screen providing support to the Switch, [cptnalex’s] design leaves some to be desired for long term use. But we know for sure that [cptnalex’s] design does, in fact, work. Due to naysayers of the internetTM, [cptnalex] filmed a video of his dock in uses (embedded after the break). But, what the design lacks in structural stability, it more than makes up for in aesthetics. On the device itself, [cptnalex’s] history with controller painting shines through.

If you want to see more of [cptnalex’s] work, you can follow him on Instagram. For more console mods that will take your breath away, look no farther than [Bungle’s] vacuum formed portable N64.

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