The Not Quite USB-C Of Nintendo Switch Accessories

Historically gaming consoles are sold at little-to-no profit in order to entice customers with a low up-front price. The real profits roll in afterwards from sales of games and accessories. Seeking a slice of the latter, aftermarket accessory makers jump in with reverse-engineered compatible products at varying levels of “compatible”.

When the Nintendo Switch was released with a standard USB-C port for accessories, we had hoped those days of hit-or-miss reverse engineering were over, but reality fell short. Redditor [VECTORDRIVER] summarized a few parts of this story where Nintendo deviated from spec, and accessory makers still got things wrong.

Officially, Nintendo declared the Switch USB-C compliant. But as we’ve recently covered, USB-C is a big and complicated beast. Determined to find the root of their issues, confused consumers banded together on the internet to gather anecdotal evidence and speculate. One theory is that Nintendo’s official dock deviated from official USB-C dimensions in pursuit of a specific tactile feel; namely reducing tolerance on proper USB-C pin alignment and compensating with an internal mechanism. With Nintendo playing fast and loose with the specs, it makes developing properly functioning aftermarket accessories all the more difficult.

But that’s not the only way a company can slip up with their aftermarket dock. A teardown revealed Nyko didn’t use a dedicated chip to manage USB power delivery, choosing instead to implement it in software running on ATmega8. We can speculate on why (parts cost? time to market?) but more importantly we can read the actual voltage on its output pins which are too high. Every use becomes a risky game of “will this Switch tolerate above-spec voltage today?” We expect that as USB-C becomes more common, it would soon be cheapest and easiest to use a dedicated chip, eliminating the work of an independent implementation and risk of doing it wrong.

These are fairly typical early teething problems for a new complex technology on their road to ubiquity. Early USB keyboard and mice didn’t always work, and certain combination of early PCI-Express cards and motherboards caused damage. Hopefully USB-C problems — and memories of them — will fade in time as well.

[via Ars Technica]

[Main image source: iFixit Nintendo Switch Teardown]

Micro-Sized Flex For Commercial Quality Bodging

We love watching the creativity unleashed by the democratization of once-exotic technologies. The casualness by which one can order a cheap, small run of PCBs has unlocked a flood of fine pitch components and projects which look commercial quality even with a total build volume of one. Now the once mythical flex PCB has been falling from it’s stratospheric pricing and with OSHPark’s offering it feels like we’re at the inflection point. [qwertymodo] leveraged this by creating a beautifully twisted flex to add link port support to the Super Game Boy

In the mid-90’s Nintendo released the Super Game Boy, a cartridge for the SNES which allowed you to play Game Boy games on the big screen. Each cartridge was in fact an entire Game Boy with the appropriate hardware to present it in a way the host console could interface with, but missing some of the hardware a standalone Game Boy would include like a link port to connect it to another system. This mod fixes this limitation by bridging the correct pins out from the CPU to a breakout board which includes the link port connector. For general background on what’s going on here, check out [Brian]’s article from April describing a different mod [qwertymodo] executed to the same system.

What’s fascinating is how elegant the mod is. Using a a flex here to create a completely custom, strangely shaped, one-of-a-kind adapter for this random IC, in low volume is an awesome example of the use of advanced manufacturing techniques to take our hacks to the next level. It reminds us a little of the method [Scotty] used to add the headphone jack to his iPhone 7 back in 2017. At the time that seemed like a technology only available to hackers who could speak a little Mandarin and lived in Shenzhen.

Detailed information on this hack is a little spread out. There is slightly more info in these tweets, and if you have a Super Game Boy crying out for a link port the adapter flexes are sometimes available here. Look beyond the break to see what the mod originally looked like sans-flex.

Continue reading “Micro-Sized Flex For Commercial Quality Bodging”

Playing NES Games On An Industrial EL Display

Modern consoles are fun, but there are certain charms to retro gear that keep hackers entertained to this day. The original NES is a particularly ripe ground for projects, being one of the most popular consoles of its era. [kevtris] is one such Nintendo hacker, and decided to get NES games running on an old-school electroluminescent display (Youtube video, embedded below).

The display in this project was originally used in an industrial pick-and-place machine.

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.

We’ve seen [kevtris]’s work before, with his SNES chiptune player being particularly impressive. Video after the break.

[Thanks to Morris for the tip!]

Continue reading “Playing NES Games On An Industrial EL Display”

Novice Coders Can Create Classic Game Boy Games

It takes a lot of work to build a modern video game. Typically an entire company will spend months (at least) developing the gameplay, selecting or programming an engine, and working out the bugs. This amount of effort isn’t strictly necessary for older video game systems though, and homebrew developers are quite often able to develop entire games singlehandedly for classic systems. In the past it would have taken some special software, programming knowledge, and possibly hardware, but now anyone can build games for the original Game Boy with minimal barriers of entry.

The project is known as GB Studio and allows people to develop homebrew games for the 8-bit handheld system without programming knowledge. Once built, the games can be played on any emulator or even loaded onto a cartridge and played on original hardware if a flash cart is available. Graphics can be created with anything that can create a .png image, and there are also some features that allow the game to be played over a web browser or on a mobile device.

While it seems like the gameplay is limited to RPG-style games, this is still an impressive feat, and highly useful for anyone curious about game development. It could also be an entry into more involved game programming if it makes the code of the games available to the user. It could even lead to things like emulating entire cartridges on the original hardware.

Thanks to [Thomas] for the tip!

Continue reading “Novice Coders Can Create Classic Game Boy Games”

Nintendo’s Cardboard Piano Becomes A Real Working Instrument

Nintendo’s LABO piano is a strange kind of instrument. Hewn out of cardboard and used in combination with some advanced software, it’s entirely passive, with all the sound generation and smarts coming from the Switch console which slots into the body. [Simon the Magpie] decided that this simply wouldn’t do, and set about turning the LABO piano into a real synthesizer (Youtube link, embedded below).

In order to pull off this feat, [Simon] sourced an OKAY synth kit– a basic monophonic synthesizer designed to fit inside a 3D printed case. Instead, here it’s built inside the LABO’s roomy cardboard housing. The keyboard is reinforced with duct tape and tweaked to accept those common and horrible red SPST buttons, and the front panel is fitted with control dials where the Switch would usually sit.

After some careful crafting, the piano is ready to rock. It’s not the most responsive instrument, with the flexible cardboard struggling to reliably trigger the installed buttons, but it does work. [Simon] performs a small instrumental piece over a drum track to demonstrate that you don’t need a Nintendo Switch to have fun with the LABO piano.

Expect to see similar builds on stage at chiptune shows in the next few years – at least until mold gets the better of them. There are other ways to hack the LABO piano, too. Video after the break.

Continue reading “Nintendo’s Cardboard Piano Becomes A Real Working Instrument”

ESP32 Adds Bluetooth To GameCube Controllers

While it might not be the most traditional design, there’s no debating that Nintendo created something truly special when they unleashed the GameCube controller on an unsuspecting world back in 2001. Hardcore fans are still using the controller to this day with current-generation Nintendo consoles, and there’s considerable interest in adding modern conveniences like USB support to the nearly 20-year-old design.

One particularly promising project is the BlueCubeMod created by [Nathan Reeves]. He’s developed a small custom PCB that can be installed into an official GameCube controller to turn it into a Bluetooth device. You do have to sacrifice the original cord and force feedback for this mod, but we think many will see the ability to use this iconic controller with their computer or phone as a pretty fair trade.

The PCB holds an ESP32-PICO-D4 which is operating as a standard Bluetooth HID controller for maximum compatibility with modern systems. Control signals are pulled directly from the controller’s original PCB with just two wires, making the installation very simple. Wondering where the power comes from? As the rumble motor isn’t supported anyway, that gets tossed and in its places goes a 700 mAh battery which powers the controller for up to six hours. Overall it’s a very clean modification that [Nathan] believes even beginners will be capable of, and he ultimately plans to turn this design into a commercial kit.

Currently you still need a receiver if you want to use the BlueCubeMod with the Nintendo Switch, but [Nathan] says he’s working on a way to get around that requirement by potentially switching out the ESP32 for a STM32 with a CC256x radio. He says this will give him more direct control over the Bluetooth communications, which should allow him to take into tackle the intricacies of talking to the Switch directly.

Of course, the GameCube did have an official wireless controller back in the day. We’ve seen modifications to get the WaveBird to get it talking to modern systems as well, but there’s something to be said for slimmer form factor of the original edition.

Continue reading “ESP32 Adds Bluetooth To GameCube Controllers”

A Chandelier Guaranteed To Make Some Retro Game Hardware Collectors Wince

If there’s one thing our community is good at, it’s re-imagining redundant old hardware, particularly in the field of classic gaming consoles and their peripherals. Dead consoles have become new ones, Powergloves have ventured into virtual reality, and light guns, well, they’ve become novelty light fittings.

The [JJGames] Nintendo light gun chandelier will probably make collectors wince who prefer their retro hardware pristine, but it’s certainly an eye-catching conversation piece. The twelve guns are carefully disassembled and the Nintendo electronics removed, before a bulb holder and teardrop lamp is installed. Wiring is completed with twist caps,  the guns are joined at the grip with some metal strips and glue, and a chain for ceiling attachment completes the ensemble. A dozen pieces of ireplacable retro hardware sacrificed for a novelty, or a masterpiece of interior decoration? You decide, though we’d opt for the latter in the context of the retro games based business in which it sits.

Our favourite NES lightgun hack ever has to be [Seb Lee-Delisle]’s one that fires a real laser. Meanwhile [JJGames] have made it here before in a similarly wanton use of classic Nintendo plastic, with their urinal made from SNES cartridges.