Two Joysticks Talk To FPGA Arcade Game Over A VGA Cable

We really love when hacks of previous hacks show up in the tip line. It shows how the hardware hacking community can be a feedback loop, where one hack begets the next, and so on until great things are everywhere. This hacked joystick port for an FPGA Pac Man game is a perfect example of that creative churn.

The story starts with Pano Man, a version of the venerable arcade game ported to a Pano Logic FPGA thin client by [Skip]. We covered that story when it first came out, and it caught the attention of [Tom Verbeure], particularly the bit in the GitHub readme file which suggested there might be a better way to handle the joystick connections. So [Tom] took up the challenge of using the Extended Display Identification Data (EDID) circuit in the VGA connector to support an Atari 2600 joystick. The EDID system is an I²C bus, so the job needed the right port expander. [Tom] chose the MCP23017, a 16-bit device that would have enough GPIO for dual joysticks and a few extra buttons. Having never designed a PCB before, [Tom] fell down that rabbit hole for a bit, but quickly came up with a working design, and then a better one, and then the final version. The video below shows it in action with Pano Man.

We think the creative loop between [Skip] and [Tom] was great here, and we can’t wait to see who escalates next. And it’s pretty amazing how much IO can be stuffed over two wires if you have the right tools. Check out this VGA sniffing effort to learn more about EDID and I²C.

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Flyfish FF32 Gets GUI

[CWroos] has written an impressive GUI for the Flyfish FF32. The Flyfish is a port expander of sorts, allowing the user access to a large array of I/O , analog inputs, SPI, I2C and a few other connectivity options over a USB connection. There is no driver as it uses a native HID driver in the operating system of the device it’s attached to. It’s not just tethered to a PC either. It works with Raspberry Pi, Beaglebone and several other SBCs.

program window

[CWroos]’s GUI makes it easier than ever to interact with the FF32. It has a script editor allowing you to run and edit scripts on the fly (pun intended). It appears he’s actually written his own basic like language for the scripting, which he goes into great detail on his site. There’s a blinky script example, and few more complex examples that will show you how to read temperature and control a servo.

There is also the ability to control the hardware directly allowing you to set pins, read firmware version, set the USB address and several other options. If you have an FF32 lying around, be sure to check out [CWroos]’s program and let us know how it works for you.

Working with I2C port expanders

There are times when you don’t need much processing power for your project but you do need a lot of I/O pins. It often doesn’t make economic sense to choose a larger microcontroller just to get extra pins so the answer is to use a port expander chip. [Raendra] posted a guide for using one of these chips, it’s a Microchip MCP23008 chip that uses the I2C protocol for communications.

You are probably already familiar with using shift registers like the 595 series for port expansion. There can be benefits to using an I2C device instead. One of them comes when using multiple port expander chips. With cascading shift registers you must always shift in the data for the entire chain of chips. But I2C devices are individually addressable, so you only need to push data over the I2C bus for the chips that need to be changed, the others will remain unaffected. It is especially easy to use these if you already have another I2C device in your project design as the addition only requires the connection of the SDA and SCL lines. Keep them in mind for future undertakings.

Graphic calculator as a spectrum analyzer

[Michael Vincent] turned his TI-84 Plus into a spectrum analyzer. By running some assembly code on the device the link port can be used as an I2C bus (something we’ll have to keep in mind). After being inspired by the cell phone spectrum analyzer he set out to build a module compatible with the calculator by using an I2C port expander to interface with a radio receiver module. Now he can sniff out signals between 2.400 and 2.495 GHz and display the finds like in the image above.

[Thanks Cecil]