2600-Inspired Handheld Brings the Faux Woodgrain

The Atari 2600 is a console from a very different time, when home appliances, furniture, and even automobiles were all covered in fake vinyl woodgrain veneer. Somehow it was the in thing for a decade, and then immediately became tacky overnight. Regardless, if you want to evoke the era, that’s what you do – and that’s exactly what [Christian] did with this handheld RetroPie build.

An early concept sketch shows off [Christian]’s art skills.
The technical side of things is fairly routine in these parts – a Pi Zero runs RetroPie so you can play emulated games from the mid-90s and earlier. It’s the visual presentation that we particularly enjoy. The look of the early Atari is evoked through clever use of materials. The body is in black plastic, with blocky red buttons for controls. It’s finished with a vinyl woodgrain applique around the screen, and we think it’s a wonderful aesthetic.

The files to print your own are available on Thingiverse, and [Christian] has provided a basic guide to sourcing similar parts. It’s all common stuff, readily available on eBay or elsewhere.

We love seeing retro throwbacks like this – the tiny Macintosh Plus from the 2017 Superconference is a particular highlight.

Wheel of Fortune Gets Infinite Puzzles on NES

Wheel of Fortune is a television game show, born in the distant year of 1975. Like many popular television properties of the era, it spawned a series of videogames on various platforms. Like many a hacker, [Chris] had been loading up the retro NES title on his Raspberry Pi when he realized that, due to the limitations of the cartridge format, he was playing the same puzzles over and over again. There was nothing for it, but to load a hex editor and get to work.

[Chris’s] initial investigation involved loading up the ROM in a hex editor and simply searching for ASCII strings of common puzzles in the game. Initial results were positive, turning up several scraps of plaintext. Eventually, it became apparent that the puzzles were stored in ASCII, but with certain most-significant-bits changed in order to mark the line breaks and ends of puzzles. [Chris] termed the format wheelscii, and developed an encoder that could turn new puzzles into the same format.

After some preliminary experimentation involving corrupting the puzzles and testing various edge cases, [Chris] decided to implement a complete fix. Puzzles were sourced from the Wheel of Fortune Puzzle Compendium, which should have plenty of fresh content for all but the most addicted viewers. A script was then created that would stuff 1000 fresh puzzles into the ROM at load time to minimize the chances of seeing duplicate puzzles.

ROM hacks are always fun, and this is a particularly good example of how simple tools can be used to make entertaining modifications to 30-year-old software. For another take, check out this hack that lets the Mario Bros. play together.

Stock Looking PSP Hides a Raspberry Pi Zero

We don’t see that many PSP hacks around these parts, perhaps because the system never attained the same sort of generational following that Nintendo’s Game Boy line obtained during its heyday. Which is a shame, as it’s really a rather nice system with plenty of hacking potential. Its big size makes it a bit easier to graft new hardware into, the controls are great, and there’s no shortage of them on the second-hand market.

Hopefully, projects like this incredible “PiSP” from [Drygol] will inspire more hackers to take a second look at Sony’s valiant attempt at dethroning Nintendo as the portable king. With his usual attention to detail, he managed to replace the PSP’s original internals with a Pi Zero running RetroPie, while keeping the outside of the system looking almost perfectly stock. It wasn’t exactly a walk in the park, but we’d say the end definitely justifies the means.

The first half of the project was relatively painless. [Drygol] stripped out all the original internals and installed a new LCD which fit so well it looks like the thing was made for the PSP. He then added a USB Li-ion charger board (complete with “light pipe” made out of 3D printer filament), and an audio board to get sound out of the usually mute Pi Zero. He had some problems getting everything to fit inside of the case. The solution was using flat lithium batteries from an old Nokia cell phone to slim things down just enough to close up the PSP’s case with some magnets.

What ended up being the hardest part of the build was getting the original controls working. [Dyrgol] wanted to use the original ZIF connector on the PSP’s motherboard so he wouldn’t have to modify the stock ribbon cable. But it was one of those things that was easier said than done. Cutting out the section of PCB with the connector on it was no problem, but it took a steady hand and a USB microscope to solder all the wires to its traces. But the end result is definitely a nice touch and makes for a cleaner installation.

We’ve covered the exciting world of PSP homebrew, and even DIY batteries built to address the lack of original hardware, but it’s been fairly quiet for the last few years. Here’s hoping this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Sony’s slick handheld on these pages.

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Hackaday Links: July 8, 2018

Software-defined radio has been around for years, but it’s only recently that it’s been accessible to those of us who don’t have tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment in their lab. Here’s a new book from Analog Devices that gives you the lowdown on software-defined radio. It’s heavy on MATLAB and components from Analog, but it’s still a solid foundation for SDR.

Do you like cyberpunk? Do you like stories about rebellious people overthrowing the system? How about androids? Do you like androids? Here’s a Kickstarter that’s tying all of that togetherNeptune Frost is (will be?) a movie about an e-waste village in Burundi that’s home to the ‘world’s most subversive hacking collective’, a coltan miner and an inter-sex runaway. It’s literally got everything.

Hey, this is cool, Hackaday has been cited in a journal article. The title of the article is An open-source approach to automation in organic synthesis: The flow chemical formation of benzamides using an inline liquid-liquid extraction system and a homemade 3-axis autosampling/product-collection device,  and can be found in Tetrahedron Volume 74, Issue 25, 21 June 2018, Pages 3152-3157.

Asteroid day was a few days ago, and there’s a Kickstarter to go with it. The Planetary Society, headed up by Bill Nye (a science guy) is raising awareness about the threat of asteroid impacts. There’s hilarious swag that says ‘Kick Asteroid’, even though actually kicking an asteroid might be a bad idea; a gravity tractor would be the best method of nudging the orbit of an asteroid given enough time.

Last year, a company in the US trademarked the word ‘RetroPie’ and used that trademark to sell Raspberry Pis loaded up with (you guessed it) RetroPie software. This company also used the trademark to force anyone else doing the same to stop. Obviously, this didn’t sit well with the developers of RetroPie. After some generous legal help, the RetroPie trademark issue has been resolved. That’s a tip of the hat to Eckland & Blando who offered some pro bono legal work.

More Than Just An Atari Look-Alike

The Raspberry Pi has been a boon for hackers with a penchant for retro gaming. Redditor [KaptinBadkruk] Wanted to get on board the game train and so built himself an Atari 2600-inspired Raspberry Pi 3 console!

A key goal was the option to play Nintendo 64 titles, so [KaptinBadkruk] had to overclock the Pi and then implement a cooling system. A heatsink, some copper pads, and a fan from an old 3D printer — all secured by a 3D printed mount — worked perfectly after giving the heatsink a quick trim. An old speaker and a mono amp from Adafruit — and a few snags later — had the sound set up, with the official RPi touchscreen as a display.

After settling on an Atari 2600-inspired look, [KaptinBadkruk] laboured through a few more obstacles in finishing it off — namely, power. He originally intended for this  project to be portable, but power issues meant that idea had to be sidelined until the next version. However — that is arguably offset by [KaptinBadkruk]’s favourite part: a slick 3D Printed item box from Mario Kart front and center completes the visual styling in an appropriately old-meets-new way.

That item block isn’t the first time a lightshow has accompanied an Atari console, but don’t let that stop you from sticking one in your pocket.

[Via /r/DIY]

Cramming a Pi Zero into a Cheap Handheld Game

At this point, we’ve seen the Raspberry Pi jammed into what amounts to every retro game system, handheld or otherwise, that was ever released. While they’re always fun builds, invariably somebody will come along who is upset that the original hardware had to be gutted to create it. It seems as if with each post, a classic gaming aficionado out there has his or her heart broken just a bit more. Will no one put an end to the senseless slaughter of Game Boys?

As it so happens, not all hardware modders are such unconscionable brutes. [Starfire] recently sent his latest creation into the tip line, and it’s designed specifically to address the classic gaming massacre in which Hackaday has so shamefully been a collaborator.  His build sacrifices a portable Genesis built by AtGames, and turns it into a Raspberry Pi Zero portable running RetroPie.

Opening up the back panel of his portable Pi shows an incredible amount of hardware smashed into the tiny package. Beyond the obvious Pi Zero, there’s a iUniker 2.8-inch LCD, a 2,200 mAh battery, a two-port USB hub, a Teensy microcontroller, a USB sound card, an audio amplifier, a LiPo charging module, and a boost converter. [Starfire] measured peak power consumption to be 500 mA, which should give about a 3.5 hour run time on the 2,200 mAh battery.

This is all the more impressive when you realize the original AtGames PCB is still in the system, albeit with the center cut out for the Pi’s LCD to fit in. Rather than having to figure out a new way to handle input, [Starfire] simply connected the existing inputs to the digital pins on the Teensy and used some code to convert that into USB HID for the Pi. A few case modifications were necessary, namely the removal of the battery compartment from the back panel and covering up the original SD card slot and ports; but otherwise the finished product looks completely stock.

If you don’t mind tearing into a real Game Boy to make your portable Pi, you can check out a few of the stand out examples which we’ve covered here in the past.

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Bartop Arcade Cabinet Build Skips the Kit

An arcade cabinet is one of those things that every gamer wants at home, but few ever get. Getting a real arcade cabinet is usually expensive, and building one yourself is no small feat. There are kits you can get now which help the process along, generally taking the form of pre-cut cabinet parts, but with them comes the quiet shame of kit-building. What if your friends found out you used a kit instead of designing it yourself? The drama is almost too much to think about.

That’s how [Bogdan Berg] felt about it, at least. Not content with just getting a pre-cut cabinet kit from eBay, he decided to design and build his own bartop arcade machine in just one week: fast enough for him to fit the whole thing into his Christmas vacation. We don’t know what Christmas was like for his friends and family this year with him toiling away on this beautiful build the whole time, but we can confidently say his Christmas was awesome.

He designed the cabinet in Fusion 360, working around the limitation that the laser cutter he had access to had a work area of 24 inches by 18 inches. Some interesting design choices were made here, including going with a tab and slot construction method. While [Bogdan] admits that this aesthetic isn’t always popular, he liked how sturdy it makes the final product.

He was originally going to use plywood for the cabinet, but owing to the fact that he couldn’t find any pieces that weren’t warped locally, he switched over to MDF. Using MDF did mean he had to seal all the cut pieces with shellac before painting, but in the end he’s happy with the final lacquer paint job; even if it did take more work and materials than he anticipated.

The hardware is pretty much the standard for DIY arcades these days: a 17 inch LCD monitor he had laying around is used for the display, a two player joystick and button kit from Amazon provides the user interface, and emulation is provided by a Raspberry Pi 3 running RetroPie. A recessed door in the rear allows him to get into the machine will still maintaining a finished look on the backside.

While the size of them may vary wildly, DIY arcade cabinets are always a popular project. Whether shamelessly emblazoned with our logo or playing host to glorious LED lighting, it seems like the design of these cabinets provide as much entertainment as the games they play.

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