The work was made possible when source code from the Gameboy Advance remake of Super Mario World was found in the leaked data. The source code included the names of the samples, which were the same as were used in the original SNES game. This allowed the team to find the original samples amongst the gigabytes of leaked files.
We wondered what would be done with all that code, speculating that it would be a poison pill for the emulator scene. This type of hack wasn’t even on our radar and we’re delighted to see the project come to light. The reproduced songs have an altogether different quality than the original SNES soundtrack. This is largely due to the samples not having to be compressed or cut down to fit on a cartridge and work with the console’s sound chip. Other variances in the sound also come from the fact that unlike in the game, the samples in these renditions don’t match the play lengths in the original game.
Regardless of the changes, it’s interesting to hear a more full, rounded sound of these classic video game tunes. It reminds us somewhat of the later CD console era, when sound designers were able to break free of the limitations of earlier hardware. Of course, we still bow at the alter of chiptune, though — and this MIDI Gameboy mod is a great place to start if you’re curious. Video after the break.
A trick famously used by Nintendo to keep its slowly aging SNES console fresh against newer competition was to produce new games with extra support chips in the cartridge to push out hitherto-unthinkable performance. Chips such as the famous SuperFX gave us 3D polygonal graphics, but it would have been a few more years before even much faster platforms could achieve real-time ray-tracing. Nintendo may not have managed it, but here in 2020 [Ben Carter] has a SNES on his bench rendering a complex 3D ray-traced world.
Ray tracing refers to the practice of rendering a scene with accurate lighting by tracing the rays of light that go towards making each pixel. It can achieve results that even approach photorealism, but it remains an extremely computationally intensive job for any computer. To do this with a SNES he hasn’t resorted to a modern computer like the excellent Raspberry-Pi-based NES DOOM cartridge, instead he’s tried to create something that might have graced a Nintendo custom chip back in the 1990s. The tool may be a thoroughly modern DE10-Nano FPGA dev board, but what it implements could conceivably have been made as a 1990s-spec ASIC. In it are three ray tracing cores that do the work, but the final rendering is handled by the SNES itself. At 200 x 160 pixels and 256 colours it’s no graphical powerhouse, but the maximum frame rate of 30 fps makes it no slouch for the day. The video below the break supplies extra detail.
Perhaps an unexpected takeaway of the rendered scene lies in how of its era it seems. It comes from an age in which checker-board floors, mirrored balls, and azure blue skies looked so futuristic, and just before the likes of Toy Story redefined what the general public might expect from 3D rendering. If Nintendo had produced a ray-traced SNES game using a chip like this one, it would have certainly been a defining moment for gaming in that decade.
A Super Nintendo that has trouble showing sprites doesn’t make for a very good game system. As it turns out, Super Mario World is a lot less fun when the titular hero is invisible. So it’s no surprise that [jwotto] ended up tossing this partially functional SNES into the parts bin a few years back.
But he recently came up with a project that may actually benefit from its unusual graphical issues; turning the glitched console into a circuit bent video synthesizer. The system was already displaying corrupted visuals, so [jwotto] figured he’d just help things along by poking around inside and identifying pins that created interesting visual effects when shorted out.
Once he mapped out the pins, he wired them all up to a transistor switching board that he’d come up with for a previous project. That would let an Arduino short out the pins on command while still keeping the microcontroller relatively isolated from the SNES. Then it was just a matter of writing some code that would fire off the transistors based on MIDI input.
The end result is a SNES that creates visual glitches along with the music, which [jwotto] can hook up to a projector when he does live shows. A particularly neat feature is that each game responds in its own way, so he can swap out the cartridge to show completely different visuals without having to change any of the MIDI sequencing.
The Raspberry Pi was initially developed as an educational tool. With its bargain price and digital IO, it quickly became a hacker favorite. It also packed just enough power to serve as a compact emulation platform for anyone savvy enough to load up a few ROMs on an SD card.
Video game titans haven’t turned a blind eye to this, realising there’s still a market for classic titles. Combine that with the Internet’s love of anything small and cute, and the market was primed for the release of tiny retro consoles.
Often selling out quickly upon release, the devices have met with a mixed reception at times due to the quality of the experience and the games included in the box. With so many people turning the Pi into a retrogaming machine, these mini-consoles purpose built for the same should have been immediately loved by hardware hackers, right? So what happened?
Kids of the 1990’s would call you a liar if you told them that within thirty years you’d go to a conference and be handed a Super Nintendo Entertainment System to wear around your neck. But that’s what happened with the badge Jeroen Domburg, aka [Sprite_TM], designed for the 2019 Hackaday Superconference. It’s built in the Game Boy form factor, complete with a cartridge slot, beautiful screen, and the familiar button layout. But there’s so much more here, like the HDMI port on the bottom and the ability to completely reconfigure the device by dropping a binary file onto it over USB.
Of course what makes this possible is the FPGA at the heart of the design. The story of how the badge was developed is shared in great detail during Sprite’s Supercon talk. The timeline, the hardware choices, and the oopses along the way make for a great story. But what you really don’t want to miss is how he built the machine inside of the FPGA — the collection of Verilog code known as “gateware” that brings together the System-on-a-Chip (SoC). From his delight at being able to spawn more processor cores by changing a single variable, to the fascinating SNES-inspired graphics subsystem, the inside story shared below is even more interesting than the physical device itself.
If you are interested in such things, you can buy a 1990s Sony Play Station via Heritage Auctions. We’re sure this will have caught your interest, after all it’s not every day you get the chance to catch such a machine. But before you call us out for seemingly reporting the news of an unremarkable sale featuring the runaway success story of 1990s gaming, take a look at the first sentence again. This is not a PlayStation, the ubiquitous grey console of the 1990s, but a Play Station, said as two words rather than one. This ill-fated collaboration between Sony and Nintendo was intended to be an SNES with a CD-ROM drive, but the project faltered and all that remained was the almost mythical tale of a few prototype consoles.
So far there has only been one of these devices that has surfaced, and this is the machine in the auction. So what seemed as though it might be a mundane console turns out to be one of the rarest machines ever created, a true Holy Grail of console collecting.
At the time of writing the auction is standing at $57,600, and we’d expect this to increase significantly. So you may not have the chance to own the Play Station, but with such a rare machine it’s always worth noting its appearances. It’s also worth remembering that there was more than one of them produced, in fact when your scribe was working in the same industry in the 1990s a senior colleague talked about having been shown one during dealings with Nintendo UK a few years earlier. The machine on sale today may be the only one we know to have survived, but it’s a fair possibility that there are others still gathering dust in long-forgotten archive boxes or collections of gaming hardware junk. Keep an eye out, you might just find your own rarest console ever produced!
Classic games consoles played their games from cartridges, plastic bricks that held a PCB with the game code on it ready to be run by the console hardware. You might therefore expect them to be an easy prospect for emulation, given that the code can be extracted from whatever ROM they contain. But as anyone with an interest in the subject will tell you, some cartridges included extra hardware to boost the capabilities of their games, and this makes the job of an emulator significantly more complex.
[Byuu] has penned an article exploring this topic across a variety of consoles, with in-depth analyses of special-case cartridges. We see the obvious examples such as the DSP coprocessors famously used on some SNES games, as well as Nintendo’s Super Game Boy that contained an entire Game Boy on a chip.
But perhaps more interesting are the edge-case cartridges which didn’t contain special hardware. Capcom’s Rockman X had a copy protection feature that sabotaged the game if it detected RAM at a frequently used save game address emulated by copiers. Unfortunately this could also be triggered accidentally, so every one of the first generation Rockman X cartridges had a manually attached bodge wire that a faithful emulator must replicate. There is also the case of the Sega Genesis F22 Interceptor, which contained an 8-bit ROM where most cartridges for this 68000-powered platform had a 16-bit part. Simple attempts to copy this cartridge result in the upper 8 bits having random values due to the floating data lines, which yet again an emulator must handle correctly.
It’s a subject with a variety as huge as the number of console developers and their games, and a field in which new quirks are constantly being unearthed. While most of us don’t spend our time peering into dusty cartridges, we’re grateful for this insight into that world.