I made a bee line for one booth in particular at this year’s Bay Area Maker Faire; our friend [Eric Schlaepfer] had his MOnSter 6502 on display. If you missed it last week, the unveiling of a 6502 built from discrete transistors lit the Internet afire. At that point, the board was not fully operational but [Eric’s] perseverance paid off because it had no problem whatsoever blinking out verification code at his booth.
I interviewed [Eric] in the video below about the design process. It’s not surprising to hear that he was initially trying to prove that this couldn’t be done. Unable to do so, there was nothing left to do but devote almost six-months of his free time to completing the design, layout, and assembly.
What I’m most impressed about (besides just pulling it off in the first place) is the level of perfection [Eric] achieved in his design. He has virtually no errors whatsoever. In the video you’ll hear him discuss an issue with pull-up/pull-down components which did smoke some of the transistors. The solution is an in-line resistor on each of the replacement transistors. This was difficult to photograph but you can make out the soldering trick above where the 3-pin MOSFET is propped up with it’s pair of legs on the board, and the single leg in the air. The added resistor to fix the issue connects that airborne leg to its PCB pad. Other than this, there was no other routing to correct. Incredible.
The huge schematic binder includes a centerfold — literally. One of the most difficult pieces of the puzzle was working out the decode ROM. What folds out of this binder doesn’t even look like a schematic at first glance, but take a closer look (warning, 8 MB image). Every component in that grid was placed manually.
I had been expecting to see some tube-based goodness from [Eric] this year. That’s because I loved his work on Flappy Bird on a green CRT in 2014, and Battlezone on a tube with a hand-wound yoke last year. But I’m glad he stepped away from the tubes and created this marvelous specimen of engineering.
When we ran the story of Battlezone played on tube displays earlier this week there were immediately questions about recreating the hack. At the time the software wasn’t available, and there is also a bit of hardware hacking necessary to get the audio working. You asked and [Eric] from Tubetime delivered. He’s posted a pair of articles that show how to get an STM32F4 Discovery board to play the classic game, along with instructions to build the firmware.
The hardware hack in this case is untangling the pinout used on the discovery board. It seems that one of the lines needed to get sound working for this hack is tied to one of the two DACs. If you read the original coverage you’ll remember that both of the DACs are used to drive X and Y on the vector display. The image above shows a cut trace on the bottom of the board. You’ll then need to route that signal to an alternate pin by soldering a jumper wire from the chip to a resistor on the board.
This (as well as one other alteration that bridges two of the chip pins) is a great example of work you should be unafraid to do on your own dev boards. We’ve had to do it with the Launchpad boards to get at the functionality we needed. We’d like to hear your own epic stories of abusing dev boards to do your bidding. Let us know in the comments.
We’ve been admirers of the work [Eric] and friends have been doing over at TubeTime for years. One of the earliest we can remember is the decatron kitchen timer, and we still tell the story of [Eric] purposely leaving out button debouncing in order to make his vector flappy bird even harder.
TubeTime is back at it this year and we had the opportunity to speak with them at Bay Area Maker Faire. The group specializes in working with old tube displays and this year’s offering was spectacular in many ways. First off, the software side of things is an emulator running on an STM32 F4 Discovery board. The chips on these boards have a pair of 12-bit DACs which are driving the X and Y of the vector displays. Code to run the original ROMs was ported from existing projects, but the audio for the games was kind of a hack to get working.
This particular display is where things get really fascinating. The tube itself was originally manufactured as test equipment for television repairmen. What’s fascinating about this is that [Eric] had to rewind the deflection yokes himself to get it working again. Luckily he documented quite a bit about his initial research into this process and his experiments to remedy some distortion issues he encountered once it was working.
Make sure to head on over to TubeTime and read their overview of the Battlezone machine. After the break we’ve also embedded a few of our own pictures as well as the interview at BAMF.
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