Entombed Secrets Partially Unearthed As Researchers Dissect Clever Maze-Generating Algorithm

If you look at enough of another developer’s code, you will eventually say, “What were you thinking, you gosh-darn lunatic?” Now, this exchange can precede the moment where you quit a company and check into a padded room, or it can be akin to calling someone a mad genius and offering them a beer. In the case of [Steven Sidley]’s 1982 game Entombed, [John Aycock] and [Tara Copplestone] found a mysterious table for generating pseudo-random mazes and wrote a whitepaper on how it all works (PDF). The table only generates solvable mazes, but if any bits are changed, the puzzles become inescapable.

The software archaeologists are currently in a labyrinth of their own, in which the exit is an explanation of the table, but the path is overgrown with decade-old vines. The programmer did not make the table himself, and its creator’s name is buried somewhere in the maze. Game cart storage was desperately limited so mazes had to be generated on-the-fly rather than crafted and stored. Entombed‘s ad-hoc method worked by assessing the previous row and generating the next based on particular criteria, with some PRNG in places to keep it fresh. To save more space, the screen was mirrored down the center which doubles the workload of the table. Someday this mysterious table’s origins may be explained but for now, it is a work of art in its own right.

Aside from a table pulled directly from the aether, this maze game leaned on pseudo-random numbers but there is room for improvement in that regard too.

Via BBC Future.

Null Shard Build Blurs Line Between Game And Reality With Laser Cutting, Mold Making, 3D Printing

In The Room Three, players are tasked with collecting mysterious objects known as “Null Shards”. But it seems one player, who goes by the name [Juiceman], took this challenge a bit literally. Starting with promotional art released for the game, he embarked on an epic journey to create a replica “Null Shard” that ended up looking so good that one of them is currently residing in a place of honor at the headquarters of developer Fireproof Games.

The developers had previously released image files to create a papercraft version of the Null Shard on their website, so [Juiceman] based his initial CAD work on these designs. But it turned out the surface texture was a little too complex to laser etch into acrylic without making a soupy mess. He simplified it a bit, while trying to retain the overall effect. From the superb laser-etched acrylic master he made a silicone mold started casting the eight triangular panels needed for two copies of the Shard.

To hold it all together [Juiceman] create a “skeleton” pyramid by first experimenting with designs on a traditional plastic FDM printer. After a few tries he had a workable design and switched over to a laser sintering machine, giving the final frame a gorgeous texture. With the cast panels installed and a few coats of paint, he had his Null Shards.

The final step was to turn down a piece of ash to make a nice base, and 3D print the feet and “claw” mount for the Shard using the same laser sintering process. The finished product looks fantastic, and apparently lives on a shelf next to a similarly constructed replica of the “Lament Configuration” puzzle cube from the Hellraiser films. [Juiceman] says the two replicas are the first entries into his “Geometries of Hell” collection, which incidentally, we’ve decided will officially be the name of our first metal album. All we need to do now is learn how to play instruments.

We’ve previously looked at how 3D printing and a dash of dedication can create some incredible prop builds, and once upon a time, we even ran a Sci-Fi Contest that challenged our readers to bring their favorite movie and game objects into the real world. Builds like this are a perfect example of what happens when a dedicated hacker or maker gets inspired by a piece of entertainment that really resonates with them.

[Thanks to Lauren for the tip]

Creative Limitation And The Super Nintendo Sound Chips

The Super Nintendo recently experienced a surge in popularity, either from a combination of nostalgic 30-somethings recreating their childhoods, or because Nintendo released a “classic” version of this nearly-perfect video game system. Or a combination of both. But what made the system worthy of being remembered at all? With only 16 bits and graphics that look ancient by modern standards, gameplay is similarly limited. This video from [Nerdwriter1] goes into depth on a single part of the console – the sound chips – and uses them to illustrate a small part of what makes this console still worth playing even now.

The SNES processed sound with two chips, a processing core and a DSP. They only had a capacity of 64 kb, meaning that all of a game’s sounds and music had to fit in this tiny space. This might seem impossible if you’ve ever played enduring classics like Donkey Kong Country, a game known for its impressive musical score. This is where the concept of creative limitation comes in. The theory says that creativity can flourish if given a set of boundaries. In this case it was a small amount of memory, and within that tiny space the composer at Rare who made this game a work of art was able to develop a musical masterpiece within strict limitations.

Even though this video only discusses the sound abilities of the SNES, which are still being put to good use, it’s a good illustration of what made this system so much fun. Even though it was limited, game developers (and composers) were able to work within its limitations to create some amazingly fun games that seem to have withstood the test of time fairly well. Not all of the games were winners, but the ones that were still get some playtime from us even now.

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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.

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Game Builder Lets Kids — Even Old Kids — Build Games

One rite of passage back in the good old days of owning a TRS-80, Commodore 64, or similar vintage computer was writing your own game. It probably wouldn’t be very good, but it wouldn’t be much worse than most of the stuff that was out there, either. Today, trying to get a kid interested in “hunt the wumpus” is probably not going to fly and having them create a modern-looking game is out of the question. Or is it? Disguised as a game itself, Game Builder offers an interactive way to create interesting games without having to get too detailed into programming. On the other hand, it supports JavaScript, so you can get to programming if you need to or want to. We could easily see a kid — or even an adult — easing into programming using this game which is free, from Google.

In the old days, hardware was a limiting factor and Basic made it pretty easy to whip out some text or crude graphics. Our favorite was a high low game that guesses your number. But everyone had some little game they’d create so they said they could. Today’s games, though, have good graphics and music and 3D shapes and a host of other things you didn’t have to contend with back then. Game Builder, though, makes it pretty simple. You can work on a game by yourself, or with friends, or with the general public. Everyone involved can play the game, but they can also edit the game. The tool runs under Steam so even though it is marked for PC or Mac, it will also run on Linux if you have Steam installed properly.

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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!

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Turn Your Car Into A Simulator

Video games, while entertaining to be sure, are a great way to experience things that could not easily be recreated in real life. Shooting aliens on a giant ring in space is an obvious example, but there are some more realistic examples that video games make much more accessible, such as driving a race car. You can make that experience as realistic as you want, too, and can even go as far as using a real car as your controller.

All modern cars use a communication system to allow their various modules to talk to one another. Fuel injection, throttle position, pedal positions, steering wheel angle, and climate control systems can all communicate on the CAN bus, and by tapping into that information the car can be used as a controller for a video game. Once you plug in to the OBD-II port on a car, you’ll need a piece of software to decode all of that information. [Andrew] uses uinput, a tool that allows Linux machines to take any input signal and map it in any way that can be programmed.

The build also includes the use of an integrated pico projector, allowing the car to be parked and turned into a simulator at any time. It’s similar to another project which used a Mazda instead of a Chevrolet Volt, but it just goes to show how straightforward it can be to take information from the CAN bus of a modern car.

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