Turning The Virtual Boy Into A Handheld Console

The Virtual Boy, Nintendo’s most infamous failure, was plagued by several issues. The most glaring problem was the red monochrome stereoscopic display technology which gave many users a headache after even a short time playing, but it’s sky-high price and extremely limited library of games kept many prospective buyers at bay as well. There was also the issue of portability: unlike the Game Boy it was named after, the Virtual Boy barely qualified as a portable system due to the fact it needed to be set up on a table to use.

But now, thanks to the tireless efforts of [Shank], at least a few of those issues have been resolved. He’s built the world’s first truly portable Virtual Boy, which swaps the system’s troubled 3D display for a modern IPS LCD panel. The custom handheld, designed to merge the Virtual Boy’s unique aesthetic with the iconic styling of the Game Boy Advance, looks like it came from some alternate timeline where Nintendo decided to produce a cheaper and less cumbersome version of the system rather than abandoning it.

While the work [Shank] has put into the project is unquestionably impressive, it should be said that it took the efforts of several talented hackers to create the handheld Virtual Boy. The key component that made the modification possible in the first place is the VirtualTap by [Furrtek], which not only provides the VGA output that’s driving the LCD panel, but fools the system’s motherboard into believing the servo-actuated stereoscopic display is still connected and active.

It’s also using the open source power management board that [GMan] originally developed for his own portable N64, [Bassline] chipped in to cast the custom buttons and D-pad in translucent resin, and [Mitch 3D] put an untold number of hours into printing and reprinting the system’s multicolored enclosure until it came out just right.

All the little details of the final system, which [Shank] calls the Real Boy, put this project into a league of its own. Special combinations of button presses allows the user to change the color of the display, should you get sick of the infamous red-tint. The buttons also have RGB LEDs behind them that correspond with the color scheme of the display itself, for that extra bit of gamer cred. He even made sure to include the system’s original link port, despite the fact that no officially released game ever made use of it.

Our first run in with [Shank] was when he demoed a portable Wii built into a mint tin. It made for a pretty pitiful gaming experience, but the project demonstrated his dedication to seeing a project through to the end. Watching his skills improve over the last few years has been inspiring, and we can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

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How Did The Nintendo Virtual Boy Work?

What do you know about the Nintendo Virtual Boy? Everybody knows that it was the console giant’s mid-90s foray into 3D graphics and VR, and that it was a commercial flop. Sickness and headache-inducing graphics are probably first to mind, and that’s it. But since most of us will never have handled one in real life, all we have on this legendary console is this Received Opinion. What was it Really like? [Rodrigo Copetti] has put up a detailed technical examination, and it reveals a machine well ahead of its time in more than just the market it was trying to create.

The first surprise is that this machine eschews the expected LCD screens that were the norm on handheld consoles of the day, instead using a persistence-of-vision display with a single vertical bar of LEDs facing a vibrating mirror through a lens system. He goes into significant detail on how this system worked, and in doing so gives us a new respect for the console.

The meat of this article lies though in a detailed look at the console’s architecture. The NEC V810 CPU was significantly more powerful than those in other portable consoles of the day, and we get a peek of how it and the custom silicon handled the graphics. The GPU had dual framebuffers for each display to ensure each frame could be delivered smoothly while the next one was being created.

Everything that can be said about the Virtual Boy in the marketplace has been done to death, leading to the received opinion we mentioned at the start of the article. This write-up provides new information on one of Nintendo’s rarer machines and casts it in an entirely new light.

There have been understandably few Virtual Boy projects that have made it to these pages. One that has, was a VGA interface for the console.

Via Hacker News.

Mustachioed Nintendo Virtual Boy Gone Augmented Reality

Some people just want to watch the world burn. Others want to spread peace, joy and mustaches. [Joe Grand] falls into the latter group this time around. His latest creation is Mustache Mayhem, a hack, video game, and art project all rolled into one. This is a bit of a change from deconstructing circuit boards or designing electronic badges, but not completely new for [Joe], who wrote SCSIcide and Ultra SCSIcide for the Atari 2600 back in the early 2000’s.

Mustache Mayhem is built into a Nintendo Virtual Boy housing. The Virtual Boy itself was broken, and unfortunately was beyond repair. [Joe] removed most of the stock electronics and added a BeagleBone Black, Logitech C920 webcam, an LCD screen and some custom electronics. He kept the original audio amplifier, speakers, and controller connector. Angstrom Linux boots into [Joe’s] software, which uses OpenCV to detect faces and overlay mustaches. Gameplay is simple: Point the console at one or more faces. If you see a mustache, press the A button on the controller! The more faces and mustaches on-screen at once, the more points, or “mojo” the player gets. The code is up on Github, and can be built with Xcode targeted to the Mac, or directly on the BeagleBone Black.

[Joe’s] goal for the project was to make a ridiculous game that looks like it could have come out in the 90’s. He also used Mustache Mayhem as a fun way to learn some new skills which will come in handy for more serious projects in the future.

We caught up with [Joe] for a quick interview about his new creation.

How did you come up with the idea for Mustache Mayhem?

blockI was selling a bunch of my video game collection at PRGE (Portland Retro Gaming Expo) a few years ago and had a broken Virtual Boy that no one bought. A friend of mine was at the table and said I had to do something with it. I thought “People wear cosplay and walk around at conventions, so what if I could do something with the Virtual Boy that you could walk around with?” That was the seed.

A few months later, Texas Instruments sent me the original production release of the BeagleBone Black (rev. A5A). Eighteen months after that I actually started the project. The catalyst was to do something for an upcoming Portland, OR art show (Byte Me 4.0), which is an annual event that shows off interactive technology-based artwork. I wrote up a little description and got accepted. I had less than 2 months to actually get things working and it ended up taking about a month of full-time work. It was much more work than I expected for such a silly project. I originally was going to do something along the lines of walking around in a Doom-like perspective and shooting people when their faces were detected.

That would be pretty darn cool. How did you get from Doom to Mustaches? 

I saw a TI BeagleBoard demo called “boothstache” which drew mustaches on faces and tweeted the pictures. I thought that doing something non-violent with mustaches would be more suitable (and funny) to actually show my kids. I also secretly wanted to use this project as a way to experiment with Linux, write some code, and learn about face detection and image processing with OpenCV, which I plan to use for some actual computer security research in the future. Mustache Mayhem turned out to be a super cool project and I’m really happy with it. I sort of feel guilty spending so much time on it, since it’s basically just a one-off prototype, but I just got so obsessed with making it exactly as I wanted.

You mentioned on your website that Mustache was “designed to challenge the paradigms of personal privacy and entertainment.” What exactly did you mean there?

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Retrode Gets An Upgrade

We’ve been following the Retrode since it was an obscure video on YouTube that we swore was an elaborate hoax. Now, [Matthias] tell us it’s getting its third major upgrade, and it is really starting to resemble a commercial project. The video features the new prototype case for the Retrode II, which has been 3d printed. The fact that such advanced protyping facilities are availavble to the common hacker is just incredible.  The new Retrode II will have ports built in so SEGA and SNES controllers can be plugged in. Since its launch the community has been collaborating to build plug-in boards allowing people to play Virtual Boy, Atari 2600, GBx, Turbografix-16, Neo Geo Pocket, and even N-64 cartridges directly from the cartridge on their computers. Very Cool.

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Snega2usb Changes Name, Learns New Tricks

[Matthias Hullin], the creator of the snega2usb let us know that its name has been changed to the Retrode. We watched this device go through the development cycle and learn to read SNES and Sega Genesis cartridges via a USB connection. Now it’s seeing some hacking to extend those capabilities. [Jon] managed to rig the Retrode up to read Virtual Boy cartridges. The Virtual Boy was a Nintendo console from the mid ’90s that used two different screens in a glasses format to produce a 3D gaming experience. Now that the cartridges can be easily dumped you have a chance to replay the titles using an emulator.