Microsoft’s new Xbox Series X, formerly known as Project Scarlet, is slated for release in the holiday period of 2020. Like any new console release, it promises better graphics, more immersive gameplay, and all manner of other superlatives in the press releases. In a sharp change from previous generations, however, suddenly everybody is talking about FLOPS. Let’s dive in and explore what this means, and what bearing it has on performance.
We’re going to go out on a limb here and say that the controller for Steel Battalion on the original Xbox is the most impressive video game peripheral ever made. Designed to make players feel like they were really in the cockpit of a “Vertical Tank”, the controller features dual control sticks, three pedals, a gear selector, and dozens of buttons, switches, and knobs. Unfortunately, outside of playing Steel Battalion and its sequel, there’s not a whole lot you can do with the monstrous control deck.
But now, nearly 20 years after the game released, [Oscar Sebio Cajaraville] has not only developed an open source driver that will allow you to use the infamous mech controller on a modern Windows machine, but he’s part of the team developing a new game that can actually be played with it. Though gamers who are imagining piloting a futuristic combat robot in glorious 4K might be somewhat disappointed to find that this time around, the Steel Battalion controller is being used to operate a piece of construction equipment.
In his blog post, [Oscar] focuses on what it took to develop a modern Windows driver for a decades old controller. It helps that the original Xbox used what was essentially just a rewiring of USB 1.0 for its controllers, so connecting it up didn’t require any special hardware. Unfortunately, while the controller used USB to communicate with the console, it was not USB-HID compliant.
As it turns out, Microsoft actually provides an open source example driver that’s specifically designed to adapt non-HID USB devices into a proper game controller the system will recognize. This gave [Oscar] a perfect starting point, but he still needed to explore the controller’s endpoints and decode the data it was sending over the wire. This involved creating a HID Report Descriptor for the controller, a neat trick to file away mentally if you’ve ever got to talk to an oddball USB device.
In the end, [Oscar] created a driver that allows players to use the Steel Battalion controller in his game, BH Trials. Unfortunately there’s something of a catch, as drivers need to be signed by a trusted certification authority before Windows 10 will install them. As he can’t quite justify the expense of this step, he’s written a second post that details what’s required to turn driver signing off so you can get the device working.
Earlier this year we saw an incredible simulator built around the Steel Battalion controller, were an external “coach” could watch you play and give you tips on surviving the virtual battlefield. But even that project still used the original game; hopefully an open source driver that will get this peripheral working on Microsoft’s latest OS will help spur the development of even more impressive hacks.
Steel Battalion was released for the Xbox in 2002, and remains one of the most hardcore mech simulators of all time. It became legendary for its huge twin-stick controller covered in buttons, and for deleting your save game if you failed to eject in time. It took giant robot gaming to a new level, but fundamentally, you were still playing in front of a TV at home. Things really got serious in 2015, with the completion of the Big Steel Battalion Box – the battlemech cockpit of your dreams.
If you’re thinking this is just a television in a dark room with some stickers, you’d be very wrong. The Imgur thread covers the build process, and it’s one heck of a ride. Things started with a custom cabinet being built, intentionally sized to induce claustrophobia. There’s a swivelling seat with a 4-point harness, and a hatch to seal the player inside. During initial testing of the box to determine how dark it was, one of the makers was trapped inside and had to call for help. That should highlight how serious the build really is.
The controller was modified and hooked up to custom electronics to add realistic effects. Get hit? Feel the seat rumble thanks to motors and a subwoofer in the base. Mech terminally damaged? The entire cockpit is bathed in flashing red light. There’s even smoke effects rigged up to make things even more stressful during battle.
The entire setup is connected to the outside world, where a coach can view the action inside through a video feed from the Xbox and several internal cameras. A basic manual is provided to help the coach keep the player alive during their first moments of combat. This is courtesy of a custom intercom setup, built using surplus Chinese aviation headsets. There’s even a red telephone to give that authentic military feel.
It’s a build that covers just about every detail you could think of. If you’re keen to try it out, it’s on permanent loan to The Museum of Art And Digital Entertainment in Oakland, California. It recalls memories of a similar build created to play Artemis. Video after the break.
Microsoft’s original Xbox was regarded curiously by gamers and the press alike at launch. It was bigger, bulkier, and featured an eldritch monstrosity as its original controller. Thankfully, Microsoft saw fit to improve things later in the console’s lifespan with the Controller S, but nothing quite compares to the simple glory of the Xbox 360 controller. Now, there’s a way to use one on your original Xbox.
This project is the work of [Ryzee119], who previously adapted the controller for use with the Nintendo 64. An Arduino Pro Micro, acting as a master controller, talks to a MAX3421 USB host controller, which interfaces with an Xbox 360 wireless receiver, either genuine or third-party. The Arduino reads the data from the wireless receiver and then emulates a standard controller to the original Xbox. The system can handle up to four players on wireless 360 controllers, requiring an extra Arduino per controller to act in slave mode and emulate the signals to the original Xbox. In testing, lag appears roughly comparable with an original wired controller. This is a particularly important consideration for fast-paced action games or anything rhythm based.
It’s a well executed, fully featured project that should improve your weekly Halo 2 LAN parties immensely. No more shall Greg trip over a controller cable, spilling Doritos and Mountain Dew on your shagpile carpeting. Video after the break.
[Thanks to DJ Biohazard for the tip!]
The original Xbox launched way back in 2001, to much fanfare. This was Microsoft’s big first entry into the console market, with a machine packing a Pentium III CPU, and commodity PC hardware, contributing significantly to its bulk. Modding was a major part of the early Xbox scene, and as the original hardware has grown too feeble to keep up with modern tasks, enterprising makers have instead turned to packing the black box with modern hardware. The team at [Linus Tech Tips] decided that other builds out there weren’t serious enough, and decided to take things up a notch.
The build starts with a passively cooled compact power supply, a Core i5 8400 6-core CPU, and a GeForce RTX2070 to handle graphical tasks. Parts were carefully selected for a combination of performance, packaging, and with an eye to the thermal limits inherent in stuffing high-powered modern hardware into a tight Xbox shell.
All manner of oddball techniques are used to make the build happen. The GPU is connected through a PCI Express cable, which we were surprised to learn was a thing, given the nature of high-speed signals and long transmission lines. The Xbox shell had its original metal insert and plastic standoffs removed, with an aluminium inner shell being CNC cut and bent up on a pan brake to act as a new internal chassis. There’s yet more carnage to come, as the GPU has its extraneous DVI port hacked off with a grinding wheel.
In the end, after much cutting and cajoling, the parts come together and fit inside the case, making the sleeper build a reality. It’s fun to watch the team fiddle with config files and struggle to load and play local multiplayer games, as they realise that there are just some things that consoles do better.
Regardless, it’s an impressive casemod that goes to show what you can pull off with some off-the-shelf parts, a well-stocked workshop, and some ingenuity. If you’re looking for more case mod inspiration, try out this all-in-one printer build. Video after the break.
[Thanks to Keith O for the tip!]
The millennium: a term that few had any use for before 1999, yet seemingly overnight it was everywhere. The turning of the millenium permeated every facet of pop culture. Unconventional popstars like Moby supplied electronica to the mainstream airwaves while audiences contemplated whether computers were the true enemy after seeing The Matrix. We were torn between anxiety — the impending Y2K bug bringing the end of civilization that Prince prophesied — and anticipation: the forthcoming release of the PlayStation 2.
Sony was poised to take control of the videogame console market once again. They had already sold more units of the original PlayStation than all of their competition combined. Their heavy cloud of influence over gamers meant that the next generation of games wasn’t going to start in until the PS2 was on store shelves. On the tail of Sony announcing the technical specs on their machine, rumors of a new competitor entering the “console wars” began to spread. That new competitor was Microsoft, an American company playing in a Japanese company’s game.
Continue reading “How The Xbox Was Hacked”
Now that we’re far enough into the next generation of home video game consoles that we can’t really keep calling them that anymore, yard sales are sure to be full of lonely Xbox 360s and PS3s that have been put out to pasture. You’ll probably even find a Wii U or two out there that somebody accidentally purchased. This is great for hackers who like cramming new electronics into outdated consumer gear, and accordingly, we’re starting to see the fruits of that generational shift.
Case in point, this Xbox 360 which has been transformed into a “Steam Box” by [Pedro Mateus]. He figured the Xbox 360 was the proper size to fit a full PC plus PSU, while still looking contemporary enough that it won’t seem out of place in the entertainment center. Running SteamOS on Fedora 28, it even offers a traditional game console experience and user interface, despite the decidedly PC internals.
On the outside, the only thing that really gives away this particular Xbox’s new lease on life (when the purple LEDs are off, anyway) is the laser cut acrylic Steam logo on the top that serves as a grill for the internal CPU cooler. Ironically, [Pedro] did spray the Xbox white instead of just starting with a black one, but otherwise, there wasn’t much external modification necessary. Inside, of course, is a very different story.
It’s packing an AMD Ryzen 5 2400G processor with Radeon RX Vega 11GPU and 8GB of Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 3200MHz RAM. Power is provided by a Seasonic SS-300TFX 300W, and a Noctua NH-L9a-AM4 keeps the system cool. Even with all that gear in there, the thing is probably still quieter than the stock Xbox 360.
[Pedro] helpfully provides quite a few benchmarks for those wondering how this hacked-up Xbox fares against a more traditional gaming setup, though peak performance was obviously not the goal here. If you’ve got 45 minutes or so to spare, you should check out the video he’s put together after the break, which goes over the machine’s construction.
We’ve seen it done with the original Xbox, and now the Xbox 360. Who will be the first to send in their build that guts a current-generation Xbox and turns it into a PC for Internet fame?
[Thanks to Mike for the tip.]