Half-Byte’s handheld and more

Windows Phone 038In previous posts, I’ve written about developing a handheld gaming console.  While it is not yet complete, the console now has a case and a controller.  Finishing touches to the hardware will include a new bezel, battery compartment and screen mount.  I used an original Gameboy case from 1989. Don’t worry, nothing has been cut and I kept the electronics.  I got it off of eBay for about four dollars. It was as a broken unit, though the seller says it did work ‘once in a while.’ I purposefully bought a broken unit as I could not bring myself to rip apart a working Gameboy.

When the unit arrived, it was well worn, so I cleaned it up, dismantled it and painted it metallic black.  Finding Testors model car paint locally was as hard as finding the micro female HDMI connector for my Raspberry PI Laptop. I also clear coated the case once the paint had dried.Windows Phone 008

Fitting the handheld in the unit was a bit tricky, but it does fit, although I have to do some work with the screen mounting.   I was also able to use the d-pad and one of the two red buttons. The other three buttons will be either for expansion or, likely, I’ll just fix them in place for looks. Not sure yet.

The result is going to be pretty nice, albeit large for today.  I knew the old Gameboy was huge, but I forgot just how big they were. The main board uses surface mount parts, which kind of surprised me. I know the original device was based on the Zilog Z-80, but, looking at the board, there is a custom Nintendo CPU chip. I’m guessing it has a complete Z-80 as well as whatever custom pieces parts that Nintendo put in. At any rate, it is the perfect size for the somewhat retro handheld that is going in the case.

WP_20131219_001The specs for the handheld are, indeed, retro: 2K of RAM, 8K of ROM, 84 by 48 monochrome graphics, a vintage ‘90s cell phone screen, vintage ‘80s case…Mario style side scroller game.

When test fitting the two boards in the case, I realized that my custom controller almost fit the button layout. Only one button needed to be moved and that was the action button. So, rather than desoldering the existing button, I cheated and added a separate button and mounted it so it was under the ‘A’ button. I reused the speaker that came with the Gameboy, since it fits perfectly. I have added a power switch and a reset button that is accessible through one of the small holes on the side of the case. Now, since the handheld will not have every connector and switch that the Gameboy had, there will be a few open holes on the side and bottom of the case. I may fill them but, will probably just leave them alone for now.  I do plan to upgrade the screen at some point, so I may revisit the holes then.

This project has inspired me to go a bit further and design something from scratch.  I have a PC Board designed and am building the prototype from that design. The board is a bare bones Arduino UNO without the expansion connectors. It will feature audio and video connectors, a Wii Nunchuk/Classic Controller connector, optional PS/2 keyboard connector and be based on the same Atmel328 processor that the UNO uses. The design is super simple and is designed for games and learning to program.  I am also considering the same treatment for the handheld. I have modified the Tiny Basic code to include things like primitive string handling, limited graphics and memory saving shortcuts for several statements and functions. There is also a beginner’s guide in the works.

Stay tuned for more on this.

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