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DIY Single-Chip 2D Retro Game Console (voja.rs)
128 points by 0xmarcin 32 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 26 comments

Very cool.

It's interesting to me that while some of these microcontroller chips (fast enough to do vga) have been around 15 years or so, it's only in the last 5 years or so that people have figured out how to bitbang pretty decent vga output from them.

And now that we have 100Mhz+ microcontrollers people are making really simple devices that take advantage of it. I was pretty impressed with this $11 ESP32 gadget that replicates what an old VT100 would do, but with vga output and a ps/2 keyboard. It also does retro games: https://www.tindie.com/products/ttgo/lilygor-ttgo-vga32_v14-...

May I also mention my similar project https://github.com/makapuf/bitbox ? Its been a while I started and worked on it for a while. I'm considering re starting doing games on it. Maybe in rust? Could be fun!

I'm also thinking about a simpler / cheaper version. Still vga, 12bpp, maybe no sd card (complex code, complex to solder, few reasons to use it), cheaper/smaller, maybe single usb or classic nes (super simple to interface with)

Very neat! Reminds me a bit of the Basic Engine[0], which is similar in the sense that it is also a DIY ultra low-cost computer. This looks a bit more involved than that project though, since there is a lot of custom hardware involved.

Beyond that I guess the main limitation these days would be to find a VGA monitor


Huh? This (the TFA, the "Single-chip 2D Retro Game Console") is single-chip, all the work is done in software on a PIC microcontroller with 48 KB RAM. This includes generating 16-color VGA-compatible video, with sprites, and 5 channels of sound.

The Basic Engine is based on the 8266 (4 MB of flash) and has a separate hardware video controller chip, plus an I/O expander so at least three chips. It has way more "custom hardware" than the TFA's board.

My bad, my initial assessment was in terms of "how much of this is off-the-shelf and how much of this requires hardware customization". I had the mistaken impression that the basic engine didn't need a custom PCB, and other than that they both seemed to use off-the-shelf components. So in that sense I thought this required "more" customization (even though, as you mentioned, the basic engine requires more hardware). But I was wrong about that too, so either way you're right[0].

[0] https://basicengine.org/hardware.html

This is similar to the Uzebox, which also uses a single microcontroller and full software video signal generation.


I don't know about you but I find limited 2D video games .. more games. Nostalgia, and emotional biases asides, there's a thing about the naked abstract nature of these that appeals to the remains of my soul.

Because it draws on your imagination and creativity more vs being told this world exists like so with games nowadays.

Also because the pattern of the game is more visible and easier to grasp and also easier to asses whether you find the logic of the game compelling or not. And that combined with some creativity can take your mind/imagination somewhere else. Games which are immediate depictions of reality or very detailed kind of keep you right there, there's too much going on to give the imagination some leeway. The same is true for films, music, etc.

I stopped gaming ages ago but the few I see in videos or at family reunions bores me to death. The immense landscapes and rendering gives you basically the same amount of control as zelda III (I'm exagerating). It doesn't stimulate you much more if at all.

I stopped playing gaming as well except for simple logic games (chess, board games, word games, puzzles etc), but did play with some younger friends a few games a while back and while fun they got boring pretty fast and didn't feel compelled to play again. We played a game called Halo, it's a very immersive game and it is well made but it did not engage creatively at all. You have to shoot one another, that is the main premise of the game but it surely gets complex, you have some missions, etc. The patters of the game is the same with other modern action games - the shoot to kill type of game only what's changed is the decorum, weapons, characters, but it's the same recycled idea over and over. I found games that break that paradigm rarer. Anyways I'm not willing to sink hours into video games, life is short after all

Halo is old already, but this line of games seems very similar. My cousin made me play something quite recent (CoD or something like that) and it was a more action paced Counter Strike without all the finesse. Something is lost in that generation.

Yes, last time I played that type of game was 10 years ago. I've seen the new call of duty you mentioned and while it's realistic I don't find it too interesting. Sure, it may be used for training for soldiers or something, that type of simulator has good use cases but it leaves me cold.

I think it's more than that. The abstract nature allows for higher information density. The more you depict reality, the more you are constrained by the real world.

To take the game from the article as an example. http://www.voja.rs/PROJECTS/GAME_HTM/screen1.jpg This one screen depicts seven floors and a bunch of objects. You can see a lot of things well before you need to interact with them. A lot of 3d views limit the scope of what you can see so that the game becomes 'Here's a thing, deal with it! Here's three more things, deal with them! Here's another...'

There's also a bit of a disconnect between the visuals and reality of a lot of modern games. When everything looks near photo realistic, you expect to be able to walk through that gap in those rocks over there, but actually your hitbox is a little large and you won't fit. You don't get those ambiguities so much in 2D. Partially because of the abstract nature makes traversable/non-traversable quite distinct, but also because the view you are seeing will have been seen by the level creator. Arbitrary points of view allow you to look at a game in a way the creator didn't and can potentially expose missed details.

I think some of the changes are just styles of design that have drifted over the years, some of those may have been driven by technical issues but now exist on their own. For instance early 3D games had much lower frame-rates which mandated a type of gameplay. Those limitations are now gone, but I think it left a lasting effect on the style of game that people made.

> I think it's more than that. The abstract nature allows for higher information density. The more you depict reality, the more you are constrained by the real world.

I guess that is why Lego and Minecraft are fantastic.

I like computer games too they are good to play

It reminds me of Pico-8. Albeit it being a virtual retro console it does encourage building games that have certain limitations. Some of the games, such as Pico Tennis, are very fun to play in the browser on a phone even.


This is exactly the kind of project I was looking for to try out my idea of an alternate palette to the standard RGBI


The era-appropriate rendition of Golden Brown during the game is a lovely touch, all coming out of a bit-banged resistor ladder! It's a shame game development on this platform seems to also require era-appropriate levels of concentration. That's a device to be proud of.

This is similar to my project: http://www.dodolabs.io/ Which is a retro 6502 portable game console.

Voja Antonic, creator of this project, is also creator of the first widely built and used personal computer in SFRJ (Yugoslavia in communist period) named Galaksija, back in 1983. The very first computer magazine there printed complete manual how to build it in its first issue, and so triggered personal computer revolution.

Site looks to be down. Is there a mirror somewhere?

Neat, the Sinclair ZX80/81 had also largely software based video generation, that on the ZX80 had the unfortunate side effect of the screen flickering while typing since both reading input and generating the video signal was too much for the poor machine. What a long way we have come...

Jumping Jack, one of my first Speccy games.

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