2014-07-29

Co.Labs

How To Hack A New Brain For Your Old Game Boy With Raspberry Pi

Screw cartridges. Here's how to store your classic games right on the device.



A lot of us have old school Game Boys lying around, but even if they still work, they require hard-to-find game cartridges. Good news: The Internet is awash in projects that let you use a $40 Raspberry Pi and a game emulator to breathe new life into otherwise dust-covered gadgets of yesteryear. Here we outline three of them.

Fair warning: These types of DIY hardware projects aren't for the technically faint of heart--they frequently involve soldering, rewiring, and modifying the original plastic enclosures to accommodate new guts. But if that last sentence didn't freak you out, these mods can make for some weekend tinkering that will take care of the whole boredom thing a lot more constructively than Candy Crush ever could.

Bringing Your Old-School Game Boy Back To Life

If you keep an eye on Hacker News, you likely saw this gem bubble up the ranks last week. The Super Pi Boy project uses a Model B Raspberry Pi, broken Game Boy, printed circuit board (PCB) for controls, some new buttons, a 3.5-inch LCD screen, and a tiny audio amplifier.

With only a slight modification to the original Game Boy enclosure, it turns out the Raspberry Pi model B fits perfectly inside. To get the full sensory experience, the game audio comes through the amplifier, which is hooked up to the Pi and lives inside the Game Boy enclosure. Installing a backlit LED screen requires a little soldering and the controller board needs to be trimmed slightly, but it all fits. The whole thing is wired together and then powered by an external USB battery pack.

Like most video game hacks of this nature, the Super Bi Boy uses a video game emulator called RetroPi to run whatever games you want to play. In this particular mod, two additional buttons are added to the back of the Game Boy, so you're not strictly limited to the two-button gameplay of old school Game Boy games.

For detailed instructions and schematics, check out the Super Pi Boy website.

If you happen to have one of Nintendo's later, slimmer Game Boy Pocket handhelds lying around, don't worry: There's a Raspberry Pi mod for that, too. Despite the Game Boy Pocket's smaller size, the so-called Pi-Pocket mod manages to fit a Raspberry Pi Model B, lithium ion battery (to eliminate the need for AAA batteries), audio amplifier, and color LCD screen inside the device without any dramatic modifications to the original enclosure. Unlike the Super Pi Boy, this mod uses a Teensy 2.0 USB dev board to make the buttons work with the Raspberry Pi.

Since the Pi has more interfaces than are needed for this project, the mod involves removing a few ports from the device to save space. This, along with installing the new display, replacing the original Game Boy speaker and adding a more modern power source, involves a fair amount of soldering, hot gluing, wiring, and patience.

If you can't get your hands on an original Game Boy system of any kind, you can always just 3-D print your own enclosure. The maker learning hub Adafruit has a project detailing just such an endeavor. This particular project calls for a spare Super Nintendo controller, which is taken apart and used for its buttons.

Beyond that, the mod is comparable to the Super Pi Boy and Pi-Pocket projects in terms of its approach and complexity. If you have access to a 3-D printer and want to be able to say "I 3-D printed my own Game Boy" to people, check out the detailed instructions here.

If you're not a Nintendo devotee but still want in on the retro game-hacking glory, it's possible to pull off the same thing using a Sega Game Gear.

[Image: Flickr user Bryan Ochalla]




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