2017
10.07

So 2017 it seems I’ve gone full Nintendo this isn’t something that’s happened since 2006-09 with the Wii/DS but yet again Nintendo found a way in. This time I’ll be speaking about the SNES classic and why it has managed to drag me in despite the fact that it is literally just a tiny ARM box with a rom carousel like I and everyone have been using for years now on the Pi.

Background for me and the SNES

For me the SNES was THE console of my youth, every generation has that console the one that *seems* to go on for decades and defines a good portion of your youth and friendships with others. Yes I know you’re saying “What about the NES”. I had (and still have) my NES and it was important too but I enjoyed a lot more games on SNES and it set up what genres I’d prefer going forward more than the NES so the SNES is it.

On September 29th 1992 my birthday I had asked everyone who was asking about gifts to give me $20. This seemed odd to most people but I explained it. I wanted a SNES and asking one person to buy it was too much so if everyone pitched in and I got to go buy it then it was like everyone got me a SNES. The plan worked and I had enough to buy the base system with one controller/no game. The first game I played/rented on it was Krustys Funhouse and the first game I actually owned was Sim City. The SNES had hit after hit after hit and there was never a shortage of games to try and it seemed to go on forever.

The SNES Classic comes along with 20 great games packed in, a tiny SNES shell,old fashion dog bone controllers and the release date was September 29th 25 years to the day of buying my first SNES. I had sold my original SNES when I was 15 to buy some parts for my new “console” a 90’s PC rig that needed a good sound card and CD-ROM. The only thing that saved my NES from being sold was that is was barely workable at the time (I fixed it in 2001). Since I still had my NES I wanted something to represent the SNES time of my youth and this was perfect to fit the role.

Getting one

I wasn’t able to get one launch day like many others but the sounds of the initial stock were much more promising than usual for Nintendo launch days. I kept an eye on NowInStock for the next week and the following Friday I was able to nab one from Walmart.ca. This is good news for anyone trying to get one it means Nintendo is continuing to populate stores with them compared to the nightmare of the NES classic last year.

SNES Classic review

As luck would have it my GF also picked one up in Simcoe  and brought it that same Friday so I got to try it without having to wait for mine to arrive. The system itself is absolutely tiny but it is a good replica of the original console. The power button slides up and clicks in place just as the original and the reset button has the same push up and release function. there is a red LED on the front of the system so when running it looks just like the original.

The shell has that same grainy plastic feeling as the original, it really feels like you’re holding a SNES…a tiny SNES.

The system comes with 2 SNES “dog bone” controllers and they have that same grainy feel on the casing. The buttons and directional pad feel like the original. I have used a couple brands of replica controllers in the past they do not replicate the feeling you get of holding a real Super Nintendo controller whereas these do.

Interface

The interface is very similar to Emulation Station with a carousel to select your game. There are a few display options available to adjust how the games are displayed with 4:3 being the default. I find 4:3 is bright and very pixelated it feels like you could count the pixels if you wanted. Pixel perfect renders it in the systems native resolution which looks odd to me as that was never how it was displayed. CRT emulation adds scaliness, this was the best mode. The colours and pixels just look better in this mode.

Issues

Cord length

Cords are still to short even though they’re better than the NES classic. There’s plenty of extenders for reasonable prices out there and I already ordered a set.

Phoney Port cover

I like that it makes the SNES classic look like a SNES when not in use but I bet by the 10th-20th time you pop it open it breaks off. Feels very flimsy

 

Overall

Yes a Pi does all this stuff but it’s still not an official Nintendo device and Nintendo did a great job of making this easy, fun and affordable. It looks like Nintendo wised up supply wise, Yes you still have to work to get them but you can actually get them. Nostalgia wise it perfectly fills the SNES gap in my games collection without having to spend the now ridiculous cart collecting prices that have popped up in recent years. If you loved SNES you’ll love this.

2017
08.08

I bought Splatoon 2 on launch day, I had never tried the original because I never had a Wii U so I wasn’t sure what to expect. It didn’t take long after going through the tutorial and playing some turf wars to become addicted to this seemingly harmless online shooter.

What makes this relevant to the topic is Nintendo decided to launch the initial offering of their future online services using this game which brings us to:

Nintendo Online app

I downloaded the app the first day to see what it did. It is a very plain screen with a brief helper on how to set up a lounge and an invitation list. At launch tapping Splatoon 2 icon seemed to do nothing which seemed odd. I set up a lounge fairly easily from within the game and then my phone popped up a notification and I opened it up. So far worked as expected even if it is a bit unusual to use the phone in this manner.

It did seem a bit odd to me that there was nothing else to go on but after being an avid Wii user long ago I wasn’t expecting much from Nintendo’s online attempts to begin with so I shrugged, closed the app and didn’t look at it again for almost a week.

Splatnet 2

About a week later I noticed a news item on the console for Splatnet 2, it may have become available sooner but I wasn’t paying attention much during the week. I followed the instructions in the article and found that all my stats and progression were available. Pretty cool.

You could also click share on pretty much every area of your game play. Also cool

So now Nintendo is showing their hand a bit more and I like what I see. This allows me to have a portable brag device to show off to any of my buddies or to share on Facebook to try and lure some competition into the game.

Another nifty feature is it seems to be able to “share” to any supported app on the platform, I was able to do Facebook, Twitter, Save to Photos and even shared it to a group on Whats App. If this is what they’re planning to do for other games I’m on board. I hope they add Mario Kart 8 and Street Fighter II to this service at some point as those are two other multiplayer games I play ranked on a regular basis.

One ask I do have is it would be nice if you could access your Switch screenshot gallery from the app to make sharing easier than the 1 at a time system that is available on the console.

Aside from the awkward voice chat set up which I don’t even care about anyways, Good job Nintendo, Splatnet 2 is a hit with me.

 

2016
10.16

I was reading the latest edition of MagPi last week and it was chock full of things I wanted to play with. The one thing that really caught my eye was Chromium with support for videos over the GPU.

I installed a fresh Raspian image from the foundation and dove into the new rebranded Pi desktop.

Pixel

Part of this launch was Pixel which is the Pi foundations attempt to add a branding face to the Pi desktop experience. This was a good idea because to be honest up until now the Pi desktop experience was something you’d want to avoid .

The theme is basic but refined and you get a nice boot screen instead of Linux text. You can also set it up to boot to log in screen instead of the usual boot to desktop. This isn’t a huge jump but it establishes a look and feel which was the intent.

Chromium

If you install the current Raspian image with Pixel your default browser is already Chromium without having to install anything because why bother refining the desktop if you still had those junky old browsers right? Chromium goes along perfectly with the new refined image the Pi foundation has started to put forward. Finally you have a browser that can do everything you expect to be able to do and not completely slaughter the system doing it.

Youtube

I was able to play youtube videos without much issue. I did notice going full screen still hits the system hard and it will start to stutter but just watching them as is without full screen has no problem.

Facebook

Facebook was torture trying to use on the Pi’s previous browsers but it works as expected even inline videos played. Facebook chat was also co operative on Chromium for Pi.

Twitter

Twitter performed very well considering it autoplays videos. I was concerned that would be an issue but it wasn’t

WordPress

I use wordpress obviously to make these posts and I am writing this post on my Pi 3 right now. This would have been completely impossible on previous Pi’s and browsers

So while full screen videos seemed to be a bit much this is still such a huge improvement in the Pi desktop front. I look forward to seeing where this goes as further refinements come forward. One thing is for sure, the Pi Desktop is here to stay.

 

2016
10.13

I built a Cupcade a little over a month ago and have been loving it but I am always tethered to the wall so I decided for my birthday to buy a Powerboost 1000c and see if I could go portable.

Powerboost 1000c

This little gadget from my favourite folks at Adafruit lets you plug a 3.7v battery into the device and power another device with it. It also will allow you to charge the battery and use the device simultaneously. Pretty cool

POC

I assembled the Powerboost as per the guide and plugged the battery in and hooked it to my Cupcade to see if the whole deal would work. I had overclocked my Pi so I was concerned the overvolt may make it not function however it worked without issue. I attached the battery to the back panel of the Cupcade facing inwards. My original plan for the Powerboost was to also have it on the inside with the charging plug facing out but physics and space came into play.

I ended up putting the Powerboost on the outward side of the back panel, It’s currently only temporarily held in place with double sided tape which I will replace with screws once I’m happy with the location. I used the smallest cable I had to go from the Powerboost to the Pi. It sticks out a little bit at the side however it isn’t causing any issues and still beats being tethered!

I recommend the Powerboost to anyone with a mobile project that needs battery power and charging it worked well and was incredibly easy to get running.

 

2016
09.08

My model B has been sitting mainly unused now for about 10 months since I got my 2 and then a 3 in the last year. It has been sitting on my desk in its shiny PiBow reminding me of yesteryear’s of tinkering and projects. I decided I needed to give it a purpose and since it was now 3 years old it had to be a good one.

Cupcade
The Adafruit cupcade was the perfect project for the task. Not only was it a challenging and potentially fun project but if successful it would mean this old gal would have a home that would attract the attention of anyone who saw it and lead to countless conversations about the coolness of the Pi.

My model B would LIVE again

The package arrived
This is the largest project I’ve undertaken so far with a lot of components that would need to be combined to make the final product I was a bit nervous after the package arrived.

First thing I did was download the prebuilt cupcade image and imaged the SD card with it. This was so I had a known good OS to test the hardware with before I started any assembly. I put the PiTFT onto the GPIO of the Pi and powered up the image.

No problem, screen came on and booted to gamera. The screen and Pi were good to go.

ElectronicsIMG_1863

I had my laptop with the assembly guide opened and my iron heated and just dove into it with the guide.

This was only my second significant project with a soldering iron the last being my bluetooth controller with the Bluefruit. That project I ran into may soldering challenges and it was not at all pretty but I did prevail in the end.

This time around I was handling the soldering much better. I wasn’t making perfect hershy kiss style joins yet but it was a vast improvement over the last attempt and I had no horrid cross connection blobs to deal with. Soldering went fairly quickly starting with the speaker, then the amp/button pcb and the thumb stick pcb.

IMG_1868

 

Dry run

This was it, did I do it right or did I have to troubleshoot my connections. Much to my surprise the whole system worked first try. The buttons responded, the screen turned on and the speaker also functioned very well. Onto the cabinet

 

Cabinet

The Adafruit cupcade cabinet is a wonderful micro cab but it is probably the most challenging part of the whole damn project. They very cleverly designed it so that the nuts just slot into the + cross joints and the bolt comes in from the adjoining panel to connect. The unfortunate part is you have to take your dry run apart completely then rebuild it as you assemble the case which caused some issues I’ll explain later on. Getting the first half of the cab on its side together was fairly easy getting the second half on required some balance and prayer. Leave one side a little bit loose so you can get the front, banner and back panels in then tighten the whole thing once all the pieces are in.

Problems!

So after all that I plug it in and nothing happened. I turned it off and then back on. Smelt terrible. Immediately off again. I laid the cab down on its side and took the one panel off. Everything looks ok. I look at my Pi cabling and compare it to a picture I took earlier. Pin 1 on the ribbon is in the wrong place!!!!

  • Swapped it
  • Powered it
  • Still starts (lucky)

Make sure you put your Pin 1 where it belongs!!! Good thing I took a picture of the working one…

Second problem, the game buttons and stick aren’t working now. The PCB wasn’t connected to the underneath of the PiTFT correctly. It took some time but I managed to get it seated correctly without having to take the whole thing apart again. This is why it is kinda of a bummer you have to take it all apart after the perfectly working dry run 😉

Now everything works so I put the cab back together and tightened the screws.IMG_1897

Software

The cupcade has its own image of Raspian Wheezy, retrogame, gamera, adv mame but the problem is that this is all seriously out of date and does things in not the best way anymore. Adafruit has several newer TFT guides that do screen accelerating with FBCP which means your software options are way more open that they used to be.

I updated the image to Jessie, downloaded Retropie 4’s setup script and installed the core packages, lr-quicknes, mame4all, lr-picodrive (genesis), lr-gambatte(gameboy), lr-beetle-pce-fast(tg16) and the pixel theme (looks the best)

I also installed and enabled the usb daemon so I could do hands free rom upload.

I overclocked the model B to 1GHZ with a 500mhz core. This allows for the widest possible emulation on this Pi.

Why FBCP?

Without it you would have to either pick portrait or landscape mode in the beginning of your build AND you would be very limited in what you could emulate since you’d be wasting a lot of cpu drawing by not making use of the PI’s GPU. With it I can run arcade games made upto the early 90’s and all the 8 and 16 bit era systems.

Gameplay

It’s surprisingly easy to get into playing on this and not even notice the size. Wrap your hands around the cab, thumbs on the stick and 2 buttons and it’s perfectly enjoyable and engaging. The mono speaker works very well and with Retropie you can control the volume from the emulationstation menu or Retropie Menu. The emulators above I specifically named because lr-mame4all proved to be a lot slower than stock mame4all and the other 2 NES emulators available were in fact slow on the model b (and probably a pi 0 too).

IMG_1876mame4all controls
If you use stock mame4all you’ll need to change the controls through mame you can do this by pressing [tab] when a game is running on an attached keyboard and selecting input general. You can navigate to each button you want press enter on the keyboard then hold the corresponding button on the cupcade until it shows up.

For UI exit you can mimic the emulationstation start+select by holding the 2 black buttons it will detect them both as a combo

 

 

The cupcade was a lot of fun to build and even more fun to play I recommend it to anyone with an old model B that needs a home.