Hacking Videogame Consoles – Overview

In addition to my book you can read through several of my more recent in-depth How-To’s on Engadget.com (Go there and search for “benjamin heckendorn”)

“Hacking Videogame Consoles” is a book that instructs you on taking your old videogame consoles (specifically, the Atari 2600, NES 8-bit, SNES 16-bit or PSone) and turning them into portable versions of themselves that play all the original game cartridges/discs. These new configurations include built-in screens, controls and rechargeable battery packs.

The basic steps involved in the process are:

  • Taking apart the original videogame console
  • Removing (via hacksaw, de-soldering and other methods) parts and sections of the motherboard that aren’t required, thus making it smaller and more portable.
  • Assembling encasements for the portables out of plastic, aluminum, acrylic or wood. These cases are either built by hand using printed templates (included) or by CNC (computer numerical controller) machinery. (More on this in the “Projects” page)
  • Disassembling a store-bought pocket TV (from Radio Shack, Circuit City etc) and modifying it to use white LED’s for illumination rather than its built-in bulb, thus saving power.
  • Wiring built-in controllers for the unit using PC boards (small blank circuit boards from Radio Shack) and some of the original controller parts. (such as plastic colored buttons and D-pads)
  • Installing all of the components, along with batteries, into the custom-built case and wiring it together.
  • Finally, playing your new game system portable anywhere!


Advantages in making your own portable:

  • Use your existing library of classic cartridges with it – or buy them from a used game store dirt cheap.
  • Breathe new life into a old favorite system from your childhood that’s now collecting dust in the closet along with the striped tube socks and corduroy jackets.
  • Share the classic consoles and games with a new generation of gamers (such as your kids) in an interesting and exciting way.
  • Show off your portable creation at work/school/North Pole Expedition and amaze everyone with your portable-building prowess!
  • An intererting “work bench” project/hack you can finish -because everything is already designed and thought out for you, along with troubleshooting!
  • Use techniques and information from the book to create your own custom portable projects of the systems.


“Hacking Videogame Consoles” also includes chapters on basic electronics, tools and soldering techniques, so when terms and procedures come up during the later project chapters you’ll be familiar with the terminology and what you’re being instructed to do.

 

Who this book is for

  • Videogame lovers
  • People wanting to relive and revive the classic gaming systems of their youth (Old Atari: RISE FROM YOUR GRAVE!)
  • Tinkerers wanting a cool project to work on
  • Those wanting a “Gameboy Alternative”

However, I wrote “Hacking Videogame Consoles” in such a way that pretty much anyone could use it to successfully complete the projects. This was done by having the book in 2 main parts:

Part I (Chapters 1-5) is a basic “boot camp” section of the book that covers things like:

  • Basic techniques, such as soldering and de-soldering, so you’ll be up to speed and ready when the time comes.
  • Any techno-babble terms – such as “potentiometer” – are defined before you’ll come across them during the projects.
  • An overview and description of each game system – so you’re familiar with them before hacking them up.

Covering these topics first allows Part 2 (Chapters 6-17) of the book to accomplish what it must do – make the portable projects themselves – without getting bogged down with the nitty gritty of basic steps and terms. This make the book accessible to a wider range of skill levels. That said, here are a few traits that will also help:

  • If you’ve ever built a model, installed a car stereo or soldering something you’ve already got a good grasp of the things you need to do.
  • Being good with your hands helps – for accurate soldering and cutting with X-Acto knives, cutters
  • Doing things such as hole-drilling or gluing accurately and close-up.
  • Reading and following diagrams / part placement lists. (However the book does not use schematics – instead it provides visual representations of what circuits should look like)

Also while working on your projects you can use the forums on the main www.benheck.com site to discuss projects, share ideas and check for assistance, FAQ’s and clues.

 

Chapter List

 

Part I – So You Want to Make a Portable Video Game System, Eh?

Chapter 1 – Choosing a Game Console to Make Portable

  • An overview and brief history of each of the systems covered by the book (Atari 2600, NES, SNES and PSone)
  • Benefits and challenges of making each system portable
  • Description of exact models of systems you need to use (since they sometimes vary) and the best places to locate old systems

Chapter 2 – Knowing Your Tools

  • Lists the tools you’ll need and how to use them. (A basic tool list is also provided under “Tools You’ll Need” on the overview menu)
  • Includes the usage of multimeters for testing purposes in portables

Chapter 3 – Learning Basic Electronics for Portables

  • Covers power regulators and battery types used to make portable devices
  • Overview of the basic components you’ll come across in the portable construction process
  • Includes a description of the “hi-tech” method I personally use to test and hack up new concept portables.

Chapter 4 – Hacking Pocket Televisions

  • An overview of pocket LCD-based televisions and the parts inside them
  • Detailed instructions on how to mod the 3″ Casio EV-680 model pocket TV with white LED’s for use with book’s projects (or your own projects)
  • Detailed instructions on how to mod the 5″ Sony PSone screen with white LED’s for use with book’s projects (or your own projects)
  • (See following Part II chapters to find out which portable projects use which screens)

Chapter 5 – Using Computerized Cutting Equipment

  • Description of what these machines are and how they can be used to make portables
  • Where to find such machines
  • The types of materials that can be cut by them and what materials work best with portables (Also pertains to hand-built projects)

Part II – Making Portable Game Consoles

Chapter 6 – Making Your Nintendo Entertainment System Portable

  • Taking apart the NES (to prepare it for the projects Chapters 7 and 8)
  • Identification of internal parts for later reference
  • Running it off batteries (basic “how-to” in case you want to design your own custom portable in the future)
  • Rebuilding controllers (basic “how-to” in case you want to design your own custom portable in the future)

Chapter 7 – Building a Portable Nintendo By Hand

  • Building the case
  • Installing the PSone screen, controller guts, NES motherboard and batteries
  • Wiring everything together and troubleshooting

Chapter 8 – Building a Portable Nintendo Using CNC Machinery

  • Getting the case parts cut and gluing/screwing them together
  • Installing the 3″ Casio screen, controller guts, NES motherboard and batteries
  • Wiring everything together and troubleshooting

Chapter 9 – Making Your Super Nintendo Entertainment System Portable

  • Taking apart the SNES (to prepare it for the projects Chapters 10 and 11)
  • Identification of internal parts for later reference
  • Running it off batteries
  • Rebuilding controllers

Chapter 10 – Building a Portable Super Nintendo By Hand

  • Cutting and assembling the case by hand
  • Installing the PSone screen, controller parts, SNES motherboard and batteries
  • Wiring everything together and troubleshooting

Chapter 11 – Building a Portable Super Nintendo Using CNC Machinery

  • Getting the case parts cut and gluing/screwing them together
  • Installing the 3″ Casio screen, controller guts, SNES motherboard and batteries
  • Wiring everything together and troubleshooting

Chapter 12 – Making Your Sony PSone Portable

  • Taking apart the PSone (to prepare it for the projects Chapters 13 and 14)
  • Identification of internal parts for later reference
  • Running it off batteries
  • Rebuilding controllers

Chapter 13 – Building a Portable Playstation 1 By Hand

  • Cutting and assembling the case by hand
  • Installing the PSone screen and controllers, installing the PSone motherboard and CD-ROM drive
  • Arranging the numerous wires and connections inside the unit
  • Wiring everything together and troubleshooting

Chapter 14 – Building a Portable Playstation 1 Using CNC Machinery

  • Getting the parts for the case cut and screwing/gluing them together
  • Installing the 3″ Casio screen, controls, Analog sticks, CD-ROM drive and PSone motherboard.
  • Extending the delicate 16-pin CD-ROM drive data cable
  • Wiring everything together and troubleshooting

Chapter 15 – Making Your Atari 2600 Portable

  • Taking apart the Atari 2600 4-swtich (to prepare it for the projects Chapters 16 and 17)
  • Identification of internal parts for later reference
  • Running it off batteries
  • Rebuilding controllers and paddles

Chapter 16 – Building a Portable Atari 2600 By Hand

  • Cutting and building the case by hand
  • Installing the hacked Atari 2600 motherboard, controls, paddle knob, 3″ Casio screen and batteries.
  • Wiring the unit and troubleshooting

Chapter 17 – Building a Portable Atari 2600 Using CNC Machinery

  • Getting the parts for the case cut and screwing/gluing them together
  • Installing the 3″ Casio screen, controls, paddle knob, analog stick from PSone Dual Shock controller, Atari 2600 motherboard and Player 2 port
  • Wiring the components to each other and troubleshooting

 

Tools You’ll Need

Electrical:

  • Soldering Iron – Pencil type (15 watt)
  • De-soldering Iron
  • Hot glue gun (Small “mini” type is best)
  • Electric drill and several sizes of small (1/4″ and under) bits
  • Multimeter for testing circuits (digital or analog – digital is best)

Hand tools:

  • Tweezers or thin needle-nose pliers (tweezers are better, and cheaper!)
  • Wire strippers
  • Standard cutters
  • X-Acto knives (small or large type)
  • Various screwdrivers
  • Pliers – fairly large, tough pair (for bending thin aluminum and cracking apart circuit boards)

Miscellaneous:

  • Superglue
  • Sandpaper
  • Velcro
  • Electric tape
  • Scotch tape
  • Computer capable of loading and printing either PDF or WMF files. (Mac or PC)
  • B&W (or color) printer that prints documents/graphics at their actual original size (most modern printers are fine, just check scaling and margin settings)
  • Connection to web to download support files and templates (if you’re reading this you’re probably OK on that one 🙂

The book contains detailed instructions as to the use and purpose of each tool. This list is intended as a basic overview, as the actual tools used in each project may vary.

Back to “Hacking Videogame Consoles” main page