Autumnal OutRun

Another recent car boot find costing £2, a 1986 tabletop #OutRun game (or what’s left of it). This thing is absolutely trashed cosmetically, but has a strong look and an absolute ton of potential.

The main controls are a start button, high-low shifter on the left and that cool wheel. Amazingly it still kind of works, it chirps into life with a few beeps and bloops when you press the button and the LCD screen still partly shows the iconic OutRun car you’d control.

To be honest it was only when I took the LCD closeup pic today and saw the car that I realised it was an OutRun game, from there looking closely at the remaining sticker on the wheel I could just make out “Run”, confirming my hopes.

This would have been a really cool game at the time, and after researching what it looked like originally it’s accelerated quickly from the “to do” shelf onto the workbench.

And here it is in the 1989 Argos catalogue:

The thing is I just loved OutRun as a teenager, both in the arcades and on my Spectrum, playing Forza Horizon 4 with the kids yesterday really reminded me of those days. And oddly enough the cassette I used as a base for the “Old Tech. New Spec” branding is my very own original copy.

So here’s the plan.

  • Have it apart and figure out how the original controls work
  • Get the controls working with RetroPie
  • Possibly install an Adafruit Joy Bonnet in the centre of the wheel (to allow other games to be played, Mario Kart 64 runs great on a Pi 3 Model B+)
  • Install a 5″ 4:3 LCD TV in place of the existing LCD screen
  • Make some new bodywork, wheels etc and paint the whole thing, making some decals like the original.

It’ll be a decent-sized project but fun to build and well worth it to have my own unique bar-top OutRun game. Stay tuned for updates!

Sunday Roasted

Back in the summer heatwave I picked up this roasted old game console at the car boot for £3 – it’s an Interton VC 4000, an early German-made 8-bit cartridge  system from way back in 1978.

There’s not much left of it, but it was fascinating to read up on its history – it looks like 40 separate games were available, and each of them had multiple variations. Obviously with the limited graphics you’d have to use your imagination a bit for titles like Winter Sports and Outer Space Combat.

What really attracted me to the piece though was that analogue controller, with its tactile joystick and 14 buttons. Some of the games at the time included a cardboard overlay you’d put over the buttons, which I really like the idea of – and that explains why they don’t have any obvious markings.

I learned more about this old console from VectrexRoli’s Youtube Video  – he gives a tour of the features and some of the games, with a working console and a charming Austrian accent.

The joystick feels like one you’d see on an R/C plane controller, and with so many button options I think this would be ideal for controlling a Pi-based robot, ideally via bluetooth. It’s in stasis on the “to do” shelf for now until the right project comes along.

Our #RaspberryFields Experience

We had an absolute blast at Raspberry Fields last weekend, the whole family helped out with our show & tell stand and we came away truly inspired!

We weren’t sure what to expect but it was really welcoming and organised, especially the stamp trail which everyone enjoyed (while I was manning the stall, no Pi keyring 🙁 for me).  It’s the busiest Pi event I’ve attended so far, and speaking to so many people from all over the world it struck us that the Pi community is universally friendly and fantastically diverse.

 

Smile? It’s too hot to smile!

It was very warm in the Junction but even hotter outside to be fair, thankfully ice creams were readily available!  We took along the Alexaphone, Google Pi Intercom, Pi VCR, Kodak Pi, Info-TV and of course the freshly-named (and not yet documented) “Rabbit Ears of Doom” game, made from junk specially for the weekend. Despite the heat the projects worked well and didn’t catch fire as I’d feared, though the Intercom struggled with all the background noise and the Alexaphone was stricken with fatigue towards the end of Sunday. We didn’t use the siren much on the rabbit ears game as it startled people (as designed) and it was too dark to use the LCD Glasses, but we had a lot of fun with it.

So far so good.

I didn’t get much time to look around or attend many of the talks but saw a wild variety of amazing things, all with a Pi inside somewhere. The kids did it all though – I’d not expected them to last beyond lunchtime but they were sucked in and had a crack at absolutely everything, merrily gathering stickers as they went.

We all loved the super-artistic body painting, were fascinated by the potential of Museum in a Box and got to watch Cubert2.0 in glowing action all weekend as Lorraine Underwood had the stand next door to ours. And of course the lighthouse umbrella thing. It’s hard to shout-out all of our favourite displays & activities as it was all so good and people had obviously thrown a a lot of passion and time into preparing them.

The extended family

Among my personal highlights was showing numerous children which way up to hold a 70s trimphone and explaining what “hang up” meant, while waxing nostalgic and generally geeking out with the adults. I’m really pleased we stayed for the end-of-day shows too, Ada.Ada.Ada was genuinely inspiring and I was so glad my daughter got to see it. Brainiac Live was also brilliant and finished of the weekend perfectly (i.e. with an exploding microwave).

Sunday Setting Up

I did a quick lightning talk about upcycling old tech with the Pi on the Sunday, which went OK but I’m sure I went over my allocated time – I did get to see the other lightning talks though, enjoyed hearing all about the Mars-A project and the use of banks as cultural spaces in South Korea.

Bit far away from the microphone there. Photo by Paul Knighton.

We were all pretty worn out by the end of Sunday but it was an amazing & rewarding weekend, we’re still counting stickers and thinking about what to make with our swag and the booty I picked up from Pimoroni. Can’t wait for the next one, though I must remember to bring more business cards and stickers. General dump of photos below, I didn’t take many pics as the projects were all tethered to my phone’s wifi hotspot and I didn’t dare move it too far!

Kodak Pi in action. Photo by Izzy Bartley
Show us the shark!
A proper coding laptop
“You’re sure you want a hedgehog?”
Which way is the ice cream?
Quick get a picture while it’s all still working.

 

 

 

 

The Game: Basic Testing

Thanks to the GPIO planning and sticky labels it was straightforward to connect all of the prepared components to the Pi, though I still needed to use tweezers, that header is pretty crowded!

With all of the components connected I created several simple Python scripts to test the inputs and outputs and even managed to have a quick test of the game. This was a really nervous moment as I’d never tested the hook’s connection to the Rabbit Ears, but amazingly it worked fine. For fun I added in some of the Piezo buzzer sound effects and finally tried the game out for real – it was difficult and fun, just as I’d hoped!

Once the project is completed all of the code and documents will be shared on GitHub, for now it needs a lot of fine tuning to bring all of the elements together.

Now that the components are all ready and we know they (mostly) work, finishing off the case build and decoration is next. Once the cosmetics are done we get to the most exciting part, final assembly!

Project updates so far:

1: LCD Shutters
2: LCD Glasses
3: TV Teardown
4: Screen Cuts
5: Screen Test
6: Remote Working
7: Rabbit Ears
8: A Concept but No Name
9: Case Mods
10: GPIO Planning

The Game: GPIO Planning

Once all of the components of the game had been soldered up or built it struck me how complex this thing had become. There were literally too many parts to hold in my head at once, so I decided to make a proper plan for how they would fit together.

I found it easiest to map out all of the inputs and outputs in a spreadsheet, working them out alongside a GPIO pinout diagram to try and ensure the connections would be as straightforward as possible.

I don’t normally go to this much effort when putting a project together as it’s the exciting part, but in this case it was really worthwhile and helped wrap my head around the 20 separate GPIO connections. It also highlighted that I needed two more 3.3v pins than were available, so I quickly soldered up a splitter to make this work.

Next I snipped up some old A4 sheets of CD labels (when did I last burn a CD?) and made sticky indicators for each cable, again to make the complicated wiring a bit more logical.

As well as helping with the wiring the spreadsheet should be a really handy guide when developing the code for the gameplay – I really wish I’d done this on some of my previous projects as their connections are a total mystery!

Next time we’ll be putting the components together and coming up with some basic code for testing.

It makes me very nervous that I don’t yet know whether the current will carry properly enough through the hook remote and rabbit ears for the Pi to detect it, but I guess we’ll find out!

Project updates so far:

1: LCD Shutters
2: LCD Glasses
3: TV Teardown
4: Screen Cuts
5: Screen Test
6: Remote Working
7: Rabbit Ears
8: A Concept but No Name
9: Case Mods

 

The Game: Case Mods

The game is coming together, all of the individual components are now built and it’s time to (hopefully) fit them into the TV case.

The case didn’t need too much work, just some holes in the top for the Rabbit Ears and associated cables, along with a big hole to fit the webcam.

At the rear of the case I needed to make sure a USB power cable would fit through for the Pi, and then had the thought to include an HDMI adaptor. This turned out to be a great idea, as it meant that I could theoretically finish the hardware side of the build, but still plug the completed TV into a monitor to fine tune the code.

A short male-to-female HDMI extension (from a 1st gen chromecast) was the ideal fit, exposing the socket through the rear of the case.

This helpfully dictated the placement of the Pi, and with a bit more drilling all of the necessary mounting holes were done.

With the case all ready the next step was to test fit all of the components, and then write some basic code to test the functions.

Project updates so far:

1: LCD Shutters
2: LCD Glasses
3: TV Teardown
4: Screen Cuts
5: Screen Test
6: Remote Working
7: Rabbit Ears
8: A Concept but No Name

Prep for #RaspberryFields

It’s less than a month to Raspberry Fields and we’re trying to get organised early to save a last minute panic!

After picking up an old TV turntable at the car boot at the weekend the Pi VCR is ready for show-and-tell time, but will it still work 3 years on?

Cards and stickers have also arrived, the kids are very excited about dishing these out, not sure we’ll have enough so come and get one early if you want one!

Showing the Google Pi Intercom and ’75 Info-TV is challenging as they’re both wall-mounted, so I’ve slung together a display stand out of scrap wood, including an illuminated Old Tech New Spec sign (currently taking up lounge space).

We’re super-excited to be a small part of this event and hope to see you there.

The Game: A Concept but No Name

I’ve posted several updates on “The Game” but haven’t really explained what it is – that’s because until last week I wasn’t sure it would even work!

The original concept came to me when I was hanging out with Ken the vet at the Progress Bar. We were looking through some unused Pi accessories and

kicking ideas around, and came to the LCD Shutters.  We got onto discussing those awful (but popular!) “impairment” games like “Say it Don’t Spray It” and thought the LCD shutters could work in the same way, in that you have to perform a task but all the time you’re doing it the LCD glasses are messing with your vision and making it difficult.

From there I started thinking about what the game could be, and remembered the fun we had with the 12v siren a few weeks earlier.  The siren had to be a part of it, but how to make it with vintage tech? The next idea was to embed the siren in an old TV, and use the TV aerial to make one of those “bendy wire” games. And so the concept was born!

So the idea is that the old TV will have the siren poking out from its screen, the aerial will be a bendy wire maze and the controller will be an old corded remote control. As you try to negotiate the wire with the hook the glasses will randomly go opaque, making it difficult, and if you touch the wire the siren will blow, which is itself startling enough to really put you off.

So that’s the plan – a traditional bendy wire maze game, but with more peril because of the siren, and more difficulty because of the LCD Glasses. Hopefully the aerial will also be adjustable so that you can have different skill levels. I also plan to include some LEDs to light the screen in different colours during gameplay, and also integrate some sound effects. Ideally it will also take a photo of the “Winner” and upload it to Twitter, but that may be a step too far.

I hope to have it at least partly ready in time to take it to Raspberry Fields, but with less than a month to go this could be a tall order! At some point I also need to think of a good name for it. Stay tuned for further updates.

Project updates so far:

1: LCD Shutters
2: LCD Glasses
3: TV Teardown
4: Screen Cuts
5: Screen Test
6: Remote Working
7: Rabbit Ears

Once complete there will be a full YouTube video so you can follow along and make your own!

The Game: Rabbit Ears

This Pi-based game is coming together nicely, the hook remote went just as planned so Rabbit Ears are next. To be honest I put this part off as long as possible as there was a lot of potential for disaster.

I’ll cover the concept of the game in a bit more detail next time, but suffice it to say that a critical component is a TV aerial, bent up to form a kind of maze to negotiate with the hook remote.

Bending a TV aerial into a nice stable shape is much trickier than it sounds! The connections between the sections are pretty fragile, and even after heating the chrome tube is liable to kink when you bend it, leaving a really weak joint.

Several tests and destroyed aerials later I came across a solution- keep the design simple and make a smooth curve by “nipping” the aerial in multiple places with needlenose pliers. This gave much more control over the bend and I was able to replicate the same curve in both “ears”.  You’ll see when the video is released that this was quite a tense moment!

With the ears in good shape they then needed to be wired to a cable for connection to the Pi, which was straightforward as I just re-used the existing screw connectors.

Next I re-used the tip of one of the aerials I destroyed in testing to make a “Finish” button, wired to a different GPIO pin on the Pi. Now that the project is beyond the “danger zone” I’ll look at the overall concept in the next post.

Project updates so far:

1: LCD Shutters
2: LCD Glasses
3: TV Teardown
4: Screen Cuts
5: Screen Test
6: Remote Working

Once complete there will be a full YouTube video so you can follow along and make your own!

A Blast from the Past

Not a bad car boot last weekend, lots of sellers and not too many gawkers, which is how we like it. We scored some Old Tech on the very first stall, first a vintage Screen Pointer for £1, very similar to the one we picked up a few weeks ago, which will make a nice little project in the future.

The standout find though was an early 1980s personal stereo, a Saisho PS-121. It also set me back £1 and is almost identical to the first one I owned. Back in 1984 I went on my first “big” school trip to Paris – a not inconsiderable 23 hour coach trip from Newcastle. With the growing popularity of personal stereos the school suggested that we all bring one along, to help keep us entertained on the journey.

Of course Paris was the ideal place to expand my tape collection, and I picked up a couple of Jean Michel Jarre cassettes (french versions, ooh la la!) while we were there, listening to them throughout the trip. It was really nostalgic to dig out the original tape and give it a play (amazingly the stereo works perfectly), sounding even better through the Walkman headphones I snagged a few weeks ago.

As we left the sale I spotted a pretty old TV Turntable, which I’ve been after for a while – I need to present the Raspberry Pi VCR at the upcoming Raspberry Fields event, but it’s really tricky as it weighs a ton and has both a screen on the back and controls on the front – this turntable will hopefully make things much easier!