Allison Parrish's Customized Game Boy Pocket SP Is the Beautiful Nintendo Clamshell That Never Was

Cutting the motherboard in half is an unusual way to start a Game Boy modding project, but the results speak for themselves.

Self-described "poet and programmer" Allison Parrish has given an old Nintendo Game Boy Pocket a major overhaul, slicing the motherboard in half in order to create a device that never was: The clamshell Game Boy Pocket SP, finished in transparent plastic for extra style points.

"Over the summer I dug in deep with Game Boy modding and made this: The Game Boy Pocket SP," Parrish explains. "It's a Game Boy Pocket motherboard that I cut in half and then put into a custom-designed shell with a hinge, a la the Game Boy Advance SP. The build has a pair of custom-designed flex PCBs to make routing signals between the two halves of the board easier. Along the way I taught myself CAD (with FreeCAD), PCB design (with KiCad) and 3D printing."

Parrish's project is effectively the exact opposite of a more common mod: taking the two boards, which make up a clamshell Game Boy Advance SP and mounting them in a new fixed chassis designed to mimic an original Game Boy. Having found the hinged clamshell design of the unmodified Game Boy Advance SP the peak of Nintendo's design elegance, though, Parrish took a different path.

"I decided," she explains, "if y'all can take the hinge out of an SP, why can't I add a hinge to a Game Boy that never had one? The first thing I did was cut a Pocket motherboard in half. Just to commit myself to the idea. I did this by scoring the board with a craft knife and then splitting it in half. Surprisingly easy!"

A knife and a desire to learn was enough to try out cutting a Game Boy Pocket in half. (📹: Allison Parrish)

Cutting a board in half may be easy, but making something usable out of the pieces is a little trickier. Parrish set about designing a custom housing, which would fit the two halves and a hinge, that required "a lot of time measuring things" and modeling in FreeCAD, the design of two flexible PCBs in KiCad which would serve to route the connections between the two halves of the motherboard, and the creation of "a gallon-sized Ziploc bag full of 3D printed prototypes" before the design was finalized.

"Honestly? I think it’s the coolest thing I’ve ever made," Parrish writes. "Maybe you want to try out the build yourself! A few things to note up top. First: consider this an “alpha” version of the mod. I’m reasonably sure that the build is more or less functional, safe and durable, but there’s also a good chance that something could go wrong or break horribly — build at your own risk."

"Second," Parrish continues, "this is a pretty advanced mod. You should be handy with a soldering iron and be able to read a schematic. The mod involves a permanent and irrevocable modification to the main board (i.e., cutting it in half), so don’t attempt this mod if you’re not okay with, you know, doing that. Third: this is an expensive mod. Because you’ll be ordering parts one-off, you won’t benefit from economies of scale. The items in the bill of materials below will easily run you around US$250, if not more."

A full write-up of the project, with a bill of materials plus design files for the flex PCBs and 3D-printable chassis, is available on Parrish's blog. Parrish has also asked anyone interested in buying a kit version to get in touch: "If there's enough interest," she explains, "I can order a bunch of shells and PCBs at a time and resell them at lower cost."

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire:
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