Converting an Old Electronic Toy Into an Amazing Gaming Machine

The Pi Commander.

Cameron Coward
10 days agoGaming / RetroTech / 3D Printing

There is a simple fact that all of my fellow 30-somethings will know to be self-evident: kids these days don’t know how good they have it with their modern video games. I’m not complaining about the graphics of consoles like the NES and Sega Genesis, which we forgive thanks to the fantastic games available, but rather the electronic game toys of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Those were hunks of plastic that contained a single game (if you were being charitable) with graphics that were put to shame by flip books. But Adrien Castel did the impossible and converted one of those electronic toys into an amazing gaming machine, the Pi Commander.

Castel was inspired by a similar project completed by Matt Brailsford a couple of years ago. For that build, Brailsford turned an old Tomy Turnin’ Turbo Dashboard toy into an arcade machine to play the classic racing game Out Run. Castel's Pi Commander took that concept to the skies. He started with a Dival Sky Fighter F-16 toy that ostensibly gave kids the ability to pilot an F-16 in dog fights against enemy fighters. In reality, it was almost certainly a disappointing experience that couldn’t even begin to compete with the arcade machines from the era.

The solution was to ditch all of the original electronics and keep just the radical enclosure that nearly resembles an airplane. The electronics were replaced with a Raspberry Pi 3A+ and a new TFT LCD screen. Castel 3D-printed a custom frame to fit that LCD into the enclosure. The original LEDs and some controls, such as the throttle levers, were kept and connected to the Raspberry Pi’s GPIO pins. The flight stick, however, was replaced by a two-button arcade joystick that mirrors the avionic aesthetic. For software, Castel installed Recalbox, which is an operating system designed specifically for retrogaming. He can use that to play a variety of classic games, as well as the open source FlightGear flight simulator. Now the vintage toy performs in a way that its original owners could have only dreamed of.

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