These days you can usually just download video games directly to your console, but many of you still remember the days when games came on hardware cartridges. In most cases, those cartridges simply stored the game data on ROM chips, and the console itself did all of the processing. That was necessary in the days before fast internet was widely available. But Bobricius has taken the idea of cartridges in a very novel direction with his tiny handheld console.
The console design is itself very impressive, and the entire thing measures just 2.2 x 1.1 inches. It has four directional buttons, an action button, a power switch, and a mini full-color LCD screen. That’s all powered by a single CR2032 battery. It’s capable of running Arduino-compatible games, like those developed for the Arduboy and other Arduino gaming platforms. All of that means that this project would have been noteworthy regardless, but it’s the cartridge system that’s particularly interesting.
Games are stored on “fake” SD cards, which can be swapped to play different titles. But those cards don’t just have storage, they actually contain a complete microcontroller that does the processing for the game. Right now it’s compatible with the Microchip ATtiny85, ATmega328, and SAM D21. Each of those chips has its own flash storage, where the game data resides, and also handles the processing.
That idea is intriguing because it means that the capabilities of the console can be scaled to match the requirements of the game. Something really simple, like Asteroids, can run on an ATtiny85. But what if you want to play a more demanding game, like Doom? Easy, just pop in the cartridge that has the more powerful ATmega328. Those microcontrollers are very affordable, so the cost of the cartridges is low. There are also more than 20 games that have already been created just for the ATtiny85. Bobricius intends to improve upon the design, so be sure to follow his work.