R egular readers may be able to cast their minds back to Issue 134, when I interviewed Aurélien Rodot about his impressive Arduino-powered Gamebuino handheld gaming console, and also demonstrated its elegant simplicity by building a compatible equivalent on a breadboard. Well, I wasn’t the only person impressed by the Gamebuino: Albert Gajšak liked it so much he built his own one too, except his version is an impressively produced solder-it-yourself kit that’s recently closed a highly successful crowdfunding campaign. So successful, he tells me, that his only problem is getting the kits together and out of the door to meet demand!
First, to allay any concerns: Gajšak’s MAKERbuino is fully endorsed by Rodot, who specifically made the design of the Gamebuino and its supporting software framework open source so that people could build on the project and create spin-offs. It also manages to improve upon the original a few key areas.
A key feature of the MAKERbuino that helps it stand out from its inspiration, aside from being significantly larger – a side effect of the switch from tricky-to-solder surfacemount technology (SMT) components to beginner-friendly through-hole technology (THT) parts – is the presence of a 3.5mm jack for a headphone connection, along with a physical mute switch that cuts off the rearfacing speaker. Combined with a physical trimmer to adjust the volume level, it’s fair to say that the MAKERbuino’s audio chops stand above those of the Gamebuino.
Sadly, there’s a loss too: in place of the light-dependent resistor (LDR) that controls the Gamebuino’s display front light is another trimmer potentiometer.
While this potentiometer allows for welcome manual control over the light, it means there’s no LDR to integrate into your games. For example, Conway’s Game of Life previously used the Gamebuino’s LDR to control the replication rate of the cells, slowing it down in the dark and speeding it up in the light.
That’s not to say there’s no room for adding your own, of course. As well as the two interintegrated circuit (I²C) ports from the original Gamebuino design, which can be used to add extra hardware to the platform or link multiple Gamebuinos for multiplayer fun, there’s room for a breakout at the right-hand side, offering access to power and any inputoutput (I/O) pins not in use elsewhere.
You can assemble the kit yourself, or if you’re not confident in your soldering skills, you can buy a pre-assembled version for a small additional fee. If you choose the former, the component markings on the silkscreen are detailed enough that you could dispense with the instructions and solder all the parts yourself in as little as an hour. Following the build instructions – which can be vague at times, although Gajšak and his team are working to improve them – and taking your time could stretch that time to five hours.
As an introduction to soldering, all that goes against the MAKERbuino is the sheer number of joints and a tricky section where you need to bend discarded component legs to mount a battery-charging daughterboard – I felt like I could have used at least two extra hands in the latter part. Although the SD card slot on the rear is surface-mounted, it’s large enough that it acts as a great introduction to SMT soldering, and the smaller, more difficult pins to the right can be left unsoldered without harming its abilities.
In use, the MAKERbuino is exactly like the Gamebuino – save for hefty clicks from the heavy-duty buttons. Any software written for the Gamebuino works fine on the MAKERbuino and vice versa, and it’s even possible to link the two devices via I²C for multiplayer use. The MAKERbuino also includes its predecessor’s best feature: the ability to fill the bundled 128MB SD card with games, each of which is no larger than 32KB, and switch between them on-the-fly. In contrast, the Creoqode’s can only support a single game at a time.
Better still, you can expect longer gaming sessions between charges: the Gamebuino’s 300mAh lithium polymer battery, which is good for 12-24 hours, has been upped in the MAKERbuino to 600mAh. While the through-hole ATmega328p draws more power than its SMT equivalent, you can still expect a full 24 hours between charges with the backlight cranked up as far as possible. The MAKERbuino is available now from
http://makerbuino.com, priced at €39 as a self-assembly kit or €49 fully assembled (around £35 and £44 respectively, inc VAT). Gajšak and his team have also put together a bundle with additional components, which can be linked to the MAKERbuino through the breakout pins. It’s dubbed the Inventor’s Kit, and it costs €49 or €59 with tools, including a USB-powered soldering iron (around £44 and £53 inc VAT respectively).
In use, the MAKERbuino is exactly like the Gamebuino – save for hefty clicks from the heavy-duty buttons
You could be finished in as little as an hour, if you know what you’re doing with a soldering iron
The MAKERbuino is powered by a DIP variant of the same ATmega328p microcontroller as the Gamebuino
Yes, this is me pretending to solder the SD card socket without any solder