The popular DIY handheld console gets a colour screen and a specs boost.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly four years since the launch of the Gamebuino
(reviewed in Issue 134),
Aurélien Rodot’s opendesign Arduinocompatible handheld games console. In that time,
Rodot has been quiet but not resting on his laurels, and now he’s back with a followup, the Gamebuino Meta.
Designed to sit alongside the existing Gamebuino design rather than replace it, the Meta is a considerable upgrade. Where the original Gamebuino used an 8-bit
ATmega microcontroller equivalent to the one you’d find on an Arduino Uno development board, the Meta switches it out for a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M0+. The recycled Nokia single-colour, edge-lit LCD display has also been replaced with a 1.8in backlit colour panel capable of either an 80 x 64 resolution in 16-bit RGB colour or a 160 x 128 resolution in 16-colour indexed mode – a throwback to the multiple screen modes available on classic 8-bit microcomputers.
The extra power offered by the new microprocessor – an Atmel ATSAMD21 – has given the Meta room for a few additional extras, too. A 10-bit digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) provides multi-channel audio playback through a 2.5W class-D amplifier to a built-in speaker, or via a 3.5mm jack. There are also eight independently controllable RGB LEDs on the rear of the board – a replacement for the single-colour, user-controllable display lighting of the original Gamebuino. The Deluxe version even gives you the option to kit out your Meta with real-wood skins, for those who dislike the look of bare plastic.
The original Gamebuino also included user-accessible Inter-Integrated Circuit (I²C) headers, but the Meta takes this setup to the next logical step, breaking out every pin of the board at the rear, using a female header located underneath the translucent plastic housing. This header is designed to be paired with the Developper (sic) Backpack, an addon which takes the cleverly keyed pins at the rear of the console and breaks them out into headers compatible with standard Arduino shields, while also providing a handy prototyping area with power rails at its centre.
The only gotcha is that the Gamebuino Meta is a 3.3V device, meaning that any shield designed for use with a 5V device, such as the Arduino Uno, at best won’t work and at worst could potentially damage the Gamebuino Meta.
Gameplay operates in much the same way as with the original Gamebuino – a micro-SD card filled with games is inserted into the back, and a clever menu system lets you browse through the titles, now including a looping video clip, which you can capture on-device with a quick press of the Home button, along with static screenshots. Pick your title, hit a button and the game is flashed into the device’s memory and booted, with no USB cable or desktop PC required. It’s a feature that put the original Gamebuino head and shoulders above Nintendo-inspired rival the Arduboy at launch, and it’s a pleasure to see it return in its successor.
It’s not just the console that’s been overhauled either. The Gamebuino website now includes a workshop section that will, it has been promised, include step-by-step tutorials to making your own games –
although, at the time of writing, these tutorials were only available in Rodot’s native French language.
The documentation will likely be the key feature by which the project lives or dies. While the original Gamebuino was relatively simple, thanks to its low-resolution singlecolour display and relatively limited specifications, the new Meta’s extra power means added complexity. It’s still entirely possible to sit down with the code for one of the existing games and work it all out, building up your own games by borrowing bits from other titles, but the promised stepby-step tutorials will make this job a lot easier as and when – or, indeed, if – they appear.
For anyone who already has a Gamebuino and enjoys it, the upgrade is recommended. The improved display opens up whole new avenues, and the easier access to the general-purpose input/output (GPIO) ports – the self-same ports you’d find on the ATSAMD21-based Arduino Zero, although the DAC is reserved for audio work – makes the Gamebuino Meta a shoo-in for any project where control and display are required.
The sound is a great improvement too, and the presence of a 3.5mm jack – one of the areas in which the MAKERbuino, a solder-it-yourself spin-off from the Gamebuino project, improved on the original – makes it better suited to playing in public. It’s even possible to port a game directly from the original Gamebuino, now known as the Classic, to the Meta with nothing more than a couple of new #include lines.
If you picked up the original Gamebuino and left it in a drawer after a brief fiddle, though, you’re likely better off saving your The Deluxe variant includes laser-cut wooden ‘skins’ to stick over the sides of the plastic case
money. Specifically, the money you’ll need is €99 for the Meta Deluxe (around £87 inc VAT) from https://shop.gamebuino.com – a hike over the Gamebuino’s selling price of €49 (around £43 inc VAT), but inclusive of the smart wooden skin and GPIO backpack board.
The Gamebuino Meta is undeniably swish, and it fits perfectly in a pocket The rear includes full GPIO pin access, designed for use with the add-on ‘backpack’ board
The screen still has a very low resolution – marginally lower than that of the Game Boy Color – but it’s now in glorious colour