Game­buino Meta

Custom PC - - CONTENTS -

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 – 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

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