Modding an NES – PAL-E console controller support hack

Posted by admin on June 05, 2021
DIY, General / No Comments

A little known fact about the NES is that there are versions of the console that do not support all the controllers out there. The PAL version that came with controllers that have the NES-004E engraved on the back ONLY support controllers with this engraving and nothing else. Controllers from the NTSC version will not work and nor will any knock-off controllers from China.

I recently replaced my controller’s insides with the excellent DIY kit from 8BitDo that turns the original controller into a wireless version that works just as well.

I am using this with the also excellent NES retro receiver and works flawlessly. Since I am using the original chassis and buttons, the feeling is almost identical to the original controller sans the cable. The system worked fine on my PAL NES-E console as well.

But all that changed when I bought a couple of (admittedly very nicely built) knock-off controllers from China. I plugged both on either port on my NES and nothing seemed to work. It would be a huge coincidence for both the controllers to be faulty (I knew the console and both ports worked) so I investigated further.

It turns out that my console only supported NES-004E controllers (the 8bitdo receiver obviously is handling the issue fine). By disassembling the console, I noticed that each controller port was connected to some kind of board which in turn was connected to the main board. These boards had several diodes that obviously prevented other versions of the NES controller to work.

The solution turned out to be surprisingly easy. All one needs to do is bridge all the diodes (essentially bypassing them). You could also remove the whole board and connect the cables directly on the port but I felt this solution was easier to do and more elegant.

This modification is only useful if your NES has this board between each controller port and the main board and you have controllers you want to use that are not recognized. It can also be done in the same way on both ports. Doing this mod does not have any drawbacks, the original controller work just fine. But now, your NES is controller-region-free!

Modding an NES – blue LED

Posted by admin on June 04, 2021
DIY, General / No Comments

This is the first of a series of old consoles modding posts, some to add functionality and some purely cosmetic. I will start with the simplest of them all, changing the power LED of a Nintendo Entertainment System.

When the NES came out in 1985, electronic power LEDs used colors that were available at the time, red or green ones. Blue LEDs were not around at the time. They were invented relatively recent and they gave their inventors Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura, the Nobel prize in 2014.

Changing the NES power LED to blue, in my opinion gives the 80s device a more 21st century feel and it’s super easy to do. All you have to do is unscrew the NES, remove the mainboard and get to the POWER and RESET board on the left. Use a soldering iron to remove the existing LED, while bending it a bit to the back to remove it from the plastic clear channel.

At this point you are ready to put the new LED in. Just be careful with polarity. LEDs, as the D in their name suggests are diodes, which means there is a correct way and a wrong way to put them in the circuit.

What Is LED? - Definition, Working Principle, Types, Uses

The LED symbol shows you the way. The Anode is where you need to use the long leg of the LED (positive) and the Cathode where you use the short one (negative). If you mess it up, it doesn’t hurt anything, but it will not light up, which is the whole point of a LED.

Solder the two legs at the bottom and bend the LED back in the clear channel like in the picture below.

If you get everything correctly and try to power up the NES, you will be greeted with a beautiful LED light. Put back everything and you should be done. Enjoy the 21st century light show!

Game streaming – part 2

Posted by admin on September 26, 2020
Games, News / No Comments

On my previous post, I wrote about my thoughts on game streaming services as a whole. Since them, Microsoft launched the xCloud, which is their take on game streaming and they also bundled it with Game Pass Ultimate. If you are not familiar with the subscription, it includes 100+ games which you can download and install on your PC or Xbox One (and soon Xbox Series S/X) and play as much as you like, as long as you are subscribed to Game Pass Ultimate. It also includes Xbox Live Gold so you can play online. And recently EA added all of their games in there!

So all in all, with one subscription, you have 100s of games to play which get new games all the time (as a matter of fact, all first party new releases always get added on launch date – and since Microsoft recently bought ZeniMax, the parent company of studios behind Doom, Wolfenstein, Elder Scrolls and many more) expect to see many many more added in the coming months. Some games are also removed from time to time, Netflix style, but you always have stuff to play no matter the screen you have in front of you.

Getting back to streaming, Microsoft has launched their Android client so you can use and Android device, paired with a bluetooth Xbox controller, to play most of the games mentioned above.

I have already played for some hours using both WiFi and 4G connections on my phone and I can attest to the following:

-The streaming is superb. Seriously, the encoding they use seem to be custom tailored for games and I have not seen any serious issues on either type of connection. Even when packets are dropped, because they will, the system seems to compensate in a way that does not impact the gaming session.

-I stand behind what I said about latency and “master race” PC gamers. You will NOT get high resolutions and high frame rates here. So games that do not rely on these, and would run fine at 30fps anyway (e.g. A Plague Tale), are you best bet here. Of course, forget competitive gaming on these systems.

-Convenience is awesome. I have fired quite a few sessions when I was not near a PC or console, and tried many games I never installed on either and I had an awesome time every time. Comparing the experience to either the PC or the Xbox One X it was of course inferior, but given the small screen and the fact that I was streaming it for convenience in a situation where the alternative would be Candy Crush, this is a good trade off.

-It will never replace gaming on a real gaming system. Never, ever. But that is ok, because the target audience is NOT hardcore games. When you DO have a choice, you will, and you should, pick the alternative. The streaming service is a very nice alternative to have though.

Running xCloud from a compatible phone (in this case the OnePlus 7T) allows you to connect to a projector and get rid of the small screen altogether. Because why not.
This is Mortal Kombat streaming over 4G. Not bad at all.
A plague tale: Innocence streaming over 5GHz WiFi – cinematic
A plague tale: Innocence streaming over 5GHz WiFi – gameplay

So should you get xCloud? Well, that is the best part! It’s included in Xbox Game Pass Ultimate which was an awesome offering even before that! Just keep in mind that if you don’t have a gaming PC or an Xbox One (or better) console it might not be the best gaming experience compared to these. I would highly recommend getting at least a cheap Xbox Series S + Xbox Game Pass as the best way to play the Xbox Game Pass games. Just keep in mind that xCloud is included only in the Ultimate version and not the Console only or PC only versions.

My thoughts on game streaming

Posted by admin on April 26, 2020
Games / 1 Comment

So here are a few random thoughts about tech that allows gamers to play games on a device that is different than the one actually running the game, over the network. This article is about the tech and services that currently exist and my thoughts on viability and their future.
What this article is not is streaming services that stream OTHER people playing:)

There are two distinct use cases for game streaming.

The first one is streaming games from a device in your household to another. An example of this is Steamlink which allows you to stream your Steam library from your (normally powerful) gaming PC to another, normally much less powerful device that has an advantage over the gaming PC, in the form of portability (e.g. streaming to your phone over WiFi from your PC being able to play with the same quality – albeit a smaller screen – in another room or in the garden) or location (e.g. streaming to an Apple TV which is connected to a huge ass TV and game there instead of your PC monitor). This service started as a hardware package, the Link hardware, but has lived on mostly on mobile devices.

Obviously this scenario is free, since all of the equipment used, the machines and the network between them, is already in place and you already own licenses for the games you play. This scenario is also the best performing, since latency is normally low (with a wired connection or 5GHz WiFi), network jitter is low and bandwidth is a non issue.

The second scenario is some form of gaming-as-a-service in some form. Depending on the service provider, this might include the whole package (servers and games) being streamed to any of your devices over the internet for a subscription fee (for example Playstation Now). Other service providers may require you to already own a license of the game you want to stream (e.g. Geforce Now) or even buy a license on the service itself (e.g. Google Stadia).
Microsoft’s Project xCloud is a hybrid service, since it will provide both a way to stream the games you own on the Xbox from your own Xbox console to another device over the internet for free as well as stream games you don’t own from xCloud’s servers (which are Xbox consoles in server racks) for a subscription fee.

I have tested a few of these services over an excellent internet connection (I have a 10GBps fiber at home) as well as local streaming (over gbit LAN and 5GHz Wifi). As things are right now, I think that the usefulness of these services depend on what the expectation of each users are.

If you are a hard core gamer, who can feel the difference of a few fps and demands a 144Hz monitor because 60Hz is just not fast enough for your superior gaming reflexes, just STAY AWAY from ANY streaming software. No network, no matter how fast, will ever be faster than your PCI Express bus and its connection to your monitor. So, if you are the kind of gamer who will pay 500+ for a GPU that gives them 10fps more than what they had before, this tech is not for you. Companies know that, and you are not their target audience anyway.

BUT, it also depends a LOT on the game and companies know that too.
Games that do not depend on lightning reflexes and can tolerate 100s milliseconds of delay without altering their core experience do just fine over the network. Examples include games that you can enjoy in 30fps, like the Assassin’s Creed series (it’s not a coincidence that Google Stadia was showcasing its service using Assassin’s Creed Odyssey). This also include non-real time games, like puzzle and strategy games. If this is your thing, by all means go ahead and enjoy these services.

Streaming Skyrim SE to my phone. I can play like these with no problems for hours, or until batteries start dying. This is an example of a single player game that does not depend on lightning fast reflexes to enjoy that is perfectly playable on a streaming service.

So what is the target audience of these services? It’s two groups of people: casual or semi-casual gamers, who enjoy games like the ones I mentioned before and non-gamers who never invested in any gaming hardware, or did so a long long time ago and would like to play some of the latest games, without doing it now. A small fee is a small price to pay and I guess that services will be adding new games all the time.

The analogy of game streaming has been seen before at least twice now. The first time was with audiophiles. People who invested in hi fi equipment and were obsessing with vinyl analog sound were not the target audience of the MP3 or even CDs. Both are lossy audio formats which is a big no-no to audiophiles. The seconds was of course video streaming services like Netflix. When the internet became capable enough, Netflix provided LESS quality than 4K blu-rays but this was the price to pay, as in the case of audio, for the thing that people seemed to value more than quality.

And that is convenience.

In both cases, convenience won over quality.

Will this happen to game streaming? Well, it depends. Gaming is a weird thing, since “good enough” which was what audio and video streaming was, may not be enough. Gaming requires a feature that none of the others did, and that is low latency. Gaming is interactive, the input of the player and the feedback they get from the game is a crucial thing when playing a game. In local gaming, this is almost instantaneous, the player presses a button, the gaming equipment registers it, incorporates it into the game logic and shows the results on the screen/VR headset etc. This takes almost no time.

Game streaming adds at least 3 things to the mix. The first is the time it takes for the input to be transmitted to the equipment that actually runs the game. The second is the compression of the game video, the third is the delay of the transmission of this video back to the player. These delays are added on top of the existing ones, like game graphics rendering and game logic calculations that exist in every game.

Latency is one thing, while the streaming of the actual game graphics is the second. Video compression technology has evolved a lot since MPEG but uncompressed video will always be better, as long as video compression is lossy.

So are gamers ready to accept these compromises? Some of them are, some non-gamers definitely are and these people may well enjoy game streaming. But many many gamers are more demanding than that. The “PC Master Race” will never go for it if they have to compromise on their experience.

In any case, it seems like there is an audience for these services since we see them multiplying. Tech also gets better so the compromises may be even less important in the future so stay tuned while we all see how all this plays out.

Paper computers

Posted by admin on April 22, 2020
DIY / No Comments

Since we are all stuck inside for a while, it was inevitable that some projects we would never do, just happen to be a good idea. One of them was making an Amiga 500, my first Amiga model I owned back in the day, out of paper.

The link to the file I used is if you feel like making one for yourself. There are also a few different screens of games to put on the screen instead of the Workbench image if you prefer. A mousepad is also included.
By the way, I used a simple white elastic band for the mouse cord. I think it looks great.
The guy who makes these has also made paper models of MANY MANY other things, including 80s and 90s PCs and game consoles. You can find his excellent work here:

Here are some pictures of the end result, some on top of my keyboard and some on top of a real Amiga 1200.