During lockdown, Stuart (aka JamHamster) wanted to keep busy whilst between jobs, and ended up building a mini empire of rescued retro systems. Cassette tapes, Game Boys, and floppy disks were all among the treasures he reclaimed.
Cassette tape starter
Stuart got started by fitting a TZXDuino tape loader into a cassette tape shell. Remember those? This allows him to load software onto a ZX Spectrum by inserting a tape into the tape deck, just as Nature intended. He has since improved the design (check out V2 on YouTube) and carefully documented it on GitHub, so people can build their own.
With that first project in the bag and getting attention on a Facebook group (Spectrum for Everyone), Stuart went forth and sourced more retro tech to revive with tiny pieces of new technology.
Enter Raspberry Pi
Then Stuart discovered our tiny computer and realised there was heaps of scope for hiding them inside older tech. Although we can’t quite officially endorse Stuart’s method of “carefully” removing a port on his Raspberry Pi – it’ll void your warranty – we will say that we like people who go about intentionally voiding their warranties. It’s a cool video.
He has since created loads of retrofit projects with Raspberry Pi. Let’s take a quick look at a few of them.
Raspberry Pi 3 Game Boy build
First up is a Game Boy build with a Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+. Stuart built an aluminium chassis from scrap, and this sandwiches the Raspberry Pi to hold it in place inside the Game Boy enclosure, as well as acting as a heatsink. There’s a grille in the cartridge and he also added four rear buttons. The hardest part of this build, apparently, was soldering the custom HDMI cable.
Better-than-real CRT screen
Stuart liked the look of an old-fashioned CRT (cathode-ray tube) screen for playing retro games on, but they chew through energy and aren’t that portable. So he had the idea to make a space-efficient LCD system that sits on a desktop and just looks like a retro TV.
This project features a 3.5-inch screen of the type that’s usually found on a car dashboard to help the driver to reverse. Stuart converted it to 5V, and added a cut-down Raspberry Pi 3 and a custom-machined chassis. A custom-ground curved lens makes it look like a real CRT, and he added ports on the back for two Atari joysticks, as well as an external composite input and USB.
Sega Game Gear build
Stuart’s sister gave him her Game Gear to fix, but the batteries leaked and killed it so he converted it to a Raspberry Pi 3B portable gaming system. And because it was for his sister, he went all out, spending six weeks refining it.
He also ended up rewriting elements of the Arduino Joystick library for responsiveness and ease of configuration. Here’s the Github link for those interested in that part of the build.
Stuart’s latest cassette build features a Raspberry Pi Zero running RetroPie. He wanted to make one with a transparent case, so he encased the Raspberry Pi in a heatsink sandwich to hide the wiring. He added a full-size USB port and a 3.5 mm media connector for sound and visuals. Here are some shots of the inside.
Try new things, expect failure, enjoy the process
Makers, tinkerers, and crafters don’t always have a practical reason for embarking on projects, and Stuart is no different. Here’s what he had to say about why projects like this make him happy:
“I will be happy to admit that I have no clue what I’m doing most of the time, and I am by no means an expert, but I believe everyone should try new things as you never know what you’ll be good at. 9 out of 10 of my ideas don’t work but that tenth one is generally pretty good. I’ve been between roles during lockdown so I am building these out of scrap metal and whatever I have lying around, which is an extra challenge. My philosophy is to try new things, expect failure, learn to enjoy the process and that it’ll be done when it’s done.”