Modding a Game Boy

While still working on putting the finishing touches on the arcade cabinet I mentioned last time, I got distracted building a neat little Game Boy mod. I got my inspiration after seeing the great work by the author of SuperPiBoy and several other modders.

Seeing it as a good excuse to get rid of an older Raspberry Pi board I had hanging around, I got a Dremel tool, a broken Game Boy DMG from eBay and set to work.

Early on I decided to make the changes to the case as unobtrusive as possible, and other than the somewhat ungainly RCA video jack (which I had to have), I think I’ve accomplished what I was after:

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The Pijamma project

CabinetSome 15 years ago, the retro arcade craze was starting to gain serious traction, and pictures of modified arcade cabinets running MAME started to appear. Eager to do something similar, I managed to get my hands on a relatively cheap Neo-Geo cabinet and modified it to run MAME as well as a bunch of home consoles. The controls were all genuine Happ controls running off stripped Sidewinder controllers, and the monitor was an actual arcade monitor, running off a video card that was capable of outputting signal at 15kHz. Time passed, things got boring, and I ended up selling the cabinet – with a subsequent case of seller’s remorse.

15 years later, shortly after I ported FinalBurn Alpha to the Raspberry Pi, I started to consider building another cabinet. The same power that was then in a Pentium III now fits nicely in a Raspberry Pi, and the hobbyist electronics market is now in a state that hasn’t been seen since the 1980’s.

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FinalBurn X

Ever since the PSP emulator porting binge of 2007-2011, I’ve enjoyed the random challenge of getting an established application to run on a new platform. Being able to do that with something fun is the icing on the cake – as was the case with CocoaMSX when I switched from GNU/Linux to Mac OS X and found nothing Mac-y about the MSX emulators on the platform.

It’s been almost 2 years since CocoaMSX quietly (for this weblog, anyway – I’ve been writing about it steadily on Google+) launched, and it’s finally starting to feel like a complete application. Granted, there’s still quite a bit of work that could be done, but I’m fairly comfortable by both its feature set and its Mac-ness (not really a word).

Like most things I’ve worked on, CocoaMSX arose out of need for a good (and usable) MSX emulator on a platform deserving of one. Feeling like my goal is close to being accomplished, something else has been nagging on me for a while now. And that’s this: I miss FinalBurn.

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The end of Spark 360

I went over what’s changed in the latest update to the Xbox Live web dashboard – the site where Spark gets all of its information, and it looks like more than just beacons have disappeared. The Achievements screen, which ordinarily contained a lot of useful information used to optimize achievement tracking has been completely stripped of all but game title, box art and achievements/points earned. Last playedTotal achievementsTotal points, and several other key pieces of data are missing – without these, Spark becomes little more than a simple web client.

For instance, the Total achievements count was used to detect games that could potentially be removed from the games list, and to determine whether or not achievements need to be updated. Without this count, achievements need to be constantly refreshed, since the app would never detect new DLC releases.

The amount of change necessary to get the app hobbling along again amounts to all but a complete rewrite – at the end of which would emerge a barely usable Spark 360.

For this reason, I finally removed Spark 360 from the Google Play store. It may still be available for a few hours, but it should eventually disappear. As of August 29, 2014, there have been 107,543 downloads of the app – it went live November 15th, 2010 (here’s the post that announced its release), which makes it around 3 months shy of 4 years old. Spark started on version 1.6 of Android – it remained backwards compatible with 1.6 until the end.

So where does this leave things? Spark’s source code is still at GitHub and available for anyone who’d like to continue working on it – though with the latest changes to the portal there are fewer than ever reasons to do so. Microsoft has had an official client on Android for a while now, so if you haven’t tried it yet, now may be a good time.

To all of you who supported the app by paying for it or even writing comments, thank you. The popularity of this app far surpassed my expectations, and I’m very grateful to have been involved with it, even if my involvement diminished with time.

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Xbox Live borked. Again

About a week ago, message and achievement functionality in Spark 360 stopped working. Continuing Xbox Live web portal‘s downward slide (last update removed a large chunk of profile information), the latest changes have removed beacons – specifically, ability to view and set them.

By now most of you know that Spark is due to be removed from Google Play in September. The latest changes are fairly sweeping, and I doubt I’ll be able to finish the work in time to have most users update by the time the app is removed from the store. That said, I am working on it, whether or not I can finish it in time.

Thanks for your patience, everyone.

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Spark version 6.50 released – more of a downgrade

A week or so ago Xbox Live underwent some changes that broke parts of Spark 360, rendering it useless for features such as profiles and friends lists. Version 6.50 fixes those issues, but with a considerable caveat – it removes a considerable chunk of features that are no longer available due to the latest changes to the Xbox Live web portal.

Gone are detailed user statistics, such as bionamelocationmottorep and Microsoft points (though removal of the latter is considerably overdue) – with the exception of rep, which is now a slider, none of those stats are available. Missing also is the Find gamertag option in the friends list.

On the bright side, the rest of the Xbox Live functionality should be back to normal.

PSN support, the lesser used half of the app is still broken – due to a change in the authentication protocol which I still haven’t been able to fix. I will do my best to fix this before September, but so far I have been unsuccessful.

While I wrote about this in an earlier post, I should mention again that Spark 360 will be taken off Google Play on September 1st – the latest changes to Live further decrease the usefulness of the app – especially with the official clients now being available. I won’t be making any more changes to the client, but the source code will still be available at – anyone who wants to fork and maintain the app is more than welcome.

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Spark 360 updated, nearing end of life

Some time ago, I wrote something that ended up having a considerable effect on both my hobbies and professional interests. On a whim, I put together what ended up becoming Spark 360, one of the first Xbox Live apps on what was then called Android Market. The app was based on an idea I had thrown around – and initially implemented as a small webpage – of being able to access an Xbox Live profile with full support of a native app.

Fast forward to now, a little over three years later. In that time, Spark 360 went from an amateurish freeware app to a commercial application, got a considerable facelift, got the dubious honor of being one of the most pirated Android apps at a time when no one seemed to care (Google included), saw a short-lived, if full-featured iOS version get released, and finally became open source and free, adding support for PlayStation Network in the process. Somewhere along those events, it even landed me a job as an Android developer.

In short, it’s been quite a ride.

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