For years Spite_TM has be my favorite hacker, and yet he continues to have an uncanny ability to blow my mind with the hacks that he pulls off even thought I’m ready for it. This weekend at the Hackaday SuperConference he threw down an amazing talk on his tiny, scratch-built, full-operational Game Boy. He stole the badge hacking show with a Rick Roll, disassembled the crypto challenge in one hour by cutting right to the final answer, and managed to be everywhere at once. You’re a wizard Harry Sprite!

Here’s what’s crazy: these are the antics of just one person of hundreds who I found equally amazing at the conference. It feels impossible to convey to you the absolute sincerity I have when I say that SuperCon was far and away the best conference I’ve ever been to or have even heard about. It managed to outpace any hyperbole I constructed leading up to the weekend. This morning felt like I was waking up from a dream and desperately wanted to fall asleep again.

What is This Tiny Game Boy You Speak Of?

Tiny Game Boy PCB running gnuBoy Emulator

Sprite_TM’s cadence of presenting is a big part of grasping all that went into this hack. He has an “oh, one more thing” habit of assaulting you with incredible leaps of creativity and hurdling technical roadblocks which can’t be done justice here. But it will be a few weeks before the video is edited and ready for publication. Here are some of the highlights to whet your appetite.

In his youth, Sprite_TM was addicted to the culture surrounding Nintendo Game Boy and remembers well the disappointment of ordering a tiny Game Boy key chain that turned out to do nothing more than act as a digital watch. Nearly twenty-five years later, technology has advanced far enough and a skilled engineer can actually build this. Sprite’s SuperCon talk presented a suitable excuse to focus his skills on the task.

The challenge goes something like this: find a suitably tiny color screen, connect it to an ESP32 (dual core 240 MHz processor), surround it with a 3D printed case scaled to match the proportions of the original Game Boy, and wrap the whole thing up with a custom board to handle battery management, audio (which is an awesome h-bridge hack in itself which I won’t go into here), and user input.

Look closely, that’s the tiny Game Boy running Doom

A tiny Game Boy case is one thing, but you need an equally impressive software hack to actually do the emulation. The challenge here is that emulators are made to run on a full-blown computer and, although quite powerful, the ESP32 is a microcontroller and not an SoC. Once his emulator was running flawlessly Sprite_TM kept going — Doom must run on all things, right? But he played back a demonstration of Witcher 3, a current-gen game, running on the hardware. You’ll have to wait for the talk video for the secret of that one but I’ll give you a hint: ESP32 is a WiFi chip.

If you’re not already familiar with Sprite’s hacks, start with the Tamagotchi Singularity from last year.

Mind == Blown

Using an Arduino to brute-force forth crypto challenge puzzle
Using an Arduino to brute-force forth crypto challenge puzzle

I missed most of the talks I was really looking forward to seeing this weekend. Ken Shirriff’s work reverse-engineering silicon has always amazed me and when he explained some of it on stage I wasn’t there. I was delighting in the chase to solve the badge’s crypto challenge. (I was successful, but only with hints from Krux and Voja Antonic and help from a half-dozen other people working on the riddles.) This happened again and again — I missed talks from Ben Krasnow, Nadya Peek, Samy Kamkar, Star Simpson, and myriad others who I respect and adore. Yes, I was running around giddy, like a kid in an amusement park.

I wandered in for the last half of Dr. Crystal Gordon’s presentation on Bio-inspired sensing and delighted in her insight into how robotic locomotion is being markedly improved with data recorded and analyzed from biological locomotion. I watch as Ben Krasnow and Alan Yates were fascinated by Toshiro Kodera’s research into gyromagnetism in metamaterials — these are not easy people to impress. And went for a ride to Mars and beyond with Steve Collins’ tales of the many failure modes of NASA missions.

Everyone in the room taking pictures of Brian Benchoff's literal red herring during Crypto challenge unveiling
Everyone in the room taking pictures of Brian Benchoff’s literal red herring during Crypto challenge unveiling

The venue worked out perfectly, providing two stages, and spacious outdoor chill area, both indoor and outdoor workshops, and just the right ambiance to create a trance-like state.

We touted this as building a Hacker Village. I defy anyone who was there to say we did otherwise. I sat in talks while people all around me hacked on the firmware of their badges. I watched Zach Fredlin depopulate all of the surface-mount LEDs on his badge and rebuild the display as a super-sized air-wired design. We gave away $200,000 to the top entries of the Hackaday Prize. And a completely unplanned and impromptu desktop milling workshop sprung to life in the Supplyframe Design Lab.

Become an Eagle Master -- a workshop for that.
Become an Eagle Master — a workshop for that.

Perhaps most notably, I never once saw someone standing on the edge of the room by themselves, nervous to take part. The feeling of inclusion, of community, that everyone there was important and mattered, is certainly the most inspiring part of the whole experience.

This is something special, and I wish I could live every day of my life-like I was at this SuperConference.

Much More to Come

You don’t have to take my word for it, but you will have to wait just a bit. We’ll work on publishing every speck of awesome from this weekend as quickly as we can get it ready. Watch the front page of Hackaday and set aside some time to really dig in a treat yourself to the talks and events that made it so special.

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