Scott Hanselman

CoreBoy is a cross platform GameBoy Emulator written in C# that even does ASCII

April 23, '20 Comments [11] Posted in DotNetCore | Gaming | Open Source
Sponsored By

.NET and C# are great languages for programming emulators. Specifically retrogaming and retroarcade emulators. In fact, there's a long history of emulators written in C#. Here's just a few.

Today, David Whitney is deep into writing CoreBoy, a GameBoy Emulator written in C# and .NET Core, using WinForms, and I also spy the Avalonia cross-platform open source WPF-like framework. Head over to https://github.com/davidwhitney/CoreBoy and give the gent a STAR. It even has a headless mode and you could use it as a Library in your own software. Who doesn't want a GameBoy library in their app?

I cloned and built it with http://dot.net Core in just a few minutes. Lovely. I enjoy a clean codebase. Assuming you have a backup of one of the many physical GameBoy games you own like me, you can load a binary dump in CoreBoy as a *.gb or *.gbc file and you'll get something this:

CoreBoy - Zelda Link's Awakening

image

Sweet! Sure it's a little buggy and slow but figuring these things out is the fun of it all! I love that David Whitney is taking us on this journey with him.

There's even already a MonoGame-based graphics surface using DesktopGL and "nilllzz" has it running on Ubuntu!

GameBoy Emulator in C# running on Ubuntu using MonoGame

Emulators are always fun projects to read and learn from. Here, David has a clear separation of concerns between the emulator (handling the CPU, loading instructions, etc.) and the graphics surface that is ultimately responsible for putting pixels on screen.

It looks like he hasn't got it working yet (some issues with command line parsing), but in a few minutes with a little hard-coding I was able to switch to ASCII mode with David's SillyAsciiArtCreator that takes a Pixel and RGB value and maps it to ASCII art that looks awesome in the Windows Terminal.

Zelda in a GameBoy Emulator as ASCII Art

Which is kind of awesome. Why would you do this? BECAUSE YOU CAN

Zelda in a GameBoy Emulator as ASCII Art

I look forward to seeing what comes of this cool new emulator and I'll be reading its code in more detail in the weeks to come! Great stuff, David!


Sponsor: Couchbase gives developers the power of SQL with the flexibility of JSON. Start using it today for free with technologies including Kubernetes, Java, .NET, JavaScript, Go, and Python.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

facebook twitter subscribe
About   Newsletter
Sponsored By
Hosting By
Dedicated Windows Server Hosting by SherWeb

Retrogaming by modding original consoles to remove moving parts and add USB or SD-Card support

January 29, '20 Comments [8] Posted in Gaming
Sponsored By

I'm a documented big fan of Retrogaming (playing older games and introducing my kids to those older games).

For example, we enjoy the Hyperkin Retron 5 in that it lets us play NES, Famicom, SNES, Super Famicom, Genesis, Mega Drive, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, & Game Boy over 5 category ports. with one additional adapter, it adds Game Gear, Master System, and Master System Cards. It uses emulators at its heart, but it requires the use of the original game cartridges. However, the Hyperkin supports all the original controllers - many of which we've found at our local thrift store - which strikes a nice balance between the old and the new. Best of all, it uses HDMI as its output plug which makes it super easy to hook up to our TV.

I've also blogged about modding/updating existing older consoles to support HDMI. On my Sega Dreamcast I've been very happy with this Dreamcast to HDMI adapter (that's really internally Dreamcast->VGA->HDMI).

The Dreamcast was lovely

When retrogaming there's a few schools of thought:

  • Download ROMs and use emulators - I try not to do this as I want to support small businesses (like used game stores, etc) as well as (in a way) the original artists.
  • Use original consoles with original cartridges
  • Use original consoles with backup images through an I/O mod.
    • I've been doing this more and more as many of my original consoles' CD-ROMs and other moving parts have started to fail.

It's the failure of those moving parts that is the focus of THIS post.

For example, the CD-ROM on my Panasonic 3DO Console was starting to throw errors and have trouble spinning up so I was able to mod it to load the CD-ROMs (for my owned discs) off of USB.

This last week my Dreamcast's GD-ROM finally started to get out of alignment.

Fixing Dreamcast Disc Errors

You can can align a Dreamcast GD-ROM by opening it up by removing the four screws on the bottom. Lift up the entire GD-ROM unit without pulling too hard on the ribbon cable. You may have to push the whole laser (don't touch the lens) back in order to flip the unit over.

Then, via trial and error, turn the screw shown below to the right about 5 degrees (very small turn) and test, then do it again, until your drive spins up reliably. It took me 4 tries and about 20 degrees. Your mileage may vary.

The Dreamcast GD-ROM just pops outTake out the whole GD-ROM

Turn this screw to align your laser on your Dreamcast

This fix worked for a while but it was becoming clear that I was going to eventually have to replace the whole thing. These are moving parts and moving parts wear out.

Adding solid state (SD-Card) storage to a Dreamcast

Assuming you, like me, have a VA1 Dreamcast (which is most of them) there are a few options to "fake" the GD-ROM. My favorite is the GDEMU mod which requires no soldering and can be done in just a few minutes. You can get them directly or on eBay. I ordered a version 5.5 and it works fantastically.

You can follow the GDEMU instructions to lay out a FAT32 formatted SD Card as it wants it, or you can use this little obscure .NET app called GDEMU SD Card Maker.

The resulting Dreamcast now has an SD Card inside, under where the GD-ROM used to be. It works well, it's quiet, it's faster than the GD-ROM and it allows me to play my backups without concern of breaking any moving parts.

Modded Dreamcast

Other small Dreamcast updates

As a moving part, the fan can sometimes fail so I replaced fan my using a guide from iFixit. In fact, a 3-pin 5V Noctua silent fan works great. You can purchase that fan plus a mod kit with a 3d printed adapter that includes a fan duct and conversion gable with 10k resistor, or you can certainly 3D print your own.

If you like this kind of content, go follow me on Instagram!


Sponsor: When you use my Amazon.com affiliate links to buy small things it allows me to also buy small things. Thanks!

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

facebook twitter subscribe
About   Newsletter
Sponsored By
Hosting By
Dedicated Windows Server Hosting by SherWeb

Visual Studio for Nintendo Switch? - FUZE4 Nintendo Switch is an amazing coding app

October 10, '19 Comments [4] Posted in Gaming
Sponsored By

I love my Nintendo Switch. It's a brilliant console that fits into my lifestyle. I use it on planes, the kids play it on long car rides, and it's great both portable and docked.

NOTE: Check out my blog post on The perfect Nintendo Switch travel set up and recommended accessories

But I never would have predicted "Visual Studio Core for Nintendo Switch" - now that's in a massive pair of air quotes because FUZE4 Nintendo Switch has no relationship to Microsoft or Visual Studio but it's a really competent coding application that works with USB keyboards! It's an amazing feeling to literally plug in a keyboard and start writing games for Switch...ON A SWITCH! Seriously, don't sleep on this app if you or your kids want to make Switch games.

Coding on a Nintendo Switch with FUZE4 Switch

Per the Fuze website:

This is not a complex environment like C++, JAVA or Python. It is positioned as a stepping stone from the likes of Scratch , to more complex real-world ones. In fact everything taught using FUZE is totally applicable in the real-world, it is just that it is presented in a far more accessible, engaging and fun way.

If you're in the UK, there are holiday workshops and school events all over. If you're elsewhere, FUZE also has started the FuzeArena site as a forum to support you in your coding journey on Switch. There is also a new YouTube channel with Tutorials on FUZE Basic starting with Hello World!

FUZE4 includes a very nice and complete code editor with Syntax Highlighting and Code bookmarks. You can plug in any USB keyboard - I used a Logitech USB keyboard with the USB wireless Dongle! - and you or the children in your life can code away. You just RUN the program with the "start" or + button on the Nintendo Switch.

It can't be overstated how many asserts, bitmaps, sample apps, and 3D models that FUZE4 comes with. You may explore initially and mistakenly think it's a shallow app. IT IS NOT. There is a LOT here. You don't need to make all the assets yourself, and if you're interested in game makers like PICO8 then the idea of making a Switch game with minimal effort will be super attractive to you.

Writing code with FUZE4
3D Demos with FUZE4 Lots of Programs come with FUZE4 Nintendo Switch
Software Keyboard inside FUZE4 Get started with code and FUZE4

FUZE and FUZE Basic also exists on the Raspberry Pi and there are boot images available to check out. It also supports the Raspberry Pi Sense Hat add-on board.

They are also working on FUZE4 Windows as well so stay turned for that! If you register for their forums you can also check out their PDF workbooks and language tutorials. However, if you're like me, you'll have more fun reading the code for the included samples and games and figuring things out from there.

FUZE4 on the Nintendo Switch is hugely impressive and frankly, I'm surprised more people aren't talking about it. Don't sleep on FUZE4, my kids have been enjoying it. I do recommend you use an external USB keyboard to have the best coding experience. You can buy FUZE4 as a digital download on the Nintendo Shop.


Sponsor: Like C#? We do too! That’s why we've developed a fast, smart, cross-platform .NET IDE which gives you even more coding power. Clever code analysis, rich code completion, instant search and navigation, an advanced debugger...With JetBrains Rider, everything you need is at your fingertips. Code C# at the speed of thought on Linux, Mac, or Windows. Try JetBrains Rider today!

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

facebook twitter subscribe
About   Newsletter
Sponsored By
Hosting By
Dedicated Windows Server Hosting by SherWeb

Emulating a PlayStation 1 (PSX) entirely with C# and .NET

September 12, '19 Comments [15] Posted in Gaming | Open Source
Sponsored By

I was reading an older post in an emulator forum where someone was asking for a Playstation 1 (PSX) emulator written in C#, and the replies went on and on about how C# and .NET are not suited for emulation, C# is far too slow, negativity, blah blah.

Of course, that's silly. Good C# can run at near-native speed given all the work happening in the runtime/JITter, etc.

I then stumbled on this very early version of a PSX Emulator in C#. Now, if you were to theoretically have a Playtation SCPH1001.BIN BIOS and then physically owned a Playstation (as I do) and then created a BIN file from your physical copy of Crash Bandicoot, you could happily run it as you can see in the screenshot below.

Crash Bandicoot on a C#-based PSX Emulator

This project is very early days, as the author points out, but I was able to Git Clone and directly open the code in Visual Studio 2019 Community (which is free) and run it immediately. Note that as of the time of this blog post, the BIOS location *and* BIN files are hardcoded in the CD.cs and BUS.cs files. I named the BIN file "somegame.bin."

PSX Emualtor in C# inside Visual Studio

A funny note, since the code is unbounded as it currently sits, while I get about 30fps in Debug mode, in Release mode the ProjectPSX Emulator runs at over 120fps on my system, emulating a PlayStation 1 at over 220% of the usual CPU speed!

Just to make sure there's no confusion, and to support the author I want to repeat this question and answer here:

Can i use this emulator to play?

"Yes you can, but you shouldn't. There are a lot of other more capable emulators out there. This is a work in progress personal project with the aim to learn about emulators and hardware implementation. It can and will break during emulation as there are a lot of unimplemented hardware features."

This is a great codebase to learn from and read - maybe even support with your own Issues and PRs if the author is willing, but as they point out, it's neither complete nor ready for consumption.

Again, from the author who has other interesting emulators you can read:

I started doing a Java Chip8 and a C# Intel 8080 CPU (used on the classic arcade Space Invaders). Some later i did Nintendo Gameboy. I wanted to keep forward to do some 3D so i ended with the PSX as it had a good library of games...

Very cool stuff! Reading emulator code is a great way to not only learn about a specific language but also to learn 'the full stack.' We often hear Full Stack in the context of a complete distributed web application, but for many the stack goes down to the metal. This emulator literally boots up from the real BIOS of a Playstation and emulates the MIPS R3000A, a BUS to connect components, the CPU, the CD-ROM, and display.

An emulator has to lie at every step so that when an instruction is reached it can make everyone involved truly believe they are really running on a Playstation. If it does its job, no one suspects! That's why it's so interesting.

You can also press TAB to see the VRAM visualized as well as textures and color lookup tables which is super interesting!

Visualizing VRAM

One day, some day, there will be no physical hardware in existence for some of these old/classic consoles. Even today, lots of people play games for NES and SNES on a Nintendo Switch and may never see or touch the original hardware. It's important to support emulation development and sites like archive.org with Donations to make sure that history is preserved!

NOTE: It's also worth pointing out that it took me about 15 minutes to port this from .NET Framework 4.7.2 to .NET Core 3.0. More on this, perhaps, in another post. I'll also do a benchmark and see if it's faster.

I encourage you to go give a Github Star to ProjectPSX and enjoy reading this interesting bit of code. You can also read about the PSX Hardware written by Martin Korth for a trove of knowledge.


Sponsor: Develop Xamarin applications without difficulty with the latest JetBrains Rider: Xcode integration, JetBrains Xamarin SDK, and manage the required SDKs for Android development, all right from the IDE. Get it today

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

facebook twitter subscribe
About   Newsletter
Sponsored By
Hosting By
Dedicated Windows Server Hosting by SherWeb

The PICO-8 Virtual Fantasy Console is an idealized constrained modern day game maker

August 8, '19 Comments [4] Posted in Gaming | Hardware | Open Source
Sponsored By

Animated GIF of PICO-8I love everything about PICO-8. It's a fantasy gaming console that wants you - and the kids in your life and everyone you know - to make games!

How cool is that?

You know the game Celeste? It's available on every platform, has one every award and is generally considered a modern-day classic. Well the first version was made on PICO-8 in 4 days as a hackathon project and you can play it here online. Here's the link when they launched in 4 years ago on the forums. They pushed the limits, as they call out "We used pretty much all our resources for this. 8186/8192 code, the entire spritemap, the entire map, and 63/64 sounds." How far could one go? Wolf3D even?

"A fantasy console is like a regular console, but without the inconvenience of actual hardware. PICO-8 has everything else that makes a console a console: machine specifications and display format, development tools, design culture, distribution platform, community and playership. It is similar to a retro game emulator, but for a machine that never existed. PICO-8's specifications and ecosystem are instead designed from scratch to produce something that has it's own identity and feels real. Instead of physical cartridges, programs made for PICO-8 are distributed on .png images that look like cartridges, complete with labels and a fixed 32k data capacity."

What a great start and great proof that you can make an amazing game in a small space. If you loved GameBoys and have fond memories of GBA and other small games, you'll love PICO-8.

How to play PICO-8 cartridges

Demon CastleIf you just want to explore, you can go to https://www.lexaloffle.com and just play in your browser! PICO-8 is a "fantasy console" that doesn't exist physically (unless you build one, more on that later). If you want to develop cartridges and play locally, you can buy the whole system (any platform) for $14.99, which I have.

If you have Windows and Chrome or New Edge you can just plug in your Xbox Controller with a micro-USB cable and visit https://www.lexaloffle.com/pico-8.php and start playing now! It's amazing - yes I know how it works but it's still amazing - to me to be able to play a game in a web browser using a game controller. I guess I'm easily impressed.

It wasn't very clear to me how to load and play any cartridge LOCALLY. For example, I can play Demon Castle here on the Forums but how do I play it locally and later, offline?

The easy way is to run PICO-8 and hit ESC to get their command line. Then I type LOAD #cartid where #cartid is literally the id of the cartridge on the forums. In the case of Demon Castle it's #demon_castle-0 so I can just LOAD #demon_castle-0 followed by RUN.

Alternatively - and this is just lovely - if I see the PNG pic of the cartridge on a web page, I can just save that PNG locally and save it in C:\Users\scott\AppData\Roaming\pico-8\carts then run it with LOAD demon_castle-0 (or I can include the full filename with extensions). THAT PNG ABOVE IS THE ACTUAL GAME AS WELL. What a clever thing - a true virtual cartridge.

One of the many genius parts of the PICO-8 is that the "Cartridges" are actually PNG pictures of cartridges. Drink that in for a second. They save a screenshot of the game while the cart is running, then they hide the actual code in a steganographic process - they are hiding the code in two of the bits of the color channels! Since the cart pics are 160*205 there's enough room for 32k.

A p8 file is source code and a p8.png is the compiled cart!

How to make PICO-8 games

The PICO-8 software includes everything you need - consciously constrained - to make AND play games. You hit ESC to move between the game and the game designer. It includes a sprite and music editor as well.

From their site, the specifications are TIGHT on purpose because constraints are fun. When I write for the PalmPilot back in the 90s I had just 4k of heap and it was the most fun I've had in years.

  • Display - 128x128 16 colours
  • Cartridge Size - 32k
  • Sound - 4 channel chip blerps
  • Code - Lua
  • Sprites - 256 8x8 sprites
  • Map - 128x32 cels

"The harsh limitations of PICO-8 are carefully chosen to be fun to work with, to encourage small but expressive designs, and to give cartridges made with PICO-8 their own particular look and feel."

The code you will use is Lua. Here's some demo code of a Hello World that animates 11 sprites and includes two lines of text

t = 0
music(0) -- play music from pattern 0

function _draw()
cls()
for i=1,11 do -- for each letter
for j=0,7 do -- for each rainbow trail part
t1 = t + i*4 - j*2 -- adjusted time
y = 45-j + cos(t1/50)*5 -- vertical position
pal(7, 14-j) -- remap colour from white
spr(16+i, 8+i*8, y) -- draw letter sprite
end
end

print("this is pico-8", 37, 70, 14)
print("nice to meet you", 34, 80, 12)
spr(1, 64-4, 90) -- draw heart sprite
t += 1
end

That's just a simple example, there's a huge forum with thousands of games and lots of folks happy to help you in this new world of game creation with the PICO-8. Here's a wonderful PICO-8 Cheat Sheet to print out with a list of functions and concepts. Maybe set it as your wallpaper while developing? There's a detailed User Manual and a 72 page PICO-8 Zine PDF which is really impressive!

And finally, be sure to bookmark this GitHub hosted amazing curated list of PICO-8 resources! https://github.com/pico-8/awesome-PICO-8

image image

Writing PICO-8 Code in another Editor

There is a 3 year old PICO-8 extension for Visual Studio Code that is a decent start, although it's created assuming a Mac, so if you are a Windows user, you will need to change the Keyboard Shortcuts to something like "Ctrl-Shift-Alt-R" to run cartridges. There's no debugger that I'm seeing. In an ideal world we'd use launch.json and have a registered PICO-8 type and that would make launching after changing code a lot clearer.

There is a more recent "pico8vscodeditor" extension by Steve Robbins that includes snippets for loops and some snippets for the Pico-8 API. I recommend this newer fleshed out extension - kudos Steve! Be sure to include the full path to your PICO-8 executable, and note that the hotkey to run is a chord, starting with "Ctrl-8" then "R."

Telling VS-Code about PICO-8

Editing code directly in the PICO-8 application is totally possible and you can truly develop an entire cart in there, but if you do, you're a better person than I. Here's a directory listing in VSCode on the left and PICO-8 on the right.

Directories in PICO-8

And some code.

Editing Pico-8 code

You can export to HTML5 as well as binaries for Windows, Mac, and Linux. It's a full game maker! There are also other game systems out there like PicoLove that take PICO-8 in different directions and those are worth knowing about as well. There is a rich tiny game development community out  there, and you'd do yourself a favor to explore sites like https://pigame.dev.

What about a physical PICO-8 Console

A number of folks have talked about the ultimate portable handheld PICO-8 device. I have done a lot of spelunking and as of this writing it doesn't exist.

  • You could get a Raspberry Pi Zero and put this Waveshare LCD hat on top. The screen is perfect. But the joystick and buttons...just aren't. There's also no sound by default. But $14 is a good start.
  • The Tiny GamePi15, also from Waveshare could be good with decent buttons but it has a 240x240 screen.
  • The full sized Game Hat looks promising and has a large 480x320 screen so you could play PICO-8 at a scaled 256x256.
  • The RetroStone is also close but you're truly on your own, compiling drivers yourself (twitter thread) from what I can gather
  • The ClockworkPI GameShell is SOOOO close but the screen is 320x240 which makes 128x128 an awkward scaled mess with aliasing, and the screen the Clockwork folks chose doesn't have a true grid if pixels. Their pixels are staggered. Hopefully they'll offer an alternative module one day, then this would truly be the perfect device. There are clear instructions on how to get going.
  • The PocketCHIP has a great screen but a nightmare input keyboard.

For now, any PC, Laptop, or Rasberry Pi with a proper setup will do just fine for you to explore the PICO-8 and the world of fantasy consoles!


Sponsor: OzCode is a magical debugging extension for C#/.NET devs working in Visual Studio. Get to the root cause of your bugs faster with heads-up display, advanced search inside objects, LINQ query debugging, side-by-side object comparisons & more. Try for free!

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

facebook twitter subscribe
About   Newsletter
Sponsored By
Hosting By
Dedicated Windows Server Hosting by SherWeb
Page 1 of 28 in the Gaming category Next Page

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.