Hello fellow engineers, hackers, makers, tinkerers, enthusiasts, and otherwise weird individuals! My name is Benny Michaels (a.k.a. Binary Ben) and I am here to Hack Like Heck... almost as if there is some kind of epic job up for grabs? Well that's the rumour anyway..
Here is the cookie cutter <tl;dr> to help the lovely organisers(†) keep track of everyone:
- I intend to make a video that shows me creating a working hand held, portable gaming device
- I will post the video on the element14 Community by the submission deadline, 2-April-2018
- If my video is one of the top 10 finalists I will receive $500 for my video (and potentially a trip to meet THE Ben Heck, yay!)
- BONUS: I am hopeful that this is the start of me producing more entertaining content through element14's new Content Partner Program, so make sure you let me know what you like and don't like!
(†) seriously, they have been super friendly and helpful!
A Tale of Two Bens
Ben Heckendorn ("Ben Heck") is an internet celebrity that I have personally been watching on and off for a very long time. He is best known for his YouTube show called, "The Ben Heck Show" which regularly sees him making projects such as gaming console mods (typically with retro consoles) and other portable computing devices – often using raspberry pi's and various microcontrollers. I have a lot of respect for the massive amount of work Ben puts into his shows, but at the same time I'd love to see a similar show that focuses at least a little more on showing others how to make projects that could be properly open sourced, or even commercialised to allow further development and use after the episodes finish.
I've often wondered if I potentially have the skills and personality required to create a similar show, but with the added focus on polishing the projects further. At the same time, I've always had the nagging feeling at the back of my mind that there may only be room in the community for one Ben! Well as it turns out, Heck has decided he doesn't want to hack it anymore. This is actually quite a shame, as his latest episodes have started to become a lot closer to the type of content I'd love to see more of. However, if you look around online, it's easy to see the writing was on the wall and Ben is clearly ready to do something different. Now Element14 is holding a contest to try and find someone new who can Hack Like Heck, and I intend to be that person. I encourage you to follow along with my first public project build and be a part of what could be the start of something new and exciting! I may succeed, or I may not – but I am pretty sure it will be entertaining whatever happens.
The contest requires me to recreate one of Ben's most popular builds. By the start of April I will need to upload an episode of sorts to show off myself and my build. I also created an audition video (mine is at the top of this post) which required me to respond to these three prompts:
How you would answer the viewer’s request and how that would make Ben’s build better?
Tell us about your electronics experience (previous projects, school, work) that proves you have the skills to get this done
And that you’re committed to turning this around by the submission deadline - because that’s the hardest part!
This particular blog update is going to go into more detail on the first question. Future updates will delve more into who I am and what sort of content I want to create in the future. The posts will also be used to keep you updated on my progress with the build between now and the big reveal.
Introducing the SN35 Mini Concept
In terms of answering the question of how to make Ben Heck's original build better (see Part 1 and Part 2), it is important to note that Heck's design already has a lot of merit – which is what makes this challenge particularly interesting. It's a great compact little device, and not using HDMI was a neat technical feat. More importantly, it's hard to understand how difficult it is to complete creative work with a deadline unless you do it yourself.
However, I am arguing that the intent of the build very abruptly changed from making a portable Super Nintendo Mini, to instead making another fairly generic portable MAME device (especially with that 6 button layout typically used for street fighting arcade games). That is still an impressive thing to pull off, but I was left wondering what we could do to make the gameplay experience more SNES–like for the fans of the show.
With that in mind, my idea is to replicate Heck's latest portable MAME build for the most part, but focus on better emulating the look and feel of the classic SNES controller. In terms of what will change electronically, I'll probably end up using a RPi Zero W and will therefore need to add a DAC for sound, as well as an ADC for joysticks (potentially!). I will also hopefully allow retro USB controllers and a HDMI screen to be plugged in for a big screen, multiplayer experience if the Pi Zero has the power to handle it.
A concept drawing of the proposed SN35 portable gaming system. Snazzy logos included! What would you change, if anything?
The concept for the SN35 Mini draws on inspiration from many classic gaming devices. The obvious examples include the layout of the Dualshock controllers and PSP from Sony, the original Nintendo Game Boy Advance, and of course the aesthetics of the SNES system itself. However, a lot of the build is also going to be loosely based on a commercial product called the SN30 Pro by 8Bitdo. In many ways, I am hoping to build an open source, elongated version of that with a built in screen! That is also the inspiration for the naming (my device's name can be read as "SNES Mini" if you're a gamer though.. so it's better hehe).