#Tech

For the Maker: Portable Gaming Machine… Look out Nintendo! Hello ODROID-GO Gaming Kit!

Want a fun — some assembly required — portable gaming experience? How about something that’s kid friendly and a great intro for how hardware tech works? If so, keep reading…

Quick Background

I first discovered ODROID a couple years back when researching computer boards. A computer board is a mini computer on a board, usually running an ARM processor and designed for Makers and Tinkerers. They can be insanely cheap ($5 USD), and are built to be mostly open source (more on the importance of this in another post) and accessible. I’ll likely have a post on compute boards in the future… stay tuned 😏.

For ODROID’s 10-year anniversary they produced a — some assembly required– gaming kit. I bought one on a whim and it was very simple to assemble and get running; probably the easiest time I’ve had with ‘do it yourself’ compute board project. Not only does it run games, it also runs Arduino and has a 10-pin header capacity to attach gadgets — so it makes for a fun portable device that you can attach sensors or really anything else to… if you get tired of playing games 😉.

Making It Work

Once assembled (see below), you need a MicroSD card with the ODROID GO ‘skelton file’ on it. I’d recommend doing this first so you can test prior to final assembly. ODROID has a pretty good guide assembly guide here. The Linux instructions will work on macOS as well (in theory you can just format it and copy files, formatting can be a little weird in macOS’ Disk Utility).

Once you format the MicroSD card, simply copy the files inside the “sdcard_0907” folder, to “odroid” & “roms,” in the MicroSD card. Make sure to eject it, pop it in the back of the device and turn on.

Quick note on SD card size. They recommend 8GB +; I successfully used a 2GB card, which doesn’t leave much room for ROMs, but did work for me. You can buy a MicroSD card below.

Assembly

Assembly was pretty straight forward and pictured below in 5 steps:

16 pieces and some screws.

  • Add screen and buttons.
  • Be mindful of the contacts on the ribbon (orange and gold) cable.
  • Don’t flex the screen too hard (covered with white wax paper).
  • Remove paper from LCD before next step.
  • Add the main board.
  • Start screwing (4).
  • Be mindful of the ribbon cable, need to plug that in next.
  • Attach ribbon cable.
  • Add speaker.
  • Add battery.
  • Attach back.
  • Add imaged MicroSD card.
  • It’s helpful to do a power on test to make sure everything is fitted and working.
  • Start screwin’ (6).
  • Almost done…
  • Add firmware MicroSD card and power on.

ROMs

If you want to play games, you need to obtain ROM files for them. A ROM image is a copy of the ROM cartridge. Basically, someone copied the information off the game cartridge and made a digital file of it. The ODROID GO has an emulator that understands that file and data and allows for the device to ‘play’ the game. Simply use your favorite search engine and download a copy of the ROM. Add it to the MicroSD card under the appropriate ROM folder and select to play.

Are ROMs Legal?

Great question. I’m not a lawyer. There seem to be lots of opinions on this. ARS Technica has a good write up. Fair use is something people claim applies. I’ve also read if you own the physical cartridge you might be ok (and yes, some of us actually still own these things).

Having the emulator is 100% legal, however, it doesn’t do much good without ROMs. You can always use it with the Arduino and learn to code. That is also 100% legal thanks to open source.

Final Thoughts & Opinions

In my opinion (not a lawyer) this is a great nostalgia project for people that grew up with these games and systems who may or may not have them anymore. It’s also a great way to introduce other generations to the games and a great way to introduce anyone to tech hardware building & tinkering. On the safe side, only download ROMs you own copies of I suppose… obviously don’t sell this as a product… but it’s an absolute shame to let these games die or be undiscovered by newer and future generations.

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About the author:

Andrew lives in Portland, OR and has worked in tech for over 15 years. With a foundation in philosophy, political theory, and communications, he is an avid thinker & tinkerer, constantly learning and exploring the world around us.

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