Archive for the 'Video Games' Category

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SteamBox Build

I haven’t been a PC gamer for years. I spend all day at work sitting a computer desk, I spend a lot of time at home sitting at a computer desk working (to keep my various websites running) so when I need some down-time I’d rather sit on my couch and play games then spend even more time at a computer desk…


A few months ago Valve introduced “Big Picture Mode” for Steam. This mode basically adjusts the Steam menu system for HDTVs and controller based navigation. Rumors started flying that they were going to make their own console to compete with Playstation and Xbox. More recently those rumors were somewhat confirmed when Valve announced that they will be making a “SteamBox” spec for what this Living Room PC should be, essentially allowing any hardware manufacturer to make their own variation of the SteamBox and at the same time help standardize the PC; the first of which is the Xi3 Piston.


This obviously intrigued me since there are a number of PC games I’d love to play but not wanting to drop $1000+ for a gaming PC and then spend even more time in my office playing it. So I set out to build my own budget SteamBox. The SteamBox “spec”  hasn’t been released, though chances are it would be out of my price range anyway so I was just going to see if I could get the job done for under $300 (what I’d expect to pay for a console) leveraging the piles and piles of old PCs I had laying around.


The first PC I was sacrificing was an old HTPC/DVR I built, after looking at the equipment inside I quickly determined that the only thing worth salvaging was the case itself and the disc-drive. The case was an nMedia HTPC 600BAR. It’s a nice black steel chassis that supports a full-sized ATX Motherboard with a real brushed aluminum front, an integrated IR window, as well as flash media ports right on the front and a decorative disc tray door. (it’s also got USB, Firewire, and audio ports on the side right near the front). The DVD R/W drive is nothing special but it’s compact, quite and supports SATA.

The second PC I salvaged was one that my brother gave to me. I had built it for him 2 years ago for HD Video editing. it was blue-screening on him every-time it booted up and he got frustrated and just bought a new PC and gave me his old one since I had built it. This had an Asus P5N-D motherboard which is setup for gaming with overclocking features, it had a Intel Core 2 Quad (Q6600) processor 3GB of DDR2 memory across two sticks, and a two Seagate Barracuda 320GB 7200RPM SATA drives setup in a RAID array. It had a really nice Rosewill 550W power supply and a good-for it’s time but now dated ATi graphics card along with various other bits of essentially uninteresting hardware.

Comparing the specs of the Q6600 to an Intel i3 I found them to be fairly comparable CPUs, the i3 was more efficient and slightly better for gaming tasks, but the Q6600 was a slightly better performer for non-gaming tasks. So I considered this a good-enough platform for my needs… I don’t need a graphics powerhouse and my projector is only 720P so as long as I can run games above 30FPS at 1280×720 with decent AA and textures I’ll be happy with the results. Sure an i3 would be a bit better and an i5 would be a big step up… but the Q6600 was free and that would give me a lot of room to work with the rest of it.


Since I was short-changing myself slightly on the processor side I wanted to get the beefiest graphics card (I could afford) that was compatible with the somewhat dated motherboard. the P5N-D includes 2 16x PCI-e 2.0 slots (3.x is the current new standard) looking around there were a few $400+ cards that still supported the v2.0 slot but the GTX550 seemed to fit my needs, it has an HDMI port (an absolute must for a TV build) and I found a used “superclocked” variant with 2GB of on-board memory for $120, I probably could have found. The next step up used  v3.0 and the 2GB variant of that was prohibitively expensive so this seemed like a good choice. I also picked up two used 2GB sticks of matching DDR2 memory for $25 to max out the motherboard supported of  8GB of memory.

If you’re keeping track at home I’ve spent $145 including shipping and my PC specs are:

  • nMedia 600BAR HTPC Case
  • Asus P5N-D Motherboard
  • Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 processor
  • 8GB Corsair DDR2 memory
  • nVidia GTX 550 Ti 2GB Superclocked
  • Seagate Barracuda 320GB 7200RPM HDD in RAID array
  • Rosewill 550W Power Supply
  • Lite-On DVD R/W drive
  • integrated flash media slots

Now came the came the part where I’d need to chose an operating system. Ideally I’d run Ubuntu but that’s not really an option for gaming. Rumor has it the official Valve SteamBox will run Linux, which is great and I’m sure that will vastly improve linux gaming support, but the market is just not there yet. I like Win 7 but I’ve heard that Win 8 is a little lighter and runs a little faster, not to mention the Metro UI while loathed by traditional PC gamers seems the perfect interface for a HTPC Gaming machine… Win 8 was the easy choice.


The Last piece of the puzzle is the peripherals, I have a wireless keyboard and mouse that I bought so I could use the keyboard with my Xbox 360 before they released the “chat pad”… it’s USB based with it’s own 2.4GHz transmitter. Keyboard and mouse are a necessary evil but I really don’t want to be using that very often, especially not from the couch. after some research I found there are these generic chinese IR remotes sold under a dozen different names that emulate a keyboard and mouse. The one above I bought on Amazon for $7.50 shipped. It’s pretty slick you can move the mouse pointer around using the big directional button and most of the other buttons are mapped to standard keyboard shortcuts. The best part is that the Harmony Remote supports this protocol so anything you can do via keyboard I can do via my harmony remote.

The first one I received had a defective IR receiver, but the Amazon seller sent me another one without any hesitation. I had to rig up a custom mounting bracket to hide the receive behind the IR window in the front of the case and I even had a USB pin header adapter so I’m not even snaking the cable out to an external port… nice and clean.


The last peripheral bit was to pickup an official Microsoft “Wireless Gaming Receiver” a small USB dongle that allows you to use any wireless Xbox 360 controller on a PC. Sadly I wont be able to easily mount this inside of the case as I will need access to the sync button. I considered doing something clever like cracking it open and re-appropriating the case’s reset button for sync but then I might still run into problems with the metal chassis interfering with the signal… so outside the case it will stay, I may make up a custom mount to keep it at the back of the case.


You may notice that there is another PCI card in there, this is simply a second network card. The reason being is that I had been using another old PC as a hardware firewall for my Xbox 360, this allowed me to force block people on Xbox Live, I’d remote into that PC and identify the IP of the person I didn’t want to play with and add them to the block list. I’d then never connect to them in-game again. It also worked the other way where I could set a white list so I would only connect to my friends, keeping randoms out or forcing myself onto a specific Xbox Live server. Now that I’ll have a PC in the same room as my Xbox I can use this for the firewall tasks and simply switch inputs on my receiver instead of involving my laptop to remote into the old firewall PC.

I haven’t tested it out yet (two of the fans in the case seems to be on their last leg so I want to replace those before I put it through it’s paces… I’m pretty happy with it so far and will be interested to see how my sub $300 SteamBox works out.

Saturn to 360 Adapter Revival?

cracksolth left a few comments on the page for my Saturn to 360 adapter, as a result I started looking back into it. I contacted the guys from Acid mods (great guys BTW) to see if they were doing anything different that would help me streamline the design. In terms of communicating with the older “Matrix” style 360 controllers I didn’t really learn much that I hadn’t already discovered; however I did learn that the newer Common Ground style controllers are getting easier to find by the day and that most of the new colored controllers all use that style of innards.

They even supplied me with this handy graphic to determine the difference between a Matrix and a CG controller without having to crack it open.

Difference between Matrix and CG style controllers

As a result I’ve decided to abandon the Matrix style controllers for the time being and just track down a CG style controller to work with since that will allow me to dramatically reduce the pin count.

I’m going to do some playing around and if I like the results I might re-open this project…

My goals this time is to get it to a point of making a “kit” or perhaps even making it easy enough that I can lower the costs involved as well as the ease of install so that more people can get their hands on this. If this is something you’ve been waiting for then you’ve only got cracksolth to thank.

Shoot me an email or post a comment if you have ideas for features you’d like to see.

Game Politics

I was poking around my Xbox 360’s blog on and  I noticed they had a link to google twistedsymphony. I google my name (both TS and my real name) every so often just to see what pops up. Usually I get links to my various websites, articles I’ve written and a whole lot of new posts about my Saturn 2 360 controller adapter. I noticed that their search query added the term “xbox” to the search as well. I clicked it expecting to get the usual, but a few links down from the top I noticed that mentioned me.

GamePolitics is the foremost internet publication discussing political issues surrounding games.  In general they act as an unbiased source of news about new game related bills being past as well as prominent lawsuits. I don’t frequent the site but they pop up on the radar quite often when big things start happening.

This is why I was flattered to see that my analysis of the ICE Raids on Modchip shops last year: The Legality of Modding, garnered two whole dedicated articles on their site. The first article captured the overall theme of what I was going for and used it as the voice of the modders side of the story describing it as “the most lucid, detailed and passionate criticism we’ve seen”. The second article was dedicated to a small bit of irony I noted at the end of my rant pointing out that the “gallery” provided by ICE was comprised entirely of copyrighted images that they themselves were infringing. This time they referred to me as “embittered”, which is accurate but somewhat humorous considering how my analysis was described by them just days earlier.

This is mostly old news but for all the writing I do online it’s nice to see that other people read and appreciate it as well.

FWIW I haven’t done any modding for quites some time now. Right now it’s just not worth it, I haven’t put a soldering iron to a console since long before I wrote that ICE Raids rant, nor I  have I even used any homebrew software since then.  I still write my Representatives and Senators regularly about my opinions on these issues.

I’m not giving up by any stretch of the imagination, I just feel that my efforts would be best served towards some goals that don’t walk the blurry lines of legality according to the DMCA. “The Scene” is pretty boring overall right now anyway. You’ll see something analogous to my Saturn Adapter sometime this year. In the mean time my efforts are pointed almost entirely towards my latest pet project:, which is coming along quite nicely.

My New Toy: A Light Tent

Over the Weekend I picked up a Light Tent. If you’ve never heard of one of these things it’s basically a white tent with a felt like material on the back and bottom and the top and sides are made of a semi-transparent white tent material. Color corrected lamps are placed outside the tent  and shine through the sides defusing the light. This is basically the kind of thing they use to make professional product photos with a pure white background and no shadows.

Professional tents can cost thousands and then you still need to buy lamps but this one was less than $100 and included the lights . It works exceptionally well for what I’m using it for. The included felt material comes in gray and blue (for easily cropping out the background in photoshop), I might look into  picking up some white material  and building some stuff to keep it under tension to keep out ripples and reduce shadows further.

In any case I’m more than pleased with what I got for my money. You can see the first photos I took with it over on

Saturn to 360 Controller Adapter

May 1st I decided I wanted to tackle a big project. I wanted to do something that no one had attempted before and was beyond my current skill set. I had seen numerous inquiries on the forums from people who wanted to know how hard it was to use “X” controller with the Xbox 360. It always boggles my mind how little people know about this stuff and how 90% of the time they simply assume they can just cut the connector off of any cable, twist some wires together and call it a day. I wanted to do something to show everyone that these things were not impossible, nor were they that simple. I eventually decided to build an adapter that would allow me to use a Sega Saturn controller on the Xbox 360.

Saturn to 360 Adapter Logo

I chose the Saturn controller because the data protocol seemed simple and straight forward but complex enough that the circuit design would be interesting and challenging. I assumed that the converted output from the circuit would work easily with the Xbox 360 controller without any major problems, that turned out to not be the case.

I started off under the assumption that since the data from the Saturn controller was a simply multiplexed across four channels I could use some demultiplexers and get some good results. I didn’t know much about multiplexers/demultiplexer and as it turns out they don’t work the way I thought they did. So this didn’t work out.

Saturn Controller Protocol and PinoutSaturn Adapter First Test using demultiplexers

After the false start with the multiplexer I went back to the drawing board and started researching microcontrollers. I had limited experience with microcontrollers in the past but I knew enough that I knew it would work and that I would be able to figure out how to make it work. I eventually decided to go with a Microchip PIC solution using the PICkit2 and its included microcontroller. The first test was successful.

Saturn Adapter First Test with Microcontroller

After that I did a simple test to interface the microcontroller output to the Xbox 360 controller using transistors. This test was also a success. I had to actually use the guts of an Xbox 360 controller for communication between the console and the Saturn controller due to Microsoft’s security system. All major peripherals, especially the wireless ones have their communications encrypted and require a special chip sold only from Microsoft. This is also the reason no 3rd party wireless controllers have become available yet.

Once I scaled the transistor solution across all of the buttons I soon learned that the transistors would not work as anticipated. while my prior test had seemed to work, it had some side effects that were not immediately apparent.

Saturn to 360 adapter 1st Prototype with transistors

I rebuild the whole section of the circuit between the controller and the microcontroller and I ran a ribbon cable from the controller to the bread board just for my own piece of mind. This actually worked great but I was having the occasional voltage problems since the circuit was so large and drawing so much power. The power issues were worked out by simply adding more batteries.

Ribbon Cable Controller InterfaceSaturn to 360 Adapter Prototype 2a using Analog Switches

This ended up being the final version of the adapter. There were a few loose ends that I never tied up but I had met the goals that I had set out to achieve. I showed that controller adapters were possible albeit not easy either.

To my Surprise this project caught the attention of A LOT of gaming news organizations. The one I am most proud of however is an interview I had with Official Xbox Magazine in the UK. I got two whole pages dedicated to the interview and pictures as well as a teaser blurb on the front cover and main index. It has since been reposed on CVG sans pictures.

Here is a link list of all the other websites that covered it:

If you know of other news sites or corners of the web that ran an article or had some comments on it, let me know.

If you’re interested in the more technical side of the project the project log can be found on the Xbox-Scene forums. There is also a wrap-up post with all the important bits in one place. Another interesting bit is a fellow by the name of SaturnAR posted with some in-depth information on the Saturn analog controller which is well worth reading and he remains the only source of this info that I’ve ever seen.


Ever since I saw the WiiFree LCD mod I’ve been racking my brain how to integrate an LCD into such a small case and the key to it all came to me one weekend, after which I went straight online and ordered everything I needed.

I originally wanted to use a RED 20×2 I had laying around but it wouldn’t fit how I wanted it. I have a 16×2 green VFD I could have used but it would require some tinted glass so I didn’t want to use that. I ordered two White on blue 16×2 LCDs from CrystalFontz which will mesh perfectly with the Wii’s natural styling.

I had been racking my brain trying to figure out how to fit an LCD into the Wii’s case because of how incredibly small it is and how tight the innards are. While I was poking around Circuit City I saw an interesting product, a horizontal stand for the Wii with a matching box off to the site designed to hold a remote and nunchuck. As you can see from these pictures the potential for a slick LCD add-on is great.

Wii LCD Case Unmodified Wii LCD Case Inside Unmodified

I started by measuring my LCD to get the dimensions of the viewable area, and playing with placement to make sure that it would fit inside the case with the lid closed and still look centered on the outside. Even with all the empty space here the height of the case and the angled bottom still made this a tight fit that required a little bit of trimming. Once I got the placement down I masked off where I was going to cut my window. Used a rotary tool to rough cut it and then used metal files to make the cuts clean and flat and then finally some light sanding on the edges to make them look natural and slightly rounded. I did it this way because I didn’t want to have to paint the case the glossy plastic of the stand matched the Wii perfectly and having to paint or bondo to cover up any mistakes would have ruined that perfect match.

Wii LCD Case Masked off Cutting Area Wii LCD Case Rough Cut Wii LCD Case Cuts Filed Flat

Once the cuts were made I gutted the interior to remove all of the crap that I don’t need. While I don’t need the empty space either I figure that it might be beneficial for future projects, it might be cool to hardwire a set of Wavebird wireless adapters in here or hardwire a USB port and a LAN adapter or something along those lines. There’s certainly enough space for all of those things.


Wii LCD Case Gutted

Now that the case was done I could turn to the electronics. I knew that I needed a small PCB and I wanted it to sit like a backpack on the back of the LCD. I wanted to mount the chip to the back of the LCD rather than inside the Wii because if I ever need to reflash it getting at the chip would be trivial. Using pin headers to connect everything meant that I could easily pull the system apart for repairs or adding features down the road. I started by laying out how the electronics would all fit on a PCB, then I soldered them in place, then I went pin by pin from the WiiFree install instructions to make sure all of the points on the chip lined up with all of the points on my custom pin header. It was a lot easier than it looks. One benefit to using a socket for the chip is that you can solder it in place with the chip removed, meaning you don’t risk damaging the chip with the heat of the iron.

Wii LCD Case Electronics Laid out Wii LCD Case Electronics Completed

Once I had the electronics all soldered up I could place the LCD inside the case to complete the look. The LCD was simply hot glued in place. Using multiple dots of hot glue is the best procedure as even if one drop breaks the whole glue seam wont rip off like a string. Hot glue is fine for situations like this too because it’s not really holding any weight or resisting any force. Not to mention if you screw up it’s pretty easy to remove it and fix it.

Wii LCD Case Complete

So I have this awesome looking Wii LCD case now. I went ahead and soldered up a ribbon cable internally to a pin header hanging out the back of the case (sorry I forgot to take pictures) and I was all ready to get this thing up and running. Unfortunately when I went to flash the firmware to my chip I came to the painful realization that by USB programmer, a programmer that I bought because it works with 99.9% of Microchip’s PIC products did not support the chip I was using. I would seem that this is one of the very few chips that falls into that .1% range. So without the firmware I had to go back to using my internal 12F629 for the time being. I’ll get around to building a programmer for the chip I’m using to get the LCD up and running but it will have to wait until the next time I put in my big annual Digikey parts order.

You can follow the progress of this project using the project log on Nintendo-Scene.

Xbox LED Ring

Back when I was involved with, “rb” and I considered opening up shop and making a few kits to sell. There were a number of factors why it never happened but we actually designed and prototyped an LED ring for the Xbox 1. At the time there weren’t any LED rings on the market really. People who had LED Rings were basically making their own by hot gluing LEDs to the inside of their case. The effect was pretty cool, I actually had one setup with 16 blue LEDs at one point and another one setup with eight red LEDs in an “X” pattern. I snapped some pictures of the two setups in use with some custom laser engraved jewels from Xport, though the pictures really speak more for the quality of the jewels than they do for the LED ring.

Halo BlueFace BlueBlack Hole Blue

Halo RedFace RedBlack Hole Red

The Hardmods LED ring was basically just a PCB that you would solder to yourself. What was interesting about our design is that you could set it up to to have anywhere from 1 to 16 LEDs mounted evenly around the ring. I’ve still got 3 prototypes sitting on the desk in my office. LED Ring Prototypes LED Ring Prototypes

I don’t have the schematics though. (rb, if you’re reading this send it to me please!) When I got the prototypes I also received a poster sized print of the LED ring layout with color coded traces. It had no dimensions but it’s the only documentation I ever had for the things. I’m not sure exactly where it is but I’m sure I could find it if I looked. It’d be no more useful than if I simply scanned one of my prototypes anyway.

ProjectDeck / Xi-Fi

A group of Xbox case modders from Xbox-Scene set out to design and build a case that delivered on the failed promises of a high level case called “XDeck” The XDeck was a case that would house extra hard drives or DVD drive, integrate a DVD dongle and allow switching between devices. All XDeck ever delivered was a few concept images done in photoshop.

XDeck v2 XDeck v3 Pro

In January of 2003 some “team” proposed that they were going to build the ultimate Xbox modder’s accessory. A device that would manage multiple hard drives and enclose them all into a OEM looking case as well. They talked a big show for months and eventually released “concept images” which were clearly just Photoshoped pictures of an Xbox. After not delivering any solid evidence that they had actually developed what they said they had, or even had any groundwork laid out to produce said product they actually had the audacity to start collecting donations and pre-orders from people. Of course like all good scams once they had milked as many donations and pre-orders as they could they vanished off of the face of the earth.

To prove that the ingenuity of “the scene” was just as good if not better than these schmucks; in May of 2004 HSDEMONZ from Xbox-Scene decided to round up some of the best case modders in the forums to succeed where the XDeck had failed, this group was aptly named ProjectDeck.

ProjectDeck Banner

I was not originally a member of the team but shortly after things had started moving I expressed interest in the project to Palmore, the current project leader, who invited me to join the team. I’m a very opinionated person, coupled with the fact that I’m blunt verbose and slightly abrasive, as a result I often find myself getting put in leadership positions. In some cases it’s nice but a lot of times it’s a job I don’t really want. It didn’t take long before I ended up as project leader.

I don’t remember the exact sequence of events but we had devised a large questionnaire to find out what the Xbox-Scene population wanted in a case. A member by the name of DeAdGuy created a survey for us and it worked out great. Having the support of Xbox-Scene in the hay day of Xbox 1 modding produced thousands of members providing us with feedback. In addition to questions we had added a few photoshopped images of layouts that people could vote on which ones they liked the best.

We took the feedback to heart and produced some 3D concept images and started working on a prototype.

ProjectDeck Model 1