Arduino Pac-Man project

See also: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9 and part 10.

Here is a quick demo of something I wrote last night for an Arduino UNO. I have an iTead Studios Screw Shield attached to it ($3.50, to simplify hooking up wires), and an iTead Joystick Shield ($4.50, for input). Then, using only two resistors and an RCA cable, plus a clever library, I was able to start programming a Pac-Man style game on the Arduino. This is the first of a multi-part series of articles explaining the steps in this project.

When I first began playing with an Arduinio Duemilanove at work in 2012,  I learned how to program it by reading through the reference material at the main Arduino website. I had heard of Arduino, but had never learned anything about it, so I was quite impressed with all the various libraries that were available to handle everything from serial communication to I2C protocol. One of the more surprising discoveries was that you could do  video output by wiring up two resistors to an RCA phono jack. Clever programming allowed the Arduino to create the scan line signals that would produce a low resolution black and white composite video screen. Here is the information page on it, showing a simple diagram of how you wire things up:

At the time, I thought we might be able to use low-cost Arduinos to output some information displays at a local haunted house event (wait times, “now serving” queue management systems, etc.) but I never pursued it.

Later, I found out about two projects that were based on this TVout concept to produce retro Arduino video games: Hackvision, and the Video Game Shield.

The Hackvision was a custom Arduino device (based around the UNO) with directional and fire buttons right on the circuit board, as well as RCA jacks for audio and video output. It is currently available in a kit for $33.95, or fully assembled for $43.95.

The Video Game Shield is an add-on shield for an Arduino UNO that provided RCA jacks for audio and video output, as well as connectors for two Nintendo Wii nunchuck controllers. It is available in a kit for $22.50.

A third, similar project, called the Gamby, is a shield that includes a low resolution LCD display as well as bottoms, and turns an Arduinio in to a portable Gameboy-style gaming device. It is available in a kit for $25.

If you visit the project websites, you will find some example videos of games written for these add-ons. Due to the different ways that input is handled, games written for one platform do not play on the others (and I think the Gamby has a different video system). It does appear that games written for the generic TVout library are easily ported between systems.

Some of the games that have been written include clones of Space Invaders, Pong, Tetris, and Asteroids. The Gamby site has quite a few other titles (like a Joust clone) that I do not think have been ported to the other platforms.

I have recently become re-interested in retro video games. Two  retro video arcades have recently opened here in Des Moines, Iowa. (UP-DOWN opened in October 2013, followed by  Barcadium opened in January 2014.) Being able to step back in time and play games like Space Invaders (1978) and Pac-Man (1980) makes me feel both young again, and very old, as I realize most of the visitors to these arcades were not even born when I was first inserting quarters in these machines when they were brand new.

This led me to dusting off the old MAME emulator and once again exploring various classic arcade games. I was particularly intrigued by some of the late 1970s games that came out before the arcade scene got popular. These games used low resolution, black and white graphics and simple sound effects. I couldn’t help but think “I could have written this.” But back then, “no one” had a computer – especially not some seven year old kid growing up in Houston, Texas (like I was). So no, I could not have written any of those games, back then, two decades later, I did create and sell my own Space Invaders clone for the Radio Shack Color Computer running under OS-9. If I could have done that in 1978, maybe I would be a millionaire right now ;-)

Up next: It lives!