Favorite Hardware Hacks


If there’s one thing that the internet has proved, it’s that there are some awesome people out there doing amazing things with electronics. Or maybe now they just have a ubiquitous platform for them to show off their tinkering. Either way, we are blessed with the chance to check out the crazy results of their labors, but chagrined at the fact that most of these items are one-of-a-kind and we’ll never be able to own them ourselves. That is, unless we can offer the creators a huge lump of money and ask them to recreate their masterpiece.

But sadly, that’s not case.

Plan B is to take a look at the pictures and videos of these amazing hardware hacks in action and drool into your keyboard. Whether it’s a breathalyzer built into a Nintendo Entertainment System-era game or a working steampunk laptop complete with handcrank, these hardware hacks will excite your imagination and make you green with envy at the talents of their creators.


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Most of you are probably familiar with a little show called Doctor Who that’s been on the air since 1963. The TARDIS is perhaps the most recognizable image from the entire series, an extra-dimensional sentient spacecraft whose chameleon circuits have malfunctioned, locking the outward appearance of the ship as a 1960s English police call box.

You might also be aware that MAME is a way to play old school cabinet videogames with only software. What better way to symbolize the different worlds that videogames can transport its players and the worlds that the TARDIS can travel to by building a MAME console that looks like a TARDIS? (It’s also a great way to combine two of the most common captilized acronyms that’s visually appealing – MAME TARDIS, maybe it’s just me …)

New Zealander Simon Jansen actually created the two different components separately, designing the TARDIS to fit the MAME console he had built. But the finished product looks awesome.

And Jansen even got part of the TARDIS signed by Sylvester McCoy, the 7th Doctor himself. How cool is that?

Check out how Jansen built the TARDIS MAME console on his website www.asciimation.co.nz.


R2-D2 Xbox

“Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”

The projected hologram of Princess Leia Organa speaking her plea to the old Jedi master is a hallmark of sci-fi nerddom. It was only a matter of time for someone to have the idea of putting an Xbox 360 hardware inside of a plastic R2-D2 replica. But it was a leap of absolute brilliance to equip the astromech droid with a projector so that you could play games with the light produced by R2.

Major League Mods gets major props from me for not only the hardware chops needed to make this hack work, but for how the concept fits so perfectly within the fiction of Star Wars.

Mark Bongo and his crew also have an Xbox in the shape of the Millenium Falcon, but that one doesn’t have the punch as R2-D2 projecting your game on the screen.

The cool part is that these mods are actually for sale. Check out Major League Mods.com for more information.


Portable N64

Moore’s law makes sure that computing power grows exponentially so that the strength of the cutting edge game consoles of the 1990s like the Nintendo 64 is eclipsed by today’s handhelds. That doesn’t mean that the games from that era shouldn’t still be enjoyed, and what better way to do so than modded an N64 that fits in the palm of your hand. If it has a nifty blue casing and can fit any cartridge, all the better.

My dreams have come true! A user called “Biggi” from Modded By Bacteria forums put this gem together and it seems to work perfectly. I was amazed to learn that this handheld N64 was Biggi’s first modding project, it looks like it was created by a master.

Also, props for using Goldeneye as your demo. I freaking loved that game. Now I have to fire up the remake when I get home now. Thanks, Biggi.


NES in an NES Cartridge

Let’s take Moore’s law even further. The computing power needed to play the original Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo Entertainment System is just a fraction of what’s available now, and in much smaller sizes. That’s why it was possible for a user named “dany32412” on Instructables.com to put all the inner workings of an NES inside an NES cartidge.

All the parts are there: the connectors for two controllers, the power switch and even a port to plug in other NES cartridges. No word on whether you have to blow in each cartridge before it will work, though.

This hack is made possible by a Chinese clones of the Nintendo Famicom that basically puts all of the power of the NES on one chip. Once you get your hands on that chip, you could pretty much put an NES into any object. Now all someone needs to do is make a game console out of completely ridiculous things. Perhaps a NES inside of deck of Magic cards? An NES Optimus Prime? An NES in a sandwich?

The sky’s the limit.


Breathalyzer NES Game

What’s better than getting drunk and playing videogames? Getting drunk in order to play games on a home-built breathalyzer controller. That’s exactly what electrical engineer Andrew Reitano and his pals did one evening to create the custom controller and accompanying videogame DrunkNES.

Reitano explains how this totally awesome hack came about, and as you can imagine there was some imbibing of alcohol involved.

I came across an alcohol sensor and thought it would be fun to play with. I hooked it up to a scope and showed it to a couple of friends I had over. A couple of hours later we had a ROM with the sound pitching up as it detected more alcohol – which we really couldn’t stop laughing about.

From there, Reitano assembled a team to make a quick game, with his friends pitching in art assets and coding expertise. The game is heavily based on terrible animal puns, but that’s something we can forgive considering that you get a higher score the drunker you are.

The world is a better place because of this work. Thank you, Andrew.


Quad Controllers

One hardware modders works his magic not for shits and giggles, but for one of the most heart-warming gaming causes that I’ve ever come across. Ken Yankelevitz is a retired engineer who spends his free time making game controllers for people paralyzed from the waist down. By using lip switches and blow tubes, Yankelevitz’s “Quad Controllers” allow people who would ordinarily have no outlet the ability to control something that most of us take for granted.

Yankelewitz has used his experience building flight simulators for the aviation industry to help paralyzed children and adults since 1981, when he made his first modified joystick for use with the Atari 2600 system. And even thought Yankelewitz is pushing 70 years of age himself, he still cranks out his custom-made controllers, albeit at a much slower pace.

For paralyzed individuals, being able to play games, and in some cases compete at a high level is all made possible by the hardware hacking of Ken Yankelevitz.

To find out more, head to Quad Control.com.


Sixaxis Gun Mod

One DIYer takes his shooter control system extremely seriously. The owner and operator of MOE Productions created a hybrid PS3 Sixaxis controller inside of a plastic gun casing made by Namco. The result is a controller with all of the ease of control of a normal setup, but it looks way more badass when you’re dropping headshots in BlOps.


A video of the entire process of modding the PS3 controller into a gun reveals that it’s much more complicated than it might seem. The modder, who introduces himself as NetMoe in the video, had to disengage all of the contacts from the controller parts and re-solder them in the new casing.

I’m not too sure if the ergonomics of holding a gun are inherently better than what was designed by Sony, but you have to admit that the paint job and engineering needed to make this Sixaxis gun hack are pretty impressive.


NES iPad Controller

Love to play games on the iPad but you’re frustrated with the touch interface? Wouldn’t it be awesome to play, say, a racing game on your Apple tablet with the tried and true scheme of the 8-bit Nintendo controller? Well, that’s what hardware hacker extraordinaire ProtoDojo set out to correct with his crazy low-tech RoboTouch Controller.


The idea: hook up the Nintendo controller to robotic fingers that reproduce corresponding movements on the multi-touch pad.

The result: a computer controlled by a robot controlled by a human. If that’s not a weirdest meta idea that encapsulates the state of control gimmicks in the videogame industry today, I don’t know what is.

I mean, what’s next? Someone makes a robot that controls your Kinect-powered Xbox 360?


Xbox 360 Laptop

Mobile gaming with handheld systems like the Nintendo DS is great and all, but some people might want to play the kind of console experience you get at home while you were on the road. You could huff around your Xbox 360, and hope there’s a decent display and power to hook it up somewhere. Or you could build a custom “laptop” with display, console and handy keyboard all in one convenient that allows you to play Modern Warfare 3 literally anywhere.

Other teams have made Xbox 360 laptops, but this one is certainly one of the prettiest and most functional. Importantly, the power cords are idiot-proof and the video can push to not only the onboard monitor but a larger display if you have one available. This mod by “thetwoj” and his friend get negative points for no HDMI out, though. back to the drawing board!


Steampunk Laptop

Ok, this one isn’t exactly gaming-related or anything, but it still blows me away with its sheer ingenuity. Richard “Doc” Nagy is a self-described “steampunk contraptor, technical artist, and jackass-of-all-trades” whose crazy hobby is putting an Old World facade on new technology. Nagy has modded keyboards, monitors and full desktop computers, but his crowning achievement in my opinion is the Steampunk laptop. Behold!

From the wind up key to the exquisitely detailed woodwork, Nagy’s steampunk laptop is a work of art and craftsmanship. I wish there were words for me to describe the glee I feel from just viewing the pictures of this beautiful contraption.

The best part is that Nagy is now taking preorders to recreate this masterpiece for anyone who has a spare $7500 to spend on a new steampunk laptop with cutting edge specifications. If that describes you, head to Nagy’s website Datamancer.net for more information.


Digital Pinball Machine

It’s a sad fact that pinball machines are a dying breed. Even the two pinball cabinets we had in near The Escapist Magazine‘s offices are on their last legs. The mechanical bumpers and moving parts requires someone with the know-how to keep them working and there just aren’t enough people with the desire to be pinball mechanics anymore. Luckily, there’s a way to still enjoy the tactical feel of a pinball cabinet that’s more software than hardware. A digital pinball kit.

Instructables user “tbarklay” posted a guide on how to build the digital pinball cabinet that he labeled his “Pintendo.” All you need is a computer, two monitors, and some wiring knowhow to get the buttons connected. Building materials and carpentry skills are a plus to get the cabinet looking pretty. Once you get it all together, you can download whatever pinball game you want to play and become the pinball wizard trapped inside you – deaf, dumb, blind and all.

Quarter slot optional …


Wii Remote Rubens Tube

Or “Control Fire with Wii Remote!” A Rubens tube is a metal tube with holes along one side that allows a small amount of flammable gas to escape. Instructables user “ScaryBunnyMan” made a mental leap, and experimented with forcing sound through the tube which changed the pressure of the gas escaping and produced a representation of a sound wave – in flame.

The next logical step of course is to hook up the volume of sound to a Wii Remote so that you can control fire with the wave of your hand … and pretend you are the sorceror’s apprentice.


FireHero Controller

Since we are knee-deep in the fire section of this list, it’s time to rock out with some serious pyrotechnics. Chris Marion was kind of obsessed with propane poofers, but didn’t want to just create a boring old fireball. Then he got the crazy idea – sitting bored in class – to hook his Guitar Hero controller up to the flame jets. Each plume of fire corresponds to the press of one of the fret buttons on the guitar.

The result is a rocking rendition of some of your favorite tunes all choreographed in fire. Enjoy!

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