SNES

Super Nintendos were my starting point in visual circuit bending. I built the first versions in 2007 for my minor diploma in media art at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Offenbach.

Apart from these changes, they have been very reliable up to now.

Snes keyboard
     snes V1


Why Super Nintendos?


 - They are cheap. I got most of mine for 2-5 € from ebay, being sold as dysfunctional. Most of them worked right away, some had a blown fuse and only one of them didn't work at all. When some of them broke during the process, it didn't feel that bad.

 - They're old but not too old. The Snes belongs to the last generation of consoles with hardware accessible for circuit bending. They have a nicely structured PCB and the crucial chips are common. You only have 16 Bits, but by playing games like Donkey Kong Country, you get a good impression about how powerful they are compared to e.G. a NES. And they use hardware cartridges which are a little harder to program than CDs but FAR more reliable.

 - Were not too common in terms of bending when I started working with them and still aren't. I' bent NESes (sorry, I don't know a proper plural for NES) turned up on YouTube and the like and Gijes Gieskes mastered bending SEGA Systems to such an awesome extent, I would have felt like plagiarizing by starting off with these Systems, too.

 - There's a big and vivid scene of romhackers and democoders that actually don't give you very much info if you don't ask for it "the right way" because they're geeks and like to repeat their standard answer: "Well, first you'll have to learn assembler for some years and then you can come back here and ask a little more precisely what you want, so we know you're one of us and don't belong to them. On the other hand then we won't have to answer your question anyway, because you'll be able to figure it out yourself."
I didn't quite get their point in acting that way, but their forums are filled up with valuable info and they somehow seemed to be nice guys, only a bit protective (or something), so I eventually did what they told me. Well, not by learning assembler, but by using the search function over and over again and eventually figuring out the stuff I needed my way.

Bending a SNES

That part wasn't too hard, because after years and years of bending I couldn'd help learning some basic stuff. The most important (and kinda most basic) thing is: Chips that store data look the same most of the time. With a SNES, there is no big difference to that, I found the right IC's almost immediately after I had opened the first one. The video RAM chips are surface mount devices though, which means you have to be a little more careful with your coffee/alcohol/drug consume. Also, they seem to be very sensitive on static electricity which I found out the hard way by frying my first two units with my crappy soldering iron right away. Ah well, time was right to invest on a big-ass soldering station with all the bells and whistles anyway. Turned out soldering can be pretty easy if you have the right gear.


SNES pcb

The wires went to a 50 pin centronics (old SCSI) connector which I mounted on the case of the SNES. I had a hard time thinking about an interface design for the actual controls until I found out that old mac keyboards had real mechanical switches as keys. I've seen lots of those being thrown away at my university, and luckily managed to get ahold of the last one that still was lying around for some reason. I cut the traces on the back of the circuit board and connected the switch terminals to another centronics connector. There I had my prototype interface:


I glued the keys together because my very first plan was to use this keyboard with my feet to have my hands free for making music. Of course, this turned out to be quite a silly idea, meaning I'd have to sit during my performances, which is more or less impossible.
Later on, I also installed a SNES controller in the Keyboard and some additional circuitry to automize stuff, but the overall look pretty much stayed the same.
These keyboards where nice but had the major flaw of being huge and heavy, so I decided to take everything apart again to then include all the controls to the SNES housing.

I really loved the idea of using computer keyboards for momentary switches
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