As a general rule, we humans tend to have the strongest nostalgia for whatever was popular when we were kids or teenagers. That extends to video games, and means many of us have a lot of nostalgia for video game consoles from the 8-bit and 16-bit era. For that reason, a lot of games have been created in recent years that have the look and feel of retro games from that time. But Sérgio Vieira wasn’t satisfied with just creating a retro-style game, and instead built an entire homebrew console inspired by the classics.
Vieira didn’t just want to emulate a classic console, as has been the case with modern “fantasy consoles” like the PICO-8. He wanted his console to run on real hardware with an approximation of the capabilities that a console would have had somewhere between the third and fourth generations. As with consoles from that era, that meant Vieira’s homebrew console needed to be separated into three major parts: the CPU, the video chip, and the sound chip. He also wanted analog video output and support for two controllers.
For the CPU, Vieira chose a Zilog Z80 like what was used in the classic ZX Spectrum and many other iconic computers. The video chip, or PPU (Picture Processing Unit), is a Microchip ATmega1284 microcontroller and works in conjunction with a VPU (Video Processing Unit) built on an ATmega644 to send analog video out through an SCART connector. Sound is created by a YM3428 sound synthesis chip, which is similar to what was used in the Sega Genesis.
With all of that hardware, along with tons of supporting components like RAM chips, laid out on a series of breadboards, Vieira was able to get the console working. It supports Sega Mega Drive/Genesis controllers through a standard DB-9 socket. He has even created a simple brick breaker game for it, and provides full instructions on how to develop new games for the homebrew console. Some work still needs to be done to put the hardware into a more permanent package, but it’s still an incredible undertaking with impressive results.