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MiniPlay: Minitel Gaming System

If the Minitel was a video game console, this would be the cartridge !

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There are so many minitels covered with dust in french houses. I'm always thinking of how to make them usefull again. The Minitel ESP32 dongle project had more enthusiasts than expected, and I'm so glad for this. But it is somewhat reserved to specialists and nostalgics.

So how to touch more people, just curious people who got a minitel by chance in their grandparents' house ? And why not doing retrogaming on a console that never existed ?

Let's imagine a cartridge with a DIN connector. You insert the cartridge in the DIN port of your minitel. You turn on the minitel and a video game starts right on the screen. This is definitely the description of a video game system.

So Let's do it !

Hardware

Package & Size 

The form of the cartridge comes naturally as it is the same as a DIN socket. It is cylindrical with same diameter as the wrapper of the connector so that it replaces it, and the length is as small as possible.

Interfaces

DIN connector includes both serial interface with open drain NPN topology and power source. No USB interface is implemented to minimize BOM and size. The cartridge will be program using ISP port which is exposed with pads (no connector).

Components

Since there are lot of projects and ressources using Arduino UNO, the same microcontroller is used, namely the Atmega328p. Reciprocally, the games developped within this project will be usable with an Arduino UNO !

For the rest, the idea is to minimize the BOM giving the favour to low cost and small size but keeping stability regarding regulator, convertor and clock. No extra functionalities. For the regulation, prototype demonstrates that a linear regulator with 5v output is suitable. The current consumption is quite low so heat is not a problem.

Final design

I don't give detailed on the loops but the final results consist in the following schematics and PCB layout.

Assembly

It is time to order pcbs, components and casings to a manufacturer and make the assembly of the cartridge.

Here is a picture after SMD assembly. What a pleasure to switch from 3d view to reality !

If you wonder how the assembly process was done, here is a video of it.

Software

Environment

Using the Atmega328p makes Arduino IDE or PlateformIO first choice IDEs. There are open source and well documented. Behind them is the excellent avrdude program which is also super convenient for production.

The 1st Game : 2048

The cartridge is intended for small video games. The idea is to develop several games and to change the color of the cartridge for each game.

As a first game, I decided to remake the famous 2048 game from Gabriele Cirulli. I took the javascript code and ported it in C with the same structure so that the game is the exactly the same except random generator.

It was possible to make some animations on the videotex screen and add sound effect using the minitel buzzer. But this make the game slower and the sound can be awfull depending on the minitel model you use. So user can disable them in option menu.

We also take advantage of the atmega328p's emulated EEPROM to save games and scores which is really important to give some lifetime to the game.

The code of this game and the next ones are opensource and published in my Minitel-Play repository.

Of course the colour of the 2048 cartridge will be similar to the  icon you may had on your smartphone back in 2014 !

Back to the Future

The first samples made will be available on Tindie and I will use the waitlist as an indicator for the volume of production.

In parallel, a "How To" play this games using an Arduino UNO will be published soon. So that people could also makes their own games and why not pick a color for a dedicated cartridge ?

Depending on the enthousiasm, I plan to make a Pong game with 1 and 2 players modes plus some game variations. And also a Sokoban-like game with the possibility to add your own puzzles. And ... well I have a lot of idea but let's stick with that for the moment !

Everyone's ideas are welcome down in comment. But please keep in mind the minitel is slow and has a very small 80x72 resolution.

  • Which minitels are compatible ?

    Louis H02/11/2024 at 16:00 0 comments

    Even if the code is compatible with early version of minitels, the cartridge needs to be powered from the DIN port to works. Unfortunately not all minitel provides that power source.

    The table hereafter is extracted from STUM 2. Not sure how to recognize the minitel model visually, but this is a good start to check which minitel are compatible !


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Weldon Pagac wrote 2 days ago point

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  Are you sure? yes | no

leaded solder wrote 02/10/2024 at 17:37 point

This is a very cool idea!

Will this somehow work on the original Minitel 1, or just Minitel 1B and above with the Function key? My original Minitel has what looks like a serial port, but does not have the Function key, so the commonly available methods for opening a serial terminal don't seem to be available to it.

  Are you sure? yes | no

Louis H wrote 02/11/2024 at 15:42 point

Thanks !
2048 code is compatible with early version of minitel but the cartridge needs to be powered from DIN port to work. You can check by measuring voltage on your DIN port with minitel turned on: ground pin is the middle one, and vcc is just next to it (on the right if middle pin is up or the left if middle pin is down). Otherwise, you could open your minitel, and wire that pin to the 12v bus !
I've started some research to identify the minitel that provides power. See this in project log 

  Are you sure? yes | no

leaded solder wrote 02/11/2024 at 16:43 point

Thanks for the quick reply! I'll dig it out of storage and see if it does provide 12v on any of the pins on the DIN on the back.

  Are you sure? yes | no

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