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Electronics Video Games

DIY 8-core game console teaches multi-threaded programming

The Hydra DIY game console running a Q-bert clone
Featuring the Parallax Propeller 8-core microcontroller, this game console is educational and entertaining.

The famous author Andre LaMothe has taken it upon himself to teach the “black art” of console hardware design. He has many very well-written books, such as Tricks of the Windows Game Programming Gurus (I highly recommend this) and Tricks of the 3D Game Programming Gurus. Andre’s credentials are well demonstrated.

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That why, when he announced the XGameStation, I was interested enough to buy one. It’s a great introduction to some of the techniques of game console design. The XGS uses a Microchip PIC-compatible SX microcontroller as the main CPU and generates the video signals line-by-line, much like the original Atari 2600 did with the Stella chip. In addition to a hardware kit, there is a companion book, which is available separately. The limited questions and support issues I have had regarding my XGS have always been very promptly answered — one time, I even got a phone call direct from Andre at 11:00pm at night! I can’t say that I’ve ever gotten that level of support before from anyone.

If the XGS package was not enough, a new product has been introduced which is based upon the 8-core Parallax Propellor microcontroller called the Hydra. It’s aim more software focused than the original XGS. Between the hardware and the matching ebook, the user is educated on how to properly break-up a game engine thread so that it will efficiently execute on something with multiple cores. With the processing power available via the Propeller, the graphics and other functions on the Hydra are much improved over the XGS and are sure to please the user who’s primarily interested in software architecture.

I don’t currently have a Hydra, but it certainly looks like an interesting addition to my XGS and I think I’ll get one when I get a bit of fun-money. The Hydra kit is only $249 for the USA version — international versions with 220v supplies are a bit more.

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