An Intro to Retro Mods

All things old can be made new again…

While game systems of the past may allow for us to reminisce, they have known limitations. Try playing an original Game Boy on a sunny day or in a darkened room and you’ll know what I mean. Since technology is an ever evolving medium, there are ways to take this old tech and give it an boost from new technology. Though I’ve covered doing this with your old laptop, there is a whole scene that looks to add new tech to old game machines. Welcome to the world of Retro Mods, where rechargeable battery backs and newly backlit screens are a way of life. What does this look like? Hopefully this retro modding primer can give you an idea of the cool ways folks are keeping retro tech alive.

Backlit Screens

Playing video games on any sort of handheld in the early days required finding just the right area to actually see the screen. Without the LCD or LED backlight to make the picture stand out, it makes playing games like a weather event. You might be able to play as long as it’s partly cloudy without too much sun. Sure, there were early standouts. the Atari Lynx was the first to have a backlit screen, making the monochromatic Gameboy look like old tech, even though it only came out two months before the Lynx in 1989. Unfortunately for Atari, they were in decline at that point and Nintendo was ascendant. Here is a video of Odd Tinkering adding a backlight to an old Gameboy.

Here is a video on Odd Tinkering’s channel that shows a backlit screen mod in all of it’s glory


Rechargeable Battery Packs

Early handheld gaming systems were like cars from the Seventies, a blast to use but horrible on fuel efficiency. The Gameboys, Game Gears, and Sega Nomads of the world loved to consume batteries and not think twice. Now that the planet is burning, folks have started to look at better ways to play these games. Enter user created rechargeable battery back. It allows you to plug your old handheld into the wall and utilize the wonders of rechargeable batteries to keep playing while giving the Earth a break.


Game Modding

The explosion in interest in retro gaming has become very apparent with the rise of the classic console. While these little game machines are neat, they usually come with only 20 to 30 games, which does not have to be the case. Older game files are tiny compared to the massive games of today and the storage tech of today is also much more efficient. Folks have started taking to making their own retro cartridges preloaded with hundreds of games. I’ve seen 600 in 1 NES cartridges that allow you to run it through your old Nintendo and select from all those games. There is also a retro movement to make original games and then pop them into an old cartridge to run on your old machine. Nothing like playing a new game on a machine that was made 30 years ago!


Console to Handheld

As technology improves, the ability to condense the hardware of once state of the art gaming systems becomes more and more easy. There have been multiple examples of folks turning consoles such as the Wii or the NES into handheld devices that you can take on the go. This is made easy with the fact that the whole NES game library can easily fit on an SD card the size of a fingernail. Combine that with improvements in LED screen technology, battery efficiency, and the general power of hardware improving and getting smaller and you have the right ingredients to have some handheld fun! Doing this requires some technical know-how, so make sure you are up to the task if you decide to tackle such a task. Here is a very in depth guide that shows all the work involved. I personally would love to see a Dreamcast handheld.


Region Free Mods

Video game consoles and handhelds are often designated to certain regions of the world, which then means they cannot play games from another regions. A North American Playstation game will not work in a console that was designated as being manufacturing for the Japanese market. The way to get around this is to install a chip on the motherboard of your gaming machine that allows it to ignore those region specific protocols. Someone with the right amount of technical know-how could save money on consoles by buying from the cheaper market and installing region free mods that would allow them to play it anywhere on the big, beautiful planet.


Pi Boy

Of course, if you don’t want to mess around with tearing apart old electronics, you could always just get a gaming platform designed for emulation. Though not really a mod of a system, these systems are created to play all of our favorite retro games. The whole game delivery systems is a mod, so that is why I’m putting it on here. These can come in the forms of tiny consoles that run emulators and roms, to the PiBoy, a Gameboy inspired handheld that is designed to house a Raspeberry Pi inside. This could possibly let you carry thousands of retro games around with you to play at your convenience.


Final Thought

Technology is always improving, that’s exactly why we love it. Taking these old consoles and games that we enjoy and modifying them to suit modern times is a no-brainer. I think you will see some of the other tech that I have written about start to get the same treatments. You’ve seen it somewhat with the iPhone as Apple released smaller versions of the iPhone that are more in the image of the original. Certain things, like cassettes, are probably not going to surge back anytime soon, but as long as there is retro tech, there will be folks tinkering with it.

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