Introduction: The Asteroid Belt

Picture of The Asteroid Belt

Lets start off with a FAQ What is The Asteroid Belt?

It's a belt.
It's a video game.
It's ridiculously awesome.

Why is it made out of brass?

'Cause I am so steam-punk-pirate-zombie and brass is the shizzle.

Seriously though, I don't have a 3D printer, I don't have a laser cutter, I don't even have a 7 axis CNC VMC. I don't have a lot of options to make a case for something that looks cool.

What I do have is an Etchinator . As the saying goes “To a 10 year old child with a hammer, everything looks like a nail”

Will it help me pick up {chicks|twinks|bears}?

Unlike many of the belts shown around here that include an "arc reactor", The Asteroid Belt will not give you any super human powers. If you where unable to lift any of the above items before donning it, you will still be unable to pick them up now.

It costs more to build than a RasPi and only runs at 16Mhz. Why did you bother?

If you don't understand already there is little I can do to help you.

Realistically though, the AVR is enough to play some retro games and pulls a few mA. This will let the unit run for 10 to 20 hours depending on how high you set the backlight current. A RasPi would run for about 2 hours

Can I make one myself?

I am sure you could. All the files you need to do so are here. There are bitmaps of the mask for the brass case. There are gerbers for the PCB (step 3), a Bill of Materials (step 4) and there is a ZIP file with the source (step 8) and HEX of the game "Rock Blaster"

If you are planning on building one yourself it would be nice if you could send me a message so I know who is having a go.

Can you make one for me?

At this stage that would be a big negative. There are a lot of Instructables out there that seem like thinly veiled adds for a Kickstarter campaign. This is not one of them. It takes a lot of time to make one of these and it is unlikely there would ever be enough interest to "tool up" to mass produce them.

Never say never though. If 1000 people all moan at me at once I could be persuaded. Don't hold your breath though.

How much will it cost me to make my own?

The BOM in step 3 lists everything needed. The prices are what I pay here in Australia to get parts and do not include shipping. So obviously your mileage will vary. I would budget somewhere between 70 to 100 USD

Will it play any other games apart from "Rock Blaster"?

At this stage no.

In the future though, I am planing on making at least three more games for the belt -

  • A puzzle game - Quad-tris
  • A platform scroller - Awesome Antonio Cousins
  • A side scroll shooter - AVR Type (almost completed the engine)

Is there a published API if I want to write my own games?

Calling it an API would be glorifying it a bit much. There is standard calls for sprites, vectors, scrolling and sound though. If you do want to try write your own game then I am more than willing to help you along.

You said "sound". Is there a speaker hidden somewhere I missed?

That's very observant of you. There is actually no speaker yet. You will see there is a "speaker out" on the schematic. In fact all the other hardware and software for sound is present. I have so far been unable to find a speaker I like. When I do The Asteroid Belt will be able to beep and bong with the best of them.

OK - Now onto the build

Step 1: Doing Three Tricks for Speed

Picture of Doing Three Tricks for Speed

OK. I lied about getting onto the build.

You probably need to be told WHY you are doing step one of the build.

Well it's all about speed and smoothness.

While I am telling you the "why" about the first step, I may as well sneak in the other two speed up tricks. Just to keep them all in the same place.

Some of you out there may have hooked an LCD up to an Arduino and tried to write a video game. You will have found that the screen tore and you could not update the screen very fast. I have had to do three tricks/hacks to solve these problems and get a satisfying video game experience.

1, Frame Marker on the LCD

I am not going to go into great deal about what screen tearing is as Wikipedia covers it quite well.

So to solve the screen tearing issue we need a "vertical-sync" or "frame-marker" signal. Unfortunately none of the cheap 16 bit LCD displays of eBay have FMark bonded out.

One thing I did notice on the cheap eBay LCDs is that they all had pin 21 on the 37 pin FPC marked as NC. More expensive displays I could buy with the same 37 pin FPC sometimes used Pin 21 for FMARK.

I took a punt and bought several LCDs from eBay. I got lucky at with one of them and Pin 21 went to an unpopulated resistor that had FMark connected to it.

The store that had a suitable LCD is called coldtears electronics. Note that not all LCDs can be modified this way. If anyone else has a known modifiable LCD then please leave a comment and I will update a list here of sources.

I was able to make a break out board for this LCD, solder in R3 on the FPC and hook it up with the mess of wires shown to get smooth moving picture display.

2, Saving clocks with diodes, resistors and capacitors.

The datasheet for the IL9238 shows that there should be a 5ns hold off time between Write-Strobe and Register-Select each going low or high.

To achieve this in code you need to do this,

out portx, Register-Select-Low
out portx, Write-Strobe-Low
out portx, Write-Strobe-High
out portx, Register-Select-High

This takes four clock cycles and 240nS.

Figure 01. shows how to connect a Schottky, a resistor and a capacitor to form a one way low pass filter. With this circuit in place the code can be reduced to the following and still keep the 5nS set-up/hold times

out portx, Register-Select-Low & Write-Strobe-Low
out portx, Register-Select-High & Write-Strobe-High

Down from four clocks and 240nS to two clocks and 120nS

Figure 02. shows the resulting waveforms. The top trace is Register-Select and the bottom trace is Write-Strobe.

3, Pseudo DMA

In "Rock Blaster" the screen has to be cleared totally before each frame is drawn. With 320x240 pixels that is 76800 writes. With normal optimization and some slight loop unrolling that would take the CPU 1/90th of a second. That is 1/3 of the total time the CPU would be having to do nothing more that write out black pixels.

Seeing as writing out a single colour pixel is nothing more than toggling a pin, we can actually get the AVR hardware to help us out. If we hook up the Write-Strobe signal from the LCD to one of the AVRs Timer-Output-Compare pins we can just turn on an 8Mhz sqaure wave to clear the screen in exactly 153600 clocks and the CPU is free to run game logic. All we have to do is have another timer interrupt running to tell us when to stop the screen clear.

Now really onto the build

Step 2: Hacking the Cheap EBay LCD to Give FMark

Picture of Hacking the Cheap EBay LCD to Give FMark

There is not very much too this step at all, but it is fairly tricky. Mainly due to the 0402 sized resistor.

An 0402 resistor is 40 thousandth of an inch by 20 thousandth of an inch. That is 1mm x 0.5mm in metric. Anyway all you have to do in this step is get the suitable LCD from eBay and solder in a 1K0 resistor in the location called R3 as shown in the photo.

Step 3: Make the PCB

Picture of Make the PCB

I have intentionally designed a large easy PCB. The components are 0805s, TQFPs and the like. Also the thinnest trace is 12 thou and the board is only double sided. Unfortunately the number of vias was unavoidable and you need to drill 60+ holes.

There are excellent tutorials on Instructables about making PCBs so I will only give a brief overview of the process.

  1. Print the photo tool
  2. Expose the board
  3. Develop
  4. Etch
  5. Tin plate
  6. Drill
The Gerbers and the gEDA PCB and schematic are included in the ZIP file here.


Step 4: Solder the Components

Picture of Solder the Components

Apart from the LCD and the battery, this is pretty straight forward.

As shown in Photo 01. the LCD FPC is soldered straight to the PCB. Do this by pre tinning the pads on the PCB. Then lay the FPC over the pads carefully aligning then. Finally lightly press each pad on the FPC on top of the PCB pad with the tip of the soldering iron. The solder will flow together.

The Samsung Galaxy S3 battery does not come with flying leads. So you will need to solder your own leads onto the battery. This is fairly easy, just be mindful not to overheat the battery when doing this.

Here is the BOM with Digikey part numbers for the items you can get there.


BOML Desc Price Digikey # Qty Total 4u7 0805 Cap $0.18 445-1605-1-ND 2 $0.36 10u 0805 Cap $0.18 445-1388-1-ND 1 $0.18 100n 0805 Cap $0.20 C2012X8R1H104K125AA 5 $1.00 18p 0805 Cap $0.11 C0805C180J5GACTU 4 $0.44 WM3756CT Mini USB B $1.02 WM3756CT-ND 1 $1.02 MCP73832T Li-ion batter charger IC $0.68 MCP73832T-2ACI/OTCT-ND 1 $0.68 LM3670MF-3.3 3.3v buck regulator $0.97 LM3670MF-3.3/NOPBCT-ND 1 $0.97 10uH inductor 10uH inductor $0.27 587-2376-1-ND 1 $0.27 ATMega644 ATMega644 $6.51 ATMEGA644A-AUR-ND 1 $6.51 16Mhz XTAL SM 16Mhz Crystal $0.82 887-1104-1-ND 1 $0.82 SM SPST SM Tactile switch $0.56 CKN10361TR-ND 10 $5.60 3K9 0805 SM Resistor $0.10 P3.9KACT-ND 2 $0.20 2K0 0805 SM Resistor $0.10 P2.0KACT-ND 3 $0.30 1K0 0805 SM Resistor $0.10 P1.0KACT-ND 2 $0.20 560R 0805 SM Resistor $0.10 P560ACT-ND 2 $0.20 56R 0805 SM Resistor $0.10 P56ACT-ND 2 $0.20 30R 0805 SM Resistor $0.10 P30ACT-ND 5 $0.50 470R 0805 SM Resistor $0.10 P470ACT-ND 2 $0.20 680R 0805 SM Resistor $0.10 P680ACT-ND 2 $0.20 39K 0805 SM Resistor $0.10 P39KACT-ND 2 $0.20 10K 0805 SM Resistor $0.10 P10KACT-ND 1 $0.10 220K 0805 SM Resistor $0.10 P220KACT-ND 2 $0.20 1K0 0402 SM Resistor $0.10 P1.0KJCT-ND 1 $0.10 IRLML2502 IRLML2502 MOSFET $0.63 IRLML2502PBFCT-ND 1 $0.63 BAT54S BAT54S schottky diode $0.23 568-1614-1-ND 2 $0.46 LED 0805 SM LED Red $0.58 516-1429-1-ND 1 $0.58 Digikey Total         $22.12             TM028HDH15 eBay LCD $12.90 n/a 1 $12.90 Brass 150 x 75 x 0.7mm $6.00 n/a 1 $6.00 Brass 6.5mm unthreaded standoffs $0.50 n/a 4 $2.00 Brass 12mm threaded standoffs M3 $0.50 n/a 4 $2.00 Screws 15mm M3 screws $0.23 n/a 4 $0.92 Al-Plate 125 x 55 x 3mm Aluminium plate $13.00 n/a 1 $13.00 Al-Hook 3mm aluminium rod - n/a 1 $0.00 Li-Batt EB-L1G6LLU Samsung phone battery $18.90 n/a 1 $18.90 Total Other         $55.72             Grand Total         $77.84

Step 5: Etch the Brass Case

Picture of Etch the Brass Case

Figure 01. and 02. are the etch mask for the front and back side of the brass.

You will need a spray etcher for this. Trying to etch good detail into 0.7mm brass with a bubble etch tank is going to be very unsatisfying.

Fortunately I can recommend a good spray etcher that is up to the task that you can build yourself for under $100.

I am using the toner-transfer-method here for the brass etching. The general steps taken are also shown in the photos.

  1. Use a modified laminator to transfer toner to brass
  2. Apply TRF green foil
  3. Etch
  4. Cut out tabs and clean up brass

Also shown here in Photo 05. is the results of etching one side 50% more than the other. This has made the two "sides" 0.5mm and 0.2mm. This serves two purposes. Firstly the fold-line weakening is enhanced. Secondly it makes the buttons stand about 0.2mm proud of the surface.

Step 6: File the Sides and Fold Up the Case

Picture of File the Sides and Fold Up the Case

Before the case can be folded up, the edges of the sides have to be filed to 45 degree bevels as shown in the 2nd photo. The outside edge of the bevel should be just inside the fold line. The top edge of the 45 degree bevel should be in line with the inside edge of the fold line.

The etched fold line makes the brass very easy to fold up. It is still a good idea to clamp the brass between two pieces of wood in a vice for the two long folds. This will give the weak sections around the LCD some support.

Step 7: Cutting the Back Plate

Picture of Cutting the Back Plate

The back plate for the buckle needs to be made from 3mm thick Aluminium or Stainless.

Follow the template shown either in the PNG or the gerber.

I printed out the template onto some paper and then stuck this to the aluminium plate. I then used a hacksaw and file to cut the outside shape. I then chain-drilled and filed the loop for the belt. Finally I drilled and counter bored the holes for the screws that hold the front on.

Finally one last hole needs to be made for the belt hook. I drilled a 3mm hole. Then I cut a short length of 3mm Aluminium and placed it in the hole. I then used a ball peen hammed to rivet the hook into the hole. If you have a TIG welder then welding the peg would also be an option

Of course if you are lucky enough to have CNC equipment then knock yourself out. I chain drill and file because I have to, not because it's fun

Step 8: Program

Picture of Program

Due to space restrictions there is no ISP header on the board. You need to solder 6 wires straight to the PCB. They are the normal order running away from the LCD

  1. GND
  2. VCC
  3. Reset
  4. SCK
  5. MISO
  6. MOSI


Program the HEX file as usual. The fuses should be set for +8mhz-xtal, no-BOD, no-CKOUT, no-WDT.

Step 9: Assemble

Picture of Assemble

The standoffs are too long and need to be cut to length.  The threaded standoffs need to be reduced to 3.6mm and the unthreaded ones need to be reduced from 6.4mm to 5.6mm.  Hacksaw and file as necessary.

Once the correct length, you need to glue 4 stand offs into the 4 recesses in the back of the brass. These line up the the 4 x 3mm drill holes in the back plate.

The back of each brass button needs a 2.7mm spacer glued to it so it can reach the PCB switch below.  I have used some thick double sided tape and offcuts of FR4 PCB material (photo 10).  The combination of tape and PCB added up nicely to the needed spacer.  The tape also aids in holding the buttons while assembling.

After the glue has dried you just need to do final assembly.

Place the brass box upside down on the table. Place the three brass switches in their cutouts. Slide the electronics into the brass box, USB connector first. Place the four 5.4mm spacers where the screws will attach to the stand offs. Attach the base and tighten the four 15mm M3 screws.

Attach your belt to the loop, as you would any less awesome detachable belt buckle.

Step 10: Strut

Picture of Strut

Put on The Asteroid Belt and strut.

Pants ARE optional. No one is going to notice anything else after they see the LCD goodness in the belt buckle.

Everyone will want to have a turn.


satoko68 (author)2015-01-13

Seriously sickened by the main photo & the fact that Instructables have left it as-is. Yet we wonder why more women don't get into anything technologically related. Because they're still viewed/treated like this in the workplace. Pardon me while I go projectile puke.

cunning_fellow (author)satoko682015-01-13

Thank you for the feedback.

I'll pass onto my partner that you enjoyed the photo her and I took as click bait. She is also a member here and has published quite a few insructables.

Maybe after you have published and done something useful for the community in general we might take what you have to say seriously.

Though if what you have to say in future is going to be moaning about two people that have been in a relationship for more than a decade in a G-Rated photo, we probably still wont take you seriously.

satoko68 (author)cunning_fellow2015-01-13

My mistake, I apologize. I didn't see the fine print, which reads 'To new members of Instructables: if you haven't published anything, keep your mouth shut because your opinion on this public forum means nothing otherwise. Our community doesn't take such members seriously under any circumstances'. Click-baiting using photos such as this obviously takes far more talent or imagination than I possess.

Thatdan (author)2014-12-22

Love the pic had to check u out

coolalvaro39 (author)2013-11-06

Yeah first pic looks so awkward bro

the crafty one (author)2013-06-13

Just made my day

TheAwesomestDude (author)2013-05-07

that first picture looks so wrong

J-Five (author)TheAwesomestDude2013-06-03

I agree with you there!!!

TheAwesomestDude (author)J-Five2013-06-03


ecsaul23 (author)2013-05-06

Very cool idea and huge props on the instructions! Its hard to find a fun project that I can understand ;)

cunning_fellow (author)2013-05-05


heaps of people have asked me to make them one. It's not really my thing but I have set up the worlds most piss weak Indiegogo campaign

If it makes it cool. If it doesn't make it that, just gives me more spare time drink rum and work on my next instructable

"The RAIB"

Spydamonky (author)2013-05-05

I assume the PCB was entirely homebrew? Care to share your through-hole and tin plating methods? I notice you plate after you drill and etch (According to your steps), I am very interested you see you plating process, that board looks fantastic!

Yes - the PCB was entirely homebrew and specifically made with simple methods.

I DO have fancy methods for plating through holes and doing multi layer boards, but I spent hours laying out the board to make it easy for other people to make at home with just double sided PCBs.

The "through holes" in the board in the photo are "wire vias". Just Kynar wire wrap wire poked through the hole and soldered.

The tin plating is just the normal powdery chemical stuff you buy online. "Tin-it" is one brand name.

bfk (author)2013-05-05

I love this... And because I'm in the same contest, I hate you...

I'm so confused:)

Great Instructable, PERFECT photo and good luck in the contest.

bfk (author)2013-05-05

I love this... And because I'm in the same contest, I hate you...

I'm so confused:)

Great Instructable, PERFECT photo and good luck in the contest.

husamwadi (author)2013-05-03

regardless of your views on the main pic...It worked lol. This instructable came out on the 29th of April, and on the 3rd of May it's got over 60,000 views! Some instructables don't rack that many views in 2 years.

Sex sells...that concept is universal, but I did think the idea was cunning... :P

rcardoção (author)2013-05-02

would this help me pick up chicks at a bar?

vincent7520 (author)rcardoção2013-05-03

Probably not if the author is right : " No one is going to notice anything else after they see the LCD goodness in the belt buckle"
Which is why I find this game useless !!!… LOL

organgrinder (author)rcardoção2013-05-03

At the right bar, yes.

Miss OrganGrinder,

You wouldn't happen to know where these "right bars" are? As I have not had any success at all so far.

BTW I do not like the green and black dress you are wearing in the lead photo. The feel of that synthetic material gives me the creeps.

Most of my dresses are made from that'll just have to have the creeps.

Green Silver (author)2013-05-03

Don't you get worried about poking someone in the eye and getting sued?

ufanders (author)2013-05-02

This article is fantastic. Fantastic preview image to get viewers, fantastic rebuttal to those easily irritated, and fantastic optimization of hardware resources.

You have my vote.


annieannie (author)ufanders2013-05-02

I agree!! This is awesome!!here is a thought.. what if you could take the same game belt buckle where it detached from the buckle to play and then slides back on.. I have a lighter belt buckle that does that.. the lighter slips out and then black in when done. now THAT would be a hot seller!! :) Best wishes!!


If I had more resources I would certainly love it to be detachable. Kind of like "King Missile".

It would make it easy for the wearer to play as well as for their friends to play.

Thanks for the input.

gosh I am trying to think of where a resource would be other than my belt buckle I have. Let me hunt around and I will post the URL I come up with for you. :) I hope you do this!! I love to see people create such fun things and hey, a little money off of it wouldn't hurt either ;)

Ugifer (author)annieannie2013-05-03

A removable buckle could be managed pretty cheaply and easily - you could just have one of those buckles that presses down to grip the belt (often used with webbing belts) and hold the game on top with rare-earth magnets. They would be strong enough to take everyday use but the game would just snap on and off.

had another thought.. you could even use a clip style buckle.. like those that cell phones snap into ( clip ) snap the game box out and back in when done. lol.. this is just way too cool!!

ok found a URL that is the same exact removable lighter belt buckle I have I hope this helps you.. or you can just go off this concept I guess. :)

mr.mountaineer (author)2013-05-02

would it not be easier to make a brass casing to put the guts of a Game Boy Micro in?

It would also be easier to never climb that mountain wouldn't it ?

if you are referring to my user name, i have never climbed a mountain in the traditional sense, but i live in the Appalachian mountain range (West Virginia to be exact) i was born here, raised here, and I'll more than likely die here, therefor, i am a mountaineer. Anyway, now that my rant is over I'll be serious, wouldn't it be awesome to be able to easily play Super Mario World or Metroid Fusion on a belt buckle?

Mr Mountaineer,

When I first wrote that I didn't actually see your user name. I was actually making reference to the old one "Why do people climb mountains? Because they can"

I did see your name BEFORE I hit post and had a little chuckle to myself though :)

As far as playing Metroid Fusion or what ever else. I don't know. I get my fun from writing games not playing them and I don't even know what Metroid Fusion is.

If you would like to put a Game Boy Micro inside a brass-case/belt-buckle for playing that game, I can lend a hand though.

sorry about the rant, i didn't mean anything by it. and yea i wouldn't mind doing it, but funds are very limited for me so it will have to wait. i only thought of this because making a brass case is probably the only thing i could do. i do know my way around a soldering iron, but that's about as far as my electronics knowledge goes.

gwillington (author)2013-05-02

The promo picture baffles me. The project itself has enough merit and thoroughness to be successful, yet your project doesn't even appear in the promo photo. Instead you've placed a sexually suggestive one? That's a little sleazy to me.

TheSniper (author)2013-05-02

I have to admit that the display picture made me laugh.
Crazy how many views you've gotten since original posting date. Probably since the display picture ;P Haha.

Well done. I like your instructable!

cunning_fellow (author)TheSniper2013-05-02

Mr Sniper,

I would like to think it is the shear awesomeness of The Asteroid Belt that is getting the views. I am sure the lead pic is not hurting though.

mcmonte (author)2013-05-02

* Belt Sifu

mcmonte (author)2013-05-02

You're a true BS*- Artisan mate ;)

stumitch (author)2013-05-02

OH MAN what a great write-up! I know the pic is going to irritate some people but I think if people keep reading, the pic kind of mirrors the amusing tone of the text which is worth a read even if you are not going to make the project. Thanks for a laugh!

cunning_fellow (author)stumitch2013-05-02

Can I just say

Thank you thank you thank you.

Although I have a wonderful partner and she is much more than a short fat ugly man as myself deserves. It does sadden me that she constantly tells me I am not funny and I should also stop singing all the time.

Much more encouragement like this and I might just be convinced to try out for Australian Idol next year.

mcmonte (author)cunning_fellow2013-05-02

Fat? You don't look fat in the pic!
Unless it's someone else with the missus...

stumitch (author)cunning_fellow2013-05-02

go for it! i'll watch for sure if i can get in in canada... :-)

jdkchem (author)stumitch2013-05-02

The pic is advertising genius! And funny.

curvy77 (author)2013-05-02

Sounds awesome!.....not to sure about the ibles thumbnail/first pic though.

wilgubeast (author)2013-05-02

Some of these comments fail to meet the constraints of the "be nice" policy. Positive, constructive, or don't say anything at all. If people want to call out a project for being inappropriate, Instructables has a special flag button next door the favorite button in the upper right-hand corner of the page. (It looks like a flag.)

Excellent write-up. Your writing far exceeds the quality of that lead image. It's poorly lit and could use some color correction.

TomK32 (author)2013-05-02

Totally unnecessary sexist promo pick, sad to see that instructables even put that into the newsletter.

3rods (author)TomK322013-05-02

I know. We should abolish sex entirely. It's so... dirty.

riff raff (author)3rods2013-05-02

It's only dirty if you're doing it right.

doctressjulia (author)TomK322013-05-02

Agreed. Not OK.

About This Instructable




Bio: Just a guy really. Like building stuff and like to help other people build stuff too. If you really need to know, am male in ... More »
More by cunning_fellow:The Asteroid BeltMy response to the WS2811 with an AVR thingThe Etchinator - low cost PCB spray etcher (under $100)
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