whitebox as in gallery, pixel as in video game
the whitebox is a special-purpose computer build to preserve and expose the history of console video game design. this project also revolves around the idea of educated criticism; it aims to facilitate a dialogue between the understudied history of the medium, the general public and future video game designers.
this gaming machine allows you, or in this case me, to curate selections of video games and present them to the public under the theoretical umbrella of an art exhibition; with whatever credibility that tired concept adds. with this setup you can for example: offer the public every unlicensed game made for NES to play with, or a selection of all the work made by Gunpei Yokoi or even the worst games from the golden age of arcades. the possibilities for critical crisscrossing are fun and endless.
this system relies on the use of emulators; an emulator "duplicates (provides an emulation of) the functions of one system using a different system"(wikipedia) so these emulators run ROM files: image dump files of the read-only memory chip from old game cartridges or arcade machines. the act of creating an ROM image simplifies the archiving and preservation of older software. to the companies that own these games as intellectual property you are only allowed to use ROMs created by yourself, if you own a physical copy of the game or if it isn't protected by the entertainment software association (ESA). under the current ridiculously one sided copyright laws digital sharing of ROMs is in fact very illegal. Hence me not offering any links to websites where ROMs can be obtained; for this google and bit torrent are your very good friends.
but then again, I don't see any companies trying to create a cohesive and widespread open-to-the public archive of video games for educational purposes either. maybe then we wouldn't have so many crap games ;)
this project was developed for the launch of NASA: Newark Artist Space Association, and I have to thank NYCResistor and Hackinteractive for all the much appreciated help.
To find out more about the first curated exhibition visit the project page.
Step 1: This is what you need
in fine detail:
hard drive: something bigger than 30Gs will be more than enough memory but will also give you enough flexibility to partition or to run different apps. I am using a western digital 80GB drive if you have a slim laptop hard drive then more power to you.
motherboard: I'm using a VIA VB7001 Mini-ITX Board, this is a compact motherboard complete with a 1.5GHz processor and on-board audio plus out ports for s-video, composite RCA and VGA, which will matter for when you need to connect the system to a TV, monitor or projector. this motherboard also needed some RAM memory so a 1GB stick will do fine.
power supply unit plus power adapter: so one of my concerns with this system was size, hence the mini motherboard, so this also means getting a power supply source that is also very small. I used the a PicoPSU-120, 120W 12V DC-DC along with a Power Adapter 12V DC/80W suitable for the PicoPSU.
dvd/cd drive: i used an old slimdrive DVD/CD drive from a dell laptop, if you do this as well then youll need a Slimline CD to 40-pin IDE to connect the drive to a secondary IDE slot in your motherboard.
Slimline DVD/CD to 40-pin IDE Adapter: this adapter is used to connect to the motherboard by converting the slimline connector to a standard 40 pin IDE connection. this also comes with a 3.5"mini power connector (floppy style) which is perfect because our PicoPSU can power it easily.
IDE ribbon cable: this is your basic meant-n-potatoes kind of ribbon cable, used to connect the newly adapted DVD drive to the motherboard. your motherboard should also come packed with one.
USB controllers: any USB enabled gamepad will do and there are tons of choices out there. you could retrofit your old NES or SNES controllers or use a xbox 360 gamepad, or even hack an old non USB xbox pad for this purpose. basically you choose your poison here.
USB cable: Dual USB Cable with individually mountable USB ports compatible with the motherboard of your choice. this cable will be used for the controllers and in my case they had to be soldered to the board, more on that later...
power switch: well I went all ballistic retro and used the NES power switch :> - also Raphael Abrams of NYCResistor was nice enough to gift me an extra one of these.
power LED: color is up to you.
tv out cables: this is up to the you or the situation, you can use composite RCA with most TV's and also s-video with some. VGA, S-video with monitors and projectors; I found this article on the subject very enlightening.
acrylic glass: for the case I used 2 sheets of 1/4 inch plexiglas, each sheet being 9 x 24 inches. these were then cut to my design with a lazer-cutter. so for bonding the material you'll need Weld-on 3 acrylic cement, this stuff smells bad and needs to be applied with a syringe.
operating system: my recommendation for OS is Ubuntu; it is free, linux based, open source and mad hood. of course you can use your preferred system with Windows being the most popular option and I will briefly cover that as well but this instructable will mainly focus on open source tools.
emulators: there are many flavors of emulators out there and ideally you would get one for every console ever made, thus broadening your critical scope. thankfully the collective brain of Wikipedia compiled a list for us here.
spray paint: for a nice finish
other stuff: like patience, epoxy or gorilla glue, a well lit, ventilated, clean and comfortable working area plus wire strippers, screws, screwdriver, wires, a soldering kit, tape etc etc. if you don't have something then MacGyver it but always be on the safe side. I really should have documented my soldering burns....