About this project
Update June 20: Freeplaytech Glass Lens included with each DIY Kit if we reach stretch goal #3. See Stretch Goal #3 update.
Update June 16: Announcing Stretch Goal #2, the excellent "Oh, Deer! Beta" driving game (see "Stretch Goals" below)
Update June 12: Announcing Stretch Goal #1 (see "Stretch Goals" below), a new build tutorial showing how quick/easy the DIY is (at https://youtu.be/1F_rVmJiN8g), and building service (at https://www.retromodding.com/products/freeplay-zero-kickstarter-kit)
Freeplay Zero™ & Freeplay CM3™ by Freeplaytech™
The Freeplay Zero and Freeplay CM3 kits allow you to build your own handheld retro gaming console. You customize the look. You choose the games or software to include. You play it however you want. The end result is a gaming platform based on Raspberry Pi that looks and feels like your favorite classic handheld game console.
We are creating these Freeplaytech products for people that want the pride of building and customizing something without a prerequisite 4-year engineering degree. Now that we've proven that our concept works, we want to make this available to everyone that wants one.
We have two main goals for this Kickstarter campaign: to raise funds for outsourcing production of our initial product, the Freeplay Zero, and to engineer and produce the new "premium" version of our product, the Freeplay CM3.
- Cheaper (you supply the Raspberry Pi Zero W)
- Proven Design (see http://gamepieadvance.com/showcase/)
- Ready ASAP (we just need to outsource production)
- Soldering Required (you need to add a 40-pin header to your Pi Zero)
- Faster (the processing power of a Raspberry Pi 3)
- Easier (it comes with RPi Compute Module 3 built-in)
- Solderless (just customize your shell and put it together)
- Cutting-Edge (you're backing the next generation)
This project began at gamepieadvance.com, but what once was called the GPA is now called the Freeplay Zero. Because we are also adding a second product, the Freeplay CM3, to the line, the two are coming together under the Freeplaytech name.
This project was born out of the landscape of "homebrew" console creators that were taking information from places like sudomod and creating wonderful one-of-a-kind creations integrating several off-the-shelf components into an existing (or 3D printed) shell. Often these would have a Rat's Nest of wiring on the inside and were difficult for most people to replicate. Furthermore, if something went wrong, finding the problem could be a nightmare for anyone without serious electronic experience.
We decided to build our own retro handheld console in a way that other hobbyists/enthusiasts could also use to build one for themselves. One thing we are very good at is creating circuit boards to fit specific requirements, so we chose a well-known and readily available retro game console shell that we love and built our circuit board to fit it.
Freeplay Zero DIY Kit: The Freeplay Zero comes as a kit with a Freeplay Zero circuitboard, a 3.2" LCD, a pin header (to solder to your Pi Zero), and a bag of parts needed to build the console. Here is an example of what you will receive when backing this reward.
The Freeplay Zero DIY kit requires the builder to supply a Raspberry Pi Zero or Pi Zero W (which you can find using http://www.thepilocator.com/), a battery, a micro SD card, and a GBA-style shell/housing (more on the housing/shell later). Once the pin header is soldered, the Pi Zero plugs into the Freeplay Zero PCB, as does the 3.2" LCD. You set up and add your SD card, plug in (or solder wires to) a battery, modify your shell, and you're ready to go.
You assemble the kit to fit inside a modified shell/housing resulting in something like this next photo. Please see the previous Game Pie Advance website or the GPA forum if you would like more information on the Freeplay Zero, its features, and how it evolved.
The Pi Zero has HDMI and USB ports that are exposed through the cartridge slot access area which can be seen here.
If you want to get building your retro handheld console ASAP, the Freeplay Zero is what you want. If the power of the Pi Zero is sufficient for what you want to do (which in many cases it definitely is), the Freeplay Zero is what you want. If you want to back something that's already proven, the Freeplay Zero is what you want.
As part of this Kickstarter campaign, Freeplaytech is announcing the next model in its product line: the Freeplay CM3. If you can imagine stuffing a Raspberry Pi 3 (RPi3) inside of the same shell we use for the Freeplay Zero, then you'd have the basis for the Freeplay CM3. The Freeplay CM3 can run all the software developed for the RPi3, because it is built around the Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3. If you don't know what that means, don't worry about it. Just know that it has the processing power of the RPi3.
Freeplay CM3 DIY Kit: The Freeplay CM3 comes as a kit with a Freeplay CM3 circuit board (with built-in Raspberry Pi core), a 3.2" LCD, and a bag of parts needed to build the console. You won't need to supply your own Raspberry Pi. You won't need to do any soldering (we hope). You will just supply your chosen GBA-style shell and mod it to fit the Freeplay CM3. The plan is to have microSD, USB, HDMI, etc all available to the outside world. Exposing these ports will require some shell modifications.
If the power of the Pi Zero is insufficient for what you want to do and you want to step up your game to the processing power of RPi3, the Freeplay CM3 may be what you want. If you want to back the engineering of the next cool retro handheld, the Freeplay CM3 may be what you want. If you don't mind some risk and some waiting, then the Freeplay CM3 may be what you want. If you're still reading this paragraph and you fancy yourself an early adopter, then you might want to back the Freeplay CM3 portion of this project.
The Freeplay CM3 is not yet proven. We've already done some work to prove that the concept is sound. In fact, as I was typing this, Andrew (our electrical engineer) was working on soldering up an early prototype of the Freeplay CM3. It turned out to work well, but there is still engineering to be done on it. We'll keep you posted about news.
- UNLOCKED! - $23,000 - Bring new game "Hermes" to Freeplay Zero/CM3 (please see https://youtu.be/3R5je4GcSq4 for more info)
- UNLOCKED! - $28,000 - Bring "Oh Deer! Beta" by Necrosoft to the Freeplay Zero/CM3
- $38,000 - If we reach this stretch goal, each Freeplay Zero DIY Kit and Freeplay CM3 DIY Kit will include a Freeplaytech branded glass lens. Details about this will be posted in an upcoming update.
We are working with Retroguru to help them bring you their platform game, Hermes, to the Freeplay Zero/CM3.
Oh Deer!, Beta
With this stretch goal, $500 (10% of the stretch goal) of the proceeds will be going to the original developer as a THANK YOU for allowing us all to play their game on our console. The remaining $4500 goes toward us porting Oh, Deer! Beta to our system and purchasing the parts and manufacturing to create your backer rewards.
What You Need To Supply
We are partnering with RetroModding.com to help you source the parts you might need. In fact, they are offering their built-to-order modding service for any of our Kickstarter backers, and we are working closely with them to give our backers an easy way to get your Freeplay Zero or Freeplay CM3 kit fully built (no end-user assembly required).
Freeplay Accessory Kits and Built-To-Order from Retro Modding: https://www.retromodding.com/products/freeplay-zero-kickstarter-kit
For those of you that want to build your own...
You will need to supply (each covered further in following sections):
- Shell (a GBA-style housing)
- Battery (one or two 3.7v lithium cells with built-in protection)
- Micro SD (8GB or larger depending on your needs)
- Effort (DIY or check out RM's built-to-order service)
- Raspberry Pi Zero or Zero W (only for the Freeplay Zero)
- Extras (Micro USB & Micro HDMI adapters not mandatory, but highly recommended)
You need to pick your favorite GBA-style shell and buttons. Make sure you get all the rubber button pads, too. Some sellers include them with the shells, but they can also be found separately. We do recommend opaque shells over translucent ones, because the opaque housings can hide any cutting/modding marks you might make. Off the record, some of those translucent shells look sexy!
Here is a link to the shells that our partner, Retro Modding, sells. http://www.retromodding.com/collections/gameboy-advance/products/gameboy-advance-replacement-shells Keep in mind that they have a separate page for the rubber button pads, and they also have cool color options for the buttons/bumpers.
Of course these shells can be found elsewhere, so feel free to shop around places like eBay, Amazon, Aliexpress, etc.
You will want to use a 3.7v LiIon/LiPoly cell that includes a protection circuit and a JST PH 2-pin connector. We currently recommend using two 753050 cells in parallel, because they fit well in the shell and last for over 5 hours (using 2 in parallel) in testing.
We do NOT recommend using any batteries made/marketed for quadcopter usage. These batteries are typically unprotected (or not adequately protected) and can be dangerous. These battery cells may be marked with indicators such as "25C," "X5C," "Syma," "Quadcopter," "Helicopter," etc. They may also have the connector shown here with the red line through it.
It is our understanding that RetroModding.com is also adding Freeplay-compatible batteries to their inventory, so we will link to those when ready. We are also working on sourcing a new battery (built to our specifications) directly from the manufacturer, but that process has been slow. If that comes to fruition, as it should, we would likely sell them through our freeplaytech.com site and/or work with Retro Modding to make them available on their store.
Micro SD card / Software
You will want a micro SD card to install your operating system and games. We think that 8GB is the realistic minimum for this, and you can definitely fill up much larger cards if that's how you want to roll.
For software, we highly recommend RetroPie, but you can definitely run anything that the Raspberry Pi can run. There are some software mods/additions that must be made to allow the LCD, buttons, audio, and on/off switch to work properly. We have a pre-built SD image that includes these, or you can add them on your own.
If you want a Freeplay Zero or Freeplay CM3 without the hassle of building it yourself, RetroModding.com will be offering built-to-order as a service to any of our Kickstarter backers. After we launch this campaign, we are expecting them to open a new page specifically for our backers. If you want to build your own, great! We're here to support you.
On top of the additional parts you need to supply, you'll also have to put in a bit of effort. The builder must carefully cut parts of the plastic shell/housing to accommodate for the larger LCD and Pi Zero.
The skills required are in the hobby model airplane realm, and it can be done with a nice hobby knife (or maybe rotary tool) and a drill. Drilling the X/Y button holes is the only part that is visible from the outside, so please take your time.
If you want a bit more info on the build, please see the following video we produced detailing the plastic shell modification process.
Raspberry Pi Zero / Raspberry Pi Zero W
If you are building a Freeplay Zero, you will need to supply your own Raspberry Pi Zero W (typically $10) or a Raspberry Pi Zero (typically $5). My favorite place to find them is http://www.thepilocator.com/ which will show all the websites that currently have stock.
We highly recommend owning a male Micro USB B to female USB A adapter (sometimes called an OTG converter) to plug in any USB device to the Raspberry Pi Zero. For the Freeplay Zero, we will likely include a small USB adapter, but you may want a nicer one if you plan to use it a lot.
We also think you will want a mini HDMI to HDMI adapter to play your Freeplay Zero or Freeplay CM3 on a TV or monitor. In fact, the HDMI is a great way to test things before you hook up the LCD, and a fun way to play with friends. You will probably want to hook up USB and HDMI at some point (maybe during your build).
Our intent is to (if possible) build in a full-sized USB port on the Freeplay CM3, which would eliminate the need for that adapter. I really don't see a way for us to build in full-sized HDMI on the Freeplay CM3, just due to space limitations.
The Freeplay Zero and Freeplay CM3 can hook to a HDMI monitor/TV or run fully standalone. Just plug/unplug at will. You can even do both at the same time.
X/Y buttons come as a sub-PCB built onto the main PCB. Some people don't need them and want to keep that original look/feel, so If you do not want them, you can just cut them off. Using them will require you to drill holes in the plastic housing. The DIY kit will come with a guide to mark and drill holes for them.
If you want an additional controller, you can just plug it into the USB port. If you want more controllers, just use a USB hub. If you want wireless controllers, use the Raspberry Pi Zero W or a bluetooth USB dongle.
If you want network connectivity, use the Raspberry Pi Zero W, a WiFi USB dongle, or an ethernet USB dongle.
I don’t want anyone to be unpleasantly surprised, so let’s talk about what isn’t perfect.
The added X/Y buttons will be tactile “clicky” buttons, and as such, these X/Y buttons will feel and look different than the A/B buttons do. The majority of questions we receive are from people that haven't built or played one of these handhelds who want to know if we can change these additional buttons. There just isn't room to put another full-sized set of buttons anywhere, because we can't move the A/B buttons or modify the plastic to accommodate anything else.
In the recommended configuration, the 3.2” LCD isn’t fully utilized, as it is larger than the viewport afforded by the GBA-style housing. You are free to further mod your shell to view the entire 3.2” area, but we think it works nicely as it is.
The 3.2” LCD is actually a 240x320 (portrait-mode) screen set on its side. When there are large screen changes (usually fade-to-white or fade-to-black), you can see diagonal tearing on the screen. This is evident in the menu system, but it is rarely seen in games. This does not affect HDMI output.
Credits / Thanks
We could not do this project without those that came before us. Please support these other projects and the people behind them. When applicable, we will try to provide links to where you can donate or otherwise support them.
- RetroPie (https://retropie.org.uk/donate/)
- Raspberry Pi Foundation (https://www.raspberrypi.org/)
- EmulationStation (http://www.emulationstation.org/)
- LibRetro (https://www.patreon.com/libretro)
- Seeed Fusion PCB Manufacturing/Assembly (https://www.seeedstudio.com/fusion_pcb.html)
I'd also like to extend a very heartfelt thanks to everyone that has purchased and built GPA kits from us! You have really helped make this launch a reality, and we appreciate your belief in us and this project.
Risks and challenges
We are presenting 2 "sister" projects here: Freeplay Zero and Freeplay CM3. We will discuss their risks and challenges separately, but some risks may apply to both.
The Freeplay Zero (previously called the GPA) has already gone through a few iterations. Prior to this Kickstarter effort, we had done all soldering, assembly, and packaging in-house. For this Kickstarter effort, we will be focused on outsourcing much of this assembly/manufacturing work, and that is where most of the risk will be.
For some parts, we need to find alternate parts that the assembly house can source. In some cases, we already know that parts will be more expensive than ones we were previously purchasing from places like eBay and AliExpress, so we need to properly estimate the costs involved.
We also need to rely on components that are easily sourced in bulk from one distributor. As an example, in the past, we had already seen wild variance in the quality of speakers we received. One batch was entirely unacceptable for our users and therefore unusable.
If we encounter a bad component, we will not easily be able to switch components, as our manufacturer will be building these in large batches. We will therefore need to do one or two small runs prior to full-scale production. This will, of course, bring costs up, but we hope that it will prove worthwhile in the end.
The Freeplay CM3 is an entirely new product. As such, there are much higher risks involved. We have built a proof-of-concept and have performed testing on it, but this proof-of-concept was built using a third-party circuit board. For the Freeplay CM3 component of this Kickstarter process, we will be creating our own circuit board. In fact, we have already begun the design of this first prototype, but (as of the writing of this) it is yet to be fully built.
The risks for the Freeplay CM3 include any risks associated with the Freeplay Zero as neither has been mass produced. The Freeplay CM3 also includes many unknown/unforeseen risks until we get through the first prototype (which may happen prior to the launch of this KS campaign). For example, the Raspberry Pi Zero has SD, HDMI, and USB ports built-in, but this new product will require components like these to be built onto the Freeplay CM3 board.
Where the Freeplay Zero requires the builder to supply their own Raspberry Pi Zero, the Freeplay CM3 product will come with a Raspberry Pi Compute Module 3. The risk involved with this is sourcing the Compute Module 3 in the quantities that our Kickstarter campaigns' backers demand. From everything we can tell by reading the information supplied by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, the Compute Module 3 should be available in the necessary quantities by the time our rewards are due to ship. Of course, anytime we rely on a single source for parts like this, we must then sync to their schedule. If they experience delays, we will also.
Heat is another consideration for the Freeplay CM3. In our experience, the Pi Zero doesn't get hot enough to pose a problem, but we have heard of people having problems with their Raspberry Pi 3 overheating. Until we have a proper prototype, we can not know how hot the Compute Module 3 will get. We have done some board mockups, and we have been able to place a good sized heatsink on top of the CPU while still fitting inside of the shell. Of course we can not be sure of this fit or of the heat generation until we assemble the first working prototype.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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