The Atari Flashback 2 is a really neat plug-and-play TV game system. It looks like a tiny Atari 2600 and plays 20+ classics for the system. Most interesting to hackers, however, is that the board inside isn’t just a 2600 emulator or recreation – it’s actually a modern, miniaturized 2600-on-a-chip playing real ROM images. Additionally, there is a convenient silkscreened table on the board showing pinouts for adding a 2600 cartridge connector and playing real VCS game cartridges on the system. Compatibility isn’t 100%, but it’s quite accurate, and the A/V cable is a nice way to hook up to a modern TV (no more fiddling with RF adapters).
Finding a NOS cart connector is tough, but there’s an alternative: source a floppy-to-IDE cable from an old PC – the board connector has the same pin spacing as a cart. I stuffed cut-down popsicle sticks into the gaps on either side (the connector is wider than a real 2600 cart).
Soldering to the board can be a real pain in the butt, especially if (like me) you don’t have a solder station to do it and are using a blunted Rat Shack iron for the job. Miraculously, it all worked when I screwed it back together. Besides the cartridge slot itself I added a few details:
- Power light
- Difficulty lights
- Switch on back to select between “cart” and “built-in games”
- Removed hardwired A/V cable and replaced with A/V jacks
Cutting the slot posed a new challenge, which I didn’t do a very good job of. I drilled holes through the cart connector and used long bolts to secure it to the back of the system – carefully spaced so that the would slide into the tabs on the Atari cartridges and release the dust cover. Then came time to cut a rectangular hole in the top. I did this… and found I’d put it at the wrong spot. So I had to cut another hole, leaving a gap around the cartridge and screwing the aesthetic. This time I got it right and was able to play Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back on my big-screen TV.
Definitely not the most impressive Flashback 2 hack out there, but I’m pleased with the outcome. Like most of my projects, this one dragged on for a couple of years before reaching a finished state – I’d throw a couple hours at it every few months but never seemed to get it wrapped up. Now if I could just finish the multicart I’ve also been designing, I could have something to play on it.