Yoshi’s Nightmare: FPGA Based Video Game


Introduction

Video games are typically designed around a microprocessor that is embedded within a console or computer system. While this is the typical case these days, it is not the way that video games always been crafted. In its infancy, the first video game experience was that of a fully analog system which implemented a crude form of table tennis on the quaint black and white CRT televisions of the time. With the introduction of TTL and then CMOS logic chips, there existed a new toolset to create simple logic games. The introduction of the microprocessor and its evolution over the many decades has provided a powerful and flexible platform for which to design video game systems and to write software around.

Why would one consider implementing a video game with the reconfigurable logic of an FPGA? There are many ways that FPGA technology can help in the realm of video games. Graphics co-processors can be developed and tested using FPGA technology, providing a more flexible and affordable testing platform than the ASIC. In consideration of small toys and low cost game devices, FPGAs can be used to test standalone digital systems that can later be translated to an ASIC design and mass manufactured to provide an affordable and fun experience for the consumer. Beyond these possibilities, the intellectual challenge of coordinating a digital system that interprets inputs from a game controller and output graphics to a VGA monitor is very intriguing to me, and I have strived to make the experience as compelling as possible.

 

The Game: A broad overview

The game that I envisioned when beginning this project revolved around a small green dinosaur named Yoshi, a popular character from Nintendo’s Mario series. The first objective was to fully animate his actions, allowing the player to make him run around, and jump up and down from platforms on the screen.

This involved fully implementing a form of 2D Physics for his motion in the x and y dimensions on the screen, keeping in mind conservation of momentum and accelerations, as well as collisions with objects, walls, and platforms.

Next there needed to be reasons for Yoshi to move about, and these are eggs and ghosts. Eggs are objects which Yoshi usually collects in his classic games, so I made his purpose in my game to collect randomly placed eggs on the screen to gain points. Ghosts are traditional enemy characters from the Mario series, and were a fitting object for use as an enemy in the game. These ghosts chase Yoshi around as he collects eggs, and introduce a sense of urgency and challenge to the otherwise simple task at hand.

To create the environment for the game, stationary platforms and an outer wall around the screen are drawn on the monitor, and a separate collision detection circuit is used to determine when Yoshi encounters them. Other assets to the game, such as score display, life hearts display, gameover display, background, as well as title screen were implemented at the end of the design as finishing touches to the game.

To play the game, I decided to use a classic Nintendo NES controller, as this would provide sufficient buttons to control the gameplay and would add to the retro feel of the game. I harvested a female controller port from a scrap Nintendo console and soldered jumper wires from the pins to interface with GPIO on the FPGA board. The controller uses a serial protocol for communicating button states, and therefore a receiver module needed to be implemented to use the controller with the game.

I based the project around the affordable and capable Basys 3 development board which uses a Xilinx Artix-7 series FPGA, with 33k logic cells, and 1800 kbits of block RAM.  The board has “p-mod” connector which allow for outside input, as well as a seven-segment display to display the score on.

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FPGA Keyboard Interface

The keyboard is a tool whose utility needs no introduction. Right now I using a keyboard to type this blog post. I find the keyboard to be an interesting device that deserves a look into how it works. By learning a little about the insides we can then plan to interface the keyboard with an FPGA and use it as an input device. I for one am really looking forward to learning how to drive VGA signals, and eventually making an FPGA based game that plays on a VGA monitor and uses keyboard as a controller. Until then, let’s start learning how to interface with the keyboard.

The keys on a keyboard have various purposes, with the majority being alphanumeric or symbol keys. There are also common modification keys, such as space, enter, shift, caps lock, backspace, etc. Many of the other key groups such as the F#, directional, and navigation keys serve special purposes within a computer system (i.e. Print Screen).

We will implement an FPGA keyboard interface that is simplified to process the alphanumeric & symbol keys, as well as the space, backspace, enter, tab, shift, and capslock keys. The keyboard used will have a PS2 connection, so we will need to implement a PS2 receiver circuit to receive scan codes from the keyboard when a key is pressed. We will then implement a keyboard interface circuit that processes the scan codes in a way that will make the keystroke responses natural and akin to how they would be in a simple text editor. Finally to test the keyboard circuit we will interface it with a UART transmitter to send the corresponding ASCII codes (converted from scan codes) to a PC serial monitor for viewing. This will allow us to type characters, words, and sentences, with the basic functionality of the text modification keys.

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FPGA Reaction Timer

Reaction time is the duration of time it takes for the brain to interpret a stimulus and do something in reaction to it. The stimulus may be something visual such as a light turning on, something auditory such as a beep, or a touch cue such as a poke. The time it takes for the brain to interpret a stimulus and respond to it can be used as a basic benchmark to measure and compare mental acuity.

We will be implementing a reaction timer on an FPGA that turns on an LED after a psuedorandom period of time, and uses a pushbutton as a reaction input. There will be 3 input buttons: clear, start, and stop. The system will begin in an idle state waiting for the user to press the start button. When the start button is pressed, a random time interval will elapse before the LED turns on. When the LED turns on a reaction timer will begin counting the number of milliseconds until the user presses the stop button. When the stop button is pressed, the reaction time will be shown on a 4 digit 7-segment display in the format “0.000” seconds, up to a value of 9.999 seconds. The user can then press the clear button to reset the time display and go back to the idle state.

For this project we will be using the Basys 2 FPGA development board to implement the design, as it has the 4 digit display, pushbuttons, and LED that we need onboard.

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BCD to Binary Conversion on an FPGA

Binary Coded Decimal format is a binary encoding of decimal numbers that represents each decimal digit by a fixed binary number. For example, 42 is represented in BCD format by the binary representations of 4 and 2, as shown above. The BCD format is common in electronic systems where numeric digits are displayed, as well as in systems where the rounding and conversion errors introduced by binary floating point representation and arithmetic are undesirable.

We will focus on designing a conversion circuit that converts a BCD formatted number to to a binary formatted number. I chose to detail this direction of conversion as binary to BCD conversion circuits are easily be found by a quick web search.

We will consider two algorithms to perform the conversion, the first being a direct arithmetic approach, and the second an iterative algorithm using a finite state machine with data path (FSMD).

We will be designing for the Basys 2 FPGA board which has 8 input switches. We can use the 8 input switches to encode 2 BCD numbers of 4 bits each. We will therefore concern ourselves with designing a circuit to convert a 2 digit BCD number to a 7 bit binary representation (27 = 128 > 99, the largest 2 digit BCD number we can input).

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Stopwatch with the Basys 2 FPGA

A stopwatch is a good FPGA project that covers many basic, yet interesting areas of FPGA design. We will need display multiplexing for the multi-digit display, synchronous cascaded counter circuits to increment time registers for seconds and minutes, and a finite state machine to give us start, stop, and reset functionality.

I recently acquired a Basys 2 FPGA development board, which has an on-board 4 digit seven-segment display that lends itself nicely to keeping track of time in MM.SS format. Let’s build a stopwatch.
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