Makerbuino – First Impression (EN)

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Well, this is my first impression review of a 8-bit retrogame console that I purchased from a Kickstarter campaign in last April 2017. I always a fan of retrogame, because retrogame is about the gameplay itself. You may have different opinion, and I can understand that. I always wanted to own a portable game console that plays Retropie on Raspberry Pi, say PiGGRL or PiPlay. But the price is just to high and not value for money.

Back to Makerbuino, it is similar to a previous successful Arduino-based game console called Gamebuino. The maker itself (Albert Gajsak) said that he collaborated with Gamebuino developer when building his. The different with the predecessor is on the size itself. Makerbuino is bigger by around 20-30% (my guess) while keeping entire abilities the same. And that is why it is called Makerbuino, you could enjoy it as portable game console while you can learn coding and make things with it.

I chose an assembled Kickstater reward, not a kit which contains all electronic components requiring you to put them all together and solder them step by step on a nice red PCB. The reason is because I want to use it straight away, without hassle of soldering. Just turn on the thing and get some game played. The campaign itself was very successful. The maker collected US$ 100K amount of fund, and that means he has to shoulder 1574 backers expectations. Check his KS page here https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/albertgajsak/makerbuino-a-diy-game-console

The promised delivery was in May 2017, end of it to be precise. But then the maker announced it to be 15 days delay in June due to unforeseen supply of Nokia 5110 LCD from Chinese supplier. But then no more news about when the reward will be shipped. The backers were going uneasy and get disappointed, including myself. The communication was very bad and promise was made one after another until end of July was approaching.

I think that the 18 years old maker got f**ked up dealing with angry and disappointed backers as he is also learning to run a company. I checked the community page nearly everyday to get my direct message replied but no message was inside the inbox. I wrote a proposal for refund because I got pissed off with the bad communication with this Croatia-born maker.

Not long after my refund note, I got an email that the reward will be shipped, and few days after I got a shipment tracking number. This is the very number I’ve been waiting for since beginning of June. The maker himself wrote a reason and apologize to all backers for what has been on going. He admitted, about family-related issue, about his passion to pioneering his company versus family’s expectation. He finally dropped the college to focus to build his company started with this successful campaign and hired new people.

I replied his mail, and I appreciated his effort and sincere apology. And surprisingly, I got his reply right on the next day. Something that firstly happened after all messages that I shot. This the point where I started to see a hope.

On July 29th, my reward was on its way from Slovenia Post Office then Austria then directly to Jakarta 2 days after. It arrived in the post office near my house on August 3rd as the tracker told. I picked the package in the post office on August 5th.

When I opened the package, I smiled happily. And indeed, it is a beautiful DIY game console. It fits on my palms. The curve edges make the console rest nicely against my palms. It is as big as iPhone 6 (not the Plus version).

The package contains the Makerbuino inside bubble wrap, an usb console module and a flyer. I did not play it on the day i got it because I was terribly busy on August 5th from noon to 22:30 pm. I was exhausted but feel so relaxed after my kids went to sleep and home get fixed.

In the morning of August 6th, I took Makerbuino for a week business trip. I had a chance to turn it on and play it while waiting the boarding call and then continue playing inside economy cabin of Cathay Pacific bound for Hong Kong. The 4 hours 45 minutes travel time from Jakarta was well killed with playing Makerbuino games and watching Scarlet Johansson in Ghost in the Shell movie.

Here are some of my thoughts of Makerbuino:

  • It is solid built
  • The red PCB with large Makerbuino text logo printed at the top side is sandwiched nicely with acrylic plates and well secured by 4 black spacers.
  • I like the total thickness that assure the comfort of grip
  • Yes, big buttons. A, B and C and are well positioned. They promote natural response if I want to back, to pause, to return to title screen or game menu. Look the picture where my left thumb could cover all 5 buttons.

  • Pre-installed games are awesome. I found already my favorites like PAQMAN, Starships 101, Super Crate Buino and Maruino (a twist version of Nintendo’s Mario game).
  • The button is clicky, not hard and very responsive.
  • The backlight and volume wheel work well.
  • On/Off switches and audio output work well
  • The speaker output is not that OK, the sound at the game menu is stuttering. But in game, the sound effect is fine.
  • There is 3.5 mm jack if i’d like to channel the sound through the earphone. So the guy next to me won’t be disturbed although I couldn’t mute the clickety sound of the button.
  • 39 (arcade and puzzle) are included.
  • The micro sd card capacity is 128 MB. This more than what we need to contain 8-bit games. Download the .HEX file from gamebuino github page (https://github.com/Rodot/Gamebuino-Games-Compilation) to the micro sd card and that’s it.
  • The Nokia 5110 screen is good, works normal. No dead pixel nor over contrast
  • At night, the backlight from Nokia creates light rim around the laser-cut acrylic edges. Cool.

  • Game play is smooth in every game, not problem at all. The ATmega328P-PU microcontroller does the job well.
  • Multiplayer capable through I2C socket, i did not test it and may never will as i have only one unit.
  • The 5v charging module works as expected to refill in the power of 600 mAH LiPo battery. I set the backlight brightness as low as possible comfortably to keep the battery life longer.

I do a lot tinkering with Raspberry Pi and coded 3 games to be played in Nokia 5110 screen with Python. But with this small power microcontroller, the game runs faster with C++ than with Python. Well that’s because Python translates the human-readable to machine-readable code as it runs, while C++ is compiled language, so the machine understand it directly.

The real reason why I backed this campaign is not just for gaming but to give ideas for my project. And let my kids to play nice puzzle game than those on iPads.

To some, this may not be good looking product. But for makers, this is truly beautiful DIY product.

Congratulation Albert Gajsak, I wish you a very successful journey with your company.

If you like this review, please spread the positive impression of Makerbuino.

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