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INTERVIEW
James Balmer

James Balmer is a true Nintendo fan at heart. His desire to play
his NES anywhere resulted in him developing a portable 8-bit Nintendo.






Original Prototype
Latest Version (closed)
Latest Version (open)

MT> Before Nintendo released the e-Reader for the GameBoy Advance that allowed a select few NES games to be played on the go, you decided to take another approach? When did you decide to hack up an NES and make your own personal portable Nintendo Entertainment System?
JB> Well, the idea came to me during a summer vacation the summer before my freshman year in high school. I was 14 at that time and up to that point all I had to take video games with me on a trip was an old original Game Boy. I had always wanted to take the Nintendo with me on trips but taking all the hook ups and cables seemed like more trouble than it was worth. Especially since I and my parents both figured that the hotel probably wouldn't look kindly upon my tampering with the TV in the room just so I could play games. That fact and that it still didn't do me any good during the car ride. At that point I had inherited, through my brother, a little 1.5" Casio TV, of which the right half of the screen was dead and was stuck solid purple. It was caused by an accident that my brother had with it that I won't bore you with the details about. So through examination and toying with the little TV's RF in jack I came to the conclusion that all I needed was a display of some kind, an NES out of my stock (I was heavily into collecting at that point and had 8 NES decks that I acquired through various means), a decent battery, some kind of power supply, the controllers, and a box to hold it all together. So over the next two years during school I toyed with the idea here and there coming up with very rough conceptual designs for the project. As I collected parts and odd bits from different things through local garage sales, my idea looked more and more feasible. Finally, after having had drafting my sophomore year, I had the mechanical drawing skills to properly plan out my idea. I started making more and more detailed sketches of what I wanted the box to look like based on the parts I knew I had available to me. I went even as far as taking the board from a NES with me to school a few times along with a cheap plastic caliper set I had just so I could continue working on it whenever I had spare time, whether it was in study hall or in chemistry class ;) Finally at the beginning of my junior year I had a finalized plan and began to actually buy parts specifically for the project and started assembling what I could.

MT> Were there any complications along the way? Did you destroy any functional NES consoles in the process, or was it smooth sailing throughout the design process.
JB> Fortunately no NES units were harmed in the process of making this box :D As for complications, there were many. The two biggest problems were getting a box that was the right dimensions to make everything fit and the second problem was the display. The first problem I was able to solve through the use of my father's commercial suppliers catalogs, places like Newark, Digikey, Allied Electronics, and Jameco. The problem of the display was a little more difficult. I was lucky to find in I believe it was the Sharper Image catalog a 4" TV they were offering. Unfortunately it was also $399.95 at the time, so for Christmas my Junior year in high school, I asked for, amongst other parts, that TV so I could use it as a display for my project. The only problem was that after I had started building, and had even drilled four holes for the TV's stand to be mounted in the box (which can still be seen in the pics of the front of the unit), I discovered a problem with using that TV as a display. That problem was that I was using the A\V in port for the video feed so I wouldn't have to waste space putting an RF switch inside the unit. What I discovered was that the color balance for the A\V port and from the tuner section ran through the same adjustment pot. This was a problem because when one looked correct the other looked completely wrong. Luck saved me again through the fortune that my father had recently acquired some military surplus video phones that each had a 4" LCD display in them. The only problem was that they were not setup to directly accept composite video. Fortunately my father was in the process of making his own project, a multi-format video monitor and had made a prototype demodulator board which he allowed me to use in conjunction with one of the displays.

MT> In addition to a miniature monitor, what other items were required to make the NES portable? What was your 'grocery list' so to speak?
JB> Well, just to make it portable, I needed a case, a battery, some sort of power supply and audio amplifier, a NES board, and controllers.

The actual full parts list is as follows:
1 - 12" X 12" X 3" folded aluminum box with lid panel from Newark
1 - Push On/Off SPST switch
1 - SPST switch
1 - DPDT switch
1 - Momentary Pushbutton switch
3 - Panel mount LEDs, 1 Red, 1 Green, and 1 Bi-Color
1 - 4 pole, 3 position rotary switch
1 - AA90304 Astec laptop power supply
1 - 12V 2300mAh Radio Shack camcorder battery
1 - NES console
2 - Standard controllers
1 - NES Advantage controller
1 - Set of amplified computer speakers
and lots of extra aluminum, wire, and basic hardware

MT> What enhancements other than portability does your hand-crafted NES have over the original, if any? Audio improvements, perhaps?
JB> Actually, when I made it, I was specifically going for the retro feel, which is why I used and unmodified board in making this unit. This is also the reason I only used original Nintendo made controllers. The two main advantages this unit has over the original are the built in standard controllers, advantage controller, and external controller ports all selectable from the rotary switch in the bottom right-hand corner of the box, and secondly, the built in Game Genie. The amplified speakers are nice because of the fact that you can get them as loud or quiet as you want, and believe me they can get quite loud.

MT> After completing the project and learning what you have in the process, what revisions would you make in a future model and why?
JB> Smaller case, bigger display, better designed, and more power efficient. These would be the changes I'd make for two reasons. A couple of them were suggested to me, and they're what I wanted to do on the first unit.

MT> Obviously you have a love for the original Nintendo console? Please describe your infatuation with the company and the machine.
JB> Well, really this comes from where I started in my video game life. And amazingly enough for someone who is only 20, I started on Pong. The first videogame system we ever had was the old Fairchild system and we only had one cartridge for it, Video Whizball. was a variant of Pong simply known as another name. Shortly there after we got an Atari, and after many games there started my love of video games. However, I always had the feeling that there was something better out there, but at the time I was to young to be paying any real attention to what was going on in the outside world seeing as I grew up about a half mile outside the city limits of an already small city. Then in 1986, the Nintendo was released, and my brother received one for Christmas that year. I had all but forgotten the Atari until I found myself playing it as my brother horded the Nintendo away from me. But the main thing that linked Pong, the Atari 2600, and the NES together for me, and always will, was the quality of the game for the technology available. I mean currently we have home consoles that can almost give us real life-like graphics and sound and play control. But there always seems to be something lacking in the quality of the game itself. While I have played and know of a number of games for the NES that do sometimes seem to be lacking in quality or background, even those have some redeeming value or quality that will make you want to play them more than once, even if it only makes you want to play it twice. I have found very few games today that have the same appeal to me. And I would say that 75% of them have been on Nintendo's systems. I own almost every console post 1986, I'm only missing a couple, and still out of all of them and all their variety of games, there are three systems that I find myself drawn to the most: the NES, the SNES, and the TG-16. Out of all the mainstream systems I own Pre-PS2 and Pre-Dreamcast even, the system I own the least games for is the Playstation. Of the PS1 games that I own, the only game I find myself playing repeatedly is Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Now to some people this doesn't make sense because for a long while, and even still today, you can find an abundance of PS games dirt cheap. Some even compare this to the bountiful supply of used SNES and NES games. But in my opinion, the reason for the "abundance" of SNES, and especially NES games, is because so many copies of each game were made. With the Playstation, there were just as many games made that were maybe worth the first play, and sometimes not even worth that. But I digress.

MT> Any future plans for other console revisions? Could you design a non-portable or coin-op GameBoy?
JB> Actually that would be possible but it'd have to be a time based or possibly a "push start" base system. As for other systems, I've had questions about making an SNES version, which I think might be possible and reasonable. The console that I really want to try my hand at making portable is the NEC Turbo Duo. The discussion of this idea has even come up a couple of times on the TG list. For now I have no plans to follow through on either, mainly due to the high cost of both systems. When I started this, I was able to get an NES for around $15-$25 a deck.

MT> I'm certain that others have been interested in your design. Have many individuals tried to purchase or barter for your portable?
JB> I've had people inquire how much they'd have to pay me to make them one, but not until recently have I actually had someone who was sincerely interested in the acquisition of one of these. Before my discovery of the current revolution in the console world know as mobile monitors, all I could tell people was that I had no plans to build another just because of the fact that the parts alone would cost in excess of $400. However, as we speak, I'm in the middle of production of a new unit. It's been redesigned into a smaller case. It's now about the size of the original NES except switch the width and depth dimensions and add a little less than an inch to the height. It has a 5.4" LCD display, and still has all of the features of the original except for one. I have had to forgo the built in Game Genie simply because of availability on my end. However, the Game Genie will still work with the new one design as it did with the old model.

And, I have a pair of pics of the new design up at my website however they're in a separate folder. The links are http://www.buyneonlights.com/jim/temp/CIMG0016-new.jpg and http://www.buyneonlights.com/jim/temp/CIMG0017.JPG. And of course my current NES box page, http://www.buyneonlights.com/jim/NESBOX/Index.HTML will be updated as soon as I finish with the new unit and have a full set of pics to work from.


Good Deal Games recognizes that it takes a real fan to tinker and alter precious gaming
equipment to try to make a good thing better. We salute all hobbyists, like James, that
plug away in their garages and basements to keep our favorite hobby alive and kickin'!

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