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Portable, open source retro game player runs Linux and Arduino

Nov 15, 2017 — by Eric Brown 3,329 views

Clockwork’s hackable “GameShell” retro game console runs Linux on a quad -A7 SoC, and offers a 2.7-inch LCD, gaming controls, GPIO, and Arduino links.

Hangzhou, China based Clockwork has surpassed its Kickstarter funding goal for a handheld GameShell device that is billed as “the world’s first modular, portable game console with a GNU/Linux embedded operating system.” The GameShell is available in kit form through Dec. 19 in identical Kickstarter early bird packages ranging from $89 to $119, with shipments due in April 2018.

GameShell in two colors (left) and (top to bottom) kit, side, and exploded views
(click images to enlarge)

The GameShell offers a variety of retro console emulators, and can play “thousands of classic games from Atari, GB, GBA, NES, SNES, and many of history’s greatest consoles,” says Clockwork. The company goes on to say that “every game published on it will be free, open-source and modifiable.”

The hackable GameShell ships with a microSD card with its Linux-based Clockwork OS distribution, as well as Cave Story and DOOM2. Debian, Ubuntu, and Raspbian are also supported.


The GameShell can be used as a programming education tool, and supports preset C, Python, Lua, and LISP programming languages. The modular device can also be used for DIY hacking. It’s billed as being “open source hardware,” with support for 3D printing custom shells in various colors.

GameShell modules
(click image to enlarge)

The 195-gram GameShell consists of five modules, including a homegrown Clockwork Pi mainboard and a programmable Keypad board with an Arduino compatible ATmega168p MCU with 30-pin Arduino shield connector. There’s also a 2.7-inch, 18-bit 320 x 240 RGB display with 60fps support, as well as a stereo speaker. The 1050mAh battery offers 3-hour working life and 100 hours standby.

GameShell’s Clockwork Pi (left) and Keypad boards
(click image to enlarge)

The Clockwork Pi board is built around a quad-core, Cortex-A7 Allwinner R16 with a Mali-400 MP2 GPU. It’s one of several very similar quad –A7 Allwinner SoCs such as the Allwinner A33 and H2.

Clockwork Pi (left) and Keypad detail views
(click images to enlarge)

The Clockwork Pi integrates 512MB DDR3, a microSD slot for up to 32GB, and a micro-USB port with charging support. There’s also a 3.5mm phone jack, LCD and stereo audio outputs, a reset key, and power connector. Other features include a 14-pin expansion connector with UART, I2C, SPI, and GPIO interfaces. The Arduino driven Keypad board has its own micro-USB for connecting to a desktop computer for programming.

GameShell (left) and kit components
(click images to enlarge)

The shell includes classic gaming controls, but as several commenters noted, the design is hindered by the lack of L/R buttons. Clockwork is prepping a workaround to “assign other buttons for the functions through GPIO port of Keypad.”

Further information

Clockwork’s GameShell kit is available on Kickstarter through Dec. 19 in identical Kickstarter early bird packages ranging from $89 to $119, with shipments due in April 2018. More information may be found on the GameShell Kickstarter page.

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2 responses to “Portable, open source retro game player runs Linux and Arduino”

  1. Matthew says:

    I know you just copied it from the Kickstarter page, but…

    “Lua” is “Lua”, and not “LUA”. “Lua” is Portuguese for “moon”.

    “Lua” (pronounced LOO-ah) means “Moon” in Portuguese. As such, it is neither an acronym nor an abbreviation, but a noun. More specifically, “Lua” is a name, the name of the Earth’s moon and the name of the language. Like most names, it should be written in lower case with an initial capital, that is, “Lua”. Please do not write it as “LUA”, which is both ugly and confusing, because then it becomes an acronym with different meanings for different people. So, please, write “Lua” right!


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