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Three Little GameCube Mods

published icon  |  category icon retro

tags icon games GameCube modding

It took me almost a year to finally hook up the GameCube to my work screen, as I had intended when setting up my office space. The Dell U2421E—the source of much work enjoyment this year—has multiple video in ports: the USB-C is used to connected the MacBook, and the HDMI was reserved for playful trinkets. The only problem is that a GameCube has an analog composite-out. I used to play it on my 17" CRT back in 2003 through a PCI TV decoder card and a program called DScaler, since Pinnacle software wasn’t the greatest.

Three GameCube mods later, we’re finally good to go:

Connected to the work Dell screen showcasing my old Paper Mario 2 savegame.

Three little mods

I did change more than the analog output, though. For starters, not all GC devices are able to output a digital signal that can be converted into HDMI through dongles such as the Kiaco’s GC HDMI adapter I bought: only earlier DOL-001 models have this capability. Not all HDMI adapters are equally great and I’d rather install a GCHD MK-II since it has two output ports and a dedicated audio output port. The chip shortages made sure I could not find it anywhere in stock. Kaico’s much cheaper alternative ($80 VS $150) works well enough for my occasional GC play sessions. It even comes with a remote to configure scan lines, brightness and contrast settings, and so forth.

The second modification was the replacement of the fan. GameCube systems are known to be quite loud—at least to me—and a cheap but sturdy NoiseBlocker XS1 fan ($11) does a much better job at silently pushing through air to cool the system. There are two problems with this:

  1. The power connector on the PCB (the plug on the left in the photo) does not match. The plastic socket that’s there only works with the supplied fan. I had to carefully pry it off.
  2. A perhaps bigger problem: there seems to be no room for the fan! The thicknesses aren’t the same. Some notches that make sure it tightly fits in the black plastic are missing in your standard replacement fan. This calls for a dremel, or if that’s a bit too much for you, a very sharp knife and the removal of a few layers of plastic.

Both actions are irreversible so think twice before breaking stuff.

The third mod was perhaps the most drastic—and controversial: I replaced the mini-DVD drive bay with a Xilinx FPGA chip and a microSD card on a PCB. It’s called the GC Loader and quite pricey: $90. After the installment, the GameCube looks quite silly when you “open up” the load tray: there’s almost nothing there!

Left: Kaico HDMI adapter plugged in. Center: A Noiseblocker fan installed. Top right: the mini-DVD replacement.

The controversy

Why would you replace the mini-DVD tray? A couple of reasons:

  1. I’ve had mini-DVDs fail on me before.
  2. I hate noise. It’s not as bad as the sudden spinning of PSP discs, but still.
  3. I intend to buy a GBA player adapter, but 95% of those hardware components on the second hand market come without the required boot disk. The GC Loader negates the need for that.
  4. I can now fiddle with homebrew using the DevkitPro toolchain.
  5. Yeah. Well. Ok. Sure. It boots ROMs. There. Happy?

Four years ago, in a mad clean-up-everything-in-sight mood, I got rid of most of my GameCube collection. I even sold my beloved WaveBird controller, which of course, I now regret. We all have stories like these. And as I’ve written before in The insanity of collecting retro games and Is collecting physical games worth it?, I’ve been slowly but surely buying back a lot of handheld games.

But not GameCube ones. Look, here’s the thing: I happily spend too much money on retro stuff, both hardware and software. But I do not see myself as a collector: I buy to (1) play and (2) cherish personal childhood memories. My wife says I spend too much but hey, that’s subjective, right? And now that I finally got my old GameCube connected, I have zero intentions to start re-buying all those games. I have to draw a line somewhere.

As I’ve written in the above linked articles, all I do is indulge in and support the retro second hand market. When it comes to twenty year old games, your money likely does not go towards the original developers, merely to the eBay sharks who charge too much. For example, I naively sold my GameCube Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance game for €10, just to “get rid of it” (I blame Marie Kondo). A day later, I see the guy selling it for more than €70. I was furious. According to Game Value Now, It now goes for over €200. What. The. Fuck.

As a gamer, I deeply care about the financial health of the developers. I regularly re-buy and re-releases I’ve bought The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time three times (Wii VC, GC collectors edition, 3DS) and still need to play it. Nintendo should not complain: I bought too many Wii Virtual Console games, and then did it again for their later consoles. I’ve bought Resident Evil 4 two times, and if Paper Mario 2 or Wind Waker would resurface as a Switch game, I’d be all over it—on the condition it’s not released on a lame subscription-based service. But until then, I refuse to wire €60+ to second hand sharks for GC games that I already bought with my then hard earned cash 19 years ago.

I’m alrady doing this for Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS games. That’s right, I’m that sucker that pays €45+ for a bad Castlevania Game Boy game. And I regularly buy new and re-released games for my Nintendo Switch and via gog.com. I recently bought the Director’s Cut and soundtrack of Kathy Rain precisely because it was more expensive than the regular version, simply to support the developers. And even then I can’t help myself and buy big box PC games like FIFA RTWC 98 or an Evercade system because of the appeal of legal licensing.

So, yes, I downloaded an image of Wind Waker and Paper Mario: Thousand Year Door. After a lot of contemplation. I bought every Zelda game ever released (multiple times), and despite the bad recent Paper Mario releases, I still support R&D1 by buying their recent crap—God help me. If a digital store would exist where I had to pay to get access to the ISO in the same vein as gog.com, I would not hesitate. My local retro game store already earns more than enough off of me. By buying a GC Loader, I also support smaller companies that are the driving force behind the cool GameCube hardware modding community.

I’ve been thoroughly philosophizing on the subject of retro gaming and its price tag (and where that money goes to), but I’m sure a few thinking flaws still exist. Feel free to drop in remarks and thoughts.

I'm Wouter Groeneveld, a level 36 Brain Baker, and I love the smell of freshly baked thoughts (and bread) in the morning. I sometimes convince others to bake their brain (and bread) too.

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