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Explore an 8-Bit Earth with a Raspberry Pi Google Maps NES Cartridge

Raspberry Pi
(Image credit: Ciciplusplus)

Back in 2012, Google teased a video of a working Google Maps NES cartridge. It showed a demonstration of a family plugging in the cartridge and even blowing on it to get access to an 8-bit version of our planet. Unfortunately, this was just part of an April Fool’s Day gag, but that didn’t stop maker Ciciplusplus from developing his own, functional Google Maps NES cartridge almost a decade later with the help of a Raspberry Pi.

Some of the best Raspberry Pi projects use vintage hardware and this project is designed to work with real NES consoles. The cartridge connects to the original slot but has not been compiled into a shell as it’s still a prototype. Users can interface with the 8-bit map using an NES controller. The D-Pad is programmed to move around the map while the A and B buttons control the ability to zoom.

An actual NES cartridge is required to pull the project off which means a donor game will need to be sacrificed for the cartridge PCB. A Raspberry Pi 3 A+ functions as the main board and hosts the game while an FX2LP controller is used to bridge the connection. The design was inspired by this DOOM NES project which also inspired this NES cartridge PCB project we covered last year.

Raspberry Pi

(Image credit: Ciciplusplus)

To create the 8-bit world, Ciciplusplus developed a custom application that accesses Google Maps and converts the data from a realistic image into 8-bit tiles. An image of the map is broken into blocks. Each tile could be represented with trees, solid land, etc depending on whatever comprises the majority of the block. As users zoom in and out, location names will become visible. From a distance, users can only see country names while cities appear when zooming closer.

Check out the video posted by Ciciplusplus breaking down this incredible project and be sure to follow him for future updates.

Ash Hill
Freelance News and Features Writer

Ash Hill is a Freelance News and Features Writer at Tom's Hardware US. She manages the Pi projects of the month and much of our daily Raspberry Pi reporting.