The best Raspberry Pi projects are the ones that address a need we didn’t know we had, and that’s certainly the case with this incredibly clever PlayStation memory card hack from Daniele Giuliani, which uses a Raspberry Pi Pico board to fully emulate the console's memory card, adding a USB interface so game saves can be copied on and off.
Say the words ‘memory card’ today and you probably think of half a terabyte of micro SD card, enough to lose your entire music library down the back of the couch, but once upon a time they were decidedly chunkier in build and with a single megabyte of capacity. The memory cards that were used for saving game data on the original PlayStation console, launched in 1995 outside Japan, were this odd mix of small and large, but thanks to Guiliani and his Raspberry Pi Pico, they can at least be backed up. The PlayStation and other CD based consoles relied on these cards in order for gamers to save their progress, high scores and best times in Gran Turismo.
The PicoMemcard project’s simplicity is overshadowed by its usefulness to retro gamers. While official Sony memory cards were generally reliable, those made by third party manufacturers with larger capacities tended to lose saves as a result, it is speculated, of their flash chips not supporting as many read/write cycles as the official cards. Sony’s 1MB cards were split further into 15 ‘blocks’, and a save generally used up to three of these, limiting the amount of data each card could hold. Save data could be copied from card to card using the console’s two card slots, but there's no easy way to plug the cards into a PC due to their bespoke chunky plastic connections.
Enter the Raspberry Pi Pico. By soldering seven jumpers from an unwanted PS1 memory card PCB to the Pico’s edge connectors, then uploading a custom firmware to the board, you get yourself a working PlayStation card that also sports a simple USB interface. Your saved games can be easily backed up to PC, and new saves can be written to the card the same way. This includes unethical saves which exploit the console’s copy-protection system.
Guiliani is working on a custom PCB, so that the Pico can be used without destroying a PlayStation memory card first, and the board design will integrate a Micro SD card slot, so you can worry about losing your PlayStation saves down the back of the couch too.