Although 5×7 pixels aren’t a lot to work with, it’s easy to get lost in Olaf Val’s Mignon Game Kit. This minimalist handheld gaming system is hands-on in more ways than one. The first step is to put it together; second is to hack code for the Atmel ATmega8 microcontroller that powers it; and third, you get to play with it. With a four-way directional pad and two function buttons, the Mignon is ready for some serious, if extremely basic, gaming.
The Mignon is complex enough to be interesting, but not so complex that a child would have trouble with it. It’s a perfect microcontroller kit for hardware hackers of all ages (provided you’ve got the appropriate supervision for the soldering at the lower end of that age scale). But with just over 100 solder joints, make sure to set aside a few hours for assembly, especially if this is your first major soldering endeavor.
There are two games stored in the ATmega8’s nonvolatile RAM, Maze Driver and Min Pong, which hopefully will get overwritten soon with your own programs.
For programming, use any compiler that supports the ATmega8; BASIC and C are popular choices. You access the bootloader through a 9-pin D-Sub serial port, so computers lacking USB will need a serial adapter. Like the Mignon as a whole, its programming interface is extremely simple and does not require any tricky-to-use separate hardware programmer.