Asee peer logo

FPGArcade: Motivating the Study of Digital Hardware

Download Paper |


2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

ABET Accreditation, Assessment, and Program Improvement in ECE

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.648.1 - 25.648.8



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Danial J. Neebel Loras College

visit author page

Danial Neebel is as Associate Professor of engineering and computer science at Loras College. His research interests include digital system design and testing, computer architecture, and computer science education.

visit author page

author page

Nicholas J. Burek Loras College

author page

Thomas Griebel Loras College

Download Paper |


FPGArcade: Motivating the Study of Digital HardwareDeclining enrollments in engineering fields have led educators to look for new ways to motivatestudents. Video and computer games are often used to get students to spend time on subjectssuch as math and science that may not otherwise spark a young person’s interest. Organizationssuch as DigiPen are developing projects to motivate middle and high school students to learnmore about game development and 3D animation. Using game development as an educationmedium can prove difficult in early courses since game development requires knowledge of avariety of advanced topics such as digital design, I/O interfaces, real-time systems, graphics, andin some cases artificial intelligence. Tools that make game development easy for students tendto provide interfaces that abstract away many low-level details. The high level of abstractionimplies that they are not as effective at helping students learn the underlying principles.This paper presents the FPGArcade system that makes game development simple while stillproviding insightful details into low level concepts. Fledgling programmers can test the waters ofthe hardware/software interface without having to go through several courses in digital logic,computer architecture, and electric circuits. Using an inexpensive FPGA-based platform andfree software from the Xilinx Corporation a programmer with some basic knowledge of C orC++ programming is able to create a simple computer game.The FPGArcade is inspired by older gaming consoles. The model for the FPGAracade system isbased upon the Nintendo Entertainment System’s Picture Processing Unit (PPU). The PPU usedtiles to take advantage of graphical redundancy thus reducing memory needed. The FPGArcadeuses a tile-based design and defines a set of instruction codes used to interact with the videomemory. These instruction codes are available as memory-mapped I/O. Programmers can accessthe instructions directly or call easy to use wrapper functions which can set the pixels andlocation of individual tiles. Tiles can also be set to fixed or movable, transparent or opaque, andsolid or not. The system is intuitive and allows for a quick visual way to interact with hardwarefrom high-level C code. The FPGArcade system also provides a joystick interface as part of theC library to provide ease of use for the student developer. The modular design of the systemallows for the development of additional interface devices. These features create a fun,interactive, and educational system that can be used to encourage students in engineering andcomputer science to further their understanding of hardware.

Neebel, D. J., & Burek, N. J., & Griebel, T. (2012, June), FPGArcade: Motivating the Study of Digital Hardware Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--21405

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2012 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015