Hardware hackers manage to run GTA: Vice City on a wireless router

Mike Powers

The big picture: Router manufacturers have long marketed their devices as “gaming” products, but a router can’t usually run a game by itself under normal conditions. Two hardware enthusiasts, however, felt the need to dispel this myth with an unprecedented hacking venture.

A new project shared on KittenLabs describes a real gaming router – a networking device that has been hacked and programmed to run a specific game with a bit of help from external GPU, an AMD Radeon connected via PCIe. The router in question is a TP-Link TL-WDR4900, and the chosen game is Rockstar’s action-adventure classic from 2002, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

“Toble Miner,” one of the two hackers behind the feat, mentioned on Mastodon that he has been “really annoyed” with companies that advertise so-called “gaming routers.” Together with “Manawyrm,” they decided to build what they consider to be the first real gaming router ever.

The TL-WDR4900 v1 is a “very interesting” WiFi router, as explained on the project’s page. It’s based on a PowerPC CPU made by NXP instead of using MIPS or ARM CPUs like other typical routers. The CPU offers a full 36-bit address space and plenty of computing performance for a router released in 2013. The processor also includes an “excellent” PCIe controller, which is used to connect the CPU with the onboard 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz WiFi chipsets.

Before installing OpenWrt and a Debian Linux 32-bit distro, the modders had to retrofit a miniPCIe slot to connect the external GPU needed to run the game. The software side of things required some additional work as well, and an older Radeon driver was ultimately used to provide enough compatibility with the 32-bit OS.

The two hackers chose to run an unofficial edition of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City known as ReVC, a reverse-engineered version of the game that Rockstar tried to erase from the internet with a lawsuit.

After several days of patches and code tweaks, GTA: Vice City was finally able to run on the custom gaming router with proper keyboard and mouse support. Judging from the video proof the hackers posted on YouTube, graphics seem to be serviceable albeit not blazing fast, as you would expect from a 22-year-old game.

The gameplay experience isn’t perfect either, as interactions with in-game NPCs are broken and cause graphic artifacts. The world is empty, but the excellent soundtrack of the GTA series is still there.

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