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Designing a classic gaming console


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#1 Fort Apocalypse OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jun 5, 2008 8:58 PM

I thought it might be fun for whomever is interested to help come up with an idea/design for what would constitute a killer classic gaming console that would fall in the sweet spot of price and functionality.

People came up with ideas like this in the "what do you want the FB3 to be" topic, but I think those ideas were usually more geared toward a strictly Atari FB console, so it was a little more constricted.

I think it would be fun to actually think of all of the different aspects, so not just what games would be good or what features it would have (although those are obviously key things to consider), but things like: how would legal issues be hurdled (like with roms if using emulation)?, methods of distribution like using wider distribution (Target, Walmart, Best Buy, etc.) vs. other methods (speciality store like Thinkgeek, auction like eBay, selling it from its own site, selling it through home parties like Tupperware :) ), how much you'd think it would cost to make vs. what price to sell it for, best methods for design, prototyping, marketing, etc. or best way to recruit the right people or find the right manufacturers, distributors... basically the entire thought process.

The goal of this is to come up with some good ideas that someone out there might be able to draw from to make some part of this a reality. It could even be one of you (or even me, but I don't have the time or financial situation to do more than talk about it unfortunately at the moment).

All that said, here are some ground rules for the console, although rules are made to be broken or bent ;) :

1) It would be a console to be used with a TV. It probably wouldn't be battery-powered, and probably not a portable.

2) It should allow for expansion of the game library. Some examples of this might be done would be via cartridges, discs of some sort, or it could have an internet connection, hook up to computer via USB/firewire, etc.

3) Preferably it should allow for many different types of classic games, including arcade games (including vector games), Atari, Intellivision, Genesis, NES, and also computer games (Atari, Apple, Commodore, old PC games, old Mac games, etc.).

4) Preferably it should also support keyboard games (via keyboard hookup of some sort) as an option.

5) To be most mass-marketable, it probably would need to be easy to use, which probably means a fairly consistent, mostly-simple interface.

#2 Fort Apocalypse OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jun 5, 2008 10:40 PM

Starting first :) basically a basic plan could be:

* Small footprint intel hardware running Linux with flash drive for quick startup, less noise, less chance of drive failure
* Use something existing like http://www.mess.org/ and work on the UI to make it as easy to use as possible
* Use memory card based cartridges and sell large sets of games for various platforms - the reason for going with this over downloading via internet, etc. would be price, and the reason to require cartidges would be to get around legal concerns (you'd have to license the games sold on the cartridges, but if someone wanted to they could hack up a cartridge to run their own homebrews/own games, but that wouldn't be officially supported, and you wouldn't gain the legal rights to run those games, assuming you needed the rights (if they weren't free))
* Talk to all the old folks that still have rights to the various games and make some deals. Shouldn't be too difficult seeing as how they aren't making anything now on most old games and it creates a legacy (and possible ongoing income, even if small) that they can hand down to their grandkids, great-grandkids, etc.
* Prototype on your own, but manufacture it in China (along with almost everyone else)
* Partner with existing game controller companies to include controllers for it - since would be pc compatable (USB) could also support wireless controllers/keyboards, etc.
* Target Thinkgeek as distributor at first and go with higher price tag ($100-120) but revise design, etc. over time and come out with a cheaper, better v2.0 in $70-80 price range to sell via Target, Walmart, etc.
* For v3.0 (after much development) aim for internet-enabled version that allows you to play online with your friends (wouldn't it be cool to play Atari 2600 combat in your house in the U.S. with a friend in England?)

What do you think?

#3 karri OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jun 5, 2008 11:34 PM

The hardware is trivial - you need just one chip! The Tegra!

http://www.tgdaily.c...view/37729/135/

The entire computer in a size less than a dime. With a small SD-card for games and power consumption around 1W we are talking about a keychain size thing that you can fit into the joystick.

And it outputs HDMI video at 720p.

Tegra chips will find their ways to PDA's, displays, mobile phones. Porting different emulators for this chip sounds like a good idea to me.
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#4 nathanallan OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Jun 5, 2008 11:44 PM

After reading about it, I agree, that Tegra machine sounds like a real innovation. Computer in a joystick, definitely sounds good to me, too.

Nathan

#5 mos6507 OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jun 6, 2008 12:01 AM

Tegra will make a great iPhone successor, or what the NGage should have been. I still think UMPCs are where things are headed longterm.

#6 supercat OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jun 6, 2008 12:09 AM

Starting first :) basically a basic plan could be:


To ensure the proper 'twich-factor', the time from code execution to display output should be small and relatively constant. Most emulation platforms will add a variable delay of up to a frame, if not more. It may be nice if a system includes a means to kludge NTSC games to PAL or vice versa, games running on their native video format should run at the exact native frame rate.

#7 Noelio OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jun 6, 2008 12:39 AM

System on a chip a la tegra sounds good.

Something I would like to see is an FPGA based system that emulates at a hardware level the processors / chipsets / io involved but with some sort of usb type interface to allow peripherals from the emulated hardware to be used. A SD interface with the 'processor formulas' stored and ready to be flashed on demand in a menu selected boot sequence with an assignable default OS/Proc formula(if that makes any sense!). Though I think really the time has come for emulation to really shine on media center pcs found in the living room.

A universally accepted standard launcher for the emulators could be good enough. The user can then buy their preferred usb to X peripheral interfaces etc. Hard to say. So much confusion as there's so many possibilities now.

I've got a pc that boots right into the atari 800 emulator that I built into a 1200xl shell that sometimes I fail to notice its actually a pc.
The same could be done with any machine now. Though its tricky to use native peripherals this way.

I think the Tegra could be the be all end all if the various ports work out well and that usb capability is an absolute certainty. The next logical step in the tegra would be an open i/o system to allow add ons. Personally I would like to see a nice keyboard interface to allow use of various keyboard matrices etc after training the interface whichever way. I'm no engineer, just a gas bag with some imagination and a crappy descriptive ability!

Though I would certainly buy any system with Atari and the fuji logo on it no matter what comes out!!!

Loving Atari forever!
Noel

#8 Fort Apocalypse OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jun 6, 2008 4:48 AM

Starting first :) basically a basic plan could be:


To ensure the proper 'twich-factor', the time from code execution to display output should be small and relatively constant. Most emulation platforms will add a variable delay of up to a frame, if not more. It may be nice if a system includes a means to kludge NTSC games to PAL or vice versa, games running on their native video format should run at the exact native frame rate.


Hopefully this will be solved with faster CPUs, video cards, right? But in the meantime would it be cool to have a classicgaming/retrogaming console with tons of games and types of emulation available, even if they are only 99.99% ;) like the real thing?

#9 Fort Apocalypse OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jun 6, 2008 4:56 AM

The hardware is trivial - you need just one chip! The Tegra!

http://www.tgdaily.c...view/37729/135/

The entire computer in a size less than a dime. With a small SD-card for games and power consumption around 1W we are talking about a keychain size thing that you can fit into the joystick.

And it outputs HDMI video at 720p.

Tegra chips will find their ways to PDA's, displays, mobile phones. Porting different emulators for this chip sounds like a good idea to me.
--
Karri


Yeah that is definitely a good idea. I didn't realize that it could support USB in addition to the HDMI out, etc. Sweet!

I was thinking for a prototype, something similar to gumstix. They'll even preflash the stuff with your custom image on it if you order 120+ at $0.70 per motherboard to flash it: http://gumstix.com/p...nfo.html#basics - but I'm guessing that someone out there might have a cheaper option already available. Some other small linux-based devices here.

Edited by Fort Apocalypse, Fri Jun 6, 2008 5:01 AM.


#10 Fort Apocalypse OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jun 6, 2008 6:37 PM

On the hardware-side I was thinking also that TiVo is a bit similar in that it is a *decently* cheap box that runs Linux.

* TiVo hardware
* TiVo Linux

Will really need to do some more research to come up with a cheap, mostly small-form intel hardware that would be available today for a console prototype. If anyone has anymore ideas about what might be good that has at least two USB ports for joysticks (preferably four) and maybe a memory stick adapter.

#11 supercat OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Jun 6, 2008 9:11 PM

Hopefully this will be solved with faster CPUs, video cards, right?


If a game has objects that flicker at 29Hz (rather than 30, because it runs 270 lines/frame) the only way that game is going to look right is if it's either shown on a 29Hz display or it's run 3% faster than it should be. All the processing power in the world isn't going to change that fact. Some people might prefer a flicker-free look, but it wouldn't be accurate emulation.

#12 Fort Apocalypse OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Jun 7, 2008 9:50 AM

Hopefully this will be solved with faster CPUs, video cards, right?


If a game has objects that flicker at 29Hz (rather than 30, because it runs 270 lines/frame) the only way that game is going to look right is if it's either shown on a 29Hz display or it's run 3% faster than it should be. All the processing power in the world isn't going to change that fact. Some people might prefer a flicker-free look, but it wouldn't be accurate emulation.


Hmm, that's a good point. It wouldn't be exactly like the old games, but it's close enough that honestly I've never had much trouble running old games and thinking they ran too fast or slow for reasons of what Hz it displayed as at least.

My thinking is that while you may have better emulation on real hardware, if you had a competition between the plug-n-plays that Jakks and others churned out vs. a console that has many more games that theoretically could play most classic games that were ever made via emulation that is so close (regardless of small speed differences in some cases or small flicker in others) to the real thing that the average person may not notice, it would seem that the classic gaming console would win out, and win big.

So why would someone buy this console when they could just buy a computer to do similar or buy the original old console or arcade cabinet? Because the average joe regardless of whether they are computer-savvy or not doesn't want to spend the time/money/effort to buy those old consoles/cabinets/computers and set them up/fix them or even spend the time to get emulators setup if they would rather spend their time gardening, playing with kids, playing fantasy football, watching TV, etc.

A relatively cheap classic gaming console would be huge. There are a wealth of games out there - way too many for Jakks or anyone else to sell in our lifetime when they only put out a few products a year with only 5 games each on them. Think of how many games people are missing out on, and the legacy that will be lost if no one acts now!

Edited by Fort Apocalypse, Sat Jun 7, 2008 10:51 AM.


#13 Heaven/TQA OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Jun 7, 2008 1:38 PM

what about the xgamestation? http://www.xgamestation.com/

#14 Fort Apocalypse OFFLINE  

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Posted Sun Jun 8, 2008 6:57 AM

what about the xgamestation? http://www.xgamestation.com/


The http://www.xgamestation.com/ definitely looks sweet and I'd love to get my hands on one to play around with it. I definitely recommend to anyone that hasn't checked it out to take a look at it. Really cool.

However, the xgamestation products are really geared towards hobbyists, and to reach the greatest number of people, the product would have to require the same amount of setup that a Wii would. In other words, you should be able to just plug it in, put in a game (or set of games), and turn it on, you choose a game, and you're ready to play.

A classic gaming console would need to:

* Have at least 2 joystick inputs.

I think that USB would be best because that allows for the greatest number of different devices from Atari 2600/400/800 style joysticks via stelladaptor, an Apple II joystick (via Apple-to-PC adaptor or custom adapter, to commodore 64 joysticks, etc. (some of those require gameport to USB adapters).

* Have some sort of way to expand the game library.

One way to do this would be via cartridge support.

I think that a memory card reader would be fine, with some sort of plastic casing. That way you could sell the cartridges alongside the console. The cards would contain the roms, bins, dsks, sound files, overlays, cabinet pictures, screenshots etc. on them and then work out agreements with whoever owns the rights to those games so they get a piece of the pie, even if it's a small piece, because of the massive numbers of games and low amounts of money involved.

But maybe the games would be subscription based as well and you would download games via USB instead of using cartridges.

* Be self-contained and already setup for classicgaming.

That pretty much rules out the current xgamestation products unfortunately.

* Be upgradeable.

Could upgrade via USB. Maybe through a subscription, to help with the ongoing funding.

Edited by Fort Apocalypse, Sun Jun 8, 2008 11:19 AM.


#15 karri OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Jun 9, 2008 1:03 AM

I don't like the idea of basing the console on existing old designs.

The Tegra should exist by the end of 2008.

tegra.jpg

It seems to be a flip-chip design so you need a factory that can make high-precision assemblies to solder this accurately. This also means that a product run should be in thousands to get it done in the first place. But making such a board would be nice.

I would keep the design as simple as possible. No FPGA's, no power amplifiers, no support for cartridges, no support for simple joysticks.

Only surface mountable components. Place components on both sides of the board to keep the board as small as possible. No components with pins going through the board to keep assembly cheap.

- Video & sound output using whatever Tegra supports. Connector assembled on the PCB.
- USB connections for connectivity and game controllers. 2 should be enough. Use USB hubs if more is needed. Surface mounted on the PCB.
- one SD slot for flash memory assembled on the PCB.

I would not put an OS on the board at all. Instead I would load the zipped kernel and root image from the SD-card at bootup and run everything from RAM. This allows you to use Linux or even run the emulator directly on the hardware without any windowing system. This also reduces the chip count (I hope). And there is nothing to "upgrade" on the Gaming Console ever.

You can then have several SD-cards like Windows, Atari ST, Ubuntu, Atari Lynx, Amiga, PSX, PSP... And they could all boot into their own emulated environments without any host OS behind.

NVIDIA_Tegra_Board_large.jpg

And this would have a Nokia mobile phone power adaptor socket through which you can feed any voltage to the board from 1.4 - 7 V.

As this design is very simple compared to "real" Tegra systems it might even be possible to get Nvidia interested into making this an OpenSource reference design for Tegra. Just daydreaming...

--
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Edited by karri, Mon Jun 9, 2008 1:53 AM.


#16 Red_Queen OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Jun 9, 2008 8:42 AM

I have thought about it myself and the problem with the idea likewise with the PHANTOM is that there is too many game systems out there that people is happy to play with and more importantly is locked in the minds of millions.

Like I play mostly if not only SNES and Saturn.

Somebody told me they played only Nintendo game systems.

Another person said PSX is the best and all the others is dead.

Personally I would just build something that has never been built before with a modest amount of 3d and 2d then present my product with content. I have been conceiving to have a audience with a game company ( if I could get my act together ) and I just need to get some props and finish writing my script ( if I only had the money ) along wih plane tickets.

The best bet would be making a regular system and presenting it to children but at the same time

You don't need a factory, you need to be able to gain access to the chips at randon and have a factory at the side. Like some Famicoms ( or original Nintendo systems ) was hand put together by Gumpie himself in a lab.

#17 Math You OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Jun 9, 2008 1:31 PM

A super fast Atari TT could probably emulate most classic systems including some arcade games from the early 80's.

The real question is would an emulator be successful or even legal. Selling a system that relies on other manufacturers ROM data might be seen as encouraging software piracy.

#18 Red_Queen OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Jun 9, 2008 1:57 PM

Making a emulator is no problem.

Yes you are allowed to sell emulators.

You are allowed to manifacture systems ( like famiclone. )

However you are not allowed to sell them when the rights is up ( like the real famiclone )

You are allowed to build systems with agreements with companies. Meaning you walk right up to them and ask for permmision to build such systems.

You are also allowed to build system clones but not allowed to brag about it.

#19 Fort Apocalypse OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Jun 9, 2008 8:17 PM

The real question is would an emulator be successful or even legal. Selling a system that relies on other manufacturers ROM data might be seen as encouraging software piracy.


It would seem that it would be legal as long as the intent of the system was to play games to be purchased for the device. The goal would be to work deals with those that own the games (ROMs, disks, etc.), if there is anyone to represent them, so that they are reimbursed in a practical but fair manner.

I've also been thinking that if the organization making and selling this device was a non-profit (like as a possible subsidiary of the Computer History Museum), then the classic gaming console may not fall under the definition of a commercial product. Then you may be able to package emulators with non-commercial licenses with the device or as add-on cards. Potentially the for-profit company could make the devices and the non-profit could sell the add-on cards with the emulators.

Even people working for non-profits can make decent salaries, so it wouldn't be a non-starter.

#20 Fort Apocalypse OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Jun 9, 2008 8:20 PM

Making a emulator is no problem.


Although I'd like to agree, MAME has been in development a good number of years now. I wouldn't want to try to rewrite it from scratch.

Yes you are allowed to sell emulators.


I would think that it depends on the emulator. If you write it yourself, then I would guess that you are allowed to sell it, as long as it isn't hurting anyone. If it is someone else's emulator (like MAME, Stella, etc.), then it depends on the license that they've set up, at least if you're talking about what's legal in the U.S. Of course other countries' laws can be more permissive or less enforced.

Edited by Fort Apocalypse, Mon Jun 9, 2008 8:22 PM.


#21 Fort Apocalypse OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Jun 9, 2008 8:24 PM

As this design is very simple compared to "real" Tegra systems it might even be possible to get Nvidia interested into making this an OpenSource reference design for Tegra. Just daydreaming...


Sounds like a plan! I think an open-source device plan for this would be insanely awesome. However, in order to take advantage of the many emulators already written, you'd want to run it in either Windows or Linux, I'd think?

#22 Math You OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jun 10, 2008 5:15 AM

There's a Tegra video here:

http://blogs.guardia...ile_market.html

One article says that finished products which use the Tegra chip will cost between $200-$250. Would that be too much for a classic console?

#23 TwinChargers OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jun 10, 2008 5:20 AM

In my mind, my idea of a "Super Classic Gaming Console" would be on the lines of the FC Twin, only much more so.

Heres what you'd want to do. You take all of the consoles that you like and gut them of there original casing. This would be very similar to what Ben Heck does when he makes a portable. Then, you'd need a decent size wooden box, (or whatever type of box you'd desire, I'm just imagining some large speaker-type box), and much like some of you added the cartridge slot on the FB2, you'd mod each individual system into the box. Therefore, you could have hooked up in one complete "system" as many consoles as you desire. There would be a large array of buttons and switches on this box, and multiple cartridge slots, CD drives and controller inputs. Inside the box, each gutted console would be sectioned off and hooked up to in my mind a power strip (or maybe multiple power strips) and also hooked up through one of those a/v selector switchboards where the buttons for that also would be on the outside of the box.

Now this would probably take a lot of work and dedication, but you'd have a rather large, (unless you are crafty like Mr.Heck), gaming console with the capability to play as many consoles as you so desire. Best part is that you'd be running off of the original hardware so there would be no emulation issues or NOAC problems.

What are your guys thoughts on this? I've been thinking about this for along time, could this work? This obviously isn't for mass marketing, but it would be pretty sweet having your own personally made console that has the capability of playing up over 10+ systems off of its original hardware. If done well, this could also look very sharp and professional like an extension of ones entertainment center.

Please, all comments and other ideas on this are welcomed!

#24 Fort Apocalypse OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jun 10, 2008 6:39 PM

What are your guys thoughts on this?


I think that is a great idea! You should definitely do this.

#25 Fort Apocalypse OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Jun 10, 2008 7:15 PM

One article says that finished products which use the Tegra chip will cost between $200-$250. Would that be too much for a classic console?


That unfortunately is way too much IMO. I would think the retail price target should be under $80 USD for mass retail, and at most under $120 USD when it first comes out for limited distribution. Does that sound about right? Obviously you'd sell a ton of them at under $50 USD, but I just don't see it ever being able to go under that easily. Basically it will be a computer with emulators on it to be able to come in at that price, because coming out with the real hardware to run as many systems as it would need to would be prohibitively expensive, although what TC is putting together sounds awesome.




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