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What it takes to make a retro-console moderately successful

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For my 6666th post on the AtariAge forums, and in light of the current debacle of the Retro VGS, I would like to share my thoughts about what it takes to make a cartridge-based retro-console moderately successful, and hopefully encourage a healthy discussion on the subject.

 

First of all, I do say "moderately successful", because let's face it, a cartridge-based gaming console is not where the commercial gaming industry is going, and such a console is necessarily destined to be a niche product, no matter what marketing strategy is used. On the other hand, I think it would be a pretty cool niche product if it's done right, and seing how the main thread devoted to the Retro VGS (in the Modern Gaming section) recently passed the 50 pages milestone, I can go out on a limb and say I'm not alone.

 

The nice thing about creating a niche product is that you can establish a fixed set of goals and not worry too much about market competition. By "goals", I mean target specs for the console and its cartridges, and also the general logistics for developing new games for the proposed console and mass-producing them (on a "niche" scale) and getting these new games in the hands of console owners. However, these "goals" need to be planned out well in advance, and in this age of social media where anything can go viral and spin out of control, the entire process must be extraordinarily transparent for all interested parties, especially potential buyers.

 

As a homebrew publisher, I know how hard it can be to create a good game. You need a good idea, good graphics, good music and sound effects, and fluid controls and gameplay. But most of all, you need time, lots of it. So you either invest a lot of your free time into programming a game (on the side of having a "real" job) or you start a small dev company so that you can get some money out of the tedious process of making a quality game.

 

(At this point, I need to say that the rest of this post is only my own take on the subject, and what follows should be taken as a simple opinion, which others may or may not agree with.)

 

The most important aspect of a cartridge-based console is its library of games, and I think the main problem is that it's hard to convince qualified programmers to develop something new for a niche console. That's why I say a new cartridge-based console needs to be REALLY low-tech, especially in terms of graphics. A limited color palette (something like 64 colors), sprites limited to 3 colors each, a single layer (or maybe two) of background tiles with the most basic hardware-based scrolling capability, these are all basic features that help level the playing field for everyone who could be interested in developing games for the machine. With a console that offers hundreds, thousands or even millions of colors to choose from, you will need to find and hire an artist to make all the graphics of your game, which is expensive. With a palette limited to 64 colors, and tiles/sprites limited to 4 colors (including transparent pixels) chances are you can make your own graphics for your game, or ask a friend to do them for you. Sound output should be equally low-tech for mostly the same reasons, but even with the simplest chip-tune components, you'll probably need to hire a good chip-tune musician to create new music and sound effects for your game. This is not trivial.

 

When I saw Mux's prototype, the specs seemed about right to me, but then Mux said his prototype was based on ancient tech, and this has me thinking that this could be an argument against using an FPGA for a retro-console: Today's best FPGA will be obsolete by next year and supplies of this kind of hardware are bound to get limited pretty fast. If it's not as bad of a problem as I think it is, then perhaps someone can chime in and explain why...

 

What makes a cartridge-based console interesting is the "physicality" of the cartridges: For a developer, there's something enticing about showing a game cartridge and saying "I made this", and this is the core of what makes such a niche product attractive. But since going from simple idea to finished game is a difficult process (even with a truly low-tech console) then I would say the most important thing to have are good development tools that help speed up development and testing: A complete development suite with a quality emulator that runs on PC and Mac is what is needed to get bedroom coders interested. Without proper programming tools, you're just asking people to hack their way into your machine, and that just won't work.

 

So let's be outrageously optimistic and say that you have a low-tech console that's really easy to program for, with development tools that make the process of programming games relatively fun, and after a few months you have a good number of people knocking on your door asking to have their game creations put on cartridges. Producing a run of carts, with box and manual, is not the most difficult thing to do, but there's a catch: How do you separate the quality games from the crap? Because you know there will be a lot of crap games being submitted by people who like to wear rose-tinted glasses when they look at their own creations, while the rest of us just want to place a big "REJECTED!!" stamp on those games, and say "Here's a dollar, go buy yourself some programming talent".

 

The more crap games you allow for your console, the more your console's reputation will suffer. The answer to this problem (again, in my humble opinion) is to have an official committee of a dozen people who rate every submitted game impartially. This wouldn't be doable for a major game console, but for a niche game console, such a committee is conceivable. The goal here would not really be to discourage programmers who submit bad games, but rather to give them a reality check and explain to them exactly how they can improve their creations. Then these coders can go back to the drawing board and fix whatever needs fixing, even if it means getting help from other people. We live in an era of open communication via the internet, so getting help is only a matter of stepping on your own ego and doing it.

 

But then let's say that a programmer who made a visibly sub-par game decides that he has spent enough time on his creation already, he's not interested in fixing anything, and he just wants to get cartridges manufactured. The committee shouldn't have the power to block such a submission unless it's a truly bad game, so there would be a star system in place to rate each "final" submission. Anything above one star would get published on cartridge, but the lower the star rating, the lower the final price of the game, and the developer would have to accept the price set by the committee. So a lazy programmer will get very little money out of his crap game. On the other end of the spectrum, a five-star rating would indicate a game of high quality (but not necessarily great originality, because it's hard to make something truly original these days, especially on low-tech hardware) and the committee would set a higher price tag for the game, which means more money in the pockets of the developer, as well as more hype generated for the end buyers.

 

Of course, this proposed committee would be an optional step: Any developer could bypass the committee and put his game on cartridge in all deliberate speed, but the game would be marked as "unrated" and the developer would have to pay for everything himself (cartridge casing+electronics+label, manual, box). This includes games that are published on cartridge via third-party means (think Tengen or Color Dreams during the old NES days). There would be no such thing as a "pirate" game in this situation, such games would simply be marked as "unrated" by the official committee, without any kind of sanction or special warning applied. It would be up to the end buyers to decide if they want to take a chance on these games offered by "alternate production sources". Again, in the internet age in which we live, it would be hard to get away with offering a crap game for very long, so it would be in a programmer's best interest to go through the process of submitting his game to the official committee.

 

There may be flaws with this "official committee" idea which I'm not thinking of, but I think it's a relatively valid solution to the general problem of game quality. All owners of the proposed cartridge-based console should have a central, official point of reference to evaluate the quality of each game, because rating games is not something to be blindly entrusted to the internet jungle. Of course, other reputable web sites (like maybe IGN.com) could do their own reviews of the games, but if it gets to that point, then I would say the proposed cartridge-based console could be labelled as a success.

 

I could go on and expand on other aspects, but I think this wall of text is long enough. ;)

 

Thanks for reading. :D

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I expressed that idea on a shorter post about the Retro VGS. I totally agree with you.

Such a console should be low-tech to get "lone" programmers able to make games for the console.

I mentionned indeed a console based on a Z80 (because it's a very common CPU, mean we have a large pool of programmers that know this CPU); 64Ko of RAM, a "weak" GPU maybe with some hardware tricks (it's nice to have a retro system, but it's nicer if you can make that are visually appealing, so scrolling support and hardwired tricks are a plus) sound chip with so few channels, noise generators, oscillators.

On the other hand, basing your console on old harware... I'm not so sure about.

What is the availability of old hardware?

Plus, the GPU might be a distinctive part of the console, much like the sound chip. So we will have to rely on modern hardware, like ASIC or FPGA to make them, so why not encasing the whole system in it?

 

Also, cart support, of course, but also SD card support, through a flash cart/and or an included drive. Why? People might not be so keen on buying a 30 or 40 $ cart every month. Also this mean that the console will receive small homebrew tries from people that otherwise might not be interested enough in the system; or and people might not enjoy to blow 40$ for another PacMan port.

 

Also probably from the beginning, a multicart with a dozen or so games for it, so people have those 12 games to play with from the get go.

And a selling price under the 100$/€ mark.

Edited by CatPix
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All good points in the first 2 posts. You lost me on the "committee", but you provided an "out", so that's good.

 

Definitely games is the key. Yes, a dozen decent games to start, at decent price, is very beneficial. On the other side of the coin, 1 game at launch time would be catastrophic... the first game ends up costing you hundreds of dollars, essentially (including the console price).

 

I also think we're jaded and spoiled. You can buy a classic console and a dozen or two of its best games for about $100 (or perhaps half that, or double that - whatever) in many cases (or add a ~$100 multicart). Or emulate thousands of games for free, basically. Or download 100 good games for your tablet for free.

I think Mux's system was "ancient tech" only because the FPGA he's using isn't available anymore. Easy enough to go with newer parts later on.
To answer the initial question regarding moderate success... Did it break even financially? Are people happy with their purchase?

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Plus, the GPU might be a distinctive part of the console, much like the sound chip. So we will have to rely on modern hardware, like ASIC or FPGA to make them, so why not encasing the whole system in it?

I certainly wouldn't mind using an FPGA if I was actually creating such a proposed console, but in order for this to work for the long term, there would probably be several revisions of the hardware over the years, because the FPGA chosen today as the main core of the hardware will probably become outdated (and harder to find) in just a couple of years. So that means selecting a new (and probably more advanced) FPGA later, and having to program this new FPGA and slightly redesigning the hardware around it. And then you'd have to do a large round of testing to make sure the new hardware is fully compatible with all the games released for the previous iteration(s) of the hardware. That's no fun...

 

 

Also, cart support, of course, but also SD card support, through a flash cart/and or an included drive. Why? People might not be so keen on buying a 30 or 40 $ cart every month. Also this mean that the console will receive small homebrew tries from people that otherwise might not be interested enough in the system; or and people might not enjoy to blow 40$ for another PacMan port.

A SD cartridge would probably be best, in this case, to keep the console electronics as simple as possible. But then you're opening the door to rampant piracy...

 

 

Also probably from the beginning, a multicart with a dozen or so games for it, so people have those 12 games to play with from the get go. And a selling price under the 100$/€ mark.

I would be curious to find out if a real cartridge-based retro-console (with proper casing, controllers and packaging, not just a prototype) could be made for under 100$. It sounds possible in theory, but a niche product such as this implies low production numbers, and the last thing I'd want is to settle for cheap controllers which people would complain about endlessly.

 

By the way, I think it would be fun to have small cartridges, similar to those used with the original Game Boy. Such carts would take up less storage space, but this would be an acceptable solution only if it doesn't drive up the cost of the cart electronics, which would need to be more compact.

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How about a TMS9918 or V9938 type GPU? ;)

 

I'd like to create a system with a 1.79 MHz 65C02, V9938 and two AY8910s, but I think that's way over my head. :/

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Sounds like an acceptable solution indeed.

For the cart, I was thinking about real carts, made or ROM or flash, it's up to the tech and price we can get. And SD card on a separate slot or flash cart, so you get both - the ease of digital ROM files, and a real, non-standard cart.

I'm not sure you can stop piracy... Such an old tech system would be very vulnerable to any encryption/zoning system we could find, especially with the SD card system.

Plus, piracy would only be an issue for so few people. Yeah I suppose you'll get the occasional "fake" cart, but to make a fake cart, you gotta have the molds of the original, and it's unlikely someone will have them aside from whoever make the shells.

Plus, piracy happens when programmers decide to make a limited run of a cart - so the simple solution is : never stop production. Something like taking batch of 100 orders to make a cart seems a good compromise.

 

On another note, a small cart is a neat idea - less costs for making the PCB, the shell, the box... and it mgiht allow for making a PORTABLe version of the system :D

Edited by CatPix

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There may be flaws with this "official committee" idea which I'm not thinking of, but I think it's a relatively valid solution to the general problem of game quality. All owners of the proposed cartridge-based console should have a central, official point of reference to evaluate the quality of each game, because rating games is not something to be blindly entrusted to the internet jungle. Of course, other reputable web sites (like maybe IGN.com) could do their own reviews of the games, but if it gets to that point, then I would say the proposed cartridge-based console could be labelled as a success.

 

 

So you're basically looking for a "Nintendo Seal of Quality" to go on the game box or cart. What about instead of a star system, an odd number (lets say 5) people vote yes or no on a title? Three votes yes means the game gets the seal.

 

 

 

Is rampant piracy a large problem with home-brew or small publisher releases? Most of the ROMZ sites seem to take that stuff down if it's posted.

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So you're basically looking for a "Nintendo Seal of Quality" to go on the game box or cart. What about instead of a star system, an odd number (lets say 5) people vote yes or no on a title? Three votes yes means the game gets the seal.

As you are probably aware, Nintendo's "Seal of Quality" was actually a simple visual confirmation that the publisher of a game obtained a proper license from Nintendo, it had little to do with the actual "quality" of a given game. :)

 

I'm against the idea of a voting system because it would give too much power to a small group of voters. A lot of controversy could arise if a good game is rejected for political reasons which have nothing to do with the game's general quality, and believe me, this kind of shit actually happens in real life. My idea of the committee is to offer an official public channel for an unbiased evaluation of each game, and this evaluation should not impede a game's release on cartridge, unless it's a real turd.

 

But whether a committee or some other kind of system is used, there absolutely needs to be some kind of way for the good games to stand above the sub-par titles. Otherwise, if too many games come out over a few years, the good games are lost in the flood and people will lose interest in the console altogether. Unless I'm mistaken, that's a problem the Ouya had...

 

 

Is rampant piracy a large problem with homebrew or small publisher releases? Most of the ROMZ sites seem to take that stuff down if it's posted.

Generally, people with cartridge dumpers don't hesitate to dump the homebrew carts they buy, so that they can play with their flash/SD cartridge and preserve the original cart. The real question is whether these dumps get spread around in a peer-to-peer fashion...

 

For a cartridge-based system, including an SD cart slot (or releasing an SD cartridge) is practically an invitation to dump the commercially-released games and play them via SD. Then the ROMs get spread around and no one buys the real carts anymore. This phenomenon was prevalent in the 1980s with home computers that used standard cassette tapes for software loading/storage. Everyone back then made copies of those tapes and they didn't care if game publishers went bankrupt as a result.

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What would be interesting to me is basically a souped-up 7800 with XM and save cart built-in and composite and component out. Not ready to say that would be even moderately "successful," but those are the basic specs I'd personally be interested in with a "new" retro console. High-end 8-bit with some nice modern features. I've thought about putting something like that together if I won the powerball...

 

I'm most comfortable in C & C++ so a basic set of libraries and especially a graphics and sound toolkit would make things a lot easier. Wrangling compatible sprites and background art always seems like such a chore. The "how to make 7800 graphics with GIMP" how-to guide was really well done, but there's about forty steps. A specific tool for authoring graphics would be great. I'd be leery of SD card support for the reasons Pixelboy stated.

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What would be interesting to me is basically a souped-up 7800 with XM and save cart built-in and composite and component out. Not ready to say that would be even moderately "successful," but those are the basic specs I'd personally be interested in with a "new" retro console. High-end 8-bit with some nice modern features. I've thought about putting something like that together if I won the powerball...

I was thinking of a sort of "Super ColecoVision" myself, with a custom GPU that would contain all the graphic modes and features of the ColecoVision's original GPU (for backward compatibility with existing ColecoVision games) but with a few added graphic modes that would bring the system closer to the NES (multi-colored sprites and tiles, basic hardware scrolling, etc.) to make the system more attractive to bedroom coders. I think the V9958 could do the job, but I've heard of a few drawbacks to using that VDP, like the sprites following the background when hardware scroll is used (which means you have to correct the position of all the active sprites when the screen scrolls. Talk about a design flaw!).

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Mux's board was really inspiring and I would love to see something along those lines. I think some of the best games are the ones where the programmers did a lot with so little. Anything that requires a huge team for coding and graphics and sound assets is already unsustainable out of the gate. The huge dev teams that are out there certainly won't be putting significant resources into such an endeavor. Or they'll do it exactly once when they realize the return isn't worth it. A successful classic-style system shouldn't involve more people than what the homebrew scene today requires: one to three dedicated people and a community that can relay feedback.

System Guts
I wonder if it would be feasible to use tried-and-true CPUs like the 6502 or the 68K. I'm not sure what the availability of these are but they have proven to be extremely capable. Or maybe something in those families of processors with a little more power? I would opt for screen resolution similar to the SuperNES or Genesis. At the lowest: NES. If we get any lower than that, then we might as well just drop the idea and focus support on the current 2600/7800/INTV et al homebrews. With finer resolution, we can utilize some fun graphical goodies such as scaling, pixel doubling/nearest-neighbor smoothing, rotation, lightening/darkening, and transparency. Offering these basic abilities will help give the system it's own identity and set it apart from other systems from the classic eras. Imagine something like the 7800 performing the tricks of the SuperNES. As for sound: chip tunes with optional MIDI. I don't want to see a classic-style system that spools audio from Red Book or MP3 files. It's just not right.

Controllers

DB-9 interface would be a good default. It's common and the Sega Genesis managed a directional pad and eight buttons with that arrangement. I would think that would be more than enough buttons. I would even sacrifice a some buttons and put an analog spinner on the controller for paddle and driving games. I'm not inclined to add analog sticks. I think paddles are sorely missed on modern systems, IMO, and there is still a lot of potential gameplay opportunities to be had with them, especially if used in conjunction with a directional pad. Bluetooth wireless might be manageable (maybe?). I would heavily vote against infrared wireless. I've seen IR with great line-of-sight (Apple TV) and IR with terrible LOS (Atari Flashback 5 or whatever number they are on). Forcing the player to maintain a specific controller orientation while playing is too much to ask and detracts from the experience.

 

Getting the Games into the System

Cartridges would probably be the simplest way, at least for prototyping purposes. Ultimately, I wonder if it would be more practical (and modern) to have onboard wi-fi for downloading games from a server or from a local computer. Let the gamer archive their games as they wish on their computer. I wouldn't spend a lot of time and energy trying to make the games piracy-proof. Let's be real, that's a no-win scenario. If giant corporations can't do it, what chance does something like this have?

 

That's my personal wish list for a classic-style system. It would be cool to see the talented homebrew developers migrate to a system that will give them some new abilities and maybe a little more wiggle room but still have some constraints that bring out creative solutions.

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Figured I'd chime in since I got quoted and all that :-)

 

So the main reason for using ancient / old technology was that it was through-hole, which means I can hand-solder it myself without screwing around with 0.5mm pins and magnifying glasses. I initially had the crazy idea that people might want to assemble the boards themselves, as well as write cores (that's why the JTAG connector is partially on there). Anywho, I realized a couple of things:

 

1. The vast majority of people just want a pre-assembled board

2. Very few, if any people are going to write a new core.

3. While sourcing parts from eBay works for now, it's not exactly something you can scale.

4. I created a daughter board that was basically a rom emulator, which increased costs and (again) isn't something most people would want.

 

While still available, CPU's (z80 an 6502 are somewhere around $5) at some point they're going to disappear. Soft cores would solve that but FPGA's seem to be replaced with more powerful ones every day. So with that in mind, at a minimum, a board will need to:

 

1. Be pre-assembled (surface mount)

2. Have a USB interface for development and an SD-card for storing games

3. Have a decent software interface to program the games.

4. Keep the cost down as much as possible

5. Make it open source

 

Contrary to Kevin's comment about HDMI and partially because I (honestly) haven't looked into it and want to keep things simple. Most monitors still take VGA as well, so yeah.. why not? To Emehrs point, keep it simple and at least at a NES level with some additional bells and whistles for people to tinker with.

 

 

-Mux

Edited by Mux
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Figured I'd chime in since I got quoted and all that :-)

 

So the main reason for using ancient / old technology was that it was through-hole, which means I can hand-solder it myself without screwing around with 0.5mm pins and magnifying glasses. I initially had the crazy idea that people might want to assemble the boards themselves, as well as write cores (that's why the JTAG connector is partially on there). Anywho, I realized a couple of things:

 

1. The vast majority of people just want a pre-assembled board

2. Very few, if any people are going to write a new core.

3. While sourcing parts from eBay works for now, it's not exactly something you can scale.

4. I created a daughter board that was basically a rom emulator, which increased costs and (again) isn't something most people would want.

 

While still available, CPU's (z80 an 6502 are somewhere around $5) at some point they're going to disappear. Soft cores would solve that but FPGA's seem to be replaced with more powerful ones every day. So with that in mind, at a minimum, a board will need to:

 

1. Be pre-assembled (surface mount)

2. Have a USB interface for development and an SD-card for storing games

3. Have a decent software interface to program the games.

4. Keep the cost down as much as possible

5. Make it open source

 

Contrary to Kevin's comment about HDMI and partially because I (honestly) haven't looked into it and want to keep things simple. Most monitors still take VGA as well, so yeah.. why not? To Emehrs point, keep it simple and at least at a NES level with some additional bells and whistles for people to tinker with.

 

 

-Mux

Thanks for your input, Mux. :)

 

I'm thinking that if a SD cartridge or SD port is somewhat unavoidable, in the sense that it's needed to facilitate development purposes, and since any cartridge is technically dumpable, then perhaps the proper way to address the issue of piracy would be to make game cartridges on demand only and keep the console totally open: Those who want to pay good money for proper cartridge releases (with box and manual) could purchase them, but those who want to keep their money in their wallet could just buy the console with a few SD cards and play the game ROMs on the system without the kind of negativity normally associated with piracy.

 

Owners of the console would buy the CIB cartridge releases because they want to, not because they would be forced to. Making a homebrew game is a labour of love anyhow, I don't think anyone would expect to make a living out of making games for a low-tech niche console. So you just have to warn any developer who could be interested in making a game for the console that a lot of people will play their games via a SD card, and only a fraction of those people will purchase the actual CIB product (e.g. mostly collectors).

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@Mux,

 

I find this idea of a low-cost FPGA very interesting. (Can I opt for a 65816? :))

 

So the main reason for using ancient / old technology was that it was through-hole, which means I can hand-solder it myself without screwing around with 0.5mm pins and magnifying glasses. I initially had the crazy idea that people might want to assemble the boards themselves, as well as write cores (that's why the JTAG connector is partially on there). Anywho, I realized a couple of things:

 

1. The vast majority of people just want a pre-assembled board

2. Very few, if any people are going to write a new core.

3. While sourcing parts from eBay works for now, it's not exactly something you can scale.

4. I created a daughter board that was basically a rom emulator, which increased costs and (again) isn't something most people would want.

I think the ability to write new cores would be a nice feature (maybe just to experiment). I think A2600 coders always make some kind of core in the form of a kernel.

 

In the other post (http://atariage.com/forums/topic/235430-how-has-this-not-been-posted-yet-retro-vgs/?p=3323751) you wrote:

 

FPGA with configuration prom on the cartridge so each game could theoretically have it's own graphics / sound hardware.

So what is the JTAG interface for?

Edited by roland p

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The JTAG interface is so that you don't have to mess around with burning new configuration proms all the time. That said, I'd lean more to having a 'fixed' configuration and give programmers the flexibility to do awesome stuff.That's why the 2600 had such a long life IMO.

 

-Mux

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For a cartridge-based system, including an SD cart slot (or releasing an SD cartridge) is practically an invitation to dump the commercially-released games and play them via SD. Then the ROMs get spread around and no one buys the real carts anymore. This phenomenon was prevalent in the 1980s with home computers that used standard cassette tapes for software loading/storage. Everyone back then made copies of those tapes and they didn't care if game publishers went bankrupt as a result.

The difference is that we're not talking about a widespread system made by a company that rely on cart sales to survive, and about a large pool of people eager to get lots of games.

A retro system made from scratch is targeting the "by enthusiasts, for the enthusiasts" niche.

Sure, here and there people will probably get a game on SD card, but mostly people will buy the system to make it survive.

 

But IMO, the thing is that if we set too many goals for publishing a game, we'll have less programmers; less games, less people wanting to get the system, especially if the game doesn't interest them (like, most SGM games seems to be MSX ports and/or enhanced versions of existing games. I have a MSX, therefore I can have no interest in a SGM module).

Do you think we'll have so many little Atari 2600 homebrews today if there was no way than a physical cart to play them?

IMO, no. We'll have only a handful of released carts evey year.

 

The Flash cart option allow to have lots of homebrews to make the machine alive. Sure there will be mess, but there will be decent and original ideas here and there.

 

About dumping games, it's a risk I think we gotta take; else we're going to be stuck in a catch-22 scenario, where programmers doesn't want to develop games for the system because it doesn't sell, and people doesn't want to buy the system because there are no games for it.

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The financials are a bit of a hurdle to get around. Who is this committee? Are they compensated? Where does the funding for approved games come from? The problem with doing something like this is the amount of money needed to make it work is not insubstantial. More, I think, than even crowd funding could handle.

 

IMO the most realistic approach to making "modern" hardware would be to include an SD port and a cartridge slot based on a pre-existing system (NES let us say) but I don't think a SoC clone with an SD port is what most are asking for.

 

Another possibility might be if competing groups posed as publishers and were responsible for vetting and fronting their own members releases. It'd work more like Atari Age and some of the NES home brew sellers than a traditional publisher though.

 

This would be fine if the system caught on but the original manufacturer would still need some launch titles to attract attention.

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It sounds like the OP is looking for something a little more powerful than a NES or SMS but not quite as powerful as a GEN or SNES or TG16. In other words, the ideal 3rd Generation Video Game Console.

 

One must ask, why a new console in the first place? There were 40 million NESs made, far, far more than anything that is likely to be made today. Its color may be a bit more limited than the optimal spec, but it still has 54 colors to play with and can add lots of memory via cartridges. The NES's architecture is well-known and widely emulated, so its easier to develop than something completely new.

 

Regardless of the hardware target, a successful console has to have good games, as many as possible, and those games have to be exclusive. Why should someone spend $200 on a console and $50 for a cartridge when they can get it on Steam and other places for $25?

 

Pixel art is an art form in and of itself. It is harder to get things looking nice in 3-color tiles than you may think. Similarly for chiptune music, translating something from a synthesizer into PSG-style square wave sound is not a skill that many have mastered. And before you start point out all the NSFs available, the best compositions are those written for the game, not just chosen.

 

Most homebrew games I have found on the NES to be singularly unimpressive. Either they fail to really work on real hardware, steal too many ideas and assets from other games, lack the necessary effort to have competed with good licensed games or the talent just isn't there.

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2600 is such a thriving scene for homebrew IMO because the projects can be realistically completed by a single programmer who might be using a dev time 2-3x as long as the professional devs did back in the day.

 

With Nintendo (and newer) it's more work which means more dev time or people. It's tough. I've played some good stuff but nothing like what's on 2600.

 

Making good games is hard work. I can't blame people for wanting to be compensated for that work so why waste time on this old hardware when you can just get it on Steam or iOS or whatever

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One thing about cartridges though is that FLASH roms are dirt cheap these days. You can get a 16MB (byte, not bit) rom for about $1.50. Add in the cost of the PCB and a shell in semi decent quantity and you're look at most at something like $10 for COG, if that. So it's not that high a cost per cartridge. On the other hand, you'd have to either create a service for people to create carts or make it part of a dev system which adds to cost to the system as a whole. At a minimum, you'll need to add either a flash card or add stuff to the main board, neither of which are cheap.

 

SD cards on the other hand make it a lot easier for people to just write games and share them, including the unwanted effects of piracy, not that that should be a big issue though. You could do BOTH but that takes a lot more work. Cartridges themselves are by far the easiest way to go as you don't have to deal with filesystems, load times, etc.

 

So yeah, it's a bit of a trade-off. I'm really tempted to work on another 'retro console' with parts sourced from eBay though. I'm nowhere near Kevin's level but enjoy creating systems that hover around the 1980-1990 time era with equally old parts. That said, you're probably looking at $100 (retail) for the board itself whereas if you go with a single FPGA, some memory and an SD card (+ USB development interface), it's about half that..

 

-Mux

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I like this idea and a lot of the suggestions here. I think the best approach would be to treat this as a hobbyist machine for individuals or small teams of homebrew developers who just want to tinker with something new for fun - as long as there are suitable dev tools and it is easy to code for. I do art for Aetherbyte and coding for the PC Engine is painful and long winded.

 

I can see why a part of the retro community wouldn't care about this - there are many for whom the 'retro' style is not enough if it doesn't come with the specific emotional attachment of the console they grew up with. But for some of us, it's a great 'what if...' scenario. Like 'What if <insert machine name here> had larger sprites/more sprites/a faster CPU etc while maintaining the visual aesthetic of the era, and being modern-day friendly with HDMI and downloadable games.' That kind of thing appeals to me more so than a lot of 'modern-retro' that has big pixels, thousands of colours and throws on visual effects that you could have never dreamed of back in the 80s.

 

I guess the hardest thing is knowing exactly where the sweet spot is, and this would vary wildly from person to person. Do you go for NES? SMS? VCS? PCE? It's quite a wide range and hitting it right would be important.

Edited by sunteam

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How about to make a Multi-System?

 

Like having the Cart Port for the NES, SNES and the Genesis

 

They have to got NOAC, GOAC & the chips for the Super NES side

 

I know most NOAC's won't work with Castlevania 3 and some GOAC;s won't work with Virtue Racing

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