A major update to the retro-minded Analogue Pocket handheld gaming system arrived on Friday, and its new “OpenFPGA” features are the highlight. Thanks to last week’s “1.1” patch, anyone in the open source development community can build hardware emulation “kernels” to make Pocket mimic just about any gaming system and computer up to the early ’90s, if not older. new than that.
Our conversation with the CEO of Analogue left us wondering exactly how OpenFPGA would work, but we didn’t have to wait long to find out. As of the end of Friday, the system was essentially “untethered” when it came to compatibility with “Game Boy” branded games. And things got even spicier Monday morning with the surprise appearance of a kernel that supports a system far more powerful than the Game Boy or Game Boy Advance.
Ladies and gentlemen… Pocket is floating in space
The physical cartridge slot in the Analogue Pocket is compatible with any Nintendo Game Boy-branded game, all the way up to the Game Boy Advance, and that’s the obvious selling point for the system compared to something like an emulation box. If you’re the kind of gamer who prefers physical media but wants the advantages of modern hardware, Analogue Pocket is arguably the system for you.
However, even cartridge owners may prefer to skip physical media in some cases, especially to add convenience to a portable system, and that goes double for use cases like homebrew or Japanese games with community-developed English translations. So since my Analogue Pocket review was published, interested buyers have commented on whether the system could be jailbroken, a way to bypass the physical cartridges and instead play ROMs loaded into the microSD slot of the system.
Hours after my article on Pocket 1.1 was published, the answer came in the form of a couple of downloads on GitHub. These files are cores for Pocket’s OpenFPGA system, with one supporting Game Boy and Game Boy Color game files and the other supporting GBA game files. Put these cores on a microSD card, then put the compatible game files in the appropriate directories on the same card and voila: Analogue Pocket will now play Game Boy-branded games, no cartridge required.
The origins of these files are dubious; they appeared in a new GitHub account almost immediately after the release of 1.1, ensuring that its creators had some sort of early access to the Analogue development environment before release. (The accounts refer to a couple of British psych bands, Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized, which is certainly an interesting identifier.) One of the related accounts confirmed that he also had access to a large number of pocket-format image files previously only available to members of the press, designed to make the 1.1 update’s “Library” system look better. see better. The latter account did not identify itself beyond saying that its owner is “an FPGA engineer”, so it is unclear whether these developers were part of the Analogue Pocket development process, although a claim that their cores had been ” intensively tested for months” implies a very cozy relationship with Analogue as a company.
The biggest drawback at this point is that these cores will not work without transferring “BIOS” files from Game Boy and GBA systems. When you use a cartridge in Analogue Pocket, you’re playing these games with a BIOS file independently developed by Analogue, and that’s why you don’t see the “Nintendo” or “Game Boy” splash screens before playing those games. games. (Those brief splash screens were part of the original Nintendo BIOS systems.)
Additionally, the new GB and GBA cores omit the better visual processing options built into Analogue Pocket, which take advantage of Pocket’s high-resolution panel to add LCD-style effects to its modern IPS display. The anonymous developer behind these cores claimed that these filters would come to GB, GBC and GBA cores once “an Analogue API update” is activated.