Analogue Pocket Delayed to October 2021

Pocket is delayed once more.

Pocket is delayed and shipping in October 2021.

The current global state of affairs continues to create supply chain challenges outside of our control.

There have been sudden and severe electrical component shortages as well as logistical issues leading to a domino effect of challenges for nearly everyone in the industry.

We’re working hard to get Pocket out as fast as possible and we appreciate your understanding and patience. An email is being sent to everyone who pre-ordered Pocket. If you have any questions about your pre-order or would like to cancel at anytime for a full refund, please contact Analogue Support at support.analogue.co or by email at support@analogue.co.

Unsurprising given the chip shortages around the world. It is such a shame this delay happened just one month before the previous target month of May 2021. I just talked about its impending launch with Cameron Hawkins on my new podcast, since we both snagged a pre-order.

I can’t possibly see the Analogue Duo hitting 2021 now either. Analogue has reassured that the Super NT will be restocked next month, with the DAC and Mega SG following afterward.

I am really glad I went ahead and assembled a MiSTer now too. Now we wait for October…

Behind the Pixel – Kirk Hamilton – From Jazz Teacher to Game Journalist

Part of creating The Max Frequency Podcast was to restore all the episodes of Behind the Pixel, an interview show I did in 2017 for seven episodes. These will be mixed into this feed so that the show can live on podcast services once more. Below are the original show notes, with some light editing. I hope you enjoy.

Continue reading “Behind the Pixel – Kirk Hamilton – From Jazz Teacher to Game Journalist”

MiSTer FPGA Thoughts and Impressions – My Tool for Researching the Past

I have been writing about Analogue since the start of Max Frequency a year ago. For those unfamiliar with the company, Analogue makes specialized HD retro consoles that use chips called Field-Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs). The gist is that FPGAs allow for hardware-level, cycle accurate emulation opposed to software-based emulation. These chips can be reprogrammed to emulate a plethora of game systems. They have rapidly become essential in the retro gaming space as a means to play and preserve games and their hardware. You can really see the lengths the community goes to in Part 3 of My Life In Gaming’s docuseries Analog Frontiers – Preservation and Replication.

Analogue is far from the only FPGA-based console manufacturer. I only mention them because I have been familiar with them and their work for the longest. Posts I’ve written about them are often my most engaged articles. The demand for their products is high and the relative scarcity of them only amplifies that.

Other contenders are things like the AVS, which plays NES and Famicom games in HD. Plenty of HD mods for consoles use FPGAs as well like the GBA Consolizer, PS1Digital, and both the upcoming N64Digital and Retrotink5x Pro. While those are not emulating the hardware, it shows both how diverse FPGA application is and how essential they have become in bringing retro hardware to the modern era.

There is one other name in the FPGA scene that stands tall, often stacked against Analogue products—the MiSTer.

MiSTer is an open-source, DIY FPGA computer. Based off a readily available FPGA board (the DE-10), folks can buy components and assemble their own or even buy fully assembled kits from vendors like MiSTer Addons. The key differentiating factor is that MiSTer is not limited to one console like most Analogue products. Being open-source, there are countless people working together and developing numerous consoles, known as “cores,” for the platform. It can play NES, Sega CD, GBA, Atari Lynx, Galaga, Capcom’s CPS2 arcade board, and so much more. It is the swiss-army knife of FPGA retro gaming. And I bought/assembled one.

I’ve been aware of MiSTer for a couple years. Once you dive down the rabbit hole that is FPGA-based emulation, it won’t take long to stumble across the project. I never bought in before for two primary reasons:

  • I do prefer using carts/discs when possible. There is something about the tangibility of media that makes it feel more real. I know this has been embedded in my brain by growing up in the final, physical-only years of gaming, but I can’t shake it.
  • The cost. The MiSTer is not cheap when you spec it out with the highly recommended upgrades like RAM and the I/O Board. All-in-all, I spent just over $300 to buy the components and assemble my own MiSTer.

I changed my tune recently thanks to my journey to digitize and preserve my own game collection. Specifically, having my entire SNES and GBA collections–save data and all–available at my fingertips has bridged the physical-first mentality I have had my entire life. With enough searching, you could find any game online, whether you own it or not. That’s been a fact of life for a long, long time. But digitizing my copies of my games has tricked my brain into being happy with that. I’m not out here downloading any and everything; I am keeping the access at my disposal focused.

But those are games I have modern ways to play. I can play GBA games on my GameCube via GBI, plus my Pocket is coming soon. My SNES collection is fully playable on my Super NT. I do own some games that I have no way to play or play on original hardware.

Last year, I bought a copy of Naughty Dog’s third game, Dream Zone (yes, Math Jam counts). This game came out for the Apple IIGS, the Amiga, and the Atari ST. A few weeks ago I reached out to an Apple hardware collector to try and find a way to collaborate on my Naughty Dog book. He has the hardware, I have the software. This person is quite busy and understandably and politely declined. One sentence in their email did hit me with a dose of reality though:

…and my IIGS didn’t power on last time I tried it.  :(

I own none of those early computers and buying them individually, per PC game/platform, is financially unfeasible for me. When factoring in that some of these machines are also 35+ years old and that I don’t have the skills to repair and upkeep these devices, it doesn’t make sense to invest in them for one or two games specifically. Time is not on my side.

But with MiSTer, I have access to incredibly accurate hardware emulated cores for the Apple II (Ski Crazed), the Amiga and the Atari ST (Dream Zone and Keef the Thief). Plus, the Genesis (Rings of Power). There is even ongoing work on a PS1 core! Maybe the 3DO (Way of the Warrior) can magically run on MiSTer someday, if the community and hardware power is there; I’m not sure of the technically capabilities or not. The MiSTer gives me an ability to accurately capture these games at high resolution! I can actually experience these games and help visually preserve them for my book. This gives me value far beyond a new way to play Game Boy games. The MiSTer becomes a tool for my own research.

Assembling and setting up my own MiSTer was relatively simple. I used two key tutorials for the set up process and turned to the MiSTer Discord for help with some odds and ends. I do have a couple suggestions, if you are setting up your own and need some help.

When it is all set up, the MiSTer is slick beyond belief. I can run simultaneous output to my monitor and CRT, with a capture card in between. Thanks to my wide assortment of controllers, I can use USB-C cables and play SNES/GBA games with actual SNES controllers. I even bought the 8BitDo Arcade Stick for sweet, sweet arcade games and tate supported games (both on MiSTer and Switch).

I have had my eye on MiSTer for some time and finally found enough justification beyond “I want that” to bite the bullet. It’s a powerful retro-focused system and tool with insanely talented people behind its development. I am simply reaping the benefits. I cannot wait to see it side-by-side with the Pocket, which promises multiple core support in your hands with a technically impressive screen. MiSTer has a solid foundation and a bright future. It is actively breathing new life into old games and making them more accessible than ever before.

Logan Moore’s Impressions of Invincible

Yesterday, my dear friend Logan shared his impressions of Invincible. He works at Comicbook and was fortunate enough to see the first three episodes as a member of the press.

Invincible is my favorite comic book series ever so I had high hopes for the TV series. Fortunately, I’ve now seen the first three episodes of
@InvincibleHQ
and it has been everything I dreamed of. Can’t wait for so many newcomers to discover this world. – Logan Moore via Twitter

I followed up with this thought:

Logan politely hounded me for years to read Invincible. I never read comics. I gave in and found a world filled with incredible characters and genuine drama. I can’t speak to the show yet, but if my friend says it is dream worthy than you won’t be disappointed.

Having now seen the first episode, I could not agree more. The world of Invincible is rich, dramatic, and engaging. I cannot wait for so many new people to enter the world of Invincible; you are all in for an unbelievable treat.

Exploring the Legend – Fixing Breath of the Wild – Razbuten

Fixing Breath of the Wild by Razbuten on YouTube

Breath of the Wild is one of my favorite games ever made, but there are elements about it that I wish had been a bit different. Here is my best attempt at trying to solve those problems without reinventing the whole game. I like doing these sorts of thought experiments in order to try to better understand game design and what I like about games. Does this video matter much? lol no but hopefully it is interesting and fun. Anyway this is my attempt at fixing Breath of the Wild.

This will not be the only Razbuten video I plan to call out through out the 35th year of The Legend of Zelda’s existence, but as a new release today, I had to share it. Razbuten explores a well tread topic underneath the umbrella that is “how to improve Breath of the Wild.” When a game is both the 13th and 25th highest scored game of all time (thanks Wii U and Switch versions), that game is bound to have endless discussions about how it could have been better. It is a common format: take popular thing, criticize it, tear it down, etc.

Razbuten takes a much, much better approach here with a more rigid focus of tweaking the gameplay in small ways to create better incentives. Instead of remaking Breath of the Wild, Razbuten is approaching the game’s design and potential frustrations from a different angle; a more creative one I think, which is actually a key element in Breath of the Wild’s design that makes it an undeniable tour de force in gaming.

I don’t think there’s a more spot on example of this in the video than Razbuten’s focus on weapon durability. Since the game’s launch, weapon durability has been arguably the most contentious element of its design. Personally, I love when a weapon breaks as it encourages me to try new and different weapons, especially those I would have never used if I could just keep my favorite weapons. Instead of striking the mechanic all together or inventing some sort of repair/item longevity mechanic, Razbuten suggests leaning into the destructibility and incentivizing it. Make players reap rewards when their item breaks, beyond the rush of solving the current combat situation. I found the suggestion to be elegant.

This video is a treat and thought-provoking. Proof that Breath of the Wild has a strong legacy, even just four years after its release in 2017. It is rare to get a game this refreshing and engaging. It really is the gift that keeps on giving.

The Game Boy Advance Turns 20

Happy 20th anniversary to the Game Boy Advance! Nintendo officially made the ordinary Game Boy obsolete on March 21, 2001 with a new gadget that played all the old games, plus a slew of fancy new ones. – Retronauts via Twitter, March 21, 2021

Thanks to a thread of tweets from John Ricciardi and the celebratory tweet above from Retronauts, it has come to my attention that today is the 20th anniversary of the Game Boy Advance in Japan!

The GBA came out in the prime time of my youth. I was 7-years-old when it hit the US. I vividly remember going to Best Buy and covetously looking at the console on the shelf and my parents surprising me with one. Later, I’d save up and get a GBA SP in red when that iteration launched. I poured hundreds of hours into the GBA line. It was the perfect companion in the car, at home, at restaurants, and the list just goes on.

There were accessories out the wazoo, but my favorite was using the GameCube cable to use a GBA as a Tingle Tuner in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Part me still wants to get four GBAs and cables together to play Four Swords Adventures together. The GBA was more than just a portable console.

I remember that I got the Game Boy Player for GameCube for my 10th birthday because both my parents were out of the country when I hit double digits. I got exactly what I wanted that year and still use it to this day. It fused my favorite home console with my favorite handheld, putting some of my favorite games on the big screen. When I reviewed the GCHD-MKII for DualShockers, I took that opportunity to finally set-up homebrew on my GameCube to upgrade from the official Nintendo Game Boy Player software to the far superior Game Boy Interface (GBI). The results were like putting on glasses for the first time; the games were sharper and more in-focus than I had ever seen them before.

Now the Analogue Pocket is on the horizon, launching in just 1-2 months. I was fortunate enough to snag a pre-order and have been eagerly awaiting its arrival to play my small Game Boy collection in high quality, both on-the-go and on my television. And even though I just assembled a MiSTer this weekend (more on that in the future), which is giving me crispy 1080p60 GBA games and simultaneous YPbPr component output on my CRT, I am even more excited to have this capability in my hands with the real cartridges. All I am really missing is a GBA Consolizer from Woozle to give me real hardware in 720p.

There is a certain magic in the tangibility of the Game Boy Advance line. From the numerous form factors to the perfectly sized cartridges, it always delights me to think of the games, stories, worlds, and adventures the library has taken me on over these past 20 years. The GBA has been a constant for most of my life. For years,  I even carried my Game Boy Micro with one or two games in my backpack every day. With the right hardware, the GBA is essentially a Nintendo Switch with its cartridges and numerous ways to play them on televisions. It’s was, has been, and will continue to be a top tier platform with some of the finest games made.

PixelFX Co Teases New Projects

The trio over at PixelFX Co is insane. Before the team has shipped the N64Digital, they are teasing a GameCube project, a PS2Digital, and what appears to be (to my eye) an upscaler akin to the OSSC or the Retrotink 5X.

This also comes hot off the heels of the reveal of custom zooming and cropping features in the N64Digital.

I really need to bite the bullet and start to learn soldering. These projects seem incredible. And those PlayStation oriented ones could come in handy for my book about Naughty Dog.

Chasing the Stick: The Book – Here I Go Again

I am working on the definitive history of Naughty Dog. I’m writing it as a book that will be published for the company’s 40th anniversary in 2024.

I don’t think this really will surprise anyone who knows me or has followed my work, especially last year’s Chasing the Stick: The History of Naughty Dog during the PS4 Era. This is totally the type of project I would take on.

There was a moment last year, on the release day of The Last of Us Part II, when a personal copy of Chasing the Stick showed up in print. I had bought it for myself as a treat for a job well done. It ironically showed up on the day of the game’s release, despite me luckily snagging a copy a couple days early. When I opened the book, I had this feeling when I saw my name printed on the cover. I imagine it is similar to directors seeing their films at the theater or a musician hearing their song on the radio. I’ve felt my own versions of this when seeing reviews published at sites, seeing videos I made promoted, and seeing podcasts I create out in the wild. Printing the book for myself wasn’t enough for me though.

Normally, I work on projects in relative secrecy, and planned to do so with this book. But I’ve been really thinking lately how I can do things differently and better. I think one step toward that will be more open about the process. Maybe this can help point people and resources my way. I’ve been doing lots or research lately and just made a significant investment in the pursuit of playing Naughty Dog’s computer games from the 1980s (more on that in a couple weeks, I’d guess). Finding and talking to people from Naughty Dog’s earliest days is hard enough on my own, maybe being more public about my book will help in the slightest way.

There have been plenty of stories and articles about Naughty Dog’s history, especially stories revolving around Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter. The most notable is IGN’s Rising to Greatness by Colin Moriarty. Written nearly a decade ago in 2013, Colin had incredible access to Naughty Dog’s founders and team. My goal with Chasing the Stick was to fill in the years after Rising to Greatness: Now I want to do better than Colin. No disrespect toward his wonderful work at all.

Out of the 38,000+ words, roughly 7,400 (~19%) focus on the span of 10 years that Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin made games for PCs, the Genesis, and the 3DO. I think there is a lot more than can be explored during that time period, game development on those platforms, how those games actually preformed (critically, technically, and commercially). It feels like the clock is running out for those games and platforms as well. It’s “easier” to research PlayStation and beyond, those games are far more recent (if 1996 counts as recent) and way more popular. More people want to learn about Crash, Jak, and Drake, and that totally makes sense. I want to explore it all.

That’s my plan and mission for the next three years. This project will grow over time, but the end goal will remain a published book. I have other ideas for how to disseminate information/research I collect over the next few years, but a book is what awaits it all at the finish line.

So there it is, out of the shadows. If you have any Naughty Dog information (i.e. old magazines, articles, demos, clips, interviews, etc.) please send them my way on Twitter @MaxRoberts143 or at my email address max@maxfrequency.net. If you have worked at or currently work at Naughty Dog, I would love to talk with you about anything and everything. This goes for those early PC/Genesis/3DO days as well. It all will help me write the definitive history about one of the video game industries best developers.

Analog Frontiers – Part 3: Preservation and Replication – My Life in Gaming

ANALOG FRONTIERS – Part 3: Preservation and Replication / MY LIFE IN GAMING – YouTube

I have been waiting for Part 3 of Analog Frontiers for quite a bit. No fault of My Life in Gaming; I have just been excited to see where Coury and Try take their documentary series. Part 3 is all about preservation and replication, which I take to mean a serious dive into FPGA emulation, clone consoles, the MiSTer, software emulation, and so on. This premise alone has countless ways to go and I am super stoked to watch. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge Announced

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge – Reveal trailer – YouTube

I’ve already watched the trailer countless times. This looks absolutely tubular! Reminds me of all the TMNT games my brother and I played growing up. Modern design and art that captures the spirit of the originals; this is exactly what I would hope for in a new TMNT game. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch the trailer again.

Introducing The Max Frequency Podcast

It was inevitable, wasn’t it? Heck, in my very first post I left the door open for returning to podcasting.

I like what I came up with—Max Frequency. It communicates the identity of the blog quite well, I think. It’s me at my frequency. No pressures for deadlines, no list of required news. Only articles that I want to write or share. It also opens up the possibility for audio content if I ever get behind the mic again. Plus, it is a pun.

After recording Chasing the Stick: The History of Naughty Dog during the PS4 Era, I realized how much I missed podcasting. I’ve had ideas kicking around for years for shows. I decided to stop kicking the proverbial can around. I’m back.

The show is unabashedly inspired by The Talk Show with John Gruber from Daring Fireball. Three times a month, different guests/friends each episode talking about current events or whatever floats their boat. It mirrors the style of my blog effortlessly. I want to podcast at my frequency. So here I am.

You’ll find the first episode here. You can subscribe with the RSS feed in your podcast app of choice or go for Apple Podcast and/or Spotify.

Also, over the next few months, I’ll be reuploading my old interview show Behind the Pixel to this feed as well. I never liked the fact that when we closed Model Citizens Media that those episodes vanished from podcast services. They can live in the early days of this feed and I’ll feel better.

I hope you enjoy the show.