Saturday, August 13, 2022

Analogue Pocket’s first major update should finally unlock its potential

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It’s taken longer than we’d hoped, but the first major software update for the Analogue Pocket is finally here. It’s still in beta, so not everything is fully fleshed out, but at least you’ll be able to get a taste of the company’s take on its fledgling operating system. The beta includes a preview of the “reference” library, vastly improved game saves, and most excitingly, a glimpse of how third-party developers can use the Pocket to emulate consoles beyond the one it includes does it already.

Analog OS 1.1

“Memories”, as Analogue calls save states, still aren’t complete, but you can at least save a respectable 128 different game states, which is a huge improvement over the minimum offering at launch (one slot for only one game in total). You can make saves for any game, be it that physical cartridge or any “.pocket” GB Studio files you have (like Deadeus). The save method is the same as before (Up+Analog button) and you can call up a list of saved files while playing with the Down+Analog button. If you prefer to start right from the last save point, you can also activate that in options (instead of choosing from a list).

What you can’t do is keep updating the last save while you’re at it (think “save slots” in most emulators). Each new save becomes a separate file and you manage them separately. They appear in a long list of details about the platform for the game you were playing (Game Boy, Game Gear, etc.), the title of the game, and the save date/time.

At the moment you can get Memories from the main menu (before loading a game), but if you choose a save that matches the cartridge in the slot you won’t get there directly (it’s greyed out), you have to load the game first . Analog says a screenshot will be added to saves/Memories soon and they can be sorted in several ways to make the experience much smoother in the full September release.

James Trew / cafe-madrid

What wasn’t in the OS at all at launch was the “Library” feature. All we knew was that it had the lofty goal of being a complete reference of all gaming history. From there, you would see artwork for titles, along with what company made the game, for what platform, what year, and even what region or version you had inserted into the cartridge slot. In today’s beta, the library is more of a splash screen before loading the game. Analog says you can even add your own image to a game in the library, but again, expect that in the final release.

All the cartridges I tested had the correct details with a screenshot, but the information is limited (no mention of what year or version of the game I have, etc). Sure, we’re excited to see how this scales up once it’s fully integrated, but for now it’s a pleasant stopover on the way to playing a game. It’s worth noting that, as it is, it only applies to cartridges and not to titles launched from the GB Studio section (such as the aforementioned Deadeus, a full game that Analogue made available for the Pocket at launch ).

More practical, Analogue has added support for more third-party controllers for TV playback via the dock. To be fair, while the officially supported list was short at launch (three 8Bitdo models plus the PS4 and Switch controllers), a lot more worked. As of this release, the number of supported 8Bitdo controllers rises to 15 and PS5 owners can now also use their DualSense if they wish.

OpenFPGA

One of the more interesting features of the Pocket at launch was the presence of a spare FPGA chip. Analogue’s hardware does not use software emulation, but uses a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) to emulate hardware-level consoles with cores – instructions to the FPGA that configure it to mimic a specific system. Analogue promised that others could develop cores for the Pocket, and today we see the first example of that.

The Analog Pocket gaming handheld with the first 3rd party developed core.  This core allows Pocket owners to play one of the first video games - Spacewar!

James Trew / cafe-madrid

A core for the PDP-1 was made for the Pocket so you can play one of the very first video games – Space War! – from 1962. As you can imagine, the game is very simple and doesn’t really put a load on the Pocket, but it’s a fitting first example for a console that wants to celebrate the history of gaming. And this should really just be the start of something more exciting than other developers – that could be anyone – come on board.

What’s even more of a surprise is that all of the Pocket’s hardware seems to be open to developers. Initially, it was thought that the Pocket’s main FPGA would be taken as analog and that the less powerful second FPGA would be tinkered with. But the company’s founder, Christopher Taber, confirmed to cafe-madrid that “developers will be able to implement fully decentralized cores as far as they can push Pocket’s hardware … roughly up to the 32-bit generation.”

Best of all, we might not even have to wait long to see what comes along. “A lot of third-party developers have had their hands on openFPGA for a while and you can expect a plethora of new amazing stuff to be released publicly shortly on/after July 29,” Taber told cafe-madrid, before concluding, “We’re not messing around with this. .”

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