Let’s Build a Gameboy! Funnyplaying FPGA Game Boy Color Clone Review

In my latest video we embark on a fun project: building a Game Boy using a Funnyplaying FPGA kit. This no-solder kit costs around $120 shipped (affiliate link) is easy to assemble and when complete feels almost identical to the original Gameboy Color both in hardware and gameplay but with a significantly better IPS display.

My adventure began with assembling the kit, which included a motherboard, display, speaker, battery, casing, controller components, and buttons. The kit, sourced from the Retro Gaming Repair Shop (affiliate link) is made by a company called Funnyplaying, which manufactures close-to-the-original cases and other replacement parts for Gameboy hardware. You have a choice of many different hardware shells and button color combinations all very reasonably priced.

The assembly started with installing the display onto the casing, attaching the ribbon cable to the motherboard, and setting up the speaker. I found the kit very user-friendly, with the components fitting nicely into place. The kit comes with a rechargeable battery which is charged by the USB-C port on the bottom of the motherboard.

The assembly wasn’t terribly difficult but would have been made easier if instructions were included (they were not). The only real struggle I had was getting the tiny power cable in place.

I was pleased with how close to the original this felt when it was assembled. It doesn’t feel like a cheap knock-off!

I first tried some original Game Boy cartridges, which worked flawlessly, providing both the classic Game Boy and Game Boy Color experiences. I also tested the device with an older Everdrive GB flash cart. The FPGA kit recognized and ran the games from the Everdrive without issues. There is no SD card slot on this, so rom files can only be played through the use of a flash cartridge like the Everdrive.

Initially the Funnyplaying device boots up with its Gameboy Color core which applies a color palette to the original monochrome games. Pushing the volume rocker switch in will pull up an on-screen display that allows switching to the original Gameboy mode. Once in that mode it’ll display the original games in a green-hued color palette closer to the original display.

The onscreen display also allow for changing the color palettes – on the Gameboy Color core it’ll work similar to how the palette can be changed on the original device. In the original core it will allow the selection of palettes that match the original (default) along with a few of the other monochrome gameboy iterations.

Sound quality was great on this and very close to the original. The speaker, while causing slight vibrations in the case, produced clear audio. There’s also a headphone jack for connecting headphones or routing it to an audio capture device for streaming. I have a sound demo in the video so you can decide how close to the original it sounds.

The buttons and controls responded well, giving a sense of newness compared to the wear and tear typically found on original Game Boy units.

The Funnyplaying FPGA Game Boy kit offers a satisfying DIY experience for gaming enthusiasts, blending nostalgia with modern technology. This project, while not reaching the multifaceted capabilities of devices like the Analogue Pocket, provides an affordable, authentic way to enjoy Game Boy classics in a new light.

See more retro coverage here!

Blockbuster Mini VHS Game Case Review

I am an easy mark when it comes to weird retro stuff.. A few weeks ago I learned of the Retro Fighters Blockbuster VHS Mini Game Case, a case for Nintendo Switch games that looks like a Blockbuster rental complete with a replica VHS tape inside. This is the subject of my latest review.

The case, an officially licensed Blockbuster replica, is designed to hold Nintendo Switch games, capturing the essence of a bygone era of home video rental. Purchased from Stone Age Gamer (compensated affiliate link), this $20 item is likely going to be in short supply given its very niche appeal. It is manufactured by Retro Fighters, known for their retro gaming accessories and controllers.

Unboxing the product, the first component that caught my eye was the miniature Blockbuster case. Although smaller than the VHS cases many of us picked up from Blockbuster on a Friday night, the detailing is impressively accurate, complete with a generic label and a barcode, mimicking the original Blockbuster aesthetic. The case even includes an address for a fictional Blockbuster location.

The next component, central to the product’s function, is a faux VHS tape, which houses the Nintendo Switch games. This miniaturized tape, while not functional in the traditional sense, features movable wheels and a decent weight, contributing to its realistic feel. The tape opens up to reveal storage for 12 Switch games and four microSD cards. The design ensures games are securely held, with a slightly rubbery surface inside for added grip.

Assembling the case with the tape inside completes the nostalgic experience. It’s a creative and playful way to store and transport Nintendo Switch games, merging modern gaming with a touch of retro flair.

With all of the chatter about the end of physical media, this product makes a bit of statement. It pays homage to a dead physical media distribution while housing modern physical games!

Hallmark Keepsake NES Zelda Cartridge Mini Review

As someone who has never been particularly drawn to Christmas ornaments, I found myself intrigued by Hallmark’s Keepsake ornaments, especially those that resonate with my passion for retro video games. The latest addition to my collection is the NES Zelda cartridge ornament, which not only appeals to my gaming nostalgia but also stands out for its solid metal construction. Check out my short review here.

The ornament is a diecast metal version of the original Nintendo Zelda cartridge, known for its distinctive gold color—a vivid memory from when I first purchased it years ago. It’s much heavier than expected, requiring a sturdy branch for display.

What sets this Zelda ornament apart from others in my collection, like the Sega Genesis, Nintendo Entertainment System, and Dreamcast, is the absence of electronics. Unlike its counterparts that play sounds from their respective games, this ornament is purely a visual representation. It’s a smaller yet faithful reproduction of the original cartridge’s appearance.

Upon a closer look, the ornament does require a bit of polishing, possibly due to some condensation build-up, a natural occurrence given its metallic nature and my current cold environment. Its design is very close to the original cartridge that was released in 1987 in North America. You can see the two side-by-side in the video.

Remembering Super Cheap and Super Fast Shipping in the Pre-Internet Early 90s

One of the many feeds in my RSS reader is from the Internet Archive’s Computer Magazines collection. Every so often they’ll dump a bunch of scans of popular computing and gaming magazines into the archive.

This morning some new (old) Mac User magazines made their way to the archive and I virtually thumbed through a few editions. One of the ads reminded me of one of the coolest parts of 90’s computing: super fast and super cheap overnight shipping from mail-order retailers.

One of my favorites was the “Mac Zone” and “PC Zone.” They were located on the West Coast of the USA. With me being on the East Coast I could call them at 4 p.m. my time and often have items delivered to me here in Connecticut by the next morning. The best part? Shipping was only $3! Even adjusting for inflation that’s still super cheap for next day delivery.

Other retailers like the Mac & PC Connection also had attractive freight rates like this. Most of them used “Airborne Express,” a competitor to FedEx (known as Federal Express back then). Airborne Express was later acquired by DHL.

The Mac and PC Zone is still around today. Known simply as “Zones,” they mostly cater to the B2B market offering IT equipment and services. They still have the same toll-free number! The PC and Mac Connection is also still around. They too pivoted more towards the B2B market.

Gen X-ers and Boomers will Love The Atari 2600+ — If they have a boxful of Atari games in the attic

My latest video is a review of the Atari 2600+, a replica of the original beloved gaming console that works on modern HD televisions. It’s designed for those who still have a collection of Atari cartridges, offering a way to play these classic games on modern televisions.

The Atari 2600 Plus is about 80% the size of the original console, featuring a similar build quality with the characteristic fake wood paneling and stiff switches that are reminiscent of the original. It comes with an HDMI output, replacing the RF output of the original, and includes ports for original Atari controllers, including paddles. The package includes one controller in the box that’s a replica of the original 2600 version that also works on the original console too. The system outputs at 720p and includes switches to go into black and white mode along with a widescreen mode.

The console operates via emulation, using Stella for Atari 2600 games and ProSystem for Atari 7800 games. The emulation quality is high, with seamless controller compatibility and no need for button mapping or menu navigation. The system takes a little longer to boot up vs. the original console as it has to boot its OS, dump the ROM off the cartridge, and then load up the emulator.

Playing a game like “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back,” a cartridge from my childhood, on the Atari 2600 Plus was a smooth experience. The sound and visual quality were impressive, capturing the essence of playing on an original Atari, albeit with the modern convenience of HDMI output.

However, the console does have its limitations. It requires original cartridges to work, and there’s no option for loading games via SD card or USB. This means that for those without a collection of Atari games, the Atari 2600 Plus might not be the best choice. Additionally, flash cartridges like the Harmony cart are not compatible with this console.

Despite these limitations, the Atari 2600 Plus stands out for its authentic replication of the original console’s feel. The tactile experience of inserting a cartridge, flipping the switches, and using the controllers is remarkably close to the original. This makes it an excellent gift for someone who cherishes their Atari memories.

The Atari 2600 Plus is a well-executed blend of nostalgia and modern technology. For those with a trove of Atari cartridges, it’s a fun way to rekindle childhood memories. But if you don’t have a collection already there are far better ways to explore what the 2600 had to offer.

The Making of Karateka Review

In my latest video I take a look at “The Making of Karateka” from Digital Eclipse, a virtual museum exhibit that explores the popular classic computer game Karateka developed by Jordan Mechner. In addition to some neat documentary content is also has a number of playable games including some prototypes from Karateka’s development and a modern refreshed version of the game.

Karateka, originally released on the Apple II, was a groundbreaking game known for its animation, storyline, and music. It featured a karate protagonist on a mission to rescue a princess locked in the dungeon of a temple. The game’s animation was particularly notable, as Mechner used rotoscoping to capture realistic movements, a technique that was later expanded in his other famous game, Prince of Persia.

One of the fun parts about making this video was testing out my original copy of Karateka that is still working 35+ years. At the beginning of the video you can see it booting up on my Apple IIe.

What makes this new compilation from Digital Eclipse intriguing is not just the modern refresh of Karateka but also the extensive exhibit of Mechner’s development process. It’s like walking through a museum, showcasing the journey of Karateka from its inception to its final form. This includes Mechner’s early attempts at game development, his meticulous documentation, and the evolution of his ideas.

Mechner’s first game, Asteroid Blaster, and his subsequent project, Death Bounce, which faced multiple rejections before Karateka, are also part of this compilation. These games reflect the perseverance and creativity of a young developer navigating the early gaming industry. The compilation also includes interviews and footage that provide insights into the animation process and the collaboration between Jordan and his father, who composed the game’s music.

The modern version of Karateka in this compilation is a testament to Digital Eclipse’s dedication to preserving gaming history. They’ve updated the graphics and smoothed out the animations while staying true to the original’s essence. This modern version, alongside the prototypes and earlier versions of Karateka, offers a unique perspective on the game’s development and the technological limitations of the time.

This journey through the making of Karateka is not just a trip down memory lane for those who grew up in the 80s. It’s a comprehensive look into the creative process of game development, the evolution of gaming technology, and the enduring impact of classic games. It’s a reminder of how far the gaming industry has come and the innovative minds that paved the way.

Hallmark Keepsake NES Ornament Review

I am not a Christmas ornament collector, but I find myself continually drawn to purchasing these keepsake ornaments from Hallmark, especially when they tap into the nostalgia of my Gen X roots. Recently, Hallmark reissued one of their popular ornaments: the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). You can see it in action here in my latest review.

Upon unboxing the ornament, I noticed the attention to detail that Hallmark has put into replicating the NES console. I have previously acquired the Sega Genesis and Dreamcast ornaments, and this NES one will fit in very nicely with the others. The ornament comes with pen batteries for sound and light, and the hook for hanging it is placed on the controllers, which are fixed to the top of the console.

The ornament is a striking resemblance to the real Nintendo console. It includes a non-removeable Super Mario Brothers cartridge inside, complete with a working door. The power button works and will illuminate the LED power light and play some sounds from the original Super Mario Bros. The reset button is just for show. The back of the ornament features all the ports in their correct places, making it a very accurate representation of the retro console.

The quantities of these ornaments are usually limited, so it’s wise to pick one up before they sell out. This NES ornament has quickly become one of my favorites in my collection.

Retro Review: An Original iPhone Time Capsule!

It’s hard to believe it’s been 16 years since the introduction of the original iPhone. There are kids today using iPhones who weren’t even born when the first one was introduced!

I bought my Mom an original iPhone as a gift in late 2007 after their controversial price cut. She used the phone all the way until 2010 when she upgraded to an iPhone 4, but never reset the old one. In my latest video, we take a look at this digital time capsule running iPhone OS 3.1!

I purchased my own iPhone on its release date in 2007 mostly on a whim. I went up to my closest Apple store in the evening after work looking to get some hands-on time with a demo unit and assuming there would be none left in stock. To my surprise my local Apple store was mostly empty and they had plenty of iPhones to go around even at 8 p.m. that evening.

In the days that followed my purchase I became the most popular person in any setting. People (mostly strangers) would gather around wherever I went, curious to see this new piece of technology. Perhaps in some ways it was the start of my YouTube career as I was peppered with questions and demo requests. Eventually I figured out what most people wanted to see and developed my own formulaic demo procedure whenever I made a new friend.

The packaging from that time was signature Apple. Back then, they included a lot more with your phone. From a charger to headphones, and even a little dock to charge it on. I also managed to hang onto the original retail bag and my original receipt! You can see both in the video. But I did sell my iPhone when I upgraded to the 3 the following year.

One of the most surprising discoveries on my Mom’s phone was that many of the original iPhone’s features still work. Google Maps, for instance, still fetches map data. The App Store still pulls data from Apple, even though you can’t install any of the apps. I also plugged it into my Macbook Air M2 and found that it was fully supported on Mac OS 13.6, allowing for photo, music and video transfer along with backups.

But most other functions did not work correctly. The web browser struggled with modern websites, and many apps that were installed no longer functioned. The phone’s interface design philosophy, known as skeuomorphism, definitely looks dated today.

Today’s iPhones are certainly orders of magnitude better than this original, but none captured the public’s curiosity more than this original one. I can’t think of any other products in recent memory (beyond perhaps the original iPad) that captured the same level of consumer interest. Apple certainly hasn’t captured that with their new $3500 VR headset.

Nintendo 64 to HDMI on a Budget!

In my latest video I take a look at some budget friendly options to get your old Nintendo 64 working on your modern HDMI television.

The most straightforward method would be using the composite output if your television has composite inputs. But not all televisions do a very good job displaying composite signals properly.

A better way is to get a decent line doubler or scaler to process that signal into something that’s more compatible with modern HD and 4k televisions. I stumbled upon two budget-friendly solutions for this purpose through the Amazon Vine review program: the Pound Link Cable and another device from a company called RuntoGOL. Both devices plug directly into the Nintendo 64 and promise high def output via HDMI. But do they deliver on this promise?

Before diving into these budget options, I explored the higher-end solutions to set a benchmark. The RetroTink products, particularly the RetroTink 2x and the 5x, are renowned in the retro gaming community. These devices are really perfect – they offer a near-zero lag experience with stunning visual quality. But they are quite expensive, starting at $149 for their lowest cost version available at the moment.

However, the Pound Link Cable and the RuntoGOL Adapter are significantly less expensive coming in at under $30 each.

Unfortunately you get what you pay for with the least expensive RuntoGOL Adapter. It stretched the game’s aspect ratio, making everything appear squished. The image clarity was also subpar, likely because it sourced the video from the composite output. Additionally, it introduced noticeable input lag.

On the other hand, the Pound Link Cable was a pleasant surprise. Despite its low cost, it delivered decent image quality by sourcing its visuals from the Nintendo 64’s S-Video output. The aspect ratio was preserved, and the games looked as they should. For casual retro gamers looking for a quick and affordable solution it checks the box. However, like the RuntoGOL Adapter, it also suffered from input lag that was about double vs. what I experienced with the Retrotink products.

For those looking for resources on retro gaming, the best place to start is my friend Bob at retroRGB.com. This website offers invaluable insights into getting the most out of retro game consoles. From modification guides to non-mod solutions, it’s a treasure trove for enthusiasts.

So what’s the best way to experience retro games? On an old tube CRT television of course! And the best part is that you could probably find someone to pay you to take their old TV away! A win-win!

Disclosure: The RuntoGol and Pound cables came in free of charge through the Amazon Vine program. I had no contact with the manufacturers, no one reviewed or approved this video before uploading, and no other compensation was received.

Return of the Jedi Released 40 Years Ago Today

40 years ago today my Mom picked me up early from school (I was in first grade) and we went down to our local duplex theater to catch Return of the Jedi.

I was so excited, especially as the news that morning was showing previews. I remember seeing the speeder bike scene on Good Morning America or the Today show. I consumed every bit of info I could about the movie before it came out – Time Magazine had a great special issue all about it that I’m sure I have around somewhere.

I loved every minute of that movie and still do. It was awesome seeing it with a packed theater of folks also seeing it for the first time. There was so much energy in that theater and quite a reaction when Vader dispatched the emporer! When we left there was a line of teenagers all the way down Main Street waiting to get into the next showing. It was nuts.

Ever since then I’ve taken my Mom to each new Star Wars release to keep the tradition alive.

My College Dorm Tech Circa 1998

25 years ago I was just finishing up my senior year of college. I was just as much a nerd then as I am today so of course I had quite a bit of tech in my on-campus apartment. I recently found an old video from that time with some of the gear visible. Check it out:

The PC

The PC pictured began its journey as a Pentium 166, assembled with parts procured from local computer fairs. It was the first PC I built myself. By the time I graduated, the PC had undergone an upgrade to a Pentium 233 MMX that was just a simple CPU swap.

My PC was pretty decked out – it had a Creative Labs Voodoo2 GPU which was lightyears beyond what game consoles could do at the time. This is when the PC really started to prove itself as a gaming platform with Quake II and many other games really pushing the graphical hardware available at the time.

You’ll notice on the front of the case that I had both a 3.5″ floppy drive and an IDE Zip drive. Thanks to its IDE interface the Zip drive ran much faster than than the external parallel version that was more widely used at the time. I recall that this particular zip drive required a version of Windows 95 that was only sold with OEM computers which took a little bit of work to acquire!

The CD-ROM drive was actually one of the first DVD drives available for PCs also from Creative Labs. The drive came bundled with an interface card that included an MPEG 2 decoder for watching DVD movies. It also came with a custom version of Wing Commander IV which had DVD quality cut scenes that were a major step up from the regular DOS version.

My video also caught the computer’s screen running Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 4 and Winamp that was playing some tunes while my girlfriend was reading her email.

Earlier that year I discovered the wonder of MP3s. The fact that such a small file could produce such high fidelity sound was nothing short of miraculous. Remember, this was a time when storing uncompressed CD wav files on a hard drive was an impractical endeavor due to file sizes and high storage costs. The advent of MP3s represented a significant leap in music technology, enabling us to enjoy our favorite tunes without worrying about running out of disk space.

That year my campus rolled out a residential ethernet network for all of the on-campus housing. That gave us a direct pipe into the University’s T1 line running at a whopping 1.5 megabits per second. It was a huge step up from the dialup modems we were using up until that point. Transitioning back to dialup after graduation was a major bummer – it would be another three years before DSL service was available at my house.

It was scary too because there were zero security safeguards with many student computers openly exposed to others on campus and the rest of the Internet for that matter. Personal firewalls were still a long ways off.

My Cell Phone

1998 was also the year that saw the introduction of digital cellular phones. I owned a Qualcomm QCP-820 phone that operated on Bell Atlantic’s CDMA network. Fun fact: Bell Atlantic later became Verizon. The QCP-820 was a dual band phone meaning it could operate in digital or analog mode. Digital coverage was few and far between when I first got the phone. But when I was lucky enough to find myself in a digital zone the quality of the call was substantially better.

Here’s another shot of the phone next to the iconic solo cup design of the late 90’s:

The Living Room

Despite the PC Powerhouse in my bedroom we still had a few game consoles on hand which were more fun for local multiplayer games. At this point in 1998 the Sony Playstation had become the dominant home video game console. You can see it sharing space with our VHS VCR that we used as our DVR to record our favorite shows when we were out and about and of course for Blockbuster rentals.

Also on hand, but sadly less frequently used, was my Sega Genesis (the very same one you’ll see on my YouTube set!) along with the Sega 32X attached. A year earlier the 32X add on was discontinued and liquidated so I picked it up for only about $30. The Genesis underneath was purchased in 1989 right when it came out and was almost 9 years old when this video was taken.

Concluding Thoughts

What’s remarkable is how many technologies came to be in the short span of time between my freshmen and senior year (1994-1998). Today’s technology is certainly better than it was back then but what we have today has mostly evolved from all of this 90’s innovation.

TinyNES Review – A Super Niche NES Console

My latest review is of a device designed for a very specific niche called the TinyNES. On the surface this might look like yet another NES clone console but it merges original NES hardware with a modern, open source design.

What it uses from the original NES are the CPU and PPU (graphics processor) chips. Although the NES uses a 6502 processor, the CPU chip used on the original NES and Famicom had its sound hardware also on the CPU die.

The TinyNES can be ordered with genuine chips but is also compatible with clone processors as the originals are no longer being manufactured. It’s not clear whether the genuine chips in this particular unit were pulled from dead consoles or leftover unused parts. The CPU and PPU chips on the TinyNES are socketed and can be swapped out easily.

The rest of the components are new and modern resulting in cleaner video and audio output. But nothing is added here – the console only outputs composite (not RGB component) and has no HDMI option. The design is open source so it’s conceivable somebody could add this functionality in later.

Part of the reason behind a lack of modern video options is that the original NES PPU output its video signal on a single pin as a composite of red, green and blue. Later revisions of the PPU did offer RGB output options but most NES and Famicom systems had the single pin output.

The TinyNES main board does support the RGB variants of the PPU but they are apparently much harder to find. There will be a solderless RGB add-on module available in the future for those lucky enough to have one of the RGB PPU chips.

So with no modern video outputs why does this thing exist when a real NES can be acquired for less money? Viewer Destructodisk has a good summation:

Now obviously this is a very niche device for an audience that wants something very specific… but there is a point and reasoning to it. Much that same as some people don’t like emulators because it isn’t as close to how real hardware plays. Some people aren’t satisfied with FPGAs. And then there’s the extreme that aren’t satisfied with the quirks a video signal add on brings. Its great everyone seems to have a perfect device being built for them.

The fact that the makers of the TinyNES found enough people willing to fund its production is proof enough that there’s a market for it. Not a large one, but a market nonetheless.

A big thank you to viewer Handheld Obsession for letting us borrow his unit for the review!

MuffinTerm is the Best Way to Access Retro Telnet BBS Systems on a Mac, iPad or iPhone

Computer Bulletin Board Systems, aka BBS’s, were how many of us “went online” back in the days before the commercial Internet. Thousands of systems were set up all over the world and many were even connected to one another in massive hobbyist networks like FidoNet. I covered the basics of the BBS world in this video from seven years ago.

The other day I stumbled across a great post on the Byte Cellar about a new app called MuffinTerm. This is the subject of my latest video.

Muffinterm is a free telnet client that runs across the Mac, iPad and iPhone designed specifically to connect to retro BBS systems complete with full ANSI and IBM PC graphics support. It also supports Commodore PETSCII systems (something I never experienced back in the day). Some other formats will be added to it in the near future.

The BBS system I profiled in the piece is called “Captain’s Quarters II” which is run on the more modern Mystic BBS platform. It’s a great example of what a good BBS looked like back in the day: an active community with a great file section and a fun assortment of games.

BBS systems largely died out in popularity in the mid 90’s when the Internet made the entire world accessible without long distance telephone charges. It was pretty crazy how fast everyone pulled up stakes and went on the ‘Net. If you missed this era of computing I do suggest to check out Jason Scott’s excellent documentary on YouTube. It not only covers the history of computer bulletin boards but also has interviews with some of the people that made it all work.

MuffinTerm is available in the Mac and iPhone/iPad app stores. For PC and Linux users Syncterm is great client. A browser based alternative called fTelnet is another good solution. And if you’re looking for a BBS to connect to the Telnet BBS Guide maintains a list of active bulletin board systems that can be filtered down by BBS software. You’ll even find bulletin boards running on original retro hardware!

Hallmark’s Sega Genesis Ornament

I have never been much of a Christmas ornament guy (my wife has more of them than we have trees for) but the other day I found one that I just couldn’t pass up. My friend Smokemonster let us all know on Twitter that Hallmark’s Sega Genesis ornament was marked down to just under $6 from its initial $30 price tag:

The ornament arrived yesterday and it’s glorious. They based it off the American version of the version 1 console, the one I got in 1989 that has been the centerpiece of my YouTube set since I got into this business. Unlike the original it includes two controllers but of course in this implementation they are not functional.

But what is functional is the little power switch that works just like the original. When the included batteries are inserted, flicking the power switch lights up its red power indicator and it then plays some digitized sounds from the original Sonic the Hedgehog game including the iconic “SEGGGAAAA” and a minute or two of music from the game.

The speaker, as you can hear in this YouTube Short I posted this morning, is incredibly loud for a little thing like this. Smokemonster tells me that an earlier SNES ornament is also quite the noisemaker.

Retroarch & Emulators on Retail Xbox Consoles Including Series S & Series X

Xbox consoles, even some of the older ones, make great emulation devices. In the past getting emulators onto a game console would require circumventing DRM controls but lately things have become a bit easier.

My project this weekend was getting Retroarch installed on my Xbox Series X. The good news is that the process was so easy I spent more time playing than configuring!

This process initially required setting the console into developer mode but this new method allows any retail console to work without modification or mode switching. I found this guide at MakeTechEasier.com to be pretty helpful. If you’re somebody who needs a little more of a visual step-by-step ETA Prime has a great tutorial that you can find here.

The Xbox Series consoles have pretty powerful CPUs that can handle emulation of nearly every supported core that Retroarch offers. That includes even more complex consoles like the Playstation 2 and Gamecube/Wii. You can even load the games up on a USB flash drive which is detailed in the tutorials linked above.

The MiSTer is still my go-to retro device but for certain things like more recent game consoles and Sega Super Scaler arcade titles Retroarch on the Xbox is a great combination. It was awesome playing Afterburner 2 on my 65″ OLED with its awesome soundtrack pumping through my home theater audio. And although I will probably re-map some of the controls the general experience I found to be excellent insofar as compatibility, gameplay and performance are concerned.

If you’re curious about Retroarch and why it’s so popular, check out this interview I did with a member of the Retroarch team a few years back. They do some amazing work making emulation less complex for the masses!

Retro Review: The Atari 50th Celebration Compilation & My Favorite Atari 2600 Games!

Every year around the holiday season I like to do a retro review looking at some old technology in my collection. This year we look at an AV modded Atari 2600 that I picked up recently.

I begin the video with an overview of the great Atari 50th Celebration compilation (affiliate link). The compilation is a virtual museum of all things Atari including their arcade games, computer systems and all of their consoles (including the Lynx & Jaguar!). There are dozens of playable games on the compilation but many of my favorites didn’t make the cut primarily due to licensing issues.

There are lots of great videos on the Atari 2600 on YouTube so I focused on a few favorites from my childhood collection in the second part of my video. Most of the games featured are my original 2600 cartridges! Surprisingly they all booted right up.

For the games I couldn’t find cartridges for I was able to play them using a flash cart called the Harmony Cartridge. The Harmony cart can play just about every game ever released for the 2600 including some titles that make use of special chips like Pitfall 2. One of the things that I love about living in the future is that we have great new hardware for legacy systems!

The Atari 2600 era was a time of great experimentation where every idea was made into a game. Many of these experiments fell flat but many others became timeless classics that influence modern game mechanics.

In a comment, viewer Yuan Chang best summed up the 2600 : “Gaming distilled down to its purest elemental form and even in that form, it provided countless hours of fun.”

I definitely agree.

Downloading Shareware Games in the Early 90’s

I stumbled across a game I used to play in 1992 as a teenager called “Night Raid” the other day. You can find it on the Internet Archive and play it right in your browser!

Night Raid was a take on an old Apple II game called “Sabotage.” The premise of both games is that you’re a lone anti-aircraft gunner fighting off wave up after wave of paratroopers trying to take you out. You earn points with each aircraft and paratrooper hit and lose a point every time the gun is fired.

I hadn’t given the game much thought over the years (I even forgot its name) but the other day something about it popped in my head that sent me down a Google rabbit hole. A few minutes of searching brought me to the Internet Archive and I immediately was back in the 90’s playing a cool shareware game in my browser! I’ve since added it to the DosBox-X instance I run on my Macbook Air.

One of the fun parts about Night Raid was the heavy promotion of the Software Creations Bulletin Board System (BBS) that hosted its download files. During the Intermission scenes a little airplane flies overhead with the phone number for the BBS and the end screen of the game also encourages people to dial in and experience the board’s 50 lines and 6 gigabytes of storage space!

Software Creations was located in Massachusetts and was one of the larger BBS systems at the time. When a hot new shareware game came out you’d hear about it on FidoNet message boards on your local BBS but you’d have to dial out long distance to pick up the files at Software Creations. This was also where I picked up Doom in 1993 right when it was released to the public.

As you can imagine I racked up some major phone bills dialing into that BBS. Night Raid’s zip file came in at around half a megabyte which took roughly 33 minutes to download on the 2400 baud modem I used at the time.

When Doom came out the following year it was a whopping 2 megabytes and took over two hours to download. Unfortunately for me there wasn’t an active shareware gaming user base in my local calling area beyond my buddies and me so long distance was the only way to get at the latest goods.

When I finally had the cash to buy a 14,400 baud modem that same Doom download could be done in 20 minutes. With long distance rates running about 10-15 cents per minute that faster modem offered a huge return on investment!

BBS systems are still out there but are mostly available on the Internet these days via telnet. I did a video on the topic a few years ago if you’d like to get a feel for what it was like on one of those systems.

The whole scene died out pretty quickly once dialup Internet service became available in the mid 90’s. But it’s great to see so many people working to keep not only BBS’ing alive but also some of the networks that connected them together like FidoNet.

The Software Creations BBS was acquired by the “Total Entertainment Network” in 1995 right as BBS’ing gave way to web surfing. Apparently TEN cut their losses as the BBS’ing collapsed and shut the system down only a year or so after the acquisition according to Apogee Software’s Joe Siegler in a 2002 message board post:

It was even more of a surprise to us – as we had our files there. They essentially closed down overnight – we had no warning that it was going to happen.

It would be super cool if one of the Sysops (short for System Operator) had a backup of the BBS somewhere. How awesome would it be to have a time capsule like this accessible via Telnet to experience what the PC gaming scene was like back then.

A Visit to the National Association for Amateur Radio (ARRL) Headquarters!

My journey into the world of amateur radio continues. This week we took a tour of the ARRL headquarters in my home state of Connecticut. We ended up with so much footage we had to split this piece into two parts!

In this first video we look at W1AW, also known as the Hiram Percy Maxim Memorial Station. Maxim was the co-founder of the ARRL and an early pioneer of radio technology. You’ll see one of Maxim’s radios towards the end of the video. It still works but it’s rather dangerous to use around modern electronics due to the electrostatic fields it generates.

W1AW is where the ARRL transmits their morse code trainings and digital bulletins and is known throughout the world as an important entry to get into contact amateur logbooks.

W1AW is open to licensed amateurs and the public to operate from too which is what we’ll do in part of the series!

iPhone at 15 – Original Box and Shopping Bag

The iPhone started shipping on June 29, 2007. I can’t believe it’s been that long. Incidentally I also got married that year so it’s easy to remember how many years I’ve been married based on the age of the iPhone :).

I posted this video on the extra’s channel the other day in recognition of the iPhone’s 15th birthday. It’s kind of a re-run as I made this short on the main channel a little while back.

Those of us suckers who bought an iPhone on release day also got a cool shopping bag to take it home in that you’ll see in the video. I called it the “mug me” bag as it clearly gave away its contents as you left the store. My original receipt was still in there too:

June 29, 2007!

My then fiancé was on a trip with her family and I was bored. So I drove up to the Apple store and bought the phone. There were no lines and they had plenty of stock. Of course that would soon change in future iterations. AT&T’s activation servers that were set up specifically for the iPhone were so overloaded I couldn’t actually use the phone until the next day.

Back then it only worked on AT&T’s network and I had to switch from Verizon. What a mistake that was – the phone part of the iPhone didn’t work anywhere in my house! I had to get a “Femtocell” in order to receive phone calls which barely worked. As soon as Verizon got the iPhone on its network I switched back.

The phone had pretty slow data speeds.. 3G networks were prevalent at the time but the iPhone only supported “Edge” which was about a 135k bits per second – not much faster than a dialup connection. There was no front facing camera and the rear camera was pretty lousy.

I think I traded in my old iPhone at one point to save money on a new one. I regret that now. It sure would look nice on my gadget shelf!

Crazy Atari 800 Add-On Device

I am a sucker for cool modern hardware for old retro hardware. YouTube channel The Retro Shack has this awesome and comprehensive review of an “everything” add-on device for the Atari 800 computers called the Fujinet.

What do I mean by everything? It’s pretty much the kitchen sink here with emulation for 8 floppy drives, a modem (connects via Telnet), a printer (writes out PDFs), realtime clock, a cassette deck for cassette based software, and a network adapter that connects via Wifi. Even crazier is that it allows for mounting disk images remotely over the Internet! It’s not all that expensive either at around $80 or so.

The Atari 800 has an innovative serial bus that in some ways works like USB where a whole chain of devices can be attached to a single cable with each uniquely addressable by the system. The creator of this hardware went on to work on the USB standard.

I have an Atari 800 in the basement here. My father-in-law purchased one back in the 80’s for use as a family PC but it hasn’t been booted up in decades. If you’re interested I might do a video or a stream where we power it up to see if there’s any life left in it!

The 800 is of course also faithfully recreated on the MiSTer.