A major update to the portable and retro Analogue Pocket gaming system landed 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 create hardware emulation “cores” for Pocket to emulate nearly every game and computer system up until the early 90s. , or even more recent.
Our conversation with Analogue’s CEO had us wondering exactly how OpenFPGA would work, but we didn’t have to wait long to find out. As of late Friday, the system was essentially “jailbroken” in its support for “Game Boy” branded games. And things got even spicier on Monday morning with the surprise emergence of a kernel supporting 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 on Analogue Pocket supports all games with Nintendo’s Game Boy brand, up to the Game Boy Advance, and that’s the obvious selling point of the system compared to something like an emulation box. If you’re the kind of gamer who prefers physical media but wants modern hardware benefits, Analogue Pocket might be the system for you.
Still, even cartridge owners may prefer to skip physical media in some cases, especially to add convenience to a portable system, and that goes doubly for use cases like homebrew or Japanese games with community developed English translations. Thus, since my review Analogue Pocket was released, interested buyers indicated whether the system could receive a jailbreak – a way to skip physical cartridges and instead play ROM files loaded onto the system’s microSD slot.
A few hours after my Pocket 1.1 article was published, the answer came in the form of a pair 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 other compatible GBA game files. Put those cores in a microSD card, then place compatible game files in the appropriate directories on the same card, and presto: Analogue Pocket will now play Game Boy-branded games, no cartridge required.
The origins of these files are dubious; they appeared on a new GitHub account almost immediately after 1.1 goes live– ensuring that its creators had some form of early access to the Analogue development environment before launch. (The stories refer to a pair of UK psychedelic bands, Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized, which is certainly an interesting identifier.) One of the related stories confirmed that he also access to a multitude of image files in Pocket format which was previously only available to members of the press, designed to make the “Library” system in Update 1.1 more enjoyable. The latter account hasn’t identified itself beyond that its owner is “an FPGA engineer”, so it’s unclear if these developers were part of Analogue Pocket’s development process, although one pretend that its cores had been “heavily tested for months” involves a very warm relationship with Analogue as a company.
The biggest problem at this point is that these cores won’t work without transferring the “BIOS” files from the Game Boy and GBA systems. When you use a cartridge on Analogue Pocket, you are playing these games with a BIOS file independently developed by Analogue, and this is the reason why you do not see the “Nintendo” or “Game Boy” splash screens before playing. to these games. (These brief splash screens were part of Nintendo’s original system BIOSes.)
Additionally, the new GB and GBA cores skip the coolest visual processing options built into Analogue Pocket, which leverages the high resolution of Pocket’s panel to add LCD-style effects to its modern IPS display. The anonymous developer behind these cores claimed that these filters would arrive on GB, GBC and GBA cores once “an update to the Analogue API” goes live.