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Emulation (Games) NES (Games) Nintendo Classic Games (Games)

How Hardware Artisans Are Keeping Classic Video Gaming Alive (fastcompany.com) 75

Slashdot reader harrymcc writes, "If you want to play classic Nintendo games, you could buy a vintage Super NES. Or you could use an emulator. Or -- if you're really serious -- you could use floating point gate arrays to design a new console that makes them look great on modern TVs." He shares Fast Company's article about "some of the other folks using new hardware to preserve the masterworks of the past." Analogue created its system with HDTVs in mind, so every game looks as good or maybe even better than I remember from childhood. Playing the same cartridges on my actual Super Nintendo is more like looking through a dirty window... Another company called RetroUSB has also used Field Programmable Gate Arrays to create its own version of the original Nintendo. And if you already own any classic systems like I do, there's a miniature industry of aftermarket hardware that will make those consoles look better on modern televisions.
The article also notes "throwback consoles" from AtGames and Hyperkin, as well as the Open Source Scan Converter, "a crude-looking device that converts SCART input to HDMI output with no distinguishable lag from the game controller." Analogue's CEO Christopher Taber "argues that software emulation is inherently less accurate than re-creating systems at the hardware level," and describes Analogue engineer Kevin Horton as "someone who's obscenely talented at what he's doing... He's applying it to making perfect, faithful, aftermarket video game systems to preserve playing these systems in an unadulterated way."

And in the end the article's author feels that Analogue's Super NT -- a reverse-engineered Super Nintendo -- "just feels more like the real thing. Unlike an emulator, the Super Nt doesn't let you save games from any point or switch to slow motion, and the only modern gameplay concession it offers is the ability to reset the game through a controller shortcut. Switching to a different game still requires you to get off the couch, retrieve another cartridge, and put it into the system, which feels kind of like listening to a vinyl album instead of a Spotify playlist."
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How Hardware Artisans Are Keeping Classic Video Gaming Alive

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  • by jawtheshark ( 198669 ) * <slashdot.jawtheshark@com> on Saturday March 17, 2018 @04:35PM (#56276515) Homepage Journal
    "Floating Point Gate Array"?

    Yeah, I see. I don't think you know what floating point is and in what context to use it. Hint: FPGA is not it.

    What you are looking for is "Field Programmable Gate Array [wikipedia.org]".

    Where is the slashdot of my youth?

    • by mah! ( 121197 ) on Saturday March 17, 2018 @05:02PM (#56276643) Homepage

      it's a sad state for a Slashdot story, when all the first comments are about how the editor:

      • probably has no idea about what FPGA means
      • likely did not read the article (which spells out "Field Programmable Gate Array" at least 3 times)
      • similarly seems not to understand the purpose of "floating point"
      • ...

      on the other hand, with Slashdot's continual increase of name-calling and threats of violence between Anonymous Cowards (and not), the right-wing extremism, the machismo...

      attention to factual information does not seem to be among the main goals of Slashdot.

      The Slashdot of your youth is probably gone forever, together with CmdrTaco [wikipedia.org].

      My sympathies...

      • You forgot left-wing extremism and feminism in your list. You won't have the /. of your youth if you also don't exclude those extremist, intolerant, and hateful groups.

    • by Arkham ( 10779 )

      I came to post this. I haven't done hardware design in 20+ years, but even back in the 90s FPGA was Field Programmable Gate Array. My understanding is that the technology has come a long way since doing VHDL synthesis on SunOS/Solaris machines like we did back at Ga Tech when I was in school.

      • I came to post this. I haven't done hardware design in 20+ years, but even back in the 90s FPGA was Field Programmable Gate Array. My understanding is that the technology has come a long way since doing VHDL synthesis on SunOS/Solaris machines like we did back at Ga Tech when I was in school.

        No, really, FPGAs have come such a long way that they're no longer working in pure binary... :)

        And in the end the article's author feels that Analogue's Super NT -- a reverse-engineered Super Nintendo -- "just feels more like the real thing. Unlike an emulator, the Super Nt doesn't let you save games from any point or switch to slow motion, and the only modern gameplay concession it offers is the ability to reset the game through a controller shortcut. Switching to a different game still requires you to get off the couch, retrieve another cartridge, and put it into the system, which feels kind of like listening to a vinyl album instead of a Spotify playlist."

        I do love this part of the original story. Kids these days... Watching a movie was a lot more special when you had to go to the video store, physically choose and rent a videocassette, and rewind it at the end. Nowadays, downloading it or watching on Netflix or the pay-per-view on the PVR, it's a lot less special.

        If you had a Betamax machine as we did, the dwindling number of titles and even rental stores made it

        • Vector graphics were a cool, non-blocky alternative to low-res bitmaps, but a modern "4k" TV (or even 720p, for that matter) can render a smoother-looking line from a 24-bit anti-aliased bitmap than an Atari color vector CRT with .39mm dot pitch from Tempest EVER could. If anything, Tempest at 1280x720 looks TOO good... you need 2160x1440 or better to convincingly render in the alignment & shadow-mask artifacts seen in a REAL color vector display.

          • Sure! Better resolution, and none of that buzzing sound that the deflection circuits in the Vectrex would make as it slammed an ordinary TV deflection yoke with the arbitrary waveforms it took to draw the graphics. I bet it doesn't flicker as much, either.

            But again, that's the death of tactility that I'm talking about.

            So, do you want the real experience of playing an early video game, or do you just want to pay lip service to the concept?

      • by stevew ( 4845 )

        Yes - we do verilog now (in the US anyway).

        Today's FPGAs are so big that we synthesize entire Systems on Chip including the processors into them.

    • Where is the slashdot of my youth?

      It's gone to the same place as your youth.

    • floating point gate arrays kind of people are EXACTLY the kind Super NT was aimed for. The "just feels more like the real thing. Unlike an emulator" suckers.

    • Look, itâ(TM)s 2018. If an FPGA wants to self-identify as a Floating Point Gate Array and no longer a Field Programmable Gate array then we must let it do so and be accomodating and non-jusgemental as well.
    • After reading the initial part of TFA I came here to write about Floating Point Gate Arrays, and found this section filled with comments about them... (disclaimer: I use Field Programmable Gate Arrays to emulate old sysyems)

      Now that I think about it though, I kinda want a Floating Point Gate Array. Just think of the possibilities! :)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If it's not open to be reproduced by anyone it's not preservation, because once the company dies it's dead, and nobody can learn from it / check it / improve it.

    If it's not the original hardware, it's emulation. On a lower level than the usual software emulators, but still emulation.

    • There are plenty of differences among the revisions of the Super NES chipset. The most obvious from the program's point of view is a bug fix in the DMA controller between CPU version 1 and CPU version 2, and some games reportedly have to slow down somewhat on launch-window consoles to avoid triggering the bug.

      But the last revision to the chipset was the "1CHIP", which appeared in the last full-size Super NES consoles as well as the smaller New-Style Super NES (SNS-101). The 1CHIP has the cleanest analog vid

  • Reader? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Luthair ( 847766 ) on Saturday March 17, 2018 @05:37PM (#56276773)
    Harry McCracken [slashdot.org] is the editor of Fast Company, and as you can see all he does is submit their own articles. The technical term for that is spammer.
  • As a long time (now ex) FAE for one of the top FPGA manufacturers and slightly longer /. reader - this is poor. Really poor.
  • Of all the articles and videos I've browsed about the super nt, the fast company one was not one of the better researched or presented ones. I think it simply made it here because of the submitter. That said, the super nt hardware itself is quality.
  • "argues that software emulation is inherently less accurate than re-creating systems at the hardware level,"

    I don't know if I'd believe this. I mean the Genesis is kind of infamous that different versions of the physical hardware from Sega don't get the sound right on the newer revs of that systems so I'm not going to assume a hardware implementation is going to have an advantage over a software solution.

    • And that was on a system that was mostly still using the same parts. With an FPGA, there aren't any original parts: it's all new code, only the code is compiled to an FPGA configuration instead of an executable for a host CPU. If you know the exact functionality of the original hardware, you can recreate it in either software or new hardware.

      Years ago there used to be cases where it wasn't feasible to do accurate emulation in software for performance reasons, but now there is so much difference in computati

  • About 2 years ago I took up repairing and selling retro consoles. I still do programming, but it's a fun hobby that I keep getting better at.

  • by guruevi ( 827432 ) <evi&evcircuits,com> on Saturday March 17, 2018 @09:28PM (#56277751) Homepage

    It's an FPGA-based emulator of an old gaming system. There is nothing special except that it can't do save games and more that regular emulators can do. It's not any better than a good emulator, higan can and does match the performance of this overpriced system, even better it doesn't require the original cartridge.

    • by Luthair ( 847766 )
      The entire point of the system is that it accepts original cartridges - because not everyone is a pirate.
      • by guruevi ( 827432 )

        Most games have lost copyright protection, the rules don't apply and if they did, there are also various exceptions for this purpose. Most cartridges are simply unavailable in the market and if they exist, many have decayed significantly over the last decades.

  • by sad_ ( 7868 )

    yes, old consoles (or home computers) look horrible on 4k flat screen tv's.
    that is why all real retro gamers also keep several crt tv's around.

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel

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