Analogue Pocket 1.1 update is already paying off: Jailbreak, Neo Geo Core

No, we didn’t have Neo Geo as the first community development for Analogue Pocket on our FPGA bingo board.

Sam Machkovech

A major update to the portable, retro-leaning 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 developer community can build hardware emulation “cores” to emulate Pocket through the early ’90s, if not newer, just about any gaming and computer system allow.

Our conversation with Analogue’s CEO made us wonder how exactly OpenFPGA would work, but we didn’t have to wait long to find out. As of late Friday, the system was essentially “jailbroken” in terms of supporting “Game Boy”-branded games. And things got even more explosive on Monday morning when a kernel supporting a system far more powerful than either the Game Boy or the Game Boy Advance surprisingly showed up.

Ladies and gentlemen… Pocket is floating in space

Analogue Pocket’s physical cartridge slot supports every game with Nintendo’s Game Boy branding up to the Game Boy Advance, and that’s the system’s obvious selling point compared to something of an emulation box. If you’re one of those gamers who prefer physical media but want modern hardware advantages, Analogue Pocket might be the system for you.

Yet even cartridge owners prefer to skip physical media in some cases, particularly to make a portable system more convenient, and that goes doubly for use cases like homebrew or Japanese games with community-developed English translations. Ever since my Analogue Pocket review was published, interested buyers have voiced whether the system could be jailbroken — a way to skip physical cartridges and instead play ROM files loaded into the system’s microSD slot.

Hours after my Pocket 1.1 article was published, the answer arrived on GitHub in the form of two downloads. These files are cores for Pocket’s OpenFPGA system, with one supporting Game Boy and Game Boy Color game files and the other supporting GBA game files. Pop these cores into a microSD card, then place compatible game files in the appropriate directories on the same card, and you’re done: Analogue Pocket now plays Game Boy-branded games without the need for a cartridge.

The origin of these files is doubtful; They appeared on a new GitHub account almost immediately after the 1.1 release – guaranteeing that developers had early access to Analogue’s development environment before the release. (The accounts relate to a pair of British psychedelia bands, Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized, which is certainly an interesting identifier.) One of the related accounts confirmed that it additionally had access to a slew of pocket-sized image files previously only available were available for members of the press to make Update 1.1’s “Library” system look nicer. The latter account hasn’t identified himself other than to say that its owner is “an FPGA engineer”, so it’s unclear if those developers were part of the Analogue Pocket development process – despite a claim that its cores “went months of intensive testing”. were, implies that this is the case very cozy relationship with Analogue as a company.

The biggest catch here is that these cores will not work without transferring “BIOS” files from Game Boy and GBA systems. When using a cartridge on Analogue Pocket, you are playing these games with a BIOS file developed independently from Analogue – and that is why you do not need a “Nintendo” or “Game Boy” license before playing these games. see splash screens. (These brief splash screens were part of Nintendo’s original BIOS systems.)

Additionally, the new GB and GBA cores skip the coolest visual processing options built into Analogue Pocket, which takes advantage of the Pocket panel’s high resolution to add LCD-style effects to the modern IPS screen. The anonymous developer behind these cores claimed that these filters would come to the GB, GBC, and GBA cores once “an API update from Analogue” goes live.

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