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FPGA in Retro Gaming: An Intro Guide for Noobs


FPGA in Retro Gaming: An Intro Guide for Noobs
Photo Credit: Wikipedia "FPGA"

Recently, I released a video discussing the potential of an Intellivision FPGA console and made a reference to the Retron 5 console using FPGA. The response was overwhelming, with many folks chiming in to inform me that I was incorrect in my statement. I appreciate the community's engagement and your commitment to accurate information. It's clear that there's a lot of interest and passion surrounding FPGA technology, especially in the context of retro gaming. This prompted me to dig deeper into this topic and clarify the information.



So, I've taken the time to research more and want to present some helpful insight to everyone about my findings. Let's dive into the world of FPGA and its intriguing applications in the gaming world!

FPGA in Retro Gaming: An Intro Guide for Noobs
Photo Credit: RetroRGB.com

What is FPGA?

FPGA, or Field-Programmable Gate Array, is an integrated circuit designed to be configured by the user after manufacturing. It consists of an array of programmable logic blocks and a hierarchy of interconnecting channels, allowing customization to perform specific tasks. FPGA has found applications in various fields, but its implementation in retro gaming has particularly captured interest.



How FPGA Works

Unlike traditional emulation where software mimics the behavior of hardware, FPGA involves configuring the hardware itself to replicate the original system's functionality. The programming essentially maps out a hardware circuit, recreating the original console's architecture, which can execute the code as it would on original hardware. This leads to highly accurate and responsive gameplay.


Why Some Retro Gaming Enthusiasts Love It

  1. Accuracy: FPGA provides near-perfect accuracy since it mimics the original hardware instead of emulating it. This delivers an authentic experience that's close to playing on the original system.

  2. Low Latency: The direct hardware configuration reduces input lag, providing immediate response times.

  3. Versatility: FPGA can be reprogrammed to support multiple systems, allowing enthusiasts to play a wide range of classic games on one device.

Why Others Don't Care About It

  1. Cost: FPGA-based systems can be expensive, limiting accessibility for some gamers.

  2. Complexity: Understanding and using FPGA requires technical knowledge, making it less appealing to casual gamers.

  3. Availability of Alternatives: Traditional emulation and classic re-released consoles provide alternatives for those less concerned with perfect accuracy.

Consoles That Used FPGA

Many retro-compatible consoles have utilized FPGA technology. Some examples include:

  1. Analogue Consoles: Renowned for their high-quality retro gaming devices, Analogue's systems like the Analogue Super Nt and Analogue Mega Sg use FPGA technology to provide highly accurate recreations of classic consoles.

  2. MISTer Project: An open-source project that leverages FPGA technology to replicate various vintage systems.

  3. Retron 5: Well... this one is a bit more complicated. See below.

Retron 5 and FPGA

Contrary to some popular opinions, the Retron 5 indeed utilizes an FPGA chip in its architecture. A teardown by RetroRGB revealed the presence of a Xilinx Spartan-3 FPGA on the main board, primarily associated with the cartridge slots.


The inclusion of FPGA technology in the Retron 5 adds to the system's appeal for retro enthusiasts, as it allows for hardware-level processing that can enhance accuracy and performance. However, it should be noted that the Retron 5's implementation of FPGA may not fully mirror the original hardware to the extent that some dedicated FPGA consoles do. Its combination of FPGA technology with other software-based emulation techniques provides a unique blend that can cater to a broader range of gamers. I see where I was wrong in assuming it was a straight-up FPGA console, but in a weird way, it still 'kinda' has it, even if it is not technically 'using it' to process the software. Hardcore gaming enthusiasts will ensure you that what Retron 5 does is definitely not FPGA.


As a long time friend of the channel and professional retro-modder 'The Retro Bro' puts it, the Retron 5 is like, well:

It's like saying my car has the same model gas tank as a formula 1, so my car is a formula 1.

Jon, The Retro Bro goes on, telling me:

The Retron 5 is not using FPGA for emulation process. It's part of the reason why the emulation is so awful, it's because they are using knockoff Retroarch cores.

Conclusion

FPGA technology has brought a new dimension to retro gaming, offering unparalleled accuracy and responsiveness. While it has attracted a dedicated following among enthusiasts seeking an authentic retro experience, its cost and complexity make it less appealing to the casual gamer. The diverse landscape of retro gaming, from high-fidelity FPGA-based systems like Analogue's consoles to versatile emulators like the Retron 5, ensures that there's something for everyone in the nostalgic world of classic gaming!


Now... we wait to see what BBG Entertainment tries to accomplish with an FPGA Intellivision, Atari, and Collecovision console. Should be interesting, to say the least.


~Smash

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