A major update to the retro-thinking portable analog gaming system came out on Friday, and its new “OpenFPGA” features featured it. Thanks to last week’s “1.1” patch, anyone in the open source development community can build hardware-emulation “cores” to make Pocket imitate almost any gaming or computer system up until the early 1990s, if not later.
Our conversation with the CEO of Analogue left us wondering exactly how OpenFPGA would work, but we didn’t have to wait long to find out. By the end of Friday, the system was essentially “jailbroken” in terms of its support for “Game Boy” branded games. And things got a lot brighter on Monday morning with the sudden appearance of a kernel that supports a much more powerful system than the Game Boy or Game Boy Advance.
Ladies and gentlemen, the pocket floats in space
The physical cartridge slot on the Analogue Pocket supports any Nintendo Game Boy-branded game, even the Game Boy Advance, and this is the system’s obvious selling point compared to something like the emulator box. If you are a gamer who prefers physical media but wants the perks of modern hardware, then Analogue Pocket can be said to be the system for you.
However, cartridge owners may prefer to skip the physical media in some cases, especially to add convenience to a portable system, and this doubles for use cases such as homebrew or Japanese games with community-developed English subtitles. Thus, since my Analogue Pocket review was published, interested buyers have commented on whether the system might receive a jailbreak — a way to bypass physical cartridges and run ROM files loaded onto the microSD slot instead.
Hours after I posted my Pocket 1.1 article, the answer arrived in the form of a pair of downloads at GitHub. These files are cores of Pocket’s OpenFPGA system, with one supporting Game Boy and Game Boy Color game files and the other supporting GBA game files. Put these cores in a microSD card, put your compatible game files in the appropriate directories on the same card, and presto: Analogue Pocket will now play Game Boy-branded games, without the need for a cartridge.
The origins of these files are questionable. They popped up on a new GitHub account almost immediately after the launch of 1.1 – ensuring that creators had some form of early access to the Analogue development environment prior to launch. (The accounts refer to a pair of British psychedelic teams, Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized, which is certainly an interesting identifier.) One related account confirmed that in addition to this, it had access to a large number of Pocket-format image files that were previously only available to members Press, designed to make the “Library” system of the 1.1 update look nicer. The last account didn’t identify itself other than saying its owner is a “FPGA Architect”, so it’s not clear if these developers were part of the Analogue Pocket development process – although one claim is that its cores have been “extensively tested for months” very An intimate relationship with Analogue as a company.
The biggest problem at this point is that these cores won’t work without transferring BIOS files from Game Boy and GBA systems. When you use a cartridge on the Analogue Pocket, you are playing these games with a BIOS file developed independently by Analogue – which is why the “Nintendo” or “Game Boy” splash screens do not appear before playing these games. (These short splash screens were part of the original Nintendo BIOS.)
In addition, the new GB and GBA kernels go beyond the coolest visual processing options included in Analogue Pocket, which exploit the higher resolution of the Pocket Panel to add LCD-style effects to a modern IPS display. The anonymous developer behind these cores claimed that these filters will come to GB, GBC and GBA cores as soon as the Analogue API Update is launched.