Hi Folks, we’re coming in off of a very exciting and crazy week with last week’s announcement of RetroBlox, including the first live public demos of the system at Socal Retro Gaming Expo on the weekend. Our team received a tremendous amount of feedback from the retro gaming community, all of which is being taken into consideration as we work towards the launch of the RetroBlox Kickstarter in April.
But first, our team wanted to use this weeks post to clarify various questions about the system from attendees at the show, and from some of the users in our forums.
– What is RetroBlox / how does it work?
– What systems will RetroBlox support?
– Is RetroBlox an emulation box or FPGA?
– What’s Hybrid Emulation?
– What are the system specs?
– Can I install games / ROMs to RetroBlox?
– Can I sell games digitally on RetroBlox?
– How much will RetroBlox cost?
– How can I get one?
What is RetroBlox / how does it work?
RetroBlox is a Modular Multi-System Retro Game Console. The Base Unit includes a CD/DVD optical drive as well as the motherboard, Blox Bus Interface to the Element Modules, and various ports and connectors which will be detailed later in this post. It also has the Element Module Eject Button on the side which detaches and releases the Element Module, if one is inserted.
Element Modules are removable modules that include the cartridge connector and at least 2 controller ports for various classic video game systems. The modules are interchangeable, meaning RetroBlox can support a virtually unlimited amount of cartridge-based video game systems, even if they are not available day 1 to back on Kickstarter. Modules are packaged in such a way that they will fit neatly onto your bookshelf, so you only need to pull them out when you want to exchange modules.
What systems will RetroBlox support at launch?
Via Element Module (for Kickstarter launch – there will be others after launch)
– SNES / SFC (Super Gameboy will work fine for play only – but you won’t be able to back up GB games individually to RetroBlox)
– Genesis / Mega Drive (J) / Mega Drive (E) / 32x / SMS support via Power Base Converter
– Atari 2600 (7800 is currently not confirmed for support, but will be vetted and confirmed before KS campaign in April)
– PC-Engine / TurboGrafx-16 / SuperGrafx
Via CD/DVD Drive (more TBA)
– PSX (PSOne) – all regions
– Sega CD / 32X CD / Mega CD (J and E)
– PC-Engine CD / Super CD-ROM / Arcade CD-ROM / TurboGrafx-CD
Note: Some people have asked about N64 support. N64 is technically very doable today on RetroBlox, but Nintendo (correctly) filed many, many patents for that system, some as recently as 2001, so it’s not something we’re targeting at the moment unless Nintendo were to provide us with permission to do so. On the bright side, the great thing about having a modular system is that we’re always capable of supporting additional consoles in the future without replacing the base hardware, so you can bet we will be there first when a legal opportunity to support N64 presents itself.
Is RetroBlox one of those Emulation Boxes or is it an FPGA?
(For non-technical people, you might want to skip ahead a few sections.)
RetroBlox is neither a pure emulation box nor an FPGA system. When developing the original version of this console back in 2015 (when it actually was an FPGA-based PC-Engine/TurboGrafx-16) – our team discovered a new method of emulation that provides the advantages of an emulation-based system with the broad compatibility of an FPGA-based system. That new method is called Hybrid Emulation, and it was submitted to the USPTO as a provisional patent back in July 2016. Realizing its potential benefit to fans of all retro gaming consoles, we changed the direction of the console to be what you see today with a modular design.
What’s Hybrid Emulation?
Hybrid emulation is a completely new way of tackling emulation, providing the cost-effective and future-friendly advantages of high level emulation as well as the accuracy and compatibility advantages of using clone hardware or FPGAs (Field-Programmable Gate Arrays) to model the original consoles.
Hybrid Emulation is unique in that it requires software emulators to function at a much lower level than the ones you can simply download for your PC, Phone or RetroPie / RetroArch / LibRetro box. RetroBlox’s proprietary RBXOS and Richter UI environment are built from the ground up in Linux, fully optimized for our system so that we can access the architecture from the bus-level and I/O from cartridge interfaces and controllers directly via high level emulation on the heart of the system, the Rockchip RK3288. This means we don’t have to rely on software emulation of memory mappers and/or co-processors that may not be fully optimized, which in turn frees up valuable resources to ensure other aspects of the machine run smoothly. This is especially important to the homebrew community where many developers have created their own bank-switching and mapping mechanisms to extend the abilities of the original platform far beyond the manufacturers original intent. With Hybrid Emulation, we do not need to be privy to the intimate details of how the cartridge expansions function to have their software run on RetroBlox. It just works.
While this may sound like a magical, do everything under the sun console – some discerning folks recently asked what it WON’T do. Right off the bat, you won’t be able to play games that purely rely on light gun controller input. The limitations of light gun technology vs. HDTVs have been a constant struggle for those that enjoy the genre (including us!). However, we would like to address this issue sometime down the line after RetroBlox launches. For the moment, we are 100% focused on delivering what we have committed to above. Please note that light-gun type games that support controller D-Pad input will work fine on RetroBlox.
What are the system specs?
– CPU: Quad-core ARM Cortex-A17, 1.8GHz (Rockchip RK3288)
– GPU: Quad-core ARM Mali-T764 GPU 600MHz
– Environment: Linux
– Framework: RBXOS
– UI: Proprietary (Codename: “Richter”)
– 2GB RAM / 16GB eMMC onboard Flash
– 1x USB 2.0, 1x USB 3.0, 1x MicroSD (SDXC supported up to 512GB)
– 1x HDMI 2.0, 1x Gigabit Ethernet, 1x MicroSATA
– Internal Bluetooth Antenna, DC Power, 20-pin JTAG
– DVD-ROM: 11.08 Mb/s (8x) max
– CD-ROM: 3,600 Kb/s (24x) max
– 1x Blox Bus Connector
– 1x Wireless Bluetooth Gamepad
Can I install games / ROMs to RetroBlox?
Yes and no. RetroBlox is primarily made for people who own physical copies of games. You will not be able to simply load up an SD card full of roms, plug it in and suddenly have a huge library available as we do not support or advocate for piracy, no matter how ubiquitous it has become. However, in the interest of minimizing the use of and further preserving classic games, RetroBlox does allow you to back up the games you personally own on physical cartridges or discs to the system in an iPod / iTunes type relationship. This allows you to have a nice, modern experience with your installed games without having to worry about wearing your cartridges down. For cartridges that have specialized chips, mappers, and co-processors that must be read actively (eg; StarFox and its SuperFX chip), the user interface will prompt you to insert the cartridge to play so that it can run under Hybrid Emulation compatibility mode. Otherwise, installed games will run under normal emulation rules.
The games that you install on RetroBlox are placed either on the onboard eMMC flash memory or they are installed to the SD card if you have one inserted. However, you will not simply get a bunch of dumped ROM and ISO files after installation. The SD card is encrypted and signed to the individual user of the system so that they are exclusively useable on that one account. While this may be an inconvenience to some players, we may never be able to move retro gaming forward if we don’t comply with the completely fair and reasonable request of IP owners to not use their games without permission. In turn, they should acknowledge the need to make classic games more accessible for players in the future.
Can I sell games digitally on RetroBlox?
Yes. If you’re a developer or publisher of games for retro systems that wants to publish the titles that you legally own the rights to on RetroBlox, we’re going to offer you a simple solution to do so. However, every game submission will need to follow the same technical and legal requirements standards that are in place for the major game consoles, and will be thoroughly vetted and tested prior to publishing, same as Nintendo or Sony would do. If you have a sprite hack that puts Sonic the Hedgehog in Mario 3, don’t even think about submitting it. More info before Kickstarter on this.
How Much Will RetroBlox Cost?
We used last weekend as an opportunity to take surveyed feedback from show attendees and the community on this matter to ensure that our targets are in line with your expectations prior to announcement. Happy to say we were very much on target. Like other companies who strive to provide excellent design at reasonable prices, RetroBlox is going to come out at a price that is very affordable while advancing the way you play significantly. We’re not confirming prices today, but we can tell you that RetroBlox, including 1 Element Module and controller, will be much less than a base Nintendo Switch, and additional Element Modules will vary in cost depending on complexity (both software and hardware), but won’t cost any more than a new video game. The final pricing will be announced before the launch of the Kickstarter Campaign in April.
How Can I Get a RetroBlox System?
RetroBlox will be doing a Kickstarter pre-order campaign in April 2017 that will include a number of different core packages you can back / select from.
- Base Unit + 1 Bluetooth Controller + 1 Selectable Element Module for a set price
- Base Unit + 1 Bluetooth Controller + 3 Selectable Element Modules for a set price
- Base Unit + 1 Bluetooth Controller + All 5 Element Modules for a set price
In addition, there will be multiple controller packages and other options and ways to support the project on the Kickstarter page which will be announced closer to the start of the campaign.
In addition to other demos we’ll be performing for various press and media between now and the launch of our Kickstarter, we’ll also be doing another live demo at one of the upcoming major retro game conventions. Feel free to bring any cartridge to the show that works on a real console (for one of the above-listed modules, of course) and see if RetroBlox lives up to the hype.