Thursday, April 11, 2019

Open Source Retro Gaming

Being a child of the late 80s and early 90s cemented my love for handheld gaming, especially with the original Nintendo Gameboy’s release in 1989. The majority of the systems I collect are portable consoles from that era.

A recent genre of consoles I started collecting, playing and even programming for are open source; some in hardware and all in software. The Arduboy, Gamebuino consoles and the Odroid Go are a few of the types that I’ve collected and worked with. I'll review each one briefly and give my top pick of games for each.

The Arduboy

First up is the Arduboy, a spunky little console. It is about the size of about 4 credit cards stacked. It has some lower end specs, but by no means does that take away from its use. The Arduboy sports a library of over 200 games. Most can be found in the official message boards or an unofficial repo known as Erwin's Arduboy Collection.

Three of my favorite games for the platform are Arduventure, 1943 and Arcodia. Shmups (also called Shootem' ups) is my favorite gaming genre. 1943 and Arcodia are great examples of vertical (or horizontal) shmups. Arduventure is probably the most in-depth and intricate game for Arduboy. It is a turned based RPG, where you have to find the four pieces of a mythical sword and defeat an evil consuming the land.

The open-source nature of the Arduboy is reflected in both its software and hardware. You can download the Arduino IDE and install the appropriate libraries and code your own game or examine the code of an existing game. The schematics of the Arduboy are also open source and many have created their own versions from compatible hardware. There are wonderful getting started guides in the forums that can teach you the basics.

The Gamebuino META

There are two consoles I own in this category. The original Gamebuino and the Gamebuino META. I'll focus on the META since it is the newest and the one I play most frequently. The META has a color screen, wood finish and clear body with internal LEDs that can light up in tandem with game play. The META library has only a few dozen games; but it will grow since the console was only released about a year ago.

My favorite games on the META are Omega Horizon, Defend Pluto and Pico Monsters. Omega Horizon is a Metroidvania style game, shooting aliens in an expansive world. Defend Pluto is is a vertical shmup with and interesting twist. You do not get unlimited ammo; you have to wait for your guns to recharge, so it makes for excellent strategy in piloting and conserving usage. Lastly is Pico Monsters, a Pokemon type game where you capture and battle monsters.

The META also uses the Arduino IDE to create games. You can find the setup guide, tutorials and more over at their Academy. The graphics the META is capable of are very reminiscent of 8-bit computers like the Commodore 64.

The Odroid Go

The Odroid Go is another console that supports the Arduino IDE and that you can write your own games for. That, however, is not its claim to fame. Instead the credit goes to its ability to emulate other 8-bit consoles. Namely The Gameboy, Gameboy Color, NES, Sega Master System, Game Gear and Colecovision. You do however need to supply the ROMs (Backups) of games you already own. 

Due to its openness, programmers have ported other games to Odroid such as Doom and Wolfenstein 3D. Older computers have also had emulators ported such as the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. A keyboard attachment was made so it is easier to code on it natively and use computer based emulators.

The Odroid is very fun to play. It is similar in size to a Gameboy Pocket. You can swap the buttons from a pocket into the Odroid. In fact, an online community for modifying the console exists and has many excellent examples of how you can customize its appearance. 

Out of all these systems, my personal favorite is the Arduboy. It's compact and I always have one in my bag wherever I go. My collection is ever growing, and next on my to-get list is the Pokitto.

Photo Credit: Gillian Hicks