Nintendo/SEGA Retromancy On PC

By Alec Meer on January 4th, 2012 at 12:19 pm.

Something about 'retrode' sounds rude to me

I’m a little flummoxed by Retrode – I mean, if you’re going to spend this much on a special hoojum to play SNES and Megadrive/Genesis cartridges on PC, why not just pick up one of the original consoles second-hand? It’ll probably be cheaper, and you’ll have a big lump of retro plastic to show off and tell relatives boring stories about. Then again, this thing uses third-party emulation software (as reverse engineering Nintendo and SEGA’s hardware would be illegal and stuff, I believe) so it in theory does fun stuff like resolution upscaling and third-party controller support and save states and NASTY EVIL CHEATS and all those kinds of deviously modern things.

So, there are twin purposes to Retrode. Number one, Just Because. That’s the main reason I’d like to try it – the glee of sticking a vintage oblong of silicon and plastic and a dusty controller into my throbbing quad-core 21st century PC.

The second purpose is that, in theory, it gets around all arguments of piracy. No downloading of ROMs from strange sites with Zs in the URL and a thousand pop-up ads every time you click, but instead the original storage mediums. As far as I can tell, it basically turns a cartridge into a removable USB drive which your emulator of choice can read the ROM from.

Whether Nintendo and Sega are legally required to tolerate a third-party device for reading the cartridges, I don’t know. But presuming this thing isn’t burned with the fire of a thousand lawyer-based suns, it’s due to release on Jan 23 for EUR 65 / USD 85. You can preorder here.

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33 Comments »

  1. CMaster says:

    I wouldn’t have thought that Sega or Nintendo have any legal recourse with regards to such things. Still, while savestates and the like are nice, you presumably get more accurate SNES/Megadrive behaviour from an actual console, rather than all teh funniness that comes with emulation

    • Optimaximal says:

      It’ll definitely be interesting to see how far this goes to resolving the ‘accuracy’ issue highlighted in that Ars article.

      If Retrode allows emulators genuine access to the on-cartridge PCB (as in the bespoke DSPs & memory, rather than just the storage), it would be almost essential for an emulator such as bsnes to function.

    • Robin says:

      “Funniness”? SNES and Mega Drive emulation are solved for all practical purposes. You might as well just use the ROMs. This is a bit of a gimmicky device.

    • Aninhumer says:

      As far as I know, for 95% of games, most emulators are 95% percent accurate. The differences will mostly be minor graphical errors that you wouldn’t notice unless you compared to the original. And if you have problems you aren’t willing to put up with, bsnes takes those numbers to 99% and is continuing to be improved all the time.

      Of note: http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2011/08/accuracy-takes-power-one-mans-3ghz-quest-to-build-a-perfect-snes-emulator.ars

    • Alexander Norris says:

      That’s not much of an obstacle – Nintendo has managed to get the R4 and friends banned by using the exact same argument that the recording industry once tried to get CDs banned with (“it’s used for piracy by some people!”), so I’m sure their lawyers can find a way to screw this up if they’d like.

  2. Johnetc says:

    How would you know about all those illegal sites with z’s in the URL, unless…..no. You wouldn’t. Not Actraiser.

  3. jrodman says:

    * Driverless operation on any USB host, under any OS, using any emulator.

    !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ELEVEN!

  4. misterT0AST says:

    that’s nice and all but that looks an awful lot like an American SNES cartridge, does it support European PAL games?
    The very shape of the European cartridge doesn’t even seem to fit in there…

    • Optimaximal says:

      I think the EU cartridges are actually smaller – I had a friend who’s uncle used to grey import US games and he had to buy a cartridge binnacle that sat on top of the SNES to allow the larger carts to fit. Console region-locking was so much more innocent back then.

      Otherwise the connectors are universal (you can even break open the cases and directly insert the PCB if you’re careful).

  5. kavika says:

    From the FAQ, I found things that almost make this interesting:

    Can I use the Retrode to change the ROM on my cartridges?

    “ROM” stands for Read Only Memory, hence: no. The games on standard game carts can be read, but not replaced (unless you replace the entire ROM chip). You can change the savegames (SRAM) on many cartridges, though.

    Can I use the Retrode to dump ROMs and put them on the internet?

    Yes, but we don’t think you should. First, you’d probably violate someone’s copyright, which is illegal pretty much everywhere on this planet. Second, there are already zillions of illegal ROM repositories out there, so why bother. The Retrode is not for pirates – it’s for retro enthusiasts who want to keep enjoying their own original games.

    So you could dump the ROMs yourself for your own purposes, so you could do somewhat more legal emulation and backup also without the dongle. Then you’d have legal access to the many cool ROM hacks out there.

    With the right cartridge, you could probably also use it for home-brew development. Tho I’m sure there’s been dozens of dongle options for this purpose already.

    • Delusibeta says:

      In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with dumping your own ROMs for your own personal use. To use a PC gaming analogy, it’s the sort of argument that is used when answering the question “Why hasn’t LucasArts sued ScummVM out of existence yet?” except replacing “dumping” with “copying files from the disc”.

    • rayne117 says:

      I don’t see any moral qualms even if you DID dump them for other people. You can’t buy the game from the company anymore, so why does it matter? I’m not “stealing” from anyone if there is no way for me to give them my money.

  6. Andy_Panthro says:

    I can’t imagine SEGA being too bothered, considering they’ve been selling their games via GamersGate, Steam and other digital sites for a while now.

    Don’t know what those official emulated versions are like though, my experience of emulation was from different sources.

    • Nice Save says:

      But the games on GG are £2 each, and Sega doesn’t see a penny from someone using one a Retrode (as far as I know).

  7. Eclipse says:

    so it’s just a rom reader right? with a built-in joypad adapter

    • zaphod42 says:

      Exactly. RPS article makes it sound like it includes an emulator, but going to the store page, you’ve either got to find and install your own emulator and just use this for the controller / ROM, or at most they link you to a place to download an emulator. It doesn’t run an emulator itself, it doesn’t upscale or anything (although your emu could do that, but any emu could do that, don’t need the device).
      Seems like a pretty nifty USB ROM cartridge / controller hookup, but thats all.

    • jrodman says:

      But it’s convenient and it looks cool!

  8. Ridnarhtim says:

    Hmm. I actually like the idea. Except I would then spend a fortune on ebay buying SNES games.

    God, how I wish I’d kept my SNES and its games. And my N64.

  9. Jiggeh says:

    Who cares about emulating cartridges – this thing would let me use my Megadrive and Super Famicom controllers on a PC! Damn right I want one.

  10. InternetBatman says:

    It’s funny, I had a super old computer as a teenager (133mhz that I got rid of right when pentium 4 came out) so I played mostly roms since no current game would run on mine. Now that I have an SNES I can say that for the most part you really don’t get anything out of using the controller or having the cart version. I guess this is cool for aficionados and people that haven’t downloaded the roms, but I’m relatively unexcited.

  11. Chuckaluphagus says:

    All of the patents that covered the hardware for the NES, SNES, Sega Master System and Sega Genesis have expired (patents are valid for 20 years, maximum). Third-party hardware to play old Nintendo and Sega games is legal and has been on the market for a few years now already (for instance). This implementation, with the hardware as essentially an adapter to the computer, is a new twist, but should be just as legal.

  12. mental2k says:

    Reminds me a lot of this Retrode ( a little too much perhaps).

    As to those who want to use their old pads with new hardware, I wired up a 2 pad sega saturn adapter to usb earlier this year. It should be possible to modify my design for anything earlier than the saturn. (As a side note my design does not require any destruction of anything more than an extension cable for the console you want). A one pad option would cost around £15 as long as you don’t mind a little soldering.

    I’d be more than happy to help out anyone who would like to do the same. I’ll even modify the code for you.

  13. Wulf says:

    Yay, the spam filter ate another one of my posts. Another one. Sigh. This is a depressingly common occurrence. (And I didn’t think to copy the message so I could just splatter some random HTML through it to get it past the filter, so I’m writing it up again. …but I’ll copy the damn thing this time.)

    Anyway, I was saying that the save states would probably save me having to replace the battery used for the battery backup in my Phantasy Star (Master System) cart. But then, that would remove part of the joy of playing the game on an old telly, which I do on the rare occasions that I feel like it.

  14. Wulf says:

    Yay, the spam filter ate another one of my posts. Another one. Sigh. This is a depressingly common occurrence. (And I didn’t think to copy the message so I could just splatter some random HTML through it to get it past the filter, so I’m writing it up again. …but I’ll copy the damn thing this time.)

    Anyway, I was saying that the save states would probably save me having to replace the battery used for the battery backup in my Phantasy Star (Master System) cart. But then, that would remove part of the joy of playing the game on an old telly, which I do on the rare occasions that I feel like it.

    • Wulf says:

      FFFF. That took a lot of HTML to get through, <b></b> used every second character.

      Broken spam filter is broken.

    • PleasingFungus says:

      Wulf, maybe you should be taking the spam filter as a clue that perhaps RPS comments threads are not the right place for your essay-writing?

      Get a blog! It’s not hard, and then you’ll be in charge of the spam filters. (And people won’t have to scroll through ten paragraphs of your writing to see the rest of the comments thread – bonus!)

  15. leox001 says:

    why not just use a damn emulator?

    • mental2k says:

      It is just gimmicky, but it would look kinda cool if you removed the case and mounted it on its side inside a pc.

    • Outright Villainy says:

      You have to use an emulator anyway, I think what you meant to say is “Why don’t you just download Roms?”

      And the answer is because it’s illegal, and many people don’t really like the idea of doing illegal things. Not that I feel too bad, since I only download games I already own and could dump myself, getting roms is just faster.

  16. Starky says:

    Just as a note on legality,

    Creating hardware to emulate hardware is NOT illegal in any way, so long as you don’t infringe on any patent designs, or use any patented components without permission.

    So for example, Nintendo might have some propitiatory hardware in the SNES that you cannot use – but, you can emulate hardware with hardware – swap components, use alternatives, and create a design that does the exact same thing as a SNES. An example might be using an off the shelf a PIC microprocessor, to do the exact same job of some set of components/chip in the original SNES.
    So long as you don’t then logo it in a way that might upset trademarks you’re fine.

    It’s basically the same for software emulation of hardware – perfectly legal in every way – no one owns how basic components work, so long as your work is original, you can emulate any hardware system you like.

    Basically so long as you re-engineer (new design) rather than reverse engineer (steal the design) you’re fine.
    Given that this thing is basically just a cartage reader, I seriously doubt they are infringing on anything.

  17. Xaromir says:

    WOO! Retro on RPS!
    I dump my own roms, i don’t trust rom sites. I actually own the original carts which is awesome, but also get all the comforts, and with Xpadder controller support also isn’t an problem. With the roms on my HDD ruining the originals through use also is not an issue anymore. It’s an awesome hobby!

  18. Neelo says:

    Good thing my Mega Drive still works, saves me 65 euros xP

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