Retro gaming is all about making a comeback. The repackaging of old favorite games from a few decades ago and running them on today's hardware is as much about reminding us of how far we've come as it is about tapping into customers that, after thirty or so years, are now equipped to spend the money on the necessary hardware so they may relive their earlier gaming years. To this end, we've seen software emulators appearing for many of yesterday's computers and gaming consoles. Software emulators become a virtual machine on different hardware, so in the case of an early gaming console, the modern day machine is essentially dumbed down. Code written for the original machine must be interpreted by the emulator before it may be run and because there is an additional layer added to this, the machine running the emulator often needs to be many times more powerful than the original hardware. Whilst this is not usually an issue as even today's smartphones are many times more powerful than popular home computers and consoles from the 1980s, software emulation is hard on batteries and skin temperatures.
Last year, Hyperkin showed off a smartphone accessory designed around running Game Boy cartridges on a modern device: the SmartBoy. The device was teased as an April Fool's joke, but it appears that Hyperkin weren't joking after all. The accessory includes physical cartridge slot on the back and a reversable MicroUSB port on the bottom. It wraps the smartphone – which Hyperkin's notes say should have a screen between 5- to 6-inch, be running at least Android 4.4 KitKat and over USB OTG (On-the-Go) – in a familiar looking plastic case including the necessary Game Boy buttons. Under the skin of the accessory is the industrial-grade 8-bit Atmel 90USB646 processor: Hyperkin are using a combination of software and hardware to emulate the original Game Boy Color. The hardware will be compatible with the original Game Boy and the newer Game Boy Color cartridges and the company are releasing the product as a SmartBoy Developer Kit, which includes the open source serial application and firmware. The idea here is that developers will be able to take a look at Hyperkin's work and make improvements. Better yet, Hyperkin is offering a royalty percentage of the retail unit for any developer able to improve upon the product.
Hyperkin are using a tag line for the SmartBoy: "WE built the SmartBoy. YOU can make it great." This is an interesting tilt on the traditional gaming hardware business model as it could leverage the abilities of developers able to improve the serial kit and reward them for their efforts based on how well the underlying retail product does. Unfortunately, the SmartBoy Development Kit will not be available until December, priced at just under $60.