The Analogue Pocket has just received its long-awaited jailbreak

The Analogue Pocket has just received its long-awaited jailbreak

Analog pocket consoles seem to be breaking jailbars.

picture: Analog / Kotaku / Se_vector (Shutterstock)

The Analogue Co. Pocket has always turned heads: first because it has most authentic replacement for the Game Boy ever announcedthen for takes an extremely long time finally get out. But it came out, and it was pretty good. For some, the biggest downside was that it required old, increasingly expensive, physical cartridges to play, since (mainly) it just couldn’t load convenient ROM files. The Pocket really needed something the kids would call a “jailbreak,” at least if it was going to fulfill the fantasy of being the ultimate Game Boy device. Today, this jailbreak just slipped through the side door.

A small adjustment: when the Pocket finally shipped last December, it only had the most barebones operating system and was missing many of the systems promised features, such as saves that saved your game progress. (Analogue also didn’t release the originally announced Atari Lynx, Neo Geo Pocket, or TurboGrafx-16 cart adapters.) Early adopters, happy to have their oversized Game Boys with gorgeous Retina-quality screens, realized that this was the It would be some time before the device in their hands was actually finished.

The same was true for budding developers eager to get the new machine to do fun new things. The bag contains two Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs)programmers can reconfigure to closely resemble the hardware of another device. They are great for simulating classic video game systems, and hobbyists could certainly make good use of them, perhaps by developing new FPGA cores — software that tells FPGAs how to configure themselves — to simulate even more consoles. But this feature has also been delayed.

Fast forward to today. At 8:01 a.m. PT Analogue has finally released a new version of the Pocket’s analog operating system. Today’s Analogue OS v1.1 beta release adds the long-promised Library and Memories features; The first shows information about the games you inserted, the second is basically saving states. v1.1 finally opens the system for developers, under the name “openFPGA”. As an example of what hobbyists can achieve with the newly unlocked FPGAs, Analogue released an openFPGA core that simulates space war!, one of the first video games. Clean.

And that was it. A nice and necessary update, but it also wasn’t the jailbreak that many people were hoping for. See you in another six months! (Actually, analog equals analog, more like eight.)

But then.

About three hours later, at 11:23 a.m., a Github account called Spiritualized1997 that was created less than 24 hours earlier was uploaded a repository called openFPGA-GBA; A minute later it was uploaded another called openFPGA-GB-GBC. Each repository contained a single downloadable file. “To play Game Boy Advance on your Pocket, follow these instructions,” says the instructions accompanying the GBA repository, outlining five steps to install a v1.0.0 Spiritualized1997 GBA core on the Pocket and ROM files to work. The second repository offered similar instructions, but for a core running Game Boy and Game Boy Color ROMs.

To recap, Analogue Pocket today has the ability to run third-party FPGA cores. Three hours and 22 minutes later, the Pocket’s two most widely supported handhelds mysteriously received new third-party FPGA cores that could do what everyone’s wanted the Pocket to do since it came out: load games from ROM files written on stored on a microSD card. Is this… is this finally the jailbreak?

yes yes it is Or rather, the jailbreak is finally here startedbecause today’s two v1.0.0 Nintendo cores are just the first wave of a decidedly longer and more sustained introduction.

So what’s happening here? Who is Spiritualized1997 and how the heck did they develop and release GBA and GB/GBC cores for the Analogue Pocket just about three hours after today’s Analogue OS v1.1 beta made such things possible? Why is the account so new?

The theory of most observers – which, to put it bluntly, kotaku can’t confirm – is that Spiritualized1997 is Kevin “Kevtris” Horton, a legend in the emulation scene and the FPGA emulation guru behind all of Analogue’s FPGA-based game engines. He worked on the Analogue NT mini (who played 8-bit NES games) the Super NT (SNES games) the Mega Sg (Sega Genesis games) and of course Pocket.

Kevtris is stopping by the popular Classic Gaming Discord today, about 40 minutes after the two unexpected FPGA cores were uploaded.

Kevtris is stopping by the popular Classic Gaming Discord today, about 40 minutes after the two unexpected FPGA cores were uploaded.
screenshot: kotaku

Horton has in the past (you’re thinking a Dr. Seuss book) released unofficial “jailbreak” firmware for the Analogue Co. consoles that he helped develop, beginning in 2017 when he released the first jailbreak software Firmware for the NT mini uploaded. “The Core Store is officially open!” he wrote in the AtariAge forumswhich refers to the potential to run NT mini-games from a variety of systems when it had previously only played 8-bit Nintendo games loaded from physical cartridges.

In case that raised any doubts, he added, “Yes, that means ROMs are now running!”

And that’s how it’s gone for all analog consoles ever since. Horton became a bit more discreet after the NT mini-jailbreak and instead released his jailbreak firmwares through intermediaries like Emulation scene mover and shaker Smokemonster. But people in the scene understand with a wink and a nod where these popular pieces of hardware-enhancing software really come from. (Previous analog consoles were closed platforms, so who else could did they do?)

Because of this, many people took it for granted that the Analogue Pocket’s wonderful hardware would be stripped of ROM files even for gaming. It’s been a long eight months, but today’s surprise, the Spiritualized1997 FPGA cores are pretty much what Pocket owners wanted, just in a slightly different form than usual – discrete FPGA cores powered by the new openFPGA feature of the Pocket can be loaded. This makes this “jailbreak” look a bit more subtle than usual. It’s not a firmware replacement, just alternative cores that you run from the microSD card. However, the end result is exactly the same.

But again, this is just the beginning of a longer jailbreak process that will play out over the coming months. After all, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance are just three of the handhelds that people want to play on Pocket, not to mention the people demanding it support TV-based consoles like Genesis and SNES. The Spiritualized1997 FPGA cores, both just v1.0.0, also lack a few features that the Pocket’s officially built-in cores enjoy, most notably screen filters. These and other improvements are in preparation; the missing filters are apparently only because of it the openFPGA API is still immature.

Spiritualized1997's Github profile page shows that the account is only a day old and has only two repositories.

Spiritualized1997 who just joined Github yesterday is a very helpful person.
screenshot: kotaku

Spiritualized1997, whoever that may be, is also quite active on Reddit. One user lamented the lack of a Sega Game Gear core to which Spiritualized1997 replied, “Coming soon.” So does this seemingly supernaturally helpful individual has released an 80MB archive containing 6,959 title screen images Game Boy, Game Boy Advance, and Game Gear games, which, wouldn’t you know, are in exactly the special file format that Pocket’s new “Library” feature expects. So now you know how to make your library look pretty.

“This is fantastic! The Pocket is finally waking up from its slumber,” said one Reddit user in response to the news of the two new FPGA cores. “I didn’t turn mine on [in] Months!”

“Today was a rollercoaster ride,” said another. “Sincerely thank you!”

So while the sky wasn’t splitting and no neon sign flashing “The jailbreak is here!”, make no mistake, on July 29th, 2022, the Analogue Pocket finally got the key feature owners have been asking for since December. But this jailbreak is not unique; This is slow and steady, and now that the pump is primed, more ROM-friendly cores will come over time. Game Gear apparently first.

kotaku reached out to Analogue Co. for comment.

At the end of today’s announcement of Analogue OS v1.1, The company tweeted“Analogue does not endorse or endorse the unauthorized use or distribution of material protected by copyright or other intellectual property rights.”

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