Reply 40 of 113, by Ozzuneoj
I'm not trying to be a turd... please take this as constructive criticism, in case you haven't thought about these questions...
I agree that it'd be really neat to have a little board with an integrated CPU, VGA and ideal DOS sound, but it will still have the limitations of a similar system made from old parts. The main differences being that the board will be proprietary and not as expandable (can't swap CPU, VGA, sound, etc.), it will likely cost far more than a pile of old parts (the components needed for a DOS gaming PC are not rare or expensive... it's not like you're integrating 3dfx hardware), and the elephant in the room is that it doesn't really have the draw of "vintage" hardware since it's a modern custom device. And this isn't even touching on the idea of turning into an entire console (which implies ease of use, customer service... and profit?).
Also, if a nearly perfect OPL3 clone is sufficient, why not one of the nearly perfect OPL3 emulators, like the one used in DOSbox (after some tweaking?) or Nuked OPL3? I keep reading that people find them indistinguishable from a real OPL3.
For the SoC choice, how would you handle speed sensitivity? What is going to manage the speed of the CPU to ensure that every game runs smoothly, but doesn't have glitches? DOSBox does a good job of this automatically, and it can be adjusted manually with little effort. With physical hardware, you either have to spend time with each game, experimenting and tweaking (disabling caches, messing with FSB or multiplier, etc.) or you have to build different systems for different types of games. With a pre-built DOS console, obviously the second option won't work, so is the user going to be responsible for doing all the tweaking for each game? Would someone have to program something that would launch games with tweaks set for each one? Who is going to program that and then make configurations for all the games, assuming it is possible with the hardware chosen?
And in the end... how is this experience more authentic than running an emulator, aside from the physical chips doing the processing? DOS-era PCs were never known for having console like ease of use, so having a launcher that is carefully set up to optimally run specific DOS games is not going to set off the nostalgia center of any geeky brains that I know. Currently, retro PC gaming enthusiasts likely fit into one of two camps:
1. Someone wants to use an old computer to play old games (either because of nostalgia or an interest in learning about them), and they get to experience what it is like to use the original hardware to run the software they want to run. They can have as much authenticity as they want. Real OPL3, ball mouse, noisy hard drive and a CRT... or CQM, USB mouse on an adapter, SSD and an LCD with some converters? On top of this they get options that nothing outside of real actually vintage hardware can give them (the look of a DOS game on a CRT, their favorite game music playing on one of the many fascinating wavetable and FM implementations on various sound cards, scanlines from 3dfx SLI, the look of 24bit-16bit dithering in Glide on a Voodoo 3, the sound of Aureal A3D in real time, the amazement of seeing an old game looking better than ever running on the very latest hardware that can run it... or the ability to play games that only work in Windows 9x for that matter).
2. Someone simply wants to play old computer games and they don't so much care about all the hassle of building and operating an old computer (can you blame them?). They can either buy from GoG, or they can download DOSBox, read the existing documentation online about how to make that work, and then they can play whatever they want. They can get nearly perfect visuals, amazingly accurate sound (even MT32 or Roland GM\GS synth are possible), the ability to run it on nearly any computer (and any display + peripherals), and there's a massive community to support either option.
If there is going to be a third option... who is looking to game on a device that brings most of the quirky downsides and complication of gaming on an old computer but has limited upgrade options, software that few people have experience with (since it likely won't run MS-DOS and will have other custom software), and none of the authenticity of running an old computer... but they still are picky about hardware FM synthesis (but not necessarily a real OPL3!) and that the CPU is 486-like but is a totally modern design.
Again, what is the goal? Who are we designing this for? 😮
Now for some blitting from the back buffer.