Ozzuneoj wrote on 2020-12-12, 03:15:
I'm not trying to be a turd... please take this as constructive criticism, in case you haven't thought about these questions... […]
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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? 😮
So, one of the issues where I live is that old hardware is really rare, and really expensive. Crazy expensive, as I can get an Intel 6500 with an RX580, and 16 gigs of ram (complete computer)for about the same price as an old 286-486. Building it myself should in reality be a non-issue, problem is that it is almost impossible to scour individual parts here. On top of that, there is shipping. Heavier items have a tendency to get damaged more in the mail.
If somebody ships to me from abroad, not only have I pay an insane amount of shipping costs, but also hope that it does not get lost within one of the countries the package is currently traveling to before reaching its destination. Also, tolls and taxes on top of that can give me quite a hefty bill, (basically, if the package (shipping, etc) has an estimate at over 30 dollars).
"how is this experience more authentic than running an emulator"
Well, as an amigan, there's the debate not only over FPGA, but some purist swear to not using any ram expansions or copied diskettes. Different strokes for different folks. I've been stuck with emulators for years. I have a few retro systems. Some since they were new, others paid way over MSRP in todays value, because of difficulties with shipping, tolls, etc.
Basically, it's about the feels (tm). I'm a bit tired of emulators. Bit tired of not being able to get my hands on real hardware.
I make it sound like its impossible to get, but it's not really.
Tight budget, wife, kids, a lot of bills to pay, food on the table, etc.
Sometimes, I'd just like to sit down, relax and find some sort of peace within feeling at home with a sense that what I'm toying with, is the "real" thing.
"Who are we designing this for? "
Dreamers, tired and nostalgic people, people that enjoy hardware as a hobby, more than the software side of things. People with a lot of new gear (USB, HDMI, etc, since it is often cheaper) that doesn't want to have to fork out the rest of his money for peripherals. People with space constraints.
On a more personal note, I had an IBM with a 4.77 MHZ CPU growing up, upgraded it to a 486 eventually (going through 286-386) and used "it" installed with dos upgrades and eventually Windows 3.11FW up until 2001. From a black and green display (w/pc speaker) up to a vga card (with monitor), SB compatible card, hard drive, cd rom drive at 1x and a 3.5 inch 1.44mb drive that I got in 1996, but was unable to use until 1998.
These days, my kids get a lot of things. Christmas is great, birthdays are great, everything is great. But when I was a kid, there were no birthdays, no Christmas, etc. I was very poor, and I loved hardware. I'd get printouts of different hardware manuals for late night reading, visit the library to study the faster computers there and read books about hardware.
Sure, eventually times got a bit better, or a lot better depending on how you look at it. I always had this fascination with hardware though, and when my computer got lost (an entirely different story. We moved a lot), I was very distraught, because growing up, it was my escape, and it was my babysitter. It was the one place where I could filter out the "noise" from rest of the occupants in the house I was living in. Using it, I was able to mentally escape the bullying, the fights, etc. that were going on daily. So, eventually I got a job, got money, moved out, steady life and all that. But, the world had moved on hardware wise (people toss old computers in the garbage instead of selling them), but I found myself enjoying pc speakers music, "tracker" music, vga palettes and old operating systems still. I guess it's because I had it for so long.
So, even though my kids have it different, I sometimes want to be a kid on my own too. It's one of the few fond memories I have. I want to have my own personal hardware "toy".
Luckily, I got an old IBM computer a couple of years ago. I paid in spades for it, but it was worth it, but due to space constraints (toys everywhere, wifes decorations) it is shelved until we move some day. If I'd sell it, I could probably upgrade my 1800x ryzen system to a new 5900x, with motherboard and ram [joke, would never do that].
Anyway, that's a tidbit. Long story, short answer is the feels.
"does using virtualization (not emulation) make it no more compelling than RetroArch?"
I've had to resort to that for many years. Gives an empty feeling. I still use it though. Replaying commander keen 4 for the gazillionth time. Don't have the time to sit down and play deep games like I used to because of kids. Absolutely worth it though, having kids!