In the Summer we did a video with Metal Jesus about our desktop arcade machines, and in the end I talked about our plans for a Next Gen machine which would use software emulation to allow playing a wide range of retro machines (consoles and computers). We’ve been working hard since then, and I am happy to announce that we now have made enough progress on the design to share some details. For the time being we are calling the new project the M Series.
First off, some geeky stuff. We examined a number of possible hardware platforms and locked on Raspberry Pi 2 Model B with some modifications. This gives us a quad-core ARM Cortex A7 processor running at 900 MHZ, with 1GB of RAM, with both HDMI (720p at 60Hz) and composite video/stereo audio, all running Linux – a huge amount of flexibility and power at an amazing price. In our tests, we have emulated the SNES, C64 and even Amiga 500 at full speed comfortably. On top of that, there are many high quality open source emulators available (from Atari to Colecovision to Nintendo to Commodore to Sinclair), as well as a number of (smoothly running) PC games natively ported (including the ScummVM engine, Duke Nukem 3D and Quake III Arena!). And of course, emulation means that you will be able to play hacked, repro and fan translated roms. We are still testing all the emulators so that we can ship with a set that will work great right out of the box.
You may be concerned about that word “Linux” in the spec – will you have to learn to use Linux to play on the M Series? – No. The machine will include a user friendly launcher that will allow you to navigate the emulators and your games with in a graphical and simple way using nothing more than your gamepad/controller. If you want to totally geek out and mess with raw Linux, then you will be able to do that too. Your choice.
In terms of controllers - out of the box we will support USB game controllers, mice and keyboards, and we will re-sell a third party USB controller in our store for convenience (it will be an optional purchase). If you want to use original retro game controllers that will be possible by using a third party USB converter. We could build that converter ourselves, but to be honest we would never be able to make it as affordably as a mass production facility could.
Is this all vaporware? Does it actually run? We have a prototype, 80% complete, running in the lab right now. Even though We are literally two guys in a garage, by leveraging the amazing technical community around the Raspberry Pi we have been able to find stable and well-maintained code that we can use in the project with zero development cost to us. And to extend that benefit to you, we will make the M Series be software-upgradable so that we can push out community updates to you. Come over to our website, download the new system disk image, flash it using just your regular PC or Mac, and you are upgraded.
However, the most exciting part of the M Series is not the hardware or software it runs; it’s what the “M” stands for. For us, “M” stands for Modular. The G Series was about creating a great desktop gaming experience for a single console. The M Series will be about allowing you to play whatever retro machine you want, in the form-factor you want, all while being affordable. Want to plug your M Series machine into your TV? Sure. Want to make your M Series portable and hit the road? No problem. Have an arcade cabinet you want to play on? We got your covered.
How do we do this? The M series consists of modules – a core module, which contains the compute and storage systems, and a number of optional sleeve modules. A sleeve is what gives you the form factor (console, arcade, portable, etc). We will ship first with a traditional game console sleeve that lets you plug into your TV and play; Later we will release a portable sleeve, which will let you take your core module (along with your entire game library), detach it from the console sleeve, and attach it to the portable sleeve (which will have battery, screen and controls), and go on the road. We are also planning a desktop sleeve that looks like the G Series – and so on. You won’t have to wait for us to release a sleeve for your needs; We will be publishing all the technical details required to make your own sleeves (perhaps attaching to an arcade cabinet?), and the interfaces are designed to allow even a beginner DIY/maker to get going with projects with minimum fuss.
An important aspect of the modular concept is that it allows you to control how much money you spend. The most expensive part of a project like this is the compute part (the Raspberry Pi and supporting circuits) which is in the core module. You will only need ONE core, even for multiple sleeves. This means that you can get the core plus console sleeve today, and happily play; then later, when you’ve raised some more money and feel you want to go portable, you can buy just the portable sleeve, while re-using your core. The cost scales with your needs.
Ok, so now the two big questions – how much and when? We are not ready to share price yet, because we have not locked on all the parts of the design that affect production cost and time. Towards the end of this year we will release more detailed specs (including pictures) of the machine, and a price. However, we can say that it is a goal for Rabbit Engineering to make retro affordable. We are not building for collectors with mountains of cash; the M Series is designed for retro gamers at large. One major way we are doing this is by staying away from custom exotic circuitry/FPGAs and using as much off-the-shelf, well proven technology as possible. Good engineering is always good for the customer.
This page has some sketches of the design and development process to give you some idea of what we’ve been up to; everything in them is still subject to change. We are very excited about this project, and we think you will really like it. Our goal is to have the first modules of the M Series in our store during the first quarter of 2016. Like us on Facebook to stay up to date with project announcements.
Take care and keep gaming!
Announcing the M Series project