In the first of what we hope to be a long running series, we invite a local expert to discuss a hot retro gaming topic. This week, Craig Turner of the amazing Revival Retro Events joins me for a quick chat about the highly divisive topic that is flash devices, namely for retro consoles and microcomputers.
Having started up in 2012 after chatting to Fusion Retro Books’ Chris Wilkins, Revival was one of the (if not, the) first major retro-only events in the UK and is cherished by our retro gaming community. He’s now thankfully started sharing his knowledge through his YamYam Gaming Facebook page, “I have lots of gaming friends and they said how much they liked my random videos just showing off my latest gaming pickups or easy repairs. I’d been doing another project working with gaming things on camera so I decided to start a dedicated page just for my gaming related activities.”
It was there that I watched almost two hours of Craig’s opinion on flash devices. So how does he find streaming?
“I’m finding it challenging as long streams can be time consuming and unlike YouTube when you can edit or the Twitch-style streams where the focus is on a graphical interface screen or full screen gameplay footage, my streams are about the real gaming experience”, hopefully it’s a road he continues down. “The less technical errors, dead spots in conversation and mistakes there is, the better it turns out. So far the comments and live feedback is anything from dozens to hundreds and I’m hitting over a thousand views for each video, so I’m happy.”
Revival ploughs on this November 2018
“The next event is Revival Winter Zzapped! on 24/25 November at the Old Hall Community Centre in Walsall“, Craig informs us. “It‘s a smaller pre-Christmas meet but will have a good dose of traders, arcade and pinball machines, dozens of consoles, and an appearance by the World of Commodore to celebrate the release of the 35-year commemorative Zzap annual by Chris Wilkins and original editors Roger Kean and Oli Frey.
Why use flash devices?
“Flash devices give you an opportunity to play potentially every game that was made for a particular system, directly on the real hardware, with the real controllers, the way they were meant to be played. Although emulation allows a quick and accessible gaming fix, it doesn’t give the same nostalgia hit as real hardware”, says Craig. “Playing homebrew or unreleased games has less impact in emulation too, and flash devices allow you to see a lot of software that was intended to appear on a system that you would never have had chance to see.” It’s hard to disagree with him. We hate to use eBay and CEX as examples but a homebrew Another World on Atari Jaguar will set you back £200 whilst AA favourite Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is fetching close to £300. It’s money that the lay retro gamer simply does not have. “From a collecting standpoint, a lot of games are prohibitively expensive too and obviously unreleased titles you’d never be able to own otherwise. It’s the best compromise between emulation convenience and nostalgia experience.”
Whatever your views on emulation, Raspberry Pi devices and flash solutions for consoles are growing more and more popular by the day. But which ones should you check out?
“Original Everdrive carts from Krikzz or the equivalent flash devices for those systems Krikzz doesn’t yet make for tend at this point to be incredibly reliable. More so in many ways than ageing cartridges or discs”, continues Craig and we’ve found the same here at Arcade Attack. A Mega Drive/Master System cart we got from Tom’s Retro Shack a while ago is still going strong with only a few ROMs to date not working. “Game saves can be preserved as a file on solid state storage rather than battery-backed RAM which always expires in time, corrupted games can easily be wiped and replaced, and generally the user-friendly menu is easy enough for visitors to pick up and play anything they want.”
“We often power them up and load the flagship games for the system (at Revival events) as we know them which casual gamers tend to stick with and just get hooked, but the more serious collector or enthusiast will often browse the lists for hidden gems or their favourite obscure title. It’s handy to keep even the pickiest enthusiast engaged as they’ve often seen a lot of the mainstream stuff before.”
Dreamcast GDEMU leads the way for disc-based consoles
“The GDEMU is a great piece of kit and I’d recommend them to anyone with a Dreamcast, purist or not”, continues Craig. We love the Dreamcast but as Craig then points out, “Drive mechanisms fade much quicker than the consoles themselves and fixing them isn’t always possible. Removing the drive makes the system more reliable, game access is faster from a flash device and although playing backups is possible on Dreamcast, the drives work harder to do it so it’s a wiser move all round to go to a solid state replacement.” If you want to know more about GDEMU, head to its creator’s site but it’s not taking pre-orders at the time this article was published.
“There is an alternative that I have called the USB GD-ROM which is more expensive, but is readily available unlike the GDEMU. I’d always encourage people buy the original Everdrives as they are often well supported by their creators and it ensures further development.”
Sega Saturn Rhea and Phoebe for those lucky enough
The Saturn, thanks to a variety of things, is proving pretty bloody hard to emulate! Never fear, for those who checked out the GDEMU site will have noticed that there are two similar devices for the console but as Craig explains, they’re a tad more problematic:
“The Saturn devices need some bugs working out but I’ve heard they are awesome as they are from the same creator (as the Dreamcast GDEMU). However, I don’t yet own one as the same story applies and the Saturn Rhea and Phoebe flash drives are even harder to order and made in less numbers. I hope to get one but the ordering process is ridiculous. If a clone device or alternative came up (other developers are working on different flash devices too!), I’d happily go to whoever makes ordering one as easy as the flash devices for other systems.”
There are GDEMU clones available on eBay. We have one at the AA “offices”, namely my gaming room, which after a few weeks is still working great. There is a menu system you need to add to your SD card (downloadable here) and if you’re using a clone be sure not to use the official GDEMU updates as they will brick the device (that’s our tip of the day).
Hang on, you mentioned Symphony of the Night earlier?
I did. Up until now you either had to be lucky enough to own a copy from back in the day, be a lottery winner heading down to CEX, or partake in some decidedly dodgy emulation to experience possibly the best game in the Castlevania series. The PSIO is looking to change all of that:
“The PSIO is a very new flash device and it’s difficult to know yet how well it will work. Game compatibility isn’t as high as with typical cartridge systems yet but it just takes time, and the makers are constantly revising the firmware to improve that”, says Craig. And there’s more of a catch with this device as he explains, “if you want one you must have a model 1 or 2 console that still has the rear large I/O port and you will need to solder in a small drive chip, so it’s not a system for noobs or technophobes.”
The makers have invented, sort of, a way around this. You can post them your PlayStation and they’ll solder in the chip for you. Sounds great, until you realise they’re in Australia. Maybe if you ask Craig nicely he might do it for you 🙂
They’re still taking pre-orders at the time of publishing but aren’t due to fulfill orders until Spring 2019, but we think the wait will be worthwhile.
What about us microcomputer owners?
“The DivIDE for the Spectrum has a nice browser and file support but mounts rather ugly in the computer. The SD2IEC (C64) can mount nicely but is a bit more awkward to navigate. There’s full hard drive devices for the ST and Amiga but you still have to use the desktop which is slightly annoying. I quite like the SMART card for the Spectrum 48k, it’s simple and fast to get into a game; the most important thing for any flash device.”
We’ve not tried any of these but will keep you updated if we find any and also a C64 that actually works (Keith is still cursing eBay as we speak).
A final word from Craig
“Without my friend Mark I would never have started my arcade build business (we totally forgot, Craig does that too! – Ed) or been inspired to do the events. He gave me the kick up the arse needed to quit a job I hated and commit my time to doing something in a hobby I love. Support from my wife Bec when I got ill and life forced me to go down this route full time and ever since has helped me, and I couldn’t do the events without her and my family, who do a lot of organisation and graft come event time. A massive network of collectors and enthusiasts and many volunteers help make the event what it is and put in the intense and often back-straining work during setup and tear down.”
And a final word from us
Retro collecting is awesome. We love seeing your collections, it gets us out of bed. But there is clearly a place for flash devices in retro consoles and microcomputers, not just at events such as Revival or Play Expo, but also in the home of the retro gaming aficionado. Whether the ROMs you play on them are totally legal or not, we’ll leave that up to you 🙂