Internet Archive adds trove of cheap LCD handhelds to its emulation collection

During CES, the single piece of electronics I spent the most time with, apart from my laptop and camera, was a Mattel Dungeons & Dragons Computer Fantasy Game handheld. This decades-old device held the attention of John Biggs and myself through quite a few drinks as we navigated its arcane interface (eventually slaying the dragon, thank you). These cheap handhelds, sold as impulse buys at drug stores and Toys ‘R Us (RIP), are the latest thing to be collected and emulated in full by MAME and the Internet Archive.

At first when I heard this, I was happy but not particularly impressed. They’re great little devices — mostly terrible games, albeit a nostalgic kind of terrible — but how complicated can they be?

Oh, quite complicated, it turns out.

Unlike, say, an NES ROM, these little gadgets don’t have their graphics palettized, their logic isolated, etc. No, each one of these things is a strange and unique little machine. They must be carefully taken apart and their logic teased out by experts.

For one thing, the graphics aren’t pixels accounted for digitally. They’re etched into the liquid crystal system, to be activated when a charge runs through them. In other words, all the graphics are right there on the same screen, arranged like puzzle pieces.

So you may remember Space Jam looking like this:

But the LCD layer looks like this:

All that is hard-wired into the electronic part, where the logic resides telling which pieces to light up and when.

I won’t go into the details — read the interesting Internet Archive post if you’re curious. Basically it was a ton of hard work by a bunch of dedicated folks on the MAME crew. Incidentally, thanks to them and everyone else who’s kept that project going for years and years.

The only thing that’s missing is the interface — that is, the plastic. These things were great not because they were actually great games, but because they cost like $ 10 and would keep your kid occupied on a road trip for a few hours while they got beaten over and over again by the first three enemies. The cheap plastic enclosures and gaudy decorations are part of the fun.

No one wants to play this:

But this?

I’d definitely bug my mom to get me that. In fact, I think I did.

You can check out the scores of games the teams have already digitized at the Handheld History page, and if you’re in an emulatin’ mood, check out the other gazillion systems you can play in the browser in Archive’s Internet Arcade and Console Living Room.

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Nintendo Patents Game Boy Emulation For Use In Mobile Devices, In-Flight Entertainment

4972254414_b1dd09053f_o A new patent published by the USPTO yesterday details an invention by Nintendo that would allow it to emulate its mobile game consoles, including the Game Boy line of devices specifically, in other settings, including on seat-back displays in airplanes and trains, and on mobile devices including cell phones. The patent is an updated take on an older piece of IP, so it’s not an entirely… Read More

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OUYA Could Become Emulation Destination With New Projects Covering Game Boy, Genesis, NeoGeo And More


OUYA is coming soon (tomorrow is the planned ship date for the earliest Kickstarter backers), and recent reports of emulators of classic gaming consoles made for the Android device are generating some buzz. Today, emulator developer Robert Broglia, who’s responsible for some of the most popular Android emulators including Snes9x EX+, has revealed to OUYAForum that he’s working on emulators for Game Boy Advance, Sega Genesis, NeoGeo and more.

Snes9x EX+ is the first he’s hoping to release, with a test APK (Android file package) due soon, though he says he won’t have his own OUYA to test out the emulators before April, since he pre-ordered the console only after it finished its Kickstarter run. Broglia plans to port versions of most of his Android-based game console emulators, however, including ones for TurboGrafx-16, Atari, Sega Saturn and ColecoVision, in addition to those mentioned above.

Broglia charges for the emulators he offers on Android, but OUYA has its rules about content that stipulate content must have at least some kind of free-to-play or free-to-try. Also on tap are an x86 PC emulator that will allow use of classic DOS gaming software on the OUYA, as well as a Commodore 64 emulator, both from separate developers. In other words, the OUYA is set to become a nostalgia machine for gamers who grew up in the 80s and 90s.

Already one OUYA emulation project has been approved for inclusion in the official marketplace, but when I contacted OUYA directly to learn about whether or not they have an official stance on emulation, I received no response. As mentioned, the Google PLay store has emulation apps available, and developers have commented in the past about how open the marketplace is for the upcoming Android console.

Past devices have built their entire existence around game emulation, including the GP2K Wiz and Canoo from South Korea’s GamePark holdings. OUYA’s focus is much broader, but as a simple, living-room based way to bring games of old back to people’s televisions (even if the method of doing so isn’t strictly legal), it could hold significant appeal to niche audience above and beyond its other merits.

Update: OUYA got back to us with the following regarding its official position on emulation:

OUYA will accept emulators as long as they adhere to our content guidelines and are not submitted with any games.

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