The long-awaited Analogue Pocket 1.1 update beta is finally here, and it's bringing some cool new game preservation-related features with it. These features include the debut of the openFPGA system, which will allow developers to add their own third-party cores to the Analogue Pocket if they wish.
What's openFPGA in the Analogue Pocket 1.1 update beta?
This news comes via an official announcement over on the Analogue Pocket website. Perhaps the most exciting addition in the 1.1 update beta is the openFPGA system, which Analogue describes as "the future of video game preservation". In essence, it allows developers to submit their own emulation cores to the retro console, meaning that the Analogue Pocket could be about to get a whole lot more crowded when it comes to retro hardware emulation. Analogue says it's provided "early access" to several third-party developers, and Analogue CEO Christopher Taber told Polygon that his company has already received "a few thousand applications" to the openFPGA developer program.
The first openFPGA core is starting right at the beginning with a PDP-1 core and Spacewar!, which Analogue calls "the first digital video game". This is a third-party-developed core that will allow you to play Spacewar! on your Pocket, and all you need to do to access it is enter the openFPGA menu and select "PDP-1: Spacewar!". There are good reasons for developers to get excited about openFPGA; it's a programmable block system that runs on an integrated circuit within the Pocket, so it's easier to use and implement than many other emulator options.
That's not to say it's without controversy, though. Some devs have raised the question of whether Analogue is essentially profiting from developers' free preservation work; although Analogue can help raise developer profiles and get devs' work out there, it's also a paid-for device, which means free dev work could potentially be exploited by a profit-making company. It's also worth remembering that Analogue could just choose to stop making the Pocket or change its terms and conditions at any time, so if you are a developer considering submitting an openFPGA core for the Pocket, bear these caveats in mind.
What else is in this Analogue Pocket update beta?
It's not all about openFPGA, though. As well as this system, the new update is also adding a beta version of the Library function for the Pocket's OS. When you insert "an authentic game cartridge", you'll be given the chance to see a Game Detail screen which will show you various bits of information including developer, publisher, and region. Right now, Library is in beta, but in future, Analogue is intending to expand it to a "reference level database" that it hopes will catalog the entirety of gaming history. A lofty goal, but a worthy one nonetheless. There's also a new Memories system, which adds 128 memory slots for Game Boy family systems and Game Gear. You can use these slots to capture save states. Again, this is a beta feature right now, so in future, it'll expand to let you display screenshots and sort save states as you wish. The new update also adds support for a bunch of 8BitDo Bluetooth controllers via the Dock peripheral, so make sure to take a look at the list and see if yours is supported.
The Analogue Pocket is a retro gaming system that was originally announced all the way back in late 2019. It's a retro handheld machine that aims to preserve gaming history by giving you the chance to emulate a whole bunch of classic hardware on it. Pre-orders for the device sold out in just 15 minutes when it went on pre-sale in 2020, and despite a couple of logistics hiccups between then and now, gamers are finally getting a chance to get their hands on this intriguing little machine. We'll bring you more on the Analogue Pocket as soon as we get it.