New Year, New Goals - Arcade Controller Boards and more!
With 2022 upon us, setting out for new goals and resolutions is a common theme. Going to the gym more, learning to play an instrument, getting to be a Tekken God Prime player... we have some goals too and would like to share!
Arcade Controller Boards
It's no secret that for the past year we have been doing a bunch of R&D on competing products that enter the fray of Brook and ISTMall boards. The Double KO, the "every-single-console" board, has been our target for a while now. Since kicking off the project in January of 2021, we have learned a lot and have made some progress. As we've been conquering systems to make the DKO possible, other products were born from those efforts that we can release along the way in 2022.
Emulating the Old
First let me start off that I am no firmware guru, but I have dabbled in it quite a lot in the past few years. This year really sharpened that skill a lot more. Nothing says "you have to know what you are doing" when you start to attempt controller emulation for both retro and modern controllers. I knew the project was going to be difficult, but I was surprised to find that emulating even the oldest of consoles was very challenging.
When I initially started to code the firmware, the idea was to first attack the older consoles and work my way up. So far, I have been able to successfully code NES, SNES, N64, GC, Genesis, Saturn, PSX, PS2, TG16, and NEOGEO. Each had their own unique challenges for an aspiring firmware engineer like myself and I learned way more than I expected. I truly have a lot more respect for how the controllers work now. At this point, most of the retro consoles have been conquered with the exception of the Dreamcast and Xbox Original.
With all of the progress as public information, I have been approached by a few retailers who are interested in only the retro consoles on a board. This is partly why the Nostalgia Board was born. It was meant to tailor to those retailers. The chip shortage, which had already crippled the market, gave us some time to think about how we can perform more R&D with other features, such as advanced SOCD and expansion ports.
Emulating the New
Here is where things start to get tricky. Most newer consoles have USB ports. The USB port and its possible protocols are very complex! I'd be lying to you if I said I tried and failed a few times in trying to learn it from the bottom up. I got as far as creating a generic HID joystick, which is not how other protocols operate. For example, Xinput is pretty much its own class of protocol on USB. Same goes for Dinput. Fortunately, having worked almost 10 years as an electrical engineer, you make a few connections along the way.
I previously worked with an extremely talented firmware engineer on a biotech project. The project was to create an instrument for a laboratory setting which would be used to study analytic chemistry. I worked on all of the electronics and manufacturing, while this firmware engineer implemented the logic of it. We became friends and kept each other's contact information. Fast forward to present time and this same firmware engineer is now contracted to help out with the USB portion of our project. I would have loved to learn more about USB but coding the retro consoles, coding the other features, creating documentation, supporting existing products, figuring out manufacturing.... well you get the idea... is a lot to manage! The good news is that performing USB critical firmware updates is not an issue at all since we have a contact with firmware expertise only a phone call away.
But What About Encrypted Controllers?
Controllers for the Xbox 360, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS4, and PS5 are all encrypted devices. This means while it's possible to see what the data is, almost no one can make sense of it as a decryption key or algorithm is necessary to successfully emulate the encrypted controller. It is well known that some companies have gotten around this, but it's not clear how. It is not possible to break into the protocol with brute force, you need to have insider info of some sort. Or physically lift the security chips on a real controller and mount it in your own hardware. We are looking into both options as we continue our R&D.
We do have quite a bit of USB protocols working right now and are extremely happy with the performance so far. With similar reasons as the Nostalgia Board, the Zero KO Board was created. It's meant to compete with other boards that offer a mix of some retro and non-encrypted USB protocols. It also has a ton more features! Pre-orders for the ZKO will taking place sometime in January with delivery (chip shortage willing) sometime in February. More info to come on that.
All of the R&D that went into the DKO, Nostalgia, and ZKO gave us a lot of resources as far as firmware goes. That means we can now offer dedicated boards meant just for N64 / GC (or really any other console we conquered so far). We also aim to release devices that link specifically with our arcade control boards via the expansion ports such as analog levers, controller pad pass-thrus, and RGB lighting controllers. There are also some projects targeted to help the disabled community that got put on hold that we'd like to resume as well.
Of course, with all of these new boards means we now have to carry supporting cables and harnesses for them. In the near future, we would like to carry more things like 20-pin harnesses and USB cables to make it more convenient to purchase from our store.
We have a lot on our plate for 2022 and are extremely excited to work on them! Do you have any ideas for what you would like to see us make? Or maybe something to be improved? Drop us a comment and we'll see what we can do. Thank you everyone that supported us in 2021. You are a direct contribution into make all of our projects possible!