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The Future of Retro Gaming

As we enter into a new decade, it is a good time to take a look at how we will play our favorite old games in the future. 2020 will see two new major game consoles and countless gaming PC advancements that will push the frontier of our gaming experiences to new and exciting territories.The next generation of modern gaming will be amazing, but what does the future hold for our favorite digital relics from the past? Let's take a look!

Raspberry Pi 4 and beyond

The Raspberry Pi 4 could be considered the “next generation” of retro gaming. However right now it is not quite ready to be everyone’s go to option for retro gaming. The change in operating systems from the Raspberry Pi 3B+ (Raspbian Stretch) to the Raspberry Pi 4 (Raspbian Buster) has delayed the release of an official build of the popular “RetroPie” software. Once the RetroPie team gets their arms around the new software, based on what ambitious people have already accomplished on their own, we can make an educated guess on the future performance of the Pi 4. The Pi 4 should be capable of rock solid, high resolution N64 emulation and solid Dreamcast emulation. Some Gamecube games may be playable if the developers can really optimize the limited GPU resources on the Pi 4, which like all previous Raspberry Pi’s is the bottleneck for emulator performance. A relative unknown of the Raspberry Pi 4 is what arcade games will be possible on future releases of RetroPie on the Pi 4. Hopefully we will see arcade games like NFL Blitz and other 3D arcade games coming to the Pi 4 in the future.

If you want the nerdy details of what spes the Pi 4 has, you will be looking at 1.5GHz on the CPU, and 500MHz on the GPU. I have been able to overclock my Pi 4 to 2.1Ghz and 700 MHz with relative stability. I did end up kicking it down to 2.0Ghz and 650MHz to enhance stability even further.

There will also undoubtedly be upgrades and reconfigurations to the Pi 4.

If we use the past release schedule of the Raspberry Pi foundation, we can estimate the improved Pi 4 to be released around 2021 and a possible Pi 5 in 2022 or 2023 that could offer even better emulation performance.

Mini/Classic Systems

We have enjoyed a great run of “Mini” systems or “Classic” systems that I think may come to an end in the near future. There are two main reasons that I believe we have seen the best of the mini systems and both are related to cost.

The first reason that I think the mini systems are on their way out is the range of systems that we have received (8 bit to 32 bit), and what would be the logical next step. We would be talking about a “PS2” mini, “Nintendo N64 /Gamecube” mini and a “Sega Saturn/Dreamcast mini”. The required hardware to emulate PS2 well is not going to be cheap enough to get into the price point that people are willing to spend on what most consider a novelty purchase. Even if manufacturers could work around the hardware costs, the next issue that will face the next wave of mini system is copyright issues. Take everyone’s favorite N64 game “Goldeneye 007”. A game that was released on a Nintendo system, made by a company that is now owned by Microsoft, and based on a movie character that is now owned by Sony. Goldeneye is a perfect example of the copyright hell that most of the games that we would all pick to put on each of the next mini systems would face. Even if it is a first party game, like Gran Turismo 4 or Crazy Taxi, music and content licensing issues would plague those games as well. These are issues that could be worked out if they were impacting big budget AAA releases, but to be one of 20 games loaded onto a PS2 Classic, that is already going to be at an uncomfortable price for consumers, it just would not make financial sense to write checks to multiple parties for the rights to publish these classic games.

The second reason that makes future mini systems less attractive to make, is that the market for “retro” games from these generations has been absorbed by stand alone collections and electronic download sales. Capcom has rereleased Street Fighter, Mega Man and Resident Evil collections on every possible modern online store. Game studios have little reason to sell the rights off to anyone wanting their games on their mini system. Same goes for first party titles that are making their way to their respective modern day systems. There is also the almost guarantee that by releasing say a “PS2 Mini” Sony would be directly enabling the piracy and emulation of the entire PS2 catalog, including some games that are available for sale on their own storefront. The PS Classic was hacked almost immediately when it was released. Ironically the excellent hacks for the PS Classic probably helped to sell the god awful classic system. It would be an expensive venture just to offer games that they would prefer you just purchase on your PS4, Switch or Xbox One or whatever shiny future box is out there. I love the concept of the mini system, and I currently use a modded Playstation Classic for my retro gaming, but I think this is the end of the line for mini systems. With all of that said, I would spend an unreasonable amount of money on an Xbox Classic in the “Halo” transparent green case just saying...

Home Arcade Options

The one company that seems to be carving a niche out for themselves is Arcade 1up. For anyone who is not familiar with what they do, they make smaller scale (¾) scale arcade machines that have a specific theme, or set of related games. They have been slowly expanding their lineup to include things like 4 player arcade games such as “Turtles in Time”, virtual pinball tables and are even introducing online connected games with their new “NBA Jam” cabinet coming out soon.

These are seen as more of a substantial investment than say a Playstation Classic so they can get away with charging $300 to $400 for a cabinet with only a handful of games on it. This will allow Arcade 1up to avoid the cost related issues facing the other manufacturers. There is a great modding community surrounding these small scale arcade cabinet so if you do make the leap to an Arcade 1up cabinet you can dive in to add new roms, swap the internals out with a Raspberry Pi or just add fun LED’s and swap out the hardware to your setup. This is never going to be anyone’s main setup for retro gaming, but they sure look cool in a man cave.

Subscription Services

This is the future. Nintendo is already choosing to go with this model over having their most popular classic titles available for purchase for the first time since the Wii. If you want to play “Super Mario World” on your switch, that will cost you $20 a year as part of their “Nintendo Online” subscription. They have gone the extra mile with the titles included in their subscription by making many of them available for online play, similar netplay for RetroArch. Xbox and Playstation have their own version of subscription services as well, which could be expanded to service the retro gaming community. I think this is the model we will see take over in the future, and it may not be one of the big three running the show. I think it will be a 3rd party with deep pockets that brings games from all over the gaming landscape to one convenient monthly service. I could see a company like Amazon, Apple or Google jumping in to buy the streaming rights to classic games and offering a reasonable monthly subscription service. Google is probably the closest with their “Stedia” subscription service, but they are focusing on an already crowded market, mainly by offering modern games.

Netflix could even be a logical option as they have a very large install base that could easily be expanded to a higher tier of service to include game streaming. A basic Amazon Fire Stick has more than enough power to emulate most retro games, and with additional cloud computing it would be plausible to see higher end games running smoothly with a good internet connection. Some people hate the idea of not owning a game they are playing, but the other option is buying “Super Mario Brother 3” for a 5th time on whatever current Nintendo system is out there. The huge advantage here is that this will be the easiest way to get retro games to you and will most likely upscale these games to look great on modern day TV’s.

New Retro Systems

This is going to be an interesting footnote in the retro gaming history books of the 2020’s. Right now there are 2 confirmed new retro systems, one from Atari, and one from Intellivison. They are taking two wildly different approaches with the Atari going for a high end approach, offering a $380 console that doubles as a mediocre multimedia PC with an AMD Ryzen processor and 4k video output. I don’t see many people buying this other than rich hipsters who think this makes them ironically nerdy. Maybe the Atari’s saving grace will be that it can run a Windows or Linux operating system so you could use it to emulate better systems than anything Atari has ever made…The other option is a bit more interesting. The Intellivision Amico is estimated to cost between $150 and $180. They promise that no game will cost more than $8 and there will be zero DLC or microtransactions. The Amico is being marketed as the family friendly solution to modern gaming. Someone probably should let them know that is sort of Nintendo’s territory and it may not end well. There are some cool looking games slated for the Amico, and oddly enough a decent stable of classic Atari games. The controllers look pretty awesome as well. I have this on my list of things to pickup on clearance at Target 8 months after it launches in October.

There is not a ton of info on what Neo Geo is doing, but they appear to be occupying an awkward space between making various forms of mini consoles and thinking about maybe possibly sort of making new hardware and games. I would like to see them make new games styled after classic Neo Geo titles like Turfmasters, Metal Slug, Turfmasters, Windjammers, and Turfmasters.

Gaming PC Emulation

I love the idea of someone (Ryan), building a fire breathing, 4K pumping, VR ready tower of power complete with enough RGB LED’s to star in the next Fast and the Furious movie, all to play Dark Souls on an iffy PS3 emulator. The emulator options available to PC gamers are pretty impressive with Gamecube, PS3 and Xbox 360 emulators being worked on more and more. The huge advantage here will be the higher end arcade emulation scene, that us Pi eaters can only dream of. I want to Play Initial D4 at home!

A new gaming PC will always be the best way to play retro games. The “PC Master Race” crew will also be able to use their “not that expensive when you think about it” $800 GPU’s to play N64 games at 5 times resolution at 60fps. If I sound like a jealous console gamer it's because I am. I like my Xbox One, but I would love to build a badass gaming rig with water cooling and tons of color changing LEDs. however due to the sheer cost of what I would want, it's just not in the cards. You can see that in how I have my Pi 4 setup. Enjoy 4k Goldeneye you smug PC gaming bastards…

The future of retro gaming is looking bright, heavily monetized, but bright. Even if you are not interested in anything past the 16 bit era don’t write off the new options that will be available to you in the near future. The more powerful hardware that you are gaming on, the better these old games will look and even play. If you have any predictions, or think I am way off base, drop by the “Emulate This” Discord to talk about all things retro gaming, and pretty much anything else you want to!