As someone who has owned both a Super Nintendo and Mega Drive console, I was surprised to hear about a new USB device which allows users to play their old SNES and Mega Drive cartridges on their PC.

Called the Retrode 2, the USB device plugs into a PC and allows users to then plug both their cartridges and old controllers into it. Running via an emulator, the games can then be downloaded and installed on their PC.

This certainly is a more legitimate way for people to play their old 16 bit games, and Matthias Hullin (the creator of Retrode 2) took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about Retrode 2, and why he thinks it might appeal to people who already own a SNES or a Mega Drive.

What was the inspiration behind the Retrode 2 project, and what made you decide that there was a niche for such a product in the marketplace?
Back when it all began, the Retrode 2 was not intended as a product but rather as a neat proof of concept. Being a researchey guy and also a bit of an emulation fan, I just wanted to show that it is in fact possible to connect and use this really old SNES gear on contemporary computers through a modern interface.

As the project got some publicity, tons of people started asking me to turn the concept into a product. I’m not a marketing person, and I never really knew if this would take off. So I just let it happen 🙂

What made you decide to focus on the SNES and Genesis/Mega Drive, as opposed to other platforms?
Those are the platforms that I can best relate to, because they would be on display in malls and we would go there after school and hang out for hours. I’ve never owned a console myself, and neither did any of my friends back then.

How does playing a catridge plugged in through the Retrode 2 differ from someone playing the same game via a ROM on an emulator?
Technically, not at all. You are, in fact, playing the ROM of the same game on the same emulator. However, the Retrode gives you the exact ROM of the cartridge you own, making it a legal alternative to shady downloads. Quite a few folks also like the possibility to load SRAM (the on-cartridge savegames) off your SNES cartridges; try to do that with a ROM download.

Then, there is the warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with plugging clunky cartridges into a plastic device, and playing them using the original controllers. I hear from many people who have tons of games, but their console has died and they are looking for a modern way to play their games.

Emulators have always found it notoriously difficult to emulate SNES and Genesis games which utilised special chips – eg Starfox with its Super FX chip, and Virtua Racing with its Sega Virtua Processor. Is the Retrode 2 able to emulate these types of games flawlessly?
The Retrode 2 is not an emulator. It just provides convenient access to the cartridge ROM, and the emulator of your choice takes care of the rest. Most have no problems emulating those special chips — in fact, the quality of today’s emulators never ceases to amaze me. Just take byuu’s bsnes as an example, it is programmed with an incredible love for detail.

Is the Retrode 2 able to play cartridges from different regions, and if so, can you switch to 60Hz and get rid of the borders? What about the application of filters so as to ensure that these 16 bit games don’t look terrible on modern TVs?
The Retrode supports cartridges from all regions, and you’re free to use whatever filter your emulator offers. Personally, I quite like the vectorized look of the hqNx filters.

What has the reaction been like from the industry, and have Sega or Nintendo said anything about the Retrode 2 device playing their games without their original console hardware?
While I haven’t heard from Sega or Nintendo themselves, I know of a handful of big names from the video game industry who own and use the Retrode.

How much time, money and R&D went into making the Retrode 2 dream a reality, and how many people were involved? Did you encounter any difficulties along the way?
Lots of time, lots of money, lots of people. I guess it comes with the hobby-turned-business thing that you spend much more effort on something than you would on a regular job. I’m the only person to work on the project full-time though.

Difficulties? You bet. Coordinating the German production from Canada (where I happen to live at the moment) is no easy task by itself, as you can imagine. Then we had such things as the wrong type of USB cable, delivered to the wrong (my mom’s) address. The poor 3D guy fell seriously ill just hours before he would sit down to finalize the case design. Tons and tons of minor crises. Lots of nice surprises, too! The tooling and injection, and electronics companies were a veritable pleasure to work with.

Finally, what are your plans for the future? Will you be making any machines which play other retro consoles, and what is the possibility of you making a device which is backwardly compatible
(such as a machine which plays PS3, PS2 and PS1 games on a PC)?

Again, the Retrode is no emulator; I leave that up to others. As for the future plans? Designing new products consumes an incredible lot of resources. For now, I’d rather spend some more effort and take the Retrode to the max (mind you, it has an updatable firmware, so anyone can profit whenever something is fixed or a new feature is introduced). Specifically, I’ve got a bunch of plug-in adapters in the pipeline; anything else – you’ll hear about it as it happens 🙂

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