What We Can Learn From RPG Design Guru Josh Sawyer – IGN Unfiltered #32

Josh Sawyer is a longtime veteran of renowned RPG studio Obsidian Entertainment, and he’s seen a lot in his career. From his history-based beginnings to Fallout, Pillars of Eternity, and much more, his story is a fascinating one!

Projects Josh worked on:
Icewind Dale (2000), designer
Icewind Dale: Heart of Winter (2001), designer
Icewind Dale II (2002), lead designer
Neverwinter Nights 2 (2006), lead designer
Alpha Protocol (2010), designer
Fallout: New Vegas (2010), director, lead designer
Pillars of Eternity (2015), director, lead designer, writer
Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire (2018), director, narrative designer

RetroN 77 REVIEW – Pros & Cons + Gameplay

The first in-depth review of Hyperkin’s RetroN 77 Atari 2600 HD clone system. The things I love about it…and things that need a bit more work!

PROS:
Runs real 2600 cartridges (approx 99% compatibility)
720P HD output
Supports original Atari joysticks and paddles
Toggle 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio
Super long controller cable
Looks nice

CONS:
Joystick may break during heavy use
Doesn’t support more than 18 ROMS
Slight video/audio lag because of software emulation

More info: http://www.hyperkin.com

Video Transcription:

– Hey guys, Metal Jesus here. Now today, I’m very excited to bring you an in-depth review of a brand new con system by Hyperkin called the RetroN 77. This is a modern take on the classic Atari 2600 but it supports physical cartridges and it has HD output. Now, full disclosure, Hyperkin did give me this unit for review but they’re not paying for this video and no one is reviewing this content before it goes live. As a matter of fact, there’s many things I love about this, and there’s a couple of things that could use some tweaks. Let’s take a look. Alright, so first we’re going to start with an unboxing so you can see what comes with it. And right off the bat, you have the console but first let’s take a look at the joystick. Some interesting little features about this. First difference you’re gonna notice is that they original Atari joystick only had one button. This one has two. That is because this is designed to be used either left or right handed. Very, very handy. Also, the cable on this thing is super long and about 10 feet, very nice. Also the original Atari joystick was notoriously painful because it would dig into your palms and Hyperkin has shaved off the corners here to make this more comfortable. And that’s a slight difference but it makes a big deal. Here’s a small instruction manual. Not really needed unless you’re gonna dig into home brews, which we will later on. Here is the console itself and before we get started, I do want to show you how the size compares to an old Atari 2600 so here is an original and here is the RetroN 77. So they’ve shrunk it down quite a bit. I really like the design of the system. It looks modern yet it pays homage to the original classic that, of course, we all love, with those black fins right there on the top and then of course, you have to have the wood grain. Zooming in on the front of it here, they’re basically duplicating parts of the original console which is important for compatibility so you have reset and mode, skill, you also have one and two players, on off switch, but you’ll notice you also have a save and load buttons. Basically those are just quicksave and quickload which is pretty cool and we’re gonna get into that as well. I know some people are curious about the build quality of the buttons and I have to say that after using this for a while, they feel fine. They’re springy, they’re solid. I don’t anticipate any problems with them. Moving to the back of the unit, I know a lot of people were wondering if it has an SD slot and yes it does. So it uses micro SD and on that SD card, there is a ROMs directory but there are some limitations as to what you can use that for out of the box. But we’re going to get into that in a little bit. This console supports 720P HD output via HDMI, which you see right there. And look at this, this is kind of curious. There is a button labeled fry. Well, I remember this vividly as a kid that back in the day, you would try to tilt or glitch or fry your cartridges to get them to tweak to do really weird stuff and this actually has it built in. It does it via emulation. Next to that, you can toggle the aspect ratio of the display so you see three by four or 16 by nine and you can do that in real time. And then next to that is color or black and white and that’s primarily used for games that utilized that button on the original, you’re not really gonna be switching between color and black and white anytime today but it’s there if you happen to play a game that uses it. As for accessories in the box, it also comes with the USB cable and power adapter and then also a HDMI cable if you need it. Alright, time to start playing some games. What better choice than my favorite, Hero. Now when I first popped this in, I was like oh, that looks weird, it’s all stretched. That’s because by default, when you turn on the console, it will be in 16 by nine but as you see here, you can toggle it back and forth in real time. Not a huge deal, I think they just did that because most people with HD television would probably assume it will take up the entire screen but be aware when you first turn it on, it will default to 16 by nine. Another reason why I picked this game is because I know it so well, I’ve been playing it my entire life. So that means it’s a good test for me to see if a clone system is introducing lag or if there’s some sort of graphic anomaly or something like that. And I gotta say, I didn’t really feel any lag. Now I did swap back and forth between a real Atari and this and I did sense slight, minuscule lag, maybe, but honestly, the average gamer is probably not gonna notice at all. Now speaking of lag, a game that is often used to test lag is called Kaboom by Activision. Because the original game is so hard and so tough and it uses these paddles, that if there’s any lag, it will definitely show up with this game. So I take my original paddles here, I plug them in, and then fire up the game. Now I am by no means an expert at this game, there are certainly people that are way better than me but it felt very similar to using a real Atari 2600. I even noticed that my paddles were just a little bit dirty, at little bit glitchy, they probably need to be cleaned and that’s very common when it comes to these old paddles, but, yeah, you can see I’m doing okay. Oops, spoke too soon. The next feature I was really curious to check out was the quicksave and quickload options because the Atari did not have a built in save. This is something that is very cool to be added here. Especially since right here, this is a notoriously tough part for me so I pushed the save button on the front of the console. See down at the bottom it says state zero saved. Died, which I always die there. Push the load button and it immediately jumps you right back with very little delay. So yeah, it works as you would expect. Let’s go ahead and check out some other games. Running on the RetroN 77 so you can see how they look and play. We’re gonna start here with Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. I both loved and hated this game as a kid because it was so annoying. But at least the sprites kind of look like real Star Wars vehicles. Here’s the original pitfall running on the RetroN 77 in 16 by nine. Notice that the screen is slightly stretched, but again, you don’t have to run it that way. It’s just an option. Now is probably a good time to talk about what is going on inside this clone system. Hyperkin has fully licensed this stella Atari emulator. Now, this is a rock solid emulator that’s been around for years and years. The version that’s running on the RetroN 77, however, is about a year old but they’ve applied some specific hot fixes. And now I’m going to pop in my copy of Turmoil. This is a shooter that not a lot of people talk about but it’s super fun on the Atari 2600. However, it was during the capture of this gameplay that I got into a little bit of trouble. See, this game gets very hectic, it’s a shooter, obviously. And while I was capturing this footage, I heard a snap on the controller. Now, it technically didn’t break it, but its not right. So I reached out to Hyperkin, I was like do you guys know what’s going on with this? And they’re already aware of the issue. They’re working on a stronger version of it. So they’re gonna replace my controller and if you have the issue, they’ll replace yours as well. Also, new orders will automatically have that version, which is great. Again, the weird thing was, it didn’t actually break it, it still works, it just clicks. It’s here I want to mention you can still use an original Atari 2600 joystick if you happen to have one. The good news is, these things are well built and super cheap so while it sucks that the RetroN 77 one is having some problems, I’m waiting for a replacement, I can still keep playing with this. Moving on, let’s check out some Dig Dug. Now I think Dig Dug, correct me if I’m wrong, actually has expanded RAM built into the cartridge. Not that it matters, but that’s the reason why it looks a little bit more faithful to the original arcade version and it plays really well. Speaking of arcade versions, the version of Joust on Atari 2600, while not very pretty, is a surprisingly fun version of the game. I was kind of curious of the Atari 7800 version would also play on this. The cartridges are the same size but, sadly, it doesn’t fit into the cartridge slot. Alright, this next one’s kind of tricky. Pitfall Two has an extra sound chip built onto the board inside the cartridge so, be curious to see if this works. Hmmm. Nope. Alright, now might be a good time to talk about loading your own ROMs. Remember how I mentioned there’s an SD slot on the back and an SD card has a ROMs directory. You can dump as many as you’d like in there, however, on the main menu, you’re only ever going to see less than 20 of them. How disappointing. When I reached out to Hyperkin to find out why, they said it’s an anti-piracy limitation that they built into the system. They felt that it’s wrong to ship a system that allows you to load an entire library of existing games and that this is primarily just for the few people who would want to load a couple home brew games. Okay, I get that. I may not like it but I understand and honestly, I think somebody will probably figure out a way to hack it because as you can see here, it will run Pitfall Two as a ROM even though you can’t run it as a cartridge. So it’s useful for those games that may not be able to be dumped by a cartridge. And speaking of home brew games, I have a bunch of them here, I actually love collecting home brew games for the Atari 2600 so I thought I’d throw in a copy of Space Rocks. And again, it doesn’t run the cartridge but if you load the ROM, it’ll work just fine. Also included in my copy of the console were four home brew games built into it, including Baby, Muncher 77, a game called Astronomer 2018, and then Nexion 3D, I know nothing about these. I tried to play a couple of them and I thought they were okay, you know, they’re included so that’s cool. So do I recommend that you buy this? Well, it’s 70 dollars. I do think it’s a good value for, say, the beginning Atari 2600 collector. Remember, this plays probably 99 percent of the games that you would ever want to collect for that system. And, also keep in mind, most Atari 2600 games are frankly five dollars or less. So for the cost of the system, plus maybe a hundred dollars more you can actually have a pretty decent Atari 2600 collection which is pretty cool. I think for me, personally, I was looking for something a little bit more hardcore. I was looking for something kind of similar to what Analog has done with the NES and the Super NES, something that would support all of the cartridges, all of the variations, all of the peripherals. But, to be fair, that might not be realistic at this price point. I’m also happy to learn that they’re aware of the controller issues and they’re going to be replacing the ones that are broken and they’re going to be shipping out the stronger controller in future orders. That’s very good news because I really, really do love this thing, it’s actually really comfortable. Way more comfortable than the original. So I wanna use it more, as long as it works, right. Love to know what you guys thought about this down in the comments below. Are you interested in the RetroN 77? Do you even collect for the Atari 2600? Is this console even on your radar? I’d love to know. Alright guys, thank you very much for watching. Thank you for subscribing. Take care. You know what I’d love to see Hyperkin or some other company do is take the idea of the RetroN 5 or its one clone system with multiple slots supporting multiple systems, but do it for the Atari, the Intellivision, the ColecoVision, you know, all in one unit like that. I think that’d be really cool. Or, better yet, even do it for like the classic home computers like the Commodore 64 or the Vic 20, the Atari 800XL, I think that’d be pretty cool.