During SXSW,
I was able to stop by the Hyperkin Booth and experience the hotly anticipated
RetroN 5. For those of you who are unaware, the RetroN 5 is a home console that
plays classic NES, SNES, Genesis and Game Boy cartridges. Not only that, the
console outputs and upscales via HDMI and comes with Bluetooth controllers. I
sat down with Chris Gallizzi from Hyperkin to ask him a few questions regarding
their upcoming console.

Are you guys excited about the pre-order
numbers?

Yes, we are
very excited because it actually shows that there’s a huge demand still for
retro gaming. Even for the fact that retro gaming seems kind of… I don’t wanna say “dead…” but people are always focusing on next gen graphics and
stuff like that, it’s nice to see that it doesn’t matter what graphics look
like because you can still have fun with some of these great games.

The RetroN 5 is built on the Android
operating system; is it necessary to have a cartridge to play these games?

Yes, it’s
actually necessary at all times. The way we actually wrote the operating system
to work, if at any moment you pull out the cartridge, you will not be able to
continue the game whatsoever. It was a way so we could avoid piracy. That way
Nintendo’s not knocking on our door saying, “hey, you guys are illegally
distributing our games
” or “you guys are uploading stolen games.” So, we had
our team make sure that it was necessary
at all times for the cartridge to be in. We do have encryption and all that
stuff on it. Good luck to anyone who wants to break it.

Assuming someone does break into it, how are you going
to deal with that?

We do
provide firmware updates through SD card support. If we start noticing people
hacking and things like that—which I’m not against whatsoever; that’s the
times we live in now, where if you could hack something, you’re a
genius—we can release firmwares at any moment that would be required to start
playing games. With that, you know, we can limit the control on that.

One of the criticisms of the previous
RetroN systems was the controller. How confident are you that the new controller (left) will rival or even exceed a standard SNES or Genesis controller?

I’m
absolutely 100 percent positive that people will love it. When I first started
working there I started seeing early prototypes that they were doing with the
controller and I wasn’t happy with it. So I can assure you that a lot of people
were mad that I cancelled a lot of previous controllers that were going to be
released. It probably would have been a lot more preferred because we probably
could have gotten the console out faster, but I can assure you that it was totally
worth it. And with the Bluetooth functionality in it, it’s something that
anyone can pickup and sync no problem, rather than worrying with infrared or RF
or anything like that to sync it. It would be a lot easier.

You are using Bluetooth 2.1. Let’s say… fighting
game fans, they really want that quick responsiveness. Do you feel that the
current Bluetooth controller would be able to react fast
enough to handle
Street Fighter?

Yeah,
actually we have a slew of beta testers. Like for instance even Palmer Luckey
from Oculus is one of our beta testers. We have a gentleman, John Hancock, that
has one of the biggest retro collections out there. We even went to the extreme collectors who all they do is collect retro games.
They tested it out, and for the most part they gave us their blessing on the
controller. Like “this is okay for you to release,” like “you shouldn’t hear
any complaints.
” “If we didn’t complain, no one else should really complain.” That was including fighting games.

Does the RetroN5 have 100 percent game
compatibility, or are there still some games that might not work on it?

I kind of
say 100 percent, but that’s kind of subjective, because right now we are
working on homebrews. So, right now if you were pop in a homebrew, there’s a
chance that it may work, it may not work. I consider those 100 percent, so if
those all work, then yeah, we have 100 percent. Ironically, if they’re not working for whatever reason, we could always just release a
firmware update and patch it later. It’s just a matter of getting a hold of all
these homebrews and making sure that they do work—including repro carts. You
know, the repro cart business is huge; we wanna make sure we support all of
those.

When will the N64 become a part of the
RetroN experience? Now of course, I guess we’re just waiting for the patent to
expire. Is that correct?

Yeah,
but if you really want an insight I can tell you: check us out at E3, you’ll
see something there. That is an exclusive, actually; I have not told anyone else, any other media, or any press
that. If you really are big about the N64, you will see
something at E3.

As you expand to more and more consoles
that have crazier controllers, how are you gonna develop a controller that can
handle all of those?

Well
luckily, I actually have a lot of experience with drivers and stuff like that.
I actually do some stuff with Oculus Rift, in terms of modifying drivers and controllers for them. Ironically,
Hyperkin is actually developing a controller for the Oculus Rift for whenever
it does launch. So we actually are doing
a gun and everything for them. We work closely with Palmer Luckey to make sure
that he’s okay with it and a few others at Oculus. So we’re doing things a lot
different now and I don’t see any other controller being an issue whatsoever.
Like with the N64 or even if we ever do come out with the Dreamcast stuff, I
can assure you that it won’t be an issue at all.

I think the most exciting part about the
RetroN is that it outputs to HDMI. Was it a challenge upscaling these games
internally to have them displayed beautifully on an HD television?

It’s not
so much that it was an issue… You know you have emulators that can do it no
problem. But what did make it hard was that even if you do get an
emulator that’s out there, even they have trouble outputting some of the games in high definition, even if
you have a really good computer. So it was kinda hard being able to sync the
cartridge timely with the sound. Also for it to output at such a crisp 60 frames per second. We were able to pull it off, but it was really
one of the biggest challenges out there.

Has Nintendo or SEGA ever approached you?
Have they been angry, have they been happy, what has their reaction been?

We never
really heard too much from them. It’s cool that they leave us alone. On the
contrary, I’ve actually tried to reach out to them several times. I remember
one time I tweeted Reggie, “Hey Reggie, I’m in New York, let’s hook up the
RetroN5 in your Nintendo World.
” I never hear any responses; I don’t
expect to, I’m just kidding around, but for the most part we’ve never really
gotten into any issues with them about anything that we do.

What do you feel is going to be the future
of Hyperkin moving forward? Is it gonna be more of these clone consoles, or are
you guys trying to enter into a new space with the Oculus?

It’s actually
a little bit of both. Originally when they hired me, they obviously
got the retro side covered. They brought me on board to try and bring a more
modern-esque approach to retro gaming. So that includes with the Oculus thing, since we
have experience manufacturing controllers and peripherals, we are expanding our
market to more modern gaming peripherals. Not so much the PS4 or the Xbox One,
but more PC based. So I’ll be tackling that, but I can assure you that we’re
not done with Retro. We’re going to keep on going, cause for every console
that’s released, another console becomes retro.

Do you plan on going further back before
the NES, like the Atari or Intellivision?

Most
definitely. If you really want another exclusive, I can tell you one: we’re
actually working on a DOS box, so you can actually play all your old DOS games.
With a built in keyboard, all-in-one. You just HDMI straight in, and you have
this all-in-one with a keyboard and a mouse to your side, and you’re good to
go. We’re working with DOS based games; we are thinking about legacy, like even
Commadore or even Atari, so a lot more of the older cartridges. We are trying
to do that. The only hard part about that is the cost, because a lot of those
components to make those things are so obsolete that we would have to
pretty much remake them from the ground up. It just becomes an expense issue
rather than a capability issue.

With Hyperkin, I really do appreciate that
you guys are trying to keep it around the sub $100 price point. Now, are
you scared or worried that it will compromise the quality of the machine?

Of
course the more we could charge for it, the more we could put into it, but if we went more than $100, then I feel that we would scare
away a lot of people for even just trying it. A hundred bucks is at
that price point where… a PS4 game is $65—for thirty-five more bucks you could
get a whole console. So we wanted to keep it around that area so that it was
affordable, that almost anyone could buy it without really hurting their
wallet. But I’m happy overall with the results of what we included with it.
Like I said, there is a possibility of a firmware update, so we could always
add more features to it.

Is there another color for the RetroN 5?
Yes, most
definitely, it’s gonna be all black with purple.

Which one’s your favorite?
All black
with purple. I love the original looking one, but because I just love the way
it contrasts with the purple, it just looks really nice.

Is there a release date for the RetroN 5
yet?

April. I can’t give
you the official date; only me and one other person know
the official date, and I’m not allowed to say it. But I
can guarantee April.


As for my impressions, I was able to sit down and play Mega Man on the RetroN 5. It was pretty awesome to see a classic like Mega Man kicking my ass in HD. The controller was incredibly responsive, although a tad too light in weight for my taste, but I’m sure I can get used to that. Things look pretty promising for the RetroN 5.

I want to thank
Chris Gallizzi for allowing me to interview him. Stay tuned to Gamnesia to read our
review of the RetroN 5 later next month.

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Imad Khan
Graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Government. Previously worked with State Representative Lon Burnam and am currently working with Cadre Media. I enjoy technology and writing about the games industry.

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