RetroOnyx: Looking Back at 2021
I think the best description of RetroOnyx in 2021 is "WOW"! As I write and edit the various projects below, I realize this was a crazy year with lots of testing, refinement, builds, and shipments. At the beginning of 2021, I decided to really see what I could do in 2021 if I pushed really hard. That certainty happened. I hit my limit and maybe even went a bit over. I'll cover the major things RetroOnyx did this year below but first I want to say thanks to all my supporters and customers! This year would not have been possible without you. Your feedback and support make it a fun ride.
I finished shipping Batch 1 of HyperFlash32, shipped ~80% of batch 2, and took preorders on batch 3 in 2021. Colored frames were refined and developed this year with a couple of designs that I really am proud of: 1) the red frame HF32 with BWR eInk screen and black aluminum cover, 2) the gold frame with yellow/gold eInk screen and black cover, and 3) the white frame with BW eInk screen and black aluminum cover.
I continued to refine covers as well, as they always seems to have some issue. This year I tested milled aluminum covers, as well as laser etched covers. Both came out great with laser etched being my favorite of the bunch. Milled units are shown below and will ship in most of HF32 batch 3 builds. Laser etched ones are hard to tell apart from UV painted covers so I don't show them below. Their main benefit is that you cannot scratch the paint off and they still have great contrast against both the black and red anodized covers.
Wonderswan Battery Packs
I designed, built, tested, and shipped Wonderswan battery packs this year. 50% of batch 1 was shipped in 2021. I also took batch 2 preorders. The WS battery pack design really came out nice and continued the HF32 flow of aluminum and laser etching. My purchase of a laser etcher allowed me to play with graphics and settle on one the cover design that looked best. This project alone made the laser etcher worth the purchase. I'm really proud of this design and it will flow forward into other battery packs for other systems, namely Virtual Boy and Sega Nomad in 2022.
I also very recently was able to improve the WS battery pack housings even further. These housings are about double the cost and so remain prototypes at the moment, but they look fantastic. I don't think anyone else will be able to touch the quality on these battery packs and I look forward to carrying these improved prints into other products. See below for pictures of the improved battery housings. Not seeing those print support marks is amazing.
HyperBoy is not a product I intended on doing but then again, neither was HF32. HyperBoy was meant as a cheaper VB flash cart and internally is nearly identical when it comes to SRAM and Flash. What I'm most proud of on HyperBoy is the improved frame with rounded corners and aluminum laser etched panels. There are even a few HyperBoy units that are made from 100% new parts. The first in VB flash cart history. HB just looks and feels premium. The HB shell design will likely move forward into a VB multicart.
HyperBoy units are just starting to ship in December 2021 and I sent 12 units out before the year ended. The rest of HB batch 1 will ship through March. I also took batch 2 preorders.
Thunderstruck also released a GUI for HyperBoy this year and this enables games to be loaded onto HyperBoy. It has a similar feel to the HF32 GUI. The HB product would not be possible without the support of Thunderstruck. Please support his great work over at his Patreon page.
VB Motherboard PCB
I created this PCB to allow console people to flip their mother board VB connector so that VB carts could be faced forward when plugged in. Much like SNES. A few people out there have them but I have yet to see a console built up from it. I may have to pick this up myself if someone else doesn't first. But at least the PCB to support it already exists. I look forward to what comes next for this PCB.
Virtual Boy AC/DC Pack
I designed a VB AC/DC adapter late in 2021 that will start shipping in early 2022. PCBs are being built now. Again my black carbon fiber printed housing with aluminum look carried forward here. I partly did this design as a stepping stone to a VB battery pack and a VB rumble pack. It allowed me to refine fit, put some aluminum panels in there, and refine the battery contacts based on the WS battery pack work. The AC/DC pack also allows a cheaper alternative to the original AC/DC packs that are being sold at high price on eBay.
Virtual Boy Rumble Pack Prototypes
I shipped several VB rumble pack prototypes to developers and several demo games were updated to support it in 2021: Formula V, Captain Sevilla, and FishBone. There's even some early work on a patched RedAlarm ROM that added haptics. Amazing work by the VB software developers in the PlanetVB community!
I'll finish this rumble pack design out in early 2022 based on feedback from the prototype units. Rumble on VB adds a whole new level to the console. Once you experience rumble support in VB games, you'll never want to play without it. Major thanks again to Thunderstruck here as he took over the early firmware design and made it into something VB game developers could actually use.
SNES to VB Remapper
I started a new SNES to VB remapper project in 2021 that I didn't have time to finish due to all the work from the above projects. It's an adapter that will read SNES controller inputs and map to VB outputs, also allowing the users to change that mapping. It came out of my SNES to VB cable builds for Hyper Fighting. Many people expected the cable adapter to work well with other games, however, the original cable was never intended for that. I had PCBs built and even started firmware but put it on pause when other things needed attention. I hope to get this out in early 2022.
Virtual Boy WiFi Adapters
Because why not! This started as joke by Thunderstruck and after seeing no one pick it up, I built some. Currently there are only 2 in existence. I have one, along with Thunderstruck. I hope to see cool things come to VB via this adapter in the future but currently I have no further information to share.
VB Controller Shells
I played with printed VB controller shells and buttons quite a bit in 2021. This was motivated by work Goemon was doing on his VB prototoype shells. The scanned data for the controller came from him. Some pretty amazing prints came out of it and if I can carry it forward with some improvements, then I may turn it into a VB wireless controller project. I showed a wireless bluetooth controller a few years back and it would be great to create new controllers for the VB console crowd.
Machines and More Machines
2021 was the year of machines for RetroOnyx. At the beginning of the year I purchased a MakerBot Method X, which prints carbon fiber, ABS, PLA, and many other materials. I mainly purchased it to be able to test other materials besides the Onyx of my Markforged machine. The Method X would be used to print the HF32 colored frames and colored VB dust caps. Overall, the Method X doesn't quite pull its weight for the cost but it was my first machine of 2021.
I then would buy a laser etcher. A 40W Chinese CO2 laser from Amazon. After quite a few upgrades, testing on that machine would lead to laser etched panels on Wonderswan and HyperBoy. In the end, this machine was worth the purchase just to experiment and grow.
I would also buy an Elegoo Saturn SLA printer, and even back the Elegoo Jupiter SLA printer. These machines were to try SLA prints and would help in the prototype VB work with Goemon. As well as help with my controller work above. Not sure these machines have really pulled their weight yet either but they're getting there. The Saturn for its cost is worth trying. They're really good at printing buttons and d-pads so far. I also tested SLA frames for HyperFlash32 and even dust caps.
I also bought a desktop cutting machine to cut all the VHB tape that is used to bond covers on HF32 and HyperBoy. These are great for this type of application and I've cut several thousand shapes now. Saves tons of time for production runs. Highly recommended, including thermal label printers for shipping. Best two machine purchases to save valuable time in highly repetitive tasks.
The last machine of 2021 would be my sand blasting station and air compressor. Initially used to test smoothing of 3D print models. So far it hasn't worked all that well but time will tell. I somewhat bought it in anticipation of an SLS printer, which requires a media blaster to clean the prints. We will see if that comes in 2022. Needs more baking time.
RetroOnyx and Website
I also launched the RetroOnyx website near the middle of 2021. Hard to believe I waited so long. RetroOnyx as a company officially started on January 1st 2021. The website was supposed to launch very shortly after but my choice of web developer wasn't great and they continued to drag it out until I took it over myself. The website launched this year in April and I couldn't be happier with how its gone. It allows a way for people to see what I currently have available and what is coming next. The order system behind RetroOnyx is multiple times better than the Excel sheet method I used previously. Most of all, it frees up time for me to focus on projects and designs. Huge thanks to PlanetVB member Mumphy for his work here to make sure the logo and theme all flowed together and made sense.
I even started a Patreon page in April of 2021. Amazing support and people there. I use my Patreon to post a lot of details on projects, insights on how I develop and build, as well as give away gear and discount codes. It's also a great way to get feedback from highly engaged community members.
I was able to get ahold of color eInk panels this year which was very exciting. These panels will go into future projects. I can't say when or what yet but I'm looking forward to putting color eInk panels in other flash carts in the future. The middle SuperMarioLand eInk picture below is a full RGB eInk panel that could fit in a HF32 cart. Amazing times.
Looking Forward to 2022
There were lots of things that didn't work out in 2021 that I didn't bother listing. There are always failures when developing new products or when experimenting. In general, I always gain something from it, if at the very least to know not to do that again. Most of the things I've done have eventually led to something I use in a product or project. Sometimes in ways I didn't originally expect.
For 2022, I'd like to come back and finish a few things that I started in 2021, such as VB rumble packs and the SNES to VB remapper. Those are high on my list after shipping existing HF32, HyperBoy, and Wonderswan orders. I'll also start shipping VB AC/DC packs early in 2022, as mentioned above. The VB WiFi adapter I don't see coming anytime soon unless someone like Thunderstruck wants to write software to use it. We'll see where that one ends up.
With the success of the Wonderswan battery pack, I'd also like to build a VB battery pack, like I've shown concepts of in the past. I think I can even make the same PCB work for Sega Nomad. Those would be the next of the smaller projects I have in mind for 2022. After that, possibly a standalone WS cart for physical releases of the new WS English translations that have been coming out recently.
Finally, the big one. I'd like to make 2022 the year of the VB multicart. A VB Everdrive like flash cart. I've long talked about it and it's always been the end goal of my VB work. If you watch the patterns, lots of my projects build upon themselves, as I move forward. Since no one has come along so far and done a VB multicart, I guess I'll have to be the one to do it. There are some major hurdles there to overcome first though. The first one being a new VB connector. As well as dust caps. Some new ones do exist now actually but their fits are not quite right yet. I also think a VB multicart needs to be built from all new parts to make it worth building. The days of donor carts have passed. VB cart connectors and dust covers are things that I've long worked on in the background (along with other community members), so we'll see how they progress in 2022.
Like I said, wow. That was a lot for one year for a part time retro gaming gig. I'm really happy with what was done this year. It was a ton of work but a lot of fun. Not all of it rosy though. I know there's lots of work to be done in improving shipping times, and I thank everyone for their patience as I get gear out. I hope to improve that this coming year by focusing on core projects as others wind down. There will be some big changes for me in the first quarter of 2021 and I look forward to what that enables. This was one wild year. Thank you everyone and Happy New Year!