I spent the whole time editing this podcast on a yoga ball. So Gabe, I get you.
Polymega is a new retro game enthusiast console that claims to be the way to play CD-based games, from Sega CD to Playstation 1. The console has gotten a good amount of buzz over the past few months, and recently, I reached out to the team to ask a few burning questions on its development and how it’ll stand out from the pack of recent retro game releases. Polymega’s CEO and co-founder, Bryan Bernal, answered these queries in an email conversation.
John: What is Polymega’s mission statement for their console? There are plenty of enthusiast consoles coming to market, such as the Analogue consoles. How does yours stand out from the crowd?
Bryan Bernal: Polymega’s mission is to move retro games forward into the future by making them as modern and accessible as possible for all types of players. Polymega’s standout features compared to other systems will probably most easily be identified as its in-the-box support for optical disc based game systems such as PS1, Sega CD, Sega Saturn, TurboGrafx-CD, and Neo Geo CD. Further, Polymega has a patented modular design which means we don’t have to recreate the core hardware each time we release a new module, which is something you need to do with other systems, which saves players money and keeps their homes tidy and organized. Finally, Polymega has placed great emphasis on delivering an interface that provides a satisfyingly modern experience not unlike those you’ve come to expect from content providers like Netflix and Hulu. In this way, Polymega is more accessible to younger generations of players who may have trouble navigating unfamiliar interfaces and lists of games.
J: What was the development cycle like for the console? What is it like creating a video game console in 2019?
B: The development cycle of Polymega was highly iterative and one that required a significant amount of restraint, discipline, and perseverance in the face of considerable challenges. Both a blessing and a curse, designing a modular product that might need to contain certain features or behave a certain way years before its put to use is extremely difficult. I believe Polymega itself is different enough from other game consoles that the challenges which we face are fairly unique to our own situation, and could not be compared to other consoles which may be released in 2019. One thing we probably share is that we constantly keep our eye on emerging tech to see what ways it can be used to get closer to our goals. Just as we know other companies are watching us, and probably learning from our designs to help them be more competitive in the future – either with us or with other products.
J: Could you elaborate a bit on the development cycle? What were some things that maybe had to be cut? Could you see them returning in future updates?
B: Some of the things that had to be deprioritized to make way for more critical launch features are Twitch streaming in the box, removal of the social media / oauth-based features for launch, and the Atari module. We’d definitely like to re-surface these as possibilities in the future, though.
J: What improvements should people expect for the games you can play on the console? Are there any specific games that, when played on the Polymega, impressed or excited you?
First, Polymega owners can expect a highly capable game console, using emulators, which requires no setup. This in and of itself is a huge problem and barrier to entry for many people who wish to enjoy retro game cartridges and CD’s but may not have the time or patience to dive into the vast world of PC building and emulation tweaking. As for the quality of the games, we’ve legally licensed what we feel are the best emulators available on the market where possible — and configured them to take advantage of our hardware to provide the best bang for the buck experience you can get anywhere, with a very high degree of compatibility for systems which are traditionally difficult to emulate, such as 32x and Sega Saturn. I’m personally most excited to collect and play Neo Geo CD games, which load significantly faster than the original hardware and are significantly more affordable (and take less space) than Neo Geo AES games. The improved load times are an example of where the modernization of a system is more important than the preservation of its historical play experience.
J: Does Polymega support any accessories not made by you? If not, is there any plan to update to that eventually?
B: Yeah there’s a ton of 3rd party accessories we support which are not made by us. For example, the Polymega is compatible with official controller accessories from Sega such as the Retro-Bit USB Saturn Controller, and the Neo Geo Mini Pad and Neo Geo X Arcade Stick. It’s also compatible with the PS1 Classic controller. We’ll continue to add support for high quality 3rd party accessories as well as continue to flesh out our own offerings for players as time progresses.
J: Will there be future updates to the system to allow for more consoles? What other kind of support should consumers expect in the months after the console’s release?
B: Absolutely. We have a large backlog of features we want to roll out to players once Polymega is in the players hands. I think there’s a lot to be excited about and players should know that we’re thinking very far ahead in terms of support for the system. New CD system support, modules for hard to emulate systems, a new marketplace experience, enhancements to classic games, new game content, and more.
J: You mention new game content. Can you be more specific in what that means? Updates to older games? Brand new titles that fit hardware specs for older consoles?
B: Right now we’re interested in releasing updated versions of older games which may include translations and graphical enhancements, new games for old systems (like those made with NESMaker). In the future, we may explore new modern games for Polymega which utilize the full capabilities of the hardware.
J: Last question: Can the Polymega run Phillips CD-I games?
B: We don’t have any announcements to make about CD-I at this moment. But it is possible for the future. Thanks!
From what this interview has revealed, the Polymega has a lot of promise. It’s a bit difficult to see how much of that promise holds up to scrutiny, since I personally haven’t played it yet, but recent videos from a demo at Retro Game Camp in LA excite me. A faster, more elegant way to play CD-based retro titles is welcome in my book, but it’s hard to see through the spin so far. Hopefully once more people get their hands on the console, we’ll be able to fully judge it, and I do wish it’s fantastic.