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GB Operator – Preserve Your GameBoy Cartridges

GB Operator from https://www.epilogue.co

Product: GB Operator from Epilogue.co
Price: $50
Ability: Transfer and Play Game Boy, Game Boy Colour and Game Boy Advance Cartridges
OS: Windows 10, macOS 10.15+, Linux (x86 – glibc required)
Size: 90mm (W) x 35mm (D) x 32mm (H)
Connectivity: USB to USB-C No external power required
Where: https://epilogue.co
Rating: 4 Paws

Fans will know I’m a massive gamer, not a very good gamer, but a gamer none-the-less collecting games from various consoles since the early 80’s. Many of course have gotten lost over time with various house moves, or sadly gone to the refuse centre… As my late wife would say… When was the last time you played it? Do you still have the hardware to play it and are you going to play it anytime soon… Of course the answers were obvious and so without skipping a beat off they’d go in the recycling bin!

I do however have a collection of GameBoy, GameBoy Colour and GameBoy Advance cartridges that are sitting in a storage box squirrelled away somewhere that I didn’t have time to cobble anything together to transfer them to disk over the years.

That said, last year I discovered what looks like a perfect retail solution from a team in Romania… The GB Operator… I placed an order around Autumn last year (2021) and it arrived this week (March 2022)! Seems the lead time is around 5-6 months, the good news is they’re taking orders ready for August. Mine was meant to arrive in January, so just a couple of months late. Was it worth the wait though?

Gameboy Advanced SP next to the GB Operator for Scale.

Absolutely!

The device appears to be very well made, with what looks like injection moulded clear plastic case, the unit is very light and highly portable, it comes with an included USB2-USBC cable for connecting to your Windows, macOS or Linux device.

What does it do?

Very simply, the software will launch and run your physical cartridges on your device via an emulator, download and transfer the actual game ROM to file to enable use on many GameBoy Emulators, including RetroArch. Additionally the added bonus is the ability to download your save files too! That alone is worth the price of the device alone, as there’s games I played to near completion and would like to preserve my progress should I ever play these again. The feature is also useful for older cartridges with the button cell batteries installed for preserving memory as you can now backup your data, replace the battery and upload your save data back to the cartridge!

How do I use it?

Download the software from Epilogue’s website: https://www.epilogue.co

At the time of writing the hardware was advertised as compatible with macOS 10.15.x though the only download available is for macOS 11. After contacting the developers, they sent me a private build for macOS 10.15 and advise they will be releasing for both macOS (10.15 and 11.x) soon. The internal build that is still being worked on by Epilogue works very nicely too, albeit it doesn’t display the game art as the other systems do.

The user experience from the Operator is consistent across Windows, macOS or Linux (x86 installs only, though it won’t work on Raspberry Pi yet).

A selection of Cartridges Ready for Transfer

Software installation is a breeze, then again we come to expect this in 2022, once started you’re greeted with a simple UI with three menus PLAY, DATA and PHOTOS.

Main UI – Insert Cartridge to Start

Upon inserting a cartridge, the software automatically scans and provides the name of the cartridge, download the box art (If available) and also performs some check to help determine if this is a genuine cartridge or bootleg. I can’t testify the accuracy of the Official Cartridge check since all my carts are genuine (At least I hope).

It really is as simple as that!

Game Name and Box Artwork is Displayed when Connected.

From here, you can Launch the game which will load the cartridge up into the software’s inbuilt GameBoy Emulator, and that works well, you play using a connected games controller or keyboard. Currently the keys are bound but we’re promised a later release will address this.

You can now play your games on your device… It’s that easy!

But Wait… There’s More?

More you say? Yes indeed! The power of the operator doesn’t just stop here, you can download the original ROM into a useable file suitable for various GameBoy Emulators. The DATA tab shows which functionality is enabled, for this cartridge we can Download the Game, Save Data and Upload Save Data.

If you have a rewrite-able Game Boy cartridge you can upload your own ROMS or development software to the device.

Saving takes a few seconds as the transfer is fast (Depending on the size of the cartridge), same with save data.

File-naming is taken care of for you, it really is that simple!

Photos

I was unable to test this feature as I don’t have a GameBoy Camera anymore, if you bought one of these devices and have used it, I would love to hear your experience.

Emulation

I’m using OpenEMU on macOS and grabbed a few carts gathering dust in the back of a drawer and these transferred to disc with surprising ease, which is a testament to the development team behind this project.

OpenEMU Shows Ripped Cartridges
OpenEMU Shows Ripped Cartridges
Screen grab of Mario vs Donkey Kong on OpenEMU

How do I play my existing game saves?

This will vary from different emulators, in OpenEMU I was able to copy the .SAV File into

~/Library/Application Support/OpenEmu/mGBA/Battery Saves

However, RetroArch requires these files to be converted to SRM which is beyond the scope of this article.

Restored my Save Data from almost 18 years ago, Loaded up from Cartridge to Emulator.

Why? I can download these ROMS from <insert site here>

This was a question I was asked from a fellow retro gaming enthusiast. Sure you can save yourself $50 and find a WareZ site to download your ROMS from. For me it was the ability to archive and protect my cartridge investment, also knowing that the ROMS I’ve transferred are legit originals and not hacked/patched versions that are floating around on the internet. I guess the purest in me wanted the same version I’ve been playing, plus the ability to archive my save game data from nearly 20 year ago.

Additionally, if you’re a retro game developer, one of these writers will help in testing final releases on real hardware, and one day… Maybe I’ll get back into Z80 development and hacking again.

Further Reading

If you want to build your own cartridge reader, there’s plenty of tutorials on the internet, this particular project I found rather useful and reasonably documented. The author provides their thinking behind the project, schematics for building your own with an Arduino including information on the cartridge data and formats etc.

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