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Update – You can now buy this amazing adapter in our store here.
When using emulators on your PC, usually you want the experience to be as authentic as possible. One way to help restore a little authenticity is to connect an authentic classic controller to your PC via an adapter. There’s certainly no shortage of these adapters available, in fact we have a huge box full of them here at Videogameperfection.com HQ. Can the 4-Play/Bliss Box really be the answer to all your classic controller adapter needs? We took some time to chat with Sean Green, hardware engineer of the 4-Play, about his device, the kickstarter and emulation in general.
Tell us all a little bit about the 4-play. Looking at your Kickstarter page, the device looks to support up to four players, I assume each player can choose his or her preferred controller and simply purchase a suitable adapter to hook it up?
Yes, up to 4 players can choose whatever supported controller they want and play with different controllers at the same time. As you can see on our Kickstarter page, every reward which includes a 4-Play also includes at least four adapter cables. The full retail set can be seen on our $95 reward on the Kickstarter page. This is how the Bliss-Box would be sold after funding as a full retail product and it includes a number of adapters for every single currently supported controller. Players will be able to purchase additional adapters at a later time.
There have been systems like this before, most memorably the Retro Adapter, which started strongly but now seems to have been abandoned. What sets your 4-play box apart from the competition, can we be assured of long-term support for the device?
The internet has brought us something the world did not have in the pre to late 90s: wide scale collective knowledge. When Ned’s N64 adapter first came out, companies everywhere cloned it and profited off of it. Large companies started producing (often poor quality) console controller to USB adapters. At this time I identified the need for one adapter to do it all and searched far and wide for a solution. One day in 2007 I stumbled on to the webpage of a very wise and smart man by the name of Raphael. He demonstrated the concepts that are key to this type of product. His design was easy to understand it helped me in creating one product which does it all. In my journey to this point with the Bliss-Box, I’ve seen several of these projects emerge and they’ve all based their project on the same design that Raphael had. Heck, most of them came to me for help although they’ve given no credit for that help. Bliss-Box is not like that, I’ve made sure to thank those who’ve helped me along the way on my Kickstarter and my webpage. I thank everyone involved and give them credit where credit is due. Second, most of these projects, including the Retro Adapter, are often not for the average user. They require a bit of skill with wiring, and they are often sold as a “kit” and not a consumer product. Bliss-Box has always been easy to use for the everyday consumer, we want people to just plug and play. Bliss-Box also has some key features you will not see in any other products on the market and there are more that we’ll be bringing in future updates and products. This project is open source and I fully expect it to be copied at some point. Much of what makes the 4-Play special is that it was not designed by a company, it was designed by a gamer. If anyone knows what a gamer wants, it’s a gamer, and I believe that this gives Bliss-Box an advantage when choosing features for our products.
Input lag/latency is a big concern for a lot of gamers using emulators. Keeping it at an absolute minimum throughout the entire chain is essential. What steps have you taken to keep input latency down in your designs?
While the primary goal of the Bliss-Box is compatibility with a wide range of controllers, we have done everything possible to reduce the lag to the lowest possible amount achievable with our USB 1.1 HID interface. A very important factor in lag times is the operating system on which the Bliss-Box is being used. The controller itself is largely irrelevant to the reduction of lag; the console or computer itself is far more important. Now, what is lag? Lag, specifically when gaming, can be defined as a delay from the frame to which a user is reacting to the frame that actually reflects the input on the screen. If the user presses jump on frame 1 and the character jumps on the very next frame, frame 2, then there is no perceivable lag. If, however, the character jumped on frame 3, that’d be 1 frame of lag. So lag is best measured by number of frames. One of the big advantages of a console is that an input can be easily synchronized to a frame as all inputs can be read within a frame change and the entire console has been designed from the ground up to operate in this way. Modern computers run differently to this and that makes it difficult to sync up the inputs with the frames. Frames are around 17ms apart when running at 60fps and with USB 1.1 we have an 8ms window through which we can send 8 bytes. So this means that if the user presses the input late in frame 1, the input may not make it before the end of frame 1’s window and in time for frame 2. Also some controllers require more than 8 bytes, so it takes two 8ms USB 1.1 windows to send one input, bringing the total required time to 16ms. So at worst the Bliss-Box may have 1 frame of input lag on most controllers, and 2 frames on controllers which require more than 8 bytes per input. Luckily this 8ms window for USB 1.1 is greatly reduced on Linux, and hacks can be applied to Windows to further reduce the maximum delay window on that operating system. With a reduced USB window, 0 frames of lag is highly achievable. Bliss-Box will assist in addressing these issues on the Bliss-Box forums to help give gamers a better experience. I think the most important thing to note is that in the 7 years this project has been alive not one person has complained about input lag from the adapter.
The range of controllers you are proposing to support is staggering. Are there any controllers you can’t support? I would assume things like light guns are out of the question?
We have maintained a motto that any console controller will be supported and so far we have been able to uphold that statement. The design of the Bliss-Box allows it to adapt very well and this makes adding new controllers very simple as all that’s needed is a new cable adapter and a possible update to the firmware which can easily be done through USB. While the project is aimed primarily at controllers and not accessories, we are slowly adding support for them as well. We have indeed found a way to use the light guns on a LCD monitor. This is not part of the 4-Play adapter, but it’s something that is currently being designed from the ground up and will be available at a later time if we’re funded.
Is there any chance we may see an adapter to hook the 4-play to other games consoles, rather than just the PC, even in single player mode?
Most consoles do not support USB hubs and on these consoles the 4-Play is not supported. Some systems, the PS3 for example, do support USB hubs and the 4-Play will work on these. The Single-Play, which we hope to develop after we’ve finished the 4-Play, will not have a USB hub and will therefore support any USB aware console, including the Xboxes. The single play will also have an up-link that will be used to communicate with a new adapter allowing various systems to receive the input data. You will just attach a small box to the single-play and the desired cable. This will be a small dongle that can bypass the USB and connect directly to the console. Tooling will get costly so this funding from Kickstarter is essential to get things moving.
So there you have it folks, this really could be the biggest, best and last controller adapter you ever need for your PC. Check out the Kickstarter page for the 4-Play Blissbox here, and fund generously!