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History of video games/Platforms/HYDRA Game Development Kit

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

The HYDRA Game Development Kit is a home video game console introduced in 2006. In this era the HYDRA Game Development Kit stands out as a unique outlier of gaming technology in general, and especially in the field of educational game consoles of this time, which tended to use much weaker microcontrollers.

History[edit | edit source]

System designer André LaMothe with a HYDRA game development kit.

Development[edit | edit source]

The HYDRA Game Development Kit is the culmination of the work of two notable entities, André LaMothe who designed the system, and Parallax who designed the Propeller processor. Prior to his work on the HYDRA, André LaMothe was a noted early indie developer and author of educational books, as well as the designer for the XGameStation.[1] Parallax was founded in 1987 and became an early pioneer of educational programming tools.[2]

Like it's predecessor the XGameStation, the HYDRA Game Development Kit is primarily an educational system, designed to help developers understand how hardware and software interact on a lower level the one would typically see used in the game development paradigm of the time.[3]

Launch[edit | edit source]

Released on November 17th, 2006[3] the system was sold for $199,[4][5], $250,[6] and also for 199.99 GBP.[7]

Legacy[edit | edit source]

Documentation for the HYDRA on Parallax's website was last updated on September 20th, 2012.[8]

While the Hydra being one of the first major products to use the Propeller chip, the legacy of the chip would go beyond that of the console. In August 2014 the design for the Parallax Propeller P8X32A processor was made open source,[9][10] though this was separate from the HYDRA hardware. The Parallax Propeller 1 itself was succeeded by the Parallax Propeller 2 in November 2020.[11]

André Lamothe would later serve as a hardware evangelist for the Intellivision Amico in 2018,[12] as well as designing the controllers for that console.[13]

Technology[edit | edit source]

Compared to other consoles of the period, the HYDRA Game Development Kit had a highly unorthodox computer, using the then newly released Parallax Propeller microcontroller as the core of the system.[14] Furthermore the HYDRA follows a minimalist approach when it comes to hardware.[15] Therefore it is more appropriate to compare the technology used in the HYDRA development kit to other educational computers and consoles of the era, instead of consoles designed for the mass market.

The Propeller used in the HYDRA is clocked at 80 megahertz.[16] Each cog of the Propeller has a performance of 20 MIPS for a total maximum performance of 160 MIPS[17] in parallel applications. Compared to typical microcontrollers of the era, which were mainly meant to be used in simple embedded applications and lacked a need for serious performance, the Propeller was considered quite performant.[18] Since the console lacks dedicated support processors such as a GPU,[3] the Propeller in the Hydra must dedicate its cores to tasks that would otherwise be handled by specialty hardware.[15] While this impacts performance, it does have an advantage as the programmer only needs to know the one processor well to get the most out of the system.

The system has 32 kilobytes of static RAM.[16] Removable storage devices contain 128 kilobytes of EEPROM.[16] While these sizes are paltry for a console of the time, they were quite massive compared to typical sizes seen on microcontroller based educational computers of the time. For example the educational microcontroller board Arduino Diecimila was relatively popular at the time as an educational tool, and had only 1 kilobyte of SRAM and 16 kilobytes of storage.[19] These constraints would perhaps help encourage creative and efficient programming by the user, enhancing the educational value of the system.

The console outputs at a resolution of 640 pixels by 480 pixels,[20] a resolution used by NTSC standard definition televisions. 256 colors are supported.[20]

The system takes electricity from a 9 volt DC power supply.[16] This is fairly typical of educational microcontroller boards of the time.[19]

The console has two controller ports for using NES controllers.[20]

Games[edit | edit source]

Unlike most game consoles, the HYDRA was typically used to play games made by the user rather than commercial titles. Around the time the system launched, the HYDRA supported games written in Hydra TinyBASIC[5], Spin, and Parallax Propeller Assembly language.[21]

The Hydra is preloaded with a clone of the game Asteroids.[15]

External Resources[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "About". www.ic0nstrux.com. Retrieved 11 February 2021.
  2. Papes, Teddy (18 June 2019). "Over 30 years of hardware development – An interview with Parallax, Inc. #makerbusiness". Adafruit Industries - Makers, hackers, artists, designers and engineers!. https://blog.adafruit.com/2019/06/18/over-30-years-of-hardware-development-an-interview-with-parallax-inc-makerbusiness/. 
  3. a b c Dobson, Jason. "Q&A: Nurve's LaMothe On The Hydra Console" (in en). www.gamasutra.com. https://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/102787/QA_Nurves_LaMothe_On_The_Hydra_Console.php. 
  4. "Hydra console game development kit Make:" (in en). Make: DIY Projects and Ideas for Makers. 30 November 1. https://makezine.com/2007/06/26/hydra-console-game-develo/. 
  5. a b Garmon, Jay. "Build (and code with) your own 8-bit video game console" (in en). TechRepublic. https://www.techrepublic.com/blog/geekend/build-and-code-with-your-own-8-bit-video-game-console/. 
  6. "Hydra: The Game Machine for Programmers" (in en-us). Wired. https://www.wired.com/2006/12/hydra-the-game-/. 
  7. "Hydra Games Console Kit - build your own games console / GamerSquad looks at the Hydra Games Console Kit, which allows users to build their own videogames console". web.archive.org. 28 June 2007. https://web.archive.org/web/20070628204443/http://www.gamersquad.com/category/Gadgets/Hydra-Games-Console-Kit--build-your-own-console/. 
  8. "Hydra Manual Parallax Inc". www1.parallax.com. Retrieved 8 February 2021.
  9. "Parallax Propeller 1 P8X32A is Open Source #oshw @parallaxinc". Adafruit Industries - Makers, hackers, artists, designers and engineers!. 7 August 2014. https://blog.adafruit.com/2014/08/07/parallax-propeller-1-p8x32a-is-open-source-oshw-parallaxinc/. 
  10. "Parallax Propeller 1 Goes Open Source". Hackaday. 7 August 2014. https://hackaday.com/2014/08/07/parallax-propeller-1-goes-open-source/. 
  11. "Propeller 2 - Parallax". Retrieved 8 February 2021.
  12. "Intellivision® Amico™ - Reveal Trailer (2018)". Retrieved 8 February 2021.
  13. "@NurveNetworks". Retrieved 8 February 2021.
  14. "Become a Video Game Developer with the Propeller Powered HYDRA". PRWeb. https://www.prweb.com/releases/2006/11/prweb480676.htm. 
  15. a b c "HYDRA “Quick Start” Demos". www.ic0nstrux.com. http://www.ic0nstrux.com/index.php?route=pavblog/blog&id=12. 
  16. a b c d "DIY: Hydra 8-Bit Game Development Console". Retro Thing. https://www.retrothing.com/2007/06/hydra-8-bit-gam.html. 
  17. "HYDRA™ Game Development Kit". www.ic0nstrux.com. http://www.ic0nstrux.com/hydra-game-development-kit. 
  18. "The Microcontroller Debate" (in en). Nuts and Volts Magazine. https://www.nutsvolts.com/blog/post/the_microcontroller_debate. 
  19. a b "Arduino - ArduinoBoardDiecimila". www.arduino.cc. Retrieved 11 February 2021.
  20. a b c "10 Great DIY Electronic Games" (in en-us). Wired. https://www.wired.com/2007/11/10-great-diy-el/. 
  21. "Multiprocessing HYDRA Game Console Packs a Punch for Students and Hobbyists". PRWeb. https://www.prweb.com/releases/2006/12/prweb487841.htm.