Friday, June 26, 2015

Amazon Fire TV Stick Part 3: Playing Games


If you're looking for information on playing games, particularly RetroArch, on your Fire TV, I created a new web site that includes the RetroArch guide as well as a lot of other stuff. I hope you like it. For the most current information go to:




www.gamingonfire.com






This is the thrilling conclusion to a series on the Amazon Fire TV Stick:
You may recall from my earlier Fire TV Stick posts that I purchased an Amazon Fire Game Controller. The controller has generally become our preferred remote, but that's not why I bought it. I bought it to test playing games on the Fire TV Stick.

One difference between the Fire TV Stick and the regular version of the Fire TV is the processor, with the Fire TV Stick having the weaker processor. Basically, a more powerful processor would take more power and put out more heat, and neither of those things lend themselves to a low power dongle running Android hidden on the back of your TV.

Because of the weaker processor, the number of Android games in Amazon's app store for the Stick compared to the full Fire TV is pretty small, and many of them are OK at best. Out of the box, right after the Fire TV Stick was released and while many developers hadn't had a chance to validate apps, the number of games was ridiculously low.  It has been growing a bit, but we’re really talking about tablet games and not much that is good.  Also, if you're a Kindle Freetime subscriber, you won't find any way to access your Kindle Freetime content from the Fire TV Stick, which is unfortunate.  My son and I have had a few play sessions of Terraria, with him playing on his Kindle Fire HDX 7 and me playing on the Fire TV Stick.  He had a hoot.  I was purely in it for the blog.  Really.

Luckily there is a more awesome reason to buy a controller: Emulators.

Our Fire TV Stick is installed in a TV that has several "classic" game consoles connected to it:
  • An original NES
  • A 3DO
  • An N64
  • A Wii
  • A Wii U
With the Fire TV Stick and the right emulators, you can do a lot more. I downloaded an all-in-one package called "RetroArch" which incorporates emulators for everything from the Atari 2600 to the Nintendo 64, and just about every arcade game from your childhood that you can think of. The kicker, of course, is that it includes the emulators, but not the games themselves. You'll need ROM files extracted from your original game cartridges. Well, you might be able to acquire that Zaxxon ROM file through the magic of the Internet, but legal warning: you should only do this if you actually own the game, as I understand that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act actually gives the creators of software that hasn’t been available for sale for decades the right to execute you and all of your family if you should download an illegal copy.

Once you have a copy of RetroArch and the ROM’s for all those cartridges that you legally own but that maybe you lost/broke when you were 12, you’re going to have to figure out how to get everything onto the Fire TV Stick, a process called “sideloading.” With a tablet, you can just plug it into the USB port and copy files, but with the Fire TV Stick it’s a little trickier. You can use the Android debugging software to transfer the files over your network, or, if you have an Android device (including Kindle Fire tablets) you can transfer the files onto the tablet and use a piece of software called AGK Fire to transfer the files. I used AGK Fire.

Super Mario Brothers 2
I got Super Mario Brothers 2 for Christmas in 1988 because my parents loved me enough to actually hunt down both of the difficult to find games that year: first they bought the last copy of Zelda II in a Sears store (I know, right?), but it was actually stolen from a hotel room and they fought the madness again and luckily found a copy of Super Mario Brothers 2.

I can no longer find the cartridge, but I can play it on our Fire TV Stick.

One disappointing thing I’ve noticed, sideloaded apps don’t seem to play too nice in the Fire TV Stick’s menu system, and you have to go through the app settings menu to launch them, so you have to do a little more work to launch RetroArch than normal apps from Amazon’s app store.  Hopefully this will change, or I'll figure out how to manage it better, because doing it this way means unlocking the parental controls to access the app.  (UPDATE: as noted in my new Fire TV Gaming Guide, Fire OS 5.0.5 handles sideloaded apps much better).

Once in RetroArch, you’ll want to map the buttons on the Amazon Fire Game Controller to get the controls to work the way you want, but after that it’s 8 bit gaming nirvana. I’ve tried NES and Gameboy games so far with really good results. The D-pad on the Amazon Fire Game Controller isn’t as great as the one on the NES, so games like Ninja Gaiden went from harder than heck to impossible with the controller, but many games work really well. Also, games like Zelda require a second controller to save your game, and I haven’t tried to make a second controller work.  Now, you might point out that you can run these emulators on XXX hardware, and you'd probably be right.  That said, for the cost of the hardware, it's a great way to put a bunch of classing games on your fancy TV without cluttering your room.

Would I buy another Amazon Fire Game Controller? I'm not sure.  It probably would no longer be my first choice, as the Sony Playstation DualShock 4 Controller, while a bit more expensive, is a standard Bluetooth controller and supposedly also works well with the Fire TV Stick (only works with full Fire TV, not stick).  It's supposedly an awesome controller.  I plan to borrow one and test drive it, but assuming it works as others have said, that is probably the right direction to go at this point.

Products referenced in this post:
All posts on the Amazon Fire TV Stick:


7 comments:

  1. Colin,

    Thanks for the write-up.. Although could you please go into a bit more detail as to how you got the ROMs to the firestick? I know you said you used AGK Fire to get the roms to it? I see how you can use it to send apps to the firestick, but not actual files. Mind elaborating?

    Thanks!

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  2. Also curious where exactly on the fire stick you store the roms? Do you create a directory?

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  3. Use es file explorer to send any files. Just open on both systems and click send , select the fire stick and bam. Also the dual shock 4 does not work and will never work on the fire stick. It only works on fire tv.

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    1. Oh, thanks. ES File Explorer is on every android device I own. Seems obvious.

      I still hadn't tested a dual shock 4, was going to borrow one from one of my son's friends but hadn't gotten around to

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  4. How many games can you store on the stick? Im debating whether to buy the TV or stick and I've read theres some speed issues using the emulators on the stick?

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    1. Well, it depends on what else you have on the stick and which emulators. NES/GB ROMs are small, they get progressively bigger as you get to newer systems. The stick seems to be working OK on SNES games, N64 is a no-go. TV is much more powerful. Also, see the new page:

      http://blog.heatdfw.com/p/fire-tv-gaming-guide.html

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