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End of 2018 Summer vacations

Written by cafealpha 6 comments
... One month ago, I wanted to announce that I wouldn't be available for several weeks, but I was suddenly taken in a storm of bringing/taking kids to/from schoolchildren care, washing bento boxes, going to work and the usual dish-wash/throw trash/laundry/whatever daily routines

Personally, I only had two rest days at the middle of August generously offered by employer as summer holidays ... two days !! That's one day, and ... one another day  Moreover both are consecutive And  that's ... so long I fear I would forget everything about work after such a long rest
Well, more seriously I took some day-off here and there during August too, and theses were a good occasion to refresh from everyday life

As a consequence, I completely neglected my email box during this period of time. Sorry to all concerned people !
I will try to tidy-up my mail box this week, but can't guarantee that everything will be done on planned time since day work went a bit crazy recently

So here comes some lines about my summer holidays ... hey, that's my homepage which I pay for hosting and where I installed and filled this blog, so I write whatever I want on it

So if you're not interested in me talking about my life, please skip until next horizontal separator


Summer 2018 activity #1 : going to the beach

As every summer, I celebrated the lapse of one year by going to the beach : four years ago, I spent nearly two months at hospital without any occasion to go outside, so that I like to take a revenge every year
At that time, I had around 50-60% of chances to be still here today. It's good to be alive

Well, there were a bit more medusa than usual, so I didn't swam so much, but that's better than not being able to go to beach at all anyway


This is an illustration photo : the girls are just
to boost my blog audience.
And I own TI-89 calculator rather than TI-83+


The kids wanted to make a sand castle, which
ended in some kind of free-style art
Title: Japanese style toilet, by cafe-alpha kids, 2018

I like that they didn't spent half a day to do a instagram-compliant thing that would then be destroyed by the sea but had fun anyway


Summer 2018 activity #2 : watching typhoons
I don't know if that's limited to the region I live, but there were a lot of typhoons this year ! There wasn't any kind of major damage nearby, but not everybody in Japan could be that fortunate ...

Personally, it was the occasion to do some cleanup on the balcony : I trashed several things that accumulated over past year, and Mr Typhoon helped to clean up dust after that

I wish typhoon and other similar kind of natural disasters could evolve into intelligent entities to clean up earth from climate-skeptical trolls



Rare footage from the birth of a French citizen
(That's not super related with typhoons, but this is my blog,
and I write whatever I want on it )


Summer 2018 activity #3 : going to several kinds of museums
The kids like museums, especially to watch insects, machines or similar stuff. But museums close early, unfortunately.

Close at 4PM ?!
That's not a museum, but an hideout for civil workers

Always should read the little letters : "open until 4:30 PM ... but can't enter after 4PM"
The rear door was still open, so we could sneak inside anyway ... that's funny to hack museum rules

Went to aquarium too. That's a Hammerhead Shark.
And it's also a multi-purpose drawing :
tilt your screen and E.T. will appear


Summer 2018 activity #4 : watering plants
Kid bring back okra from school. One of summer vacations homework was to take care of that thing, but from the limited range I could see, only me was doing such boring duty
Mr Okra in all its glory.
I put it near the space for hanging
laundry so that I don't forget to water it


Summer 2018 activity #5 : watching Saturn for real !
Local astronomy group prepared an "Watch Jupiter, Saturn, and also a bunch of other stars I forgot their name" event ... so I was super interested in it

土星, during small explanations about how to locate things in the sky.
Saturn was so bright it's hard to miss it in the night sky
But Mars was even brighter this summer !

This was also an occasion to assemble a small telescope by oneself. That's a cheap "30 bucks" model, but with lens good enough to see Jupiter moons oO


Summer 2018 activity #6 : adventuring in Tokyo

In order to renew a identification paper, I had to go to embassy located Tokyo : this was basically one day spent in transports, except 15 minutes at the embassy itself to sign a couple of papers, have my fingerprints taken, and pay 12198 yens

That's a long time I didn't get lost in Tokyo Everything was more or less smooth in changing from plane → train/subway → bus, but in the last steps walking to the embassy, the battery of my phone decided take a little rest for the remaining of the day
I was aware that battery wouldn't last long, so I printed nearly all directions, but last "use your own foots" steps weren't detailed a lot Fortunately the "ask random people around" solution could guide me to the embassy

The return back to home without help from phone was more or less OK, and when back to home I finally could unlock my phone
Why unlock ? Because my phone's power switch is broken At a moment, I asked for an estimation to my phone carrier to get this fixed, and price was around 80 buck-ish, so I decided it would be better to live with this broken switch rather than paying that
Now, I'm used enough to my phone power in sequence that I no longer consider it as a problem, but instead as child lock feature : if kid try to play game on it while it is running on battery, it turns off after around 5 minutes

My secret method to turn the phone on is to tweak the debounce circuit with a small wire. Electronics components there are super small (which is probably why the power switch broke ...), why requires the usage of tweezers or a small pliers hence can't be done outside since I don't always bring my electronics toolbox with me when I go on travel

My phone, and its broken power switch.
I feel like MacGyver when I turn on my phone


Summer 2018 activity #7 : going to hospital
This was "just" a routine appointment for periodic screening, and everything was OK This time was the occasion to celebrate the fourth year still alive after surgery

This is an archive picture : all the "no pokemon go in hopital"
warnings were removed. Instead there was a notice that
North side parking is not available, but I didn't took a
picture of it since I doubt the average reader of this
blog is concerned by such news



End of the personal and boring news August was also a time do PCB design to celebrate the 10th birthday of my favorite PCB house
(More pragmatically, I rushed to finish PCB design until August 31st because they were offering discount coupons until that date to celebrate this event )

Among PCBs ordered, there was minor change for Gamer's Cartridge, and a small board to flash MAX3000A CPLDs used in Gamer's Cartridge.

Gamer's Cartridge PCB rev 3.3 (c)

There's nothing changed nor deleted : I just added footprints for alternate voltage regulator : I'm using this alternate regulator in another project, so I would like to unify electronic components used in order to reduce stock management/space/etc to store theses two components.
Additionally, this alternate voltage regulator is a bit easier to solder, so at the end I would like to stick with this one

CPLD flash board

That's a really simple board to interface between CPLD and programming hardware : so far I was flashing Gamer's Cartridge CPLD one by one after soldering each cartridges, but thanks to this board it may be possible to flash a batch of CPLDs in a row hence save some bits of time on my side

Read more End of 2018 Summer vacations

Gamer's Cartridge available back soon !

Written by cafealpha no comments
A small article to keep informed about Gamer's Cartridge availability

So, I recently went out of Dezaemon 2 themed labels. Because being game-specific, I was expecting theses labels popular only for a niche of users, and prepared stocks accordingly, but theses actually became the main choice among the few labels available for Gamer's Cartridge, without letting me time to prepare extra stock for them

Okay, I admit I didn't checked actively the stock of theses labels, and started to panic when I saw that only 1 or 2 were remaining Additionally, I didn't had a lot of time during Spring holidays too ... March is always a busy month in Japan


Next batch of Dezaemon 2 labels is currently in preparation, so please be patient until they become available
I don't prepare theses labels by myself for the simple reason that my friend Darius cut them way better than me (1), so some extra delay is required for shipping. But basically theses will be available on the second half of this month

(1) And also because my printer is barely good enough to prepare new year postcards, and jam when processing A4 paper There's also some know-how required to prepare theses labels, such as selection of paper (it is using paper designed for use on car body), as well as cutting process too, as detailed in an previous article. Without Darius, labels for Gamer's Cartridge wouldn't exist


Dezaemon 2 labels for Gamer's Cartridge
Design by Mr beebaraka, and printing/cutting by Darius.
That's probably the component I'm the least involved in,
which explains why it's the most fancy one



On a less positive note, I am in the regret to announce that I'm out of stock of black shells, and that theses are no longer available for purchase

White Saturns have their plastics fading in several tones from "pure white as on first day" to "heavy smoker's dirty yellow", making difficult to adjust color difference between Saturn body and cartridge. Black Saturns doesn't have this plastic fade problem, which was the main reason why I was providing black cartridge shells

As I'm re-using Action Replay cartridge shells for Gamer's Cartridge, and that standard color for them is white, it's very unlikely I will get black shells in the future. But anyway, that doesn't stops availability of Gamer's Cartridge itself


Black cartridges out of production !
But white ones are still available from time to time

Read more Gamer's Cartridge available back soon !

Cheat codes overlap check feature

Written by cafealpha 4 comments
"Overlap check" ... yeah, I know that I'm always terrible when finding a name for a new feature or a new project

So, as its name may suggest, this feature check for cheat codes that would not work correctly together, and automatically unselect some cheat(s) in order to get things working as expected.
One illustration would be level select cheat code : some games may have a list of cheats like "play level 2", "play level 3", "play level 4", and so on. (no, there is usually no cheat code to play level 1 )

Example with Sonic 3D blast cheat codes : it's no longer
possible to simultaneously enable several "Play xyz level" codes
thanks to this overlap check feature


When trying cheat codes for the first time, the reflex would be "enable them all !", and in that case this would lead to undefined behavior. In typical case, game just work fine and since cheat codes are executed in the order from their list, the last overlapping cheat takes priority.

But, some games are quite picky regarding execution time, so the faster cheat codes handler is executed, the better. In other words, the less codes enabled, the more chances game have to work correctly.
Here is one example in video with NiGHTs into dreams : first half of the video shows cheat codes causing graphic glitches, and second half show updated Pseudo Saturn Kai version fixing theses glitches :


 
NiGHTs into dreams : graphic glitches caused by
cheat codes slow handler.
Video available on youtube.
Left : slow cheat codes handler, causing missing quads on screen
Right : game as well as unlimited time cheat code working fine

Hrm, that's around half a year ago, and I'm still fixing things for the same main feature  Well, that's how software development works : fixing bugs, adding new bugs, and returning back to step zero. Maybe smart people can develop things faster, but ... I'm not smart, so the best solution is to continue the endless development iterations until getting something OK for release


Illustration of Pseudo Saturn Kai development
(From The Crimson Permanent Insurance movie)

So well, let's go back to original topic, and let's add that I also felt bad each time I was enabling two incompatible codes. "Play level 2" : enable, "Play level 3" : enable, start game ... what will it do ? Maybe a thermonuclear meltdown because of some divide by zero error  ?! Well, it actually plays level 3, but that's unpleasant anyway.
I implemented cheat codes features from (basically) scratch first for fun (yes, I like 6+ months span software development projects ! ), but also for the freedom of making what I want. Especially, making cheat codes as user-friendly as possible ! So that this "overlap check" feature was added

Here is another example with cheat codes for Virtua Fighter Kids : this is an interesting example because some cheat codes for this game are using "enable code" (starting with `D') : this kind of code is sometimes used to prevent from executing other codes, typically when game module to cheat is not yet loaded, and that writing something to its location would make the game not working correctly.
As a consequence, "enable code" have a global effect on all enabled cheats, hence multiple "enable code" can't be enabled simultaneously.

Virtua Fighter kids uses "enable code" for a slightly different purpose : setting player health to a given value (50% of maximum, one HP, etc) only when it is set to maximum, ie on fight start time. By using this trick, game can then decrease health value, allowing to set some handicap to a given player.
This behavior is completely different in comparison to "unlimited health" cheat that always forces health value to maximum

Virtua Fighter Kids cheat codes list : "50% healt" and
"1-Hit Death" codes are the ones using enable codes


And, Virtua Fighter Kids is a good example, because it uses "enable code" at two different locations : at player 1 health value (06045974) and player 2 health value (06046A74). As only one "enable code" can be used, it's for example not possible to enable "1-hit death" code for both players.


Left : 1-Hit Death code enabled for P1
Right : P1 1-Hit Death code automatically disabled after
1-Hit Death code for P2 is enabled

Additionally, unlimited health for P2 is also automatically disabled, which is normal because it is in contradiction with 1-hit death code for it. From cheat code point of view, theses two codes write to same address, which doesn't makes sense.

"Hey, but I like "One Punch Man" series, and really want to enable theses two 1-hit death codes when playing Virtua Fighter Kids !" would you say ?
Well, that's not possible as-is, but adding a new cheat code setting both players health to 1 when health of any player is set to max value should do the job ♪
I didn't verified this code for real (in fact, I thought about it when writing this article), but it should be OK : "trust me, I'm an engineer"

1-Hit Death code for both P1 and P2
This could also be named "Two gentlemen duel"




I would like to finish this article with the introduction of a bug I fixed recently : I usually don't spend time in speaking about bugs I fix, because this would take too much time But the behavior of this one is very unexpected :

Text display is suddenly uncentered !?
Never though though such goofy bug
would be possible


So, this bug is triggered when selecting item in menu with scrolling text, and when text starts to scroll. The two features in relation with this bug (text centering and scrolling) are apparently unrelated, but the menu module used by Pseudo Saturn Kai is so spaghetti-ish that theses two features can collide into a bug

I'm honestly proud of this menu module It was initially designed for simple menu without even vertical scrolling, but evolved little by little in order to support each new features added to Pseudo Saturn Kai.
It's a complete spaghetti monster, but it works ! Yes, it works : trust me, I'm an engineer !

Read more Cheat codes overlap check feature

Happy Birthday Panzer Dragoon Saga !

Written by cafealpha no comments
According to wikipedia, it seems that Japanese version of Panzer Dragoon Saga turned 20 years old this week, so,

Happy Birthday

 Panzer Dragoon Saga !

Hrm, I feel old to hear over and over that games I played in my childhood are becoming vintage ... time flies

So well, I don't want to write an article for the anniversary of each Saturn game That's too depressing, and I prefer to use this time for other things The reason for this article is to help people wanting to play Panzer Dragoon Saga, but not from level 1, and failing to find appropriate save states for use on their Saturn.

There aren't many saves for Panzer Dragoon save files available for importing from Save Data Manager, but good quality saves can be found on Panzer Dragoon Legacy homepage :


The reason why theses saves aren't added to Pseudo Saturn Kai Save Data Manager CDROM is because the readme included with theses saves states that saves can't be hosted elsewhere than on Panzer Dragoon Legacy. I personally think this is a pity, because theses saves are really good.
(2018/02/12 : it seems OK regarding copyright See the bottom of this article for details)

Panzer Dragoon Saga is one of the few games not allowing in-game usage of Gamer's Cartridge. A workaround to that is to use Saturn's internal backup memory.
So, it is possible to import theses saves to Saturn's internal backup memory by using Gamer's Cartridge and Save Data Import feature :
 1. Copy all save data folders from archive to SD card → SAVES folder
 2. Insert Gamer's Cartridge into Saturn, power on Saturn
 3. From main menu, select "Save Data Manager"
 4. Select "Save Data Import"
 5. Browse for save data file where to import from
    Example : SAVES folder → saga_01 → BKRAM1.BIN
 6. Select all saves with Y button and confirm import to internal memory device with A button

Then, it is possible to use theses saves from the game. Unfortunately, Panzer Dragoon Saga is one of the few games not supporting in-game memory cartridge support with Gamer's Cartridge, so the only workaround is to use Saturn internal backup memory.
2018/02/12 : the steps above are still valid, but work on Gamer's Cartridge only. Next release of Pseudo Saturn Kai will feature theses saves directly from Save Data Manager, so that theses will be available for Action Replay cartridges users too (See the bottom of this article for details)

I hope I will be able to make this game compatible with Gamer's Cartridge in the future ! I recently tried to find what's causing this game not working ... and realized it would be harder to fix (I thought game was re-authenticating CD-ROM just before starting to play, but I didn't found any code doing that)
I'm not a genius programmer, but on the other hand, I don't give up on the first failure I meet, so hope next attempt to fix support for this game will be the good one



Update 2018/02/12
: I just received the agreement to add theses saves to Save Data Manager More details can be found on Panzer Dragoon Legacy forums, and screen copy of related posts are available here for the records.
Special thanks to Solo_Wing, who solved this problem in a couple of messages ! Please keep the good work







Read more Happy Birthday Panzer Dragoon Saga !

Year 2017 - Synthesis

Written by cafealpha no comments
Synthesis ... this is the kind of blog article posted at the end of December in normal blogs, but since this is not a normal blog, and that I can't respect any schedule for it, let's prepare this article at the beginning of January

Last year started well with an order of Gamer's Cartridge from IGK, who is administrator of Dezaemon DB homepage. More than administrating Dezaemon DB, he is also a dezaemoner who (among other titles) developed Biometal Nemesis, which deserves its youtube link in this blog :)
Biometal Nemesis - Click above if you like shmups

I really like the style of this Dezaemon game ! Thank you very much IGK for creating such gem

Thanks to IGK, it was possible to finish support of Saturn Floppy Disk Drive on Save Data Manager : initialization of this device is slightly different than with internal backup memory and backup memory cartridge, and consequently was causing troubles on various configurations such as no backup memory cartridge inserted, but floppy disk connected, etc. Fixing all possible patterns wouldn't had been possible without kind help and beta testing from IGK. Thank you


Save Data Manager (version around 2017/01/30)
Configuration when this screen was taken was no "backup memory cartridge inserted, and floppy disk connected", which was causing troubles because among other things, unavailable device in the middle of devices table wasn't supported.

Additionally, this was the occasion to add virtual floppy disk support on Gamer's Cartridge, making Saturn considering a floppy disk drive is available, even if not physically connected.
Main purpose of this feature is to add 5 more save and load slots in Dezaemon 2, which, in addition of the 5 slots on backup memory cartridge, makes possible to manage up to 10 saves into a Dezaemon 2 session directly from a single SD card 
I don't remember exactly what was the trigger which started the addition of this feature, but I think that a suggestion from IGK like "it would be cool if floppy disk would be supported by Gamer's Cartridge too" and me "Ah yeah, that's a nice idea ... how many save slots do you want ?"

After that, IGK continued to surprise me by asking his friend beebaraka to draw a Dezaemon 2 themed label for Gamer's Cartridge ... As a result, I received images for two labels, which I personally consider as the masterpieces among Gamer's Cartridge label collection
My preference goes to the white-themed label, but I suppose it's just a matter of personal taste.

Dezaemon 2 themed Gamer's Cartridges
Like shooting games ? Like DIY ? Theses cartridges are designed for you

In parallel of theses Dezaemon 2 adventures, generous contributors helped in dumping firmware of some exotic Saturn cartridges, and were successfully added to Pseudo Saturn Kai Save Data Manager.
Most relevant dumps were for X-Terminator cartridge, and Urawaza Dataro cartridge : first one is a cartridge with extended support for cheat codes, especially with extra controller allowing in-game search of cheat codes. Later one provides special save data for several (around 34 IIRC) Japanese games. Special thanks to Madrom for providing dump of this cartridge !

All the points below contributed to prepare the "20170423" release of Pseudo Saturn Kai. Warm thanks to all contributors who could make it possible !


Second half of the year mostly concerned cheat codes addition to Pseudo Saturn Kai. It started in June (or May ... I don't remember correctly) from a Gamer's Cartridge user asking when cheat codes will be available in Pseudo Saturn Kai ... this reminded me I still had to finish that until next release


First working version of cheat codes
hander, with USB transfer support
It's not visible on this picture, but many polygons weren't
drawn because of performance issues.

Unlimited time cheat code working : it took me around
one month to fix missing polygons, because of unoptimized
implementation of cheat codes handler), but I did it
 
Cheat codes kept me busy for six solid months, basically in understanding to manage cheat codes in a similar way as is it done on Action Replay firmware, optimizing critical code, importing codes list, finishing cheat codes related interface, testing several games, etc.
That's honestly a hard work, but this was also an occasion to add in-game USB transfer via USB dev cart. Thanks to this, the basis in order to fix or improve cheat codes is ready  Proper PC software for cheat codes detection is still missing, but hopefully this will be done someday.

Akumajo Dracula-X illustration with Maria's inifinite jump cheat code.
This game was a nasty one regarding cheat code support, with very
tight CPU and RAM left for cheat codes handler. This was an occasion
to develop many cheat codes debug features

Summer was also the occasion for me to officially end manufacturing and support of USB dev cart : after 5 years involved in this adventure, I considered it was enough, because :
 1. USB dev cart interests basically nobody
 2. In the rare cases USB dev cart interests somebody, it is usually used for closed-source projects
(But there are notable exceptions where USB dev cart contributed to Saturn open source projects. Big thanks to theses concerned peoples for making Saturn homebrew scene brighter )



I'm hesitating about the timing for next Pseudo Saturn Kai release : should I take some extra months in order to get proper cheat codes support for most popular games ? Or should I release it under few weeks with minimal cheat codes support (around an handful of games are currently tested and working), and hope to receive some feedback from users, so that I will eventually know which games need their cheat codes to be fixed ?

That's a very difficult choice : cheat codes is a niche feature (as everything else regarding Saturn !), so I shouldn't hope a lot of feedback. On the other hand, adding a cheat codes edition screen, and allowing cheat codes input on user side is (IMHO) a mistake too : maybe a motivated user would fix and/or add codes for some games, but rarely theses codes will be publicly available for everybody else, and in the other cases, user will simply consider Pseudo Saturn Kai cheat codes as a broken feature.
Let's see ... I honestly don't have any precise idea when next release should be done. Any suggestion regarding this is welcome in the comments

Generally speaking, I'm tired about Pseudo Saturn Kai maintenance : I started it around two years ago (yes, largely over than nine thousands hours !!!), edit: that was around three years ago (I though we were at the beginning of year 2017 ), am finally seeing the end of my TODO list to realize that ... majority of users shifted to hardware ODE, or simply left the scene without any last final word ...

Well, whatever it may be, I continue development of Pseudo Saturn Kai because I went too far to stop so near of the end (that's quite a pragmatic argument, sorry), but also (and that's the most important), because that's a nice hobby, which is important in order to keep a balance between private and work

Also, my first steps in Pseudo Saturn Kai maintenance were made during my hospitalization for cancer, and keeping such hobby during theses hard times was worth gold. I don't know (and don't want to know) how things would had turned without my Saturn hobbies.

BTW, things concerning my health are getting well : I'm still undergoing periodical screening, which all were OK last year  Last year was the celebration of 3 years all right after surgery, which is not bad for a cancer with 50-60% 5 years survival rate

Pokemon Go still not allowed in hospital.
Fortunately, usage Saturn dev laptop isn't forbidden



To finish this article on a rant note (sorry if you went here for some final positive note ), I would like to say "thank you for nothing" to Rhea/Phoebe development team rmenu author. (← updated on 2018/06/20)

Why ? Reason is that I would like to add a rmenu equivalent to Pseudo Saturn Kai, but don't have any technical information to implement it, and it's not like I didn't asked about theses informations, but simply didn't received any relevant reply from concerned developer(s).
For a semi-commercial product, I can understand to keep schematics, source codes and other development resources private. But I don't request disclosure of theses resources, and just want some minimal information for interoperability, which isn't publicly available, and that's a pity.

Why is that a pity ? Because some cheat codes will certainly not work by having rmenu running between Pseudo Saturn Kai and Saturn game. I know there's the solution to use rmenu's full boot, which does a system reset of nearly everything (except Rhea/Phoebe, obviously) after selecting a game, so that cheat codes can be enabled after that ... but I really don't know anybody motivated to do this messy setup : everybody is using the rmenu's quick boot solution, right ?


Pseudo Saturn Kai's rmenu, dated 20151214.
Latest version have some major improvements,  such as
scrolling title of select game, etc
Because of lack of Rhea/Phoebe API, this feature is disabled.


I'm personally (and honestly) not concerned about this problem : my modded Saturn + USB dev cart are enough for my development needs, and I don't want to pay for a device costing an arm and a leg (plus a kidney when buying from ebay ...) and then having to do the reverse-engineering job for it after that ! So unless I got external help, clean support for Rhea/Phoebe will be done ... without me

From what I could found from static analysis of rmenu itself, version is checked by seeking to the last available data sector of the CD track, and game is selected by seeking to sectors just before that last available one.
After that's it's difficult to guess what data should be expected from Rhea/Phoebe without testing on real hardware. And reverse-engineering is usually a sluggish and hard work (I estimate the remaining as around a two weeks course ... and hope this to be a pessimistic estimation), and really would like to spend this time to other projects funnier.

2018/06/20 update : there will be proper support of Rhea/Phoebe image selection in Pseudo Saturn Kai, and consequently an user-friendly way of enabling cheat codes when using theses ODE
Very big thanks to Deunan Knute for the great job, providing the technical informations and everything else
And also I would like to thank privateye for contacting Deunan, his patience and great help in beta testing

Read more Year 2017 - Synthesis

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