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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

Day of the Sea - 2017 edition

Written by cafealpha 4 comments
Last Monday was a national holiday in Japan, called "Day of the Sea" (海の日). So I went to the sea, and spent a nice day there.

Priority peter in its natural environment :
very similar to me, but without the girls, and with
a TI89 in hand instead of the TI84+

Three years ago, I spent the whole summer period period at hospital without any occasion to go to the sea. So every time I go to the sea is like a little revenge over my cancer

I hope you're having a nice summer too

Read more Day of the Sea - 2017 edition

PPcenter donation system updated !

Written by cafealpha 4 comments
More than 11 years ago (from winter 2005 ?), I had a "donate" page stating something like "send your money and I will make cool things for Saturn on my free time".

During there 11 years, I received 15 US dollars.

And within theses 15 US dollars, I declined 10 because they were generously donated in exchange of "future help" in making a game for Saturn.

So that's something like 45 cents per year, which is also around 3.8 cents per month. I didn't checked in details, but that should be something like one Skittles per week. Not one bag of Skittles, but one bloody skittles. Per. Week

Fortunately, this era now ends, because I officially announce that I changed my donation system from "send your money and I will make cool things for Saturn on my free time" to "Send everything except money, and I will make cool things for Saturn on my free time. And even if you don't donate anything, I will make cool things for Saturn on my free time anyway."
More details can be found on my donate page

And to make it clear : the motivation to change donation system is not related to money : I just spoke about money received so far in order to write something funny in my blog

I make Saturn things for fun, and not for money. As some examples, I started to design rev2f PCB in hospital room from one week after undergoing cancer surgery, and Virtual Memory Cartridge add-on for Pseudo Saturn Kai was developed and tested during my post surgery chemotherapy. Theses helped a lot to think about something else than medical things during theses times.
I don't say that Kicad and gcc are a cure for cancer (), but theses were very good help however.

And to make it clearer : yes, I sell Saturn cartridges, but no I don't make a living from selling theses. I'm not even sure I produce enough carts in order to pay every-day's breakfast from cartridges sales benefits

Read more PPcenter donation system updated !

End of chemo :]

Written by cafealpha 4 comments
Good news : this month, I took my last chemo pills

Last chemo pills (white & orange capsules),
and medicine in order to cover chemo side effects.
Yes, I took a picture of my last chemo pills in order to celebrate this event

And even better news, the physician in charge of me told me that it should be OK not to continue chemo treatment
PET/CT results.
Basically, it says "both PET and CT didn't shown anything weird".
I'm so glad of theses results that I hesitate to frame this test report ^^

Of course, it doesn't means my cancer is completely cured - 5 years without cancer relapse are needed to say everything is OK -, but at least last month's PET/CT scan didn't shown anything, so this is comforting for the next few months ...

Here is a "one page" timeline of the treatment of my cancer (= stage 4 tongue cancer).
April 2014 :
Small mouth ulcer + pain in left ear : consult Otolaryngologist doctor.
On first consultation, I get medical prescription of mouthwash liquid.
No improvement after 2~3 weeks of treatment, so I return to Otolaryngologist doctor, and I was told that I should get "a test of my cells" (doctor didn't wanted to say "biopsy" keyword ...), so I receive a "letter of introduction " to a bigger hospital.
May 2014 (first half) :
Biopsy, one week after, I was told "you got cancer".
I ask the stage : "maybe second stage or so". I ask a "letter of introduction " to a even bigger hospital.
May 2014 (second half) :
First consultation to the "even bigger hospital" + PET, CT, etc tests. Cancer stage was diagnosed to 4a.
One week after first consultation, I am hospitalized during 10 days in order to receive intravenous chemo (5FU + Nedaplatin).
June 2014 :
Commute to hospital (twice a week) in order to follow up chemo side effects.
July~August 2014 :
Hospitalization for surgery (tongue resection, neck lymph node dissection, tongue reconstruction).
Around 9 hours for surgery, 7 weeks for hospitalization, it was really hell ...
October 2014 :
Start of oral chemo (TS-1).
Blood test every 3 weeks.
If everything is fine (= blood test don't show bad results), I take this chemo for a year.
Winter 2014~2015 :
PET scan show abscess in chin ... one week after PET results, it was visually visible.
Tried A LOT of antibiotics, none worked, so the physician who operated my tongue and neck manually removed meat around the abscess ... as a result, there is a small cavity on my chin, but at least abscess is cured
2015 (first half) :
Blood test every 6 weeks, plus CT scan every 3 months.
Basically, everything is fine
(I just skipped 2 weeks of TS-1, because of chemo side effect)
End of September 2015 :
Annual PET scan. Was nervous about results, but everything was fine
It's safe to stop TS-1, and next blood test is scheduled 3 months later.
It was a long time I go out from hospital without medical prescription sheet ^^;
October 2015 :
I take some few TS-1 capsules I skipped during 2015 first half.
Don't tell this to my doctor Normally I must trash chemo drug I couldn't take during prescription period, but it's really a waste IMHO.

Read more End of chemo :]

Tired ...

Written by cafealpha 4 comments
I just spent the whole week not (or few) sleeping during night, then sleeping because of fatigue during day
I don't know the reason of this, but I suspect bad weather (I rained nearly all week here), and also children sleeping in "kawa no ji" style.

What is "kawa no ji" style ? This is a Japanese expression used to speak about children sleeping in the same room/bed as parent's.
While it's not very common in Western countries, I'm personally OK about this, but it would be great if children wouldn't move so much while sleeping !
Example : you fall asleep with son#1 on your right side, and you wake up during night with son#1 near your foot, and son#2 pushing on your back

Another reason may also be chemo I'm currently taking : among the side effects, fatigue or feeling heavy is mentioned.

I'm currently taking "TS-1" chemo drug, which is administered orally as any other "normal" capsule drug. One of the difference with regular drug is that effects (and so side effects) are a little stronger than drugs everybody take when they get a cold
data/images/20141009_nks1.tb.jpg data/images/20141009_nks1_pack.tb.jpg data/images/20141110_ts1.tb.jpg
TS-1 and NKS-1 (TS-1 generic) capsules

Until now, I experienced the following side effects :
 - Diarrhea
 - Nose bleeding
 - Mouth ulcer
 - Fatigue
Fortunately, side effects are relatively mild, and also I experienced them one per one

Let's hope this week's fatigue state is temporary If it is due to chemo side effect, then I'm OK with this, because I consider it is part of the price to pay in order to get rid of my cancer

Read more Tired ...

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