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Pseudo Saturn Kai no longer working on Action Replay ... and its rebirth !

Written by cafealpha 2 comments
So TehNewParalyzer told me he likes Pseudo Saturn Kai and plans to put many Pseudo Saturn Kai videos on his youtube page.
Very good ! That's great to see people still enjoying using Saturn nowadays

Metal Slug with Action Replay cartridge,
compatible until you press Start button
(Click in order to see youtube video)

At that time, his last video was about Uno DX, and was experiencing issues with it.
That's a bit weird, because this game shouldn't cause compatibility/problems ... maybe a bad burn or bad dump of the game ?

By looking at the problem in details (everything is explained in his videos, which is very convenient  ), I see that CWX loader doesn't works anymore for all his games, even the ones that played well before, but JHL loader still works well.
Very weird : CWX hasn't the best game compatibility, but should work on all known models of Saturns

So I request TehNewParalyzer to give details about this problem :
1. From loader selection menu, press B button, select "Self Test", and select "Test once only".
Please let me know if error message is displayed in "Main prgm" or "Bootstub" lines.
2. Please try CWX loader with an original game, and tell me if it booted or not.
3. If possible, please try with game burned on another CD-R brand and/or burned a different (lower or higher) speed than usually, and tell me if it boots with CWX loader or not.
4. If possible, please try with another Saturn and tell me if you can get games booting.
5. If you have a spare Pseudo Saturn cartridge (Action Replay, or Game Shark, or Memory Cart Plus, or any other clone), please give a try with it and tell me if you can get games booting.

Fortunately, there wasn't need to test after step 1 : self test feature was throwing a CRC error on when checking firmware's main program.
Okay, so it looks like cartridge flash ROM is corrupted, and consequently few areas in main program code can't longer be executed.
Why Action Replay's flash ROM would corrupt ? I don't know exactly, but I suspect :
1. Extra feature in Uno DX, corrupting cartridge's firmware in the case you use too much +4 cards
2. Poor quality of Action Replay flash chips.

Rather than thinking too long about causes, let's take measures in order to fix the problem : re-flashing the cartridge should do the job.
And it did the job : no more CRC error

Correct self-test results after firmware re-flash.
(Click in order to see youtube video)

One of the purposes of Pseudo Saturn Kai's self test feature is to help Action Replay users : by the past, I had few reports from other users having their Action Replay no longer working, so I thought about a feature in order to check the integrity of their flash ROM.
I'm glad this feature was useful to at least one Pseudo Saturn Kai user


For those who want more details about Action Replay flash chips :
First, Action Replay cartridges (and their clones) are using old flash chips no longer produced, which means theses chips are either old, or counterfeit. In both cases that means the quality of this chips is a bit shady.
Moreover, Action Replay original firmware may shorten flash ROM life length, because it writes to flash ROM when cheat codes selection is changed, or when cartridge internal save functionality is used : the more you store save data, or select Action Replay codes, the more likely it is to be damaged.

There are ways to improve this problem : the simplest one is to use SST39SF flash chips (5V logic, still produced ), but that requires changes on Action Replay PCB, and to make several changes Action Replay firmware (because write access to new flash chips is not compatible with old ones).

Changes in PCB is probably not a real problem for Action Replay manufacturers, since Action Replay PCB is shrinking year by year (in order to reduce manufacturing costs) so I suppose that Action Replay manufacturer still have at least one guy capable of designing PCB ...

Changes in Action Replay firmware is probably what's preventing manufacturers from using new flash chips : people who wrote Action Replay original firmware (around 20 years ago !) are probably retired now, and I doubt there are still people fluent with SH2 assembly working in Action Replay manufacturing field

A little unrelated (but I'm too lazy to create an article just for that) : Pseudo Saturn Kai compatibility list is growing little by little
There are currently 259 games available in the compatibility list, so there are high chances to find your favorite game listed in it

Special thanks to people who contributed to this list, especially Thales Peres, who provided test reports for around 150 games !

Read more Pseudo Saturn Kai no longer working on Action Replay ... and its rebirth !

[Dev journal] Pseudo Saturn Kai game loader weird bug, and its bugfix

Written by cafealpha 3 comments
(Note : this bug was fixed something like 3 months ago. Pseudo Saturn Kai I first released last month works well  )

First : of course, old versions of Pseudo Saturn (versions up to 0.832) work
But who knows what may happen when doing software engineering (and any other engineering in fact) : it's very common to break something without directly modifying anything to it !

So it happened : in December 2015, Pseudo Saturn Kai beta tester reported that it wasn't possible to load CD-R game.

What game loader bug looks like.
disc_type=0x0003 means that CD-ROM authentication failed

As usual, I first asked if something was wrong on tester side  "Bad game dump ?", "Bad burn to CD-R ?", "Did you do something else bad ?", etc.
(I know that's a bad habit to suspect beta testers doing something wrong, but it sometimes help in fixing problems)

Beta tester was actually doing his job well, and bug couldn't be reproduced in next beta version, so I though it was caused by outdated intermediate file in build process (this happens, for example when I modify header file only : I'm too lazy to fix makefiles about this ) : cleaning up whole project and rebuilding everything prevents such kind of problem.

But I wasn't satisfied with such "half-baked" bugfix, and actually could hear it saying to me "I'll be back"

And, two months after that time, I receive same bug report from same beta tester ...
Well, at least, I didn't had to re-ask him if he tested correctly or not : it was clear that this was December 2015 bug returning back.

First, let's verify do simple things and try to reproduce the bug here : my "main" dev Saturn is a modchipped one that plays CD-R, even when firmware is reported not working. Trying with a "plain" (unmodded) Saturn actually reproduces the bug : cartridge boots, but definitely doesn't want to play CD-R.
In same conditions, let's try with an old version of the firmware : oh, it can play CD-R

So I could "feel" the bug, and its capricious nature.
"Typical" capricious bug is "uninitialized global variable" one, that reproduces after doing the same action twice, or after going to a given screen, returning back to another screen, and doing a given action.
Saturn has relatively few RAM available, and I don't want to use dynamic memory allocation on such "low specs embedded device", so such "uninitialized global variable" happens from time to time.

But this bug was even more capricious than "uninitialized global variable" one : same action reproduces the bug with a given firmware, but can't reproduce the bug with another firmware

First, since I have no idea about the cause of such bug, I added some debug screen that displays few details (= the return values of each functions called when unlocking the CDROM unit), and also some text-based logs, plus RAM dumps stored SD card : that was one of the reasons why I made SD card-based cartridge for Saturn : it allows to prepare bug report on user side

So I "just" have to wait until bug is reproduced with next versions, and beg for logs/dumps/etc on that time.
Of course, the bug reproduced, and of course ... logs/dumps/etc didn't helped a lot

Game loader failure screen.
Basically, it shows that something is wrong after
calling cd_move_sector_data_cd_auth function.

Fortunately, there are some explanations about Pseudo Saturn CD unlock exploit on assembler forums :
1. Use the Put Sector Data command to put a whole bunch of sectors into the CDB - all with FAD 150, Mode 2 in their headers.
2. Call End Data Transfer to push them into the selector.
3. Call Copy Sector Data, starting a copy of all those fake sectors into the selector that the Authenticate Disc command will be using.
4. Immediately (like 15 microseconds later immediately) call the Authenticate Disc command, specifying the same selector.

"Immediately" : firmware have to be fast on step 4.
And what changes in CD-ROM unlock code from a firmware beta version to another is basically its execution start address.
So I started to think : "maybe CD-ROM unlock code will work better if loaded from a constant address ?" : to do this, I moved all CD-ROM code to a separate stub, loaded from a constant address (0x06004000).

And bug didn't reappeared so far

Okay, this way of fixing things without a proper verification is a bit dirty
But it works, and that's the most important
(I suspect the cause of this bug related to SH2 cache : if SH-2 have to refresh cache during time critical section of CD-ROM exploit, code takes too long to execute, and CD-ROM exploit fails ... it's just a guess, and I realized about it after fixing it.)

Special thanks to Stac, Shazz and A Murder of Crows for beta testing
And special thanks to jhl and CyberWarriorX for detailing Pseudo Saturn's CD-ROM exploit ! This helped a lot in fixing this bug

Read more [Dev journal] Pseudo Saturn Kai game loader weird bug, and its bugfix

Pseudo Saturn Kai : still WIP ...

Written by cafealpha no comments
Still WIP, and last week was a busy one !

First, I fixed USB dev cart legacy firmware-like screen that wasn't working at all. Well that's a developer-oriented feature that I seldom use, but that needs to be fixed anyway
The fact I seldom use this feature was the starting point of the problem : modifying a module apparently not related with that feature caused major bug ... software development in a nutshell
Thank you Shazz for beta testing my firmware There are still other bugs remaining, and I plan to fix theses soon

And, (what's more important), game loader was sometimes loading game, sometimes not. Loading game backups is Pseudo Saturn Kai main feature, so I really don't want it to fail
Origin of this bug was unclear, but I fixed/improved many things at once, and game loaded every time after that, so let's hope I won't have to face with it in the future

One additional "bug" was game loader being kicked to multiplayer screen, and it was caused by ... game corrupted dump
First half of the game IP header was filled with zeros, so Saturn couldn't even recognize it as a Saturn game ...
I "fixed" what I could on firmware side by displaying something like "bad game dump/burn ?" message before kicking to multiplayer screen.
Let's hope it will reduce the amount of "can't load xyz game ! Hurry up to fix your bloody firmware !!" kind messages after release

And of course, there were many, many minor fixes, for example :
 - Added scrolling help messages under menus
 - Credits screen ... stub (names missing), and only in Save Data Manager for the moment
 - Added alternate menu exit keys : it is now possible to do something like "A/C:select, X:delete, Y:info, Z:whatever" in a single menu. This is preliminary work for Action Replay codes addition

So firmware development is continuing ! Everything is in good way :
Pseudo Saturn Kai development is going well. Please disperse.
(Screenshot from The Naked Gun)

Nothing to see here 
(Mr Nielsen, you're missing us )

On a positive note, I tested Bubble Bobble (listed as incompatible in Pseudo Saturn compatibility list), and it worked fine
I absolutely don't know why it works fine. I suppose that registers cleanup and running RAM cleanup code from ROM just before loading game helped a bit ... well at least it works

Completely unrelated note : I uploaded 10+ years old videos of me playing Tetris Attack puzzle mode ! You can enjoy the videos in my Tetris Attack page , or directly in the appropriate youtube playlist for theses videos.

Tetris Attack puzzle mode ending screen

Read more Pseudo Saturn Kai : still WIP ...

No more spam ? "I'll be back" edition

Written by cafealpha 5 comments
Second (and I hope last) part of this article ...

Last week, I spend half a day in getting rid of spam messages via my homepage contact form.
And, it seems to work well

So today, I spent another half a day in getting rid of spam messages via this blog's comments
So I removed bullshit advertisement messages scattered on my blogs comments, and tried captcha plugin for PluXml (= my blog's CMS).
And unfortunately, image based captcha plugin doesn't seem to work well, because it blocks ALL comments ... very efficient spam filter
So I added a simple additional test when posting comments. Hope you will solve it ... or not in the case you are a robot

Extra : I spend the other half a day in testing Saturn cartridge with custom USB dev cart connected to my laptop and Open Logic Sniffer and JTAG (ByteBlaster on my desktop's Parallel Port, because I don't have enough budget to buy a USB Blaster ^^; ) around my Saturn
Here is a snapshot of signals when it finally worked :

Can you guess what it is about ?

Read more No more spam ? "I'll be back" edition

USB dev cart for sale soon

Written by cafealpha no comments
I'm about to gather parts in order to make new USB dev cart !
I hope to have some free time at the end of the month to assemble few ones, so please let me know in the comments or by email if you want to preorder one unit

Only very few SST39SF040 flash chips were available for sale from IC supplier, so I bought SST39SF020 instead. On Saturn side, this change makes flash memory dropping from 1MB to 512KB, but USB dev cart itself uses only few tens of KB to work, so everything is fine

First, I will assemble my personal USB dev cart, because I sold it few months ago ... I can't wait to finally be able to debug software on my Saturn

Edit (2015/03/10) : My personal cartridge (until I sell it ) is ready and tested !
The PCB is a old version, hence some ICs are unused and unsoldered. Latest PCB version has a cleaner design
Two more cartridges are waiting for flashing and testing before selling. I plan to do this on next week.

Read more USB dev cart for sale soon

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