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Pseudo Saturn Kai v6.314 - The newer the better

Written by cafealpha no comments
As indicated in the title : I'm glad to announce the release of Pseudo Saturn Kai v6.374 ! It is available for download at the usual address on my homepage.

This time, there aren't any "big" feature added, but rather a streak of small fixes as well as few minor improvements too. So don't wait to upgrade your cartridge and enjoy even more your favorite games with Pseudo Saturn

What's new :
  • Show error message when SD card is not inserted into Rhea/Phoebe ODE.
  • Added RmenuKai : enjoy cheat codes on Rhea/Phoebe even without cartridge !
  • Improved compatibility of JHL loader-only games with Rhea/Phoebe ODEs.
    (Panzer Dragoon Saga can now be correctly loaded from Rhea ODE)
  • Improvements in automatic selection of game in cheats codes feature.
  • Improvements regarding Virtual Memory Cartridge automatic settings.
  • Fixed support for some third party wireless pads.
RmenuKai for Rhea/Phoebe : test with cheat codes for NiGHTS
If you prefer hedgehogs, there is also a similar video with Sonic 3D.


And there's also a small Easter egg hidden in some menus ... will you be able to trigger it ?

What didn't changed :
  • Plays games backed up on CD-R, without the need of any hardware mod.
  • Comes with a bunch of pre-installed cheat codes.
  • Provides image selection menu for Rhea and Phoebe ODE.
  • Available for free and for everyone : it doesn't costs any license to install, and I didn't begged any money to develop Pseudo Saturn Kai too.

This version was thoroughly tested by same beta testers who followed development from last public release, but on the other hand it was tested by ... nobody else during beta testing phase ... this is probably a fault from me (it was announced for one week on segaxtreme forums, and ... for one day on this blog), but today is the third anniversary of initial release of Pseudo Saturn Kai as well as Gamer's Cartridge so I didn't wanted to miss this occasion 

So don't worry and happy playing ! I spent last 5 months in developing this version, and my favorite beta tester spent the same period in testing around twenty beta builds so it will run fine on your Saturn ! Trust me, I'm an engineer
 

Not my favorite PCB,
but at least it works.


It's time to pick up the kids at their Monday evening activities but I still have many tidbit stories to relate about ! So please stay tuned in future article(s)


Edit (2019/06/10) : it should be a good idea to add links for discussions on external sites :

Read more Pseudo Saturn Kai v6.314 - The newer the better

Pseudo Saturn Kai PRO edition - RC1

Written by cafealpha no comments
Once upon a night, I wanted to verify Pseudo Saturn Kai products lineup and realized PRO edition was recently added !

The PRO edition itself was based on same technology as lite one, but requiring a small subscription (in one-digit dollar range) in order to allow installation. In other words, the same contents as lite (free of charge) edition, but financially supporting firmware development and maintenance costs.

Pseudo Saturn Kai PRO edition was so popular that it was attracting enough money to cover my daily personal expenses and at some point it was even enough for apartment rent as well as family's cost of fuel and light ! On the other hand, Pseudo Saturn Kai PRO edition support team was greedier and greedier about new features, visual improvements of the firmware's UI, and the longer it went the more oppressed I was to maintain Pseudo Saturn Kai code base.

And then, the poor man's alarm clock (= in simpler words, light of the morning sun) woke me covered in sweat and experiencing high heart pulsations.
I had to verify this was a nightmare ! ... But before that it was time to start the day with laundry, because procrastinating the laundry duty delays all the subsequent tasks after that until the end of the day

So during my earliest spare moment during that day (somewhere between 6:30PM and 7PM), I could verify that everything was normal regarding Pseudo Saturn Kai project : the lite version free for everybody, and the full version also free but usable only in my hardware projects.
So no deadline, no pressure, and no impatient users ! I was relieved because I have enough of that at regular work !!

~ Development of Pseudo Saturn Kai PRO edition ~
By Mr Quino, from Mafalda  #1212


"Wow, look at what I saw in the newspaper :
a millionaire died from overwork !"
"Yeah, there are such kind of stupid people who
get accustomed to millions and then can't stop."


"And they want more ! Again !"
"Again ! Again millions !"


"Again ! AGAIN ! AGAIN !"





On a more serious note, I'm glad to announce that release candidate version for next release of Pseudo Saturn Kai is ready !
This RC version was thoroughly tested by same beta testers who followed development from last public release, so the risk of bricking cartridge or facing bugs bigger than an elephant are quite low.
I'm however not confident about usage in unusual configuration, so that I would like it to be tested by a few more people for my peace of mind before putting it on the wild.

So if you are volunteer for testing (and reporting me testing results) please contact me by PM on segaxtreme forums, or by email from my contact page.

On the other hand, if you just want to use latest version and don't plan to give testing feedback, then please *don't* contact me and wait patiently for one week or two until RC version becomes publicly available.

What's new in upcoming next release : basically there aren't new major feature available (like cheat codes in previous v6.274 release), but enough changes and/or improvements to make everybody wanting to upgrade.
  • Show error message when SD card is not inserted into Rhea/Phoebe ODE.
  • Added RmenuKai : enjoy cheat codes on Rhea/Phoebe even without cartridge !
  • Improved compatibility of JHL loader-only games with Rhea/Phoebe ODEs.
    (Panzer Dragoon Saga can now be correctly loaded from Rhea ODE)
  • Improvements in automatic selection of game in cheats codes feature.
  • Improvements regarding Virtual Memory Cartridge automatic settings.
  • Fixed support for some third party wireless pads.

And there's also a small Easter egg hidden in some menus ... will you be able to trigger it ?

To shortly sum up the changelog, Rhea/Phoebe ODE users will be happy to find that this release will allow usage of cheat codes without the need of any cartridge  And some Rhea users shall also appreciate Pseudo Saturn Kai finally loading Panzer Dragoon Saga correctly.
There are also some fixes and improvements around cheat codes (available for everybody, not requiring ODE or any special cartridge) and I sincerely hope theses will contribute to make more people enjoying playing Saturn


Rare footage of Pseudo Saturn Kai development room.
Foreground : me preparing next beta.
Background : privateye testing latest beta.

Read more Pseudo Saturn Kai PRO edition - RC1

Pseudo Saturn, Kai, and Dragon Ball too

Written by cafealpha 14 comments
The kids are currently on winter holidays, I don't want unexpected and messy task at work before entering new years holidays, so today was spent at movie theater with kids
We went to see Dragon Ball Super - Broly, and it was cool !! I really appreciated the "フリーザー!「カコク」ってなんだ!?" from Goku just after Freezer used "過酷" word in a dramatic scene

So well, it seems it's the good moment to announce a new public section in my homepage, which is about Dragon Ball cards
More than 15 years ago (but it feels like last week ... I'm really getting old !), I spent many afternoons in scanning my collection of Dragon Ball cards, and then put everything on a CD-R ... because internet was paid for each minutes connected, and my maximum transfer speed at that time was around 7KB/s, hence not suitable for uploading hundreds of megabytes of data

All theses limitations are no longer a problem, so please enjoy my digital cards collection

Broly when I was a kid


Oh, I forgot to say that everything in more or less in its original state, including the html, so in advance I'm sorry for any reaction to Comic Sans MS font and flashy image background Also, the textual contents are left as-is in omelette du fromage language



My main Saturn project during the last four years was named after watching a Dragon Ball Kai episode on TV, so in a related note, I'm glad to announce a new version of Pseudo Saturn Kai is available
But ... there's currently a bug so I shall re-release it soon
After everything will be fixed and verified, I shall make a proper announcement in this article, so if you don't want to flash your cartridge twice, please keep tuned for one day or two !

Edit (2018/12/31) : version v6.274 was released a couple of a days ago, and so far I didn't received major claims about it, so let's consider this version a stable one ! Please find below an overview of the changes and additions in this release.

What's new in Pseudo Saturn Kai v6.274

Automatic Game Loader

So far in Pseudo Saturn Kai 6.074, user had to choose which game loader to choose before starting a game, but this is now done automatically on Pseudo Saturn Kai side.
There's no magic around this feature : it just uses a list of games not compatible with CWX loader, and decides accordingly
Pseudo Saturn Kai boot menu
No need to worry about which loader to choose ♪

Cheat Codes

That's a big addition for this release. Its development spans around June 2017 to Spring 2018.
The main features for cheat codes are :
  • Built-in : don't need to manually enter the cheat codes
  • User friendly : just push X button when booting a game, and then select the cheat(s) to enable.
  • Maintained by cafe-alpha () : rather than adding an "enter cheat codes by yourself" feature, I plan to continue improving and maintaining the cheat codes list

Disc image selection menu for Rhea/Phoebe ODEs

Back in 2015, I added a stub of alternate rmenu to Pseudo Saturn Kai, but didn't had the technical information regarding Rhea/Phoebe API so the feature was disabled in its unfinished state.
And this summer, an enthusiast friend helped a lot to get this technical information, so that I could finally finish this feature
Development of this feature was an occasion to bring usage of proportional font in image selection menu, thus showing more information on a single screen. Base of menu module was developed around 2010 without any consideration for proportional font, so development of this side feature was a nightmare, but I don't regret for having done it now it is finished

Image selection menu for Rhea/Phoebe ODEs

Dezaemon 2 Save Game Manager 3

Dezaemon 2 is a shooting game maker application for Saturn. And Save Game Manager is a collection of user games for Dezaemon 2.
By the past, there were two volumes released by Madroms : SGM1 in 2007 and SGM2 in 2008.
And 10 years after that, SGM3 is released and contains some new user games as well as all the games from SGM1 and SGM3 : one SGM to rule them all

Special thanks to Dezaemon DB for gathering a community around Dezaemon 2, and dumping the user games


A stylish logo for Pseudo Saturn Kai

That's maybe a detail, but that was really missing from a long time !
Special thanks to Alien^PDX for the logo, and CyberWarriorX for putting me in touch with him
Pseudo Saturn Kai logo, 2017/12/31
Yes, taken one year ago !

In-game connectivity for USB dev cart

This uses cheat codes routine, hence requires at least a valid master code to be set. It can do USB connectivity while doing transfer with PC, but that's a bit slow (because of unoptimized C running from cartridge ROM), and consequently may cause glitches on some games.
As a countermeasure, there is another mode who does only USB connectivity (hence no cheat codes) but does it fast since the code for it is written directly in assembly and running in RAM.

That may be cool for game hacking, or looking for new cheat codes ... but I still need to add a proper cheat codes finder feature on SatLink before looking for cheat codes on my favorite games

I stopped USB dev cart support, so this feature is disabled and software on PC side won't be released.

In-game USB connectivity in action.
Radiant Silvergun was one of the very first games
to work correctly with Pseudo Saturn Kai cheat codes


Virtual Memory Cartridge support via USB dev cart

This is similar to "Virtual Memory Cartridge" used in Gamer's Cartridge, but access save data files on PC via USB dev cart instead of SD card.
That's convenient for save data hacking, or testing several saves, but for normal use then using SD card is (in my opinion) a better choice.
As a consequence, full firmware can now be installed on USB dev cart. But cartridges not using SST39SF040 flash chips are not supported (because there's not enough room in flash ROM) and in that case only lite firmware can be installed.

I stopped USB dev cart support, so this feature is disabled and software on PC side won't be released.

Virtual Memory Cartridge via USB dev cart
It was convenient for taking screenshots
for Dezaemon 2 Save Game Manager 3

Fixed support for 3D pad

In previous version, using 3D pad would sometimes cause an emergency exit to multiplayer screen when touching analog buttons. This is now fixed, and additionally supports input from analog buttons.
Pseudo Saturn Kai is not a 3D game, so the interest of using analog buttons is a bit questionable, but at least it is supported now



And the most voluminous change is ... :
Fixed many bugs everywhere, added other bugs here and there
Everything should work now ! Trust me, I'm an engineer



Congratulations, you reached the end of this long article
Last but not least, I wish you a Merry Christmas, happy new year 2019 and happy gaming

Read more Pseudo Saturn, Kai, and Dragon Ball too

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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