Written by cafealpha 20 comments
TL;DR : Gamer's Cartridge are no longer available. It's not an end of the project but if back for sale, it will likely to be in limited quantity.
This is to announce that Gamer's Cartridge are out of stock for an undefined period of time. That may look sudden, but I was scheduling this transition for around one year ... and kept it confidential until now to avoid an eventual rush of orders, or people purchasing my cartridges just for stocking "in case of" or for speculation without actually playing with their Saturn.
The reason(s) why
Why are Gamer's Cartridge out of stock ? First, this is for the simple reason that I don't have any Action Replay shell for assembling new carts : my friend who supplied shells stopped provisioning from wholesale supplier around one year ago.
So I bought all the remaining stock from that friend, and that stock kept me busy this year in manufacturing and selling last batches Gamer's Cartridge.
Now that my Action shells storage facility (which is maybe a bit pedantic term to speak about a couple of shoes box ) is empty and that I found the time and motivation to write this article, it's time to officially put Gamer's Cartridge project on pause.
That pause may be temporary or the last one ... I honestly don't know how the project will evolve, but what's sure is that it won't be available back in short term and in the case it shall become available back, this will be in limited quantities.
Another reason for Gamer's Cartridge being out of stock is the decline of public interest toward it : back on initial release in 2016, Gamer's Cartridge was relatively popular because its unique "virtual" memory cartridge feature. At that time, Action Replay flashed with Pseudo Saturn Kai was a standard to play Saturn games but unfortunately this solution didn't featured cartridge backup memory, so that Gamer's Cartridge was here to fill this gap.
But I clearly felt the recent rise of "all-in-one" red cartridges because time until each Gamer's Cartridge batch is sold became longer by longer from the beginning of this year, from "few hours" in 2016, it became "several days" recently
As of Gamer's Cartridge main developer and manufacturer my opinion is a bit biased, but I consider Gamer's Cartridge a better solution than the red cart because backup memory capacity is larger, access to Saturn floppy disk device is emulated, and also because save data contents can be easily backed up to modern media. But on the other hand, as expansion 1MB/4MB RAM isn't available and that Gamer's Cartridge are hand made by one dude during its free time, maybe customers were more in confidence in the red cart because it mass produced, or a bit cheaper, or more convenient because it's "all-in-one". Who knows.
Also, the approaching public release of Satisfier project will certainly make possible the backup of cartridge memory contents to SD card, also provide the ability to dump Saturn BIOS there too. This overlaps few of the few remaining "Gamer's Cartridge exclusive" features.
Last remaining "sales point" of Gamer's Cartridge is to offer a *reliable* in-game save data support : all the other backup memory cartridges (including Sega official ones !) are prone to corrupt save data when not correctly inserted.
This was improved with Gamer's Cartridge, which shows an error message on startup (without botching any user data) if not correctly inserted. If Pseudo Saturn Kai boots then save data are saved in a reliable way
But as typical user don't care about data reliability, there soon will be no more room left for Gamer's Cartridge in the portfolio of retro gaming devices for Saturn.
Whatever it may be, it's stupid to continue Gamer's Cartridge manufacturing if I struggle to sell theses. Maybe aggressive marketing or promoting my projects here and there on social media would had made a difference, but that's clearly not the path I want for my projects : I don't do that for a living and don't want to influence potential customers just to increase my pocket momey. If it interests someone then that's cool, but on the other case I won't force anybody to buy my homemade stuff and rather shall temporarily close the store and go on other projects.
Cartridges order page, before status being set to "out of stock"
Life-prolonging treatments for Gamer's Cartridge ?
There are some solutions to continue Gamer's Cartridge manufacturing a bit, but as the "life-prolonging" title suggest, theses are flawed and/or limited and I will explain you why.
Supplying shells from another source ? That may be a viable solution, but honestly I didn't examined it in depth : that's a significant amount of time to ask several places about my project, my needs, etc etc ... without any guarantee to get something at the end. Well, I may think about this solution someday but right now I prefer to dedicate my free time to projects other than writing tons of emails
Supplying shells from wholesale manufacturer such as EMS ? Big manufacturer have the advantage to (usually) be stable on the long term and to offer broken prices ... but the advantages stop here. On the other side it requires a commitment on my side to buy in large quantities, hence to manufacture Gamer's Cartridge in large quantities, and finally to sell in large quantities.
This "large quantity" point is clearly not what I want for my project : for me, Saturn is just an hobby which I don't want to be a source of stress (what should I do with remaining stock of unsold carts, electronic parts and shells if by example Gamer's Cartridge would be "3rd party copied" and that all customers prefer to purchase that because it's $20 cheaper ?), and I consider this was a wise choice to do such kind "limited manufacturing" because at some point Gamer's Cartridge lost interest from public. To give an idea of magnitude between my projects and mass produced ones, unit used for mass-produced things is probably (I don't know in details) around "large cardboard", or "palette". On my side, the until is "shoes box"
Cartridges without shells ? That's a big no : if that's to then hear that the quality of my carts is shabby I prefer to leave here on a good impression. Additionally, if that's to also hear that because of the lack of shell my cartridges have to be put on discount that's another NO too. Prices of my carts are decided after a long work of research and introspection () so I don't want to hear any kind of price reduction after that. If you want a cheap cartridge, the red "all-in-one" cart is all for you.
Providing shell from customer' space Action Replay ? No thanks. I have better things to do than waiting for your spare Action Replay, to mount a Gamer's Cartride inside (which includes to drill and cut the shell etc) and then stick your favorite label on it As indicated above, ideal quantity for my cartridge projects is "shoes box" : I prepare a batch of cartridges from a shoes box of parts to another shoes box of "ready to sell" carts. Doing individual manufacturing for only one user just fulfills the personal interest of that user but except that it completely counter-productive ...
Open Source ? That's completely NO : open sourcing Gamer's Cartridge project would yield around $20 price cut on user side. On my side, it would yield to the disappearing of pocket money to challenge in more complex projects.
I don't have anything against open source, but I'm completely against the ones that beg open sourcing just for their personal own interest, i.e. saving more or less 20 bucks in the case of Gamer's Cartridge. Maybe that's quick money saved for them, but on the other hand that's also innovation in new Saturn projects being destroyed : I certainly wouldn't had pushed Pseudo Saturn Kai development so far (for example around cheat codes and Rhea/Phoebe disc image selection support) if in the meanwhile of the development 3rd party manufacturers would had made profits from my hardware projects.
DIY Kit ? That's more or less same as open source solution : it's just a simplistic solution to satisfy one's personal interest. Additionally, it's a source of troubles in the case that DIY Gamer's Cartridge doesn't works : is it caused by electronic parts (= my responsibility) or soldering and assembly (= user's responsibility) ? In the case of "one man show project" as I'm doing, everything is simpler because I'm responsible of everything when a problem happens
3D Printed Shells ? It's an interesting solution, but this requires to use a completely new manufacturing process for me, with all the related matters (verifying solidity, tweaking shape, selecting appropriate color and base materials etc) ... and all the unexpected problems too : from my own experience, there are high chances of being stuck into unexpected problems when challenging in something new
To give an idea of my apprehension regarding 3D printed shells, let's take a look on Pyra portable laptop development : project started several years ago and now electronic and firmware/OS side of the project seems stable. It's however not released yet because of ... unexpected problems regarding shell manufacturing.
That's not a critic about Pyra project (in fact, I'm following it with admiration), but just an example to detail how bad development can be delayed when you're trying new process or new project.
And for theses reasons above (of extra design, tweaks and risks) as well as in regard of the limited public interest into Gamer's Cartridge this is probably not a good way to do. This would however make sense on a new hardware project.
BTW, I do have some spare 3D shells, but at theses were a generous present to me from their creator theses are not for sale and consequently it's not worth asking if I could sell a Gamer's Cartridge with theses shells.
Official memory cartridge shells ?
Very first Gamer's Cartridge assembled back in 2016 were using shells from official memory cartridge, so this is a good "B-plan solution" to continue manufacturing of Gamer's Cartridge. And on the good side, gathering some used memory cartridges would be the occasion to dump and share the saves eventually left by previous users on theses cartridges
This however needs some tuning on PCB, because status LEDs of theses very first Gamer's Cartridges are currently positioned in the area reserved for cartridge label.
And unlike 3D printed shells, the solidity and other mechanic small details around those official memory cartridge shells should not be a problem, but overall state may be a bit questionable : upper half of the cartridge may be yellow, previous label may be a mess to remove etc. I personally don't care such kind of "retro Gamer's Cartridges" might look not "pristine as new", because as the project name suggests I want my cartridges to be used for playing rather than collecting, but I'm concerned if cartridges don't sell well ... let's wait and see if that's a reasonable solution or not.
Regrets about Gamer's Cartridge
This kind of farewell article traditionally features a "this point should had be done better etc", but I don't have any regrets around Gamer's Cartridge development !!! When releasing Gamer's Cartridge, I thought the project would last for half a year and then be cloned or overtaken by a more competitive (widely available/more features/cheaper : maximum two choices possible), but this project actually lasted for more than three years This was an occasion to meet many people who then became good friends (more details in the "Thanks" sections below) and/or gave extensive help around Pseudo Saturn Kai development. Without them, the limits Pseudo Saturn Kai wouldn't had been pushed that far
This wasn't an occasion for me to become rich, and this was as expected ! Making big cash from retro gaming project requires mass production, which I'm not interested in because for me, Gamer's Cartridge was just a toy and the activity to develop and manufacture theses was just an hobby.
I don't think it's good to go over that toy/hobby limit, because if an hobby becomes a business, it's no longer an hobby
This wasn't an occasion to become famous too : I wasn't approached by famous personalities from social networks about Gamer's Cartridge (nor about Pseudo Saturn Kai too), but everything is well like that as rather than hype I simply want to contribute to a better public interest on homebrew development and Saturn in general.
Many project proudly show feedback from their happy customers, and now it's time to announce stock and production shortage, I realize something similar wasn't available for Gamer's Cartridge !
"All-in-one" cartridge customer feedbacks
As listing feedback from hapy customers is too mainstrean, let's show feedback from users who didn't purchased Gamer's Cartridge
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
(After explaining over several emails that Gamer's Cartridge isn't an EverDrive and giving links to Saturn ODE project in the case this fits better potential customer's needs)
"Thanks for your time"
→ You're welcome, and thank you for teaching me this expression to decline something in a clever manner It will now take a place of choice in my library of useful English expressions.
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
(After detailing about Gamer's Cartridge features and disclaimer)
"I see. I bought an USB Data Link instead."
→ Well, that's better than not replying to my email after ordering a cartridge : at least I don't need to reserve this cartridge during several days for nothing
- - - - - - - - - - - - -
"Will you release DIY kits ?"
→ NO! PCBs are publicly available, and appropriate MAX3000A CPLD can be found on ebay so that you can assemble everything by yourself. CPLD firmware isn't available, but please have fun in re-implementing Gamer's Cartridge logic inside. I learned VHDL like that.
(Note : feedbacks displayed above are the result of several individual feedbacks mixed together, so that general trend about Gamer's Cartridge is discribed, and anonymity of their authors is preserved)
(In alphabetical order, so that nobody won't claim because they are upper or lower than someone else)
- antime, for USB dev cart development, which was used as basis for Gamer's Cartridge
- Baraka, for the fancy Dezaemon 2 themed labels for Gamer's Cartridge - Darius, for providing my first modded Saturn on which I started homebrew development on - Deunan, for providing the good ODEs. Those helped a lot during devlopment of Pseudo Saturn Kai. - Dezaemon DB (IGK), for keeping Dezaemon community active during all theses years - privateye for all the help around Pseudo Saturn Kai, Gamer's Cartridge and also for motivating me to make Pseudo Saturn Kai even better on every beta build :) - Stac for numerous beta testing help during Gamer's Cartridge early development stage - vbt, for all his contributions to Saturn homebrew community
I wish Saturn community a bright future with Satisfier and "all-in-one" red cartridges. The first project shall bring ability to export saves to SD card, also contribute to homebrew games development as also shall feature a nice disk image selection menu someday too. The second project shall bring a an affordable and convenient cartridge support for "all" Saturn games.
On my side, as I now have additional free time from the pause in Gamer's Cartridge manufacturing I would like to focus on the development of old frozen projects.
As usual, I won't communicate about any ETA, development cost nor even what it is about until things are working well enough : that will be less pressure on my side, and less frustration on your side
Additionally, I'm also sometimes asked what kind of cartridge is required to play Dezaemon 2 games. The answer is both simple but also a bit complex too, so maybe it would be a good idea to write about it in this blog
The simple answer is "DZ2SGM3 is compatible with any cartridge providing in-game backup memory feature". → DZ2SGM3 was developed simply as an application using standard backup API detailed by SEGA and should work with any cartridge supported by this standard backup API.
Even if I'm the main developer and manufacturer of Gamer's Cartridge, that's not a reason to restrict my software projects to this specific kind cartridge I kept support for a wide range of backup devices for the simple reason that it's cool to make more and more people appreciating games on Saturn
The complex answer comes from the two following points : - There are many kind of cartridges, and not all provide in-game backup memory - As DZ2SGM3 is not an official application, it is required for the Saturn to be able to boot applications from CD-R
Rather than writing boring theory about the internals of each kind of cartridge (is there somebody other than me interested in that ?), let's simply detail the compatibility status and the pro and cons and also the additional requirements needed to get DZ2SGM working for each kind of cartridge
① Official Memory Cartridge That's the official memory cartridge, sold by Sega during the good old times Saturn was still a commercial product. Because of that, production of theses cartridges stopped around 20 years ago and consequently cartridges available today may damage easily. The only advantage is that it's an official product, made with genuine electronic parts ... but it's now a bit too late if you want any official support for repairing a broken cartridge It's not possible to install Pseudo Saturn Kai on such kind of cartridge, so additional mod (installation of modchip or ODE) is required to use DZ2SGM.
Pro : Official product from Sega. Cons : Contents may suddenly corrupt : don't use to store important save data. Additional requirement : modchip or ODE
② Action Replay The super famous Action Replay : main advantage is from being relatively cheap, widely available, and to provide 1MB/4MB expansion memory.
Disadvantage is that technology used in theses cartridge didn't changed significantly for the last 20 years and that in the meanwhile production of this technology (flash ROM and RAM) stopped. For that reason, quality may not be at the meet even if cartridge is sold as "brand new".
In-game backup memory feature is not available for such kind of cartridge : even if advertised as featuring "4M memory card", this is available only from cartridge :games aren't able to access it. Additionally, this "4M memory card" is a bit ambiguous because it refers to the best effort when save data buffer (internally stored in cartridge 4M expansion memory) can be compressed into lower half of cartridge flash ROM = 128 KB ... if data can't be compressed then an error message will be displayed. It would had been more honest to advertise that as "Guaranteed 128KB, maximum 4MB memory card not accessible from game", but this is a bit less sexy in term of advertising
Because of the lack of in-game memory feature, it is required to use a separate backup device (such as Saturn floppy disk drive) to use DZ2SGM.
Pro : Widely available, relatively cheap, and provides 1MB/4MB expansion memory. Cons : In-game backup memory feature not supported. Additional requirement : Saturn floppy disk drive.
③ Gameshark, and other clones That's Action Replay without 1MB/4MB expansion memory and usually worse overall quality : if you have one still working, it is worth trying to use it but if that's not the case then considering for (at least) an Action Replay is usually wise decision.
Similarly to Action Replay, because of the lack of in-game memory feature it is required to use a separate backup device (such as Saturn floppy disk drive) to use DZ2SGM.
Pro : Worth using if you found a spare cartridge still in working condition. Cons : No 1MB/4MB expansion memory. Poor hardware quality. Additional requirement : Saturn floppy disk drive.
④ Memory Card Plus That's more or less a Gameshark with a specific firmware installed. Main advantage of this firmware is that it allows games to directly access cartridge backup memory.
Similarly to Gameshark, hardware quality is questionable, which makes backup memory to be easily corrupted. Additionally, backup memory capacity is around 200 KB so that it usually can't handle more than three Dezaemon 2 user games. Installation of Pseudo Saturn Kai will remove backup memory feature, so additional mod (installation of modchip or ODE) is required to use DZ2SGM.
The little side story about this cartridge is that its unique way of handling backup memory gave me the idea and motivation to develop Gamer's Cartridge Back in end of 2012, I thought only mapped memory chip could be accessed as in-game backup memory. But seeing that this cartridge was featuring only boot ROM (I tried to dump backup memory ROM, but didn't found anything there and instead there was a small firmware and save data stored in boot ROM area) made me realizing that anything could actually be shown as backup memory device to a game, which was the start point of Gamer's Cartridge project.
Pro : This gave me the idea to develop Gamer's Cartridge ! Cons : Access is not so reliable : whole contents can be wiped after writing one save there. Installing Pseudo Saturn Kai removes the memory cartridge feature. Additional requirement : modchip or ODE.
Major disadvantage is that similarly to Action Replay and official memory cartridge, technology used didn't changed significantly for the last 20 years and that in the meanwhile production of this technology (flash ROM and RAM) stopped. For that reason, quality may not be at the meet even if cartridge is sold as "brand new".
Additionally, similarly to official memory cartridge there is only limited save data integrity check available (file system is rudimentary, and only the first bytes of the ROM are check to verify if a backup memory cartridge is available or not), which is a design flaw from SEGA : it works fine in ideal conditions of cartridge correctly inserted and ROM not corrupted, but will ask to format the cartridge in all other cases. That's acceptable if you just want to copy save data (there are plenty available in Pseudo Saturn Kai Save Data Manager, so have fun with them !) and play a little to a game, but not recommended if you want to play a RPG and won't stand to suddenly lose all your progression in the game.
Pro : Both official Memory and Action Replay in a same cartridge. Cons : Contents may suddenly corrupt : don't use to store important save data. Additional requirement : none.
⑥ Gamer's Cartridge Well, that's my own cartridge project, so my opinion may be a bit biased, but it's recommended if you don't want your saves to be corrupted : as SD card file system is used, it is significantly stronger than the file system used on official memory cartridge. It is also handy if you want to backup or share your save data because exporting saves to PC can be done by simply copying files from SD card.
Additionally, it features virtual floppy disk device support, which doubles the number of Dezaemon 2 user games simultaneously available : it is limited to 5 games with other backup memory cartridges (and count may be lower because of ROM size limitation) while a total of 10 games (5 on cartridge device, and 5 other ones on virtual floppy disk) can be handled by Gamer's Cartridge.
Moreover, DZ2SGM can be accessed directly from SD card so that there's no need to swap between DZ2SGM CD-R and Dezaemon 2 CD-ROM. Major lack of this cartridge is the non-availability of expansion RAM. Also, as SD card access is not super fast, save data access is a bit slower than on other cartridges.
Pro : No risk of losing saves because of data corruption. Data can be easily backed up to PC or shared with other gamers. Cons : Limited availability. 1MB/4MB expansion memory not available. Additional requirement : none, and DZ2SGM can be run from SD card.
DISCLAIMER : play Dezaemon 2 (and other Saturn games) at your own risks ! I'm not responsible of any eventual damages caused to your save data, you Saturn, your cartridge, your dog or anything else !
SMALL REQUEST : I don't have the budget nor the free time to test DZ2SGM3 on all combinations and variations of cartridge and ODEs. So it would be very appreciated to receive feedback about if it works on your own Saturn setup
Feedback can be left by simply adding a comment at the bottom of this article : it is free, doesn't requires any kind of registration, and takes something like 5 minutes to be written ♪ In advance, thank you for the feedbacks
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
1. Copy all save data folders from archive to SD card → SAVES
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
Written by cafealpha 3 comments
I could finally write a file to my SD card ... from my Saturn Well, I just tested by dumping my Saturn's BIOS, and didn't tried further, because I don't want to find and fix other bugs today
Top : my Saturn BIOS, dumped from my Freewing device 5 years ago Bottom : BIOS file in my SD card dumped today Hex Editor says that both files are identical
This fixes a nearly 3 years old bug At that time, I connected a SD card to my second pad port on my Saturn and could read files successfully. However, file write sometimes failed ... I thought about many possible causes of failures (not enough 3.3V power supply ? Bad luck ? etc etc), but it was a software bug : writing sectors to SD card actually takes longer than reading sectors, and I didn't waited enough for my SD card to finish write. Changing poll timeout count from 500 clocks to 50000 clocks seems to fix the problem. (Q&D fix, but if it works fine, I won't change it )
So now, as SD card read/write access works on both yabause and real hardware, it is time to to use it in order to develop new features for my Saturn
My SD card cartridge for Saturn (Q&D prototype revision )
Edit : wow, current cartridge firmware build ID (incremented on each make/build) is 4200
Written by cafealpha 2 comments
Today, I made fixes to : - yabause (debug version for personal use), because UBC doesn't works well on it. - SatLink, because mkdir function returns -1 when folder already exist - PseudoSaturn, various features additions, fixes, as usual - BackupManager, in order to display some debug informations. - Vmem module, various fixes, especially one that took me a couple of hours to understand
Me when debugging my Saturn projects (Video grabbed from 9gag.com)
But at least, virtual memory cart is ready for debugging now
Debug session with yabause and SatLink NiGHTs Xmas header data (bottom of screenshot) was copied from internal memory to laptop HDD
So, everything don't work right now, but UBC related things and log message output are nearly OK, so that debugging this vmem project will be (maybe ?) comfortable from now :]