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PPcenter. Arts and craft for my Sega Saturn. Since 1847 :D

Parallel Past (2021/03/29)

Written by cafealpha 4 comments
After a long wait there is finally an update of Pseudo Saturn Kai !
... and, there's not a lot of new things from previous version : only the minimum stuff to work correctly with latest (20210207) firmware for Fenrir ODE .

But wait, there's more ! As the weird title of this article suggests, this release is a bit special because it was made directly from previous release (v6.408) of Pseudo Saturn Kai and this is why both release numbers are quite close : there are other changes pending but not available in v6.411a and instead available in a "parallel future".

So you may ask why everything new is not available in v6.411a, and the answer is simple : all pending changes together don't work ! Additionally to small changes and improvements, this was an attempt to get write access working on Fenrir SD card, but as the previous times it didn't worked and in fact was terrible enough to break other base features such as SD card refresh

So rather than trying to fix everything in the same time, I simply focused on what's most important : fixing compatibility with Fenrir firmware 20210207, and the strategy paid because if I continued in trying to fix everything together, Pseudo Saturn Kai would certainly be still stuck at the same "nothing works" dead spot !


The plans for near future is to return back to main codebase indicated as "v6.419" in the picture above, merge back the fixes around firmware 20210207 from v6.411a and then terminate the remaining pending changes ! Now that base features are finally working correctly I hope that the remaining won't take a lot of time until being ready to release.

After finishing base and extra features, I shall finally be ready to attack the "Fenrir save data export & import" final boss. In order to (finally) go on next development goal, I really would like to terminate that this time, so please wish me good luck

Last but not least, I would like to express warm thanks to privateye, who helped a lot in the preparations of this release !!!



TL/DR: a new version of Pseudo Saturn Kai is available, but as it only contains tweaks to work with Fenrir, please wait for next release in the case you're not using this ODE

Read more Parallel Past (2021/03/29)

P.P. Center : Security at its Finest

Written by cafealpha 2 comments
Just a quick article to announce that PPcenter (which gathers this blog, Planet de Pon, my custom cartridges, Pseudo Saturn Kai and some other projects) is now correctly supporting HTTPS !

Webou (which host PPcenter) was kindly providing HTTPS for already a long while but my homemade CMS was messing up the display of my homepage : for obscure reason (I honestly don't remember why) it was trying to load the page's CSS from an absolute URL, including the "http", and as HTTPS doesn't really likes to load something from an unsecured location, the CSS was discarded so that the page display was ... minimalistic

Saturn cartridges page before fixing HTTPS support


This is now fixed, and additionally trying to use plain HTTP should also magically redirect to HTTPS.
That's quite helpful, because all the labels for Gamer's Cartridge are referring my homepage as "HTTP" (*) and I really didn't wanted to have to re-design theses labels

(*) The labels refer to my old homepage "since 2005", http://ppcenter.free.fr/satcart/, which redirects to my "since 2014" http://ppcenter.webou.net/satcart/, and then redirect to the "ultra secure" https://ppcenter.webou.net/satcart/ ... it's a bit messy but it works

Forgive me for the link : http was still a thing when
Gamer's Cartridge labels were designed !

Read more P.P. Center : Security at its Finest

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

X-Terminator Cartridge Revival

Written by cafealpha 5 comments
This article is not about my own development experience, but from my friend XRider. Thanks a lot to him for the good work and the permission to share his pictures

First, what is a X-Terminator cartridge ? It is a Saturn flash cartridge which provides the following features :
 - 1MB expansion RAM
 - Backup memory
 - Ability to play import games
 - Cheat codes
 - Ability to search cheat codes by using standalone "X-Assist" unit


X-Terminator cartridge and X-Assist
Image taken from SegaRetro

X-Assist is particularly convenient because unlike Action Replay cartridges, it doesn't requires connection to a PC : it is true that connection to a PC provides more features (such as memory access, program upload, etc), but as "connection to PC" basically means "software support will be dropped someday", a standalone unit is a real treasure
For example, do you remember that Action Replay cartridges initially had DB25 connector ? This was for connecting the cartridge to PC via the -sold separately- Comms Link board, whose used now obsolete ISA port, and consequently not supported on nowadays PCs and/or OS.
There are some alternate solutions for connecting Action Replay to PC, whose major one is USB Data Link, but unfortunately it doesn't provides any software support for advanced features such as cheat codes search and testing.
So if you want to search cheat codes for your favorite game, X-Terminator is a good choice ! ... Okay, the user interface is in Japanese, but that's just a detail : after 200 or 300 hours learning about it, it shouldn't cause any problems

On the other hands, the major limitations are probably the lack of 4MB expansion RAM support, and using flash ROM for storing backup save data (which on the long term may brick the cartridge), but for a cartridge developed more than 20 years ago, theses limitations are quite honorable


So, once upon a time, XRider found a X-Terminator cartridge. It was a cheap auction, but on the other hand the cartridge didn't boot anymore, and the X-Assist unit wasn't included

Normal people would add this cartridge to their collection or put it on display as a decorating vintage objet Other people with engineering and electronics education background would put it on their "to repair someday" cardboard, and don't touch it for the next 20 years because they are busy with other projects or work, or real life, or all of theses at once

But XRider is none of them. XRider owns soldering tools. And knows how to use them. And really wants to fix this marvelous cartridge

So, let's try to fix the cartridge ! The first step would be to start with the most common problem, which is broken flash ROM.
In my opinion, this is the most difficult step, because it requires to desolder two chips for a total of 64 pins !
I personally can't do this because of lack of appropriate tools, so the alternate desoldering way I would had used would be to ... use a nipper and cut each pins

Fortunately, XRider likes work well done, so theses chips were removed in a clean way


X-Terminator cartridge, with flash ROM chips removed.
Additionally, all capacitors are removed too : that's
the occasion or never to replace them

Next step is a bit optional, and is about to dump removed flash ROM chips with flash ROM dumper device. This is the best way to verify if failure is due to corrupted flash ROM chips, and if still in working condition, this at least would be an occasion to dump the cartridge's firmware


Flash ROM chip on dumper device.

Dump is full of 0xFF bytes ... unless a miracle happens, theses flash ROM chips are no longer functioning  But, this comforts us regarding initial supposition of broken flash ROM chips causing cartridge not booting
 
Just in case of, let's verify PCB traces around flash ROM chips while theses are removed : this takes only 5 minutes to check, and it would be frustrating to find that cartridge was not working because of broken trace after soldering new flash ROM chips


PCB traces : just requires a light source
strong enough to be seen


What to do next ? Maybe use PLCC sockets so that future replacement of flash ROM chips would be easier ! That's a couple of weeks to wait for the postman, but worth the wait
PCB with PLCC32 sockets soldered

And then, simply replace the flash ROM chips

Next generation is here !


PCB with new flash ROM chips.
Additionally, new capacitors are populated


One last step remaining ! Flash ROM is mounted, but ROM itself needs to be set up with X-Terminator firmware. The simplest way to do this is to use Pseudo Saturn Kai flasher utility : it obviously allows to install Pseudo Saturn Kai, but also several other legacy firmwares in the case someone would want to revert to initial firmware after trying Pseudo Saturn Kai.


Just select the ROM version you want to install,
and follow on-screen instructions

 
Flashing in progress ! Will it work after that ?!


Yeehaw !!! It boot fine, mission done
Let's try with Metal Slug ...

Metal Slug works too !
So it seems there's no need to replace RAM chips


Everything finished ? No, there is a side quest remaining Among the couple of X-Terminator cartridges XRider owns, one X-Assist (pad and LCD unit used to search cheat codes) is missing.
One X-Assist available ? And another one missing ? No problem : let's reverse engineer the first one and DIY the second one

The X-Assist features two PCBs : one for connection interfacing and pad, and another one for LCD, as pictured below.

X-Assist pad/interfacing board

X-Assist LCD board

The LCD board is incredibly complex, but since it was manufactured as a whole and can still be purchased on auctions or second-hand market nowadays, there's no real interest to build it from scratch ! And I personally wouldn't try : that seems too much complex

So remaining is pad and interfacing board : fortunately it uses standard components and not any Gate Array Logic-ish components that would need to be reverse-engineered too. Simply speaking, it's like assembling LEGOs
Multi-meter, a LCD board, electronic breadboard, a bunch of wires, few electronic components ... is there something missing ? Yes ! A LOT of motivation !!


X-Assist DIY prototype, in all its glory


It's so beautiful it deserves another picture !

Let's try for real ! Of course, after verifying any eventual short-circuit with a multi-meter 
No short-circuit ? It's then ready for the "first-lighting ceremony" (火入れ式), as it is nicknamed in my neighboring ... I don't know if that's a common expression in Japan or anywhere else, but I like its naming anyway


No sparks ? No smoke ? That looks good

At first glance, that seems working ! Let's try cheat codes search feature in order to be 100% sure ...

Search unit not found ?!

Arg, it was too early to sing victory X-Assist seems not being correctly detected by X-Terminator cartridge ...
Since text could be sent to the LCD, let's assume nearly everything is working correctly, and that a small detail is causing this trouble ... after some head-scratching, XRider found what's wrong : a Zener diode that initially looked useless was used to return some ACK to X-Terminator cartridge when looking for its connection !


The X-Assist screen after adding the Zener diode :
code search memory could be captured !


65535 candidate codes ?! I'm not sure if correct cheat code could be found this time, but at least the DIY X-Assist unit works correctly now

 

Additional informations are available in French  on Darius forums :


Credits :
 - XRider, for the good work in game cartridges preservation
 - Darius, for gathering French community around Saturn

Read more X-Terminator Cartridge Revival

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