Sega Saturn pickups/repairs

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Sega Saturn pickups/repairs

 
   I'm not dead a hobo yet; just have been really busy with life lately, including having moved out of my parents' house and into my first apartment during July 2017, and being busy with a new job (in the video game development industry, at long last!) back in January 2017. I plan on making more regular blog posts and updating the website with updated portfolio items from the new job soon!

   During October 2017, I found an ad on Craigslist about somebody selling an out-of-order Model 1 Sega Saturn in the Pittsburgh area for $25. I never had a Sega Saturn growing up (heck, I didn't even know it was even a part of the 5th video game generation until a few years ago), and usually wasn't interested in looking to pick one up, since they usually sell for anywhere from $25-$70 depending on the condition. The ad said that the console was working at one time, but now wouldn't read disks.

   After doing some research (via this incredibly useful Youtube video), I found that the common repairs for the CD read issues for Model 1 Saturns were quite simple. Knowing that the fixes can be simple, I decided to reply to the ad. The seller said that the unit wouldn't spin discs at all (let that be CD audio, Saturn, or CD+G discs); nevertheless, I went to see the Saturn unit in person.

   At the seller's residency, I saw that the Saturn could indeed power up, but wouldn't spin any type of applicable discs (however, the unit would display when the CD lid was opened in the BIOS multiplayer). Knowing that the fixes can be easy, I took the risk in purchasing it for repairs. We eventually bargained for $22 for the Saturn and a generic 2 prong power cable.

During this same day, I picked up items to get what I would need to look into repairing the Saturn:
  • Eclipse Pad Saturn controller
  • Retrobit Saturn AV cable
  • Cheap copy of NBA Live '98
  After a lot of troubleshooting (and help from the previously linked Youtube video), the Saturn was quite easy to repair, and works perfectly now.


Turns out the issues were the following:
  • CD laser power potentiometer was out of spec
    • Fixed by adjusting the pot to 0.720 kΩ
    • This allowed the laser to power on and start spinning the CD, but still no reading of discs
  • CD Motor spindle height was out of spec
    • Fixed by adjusting the height of the spindle within tolerance (~1-2mm distance from black plastic guard and spindle)
    • This got audio CDs to play, but not Saturn game CDs
  • Saturn game CD potentiometer's resistance was too low
    • Adjusted resistance of pot until Saturn CDs could be recognized and booted
    • CD drive fully repaired afterwards.
    Not too shabby for a broken Saturn, eh? Around late October, I also picked up a few other things for pretty good prices:
  • Sega Saturn Netlink Modem ($20 on Ebay)
    • With Planetweb browser disc
  • PS/2 Netlink keyboard adapter
    • With Saturn controller extension cable
    • $10 on eBay, but the keyboard adapter got lost in the mail
    • Ended up getting another one (a little more expensive being boxed, but cheapest on eBay at the time)
    It's still possible in 2017 to play Netlink-enabled games online on the real Saturn hardware, via either an old-fashioned 56k dial-up connection (if you still have such connection) or over modern-day ethernet via a VOIP adapter. I really look forward to playing these games online in the near future after acquiring an unlocked Cisco / Linksys SPA1001 FXS VoIP Phone Adapter (maybe for Christmas 😉 ). As for the keyboard adapter, that would be used for chat in Netlink games, and also for tinkering around with a copy of Game Basic for Sega Saturn later on. It's an obscure Japanese Saturn game that has a BASIC interpreter, used for creating Saturns games/software, in order to create some homebrew games in the future 😃.

    Lastly, I recently acquired a Sega Saturn Gamer's Cartridge last week. It's an incredibly amazing, custom Saturn cartridge which can allow the user to play backups on CD-Rs, to play import games, to save BRAM data on an SD card, to migrate BRAM data to/from the internal BRAM/external SD BRAM, to emulate Floppy Disk saves (for the few games that support the Saturn FDD), to run small homebrew applications from SD card, and to do much more! It comes pre-installed with Pseudo Saturn Kai firmware in order to achieve all of these features and more. (I plan on making a separate blog post/video review about this amazing cartridge in early December 2017.)


  Below is a quick video I created discussing the repairs and some of those Saturn pickups. I plan on making more videos like this (but better quality), for reviewing old video game console hardware/repairs, and reviewing some video games in either a future Youtube channel called "Nerdology" or a Twitch channel.


 Overall, picking up that cheap $22 Saturn was worth it, considering how easy it was to repair it. The Saturn was a somewhat obscure Sega console (it didn't do very well at all in the US, but was wildly popular in Japan). Although it could do 3D graphics, it's strengths lie in its 2D graphical abilities, which is where its game library shines. Exploring the Saturn library with this repaired Saturn will be fun.

-Tamkis

Sega Game Gear repair

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Sega Game Gear repair


    During March 2017, I took a trip to the annual Pittsburgh Retro Gaming convention. It was quite a fun event, with some gaming tournaments and a lot of old video games, consoles, and merch for sale. There were even some local companies there who were showcasing their modern and retro indie video games. (You know I'm all about dat retro homebrew development and game modding!).

I picked up a few great finds there that day, all for <$50:
  • 2 Sega 32x games
    • Virtua Fighter 32x
    • Metal Head
  • 1 Atari 130XE cart game
    • Star Wars, Return of the Jedi: Death Star Battle
  • Issue of Game Players magazine
    • Dec. 1994 IIRC, details the launch of the Sega 32x add-on
  • 1 Tri-wing driver (for repairs/tinkering)
  • Poster for Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Switch) 
  • Out-or-order Sega Game Gear
  • Sonic 2 (Game Gear)
 


    The most interesting find there that day was the out-of-order Sega Game Gear. I never had plans nor interest in owning a Sega Game Gear. My memories with the Sega Game Gear back in the day were brief and fleeting, especially since I did not own one growing up. During the early to mid-90s, I remember playing the Sonic series of games (specifically Sonic 1 and 2 on the Game Gear) at the house of the lady down the street. She would occasionally babysit me (I was 4-8 years old at the time), and I remember the big Game Gear case that held the games and 2 Game Gear units. My other memory was playing Sonic Spinball on the Game Gear at the dentists' office in between cleanings.

   While browsing the tables at the Expo, I found two Game Gears for sale; one for $8 and another for $4. The former unit was in better, working condition, while the latter unit was marked "$4 / works, needs new caps", lacked battery door covers, had a scratched glass screen, and had minor scuffs on the chassis. Previously, I've heard online about the notoriety of most Game Gears being manufactured with faulty capacitors ("bad caps"), which have a tendency either to stop working or worse, to leak and to corrode the GG's motherboard over several years. When these capacitors stop working, various audio and video issues can occur. The fix for these problems is to replace the capacitors with equivalent, higher quality ones.

  Due to these issues, I didn't really have much of an interest in the Sega Game Gear; however, after seeing this poor, lonely, damaged Game Gear for a very affordable $4, I decided to purchase the unit (and a cheap game to test, Sonic 2 GG) in order to attempt repairing the unit. Unfortunately, the seller did not have any batteries nor have a compatible AC adapter on hand to test the unit, so I figured for the cheap $4, I should just risk it and test it at home. I have soldering equipment and a lot of spare capacitors at home, so I might as well try to fix her.



   Doing some research online, I found the same repair article from years ago where I previously learned about the Game Gear's capacitor problem. After inserting 6 AA batteries and Sonic 2 into the console, upon boot, I discovered the unit suffered the usual symptoms of the bad caps problem; the external speaker not working, very weak audio from the 3.5mm headphone jack, and a very distorted video screen. So I knew at least the unit was still alive (although barely). After opening up the unit, I discovered it to be a single-ASIC VA1 unit.

   With all of this information in mind, I began the caps replacement. Luckily I had all of the capacitors needed for the job, except for x2 0.47 µF capacitors. With all but those 2 caps replaced, the audio was now amplified and working through the 3.5mm headphone jack, and the video signals were better. (The video was still not enough quality video to play a game, however.) Unfortunately, I lifted a trace on the audio PCB for a certain capacitor during the replacement, so the audio through the headphone jack is extra amplified and will begin distorting and making popping sound if the audio volume is set too high; however, it works better than it did before. Upon powering on the unit, I saw a lot of blue and white colors before Sonic 2 would boot up and play audio, so I knew it was a unit with a TMSS BIOS. (Most Game Gear units with a TMSS BIOS will accept Sega Genesis Model 2 AC power supplies for power; 'lo and behold, the tip from my model 2 power brick fits the Game Gear's power jack and will power it up.)

  Fast forward to April 2017, I order a few items for my birthday, including a x10 pack of replacement 0.47 µF capacitors. After replacing these capacitors, the Game Gear's video signal was perfect and back in working order!

Before/During repairs:
 

 After:

  I'm glad I took the risk and purchased and repaired this $4 Game Gear. It now has a second life of playing back awesome, fun games. It's a very cool, technically advanced (for its time) portable console, with a color display and even a backlight. (Although this backlight does eat through a whopping 6 AA batteries in a very short amount of time.) In the future I might be looking into homebrew development for the Game Gear, as well as doing further repairs and refurbishment for this unit, such as replacing the glass screen with a new one, 3D printing some replacement battery covers, and replacing the damaged sound board with a better one.

-Tamkis

  

Colonial Combat: Release (Phases II & III)

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Colonial Combat: Release (Phases  II & III)


   In a past post, I detailed out a 3-phase plan for the release of Colonial Combat, a satirical fighting video game about surviving college, graduating, and not flunking out of college as a dead, bankrupt hobo. This project was a senior project for an Integrated Engineering Design class, where I decided to make this video game. It was an unfinished tech demo of a video game from a colleague. Phase I of the release (which occurred on 08/29/16), was the v1.0 release of Colonial Combat, after a year of development. About a month later, a v1.1 bug fix release was also made, in order to prepare the game for SAGE 2016. Phase II was going to be an Android port of the game, while Phase III was going to be a source code release.



   The Android port turned out to be harder than expected to develop, due to issues with controls and random crashing, having to deal with streaming assets to get the FMVs to play correctly, and having to run my builds on the slow Android emulator on my PC. I was also worried that I could get in copyright or legal troubles if (big IF) the game would actually get approved and onto the Google Play store, due to being lazy and using a lot of copyrighted images, sound effects, music, and college branding. The game was meant to be a freeware game, with no plans of commercial release, due to these issues.

  Being tired of working on this game and not wanting to torture myself more with this project, I cancelled the Android port, and have just decided to release the entire source code of the game, which can be found on the project page. Programmers might be able to get a Android port to work with some tweaking. The source code is GPLv3 licensed, and can be used by people to learn how to make a 2D fighting game in Unity3D. There are still a few game breaking bugs, including a race condition that can still happen when entering a match and prevent the players from loading, but otherwise, is good enough for a release. Included in the release is the source code, source assets, source material and mods for creating the 3D Movie Maker files, and even the technical documents and presentation materials from IED class.




    Will there be a future sequel to this game? I don't know. I was thinking about making a Colonial Combat trilogy, with a sequel ("Colonial Combat 2: Junior Year") with more levels and more college misadventures, and a final game, "Colonial Combat 3: Billageddon", detailing the struggles I went through in Senior year, leading to the development of Colonial Combat, and my quest to get hired at a  local video game development studio.

(That glorious moment at the end of the final presentation for IED,
which was my last final exam ever before graduation)

-Tamkis

Socket the Hedgeduck: Future Zone/other progress

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Socket the Hedgeduck: Future Zone/other progress

    Things got kinda busy and hectic in the final months of 2016, with the Sonic Hacking Contest 2016 event last year, v0.3 demo release of Socket the Hedgeduck, and submitting both Sonic CD Breakout Demo #3 and Colonial Combat to SAGE 2016, and of course, Real Life™. I didn't win any community or judge trophies for the SHC16 (at one point I was in 4th place for music and art IIRC for community votes, but then I dropped below 5th place for them), but it was fun, although many people in the Sonic community thought this year's iteration of the event was quite lackluster in term of quality and fun hacks.

   Due to the busyness, I forgot to blog about post-contest updates on Socket the Hedgeduck! Recently, Future Zone was worked on, and is nearly complete, minus porting over the S3K reverse gravity gimmick. There are a few fun interesting gimmicks in this zone, including a ported over/modified S2 CNZ snail block object, horizontal and vertical crushers, low-gravity magnet blocks, and soon a reverse gravity bridge. A few more quality SMPS covers were created for the bosses (for the extended playlist), the bosses were recreated for Emerald Forest Zone and Treasure Castle Zone, and the Fence Bonus Zone was greatly improved with a proper dual-layer system.



 





 Overall, progress is continuing on this hack, and it's getting closer to completion. Stay tuned for more updates on Socket the Hedgeduck, and for new stuff coming in 2017!

-Tamkis/GenesisDoes

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