Thwimp utility released / Hover Pack project announcement

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Thwimp utility released / Hover Pack project announcement




   Lately, I have been looking into modding Mario Kart Wii on the Nintendo Wii, with My Stuff files in Riivolution. Specifically, I have been working on designing a pack of custom battle courses, ported from the mazes in Microsoft Hover! (1995), called "Hover Pack", with an additional track being a port of Arena Rumble from Monster Truck Madness 2. Currently, maze 1, maze 2, and maze 3, and the Easter Egg Credits Maze have been ported, and are all done other than adjusting enemy route widths. The pack (when released), will include a new title screen, sound effects from Hover, music from Hover, some custom music, new THP videos for the tracks (created with Thwimp), the new battle courses themselves, and "Flag Grabbers" mode (modified Coin Runners mode with Microsoft Hover flags to capture). You can view the current progress at this YouTube playlist.

    While creating Hover Pack, I created new THP video files. These video files are used in the menus, title video, and ending sequence. Unfortunately, most of these THP files are actually an array of subvideos inside (with a multplicity of subvideo per frame), are all of equal frame length, and are quite complex to create manually. Some actually include padding (THP videos' dimensions must align to the nearest 16px boundary), and sometimes this padding including what I call a "control signal". This signal is usually a white rectangle in the padding, which moves to an integer position at each multiplicity, in order to tell the game which row to highlight in a menu during THP playback.

   With all of these problems with manually creating THP video files, I have create and released Thwimp utility!

    Thwimp is a Windows utility which allows users easily to view, to rip, and to encode Nintendo THP video files for Mario Kart Wii. Written in Visual Basic (from Visual Studio 2010 IDE), the Thwimp application calls some FOSS and other command line tools (not included) "from arms length" via the Command Prompt to perform its tasks. For encoding new THP files, Thwimp can intelligently handle audio, subvideo array, multiplicity, and padding/control information when encoding THP files to replace ones in-game. It does this by accepting appropriately named, input mp4 video files for each subvideo cell in the array, and for each multiplicity. It will also accept a WAV audio file, and BMP image frames for each multiplicity padding/control signal as needed. After reading the input files, Thwimp will intelligently process and splice all of the files together appropriately in order to create a high-quality, properly formatted THP video replacement file!

    Today, I have updated the EagleSoft Ltd webpage with a new Nintendo Wii section, a Thwimp page (where you can learn more about the utility and download it), and Mario Kart Wii Tracks page (to host all of my incoming new tracks) .

  I hope people find Thwimp useful for THP editing!

-Tamkis

Coffee Crisis Release (PC, XBox One)

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Coffee Crisis Release (PC, XBox One)!


   Many people might have been wondering why EagleSoft Ltd hasn't been as active lately since about 2017. The real reason has mostly been life, and starting a new job as full-time Indie video game developer at Mega Cat Studios! Mega Cat Studios is a local Pittsburgh company, that creates Indie video games for modern and retro platforms (such as for Sega Genesis, NES, SNES, and others).

  From 2017 to mid-2018, I was developing for the company the port of Coffee Crisis to next-gen platforms (PC on Steam, and Xbox One) as lead developer, while collaborating with our other teammates. Coffee Crisis is a retro, 2D side-scrolling fighter game, similar to Streets of Rage. The Smurglian alien race has come to Earth and they’re not leaving until they steal our four most prized commodities: metal music, the best coffee, cat videos, and all the WiFi. Challenge them through unique and innovative levels inspired by real-life areas in Pittsburgh, PA. Join Black Forge Coffeehouse baristas Nick and Ashley, two galaxy gladiators called to arms to stop this madness and remove the Smurglian threat from Earth. The Smurglians can have the cat videos… but if you don’t help our heroes fend off against the alien-assimilated elderly, bros, cowgirls, and country western singers, who knows what could happen!



  The game features 1P and 2P local Co-op, 2 different players (Nick and Ashley), weapons, many fighting moves, powerups, and much more! These ports not only contained the content of the original game, but new enemy types, tons of visual-eye candy, Finish Them Zone modifiers, new bosses, new levels, and tons of improvements over the original game. After a year of many development twists, turns, technical difficulties, and collaborative teamwork, the development team and I at Mega Cat Studios have finally released Coffee Crisis, both for PC on Steam for more recently for XBox One!

  You can learn more about the game at Mega Cat Studio's Coffee Crisis webpage. The PC version (including a demo) can be purchased/tried at the Steam store page, the soundtrack at the Steam DLC page, and the Xbox One version at the Microsoft Store. The original game for the almighty Sega Genesis can be purchased at Mega Cat's storepage (NTSC version, PAL version), or users can try out a demo in a Sega Genesis emulator. Having a personal Coffee Crisis? Try some Coffee Crisis coffee!


   Stay tuned for official news on progress for other Mega Cat Studio games at their website! The EagleSoft Ltd portfolio webpage (and softography pages) have been updated with info on the release. Both will be updated with other projects I work on at Mega Cat Studios, as games get completed, as much as NDA will allow me to.

-MrTamkis (aka "Eagle")

The Quest for RGB

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The Quest for RGB


        During a Saturday in early May 2018 this summer, I was over in the Squirrel Hill area of Pittsburgh in order to stop by to the nearest Get Go for cheaper gasoline for the car. While in that area, I noticed an estate sale going on. Considering estate, garage, yard, and flea market sales have the potential to sell awesome vintage stuff (such as retro video games and vintage technology) for cheap, I decided to stop by and check it out. I'm glad I did stop by; I found treasure that day!

   The estate sale seemed to belong to an older, classy Italian who recently passed away, who had some high-end, retro, AV equipment. The item that caught my eye the most was an old Sony CRT monitor, with a listed sales price of an incredibly affordable $20. Although I've never seen this particular model of CRT before and didn't know exactly what it was at first, it did look quite high-end, and I did notice a "Digital RGB" indicator and a "Sony Trinitron" logo on the front. Apparently this model of CRT could support RGB input, which is the highest quality video that retro video game consoles can output! Although I already had an older CRT which is starting to go bad, I decided to take the risk and purchase it. Also purchased with the lot was a VK-2D Multi-Input Cable for the CRT, and a generic 3.5mm to Component jack cable. This was the 2nd and final day of the Estate sale, so everything was being sold for half-off. (I didn't realize this until after the purchase; otherwise, I would have also purchased the remote and TV tuner that was compatible with the CRT).
 
   The CRT was huge, and weighed about 120 pounds, so a helper at the estate sale and I had to do a two-person lift to haul this treasure into the car. Back at the apartment, I did some research online for what I found. The find was a Sony Profeel KX-2501A Component CRT, which is a high-end CRT manufactured during the 1980s by Sony. It uses a high-end Sony Trinitron monitor, a proprietary Sony technology which reduces the amount of color bleed between pixels. It is known as a "component TV", not because it has component AV inputs (YPbPr), but because it requires external hardware ("components") to fully utilize it. For example, the CRT doesn't include built-in speakers; it has speaker jacks to hook up to 8-16Ω stereo speaker equipment. Furthermore, it is best to use the compatible VTX-1000R TV Tuner with it, which allows hooking up multiple RCA and other inputs to the monitor (such as analog TV on RF), as well as hooking all equipment via a single, optional VK-2D 8-pin DIN Multi Input cable. The CRT also is compatible with the retrotacular Remote Commander RM-205 remote.

The Sony KX-2501a
(hooked up to a Sega Saturn via RGB)

   According to the Vintage Knob, the Sony "Profeel" line of CRTs was Sony's marketing term for their consumer and semi-pro product line of CRTs, with the product line positioned slightly below their fully professional product lines. Their professional product lines were their PVM (Professional Video Monitor) and BVM (Broadcast Video Monitors) monitors. These 3 product lines are highly sought out by retro video gaming and video enthusiasts due to their quality. They utilize Sony Trinitron monitors, high quality monitors which are sharp, bright, and clear. You can learn more about why Sony Trinitron monitors were (and still are) the king of CRT technologies in this informative YouTube video.

    Not only do these monitors contain high quality Trinitron monitors, but most of them have inputs for digital RGB. digital RGB is the best quality AV you can get out of most retro video game consoles. Compared to other inferior AV input types (such as RF, Composite, or S-Video), RGB separates the red, green, blue, and sync information on video into separate signals. The other video input types mentioned combine all or some of the color information into individual signals, instead of separating each piece of information into separate signals. This combining of signals causes much signal interference and loss of color quality and information. RGB, on the other hand, separates each piece of color information into their own wire/signal, preventing any interference, and ensuring perfect color accuracy and quality. This is why digital RGB is such a big deal for video enthusiasts. You can learn more about what digital RGB is and why it is so spectacularly awesome for retro video games at this webpage and at the retrorgb.com website.

Comparison between
lowest quality RF
and high-quality RGB video
(Source: RetroRGB website)

Unfortunately, there was a VTX-1000R TV tuner and the remote for the CRT for sale at the estate sale, but I didn't realize I should have picked it up at the time. I later picked up both for relatively cheap on eBay (but not as cheap as at the estate sale). Dumb mistake!

The KX-2501A monitor in action,
with VTX-1000R TV tuner and Remote Commander

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Getting RGB into this monitor

    As previously mentioned, Digital RGB is the best quality AV input for most retro video game consoles. RGB can be input to most high-end CRTs either thru SCART or thru BNC (RGBHV) connections. SCART is a European standard, and uses a 21-pin connector which carries RGB signals. Few if any monitors in North America use SCART inputs; however, many higher end CRTs have BNC connections for RGB (RGBHV or RGBs), which are more common than SCART inputs. SCART contains both audio and video on one cable, while BNC connections use 4-5 BNC connections for video, with audio via left/right RCA connections.

  The Sony Profeel KX-2501A does support RGB input; however; it neither uses SCART or BNC inputs for RGB, and instead, uses a proprietary IDC34 jack, which looks the same as a 34-pin floppy drive jack (see input panel on above picture). This change in input interface was a big problem with getting RGB input on the CRT. After doing some research online, I discovered this blog post from WaveBeam on how to rewire the pins on a SCART jack into such an IDC34 port for transmitting an RGB signal, as well as a proof-of-concept by another person who got RGB working via BNC+RCA connection. Later I discovered a Ben Heck article on creating an AV switcher circuit using Bus Switcher ICs.
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Enter Sony Super Multi (X) RGB Kits

  With the information researched in those links, I have designed the ultimate conversion interface kit for getting RGB input into IDC34 monitors such as mine. The R&D of the products are in late stage development (about 90% complete), and the kits should be ready to be sold to the public at around early October, after pricing, packaging, and an online store are setup.

    The Sony Super Multi RGB product line of kits will contain two kits: The Sony Super Multi RGB, and the Sony Super Multi X RGB. The former kit is the basic kit, while the latter is the premium kit. Both kits will allow one to interface both SCART and BNC (RGBHV/RGBs+RCA stereo audio) RGB AV into their IDC34 port on their monitor, as well as to use either a standard (twisted) IDC34 floppy cable or a nonstandard one. The main difference between the 2 kits is that the former is a passive circuit and does not prohibit the usage of both SCART and BNC inputs active at the same (attempting to use both will mux both signals to the CRT), while the latter is an active, powered, digital circuit that only allows one input type active at the same time. The latter uses an AV Input source switch to select which input to use, power supply, and a few SMT Bus Switcher ICs to fix the design flaw of the standard kit; however, it costs more and is harder to assemble, due to the few SMT components and more complex design. Both kits will come with color instruction manuals for how to use and assemble the kits. The parts used for the AV inputs will be high-quality, non-oriental parts, in order to ensure a pure AV signal. Both kits will be open-sourced, fabricated at OSHPark, and were designed with Autodesk Eagle. Pre-assembled kits will be tested for QA assurance before shipping.

 SSM RGB Kit
SSMX RGB Kit

Manuals
 -----------------------------------


   Stay tuned for more news about the development of the Sony Super Multi kits, and an eventual release date for the first batch of kits. The source material for the kits and the manuals will be released when the design is finalized and ready to ship. The EagleSoft Ltd website has been updated with a new "Electronics" tab, including a WIP page for the SSM Kits.

DreamPi NOOBS-compatible image updated (v1.1/v1.7)

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DreamPi NOOBS-compatible
image updated! (v1.1/v1.7)

  Earlier this year, I released a DreamPi NOOBS-compatible image for Raspberry Pi for the Sega Dreamcast. A DreamPi is a standardized set of software (a customized Linux distro) and a set of hardware created by a fellow named "Kazade" which will create a simplified DC-PC server, for getting a Dreamcast back online to connect to the internet for browsing and online gaming, via resurrected, private game servers. The stock DreamPi image is one which must be written to the entire SD card, and doesn't easily allow a multi-boot setup with other OSes on other SD card partitions. This DreamPi NOOBS-compatible image is compatible with NOOBS or (by extension, the recommended, superior) PINN. NOOBS is a simple bootloader, which allows one to install NOOBS-compatible distro images in such a way as to allow a simple multi-boot configuration, while PINN (derived from NOOBS) is a enhanced version of NOOBS, which fixes some design flaws and adds new useful, convenient features. PINN is recommended over NOOBS.

  The DreamPi NOOBS compatible image works with NOOBS/PINN, and allows one to install DreamPi distro with others in a multi-boot configuration. Recently, the stock DreamPi image was upgraded to v1.7. You can read the Dreamcast Live blog post and forum thread from the previous link for information about the ChangeLog, but to summarize the changes:

  • Updated Firmware
    • Image rebuilt against newer minimal Raspbian distro.
    • Now supports Pi Zero W and Pi 3 B+ models of Raspberry Pi
    • Smaller image size
  • 2K Games support
    • Supports resurrected servers for the supported 2K series of sports games (NBA 2k1/2, NFL 2k1 etc; see up-to-date games list)
  • Wi-Fi Config Utility 
  • Bugfixes
   I have updated the DreamPi NOOBS-compatible image against the updated DreamPi v1.7 stock image. The DreamPi NOOBS guide has been updated to detail how to upgrade your DreamPi partition from an older version to a newer version via the latest NOOBS image, and clarifies a few items. The upgrade requires the latest version of PINN, which has now introduced a "replace" OS function, as well as dual-firmware support to handle Raspberry Pi models 3B+ and newer and also older models. This OS replacement feature will upgrade DreamPi with the newer image, without deleting or modifying other partitions within your multi-boot setup on PINN.





Do note that this image may need the speed bugfix applied to make it boot consistently.

You can download the latest DreamPi NOOBS compatible image and read the guide at this EagleSoft page.

Have fun playing with the new support for the 2k series of sports games, and having DreamPi multi-boot with other OSes on NOOBS/PINN!

-Tamkis

Birthday Bash 2018/Recent pickups

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Birthday Bash/
Recent Pickups
(Not a dead hobo yet)


   I and EagleSoft Ltd are not dead! I just have been really busy with my day job as a developer lately. I somehow recently lived long enough to turn 26 years old during April! As usual, I picked up a few video game related items this month in celebration, some homebrew development related, others just video games. Unfortunately, turning 26, I fell off my parents' health insurance. What did I pickup this year?

   Around April, I found a few good games at a thrift store for dirt cheap, and some other great finds at the annual Pittsburgh Retro Gaming Convention (2018)! At the thrift store, I found a boxed copy of the Starter Pack for Skylanders Superchargers Racing for Wii, with Bowser, his airplane, the portal, and the game, as well as a copy of Megaman Network Transmission for Gamecube, and a longbox copy of Twisted Metal for PS1. A future blog post will give a short game review of Skylanders Superchargers Racing for Wii, as well as a quick review video in a future episode of Nerdology.


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 PRGC/Gamemaster's Realms Pickups:

At the 2018 Pittsburgh Retro Gaming Convention (PRGC) and a recent trip to the local game shop (The GameMaster's Realm), I found some great pickups! 

  • PS2
    • Hw
      • 8MB Memory Card
    • Applications 
      • HDLoader
      • Network Adapter Startup Disc
      • DVD Player v2.10 
    • Games
      • Star Wars Battlefront 1
      • Star Wars Battlefront 2
  • Gamecube
    • BMX XXX (at GMR)
      • Homebrew Game Save exploit!
    • Gamecube SD Gecko (eBay)
  • Sega Saturn
    • Games
      • Virtua Fighter 2
      • Virtua Cop 
        ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 
        PS2 Pickups/FHDB Setup

   Last year, somebody gave me a working Fat PS2. It was fully working, but the CD tray was jammed. I was able to easily fix that by lubricating the drive belt. I also had future plans to acquire a HDD Network Adapter, and to install a HDD with Free Hard Drive Boot (FHDB) and Playstation Broadband Navigator (PSBBN) on it. This adapter would also enable me to play various games online again, via private servers or self-dumped, patched backup discs.

    That same someone also gave me an OEM HDD Network Adapter (with Ethernet and Dialup jacks) on it, so I had been trying to setup my PS2 Fat up with networking and HDD capabilities. Initially, the blank Memory card I acquired at PRGC'18 would be used as the Free McBoot (FMCB) memory card, with HDLoader being the software to use to get over the chicken-and-egg problem of having to write the appropriate files to the memory card on a non-modified console for the FMCB installation, and being the software to use to utilize the HDD. However, the HDLoader disc was badly chipped on a section of disc near the inner ring. Although I tried getting the CD buffed at the Gamemaster's Realm (whose owner has such a professional CD buffing machine), it still wasn't enough to fix the issue, so I ended up returning the disc back to the seller on the 2nd day of the convention. It was a shame too, because HDLoader is a somewhat rare but useful homebrew utility disc, and I found this copy for a steal of only $3.

    A few weeks later I picked up a compatible 40GB IDE HDD for dirt cheap ($10) on eBay, and ended up just writing a modified PSBBN disk image to it ("PSBBN custom install 2013 by AKuHAK" from somewhere online), for a Free Hard Drive Boot (FHDB) installation. More info about what a PS2 FHDB installation can do in a future blog post/Nerdology video.

Formatting the old drive
on the Windows ME DosBox

 Powering up the HDD
in the Windows ME DosBox desktop,
LLF formatting the drive,
and writing the PSBBN Custom image
to the drive from Windows 7 dev machine

End result
(HDD support in OSDSYS, PSBBN, PS2 Linux)

  Also picked up were a Network Startup Disc and a DVD Player v2.10 disc. The former allows setting up a Network Adapter for usage with an internet connection, while the latter installs an updated version of the PS2's DVD Player application onto a memory card. Using the former, I was able to determine that my HDD Network Adapter does indeed work with respect to connecting to the internet, as well as setup the PS2 with an internet connection. The FHDB installation also showed the HDD interface to be working too. The latter pickup is mostly a curio item, which updates the PS2's DVD Player version. (My PS2 had its DVD Player software on v1.x, this updated it to v2.10). Most PS2 online games back in the day were hosted via GameSpy; however, when the website folded, so did all of the servers. Believe it or not, in 2018, it is still possible to play some games online, via reverse-engineered, dedicated servers.

   As far as games, I found copies of Star Wars Battlefront 1 & 2 for PS2 (the original games, not the terrible next-generation ones ruined by EA Games). A SWBF community member by the name of Phobos has recently put the finishing touches this summer on launching SWBFSpy, an OpenSpy replacement for the SWBF Master Servers. This will allow online multiplayer for these games once again, after applying patches to them, as well as gameplay stats and a plethora of other features, which haven't been around since the GameSpy servers ended. I'm quite excited for the release, and to play some SWBF online once again very soon!

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GameCube Homebrew Exploit

    To quickly followup from Repairaganza last year, someone gave me a used Wii. It was fully functional, but the DVD Drive mechanism was jammed. It was determined that a copy of Mario Kart Wii was jammed in the drive. After prying the DVD out, the drive still wouldn't suck or eject discs. Although I attempted lubricating and adjusting the DVD drive's gear system after disassembly of the console, I was unable to repair the drive; the mechanism was just too fragile to fix up. During early 2018, I transplanted the working DVD Drive from my brother's dead Wii. This DVD Drive was an early D2A chip drive, and works perfectly in my Wii! As a bonus, it's an early enough disc drive revision that it can watch DVD movies through MPlayer for Wii (not that I want to reduce the lifespan of the ODD's laser by watching DVD movies).

  One item I was looking for the GameCube at the convention was a copy of any GCN game from the short list of exploitable GameCube games. Games from this list can utilize a hacked saved file, which will exploit the game into running unsigned code from another device (run boot.dol converted to a save file on the same GCN memory card, Mini DVD-R, SD Gecko, etc). An SD Gecko is a GCN Memory card which allows plugging in an SD Card. Such devices are widely use in the GCN homebrew scene for running games, apps, and other things on real hardware, but compatibility is better on smaller SD Cards (not SDHC cards). In order to setup the exploit, the user needs to copy the hacked saved file onto a GCN memory card through a hacked Wii, using a utility such as GCMM on the Wii. Unfortunately, I was unable to find any of those games (there was a copy of 007 Agent Under Fire, but it was case only; no game). I was hoping to get Swiss running on an SD Gecko, so I'd be able to run and play Gamecube hombrew on real hardware. Specifically, I was planning on running the Gameboy Inteface (GBI) homebrew app using the softmod. GBI is a GB(C)/Advanced emulator that utilizes the Gameboy Player hardware to play real cartridges, and has much superior emulation than that with the official Nintendo GBP Bootdisc. This would allow me to play old Gameboy games on the big screen, as well as allow for future streaming of retro games for Nerdology in glorious high quality.

   Fortunately, I found a very cheap copy ($3) of BMX XXX at Gamemaster's Realm. (No, I'm not interested in playing this mature game lol. Just using BMX XXX as an XXXPloit game). After ordering a cheap SD Gecko and recently acquiring an official Wii SD Card (1GB, so less than SDHC capacities). I was able to get Swiss and GBI running on my 'Cube through the Exploit 😎. I still have been having too many troubles with running homebrew that access external files, for whatever reason. Further details about this softmod in a future blog post/Nerdology video.

Running Swiss and GBI
through the BMX XXXPloit
via SDGecko
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Sega Saturn finds
   Some better finds at the convention were copies of Virtua Fighter 2 and Virtua Cop for the Sega Saturn. The latter came in a longbox (CIB minus manual), while the latter was a loose copy. The longbox game is the first for my Sega Saturn collection; I've only recently gotten around to collecting and playing on the Sega Saturn, after I repaired one last year.
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Other EagleSoft Ltd News.

   EagleSoft Ltd has been relatively inactive the last 1.5 years, due to real life. Recently, this blog has been updated to use an HTTPS connection, in order to encrypt traffic for its own safety on the public web. Furthermore, the 100 blog post here at EagleSoft Labs, is coming very soon! I have a few surprises, announcements, and important web/blog updates for the incoming

-Tamkis

Ultra Air Hockey DX Source Code release!

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Ultra Air Hockey DX
Source Code release!


 When Ultra Air Hockey DX v1.0 was released way back in February 2015 after completing Fundamentals of Software Engineering class in the Fall semester of 2014 at RMU, I had plans to eventually port the game to Android, and to then try to publish the game on Steam with achievements and online multiplayer. The Android port eventually surfaced in a v1.1 patch of the game in summer of 2015. However, due to many years passing since then and working on many other projects (including many now in an official video game development job with a company) and not having time for an online-multiplayer release, I am releasing the source code for the game today.

   In order to get the game on Steam, I would have to create original music (the music used in-game were module music from ModArchive.org, since the game was originally freeware), as well as figure out online multiplayer and Steam Achievements. This coupled with the fact that I would have to greatly refactor the game's code for online multiplayer and due to the fact the game was created with an ancient version of Unity (3.x or 4.x if I remember correctly), I am releasing the source code, as well as the game's documentation from Fundamentals of Software Engineering class. Everything is open sourced with a GPL License, and is free for people to use as per the license. Downloads available on the project page.

Enjoy!

-Tamkis

DreamPi NOOBS-compatible image release

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DreamPi NOOBS-compatible
image release!

    Two years ago for my 24th birthday, I finally picked up a Sega Dreamcast, one of Sega's coolest and most innovative game consoles, which unfortunately was discontinued prematurely during its video game generation. It's still possible today to get a Sega Dreamcast online (even without a dial-up service available at a residency), to browse the web and send emails on DC-compatible web browsers, and even to play some online games again via resurrected private servers. The Sega Dreamcast comes supplied with a 56k dial-up modem; although a DSL Broadband adapter (the infamous "BBA") exists, it's quite rare and expensive (still so today). 

 Older attempts at getting my Dreamcast back online

    During that year, I tried getting my Dreamcast online by creating a Linux-based PC-DC server on my modern laptop. A PC-DC Server is a set of software that runs on a computer that converts a modern-day ethernet internet connection to something that dial-up based computers can use to connect to the internet. The software will answer to the dial-up calls from older computers, and convert the modern-day internet connection to a dial-up connection which the older device can use. My modern development machine just so happened to have a legacy v.92 Fax-modem port. Unfortunately, the modem model of my Dreamcast requires a voltage on the dial-up connection in order to function, so I soldered up a Line Voltage Inducer circuit. Although I tried running some Linux commands on a BunsenLabs Linux virtual machine to run a PC-DC server, I was only able to connect the Dreamcast to the internet for browsing; I was unable to get it to connect to private game servers. Often a connection attempt would be flaky, which was odd, and I suspected the LVI not to be soldered that well.

   Thinking the issue could be either hardware or setup related (especially with using a virtual machine), a year later I received from someone a very nice, used, older PC tower (a custom-built K8V SE Deluxe mo'bo in a ThermalIntake XTaser3 case). Always wanting a machine dedicated to playing old DOS and Windows 95-based titles, I installed Windows ME onto an HDD for the machine. Although ME does not have direct Real Mode DOS support out of the box (it's buried in the OS), it's possible to hack Real Mode DOS functionality back into the machine. More about this machine in an upcoming blog post or video. With the machine, I installed into it a v.92 US Robotics PCI card for dial-up connections, which would give a much more authentic dial-up connection for a PC-DC server. After installing the related software to setup a PC-DC server using the PCI dial-up modem (Windows 98 guide), I still was only able to browse the web, but not connect to games. At one point the modem card caused booting up of ME to not respond indefinitely, and, due to my usage of the particular Real Mode DOS hack I used ("Real Mode DOS Patch 3", which sacrificed emergency boot and Safe Mode functionality to use) and not having a working System Restore point (due to not having an update patch which fixes system restore failure issues past an odd Sept. 2001 date), I had to reformat the drive with a fresh Windows ME install. At this point I gave on trying to setup a PC-DC server via VM and dedicated DosBox for an online connection and decided to eventually purchase a DreamPi.

Physical Windows ME
DOSBox :)

DreamPi attempt

   A DreamPi is a standardized set of software (a customized Linux Distro) and a set of hardware created by a fellow named "Kazade" which will create a simplified DC-PC server. A DreamPi setup consists of a Raspberry Pi model 2/3 computer, a Linux-compatible USB Fax modem, an ethernet connection, and a Line Voltage Inducer. The software takes care of the dial-up connection with a very minimum, automated setup for the user, and will even allow the user to create an account for the DreamPi on the Dreamcast Now website. The Dreamcast now website will show the usernames of players currently online with DreamPis, and which online compatible game they are playing, allowing for easy hooking up with people for online matches. DreamPi by extension can also get other dial-up based computers back online, including the Sega Saturn, which can browse the restored NetLink zones for NetLink compatible games (Saturn guide). One problem with the DreamPi Linux distro is that it is a raw image file, meant to be written directly to the SD Card, making it quite unsuitable for allowing multi-booting of various OSes on the same SD Card.

 DreamPi Kit

DreamPi NOOBS-compatible image

    To fix this problem, I have released a NOOBS-compatible DreamPi image, based off DreamPi v1.6. NOOBS (New Out-Of Box Setup) is a bootloader for Raspberry Pi, that allows the installation of multiple OSes in such a way as to allow multi-boot. This DreamPi image works with NOOBS, and has a nifty slideshow upon installation explaining the features of DreamPi. By extension, this image is compatible with PINN. PINN (PINN Is Not NOOBS) is an enhanced version of NOOBS, which I recommend over using NOOBS. It has the following extra features over standards NOOBS:
  • Various ways to install OSes
  • Install from SD Card (offline)
  • Install from online server (with a wider variety of OSes)
  • External Media
    • USB Flash Drive
    • External SD Card via a USB SD Card reader
  • Install additional 512MB ext4 Data partitions, for general data usage
  • Download and archive to the SD Card the OSes from the online server, for offline installation
  • Easily reinstall OSes if something goes wrong (without having to redo a fresh NOOBS/PINN setup)
  • Various maintenance capabilities
    • OS maintenance utility
    • Recovery shell
    • SD card clone utility
    • Password restorer
    • File System Checker
  The image can be downloaded on its page in the Sega Dreamcast section of my website, along with info about it and how to use it. With my DreamPi, I was finally able to get my Dreamcast and Saturn back online for web browsing, and to get the Dreamcast back online for gaming! Couple with my NOOBS-compatible image, I was able to get a few other Linux distros working on the same SD card with a multi-boot setup.


Installing and using
DreamPi NOOBS compatible image

Installation slideshow
 

Some pictures of getting my
Dreamcast back online with DreamPi :)
 Getting my Sega Saturn
to browse the web with DreamPi
 Enjoy this DreamPi NOOBS compatible image for getting your Dreamcast/other dial-up computers back online, while enabling multiboot for other Linux distros!

-Tamkis
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