Saturday, September 12, 2020

Speak to Me! - Speech Synthesis with Early Home Video Games

When considering the evolution of video game audio, of the three components of audio, sound effects, music and speech, those components were introduced into video games in that order.  The earliest video games generated simple tones and noise to produce simple sound effects.  Music chips were well developed by the late 1970s, bringing a slightly more sophisticated method of sound generation to video game players.  Speech, which requires the utilization of more complex sounds to be intelligible, tended to be brought to home consoles and computers in the form of specialized speech chips.  In this article we will trace some of the lineages of speech in early video games.  

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The PlayStation 3 (Fat/Slim) as a Universal Region Free Blu-ray Disc Player

Although not as popular as its predecessor, the PlayStation 3 did almost as much to bring Blu-ray discs into the mainstream as the PlayStation 2 had done for DVDs. Every system came with a disc drive and flat screen HDTVs were also affordable by the time system sales began to pick up with the Slim revision of the console.  When I picked up mine in 2010, I bought it more as a Blu-ray player than for games.  I knew that at some point the console was hacked and jailbroken, but I did not want to continually switch between official firmware updates and iffy custom firmware that could end up bricking one of the only ways I had to play high definition discs.  For many years I got by with ripping DVDs and Blu-rays and streaming content via the media server, but that tended to take up a lot of hard drive space and time when I could just simply run the discs I had legitimately purchased.  I have as many UK DVDs than US DVDs and a fair number of UK Blu-rays.  Now that the PS3 has been discontinued and the console is essentially on life support in terms of firmware updates, I finally decided to investigate what it would take to get my PS3 working as a Universal DVD and Blu-ray disc player.  It turned out to be quite a journey.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Early Efforts at Online Interaction on Nintendo Consoles

We tend to think that Nintendo consoles first entered the online arena with the GameCube, its Modem and Broadband Adapters and Phantasy Star Online.  In the west, this is the case, but every Nintendo home and portable console (except that hunk of eye-straining junk called the Virtual Boy) has had some way to access the non-local world.  Sometimes these methods were first party supported, sometimes third-party exclusives and there was even an unlicensed publisher or two in the mix.  This blog entry will give an overview of the subject.  I will describe briefly each device or method, As this blog entry's purpose is not meant to give a comprehensive review of each of these devices.  I will include links for more information to sites and videos with more information.  

Sunday, July 26, 2020

2.4G on Controllers for your Vintage Consoles 2020 Edition

In 2019, 8BitDo released a unique product, the M30 2.4G.  This product was notable in that it was shaped like a Sega Genesis 6-button controller, used a wireless non-Bluetooth 2.4GHz protocol and came with a 9-pin dongle that worked on original consoles and cost only $25 to buy.  While not the first wireless controller for the Sega Genesis, it was the first from a noted controller manufacturer.  Now 8BitDo has released new controllers with the same price tag and functionality, the N30 2.4G and the SN30 2.4G.  I bought a pair the day before the launched and have had some time to play with them.  I'd like to share my thoughts on them in this blog entry.  (All photos used in this review hereafter courtesy of Amazon and 8BitDo.)

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Batty over Bits - The Complexity of the Intellivision's Memory Layout

The Atari 2600 had a rather conventional design by later home computer standards.  It's CPU, the 6507, had an 8-bit data bus and a 13-bit addressing bus.  Whatever it did, it did in multiples of 8-bits, which has become the accepted standard for computer design.  But its' successor, the Mattel Intellivision, has a memory architecture remarkably more complex than its older predecessor as well as many of its successors.  Even most later 16-bit systems do everything in 8-bit, 16-bit, 24-bit etc.  It is important for anyone wanting to get into Intellivision to understand why it is different.  In this short blog post, I will try to explain those differences.

Monday, May 4, 2020

The EverDrive N8 Pro - Second Time Perfection? A Review

Your Choices (courtesy of krikzz)
Krikzz has been a premier maker of flash cartridges for various systems for a decade.  Beginning with the Sega Genesis, he has made flash cartridges for just about every cartridge-based system from the Nintendo Entertainment System to the Game Boy Advance.  For many systems, his flash carts are the only flash carts of any quality available.  In 2013 he released his NES and Famicom flash cartridges, the EverDrive N8, in 72 and 60 pin editions to widespread acclaim and adoption.  Six years later, he brings an updated flash cartridge, the EverDrive N8 Pro.  In this review, I will look into the new flash cart's features, review some of the issues from the previous model and deliver a verdict on whether the cartridge is worth an upgrade for existing users and whether new users should choose it over the original N8.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Fixing NES Headers and Converting them to NES 2.0 : Putting Theory into Practice!

In my last blog entry, I announced the creation of an evolving database of NES ROM headers, focused on cartridge accuracy.  However, while I can make a spreadsheet for easy accessibility, spreadsheets are not the best way to organize data for use by other programs.  I cannot expect someone wanting a full set of proper NES 2.0 ROMs to manually edit the headers of over 2,900 separate files!

There has to be an easier way, right?
The task of manual fixing isn't slight.
Well, if you read further now,
I'll be happy to tell you how.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

The NES and Famicom Accurate Cartridge Information Database

NES and Famicom emulation has been around for over twenty-five years.  In that time, the internal hardware has become very well documented.  NES and Famicom cartridges, on the other hand, have had a parallel journey of discovery during this time, but emulators and flash carts and FPGA devices have not always been up to date with current developments.  The core games which people enjoy with NES emulation, namely those licensed and approved by Nintendo and unlicensed games released during the NES' lifespan, sometimes suffer in emulation due not to bad dumps but a wrong information in their file header.  The header indicates what kind of hardware the game uses, but if the information in the header is wrong, out of date or missing, the game will not play or play correctly.  In this blog article I will explain how headers work, why they are necessary, the need for accurate information in them and how they have evolved over time.  Then I will describe and link to my database which contains the most accurate and up to date information for the NES and Famicom ROMs most people care about.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

The Taiwanese Connection - The Source for Many Unlicensed NES/Famicom Games

Joy Van - Twin Eagle
AVE - Double Strike

Taiwan was called one of the four Asian Tigers (with Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong), small countries which had developed economically very rapidly after from the 1960s to the present to compete with much larger countries.  Taiwan embraced technology, creating chip fabrication plants and becoming indispensable to the PC revolution.  Video game consoles were hardly overlooked by the island, and Nintendo was the largest publisher of console video games in Asia.  There was no protection system in place for the Nintendo Famicom, so Taiwan programming firms began developing unlicensed games for that console around 1986.

At the same time, Nintendo was becoming the largest publisher of video games in North America thanks to the success of the NES.  Third parties were naturally attracted to the increasingly successful system, but Nintendo was a hard business partner.  Nintendo required companies to buy cartridges manufactured by Nintendo, required cartridge orders in large unit quantities, limited the number of cartridges a company could release in a year and scrutinized the content of the games to be published.  After Tengen showed that it was possible to develop and release cartridges without Nintendo's sanction, other companies like AVE and Color Dreams entered the market as unlicensed publishers.  But they needed games to sell and the number of programmers who could handle Nintendo's console were limited, so sometimes they turned to Taiwan.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

MiSTer - The MAME of FPGA Simulation Projects

MiSTer Fully Assembled (courtesy of MiSTer Github Wiki)
Why bother pricey FPGA simulation when there are so many excellent software emulators lying around?  The answer can be boiled down into one word : lag.  Lag is the most intractable problem with emulation and the most insidious.  Everything else, accuracy, ease of use, authenticity, a software emulator can accomplish.  But doing all that without added latency is a huge challenge and one which oftentimes cannot be met without some very expensive hardware.

An FPGA console is a modestly priced solution to lag.  FPGAs simulate original hardware at the logic level and can simulate multiple processes in parallel.  A software emulator must recreate a system alien to the hardware on which it is running and is essentially limited to processing multiple hardware events serially.  The most popular FPGA solution not made by Analogue is based on the DE-10 Nano FPGA development board.  This board is the key to the MiSTer project, a group of cores which simulate various video game consoles, computer systems and certain arcade machines under a common framework.  In this blog entry (or entries), I will dive into the world of MiSTer and discuss the aspects I like and dislike.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Product Review : Retro-bit's Metal Storm NES Re-release

Reproductions of NES games are nothing new, people have been making them and selling them illegally for years.  Recently the retro gaming market has shown such strength and durability that legitimate companies have felt there was sufficient interest in making new copies of original games.  These games would come packaged as "Anniversary Editions" or "Collector's Editions" and come in packaging and with extras that would easily eclipse the original game's.  This of course requires contacting the rights holder and negotiating for permission to release more copies of their game.  Recently, the relatively uncommon but well-regarded NES game Metal Storm received a release from retro-bit and I had the chance for it to come into my possession, so let me use this blog entry to review the game and explain why I had the opportunity to briefly handle it.

I have often in conversation referred to retro-bit as one of the "Four Horsemen of the Retro-Gaming Apocalypse", one of four well-known companies (Hyperkin, atgames and Gamerz-Tek) that have consistently released garbage retro video game products over the years.  They are hardly alone among lousy retro gaming product makers, but they are the most prominent.  Hyperkin can put out a decent controller, so I guess it has graduated, just barely, from the "Horsemen".  Can retro-bit do the same with its release of Metal Storm?  Let's find out.