Wednesday, March 30, 2016

NES PowerPak and EverDrive N8 Mapper Reference

This blog entry is dedicated to the various mappers files and collections for the NES PowerPak and EverDrive N8.  I have previously discussed each device elsewhere in this blog.  This blog entry will always have the latest compatibility information for these flash carts.

NES PowerPak Mapper Sets

Latest Official Mappers : v1.34, 10-14-2010
Expansion Audio Support : VRC6, FDS, Namco 163, Sunsoft 5B (all by an older version of Loopy's Mappers)

Here is the Mapper Support Matrix :

Latest Beta Mappers : v1.35b2, 11-10-2010
Changes to Official Mappers : 1, 3, 4, 79/4F

Latest Loopy Mappers : No version number, 01-21-2019
Mappers supported : 3, 4, 5, 19/13, 21/15, 23/17, 24/18, 25/19, 26/1A, 34/22, 69/45. 71/47, 90/5A, FDS
Expansion Audio Support : VRC6, FDS, Namco 163, Sunsoft 5B

Latest Save State Mapper : v1.6, 01-01-2014
Mappers supported : 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 69/45
Note : No Expansion Audio Support for Mapper 69/45

Latest PowerMappers : v2.3, 12-28-2015
Mappers supported : 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 10, 11, 34/22, 66/42, 69/45, 71/47, 118/76, 119/77
Note : No Expansion Audio Support for Mapper 69/45

Other Noteworthy NES PowerPak Mappers :

UNROM 512 Mapper 30:

Used by several homebrew games

GTROM Mapper 111 :

Used by several homebrew games

Nintendo World Championships Official Tournament Time Mapper 105/69 :

The NWC had jumpers to set the time from 5m04s to 9m46s.  The standard mapper only gives 5m04s, but the official tournament time was 6m15s.  This mapper gives you the official tournament time.

Comments : The NES PowerPak uses a MAP.XX file for each mapper.  The iNES mapper number is in hexadecimal for each MAP.XX file.  So iNES Mapper 79 decimal turns into 4F hexadecimal and is supported by the MAP.4F file.

Myask Mapper Package

Adds mapper support for 32, 33, 48, 65, & 107.  All but the last were used by Irem & Taito games for the Famicom.

Introfix :

This file fixes a bug where the save file will not load if you start the previous game immediately upon turning the power on.

EverDrive N8 Mapper Sets

Latest Official OS : v1.26, 04-04-2021
Expansion Audio Support : VRC6, VRC7, FDS, Namco 163, MMC5, Sunsoft 5B

Here is the Mapper Support Matrix :

Game Issues Common to both the PowerPak and EverDrive N8 :

Action 52 - At 2MB this game is too large for these 1MB flash carts and cannot work.  I managed to split the games up so they can load on the PowerPak and EverDrive. You can download them from here :

Mapper 64 - Skull and Crossbones has a garbage scanline above status bar when the main action screen has been scrolled down as much as possible.  The Hard Drivin' prototype also exploits this chip in ways not yet supported by flash carts.  This is due a lack of information on how the IRQ counter in the RAMBO-1 chip inside this cartridge works.

Galaxian (J) - This is a Mapper 0 game with only has 8KB of PRG-ROM and 8KB of CHR-ROM, whereas the official iNES 1.0 specification does not allow for less than 16KB of PRG-ROM ad 8KB of CHR-ROM with Mapper 0.  Use an overdumped 24KB combined ROM to get this game to work.

Study Box (J) - This game will never work properly on any Flash Cart because it embeds a cassette deck.

All Japanese games using a speech synthesizer chip, such as the Moero Pro games, will not play the speech samples because the speech data has never been dumped and the speech synthesizer chips have never been emulated.  Most of these games have U.S. counterparts that use the NES's PCM channel to produce speech but not the sound effects.

Mappers 153, 157 and 159 - Games requiring these mapper assignments, instead of the base Mapper 16, will not likely work correctly.  They were almost exclusively used by Bandai's Japanese games. These games use similar hardware but different methods to save (none, S-RAM, 128 byte EEPROM, 256 byte EEPROM).  These mappers also cover the Datach Joint ROM expansion device, which has a barcode reader which most of the games use.

Karaoke Studio, Mapper 188 will never work correctly because the real cartridges use the attached hardware, specifically the microphone.

Like Karaoke Studio, Nantettatte!! Baseball, Mapper 68, used a cartridge lock-on system that allowed an expansion cartridge to be plugged into the top of the base cartridge.  These expansion cartridges, which update team statistics, had a protection IC which the EverDrive and PowerPak do not emulate. The base game plays fine.

Specific Game Issues with EverDrive N8

Cybernoid - This game relies on bus conflicts, which the EverDrive N8 has difficulty with.  Use or permanently patch the US ROM with Game Genie code SXZNZV to get the game to work properly after you change the sound mode from sound effects to music.

Gauntlet - Backgrounds will be incorrect if this game is assigned to Mapper 206 because it uses four-screen mirroring, so assign it's iNES header to Mapper 4.

Money Game, The & Tatakae!! Ramen Man: Sakuretsu Choujin 102 Gei - Appear to work when the mapper is changed from Mapper 155 to Mapper 1

Fudou Myouou Den - Appears to work when the mapper is changed from Mapper 207 to Mapper 80.

Mapper 210 is not supported, most games should work as Mapper 19.

General Game Issues with PowerPak (assuming loopy mappers and PowerMappers are added)

Racermate Challenge II - Uses Mapper 168, which is not supported.  This game also requires a custom and rare peripheral that attaches to a stationary bicycle.

Most MMC5 games are playable, but Uncharted Waters, Uchuu Keibitai SDF and Bandit Kings of Ancient China will show graphics glitches.  No expansion audio support.

Super Mario Bros + Tetris + Nintendo World Cup - A PAL only release, uses Mapper 37 which is not supported by the PowerPak.

Games using MMC3 scanline interrupts will often show jumpy status bars (Super Mario Bros. 3, Crystalis, Mega Man 3) or occasional graphical garbage (Kirby's Adventure, Mickey's Adventures in Numberland).  This issue may vary from PowerPak to PowerPak (my PowerPak is a first batch PowerPak), and is ameliorated with the Save State Mappers and PowerMappers.

Specific Game Issues with PowerPak and PowerMappers :

Asmik-kun Land - Status bar on the bottom of the screen constantly shakes.  This can be fixed by using MAP04.MAP from the Save State Mappers.  You rename the file to something unused like MAP06.MAP and assign the game to Mapper 6 in its header.

Battletoads & Double Dragon - The game may crash when the Level 1 Boss appears.  This is also another open bus issue.  If you encounter it, it can be fixed by creating a Battletoads & Double Dragon.sav 8KB file filled in entirely with hex 00.  Battletoads & Double Dragon does not use S-RAM, but if the game reads these values from where RAM is supposed to be, there will be no glitching or crashing here.

Jackie Chan's Action Kung Fu - Glitchy garbage as the scroll unfurls just before you begin a level.  This can be fixed by using MAP04.MAP from the Save State Mappers.  You rename the file to something unused like MAP06.MAP and assign the game to Mapper 6 in its header.

Jurassic Park - Extra lines in the wavy Ocean logo on the title screen. This can be fixed by using MAP04.MAP from the Save State Mappers.  You rename the file to something unused like MAP06.MAP and assign the game to Mapper 6 in its header.

Low-G-Man - Music for Level 1 Boss is not correct, but it does not crash.  This can be fixed by creating a Low-G-Man.sav 8KB file filled in entirely with hex FF.  Low-G-Man does not use S-RAM but relies on open bus and this workaround allows the game to obtain the right values it needs for the music engine.

Little Ninja Brothers - Shaking in status menus, text boxes and the like, which did not appear in prior mappers.  This can be fixed by using MAP04.MAP from the Save State Mappers.  You rename the file to something unused like MAP06.MAP and assign the game to Mapper 6 in its header.

Metroid FDS - Will load to a black screen or a screen so corrupted Samus cannot move.  Others have been able to get this game to work, but I cannot.

Mickey's Adventure in Numberland - Certain tiles in Mickey's sprite flicker constantly similar to Startropics.  This can be fixed by using MAP04.MAP from the Save State Mappers.  You rename the file to something unused like MAP06.MAP and assign the game to Mapper 6 in its header.

Mickey's Safari in Letterland - Status bar shakes because these games requires the IRQ timing for Acclaim's MMC3 clone, which is different from Nintendo's MMC3.  

Rad Racer 2 - Occasional flickering of yellow/orange lines in the road.  The Save State Mappers do not support the 4-screen mirroring this game uses, so use Loopy's Mapper 4 instead.

Startropics 1 & 2 - Half of Mike's small sprite flickers constantly, as does his inventory in the action sequences.  This can be fixed by using MAP04.MAP from the Save State Mappers.  You rename the file to something unused like MAP06.MAP and assign the game to Mapper 6 in its header.  If you see that the subweapons on the action screen noticeably flicker if you have acquired more than one, then make sure the save state function is turned off in the blue menu before you finish loading the ROM.

Ultima - Exodus - Due to bugs with uninitialized cartridge RAM, you could see shaking text, font corruption and bad audio if you play this game without a corresponding sav file.

Expansion Audio Support

Here is the expansion audio support breakdown for both flash cartridges and the Analogue Nt Mini :

Expansion Sound Type NES PowerPak EverDrive N8 Analogue Nt Mini
Famicom Disk System Supported Supported Supported
Konami VRC6 Supported Supported Supported
Konami VRC7 Not Supported Supported Supported
Sunsoft 5B Supported Supported Supported
Namco 163 Supported Supported Supported
Nintendo MMC5 Not Supported Supported Supported
Jaleco/Bandai Speech Not Supported Not Supported Not Supported

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Remnant of the Golden Age of Arcades : Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga 20 Year Anniversary

Recently I conducted a survey of all establishments, arcades and restaurants within a thirty minute radius of my house or within my county to find some classic arcade machines.  I used this ancient site, and my memories of seeing classic machines in my travels.  I live in the sticks but there are several major population centers within that distance and well over half a million people live within it.

Any video game made during the Golden Age of Arcade Video Games, the 1970s or the first half of the 1980s was to be included.  After having visited every place that had been reported to possess a classic arcade machine or was likely to possess a classic arcade machine (i.e. malls), I technically came up empty for finding machines built and released during that time period

However, this did not mean that a classic experience was impossible to find within a reasonable distance from my house.  In 2001, Namco released a machine called Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga Class of 1981 / 20 Year Reunion.  As its name suggested, this was a 2-in-1 arcade machine that allowed you to play Ms. Pac-Man or Galaga.  The machine was hugely successful and mush have sold at least 10,000 units.  Considering the huge decline in arcade machines sold after the Golden Age, this was an impressive achievement.  As is well-known, there is a special code you can input to play Pac-Man instead of Ms. Pac-Man.

In my area, I found two Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga machines, one of which was a cocktail unit.  I also know of that two other machines were available until recently, but I believe one of the units belonged to an establishment that may have gone out of business.  I found nothing else of note, although I did note a few arcade machines from the 90s in one or two locations.

Namco would later follow the machine with a Pac-Man 25th Anniversary Edition in 2005 (allows you to select Pac-Man without a code) and Pac-Man's Arcade Party in 2010 (adds more games but Ms. Pac-Man is lost for the arcade versions).  However, these machines have not been nearly as successful as Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga.  I have been pretty sharp about spotting classic machines but I am not sure if I have ever seen one of the later machines.

If a classic arcade game is running in a machine has an LCD screen or looks like it is running MAME, I would not have considered it.  I did not find any such machines, but I know they exist in more tourist-pandering areas along the coast.  LCDs and classic arcade machines go together like oil and water.  The lag generated by an LCD (especially the cheap ones they use) is absolutely hostile to improving your skills on an arcade machine.

There are several differences between the original Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga and the original machines.  The standalone 1981 games were sold in three styles, a large vertical "Upright" unit with a 19" monitor, a smaller vertical "Mini" unit with a 13" monitor, and a horizontal "Cocktail" unit with a 19" monitor.  In 2001, there were only two versions, an Upright and a Cocktail, and both had a 24" monitor.  This made the resulting graphics look a lot sharper if blockier.  I have also read complaints that the monitor size is so large that it is harder to keep track of everything going on on the screen.

The original Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man used a large PCB with two (Pac-Man) or three (Ms. Pac-Man) daughterboards.  These boards were populated entirely of discrete components and a Z-80 CPU.  Galaga had two large boards sandwiched together and used three Z-80s.  The Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga uses one small board with a Z-180 CPU and two custom circuits to handle most of the gameplay.  While the original games used lots of small ROMs and PROMs for game code, video and color data and waveform sample storage, the Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga only uses two large ROMs.

Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man had 4-way joysticks, but Galaga only needed a 2-way joystick.  For obvious reasons, the joystick on the Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga machine is a 4-way stick.  The sticks for the original games were all leaf sticks where contact was made by pressing one metal strip against another.  The stick on the Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga machine uses micro-switches.  Micro-switches pretty much work on the same principle, but have a click to their activation.  I believe true aficionados of these games prefer the smoother action of the leaf joysticks.

The other obvious difference between the original and Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga machine is the addition of continues to the games in Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga.  The original games did not allow you continue once you used up all your lives.  You had one credit and that was it.  A second credit meant starting over.  All three games contained in the Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga machine allow you to continue from exactly where you left off, even during the middle of a level.  If your ship is captured in Galaga, you will be able to rescue once you continue your game, essentially giving you an extra life of sorts.  Your score is not reset, so you can feel good about obtaining a high score after spending $10 in quarters at each game, but no one else will be impressed.

The title screens for Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga have a website address  When the originals were released in 1981, only the academic community and the military had access to ARPANET, but by 2001 everyone was able to access the Internet.  Unfortunately you cannot buy these machines from Namco anymore.  Arcade dealers do have them, but the going rate for a full, working cabinet is at least $1,000.

The original games used dipswitches to change settings like how many coins it would cost to play a game and how many lives you were given with each coin.  Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga uses a test switch and an in-game menu.  The options for Ms. Pac-Man also apply to Pac-Man.  Except for the number of credits per coin, the options for the standalone games and the Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga versions are the same except as noted below.

Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga Galaga's options include Attract Sounds On/Off.  Stand-alone Galaga had sound when it was playing automatically in the "Attract Mode".  The bonus lives for Galaga follow the Midway version released in the US.  Galaga also features a Rapid Fire option as well as a Fast Shot option.  Rapid Fire allows you to hold down the Fire button to shoot multiple shots.  Original Galaga always required a button press for each shot.

Each game has a default fast/slow setting.  When the fast Pac-Man/Ms. Pac-Man option is selected, you move extremely quickly relative to the ghosts in the earlier levels.  When the fast shot is selected in Galaga, you can spam the fire button to fire many shots instead of the two shots on screen the game typically allows.  These options are throwbacks to the speedup modifications and hacks often done on the original machines.

The Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga machine has two well-known secret codes entered with the joystick and fire buttons.  The first code allows you to play Pac-Man.  The second code allows you to toggle the fast  Pac-Man/Ms. Pac-Man and fast shot option on and off.  If the machine has been set to fast mode, you can input the code to use the slow mode, and vice versa.

Codes are entered only when you are on the game select screen.  The code for Pac-Man is Up, Up, Up, Down, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, Left.  If you are successful, you will hear the sound in Pac-Man indicating you earned an extra life and Blinky will turn into Pinky.  The code to toggle the fast Pac-Man/fast Shot is Left, Right, Left, Right, Up, Up, Up, Fire.  If you enter it correctly, you will hear the sound of Pac-Man or Ms. Pac-Man eating a fruit.  You should take your time when entering these codes, unlike the Konami code, slower is better.  Each code only lasts until game over (including continues).

You will have to input the code again on the game select screen to play Pac-Man or toggle the game speed.  Even if you see the Pac-Man attract screens giving the ghost names, you must still input the code.  You will not see the following screen, you will only see the Ms. Pac-Man or Galaga select screen.

Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga Galaga has an error in the Galaga attract mode compared to original Galaga.  The enemies in Galaga fire shots that white and red, with the red end going toward you.  In the Attract Mode for Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga Galaga, the shots are reversed.  The in-game shots look correct.

Tricks in the original games work as they should in the Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga machine.  Thus, for example, you can hide Pac-Man in the upper left corner of the "T" junction where he starts and the ghosts will never catch him.  You can control the ship in the Galaga Attract Mode by using the controls when the enemy comes to capture the ship and cause the machine to reset itself (allowing you to view the version of the ROM it uses).

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Electronic Recycle Bin Rescue Super Socket 7 System

My town has a shipping container where you can rid yourself of old electronics like TVs, computer systems and monitors and printers.  The town charges a small fee per item.  Even in my small town there seems to be no lack of residents with old PCs.  Usually the container will have three to four PCs dumped in it by the time it is picked up and sent to a recycling center.  I have been known to explore the leftovers and have taken the occasional graphics or sound card from PCs.

Last week, I saw a system that interested me.  Usually I see stock Dell or HP machines from the mid-2000s, but this system was inside an AT-style enclosure.  My interest was naturally peaked.  The system did not have a cover and I could see a socket 7 motherboard.  There was no heatsink on the CPU, which identified itself as an AMD K6-2 350MHz.  I did not need any more advertising, I had to have this machine.  Three discrete trips to the bin later, I had the CPU, the motherboard on a removable tray, the CPU heatsink and all the header connectors I saw.  I did not take any disk drives, I do not need floppy or CD-ROM drives and there is an unwritten rule about taking hard drives (to protect residents against identity theft.)  I left the case, drives and power supply for the recyclers.

The unknown motherboard
Motherboard Overview :

As this is a late AT class motherboard, there are headers and ribbon cables for just about everything.

Identifying the Motherboard :

Not to busy looking from this angle

The VIA Southbridge chip is the VT82C686A (labeled as HT82C686A on this board).  Although the identity of the Northbridge chip is obscured by the headsink, the motherboard has integrated video but no external chip to provide that functionality.  According to the Southbridge reference manual, it was designed to integrate with three VIA Northbridge chips, VT82C598, VT82C501 and VT82C691.  The VT82C598 (Apollo MVP3) is a Super Socket 7 chip which provides AGP, the VT82C501 (Apollo MVP4) is a Super Socket 7 chip has integrated 2D / 3D graphics and the VT82C691 (Apollo Pro) is a Socket 8 / Slot 1 chip.

Obviously, the VT82C691 is not the chip and the VT82C501 looks better than the VT82C598 because the VT82C501 advertises integrated graphics, which fits with my board. Therefore, the Northbridge is a VT82C501.  The MVP4 is otherwise identical to the MVP3.

There is no official name of the motherboard or who manufactured it on the board itself, but judging by this thread it is highly likely a PCChips product.

The heatsink on PC Chips' boards is very distinctive.  Other manufacturers like ASUS and Gigabyte proudly identify themselves, but PC Chips left their identity to their golden heatsink. It uses a VIAGRA PC100 chipset.  No chipset was ever more unfortunately named and a Google search does not really work well.

This board is not documented in TotalHardware '99.  However, there are board shots of many of PC Chip's motherboards at  Even in low resolution, these photos correspond almost exactly to my board :

Therefore, my motherboard is a PC Chips M585LMR.  Its PDF manual can be downloaded from here :

There is a thread about the motherboard here :, but without pictures it would be difficult to associate this board with the thread.

Integrated Functionality :

This chip incorporates the Trident Blade 3D AGP 3D Accelerator.

The LAN is provided by the Davicom 9102F chip.  It is a 10/100Mbit PCI-based LAN card, and Windows 9x has drivers for it.  It cannot be disabled, but there is no reason you have to use it except that wasting a PCI slot on a LAN card is silly.

The audio and modem is provided by the SoundPro HT8738AM chip, which has dual functionality.  The audio portion is provided by a core functionally identical to the C-Media CMI8738.  The modem capability is provided by a core fundamentally identical to the PCtel HSP56 MicroModem.  This is a Winmodem, so do not expect good performance.


The only jumpers on this board are JBAT1, JP2, JP4 and JP5.  JBAT1 clears the CMOS memory, JP2 enables and disables the onboard audio and modem functionality and JP4 enables and disables the onboard LAN.  JP5 selects the SPDIF voltage output for the SPDF I/O connector, allowing for 5 volt or .5 volt.  5 volt is suitable to power an optical or TTL output, while 0.5 volts is appropriate for a coaxial peak-to-peak output.  There is also an audio and modem disable in the BIOS, but hardware disable seems better than software disable for completely eliminating the device from Windows.

There is information silkscreened for JP6 (CPU multiplier selection) and JP9 (front side bus speed selection), but no pins or dipswitches on the board to access these selections.  These settings are entirely controlled by the BIOS.

Headers :

Then you look on the other side of the board
This board has lots and lots of pin headers.  Some of them appear to be standard, others are not.  

COM1 : Serial Port, standard 10-pin header (pin 9 is key)
PRINT1 : Parallel Port, standard 26-pin header (pin 26 is key)
VGA : Monitor Display port, standard 16-pin header.  Uncommon but not unknown, pin 16 has no connection)
LAN1 : RJ-45 port module, non-standard.  
DAA1 : Winmodem 2 x RJ-11 module, non-standard.  This does not have a ribbon cable, it attaches directly to the motherboard and its header is positioned so the module aligns with a case slot.  This can be found by searching for PCTel Fax/Modem DAA module
SOUND1 : Game/midi port and line in/out/mic, 26-pin non-standard header.  The first 16 pins of this header are for a gameport, and that is standard (pin 16 not connected).  The subsequent 10 pins are used for the audio jacks, but do not follow the standard for front panel audio designs.  Instead, 4 pins are used for the stereo line in, 4 pins for the stereo line out and 2 pins for the microphone input.  This header adapter appears to be identical :
ATX FORM : PS/2 mouse, Infrared Port, and 2 x USB ports, 18-pin non-standard, pin 14 is the key.  I do not have this particular connector, but it appears identical to the one sold here :
USB1 : USB1.1 x 2 ports, 8-pin semi-standard.  The standard ribbon cable has 10 pins, but pins 9 & 10 are no connected.  A typical adapter should work.  This board supports 4 USB ports between this header and the ATX FORM header.
CD-ROM : Although not labeled as such, there are what appears to be two CD-ROM headers.  One of them has a white snap-in box around the pins.  The white box should have the pins in GLGR format, while the no-box header should have the pins in the LGGR format.  
SPDF I/O : 8-pin header, pin 3 is key.  Provides coaxial spdif input and output and stereo line input with an adapter which I cannot find.
J7 : 2-pin header for CD-ROM SPDIF input.  This cannot be used if the external SPDIF bracket is being used.
J4 : 8-pin header, pin 8 is key.  Not documented in the manual

There is a header, J11, for the switches, LED and speaker.  This header is a little odd.  The 4-pin header for the speaker and the 3-pin header for the Power LED are connected horizontally, but the other LEDs and the Power/Suspend switch are connected vertically.  They all use 2-pins, so this will work.  The silkscreening on the motherboard does not make this crystal clear.  

Special Features :

The motherboard theoretically supports up to 768MB of RAM in its three DIMM slots.  However, not all of this RAM is cacheable.  2MB cache systems can cache up to 508MB, 1MB cache systems up to 254MB and 512KB boards only 127MB.  If for some reason you need more RAM than this, the performance of the extra RAM will suffer.  My system reports itself as having 512KB of RAM, so a single 128MB stick of PC-100 SDRAM will suffice.  PC-66 SDRAM is also supported.

Front side bus speeds supported are 60, 66, 75, 83, 90, 95 and 100MHz.  If the silkscreening is to be believed, this board supports multipliers from 1.5x to 5.5x.  This pretty much encompasses the world of the Socket 7 and Super Socket 7 CPUs, from a Pentium 90 (1.5 x 60) to a K6-2+ at 550MHz.  These CPUs do not have locked multipliers, so for example, my K6-2 350 can be unclocked to 90MHz.  The system can run CPUs with 3.3v to 2.0v core voltages.

The Southbridge chip supports UDMA/66 IDE.  This limits you to 28-bit LBA, so hard disk drives should be no more than 120GB.  Windows 9x also has similar limits.

The Trident Blade 3D integrated graphics cannot be disabled.  The integrated graphics will use 4MB or 8MB of system RAM for a frame buffer.  Discrete graphics cards using this chipset may use SGRAM instead of SDRAM.  There is Direct 3D support for 3D accelerated graphics as well as an OpenGL ICD for Quake-engine game support.  There is also hardware support for DVD decoding.  This graphics controller is AGP based, but does not take full advantage of the AGP specification.  When it came to 3D accelerated graphics, an nVIDIA TNT card smoked the Trident, as shown in the Anandtech article linked above.

The Trident adapter supports 640x480x32bit @ 160Hz, 800x600x32bit @ 160Hz, 1024x768x32bit @ 120Hz, 1280x1024x16bit @ 100Hz and 1600x1200x16bit.@ 85Hz.  DOS VGA and SVGA compatibility appears to be solid.

The CMI8738 chip appears to be a quite decent all-rounder.  It supports DirectSound/DirectSound 3D, EAX 1.0 and A3D 1.0 with updated drivers.  It provides Head-Related Transfer Functions for 2-speaker 3D positional audio.  It can record and output 24-bit SPDIF and will output 5.1 AC3 from DVDs.  The SOUND1 bracket supports using four speakers by repurposing the line-in connector.

The CMI8738 will emulate a Sound Blaster 16.  It possesses an excellent FM synthesis core.  I do not know if it was licensed from Yamaha, but it sounds very close to a Yamaha YMF-724 FM recording.  If you want to use an ISA card for DOS games and keep the PCI audio, you can move the I/O ports of the Sound Blaster, MPU-401 and/or FM Synthesis to ports that will not be used.  Interestingly, the VIA Southbridge also supports Sound Blaster Pro emulation, but this may be disabled on the motherboard or the chip itself to allow the CMI8738-based chip to be the only on-board audio system.

Expansion :

Meet your expansion options
A typical AT case will have seven or eight card slots.  The motherboard included five header brackets, sound, modem, LAN, VGA and Serial/Parallel.  The manufacturer offered the ATX and SPDIF brackets as optional purchases.  You may not be able use all the headers and both expansion slots, one must be sacrificed in a seven slot case.  Typically the modem is the best choice to go without, especially in today's world.

This board is on the edge of the AT to ATX transition.  Most Socket 7 and even Super Socket 7 boards used the AT form factor, while virtually all Pentium II boards used ATX.  The AT keyboard connector has purple plastic, which is a PC97 requirement.  With the ATX FORM bracket and an ATX power supply, this system becomes a fully ATX compliant computer with its various suspend and sleep functions.  Use of AT power supplies makes fewer of these energy saving options available.  I personally find sleep, suspend and ACPI functions a nuisance.  I prefer to turn a system on and turn a system off rather than worry about whether it will wake itself from sleep.

The board is very small for the period, not much larger than a mini-ITX board.  Even so, very little that an average user may need is left out.  A parallel port and one serial port is provided.  The one serial port is intended for a mouse, and instead of a second serial port you get a built-in (if crappy) modem.  Use the ATX FORM bracket and a PS/2 mouse and you can rescue the serial port for something else.  By adding basic 3D accelerated video and audio and a LAN, there is not a heck of a lot of need for expansion for most people.

The ISA slot is in line with the switch and panel headers, so using long cards with this system may be tricky. The PCI slot is in line with the secondary IDE port, so caution is advised with using a long PCI card.

If you want to use this board for 3D gaming, you may want to add a 3D accelerator.  A Voodoo, Voodoo 2 and PowerVR PCX1 or PCX2 are add-on boards without 2D capabilities.  They should be able to co-exist without difficulty with the on-board video.  Because Voodoo 2 SLI requires 2 PCI slots, the only way you will be able to use Voodoo 2 in SLI is by obtaining a Quantum3D Obsidian 2 X-16 or X-24, which combines two 8MB or 12MB Voodoo 2 boards onto one board.

Building the System :

The 486 motherboard had to get the boot
The K6-2 is recognized as a K6-2 at 350MHz.  You can set the speed, multiplier and core voltage in the BIOS.  For multipliers, you can select 2.0x through 6.0x in 0.5x increments.  For core voltage you can select 2.0-2.5v in 0.1v increments.  Front side bus speeds supported are 60, 66, 75, 83, 90, 95, 100, 105, 110, 115, 120, 124MHz.  Perhaps a Pentium or a Cyrix CPU would have different settings available.

There is no way this board will fit inside an modern ATX case.  The mounting holes for the motherboard are in different places in an ATX case and there are not enough common holes to give this AT board sufficient support.  Even if you remove the ATX I/O panel to allow you access to the AT keyboard connector, the expansion slot holes in an ATX case do not correspond to the expansion slots on the board.

I'll win no prizes for my cable routing
Getting all the ribbon cables to cooperate with the bracket placement was a bit of a challenge.  Even though no ribbon cable had more than 24 pins, ribbon cables are not the most flexible of connectors.  The floppy drive ribbon cable also connects in the area where the on-board peripherals connect.  I could not get the modem daughterboard, which connects directly to the motherboard without a ribbon cable, to fit in the AT case I have, so I just left it out.

Lots of ribbon cables
I originally could not get the board started.  I tried an AT power supply and an ATX power supply, but neither seemed to work.  I thought I had a dead board and was beginning to believe I had wasted my time.  I looked at the trace side of the board and it appeared that the ATX traces did not make any sense where the AT traces did.  The AT connector is not keyed, making inserting the connectors a bit tricky.  Once I realized that the ground wires (black) are always together and in the middle with the AT connectors, I was able to start the board.

The ATX connector still did not work.  The silkscreening for the switch/LED block was a little confusing.  I did not realize until I found and read the manual that the 2-pin connectors were to be inserted vertically, not horizontally.  I figured they were inserted vertically just as the other connectors, which is how they are inserted in my ASUS P3B-F.  Once I inserted the power switch connector vertically in the last pair of pins, the board fired right up.

So much for that AWE32 I wanted to put into the ISA slot
If you want to use an ISA card that extends over the switch/LED pins, you will have difficulties with the LED and power and reset switches due to the lack of clearance.

The system did not come with any RAM, so I grabbed a 64MB and later a 128MB stick of PC-100 SDRAM I had lying around, the system did not have any trouble with the RAM.

Installing the OS and Drivers :

I was only prepared to use a 540MB hard drive for experimentation.  I decided to use Windows 95 for a change, since it is smaller and faster with lower end hardware than Windows 98.  I have a Windows 95 OSR2.1 CD, which I found out was not bootable.  A truly fresh install will require a boot disk with a DOS CD driver and MSCDEX.  Installing the operating system was fast and easy.  Getting the drivers to work, well that was not easy.

A streamlined boot screen
The chief difficulty is finding the right drivers for this board.  Originally the board came with a drivers CD with drivers for the LAN, Video, Sound, Modem and IDE Bus Master.  Of course I did not have this CD, so I had to search for the drivers online.  I managed to find them, thanks mostly to Driver Guide.  Installing the Sound and Bus Master drivers was easy.

Only 512KB of External Cache, I want my money back!
Installing the LAN driver was not so easy.  Even though the chip used is a Davicom 9102F, there is more than one driver set for it.  The driver set that finally worked for me was not easy to find.  It has folders for win95, win95osr2 and win98.  Even with this driver, I still got a yellow exclamation mark in Driver Properties.  What finally worked was deleting the "Unsupported Device PCI LAN" after installing the driver. Once the driver was installed properly, the LAN was well-behaved.  Connecting to a Network Drive was not a problem.

The OS installed in the exposed system
Finding a good video driver for this motherboard has been a more difficult trial.  The Blade 3D does support Direct3D, so hardware accelerated games should be possible.  The first drivers I tried refused to give me anything but standard VGA capabilities.  The second set gave me full 2D capabilities at first, but not 3D capabilities.  The first set identifies the video chipset as a Trident Blade3D, but the second set identifies itself as a Trident CyberBlade i7 AGP.  It seems that like the LAN adapter, different drivers may be required depending on whether you have a standalone expansion card or an embedded solution.  Even Windows 98SE is unlikely to have video drivers for this adapter as implied here :

You have to install the card using the setup program, not the Add/Remove Hardware, in order to obtain full 3D capabilities.  I had a non-working Diamond Monster 3D in the system, and it seems that it was blocking the Trident setup program from working.  Unfortunately, the pickiness of the drivers means that they really cannot be upgraded.

Windows 95 stripped of all its nonsense
The graphics adapter was able to run 3dmark99, so it should be able to run Direct 3D and OpenGL games from the mid-to-late 90s reasonably well.  Glide-only and Glide-preferred games have another system to run on.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Metroid II - Return of the Sidescrolling Action/Adventure Exploration Game

Original Game Boy Palette
Metroid II was released during a relative drought of quality first party titles from Nintendo for the Game Boy.  Nintendo had released all the launch games for the system in July of 1989, Alleyway, Super Mario Land, Tennis and Tetris, but after that its releases had dropped substantially while its third party licensees like Konami and Capcom picked up the slack.  While Nintendo released other games like Golf, Solar Striker, Qix, Radar Mission and F-1 Race during 1990 and 1991, it was not until Metroid II was released in November of 1991 that one was really reassured that Nintendo was going to give its handheld system its best.  More classics, like Super Mario Land 2, Wario Land, Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening and Donkey Kong would follow about once a year thereafter.

Original Game Boy Palette
Metroid II helped cement the fact that certain premium games would have battery backed RAM.  Almost every classic game Nintendo developed for its cartridge systems thereafter would also have the extra battery backed RAM. The extra RAM allows for a more forgiving saving system than passwords.  The original Metroid, whether played on cartridge or disk, did not save your current health and did not save your location except at an elevator (Famicom Disk System Metroid always restarts you at Brinstar.)  There are save points liberally scattered throughout Metroid II's SR388.

Original Game Boy Palette
Graphically, the smaller screen resolution (160x144 vs. 256x240) and limited number of colors available (4 vs. 52), when compared to the NES, required certain compromises.  The graphics artists could scale down Samus compared to her NES sprites, or keep the NES scale and show a smaller screen area.  Nintendo had scaled down the graphics for Super Mario Land, but the result looked rather simplistic and lacked detail.

Original Game Boy Palette
The designers made the right choice in keeping the scale the same.  With a larger scale, they could show more detailed backgrounds and enemies.  This is important in a large game that is limited to a four color monochrome palette.  As a result, while most parts of SR388 look natural, other parts look like they were designed by intelligent beings.  Samus' armor is much more detailed, especially after she acquires the Varia suit.  Also, her left/right facing sprites are not totally mirror images of each other, now her arm cannon is always on her right arm.

Super  Game Boy Default Palette
The enemies too take on a greater variety.  Most look like the planet's indigenous life, but some enemies look and act like constructs or robots gone haywire.  The same enigmatic power statutes appear in both Metroid and Metroid II, but their connection to each other, the Metroids and the Space Pirates is not detailed until later games in the series.

Super  Game Boy Default Palette
The sound and music in Metroid II is often underrated.  The music starts out fairly jaunty and adventurous, not unlike the Brinstar music of the original.  When dealing with the Chozo-inspired structures, the music is rather clinical not unlike the music for the Chozo rooms in the original game.  Metroid encounter music sounds appropriately frantic.

Super  Game Boy Default Palette
After that, the games sharply diverge.  Metroid has a distinct musical theme for each area.  Metroid II does not.  In many areas, you will only hear something akin to ambient noise.  The noise tends to become more ominous as you descend deeper into the planet.  Finally, toward the end of the game, you get new music, but it evokes an undercurrent of dread and foreboding.  The final areas are almost completely devoid of non-Metroid lifeforms.

Super  Game Boy Default Palette
Gameplay wise, the smaller screen gives a more claustrophobic feel to the game compared to the vast, empty spaces of Metroid.  Control has improved in many ways. Samus can now duck and shoot and shoot downwards from the air.  These additions eliminate much of the frustration of the original Metroid.  There are no longer cheap hits when you pass through doorways.  The new items are the space jump, spider ball and jump ball.  All prove very useful.

Game Boy Color Built-in Custom Palette
The space jump allows you to keep jumping after you jump in a somersault.  Controlling the space jump is pretty easy once you get the hang of it. If you wait until you start to dip from the maximum height of your somersault, you will nail the next jump every time.  It is much easier to space jump against a straight wall.  You can also do something like a space jump if you touch an enemy in mid air and press jump.

Game Boy Color Built-in Custom Palette
The spider ball is a bit tricky to maneuver.  If you let go of the directional you are pressing, you may have to press more than one directional to get going in the right direction again.  Although it allows you to climb on any wall, you will get knocked off if you hit an enemy, spikes or are too close to a bomb blast.

Game Boy Color Built-in Custom Palette
There are two new weapons in addition to the ice and wave beam, the spazer and plasma beams.  Each beam cannot be used with another beam, but the beams are easy to find (the wave beam is not easy to find in Metroid).  Each have their strengths and weaknesses, and when you need the ice beam at the end, you can find another one in the final area without having to backtrack.

Game Boy Color Built-in Custom Palette
Enemies are very similar to Metroid, with the exception of the Metroids themselves.  The Metroids act like a string of mini-bosses.  Six forms of the Metroid are present in the game.  The Alpha Metroids have no attack and are easy to kill.  The Gamma Metroids are annoying, have a lightning bolt barrier and always seem to be found in inconvenient places.  Zeta and Omega Metroids are hard to hit, breathe fireballs and take lots of missiles to kill.  You have to remember how to kill the non-mutated Metroids from the first game.  The Queen Metroid takes up most of the screen, attacks with her jaws and fireballs and has a long neck.  Killing her takes a lot of missiles, but there is another way to do it.  Ironically, non-mutated Metroids are more dangerous than Alpha Metroids.  In a nice touch, the game will often warn you if there is a Metroid nearby with a Metroid shell husk.  You also can see Metroids molt into their final forms.

One criticism that can be leveled at the original Metroid is "where are the Space Pirates?"  The Space Pirates, other than their bosses Kraid and Ridley, are not introduced until Super Metroid.  Many of the enemies in Metroid, although they appear natural, are aggressive toward you.  Most of the enemies in Metroid II seem more indifferent to your presence, especially the robotic enemies.  There is no need to explain away the lack of Space Pirates on SR388.  Between the spartan graphics, minimalist music and naturalistic enemy designs and behavior, this game gives a rare sense, for the era, of being totally alone as you explore the caverns and ruins of SR388.

Metroid II allows you to have 5 energy tanks and 250 missiles (compared to the 5 and 255 of Metroid).  You start with 30 missiles and the ball and the long beam, so you are not totally unpowered when you start the game.  While most enemies give energy balls, some only give missiles.  If you know which enemies give missiles, you can replenish your supply more quickly.  Also, there are rechargeable energy and missile spots throughout the planet.  Missiles dropped from enemies in Metroid II give you 5 missiles instead of 2 as in the original Metroid.  This means you will waste less time replenishing your missile supply.

One criticism of Metroid II is that it sacrifices the non-linear gameplay of the original.  The game is controlled by earthquakes that affect the lava present throughout the planet.  Each time you clear a certain number of Metroids, the lava level will change.  The Metroid counter is useful to tell you how many Metroids you need to kill in each area and how far you have progressed in the game.  There are four main areas where you can acquire items, missile and energy tanks.  When you open a new area, all the previous areas remain open to you.  So you are given as much exploration as the original Metroid, just not all at once.  Moreover, even in the original Metroid many areas are sealed off unless you find the appropriate items or defeat the mini-Bosses first.  Even so, you can do everything you need to do in each area without having to backtrack to an earlier area.

The Metroid series is notable for being more popular in the US than in Japan, even though most games in the series were made by Japanese teams.  Metroid II was released two months earlier in the US than in Japan, which was almost unheard of at the time.  The game contains no substantial English text, making it unnecessary to make any changes to localize it.  The ROM is the same for every region the game was released in.  Future Metroid games would always be released first in the US with the exception of Super Metroid.  Super Metroid was released in Japan only a month earlier than the US, which was practically a simultaneous release in those days.  Both cartridges contain the same ROM, and English speakers have the unusual option of choosing to have Japanese text for the menus and subtitles for the opening.

Although Nintendo may have been working on a colorized version of Metroid II for the Game Boy Color, it was never released.  The Game Boy Color has a custom palette built into the unit for Metroid II, and it looks pretty nice.  The blue backgrounds look distinct against the red and yellow of the sprites.  At times, some sprites use green instead of red.  The Game Boy Color supports up to 10 colors for certain Game Boy games, including Metroid II.  Nintendo's choice of default palette for the Super Game Boy is not bad, but is a bit cartoony and needs a bit of tweaking to look best in my opinion.  Some of the alternate palette options given in the Super Game Boy Player's Guide are decent.  Even turning the green to black makes a big difference.  The Super Game Boy only supports 4 colors for non-Super Game Boy enhanced Game Boy games.

Super Metroid picks up where Metroid II left off, and Metroid Fusion has something of a "virtual" return to SR388.  Metroid games were AWOL after Super Metroid's release in 1994.  Eight years would pass before another Metroid game would grace either a home or portable Nintendo console.  The success of Metroid II meant that future quality games in the series would be made for the portable consoles.