Modding March, update 2

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More modding news!

I’ve finished off the tweaks to my Astro City’s control panel, and I can now swap in/out P1 and P2′s respective fourth button off the JAMMA harness, handy for my neglected MVS (which is now in my cab, giving Marvel vs Capcom a much deserved rest).

I’ve also disassembled my XB360 to get the model number of the DVD-ROM unit (which I could have simply ascertained by checking the cable off the front with the faceplate removed, but I figured I needed to disassemble it anyways so went ahead with it regardless), added a bit of hot glue to my SMS2 to reinforce one of the screws holding the dual-mono audio plate on the rear of the machine and also took apart my A500 to remove the floppy disk drive as I’m looking at grabbing a HxC Floppy Drive emulator and mounting it internally on my system (something I think Old School Game Blog would appreciate given his huge knowledge and appreciation for Commodore computers!).

In addition, I’ve had confirmation that the replacement Saturn cart slots are on their way, and the 10mhz oscillator for the SMD is in the post as well. If all goes well, I should be able to get the whole list done within a couple of days of April :)

I’ve also started thinking of tidying up a couple of other console mods – fellow modder Mamejay has shared a circuit for getting extremely nice composite and s-video off a PAL Atari 2600 (adapted from an A2600 Jnr mod he’s been doing for a while), so I’ll grab some CD4050s to give it a whirl. I’m also toying with the idea of overclocking my PAL and Japanese N64s since I still have a couple of switches in my stash.

So, the revised list (which will take me into April) is as follows:

  • Sega Mega Drive 10mhz overclock
  • Sega Saturn cartridge slot transplant
  • Atari 2600 AV mod
  • N64 overclock (PAL and Japanese consoles)

With all of those done, I’ll definitely have caught up on my backlog!

I’ll be looking forward to reporting back on when these are finished, as it means I can get started on two larger projects I have planned for this year, but details of those are to come down the road!

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Modding March update!

modding-march-2012-consoles

Okay, here’s the latest update on my modding to-do list:

  1. Sega SC-3000H – Completed
  2. Nintendo Famicom – Completed
  3. Microsoft Xbox – Completed
  4. Sega Master System 2 – Completed
  5. Nintendo Gamecube – Completed
  6. Arcade – Not started
  7. Sega Saturn – In progress
  8. Sega Mega Drive – In progress
  9. Microsoft Xbox 360 – Not started

Not bad, huh? Since a few things changed up with the modding, I thought I’d give a quick rundown of what happened:

Sega SC-3000H

modding-march-2012-sc3000h
This one was time-consuming rather than difficult. The only drama I had was where one of the pads came away from the PCB when desoldering the old connector, but that was easy to fix by wiring the new cart connector directly back to the trace.

Nintendo Famicom

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Composite AV mod came off nicely, the controller hum was also an easy fix and the controllers have come up nicely after being disassembled and cleaning the contacts and replacing the membranes (NES membranes fit the Famicom without any dramas). Since the controllers had some charming (but disheveled – see the image above) Dragon Quest sticks on them, I soaked the plastic shells in warm soapy water for a few hours and gave them a gentle scrubbing in some fresh hot soapy water and the stickers, along with their residue, came off nicely.

Sega Master System 2

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I was working on my original Master System 2 I picked up well over ten years ago when I started getting into retro gaming again. As a result, it was also one of my early mods… actually, I think it was my third one – the Saturn was my first (50/60hz switch, 1999), followed by an unsuccessful SMD1 (language/refresh rate switches, 2000). My SMS2 mod was originally just a 50/60hz switch, then I got a bit more daring and added composite video/mono audio. After that, I decided to add another RCA socket and rewired it for dual-mono out (saved having to add a RCA splitter on the audio socket), and attempted to add a language switch but couldn’t get a clean cut on the IC leg that needs to be modded; these were all done in 2000, with the language switch mod being done ~2001. I also attempted to add s-video to the SMS2, but between butchering the back of the machine to fit the socket (that wouldn’t fit because the hole was hodge-podge and too big – see the image for the unfortunate result even after adding a new s-video socket!) and not having s-video on my TV, I left it at that. Looking at my past work was a little embarrassing, but at the same time it was also heartening as it’s demonstrated how much better I am with a soldering iron now compared to back then. Mind, it also helps that I have better equipment now!

So, as far as the new new mods went, it came off nicely – the simplified s-video mod by Viletim! looked great, with no jailbars visible on my TV (for reference, I used 27ohm resistors, as recommended by fellow modder Mamejay).

I also added the language switch, which proved a bit tricky as my anal-retentivity suggested I didn’t want to leave the leg on the IC floating, so I wired it up to go between +5v and GND off the voltage regulator. When this didn’t make a difference to the games I tested, I went back and thought the error was being caused by the leg on the IC itself, as my butchering of the leg in 2001 actually broke it off at the IC so the solder didn’t have much to hold onto. So out came the rotary tool and I gently ground back the IC around the leg to get started, then manually scraped a bit more away around the leg with one of my precision flat-bladed screwdrivers to get more of the IC leg visible and thus available for soldering. After getting a very solid connection, I went and tested again, and still no luck.

At this stage I was getting a bit angry, so I went and read up a bit on SMSPower, and realised everyone was saying to let the leg float – the tute I was working off just said to temporarily ground the leg, and I just assumed this meant the leg was otherwise getting +5v from the PCB; turns out if I flipped the PCB over and traced the path with my multimeter, I would have found that the leg is normally left floating when in English mode. So, I went and disconnected the +5v line, went back and tested it and voila, it’s working!

Sega Mega Drive

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I said in last week’s post that I removed the old oscillator, added in a 12mhz one and had system stability errors. Since I know it’s important to keep clock lines short, I figured I’d jump in and reposition the oscillator by having it close to the switch/CPU and thus create a shorter line of the clock to travel along; I also added thicker-gauge wires to take the +5v/GND from the voltage regulators to ensure the oscillator was fed a good power supply. You can see the “before” picture of where I positioned the oscillator, which is next to the headphone socket. Unfortunately it didn’t make much difference, but I don’t consider it as a wasted exercise, as it’s best-practice to keep the lines as short as possible. Since the oscillator is on a bit of perfboard, it will be easy to desolder the existing component and add a 10mhz oscillator I have on the way. Should only be a 30-minute job, if that – I’m not the fastest at soldering/modding, but at least these days I’m more thorough ;)

Sega Saturn

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The replacement cart slots are in the post, but I did succeed in adding a 3-way region switch and 50/60hz mod, which is a bit of an achievement for me as I haven’t had much success with the three-way switches in the past. Admittedly the last time I tried doing one of them was back in 2002 or 2003 and in a time where I had less experience and poor tools in comparison to what I have now. I’m very happy with the result, despite the unusual board design (it’s a very early model PAL PCB, with the JPs spread across both sides of the board). I was also able to use the veroboard to provide the +5v/GND for the 50/60hz switch, which helped make things clean. I’ve noticed the power supply on it might be on the way out owing to the rolling bars and CD-ROM issues that hit after an hour or so of testing, so I’ll either look at swapping it with another supply that gives the correct voltages (GND/GND/+3.3v/+5v/+9v) or replacing the caps to see if that helps.

Nintendo Gamecube

modding-march-2012-gcns
I ended up wiring the XenoGC chip to the drive assembly rather than soldering it directly to the PCB. Took a little extra time, but it made it much easier to double-check the solder points with the multimeter and avoid accidental solder-spillage onto adjoining pads.

While I had the GCNs disassembled, I gave the outer cases a wash and I also modded my purple Cube to have a shiny blue LED instead of the standard orange one – blue LEDs are fun :)

The machines successfully loaded PAL and US games directly, so I’m really happy with the result :D

Microsoft Xbox

This one was an easy job, but was time consuming to get it setup in the way I wanted. It was also the first time using the Slayers disc to take care of everything (the machine was already chipped), so I didn’t have to worry about popping off the doors to my PC to run the usual HDD tools to prep a machine and found it ran nicely. With everything now configured (including adding the video.bin 0-byte file to the HDD to force UnleashX to run in 480i over component), I’m very happy with the machine. Now I need to sort out a save file for Dead or Alive Ultimate with everything unlocked because I’m lazy ;)

For those curious, I took photos of most of the mods I have done thus far and intend to write up tutes on them at some stage down the track, along with plenty of others I have in the wings.

Anywho, all that’s left now is the SMD1 overclock (oscillator to arrive soon I hope), XB360 DVD fix (need to get a laser assembly sorted) and arcade button wiring. If the oscillator comes in time, I’d say the SMD1 should be sorted this month; the arcade fix is pretty easy as well and should also make it. If the laser assembly for the XB360 comes in this month, I’ll get that sorted as well; can’t see this one happening though, so it might be a job for April.

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March is the time for console modding

In Adelaide, March is referred to as “Mad March”. Because we take a year’s worth of events, festivals and what-not, and cram it all into one month. With some exceptions. Still, it’s insanity. But that’s Adelaide.

So, to alliterate, I have decreed this month as Modding March.

Yes, that is awful. Get over it :P

My aim this month is to try and mod as many consoles as possible to catch up on my backlog. Here’s where it’s standing at the moment:

  • Sega SC-3000H: Replace the existing cartridge connector with one in better condition.
  • Nintendo Famicom: Composite AV mod, controller 2 background hum correction, clean the cart slot and replace the membranes in both controllers.
  • Sega Master System 2: Add in a language switch and add s-video off the CXA1145 encoder using Viletim!’s simplified video amp.
  • Sega Mega Drive: Remove the existing colour mod now that I’m running a 32X and RGB in the setup, add a selectable CPU overlock switch along with the requisite halt switch.
  • Sega Saturn: Replace a dead cart slot, wire in a 50/60hz switch, then add a 3-way region switch.
  • Nintendo Gamecube: Install a modchip so I can retire my Freeloader disc and enjoy direct-boot imports. If I’m lucky it might even fix the font issues with some Japanese titles, but that might be wishful thinking! I’ve had the chips for ages, so it’s about time I sorted it out.
  • Microsoft Xbox: Remove the existing 8bg HDD and upgrade to an 80gb HDD for laziness to save me swapping discs out.
  • Microsoft Xbox 360: Repair the drive laser assembly that’s having a cry.
  • Arcade: Rewire the P4 button off the JAMMA harness so it can be patch-connected to the JAMMA+ cabling panel already in my Astro City.

I think that’s the lot. I’ve already gotten started on some of these jobs (and finished one of them last week – the SC3000H), but that’s a pretty ambitious list.

Realistically, I’m confident I’ll get the Famicom, Xbox, Gamecube and arcade mods finished as I have all the parts around. The Mega Drive shouldn’t be too tricky if the oscillator comes in the post before the end of the month (my machine’s CPU didn’t like being fed 12mhz, so I’m going to try 10mhz), same with the XB360 and getting a new drive assembly.

That then leaves a few question marks – for the Saturn, I have some replacement slots from some dead Saturns in the post, but cart slot replacements are never quick jobs (not difficult mind, just time consuming); since I’ll need to desolder and remove the dead slot on my machine, remove and desolder the working cart slot from the dead PCB, then resolder it to the working board and then add the refresh rate and language switches, that’ll take a while.

The SMS2 mods shouldn’t be hard and I’m pretty sure I have the parts lying around, so I should be able to squeeze that one in too.

So if I’m being ambitious, then the following’s my ordered list to tackle everything:

  1. Sega SC-3000H
  2. Nintendo Famicom
  3. Microsoft Xbox
  4. Sega Master System 2
  5. Nintendo Gamecube
  6. Arcade
  7. Sega Saturn
  8. Sega Mega Drive
  9. Microsoft Xbox 360

So, with all that in mind, here’s the progress breakdown:

  1. Sega SC-3000H – Completed
  2. Nintendo Famicom – In progress
  3. Microsoft Xbox – Not started
  4. Sega Master System 2 – Not started
  5. Nintendo Gamecube – Not started
  6. Arcade – Not started
  7. Sega Saturn – Not started
  8. Sega Mega Drive – In progress
  9. Microsoft Xbox 360 – Not started

I’ll update during the rest of the month as I make any progress, and since the work is likely to continue into April, I daresay there will be more updates next month too.

But the important bit was to at least get started in March :)

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The Last Gamer’s awesome games room tour

The latest blog is up, and it includes a great tour of an arcade with a huge slew of amazing Sega dedicated cabs and a couple of uprights. I don’t have the space or cash to amass such an excellent collection of games, and I certainly don’t have Joel’s experience with maintaining these classic machines.

Thankfully, I can enjoy the view and be amazed at a fellow gamer’s fandom for classic retro games.

(Source)

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Afterburner Climax – Game of the Year 2010

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See that blurry picture taken with my camera phone? That’s me purchasing Afterburner Climax on the the 23rd of April. Unfortunately, I’ve been too busy playing it to get around to posting my thoughts on it. Because it truly is that awesome.

But is this just hyperbolic dribble from a Sega fanboy, making the bold statement that this game should qualify as for GotY? Probably. But there’s a method to my madness.

You see, for me there’s a special place in my heart for the classic Sega approach to making a score-attack title. The original two Afterburner games are a double-dose of amazement foe example, and I’ve put more hours than I can count into OutRun. Then you can look at some of spiritual (or actual) sequels to these games that I’ve sunk even more time and money to continue with the classic fix they brought – Galaxy Force, Panzer Dragoon, Gunblade; Outrunners, Power Drift, Daytona, Sega Rally, OutRun 2/2006/Live Arcade (you could even throw Initial D in there as well). Amazing lineup of games that have quantified the definitive arcade experience over the years, and in this sense Afterburner Climax is a completely nonsensical throwback to pickup-and-play mechanics, score attack, increasingly steeper difficulty (arguably unforgiving at times), blue, blue skies and more than a casual nod at Sega’s arcade lineage.

What’s particularly commendable is that the game managed to survive the transition to a home format – I first came across the Afterburner Climax DX cab in… 2008 when checking out one of the few remaining arcades still around the place. The experience was absolutely amazing – having cut my teeth on the Afterburner hydraulic cab back in the day, it was a perfect re-imagining of the original concept but on a modern platform with more current technology.

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Despite the lack of the fancy-pants cabinet, it’s still a blast to play – hyper-fast, an orgy of destruction and plenty of hat-tipping to the original games, especially the option to swap between the original YM2151 X Board hardware audio and the new soundtrack put together for Climax. There are plenty of unlockables that can alter the difficulty of the in-game experience too, which is handy if you’re rubbish at the game like yours truly and adds extra incentive for playing through the game over and over again.

And even though it’s not difficult to fire through the game in 10 minutes, I constantly find myself coming back to it every time I put the PS3 on. There’s something immediately refreshing about the no-bullshit attitude the game has – this is an arcade experience, and if you don’t like it, bugger off. No stupid tutorials to explain complicated controls, no unnecessary backstory to slow things down (there is a backstory mind, but it never gets in the way of blowing stuff up), barely any frame-drops or tearing, just pure, high-quality Japanese arcade performance gaming.

Welcome back Sega – what took you so long?

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