Responding to the Retro Domination Saturn podcast

Retro Domination Saturn Podcast

Earlier this month one of my favourite local podcasts, Retro Domination, put together a Saturn special. After having a listen, I thought I’d write a response to fill in some of the gaps – here goes!

The Saturn launched at $799 in late 1995 locally – the extra $100 was justified with the traditional pack-in game, Virtua Fighter. The PSone retailed for $699 and came packed in with a demo disc. This was for the oval model Saturn and came in a larger box. The price had dropped by early-mid 1996 (probably between April and June) to $399. At this stage it was around the same price as the PSone and had the Sega Flash demo discs packed in from thereon and had the revised “Model 2” console design. I know this because I personally purchased mine by putting it on laybuy at Target when they had a 20% off storewide and finished my laybuy off in September 1996, whereupon I played the hell out of Sega Flash vol. 2, bought a copy a few months later 2nd hand of Panzer Dragoon and then finished up the year with VF2 and NiGHTS (with analogue controller) for Christmas. Was absolutely magic, though 1997 gave it a run for its money as that was the Christmas where I started importing Saturn games from the US and Japan!

At least one game will refuse to load if you have a 4-in-1 cart – Panzer Dragoon Saga; you can load it up with an official save cart, but nothing else. You also have to be wary of the damage third party carts can do to a Saturn’s cart slot. The EMS 4-in-1 cart currently sold is reasonably reliable, but earlier multi-carts would damage cart slots. I know this because my 4-in-1 cart (1MB version) did massive damage to my Saturn’s cart slot. Some games also misbehave, at least on earlier versions – Samurai Shodown 4 and other 1MB SNK titles would have corrupted graphics, and the first few revisions of the 4MB version of the cart had issues with 4MB games that came out after X-Men vs SF (Vampire Savior and so forth). Again, pretty sure the current builds work fine.

The 50/60hz switch affects some games differently depending on how they were programmed. Where a game was cleverly programmed it can corrupt graphics – the special stages in PAL Sonic 3D have all the 3D geometry disappear if you push the machine into 60hz (haven’t tested my Japanese copy in 50hz yet). Some games utilise the ability to have separate audio and video tracks for FMV, and when the refresh rate doesn’t match it causes problems (Magic Knight Rayearth and Sakura Taisen 2 both have this problem), and sometimes the codec simply plays up (Burning Rangers uses either the Duck motion codec or the newer ADX-driven versions of video codecs and skips/stutters if the refresh rate doesn’t match). Some games that heavily rely on complex refresh-rate driven audio and video coding also struggle in the wrong refresh rate – audio skipping is a huge problem on the Capcom 4MB games where the audio samples are loaded into memory, and in games with timed in-game rendered cut scenes (like Panzer Dragoon Saga), using the wrong refresh rate will occasionally cause some audio to skip as the cues are out of whack.

The multi-region mod is a bit tricky, but makes for a bullet-proof solution (i.e. your cart slot is free so it can be used for official carts). The other option is to remove the existing BIOS and install a region-free BIOS. The cart is an easy option, but won’t open up using the save cart for getting the ghost cars in an import of Sega Touring Car or using the ROM cart for KoF ’95.

Saturn’s are notorious for being tanks in terms of reliability – the hardware in the PSone (excepting the excellent DACs in early model PSones) is comparably precious. The exception to this rule is the cart slot – it’s rubbish.

Dynamite Deka is virtually arcade perfect because it was developed for the STV board, which was basically a Saturn with more RAM and used a cart interface for the game data/PCB. The same hardware was also used for the arcade releases of Cotton 2, Soukyougurentai and Radiant Silvergun, all of which received amazing Saturn ports.

Marvel Super Heroes actually has more slowdown in 60hz, as the 17% bump to the speed taxes the Saturn’s hardware as it needs to render faster to keep up. Adjust the refresh rate in-game to check out the difference.

The Saturn port of Street Fighter Alpha 3 is arguably the best of the ports owing to the Saturn being able to run at the exact same resolution as the CPS2 arcade PCB. While the audio samples aren’t as good as the other 4MB games due to the different ways they utilise the extended RAM, the frame-count is virtually identical and the Saturn’s pad is still the best controller for 2D fighters.

Shenmue was actually well into development on the Saturn – the demo reel video you access via Shenmue 2 shows some considerably complex geometry rendering consider the machine’s issues with complex 3D tasks (thus a substantial amount of time would have been sunk into their dev tools and the game engine). The game was then moved to the DC around 1998 as Project Berkley evolved to become Shenmue as we know it.

The full title of the Segata Sanshiro game is “Segata Sanshiro: Shinken Yuugi”.

In terms of hardware, “Model 1” and “Model 2” are depreciated in terms of the internals, as it varies – I’ve modded Model 1 Saturns with Model 2 internals and vice versa. IIRC, the Saturn had around 9-10 mainboard variances and revisions over the years, some more reliable than others, and in most modding circles you work via mainboard revision rather than relying on the external case. My current machine is suffering an issue with an overheating power supply that seems to be disrupting the +9v output which is affecting the power supply to the CD-ROM’s motor and introducing noise into the video output when it heats up too much. The component in question currently believed to be behind it is unavailable for repair or replacement though, and even a re-cap hasn’t solved the issue. The workaround is to let it cool down for an hour and get back into it! This is in complete contrast with other “Model 1” machines that have run without skipping a beat after hours and hours of abuse!

Whew, brief as always. I’d also recommend everyone drops by the Retro Domination website to get an excellent Australian take on retro gaming, subscribe to their podcast and, if you’re keen-eyed, take a squiz at the first in a small series of posts I’ve written for them recapping my Japan travel adventures 🙂

Share

Driving home to the sounds of Outrun Online Arcade

outrun-online-arcade

The other day I hopped in the car to head home from work and had a conundrum – I’d finished catching up on the last round of Retronauts podcasts and wasn’t sure what to listen to on the way home. So before turning the key I took a quick look through my playlist, saw Outrun Online Arcade, and thought, “Why not?”.

Turns out it was a great choice. There’s more than a hint of spring in the air, so I wound down my windows to let some fresh air in and listened to the golden, joyous remixes and original tracks from Outrun Online Arcade (which is basically Outrun 2/2006 but in HD with online play [that nobody plays anymore :(]).

So, inspired by this, I went through my Saturn games over the weekend just passed to add some redbook audio from a few games to the playlist – Daytona USA, Sega Touring Car and Sonic R (with that Richard Jacques magic) made the cut, then to mix it up I added in a few others, including Asuka 120% Limited – Burning Fest. Limited, Virtua Fighter Kids and (don’t laugh!) Keio Yugekitai – Katsugeki Hen.

The latter definitely put a smile on my face on the way in to the office. It reminds me I should fire it up some time soon for another round, it’s such an amazing little gem of a title.

Actually, this whole rant suggests I should do a dedicated post (or perhaps a couple of dedicated posts) on the joys of redbook audio in the 16-bit and 32-bit eras. Stay tuned, I’m sure I’ll get around to it at some stage!

Share

C64 SID/chiptune music podcasts

Aside from the irregular (but entertaining) Retronauts podcast from 1up, I’ve been getting into some C64-themed podcasts over the last couple of months. The one I’ve been listening to the most would be the C64 Take-away (http://c64takeaway.com/), a great podcast hosted by the very enthusiastic Jan (and occasional host Makke). Based in Copenhagen, the boys do a brill job hosting the show, which features original and classic SID tunes as well as plenty of awesome remixes of classic SID tunes from the C64. I first got into the whole C64 remixing stuff when the first “Back in time” C64 remix soundtrack hit the internet. Gotta love the C64 love out there 🙂 Funnily enough, the latest episode I think had some feedback from another fellow Aussie, which was really cool — glad to know I’m not the only one down here following their show!

After listening to a couple of episodes, I started wandering around looking for some similar stuff, though I was leaning more towards just the SID chiptunes side of things, regardless of whether they were from games or original SID compositions. I haven’t had a stack of luck finding good podcasts (though because I’m an idiot, I didn’t bother looking around the links posted on the C64 Take-away blog, which I only looked at while I was preparing this post!), but I thought I’d share some of the nerd love I’ve found out there… all two of them 😛

I snagged a random episode off the 8bit Mayhem website (http://8bitmayhem.untergrund.net/), and I was hooked!! Ended up grabbing their entire back-catalogue of episodes 😀 😀 😀 There’s no hosting or talking between episodes here, nothing but pure SID goodness. Unfortunately it hasn’t been updated in nearly 12 months, but the back-catalogue is extensive and worthwhile looking into. I’ve got the whole lot sitting on my PC and have really enjoyed them.

Since then, haven’t stumbled onto too much, but I found an excellent SID-related episode over at Hardread’s website (http://hdpodcast.blogspot.com/) – episode 36 was a C64 SID-only special, and it is absolutely amazing (I’m listening to it as I’m typing this post up). If you’re keen to checkout that episode in particular, their page is here. The rest of their gear is chiptunes and demoscene music – if I got into the Amiga when I was younger I’d probably be all over it, but we never upgraded from the C64 until we got our first PC, a 386DX-40, so the C64 was our all-purpose PC until then 🙂

I don’t know what it is about C64 music made on the SID audio chip – it’s just so awesome. It of course helps that the C64 was absolutely massive in Europe during the 80s and 90s, and Europe being the epicenter of dance music in all its various flavours, has meant it wasn’t just blips and blaps coming out of that chip, it was crazy melodies and awesome synth brilliance. My love of chiptunes, game music and dance music on the whole can probably be linked all the way back to all the brilliant music on the C64, whether it be in-game stuff or the awesome demoscene music that cropped up everywhere.

… might have to go and play the C64 after I’ve finished these posts up – I’ve got one more to go before I finish up!

Share

Sponsored