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 πŸ™‚

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Japan 2012 Travel Diary, Day 2

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Wednesday was officially nerd day, where Wifey was happy to indulge the crazy nerd adventures I’ve been wanting to do in Japan for many years. After a slight sleep-in and a nice buffet brekky, we hit the subway station to make our way out to Mitaka to visit the Studio Ghibli Museum.

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Being a long-time anime fan who jumped on the bandwagon around ’94 when Siren started distributing the classy Manga Entertainment label of anime locally, over the years I developed an incredible love of Studio Ghibli’s work. The first Ghibli movie I saw was Miyazaki’s Porco Rosso, thanks to SBS screening it around ’96. In 2001 Princess Mononoke had a limited screen at the Palace Nova in July that year, and around the same time I bought my first DVD player (a multiregion Pioneer DV-344) and started importing all the Studio Ghibli releases direct from Japan.

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The trip to the museum was amazing for two reasons. The obvious one is the museum itself – I had never contemplated that a physical structure could in any way capture the whimsy, charm and nostalgia typical of Studio Ghibli productions, but somehow it had. This is the kind of experience that is difficult to put into words, because it was at once tangible but yet ephemeral at the same time. There was a screening of a specially-produced short movie in the small theatre, a big Nekobus that the kids were going crazy over, rotating exhibitions (which I think was looking at the history of folk tales in the West), the giant from Laputa on the roof, a cafe, book store, gift store (named after the Mama Aiutto from Porco Rosso) and a recreation of the working space of Miyazaki or Ghibli staff (I believe), with some amazing memorabilia all over the place, including lots of sketches, cells and production gear from various Ghibli movies. There was a particularly big emphasis on Kiki’s Delivery Service, which being my favourite Ghibli movie, was great to see.

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After making a modest deposit at the gift and book stores (I had to resist the temptation of spending around $500 on getting a framed cell from Princess Mononoke or Kiki’s Delivery Service), we jumped back on the shuttle bus that went from the museum to Mitaka Station. Now this is where the second part of this experience came into its own – whereas the original bus between the station and the museum was pretty direct, this time we wound through all the back streets on the way back to the train station. This was a mind-blowing experience – Mitaka is a really pretty city, with residential houses, busy main streets and bikes everywhere. It evokes the same qualities that many of the nostalgia-infused moments in Ghibli movies set in more contemporary circumstances, like Whisper of the Heart or From Up On Poppy Hill (despite the discrepancy in time periods).

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Next up was the sacred pilgrimage that is, in many ways, one of the other important things from this journey – visiting the Sega headquarters in Ohta. To get there was an exercise in patience on behalf of Wifey, is it was a little convoluted! We took one of the JR lines to Shinagawa Station from Shinjuku, and from there we transferred to one of the private lines to get to Otorii. Things got tricky because we used the wrong entrance/exit (we should have exited out of the main JR gate using our JR pass, then used our Pasmo card to get to the Otorii line), and then we weren’t sure which train to catch to get to Otorii since there were a handful of options. We took one of the local lines on the Haneda route to get off at Otorii. After exiting Otorii we started walking the wrong way, then turned around and realised that if we looked both ways when we exited the station originally, we would have noticed the great big Sega logos on top of two buildings down the street.

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We stopped at a neighbourhood soba place to eat an amazing (and cheap) meal of plain soba with dipping sauce and spring onion and wasabi paste (around Β₯280 each!), then walked down to the Sega building, where I was finally, after years of obsessive fanboy passion, able to step on hallowed ground. And it was awesome πŸ™‚

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Unfortunately the building was closed for some reason, but Wifey indulged my nerd spirit by peering through the windows and trying to take picture of things, including some people who must have come out of a meeting and walked through the lobby.

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At some stage I think we had started attracting the attention of the police nearby and we promptly left while trying to look unsuspicious (which probably didn’t work – a gaijin with a limp and a hat to protect his thinning ranga hair don’t exactly blend in over there). As we were walking down the street I saw the people from the lobby in front of us, and being excitable, took their picture while walking quickly down the street in a fit of nerdy giggles. In my mind I imagine they had just come out of an amazing meeting at Sega, but I lacked the Japanese skills (and balls) to ask them anything.

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Once the pilgrimage was over, we grabbed a couple of yummy pastries from Peter’s Deli (I think that’s what it was called) at the entrance of the Otorii Station, then made the trek back to Shinagawa, then we hit one of the JR Lines to visit the final nerd stop for the day – Akihabara!

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As much as it’s a clich&eaccend;, Akihabara still put an amazing smile on my face. The first stop was the Tokyo Anime Centre in the UDX building to grab an English language version of the Akihabara map (thanks to Orochinagi for the tip!), then off we went to explore.

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Despite getting lost a few times, it was good fun – we hit up Super Potato, Trader 2, Mandarake and Sofmap before stopping off at Club Sega. I didn’t play stacks of games since it was getting late, but I had a whirl at Parodius: Fantastic Journey in honour of my brothers Miguel and Tank, and my mate McAdam in honour of the amount of hours we sunk into this game on the Saturn. I managed to get about three or four stages in on a single credit which I was pretty happy with, and Wifey noticed a couple of the locals stopped to watch me play, so maybe I wasn’t doing too badly πŸ™‚

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We then checked out the other floors, and the top floor showcased the most amazing Gundam team battle game I’d ever seen, resembling a fusion of Virtual On and the Gundam universe with an awesome team-based mechanic.

Part way up we came upon a floor of SSF4AE (Super Street Fighter 4: Arcade Edition) machines, and I had the balls to Ken scrub on a machine against a Japanese player with a massive score card playing as Fei Long. I got owned without landing a hit on the first round, won the second round, then lost the subsequent rounds without being able to put up much of a fight.

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We were about to exit when I noticed there was a basement floor, so down we went and I was greeted by one of the most amazing sights ever – a floor dedicated to only Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown. Once again I plonked in Β₯100 and took on another player with Sarah, the only character I’ve invested much time in over the years since getting hooked on the series since the VF2 days. The outcome was similar to SSF4AE – was annihilated in the first round as Akira juggled me with some amazing techniques, held my own in the second round, then lost the next two without being too much of a challenge. With my VF dreams complete (playing VF in Japanese arcade, regardless of winning or losing), I had a crack at a crane game (and lost!), then off we went to Book Off for some final nerding before finding a nearby place to grab a bite.

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We found a place near the Akihabara Station that promised casual dining and enjoyed some awesome Japanese beer, edamame, an amazing pot of gyoza and a selection of skewered awesomeness (including vegetarian skewers, chicken thighs, chicken liver, tendons and gizzards – the kind of thing encouraged by Bourdain and Zimmern when traveling!). Bellies full, it was time to go home after a massive day.

To view all posts on the Japan 2012 Travel Diary, just use the 2012 Japan Trip tag, as the whole series will be added to it over time.

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Daytona USA – rated but not confirmed for XBLA or PSN

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I can’t take credit for this – Retro Gaming Australia reports that Daytona USA has a new listing in the OFLC’s database.

There’s no information regarding platform or much else – it’s been rated ‘G’ and Sega Australia filed the request.

It’ll be interesting to see what comes out of it – perfect Model 2 emulation internally running at 1080p with 8-player online multiplayer awesomeness? A combination of the Model 2 original plus the Model 3 successor, all running at 1080p w/online multiplayer? Perhaps a 720p (boo) HD version of the Dreamcast release of Daytona USA 2001? The advantage of the latter is that it looks nice (and would be nicer in 1080p, but previous Dreamcast ports have only been 720p), there’s network infrastructure in the source code IIRC and it has the original tracks plus plenty of extras accumulated from the various subsequent releases.

Assuming it’s a good thing, hopefully we’ll continue to see classic Sega arcade classics released via PSN/XBLA. I’d love a 1080p Sega Rally + Sega Rally 2 release, Sega Touring Car, Scud Racer… and all running at 1080p with online multiplay. And then there’s their fighting franchises – 1080p Virtua Fighter 2, Virtua Fighter 3, Fighting Vipers, Last Bronx… even Sonic The Fighters πŸ˜‰

A Sega fan can dream, right?

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What would Virtua Fighter look like if it it went in the same direction as Street Fighter?

You know what? This is funny (and a joke – read up more from the source), but you know what? It looks awesome πŸ˜€

Thanks Kotaku!

Now, Sega – where’s the announcement for the PS3 port of VF5:FS? With my nerd powers, I have the console ports of all the VF games (well, only VF4:E instead of vanilla VF4 on the PS2), as well as PCBs of VF2 and VF3, give me extra nerd love in the form of a port of this one, please!! Online play would also be nice since you added it to the XB360 port of VF5 standard πŸ˜€

Either that or give some attention to possibly making a new Fighters Megamix game πŸ˜€

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Virtua Fighter 2 (Model 2) and Virtua Fighter 3 (Model 3) booting and power supply (PSU) problems

I’ve posted this in a few forums, so thought I’d track it on my blog as well. The following’s a slightly edited version of my post πŸ™‚

A few months back I snapped up VF2 and VF3 from someone interstate, and have been having some troubles with them, and I’m not sure if it’s me, the boards, or maybe a combination of both!

Now, before I go on I’ll clarify my setup – Astro City cab with a 15k/24k chassis (Pentranic, previous owner slapped in a generic 15k chassis that blew up, so I replaced with a Pentranic), bog-standard Peter Chou 15A PSU, 3.3v Wei-Ya PSU, cab is JAMMA-ready. To connect the Model 2 and Model 3 boards into my JAMMA setup, I’m using one of these (Model 2) and one of these (Model 3).

In order to boost the 5v and GND lines on the main PSU, I’ve also increased the amount of wires coming between the PSU and the JAMMA connector as I wasn’t getting solid +5v due to some flimsy wiring. After beefing up both lines, I’m getting much better performance across all my PCBs (CPS-I, Neo Geo, CPS-II, System 11 and a few others).

I’ll start with VF2 – I’ll put the chassis into 24k mode, roll the PSU back, connect VF2 and get the voltage to 5v (maybe 0.05v over). On the PCB, the red LED 11 is lighted up, and I’m getting like a garbled green test pattern thing on the screen. I’ve pulled the PCBs apart and put them back together again, checked to make everything’s in there nice and tight and checked for physical problems on the boards, everything checked out, no change. To test things a bit further, I removed the top ROM PCB, leaving the bottom two boards (since it’s a Model 2A system, it’s a platter of three boards) and rebooted – same problem, LED 11 is lit up, I think I saw a couple of red LEDs on the bottom board near the filter board light up, and the garbled screen. Turned off, put the ROM board back on, the LEDs on the bottom board are fine, but the red LED 11 in the middle board is still lit up. Garbled test pattern remains.

With VF3, it’s a bit more tricky, and I have a feeling it’s my PSU that’s to blame here, as well as some of my wiring before I beefed up the 5v and GND lines. With VF3 when I first tried booting it a month or two back, the 3.3v PSU worked a treat, but the old Peter Chou would crash out immediately – the red light to indicate it was on would light up, then immediately drop out and there’d be no power on the JAMMA adapter when I tested it with my multimeter. I figured my PSU might have been on the way out, so got a new standard arcade PSU (a 16A Min Dong), connected it up and had success… or at least I thought I did. I measured at the JAMMA adapter and it wasn’t getting to even +2v on the +5v line; I cranked it, barely got to +2v and the JAMMA adapter was getting really hot. Next thing I knew, it smelt like the PSU was overheating and the little light indicating it was on turned off. The new PSU went and died on me πŸ˜› Disappointed, I reconnected the old Peter Chou PSU. I noticed a couple of red LED lights come on when I power up the Model 3 off the Peter Chou (even though ti conks out) and the 3.3v Wei-Ya (which I’m going to take as meaning the Wei Ya is working fine, since it doesn’t conk out), if that helps. Another thing I noticed is that how much success I have before the Peter Chou PSU gives up depends on the amount of +5v/GND connections – I can have the 5v and GND connections on, say, JST CN13, and it won’t kill the PSU, but if I hook up JST CN14 as well, the PSU dies. Does this help?

I was talking a few other people with more experience than I have with arcade cabs, and they mentioned that the fact the JAMMA adapter was heating up indicated there wasn’t enough copper between the PSU and the JAMMA adapter on the +5v and possibly the GND connection as well, and suggested beefing up the wiring to fix that part. I’ve done that and am getting better results when playing the rest of my games, and when I tried loading VF2 or VF3 with the beefed up wiring, VF2 still gave that garbled green test pattern screen thingie (red LED 11 still on), and VF3 still died off. They also mentioned the red LEDs might be indicating a fault with the board or power supply.

I’m a bit stumped with what I can do to fix up these issues – I’m a huge VF fan, and these two games were part of the reason I wanted to get my own arcade cab. I know there are some very clued up Model 2 and Model 3 people on these forums, but couldn’t find anything that coped with these problems. I’m not sure if it’s a PCB, PSU or even jumper settings issue that’s affecting my PCBs. Some other people I’ve spoken to who run Model 2 boards have done it consistently off standard arcade PSUs for years, but they emphasise that you need to ensure your +5v and GND connections need to be extremely strong in order to do so.

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