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Emulating the Emulators

June 10, 2020 Haze Categories: General News. 6 Comments on Emulating the Emulators

Connect & Play Connect & Play

This Pac-Man plug and play unit goes by a number of names, and exists in a number of forms. The most common unit is the pixelated yellow Pac-Man shell, there’s a slightly less common Blinky (red ghost) model too. Most places refer to it as the Pac-Man Connect & Play unit to differentiate it from other Pac-Man / Namco machines, with ‘Connect & Play’ being the most prominent text on the box aside from Pac-Man. The unit was initially released in 2012, and re-issued in a modified box around 2015 for Pac-Man’s 35th Anniversary. It was released in multiple regions, PAL and NTSC, but best I can tell the software was never changed. Sometimes the unit is also called Pac-Man 256, because one of the features it advertises is the ability to access the now famous glitched final ‘Level 256’ of Pac-Man with ease.

Pac-Man Connect & Play Pac-Man Connect & Play Pac-Man Connect & Play

The test mode tells us it runs on GPL16250 hardware. This is the same hardware that JAKKS Pacific branded as GPAC800 and used for a variety of the more advanced Plug and Play units – typically those with lot of sprite scaling etc. The test mode also shows the build date, has a checksum screen, and even runs a demo of one of the included games, Rally-X, with a volume display, presumably used as part of development. The test mode gives it a further title ‘Bandai America Namco Classic Games’ which is likely the internal name, a little banal for advertising purposes. Sound is not yet emulated, but even in silence the volume meter moves, as the test mode demo runs which is curious.

Pac-Man Connect & Play Pac-Man Connect & Play Pac-Man Connect & Play

So.. what is it? The title of this post is of course the answer, it’s a collection of emulators. The reason it needs the newer GPL16250 hardware from GeneralPlus / SunPlus, as opposed to the older SPG2xx based hardware is that the GPL16250 era tech has a significantly faster CPU, clocked at about 4x the rate, with the unSP2.0 core also having a much lower ‘Cycles per Instruction’ meaning overall execution is faster too – it’s actually a major revision to the SunPlus unSP architecture with pipelining and many new opcodes. In terms of video features the only real giveaway that it’s the newer hardware type is the use of the smoother blend effects, which were not available on older hardware, it does also use one of the extra tile layers on occasion, but that isn’t as noticeable.

These things set this unit apart from the final JAKKS Pacific unit ‘Retro Arcade featuring Pac-Man’ from 2008. That one isn’t yet emulated, but appears to be running the ported versions of the games, as found in other JAKKS units, rather than these emulated versions.

In practice, this means that the versions found on this unit should be closer to ‘arcade perfect’ than those found on the JAKKS units; the original Pac-Man patterns will work, and secrets, such as the developer display in Xevious can be triggered.

Pac-Man Connect & Play

Xevious, along with Bosconian both highlight one of the major flaws of these Plug and Play units however, they have a 4-way stick. Without modification you cannot move in 8 directions. While with the JAKKS ones, sometimes you could if you forced into a corner or wore down the plastic enough, in this unit it doesn’t seem to be possible at all; it’s a 4-way stick, you can move in 4 directions. While I understand that Pac-Man controls much better with a 4-way stick, and these are primarily Pac-Man units, it makes me wonder why we saw both Xevious and Bosconian on these across multiple generations when you simply can’t play the games properly with a 4-way stick. The game code, in all cases, responds to 8 directions, but the physical controllers don’t allow this without modifications. The only exception to this is the ‘pocket’ version of the very first generation of JAKKS Namco units, but the port of Bosconian on there was much weaker than the SunPlus based ones in the first place. This doesn’t make this unit worse than the JAKKS ones, it’s just a common, frustrating design issue where some kind of swapable restriction plate would have been preferable.

By 2012 you might expect any emulation based Pac-Man unit being put on the market to have perfect emulation of Pac-Man and any other titles included in it. MAME had been around and emulating Pac-Man and many of those others for almost 15 years by this point, and while the emulation in MAME is always improving, there are certain things it has always got correct, and some of those things this unit falls down on.

One of the big reasons for this is MAME is software rendered, it allocated a bitmap, it draws, from the original graphic ROMs, to that bitmap. The target bitmap in MAME is the same size as the original screeen, every pixel is properly represented. This Pac-Man Plug and Play on the other hand is hardware accelerated, it uses native features of the GPL16250 video hardware to render the image, it is not software rendering to a bitmap, it’s likely the CPU core contained within doesn’t actually have enough power to do that. The other issue is that the video output of this Plug and Play has to work with CRT televisions, which means the 288 pixel high, vertical screen resolution of Pac-Man and many of these other games does not fit a non-interlace screen mode. Even if you chop the 5 rows of score etc. off the Pac-Man maze is still 248 pixels high, which is greater than the 240 lines you’re going to be able to display, and even then displaying anything near the borders is a problem as TVs aren’t guaranteed to render it which is why we have safe areas and all that.

The solution varies by game, some, where they can get away with it, do just crop part of the image. Scores are rendered at the side, Dig-Dug does the same as the JAKKS units and scrolls the display based on your position but squeezing that Pac-Man maze in requires a more drastic approach, actually squashing the display of the maze, dropping lines so that it fits. The sprites don’t get the same treatment, they simply have their positions altered so they appear on the same line for 2 frames sometimes, although this can make the movement look jittery at times, and produces some cases where the sprites no longer quite fit in the maze and instead overlap the edges.

Such problems require a solution, this was a compromise. With the JAKKS units the compromise instead was to change the physical size of the maze slightly, but in doing so, you do change the original game AI slightly, and thus break the patterns; doing that with an emulation based unit also isn’t possible so it was either squashing, or scrolling, and for Pac-Man and related titles the choice was made to squash. For many I guess this was the logical compromise here, maybe some would have liked the option to rotate the screen, but that would have presented other challenges with aspect ratio, and required stretching instead as 288 pixels isn’t a good match for a 320 pixels width either.

Pac-Man Connect & Play Pac-Man Connect & Play
Pac-Man Connect & Play Pac-Man Connect & Play

Mappy goes with the scrolling option rather than the squashing option, which works because it’s a platform game, and the scroll isn’t too distracting. Dig-Dug also scrolls, which is a little more distracting due to the slower pace of the game, but not game breaking. The ground pattern textures would likely have suffered badly at the hands of squashing, so again the logical choice for this game.

Pac-Man Connect & Play Pac-Man Connect & Play Pac-Man Connect & Play Pac-Man Connect & Play

Bosconian is a horizontal game in the first place, so fares a bit better, but you have the attract mode taunting you with that diagonal shooting which is simply impossible on the stick this unit has. This also reminds me that current MAME versions have what is likely a bug with the left edge of the screen when emulating Bosconian, unless the original hardware actually does the same.

Pac-Man Connect & Play Pac-Man Connect & Play Pac-Man Connect & Play

New Rally X is also a horizontal game, so again holds up better. This one is perfectly playable, and an enjoyable port, although I always preferred the original Rally-X, yet after a certain point it seems only New Rally-X was included on these units – with the JAKKS ones the oldest Namco ones had a poor port of Rally-X, then there was a single GameKey with Rally-X on, and everything else just used New Rally-X. Given the multiple variations of Pac-Man here it would have been nice to see the original Rally-X as a hidden bonus, especially as it’s one of the most enjoyable games on these things.

Pac-Man Connect & Play Pac-Man Connect & Play Pac-Man Connect & Play

Galaxian and Xevious are best I can tell cropped. Both are worth mentions for the way they use the hardware tho. Xevious background tilemaps are too big for the usual GPL16250 layer size, so the raster interrupt is used to do a ‘split’ on the scroll, and swap between two different layers midscreen. Galaxian actually uses hardware rowscroll on the GPL16250 to scroll the player sprite and the invaders, just as the original used hardware scroll to do the same, it was interesting to see the feature so closely mapped, but in reality it makes sense, as otherwise it would have been necessary to render the tilemap as sprites.

Xevious, as already mentioned, is hardly worth playing without 8-way movement, which this stick doesn’t cater for, however it exposes another flaw in the design of that unit beyond that. A common strategy for playing Xevious is to just hold down both fire buttons, you’ll fire and bomb automatically, it’s basically built in auto-fire. This unit only has 2 buttons, and holding both down for over a second or 2 results in the ‘quit to menu’ prompt, which means you can’t just hold down the buttons while you play this. What’s worse is that at some point the unit was likely going to have a dedicated menu button like the JAKKS units, the code reads 2 extra inputs that aren’t externally mapped, one brings up the quit prompt, the other acts as a cheat to skip levels. A dedicated menu button would have been so much more preferable to this ‘hold 2 buttons to exit’ scheme.

Pac-Man Connect & Play Pac-Man Connect & Play Pac-Man Connect & Play Pac-Man Connect & Play

That leaves us with Pac-Man 256, which is literally just Pac-Man with a built in cheat to start on level 255, and Galaga. Galaga I think is just cropped, but maybe some sprite positions are altered. Either way Galaga is where things start to fall apart in more obvious ways.

Pac-Man Connect & Play Pac-Man Connect & Play

Even without delving into the code, one of the easiest proofs of how the games on this unit are emulated is with Galaga. You can crash the emulation of Galaga in the unit by taking control of the ship during the attract mode and causing the game to reset. Interestingly the Galaga emulation for this unit in MAME seems fragile in other ways as the attract demo does not properly follow the sequence, that could be a timing issue of a core bug, but the exploit to crash the game, which can be reproduced on the original unit by wiggling the joystick to evade capture in the demo, still works. When that happens it causes the game to reboot. This can sometimes even result in the corruption of the saved high score.

Pac-Man Connect & Play Pac-Man Connect & Play Pac-Man Connect & Play

Galaga has a further bug, suggesting it was the least tested game in this collection. This one I believe is caused by something I mentioned before, the unit doing hardware accelerated rendering of the games rather than rendering in software to a framebuffer. The bug is simple and again revolves around the capture mechanic. This time, allow your ship to be captured during play, then rescue it – an entire normal Galaga strategy, and you’ll notice the secondary ship shoots an invalid bullet sprite, the bullet fired from your left ship is slanted at an angle, the incorrect sprite tile is being used, presumably because some mapping table used to map the game sprites to the native GPL16250 sprites is incorrect (this is a guess, but appears to be the most logical explanation) There are videos (not mind) of this happening on the original unit that can be found on YouTube.

Pac-Man Connect & Play Pac-Man Connect & Play

Another thing you can see with this unit is the input latency. With the JAKKS units, which are ports, the response on all games appears to be immediate, on this unit, there seems to be a delay, likely due to how the emulated video is being processed and presented. This is noticeable on original hardware and emulation alike and is often a side-effect of emulation as you’re working with video buffers etc. For some this might be a deal-breaker also.

Overall I have to say that while this is an emulated collection of games, and should be superior, various things let it down. The emulation is dated, the hardware is under-powered for it, there are noticeable bugs, and compromises that have had to be made to get this running on the hardware and on a CRT, and while it’s true that the arcade patterns for the games will work, and the frontend is polished, it doesn’t feel like a product that had a lot of love put into it. The JAKKS ports on the other hand, done by HotGen, might not be arcade perfect, but they were instead more carefully crafted for the target market resulting in what felt, at least to me, like more solid and complete products, at least after the initial pre-SunPlus units. I’d rather play a well done port, with slight differences to the arcade, than a poor quality emulation and having things like the option to play Pac-Man from level 256 don’t make up for that. JAKKS also had a unit with Ms. Pac-Man, and while it wasn’t on their final collection unit, no doubt for the same licensing reasons as it isn’t included here, you do notice its absence. The lack of a dedicated menu button hurts this unit too, as mentioned before, having to hold down 2 buttons for a period of time in order to bring up the exit prompt isn’t intuitive, or convenient, the JAKKS units always had a dedicated menu button so this seems like unnecessary cost cutting.

In conclusion I’d say if you’re looking to purchase a Namco / Pac-Man Plug and Play, and don’t care about being able to use the exact level patterns from the arcades, you’re far better off buying the JAKKS Pacific “Retro Arcade Featuring Pac-Man” and the JAKKS “Ms. Pac-Man” GameKey Ready unit, along with the 3 game GameKey that contains the original Rally-X (which is more challenging than the ‘New’ version found here or on any of the other units) as a bonus. This thing might look nice in original packaging, on a shelf, but the overall experience is underwhelming.

I’m not sure when the emulation of this will be promoted to working, technically all games are playable, but it seems pointless to promote it until I’ve got the sound emulated at least, but it’s been an interesting one to study, and I felt it was worth writing a little about in the meantime.

Funds are still being collected to buy Plug and Play devices for MAME, so if you want to contribute then you can PayPal my “hazemamewip@hotmail.com” address (without the quotes) and anything sent there will be put towards picking up units and getting them where they need to go for studying.

Pac-Man Connect & Play

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Sega / Radica Plug & Play news.

June 5, 2020 Haze Categories: General News. 5 Comments on Sega / Radica Plug & Play news.

The 3rd of June was considered to be Sega’s 60th Anniversary.

Not too many months ago we were looking at it being the Dreamcast’s 20th Anniversary, Sega’s final console, and one that sadly followed what had become a pattern of poor choices, not least getting in bed with Microsoft – pretty much everything powered by Windows CE on the system made it look like a joke.

The 2000s therefore were an era where Sega was needing to license out the IP it already had and find other ways to make money. One such venture from 2004 was to partner with Radica in order to put out a series of cheap Plug and Play devices based on Genesis on a Chip technology. A number of those have been emulated in MAME for a while, with one being dumped all the way back when I developed HazeMD, but there didn’t seem to be much interest in getting the remaining ones dumped until now.

Over the course of the last few weeks, 3 more of these units were dumped; the Genesis Volume 2, the Genesis Street Fighter 2, and the Genesis Super Sonic Gold. These are all US versions, region locked to the US with ‘Sega Genesis’ logos.

Genesis Volume 2, released by Radica as part of their ‘Arcade Legends’ range of products contains 6 Genesis games with a custom menu. In this case there are some interesting choices, with the Ooze and Gain Ground featuring. The unit, like Volume 1, is a single pad hardwired to a ‘Mini Genesis’ box, with no way to add a 2nd controller. This sadly hurts a number of the games, for example the unit offers Sonic 2, even allows you to select 2 Player mode from the menu, but as there’s no 2nd pad you can’t play it that way.

Radica Volume 2 Radica Volume 2 Radica Volume 2
Radica Volume 2 Radica Volume 2 Radica Volume 2 Radica Volume 2
Radica Volume 2 Radica Volume 2 Radica Volume 2 Radica Volume 2
Radica Volume 2 Radica Volume 2 Radica Volume 2 Radica Volume 2

Super Sonic Gold was considered ‘Volume 3’ of the Radica Genesis Arcade Legends series, although took a different form factor, with everything built into the pad rather than having a ‘Mini Genesis’ box with the hardwired controller. This has 4 Sonic games, duplicating Sonic 1 from the Volume 1 and Sonic 2 from Volume 2, but continues to limits you to a single pad, so a good portion of the experience for Sonic 2 and Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is missing if using this unit.

Super Sonic Gold Super Sonic Gold Super Sonic Gold
Super Sonic Gold Super Sonic Gold Super Sonic Gold Super Sonic Gold
Super Sonic Gold Super Sonic Gold Super Sonic Gold Super Sonic Gold

Of all the Radica Genesis units, the Street Fighter 2 one was probably the most worthwhile as it used 2 6 button pads, for the proper gameplay experience. Sadly the pads are still hardwired, so if they fail you have no way to replace them, but simply allowing 2 players, and not cutting corners on the number of buttons either made this one a big step up from the others. Interestingly this one doesn’t credit Sega at all for the ‘Game Software’ on the startup screen, despite the Ghouls’n Ghosts port being programmed by Sega.

Radica Street Fighter 2 Radica Street Fighter 2 Radica Street Fighter 2
Radica Street Fighter 2 Radica Street Fighter 2 Radica Street Fighter 2 Radica Street Fighter 2

PAL ones have been sourced too but are not dumped yet. The previously dumped units were a PAL Street Fighter 2, Mega Drive Volume 1, and the PAL exclusive Sensible Soccer.

I guess at the end of the day these units, like so many Sega related things seems shrouded in poor design choices. The actual System on a Chip implementations here aren’t bad, they’re significantly better than the AtGames offerings from more recent years, and while the audio isn’t perfect on the hardware it isn’t too distracting and can be improved with a hardware hack. The hardwired single player nature of most of them really hurts however and while this was more likely Radica’s choosing I think Sega could have insisted on a better solution – even some knock off Famiclones of the era allowed you to use original pads.

Here are some pictures from my Mega Drive Volume 2, this isn’t the dumped unit, but contains the same games as the US Genesis Volume 2 (this one will be dumped at a later date)

Mega Drive Volume 2 Mega Drive Volume 2
Mega Drive Volume 2 Mega Drive Volume 2 Mega Drive Volume 2

Funds are still being collected to buy Plug and Play devices for MAME, so if you want to contribute then you can PayPal my “hazemamewip@hotmail.com” address (without the quotes) and anything sent there will be put towards picking up units and getting them where they need to go for studying.

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Denver emulation videos

April 26, 2020 Haze Categories: General News. Comments Off on Denver emulation videos

As promised, I’ve made some videos of the games that were not found on the already emulated collections running in MAME.

Part 1 – 66 games

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Part 2 – 43 games

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Denver, not the one in Colorado

April 25, 2020 Haze Categories: General News. 2 Comments on Denver, not the one in Colorado

The Denver ‘GMP-270CMK2’ is a 200-in-1 Family Sports unit ‘imported by’ Denver Electronics of Denmark. In many ways it’s similar to the OPlayer 100-in-1 Family Sports unit that was previously dumped. Here’s a quick recap of what was in the OPlayer (I recorded a video of the Oplayer here, it’s a SunPlus based device)

OPlayer game list

Main Menu (9 games)
Tennis, Golf, Baseball, Table Tennis, Bowling, Darts, Basketball, Boxing, Fishing

Puzzle (19 games)
Shudu, Move Box, Color Stone, Freecell, Gobang, Mine, Parking Lot, Dogs, Rolling Box, Big Shot Checker, Sea Fight, Pocket Change, Brain Challenge, Shape Switcher, Maze of Doors, Chess, Link Water Pipe, Classic Tangram, Silversphere

Action (13 games)
Hare Fighter, Jumping Mary, Robot War, West Cowboy, Crossing, Climbing Expert, Jack Adventure, Spring Mice, Rope Skipping, Pool Party, Elvish Boy, Save the Fallen, Anti Gravity Robo

Venture (13 games)
Super Memory, Black Jack, Gather Eggs, Cups Changing, Slot Machine, Beer Master, Follow Me, On Fire, Brain Age Test, Forest Adventure, Pirate Landing, Cafeteria, Heroboy

Table (20 games)
100 Floor, Sub Warfare, Bubble Destroyer, Balloon Shooting, Up Stairs, Maze Combination, Precipice, Monkeys, Happy Night, Bumper Balls, Table Football, Spin Match, Herculean Guy, Eat Bean, Block Construction, Fruit Family, Flag Match, Wonderful Pompon, Nimble Stone, Bombman

Racing (7 games)
Rally, GT Racing, Highway Racing, Track Tracking, Crazy Push, Japanese Sumo, Tanks PK

Relax (19 games)
Benthal Jewel, Linking Pet, Homward Journey, Find Fault, Pair Match, Brick Blaster, Minibee, Cartoon Match, 30 Degree, Paopao, Diamond Forest, Mini Soccer, Archery, Color Bead Loops, Magnet Boy, Paper Planes, Palace Guardian, IQ Cow, Piggy Golf

Total 100 games

The first thing to note is that the Denver unit does not have any of the ‘main menu’ games, the ‘main menu’ options in this case are now the categories from the ‘mini games’ menu. That means right off the bat the 9 sports titles from the main menu are gone. These haven’t been put into another menu, they’re simply removed from the device. That’s interesting because the OPlayer actually presented those rather well, adapting them from the ‘motion control’ versions found on the Wii clones using this base of software. What this does mean is that we’re potentially looking at 109 new pieces of software in the Denver unit.

Puzzle (36 games) (17 more)
Shudu, Move Box, Color Stone, Freecell, Gobang, Mine, Parking Lot, Dogs, Rolling Box, Big Shot Checker, Sea Fight, Build Road, Puzzle Connection, Transmover, Pocket Change, Brain Challenge, Shape Switcher, Maze of Doors, Super Brick, Panda Labyrinth, Chess, Link Water Pipe, Classic Tangram, Silversphere, Bomb Chain Unlimited, Seven, Move Squares, Puzzle Ball, Button Jumper, Earn Stars, Fill Gad Cylinders, Funny Face, Happy Smile, Pass Maze Road, Return Capsule, Telescope Pole

Action (32 games) (19 more)
Hare Fighter, Jumping Mary, Robot War, West Cowboy, Balloon Boy, Crazy Fighter, Jumping Boy, Rescue Pets, Crossing, Climbing Expert, Jack Adventure, Seize Jewelry, Greedy Girl, Spring Mice, Rope Skipping, Pool Party, Elvish Boy, Star War, Save the Fallen, Hell Marksman, Anti Gravity Robo, Airborne Alien, Gliding Apple Girl, Jumping Ball, Mad Ball, Crazy Tank, Glide Object, Dudu Rush, Earth Shaker, Fly Through Flowers, Full Moon Night, Monkey Brothers

Venture (33 games) (20 more)
Super Memory, Black Jack, Gather Eggs, Cups Changing, Slot Machine, Beer Master, Follow Me, On Fire, Good Fisherman, Open Gold Box, Gas Station, Cake Store, Brain Age Test, Forest Adventure, Pirate Landing, Cafeteria, Water Rescue, Heroboy, Tower Defense, Icecream, Learning Fruits, Learning Food, Learning Animals, Learning Clothes, Learning Sports, Learning Vegetables, Learning Body, Learning Toys, Learning Family, Learning Occupation, Learning Transportation, Learning School, Learning Stationery

Table (36 games) (16 more, but 2 deleted/moved, so really 18 new)
100 Floor, Sub Warfare, Bubble Destroyer, Balloon Shooting, Up Stairs, Maze Combination, Precipice, Monkeys, Happy Night, Bumper Balls, Castle Smasher, Escape The Trap, Table Football, Spin Match, Herculean Guy, Cartoon Puzzle, Gold Miner, Jumping Eggs, X Training, Super Pizza, Eat Bean, Block Construction, Fruit Family, Flag Match, Wonderful Pompon, Nimble Stone, Bombman, Suicide Squad, Overmaze, Four Boxes, Uppercase Letters, Lowercase Letters, Numbers, Find the Largest Number, Number Sequence, Missing Letters, Find the Picture, Find the Word

Sports (was ‘Racing’) (19 games) (12 more, but 5 from elsewhere, so really 7 new)
Rally, GT Racing, Highway Racing, Track Tracking, Motorboat, Mini Soccer, Table Football, Archery, Crazy Push, MotoCross, Dodgeball, Beach Volleyball,Flag Match, Japanese Sumo, Tanks PK, Piggy Golf, Horse Racing, Balance Ball, Balloon Archer

Relax (44 games) (25 more, but 3 deleted/moved, so really 28 new)
Benthal Jewel, Linking Pet, Homward Journey, Find Fault, Pair Match, Brick Blaster, Minibee, Cartoon Match, 30 Degree, Paopao, Diamond Forest, Mini Soccer, Archery, Color Bead Loops, Magnet Boy, Cake Party, Super Porter, Paper Planes, Palace Guardian, IQ Cow, Piggy Golf, Throw the Coins, Air Defense, Bubble Shooter, Colorful Box, Fish Killer, Pinball, Polar Bear, Find The Shape, Colors, Find The Differences, Sound, What Goes Together, Learning Rhythm, Learning Time, Matching, Find The Law, Memory Test, Hide And Seek, Which One Is Redundant, Find The Other Part, Find The Figure, Tangram, Divide Cookies Evenly, Find The Most Heavy, Percussion, What Is The Most

Total 200 games

So yes, there are 109 new games (with 5 in total moving into different categories) I’ve listed all 109 new titles below.

1. Build Road
2. Puzzle Connection
3. Transmover
4. Super Brick
5. Panda Labyrinth,
6. Bomb Chain Unlimited
7. Seven
8. Move Squares
9. Puzzle Ball
10. Button Jumper
11. Earn Stars
12. Fill Gad Cylinders
13. Funny Face
14. Happy Smile
15. Pass Maze Road
16. Return Capsule
17. Telescope Pole
18. Balloon Boy
19. Crazy Fighter
20. Jumping Boy
21. Rescue Pets
22. Seize Jewelry
23. Greedy Girl
24. Star War
25. Hell Marksman
26. Airborne Alien
27. Gliding Apple Girl
28. Jumping Ball
29. Mad Ball
30. Crazy Tank
31. Glide Object
32. Dudu Rush
33. Earth Shaker
34. Fly Through Flowers
35. Full Moon Night
36. Monkey Brothers
37. Good Fisherman
38. Open Gold Box
39. Gas Station
40. Cake Store
41. Water Rescue
42. Tower Defense
43. Icecream
44. Learning Fruits
45. Learning Food
46. Learning Animals
47. Learning Clothes
48. Learning Sports
49. Learning Vegetables
50. Learning Body
51. Learning Toys
52. Learning Family
53. Learning Occupation
54. Learning Transportation
55. Learning School
56. Learning Stationery
57. Castle Smasher
58. Escape The Trap
59. Cartoon Puzzle
60. Gold Miner
61. Jumping Eggs
62. X Training
63. Super Pizza
64. Suicide Squad
65. Overmaze
66. Four Boxes
67. Uppercase Letters
68. Lowercase Letters
69. Numbers
70. Find the Largest Number
71. Number Sequence
72. Missing Letters
73. Find the Picture
74. Find the Word
75. Motorboat
76. MotoCross
77. Dodgeball
78. Beach Volleyball
79. Horse Racing
80. Balance Ball
81. Balloon Archer
82. Cake Party
83. Super Porter
84. Throw the Coins
85. Air Defense
86. Bubble Shooter
87. Colorful Box
88. Fish Killer
89. Pinball
90. Polar Bear
91. Find The Shape
92. Colors
93. Find The Differences
94. Sound
95. What Goes Together
96. Learning Rhythm
97. Learning Time
98. Matching
99. Find The Law
100. Memory Test
101. Hide And Seek
102. Which One Is Redundant
103. Find The Other Part
104. Find The Figure
105. Tangram
106. Divide Cookies Evenly
107. Find The Most Heavy
108. Percussion
109. What Is The Most

Now many of these are ‘educational’ and it’s no surprise that some later units I’ve seen (the ones on newer hardware, not yet working) actually have an educational menu. Some of the educational games are really pointless, for example all the ‘Learning’ games do is show some pictures and read out the name of whatever is shown, but there are also plenty of new mini-games here too that warrant further investigation as many do a good job of presenting basic gameplay concepts.

This is a text heavy update, with no pictures, but I hope to follow it up with a video showing the new content (and maybe add a picture of the unit if I can find one)

Thanks to TeamEurope for buying this unit and getting it dumped.

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Choose Your Guitar!

April 18, 2020 Haze Categories: General News. 1 Comment on Choose Your Guitar!

The first version of the original Guitar Super Star I picked up had a guitar that looked like this. The shape of this guitar is almost identical to the Guitar Fever, although the more triangular button shapes gave away that it was a Senario unit.

Guitar Super Star

This version of the guitar actually seems relatively uncommon and should not be confused with “Guitar Star”, or the later “Guitar Super Star: You Take The Stage” (although to add to the confusion, the original “Guitar Super Star” still has ‘You Take The Stage’ on the box, but not as part of the game title)

The more common version of the original Guitar Super Star looks like this. A red, triangular shaped unit.

Guitar Super Star

When the unit I picked up was dumped, I was quite surprised, it booted to a title screen which actually showed the black and white controller, matching the physical form of the Guitar in question. Videos of the unit I’d seen YouTube showed the red controller. At first I thought this must a bit in one of the ports determining which title screen to show, but after checking extensively I could find no such bit, leaving the only logical conclusion being the ROM must differ between the two units.

Guitar Super Star

I picked up another unit, this time the red type, and Sean dumped the ROM from that. Maybe unsurprisingly at this point, it immediately booted to show the title screen with the red guitar, proving that this was indeed a difference in the software between the two units.

Guitar Super Star

It’s a minor thing as the songs are the same, but documenting revisions is important, and this case interesting because of how the software was adapted to match the physical case of the unit; I’d previously expected to find such with some other units (for example the Zone 100 being black) only for the internal presentation to be too lazy to reflect those changes. (In that case it was more surprising as the Wireless 60 does have black in-game presentation of the unit)

From a software point of view the two ROMs actually appear to have been built with a different version of the IDE / SDK as the header in them shows a different version.

Guitar Super Star

Guitar Super Star

As these were clearly built at different points in time, it might be worth digging a little deeper to find out if there are any other subtle changes between the code in the two units.

From the point of view of a gamer, this likely isn’t the most interesting update, but MAME exists to help document this type of thing, and for anybody studying the history of these things this provides an additional data point. It’s also satisfying on a personal level, because the title screen being different was bugging me immensely, so documenting that it used a different ROM has provided some closure.

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Some Results

April 16, 2020 Haze Categories: General News. Comments Off on Some Results

A handful of people donated towards picking up some Plug and Play units, I guess it wasn’t the best time to be asking (let’s face it, the world is more of a mess than usual at the moment) but it did allow some additional items to be picked up so I greatly appreciate all the contributions that were made. If anybody who donated does want to be specifically mentioned please let me know, otherwise data protection / privacy etc. means I can’t just list everybody.

One item that was picked up was the Dodgeball cartridge for the Toyquest TV Go Go / Go Go TV cartridge.

This admittedly is going to be a difficult one to emulate, the system is an interesting hybrid of ‘camera’ and ‘per game’ motion controller, some of which are just physical objects for the camera to pick up, others I believe containing actual motion sensors etc. The games present a controller / no controller option on startup.

Dodgeball is one of the less common cartridges, and also pushed me more in the direction of confirming something that I’d suspected for a while, the US and EU cartridges contain different code. The Dodgeball cartridge was sourced in the US and does NOT contain a language selection menu on startup. The existing dumps were all EU sourced and do.

Without the camera providing a background here the screenshots look a little bare, and you can’t make the selection to start a game, but this one will be an interesting test of technology later, MAME at some point is likely going to have to start accepting a video stream input from a PC camera if these are to become playable at all. I guess it could be simulated with a mouse making areas of the screen lighter / darker if the way the game talks to the camera is figured out at least.

TV Go Go Dodgeball TV Go Go Dodgeball
TV Go Go Dodgeball TV Go Go Dodgeball TV Go Go Dodgeball

As this might have slipped under the radar before, the previous dumps for the system were the ‘4 in 1’ (that is bundled with the system) as well as the ‘Tennis’ and ‘Whac a Mole’ cartridges. Those are the EU sourced versions. I’ll probably need to pick up the US versions of these for final verification that they differ. A US version of Baseball is also on the way.

TV Go Go TV Go Go TV Go Go

The JAKKS Pacific ‘Hannah Montana / High School Musical Two in One’ was an interesting unit to get hold of. I was expecting this box to contain both the Hannah Montana ‘G2 Deluxe’ and High School Musical ‘G2 Deluxe’ units, with ‘two in one’ simply meaning both units in a single box. I was however mistaken, and this is both games in a single unit, with a menu to select between them.

The unit used a custom marked Sandisk TSOP-32 NAND Flash ROM, of a type we’d previously seen in one of the Ultimotion units (and had no way to dump)

Thanks to some information from Team Europe on a different type of 32-pin Flash ROM (figured out by studying an entirely different system which used 32-pin flash ROMs in place of the usual ones via a sub-board adapter) Sean was able to work out a pinout for these too (which has since been documented in the MAME source)

Initial dumps allowed the Hannah Montana part to boot and pass the usual HotGen self-check.

Hannah Montana - High School Musical G2 Hannah Montana - High School Musical G2 Hannah Montana - High School Musical G2
Hannah Montana - High School Musical G2 Hannah Montana - High School Musical G2

However, selecting the High School Musical part caused the game to crash. Searching through the ROM I could not find any strings relating to High School Musical, this was suspicious. Adding further logging to the NAND access code in MAME revealed it was trying to access blocks beyond the dumped ROM, odd, considering it was passing the ROM check.

We did already have suspicions tho, the chip was marked -256B, which was thought might mean 256 Megabits (32 Megabytes) however, Sean was already having to dump the ROM at 64 Megabytes to get the data needed for just the Hannah Montana part. 256 Megabyte had been ruled out as a size because there were no standard Flash ROMs with the correct block size with a capacity of 256 Megabytes, even if it was theoretically possible. In the end Sean had to hack the database for his programmer software to force custom parameters when reading, and dumped the ROM at 256 Megabytes. The upper 128 Megabytes of that was empty, 0xff filled, but the fact that it was still giving data at that point does suggest that the ROM really is 256 Megabytes. I guess these were custom made for JAKKS too as _HSM is part of the part number printed onto the chip, in the same font as everything else. (unless HSM stands for High Speed Memory, but none of the others have this)

Anyway, with a complete dump the High School Musical part boots. Interestingly the program that gets loaded once you select High School Musical has its own test menu, which does checksum this later part of the ROM instead. I guess it was easier to combine the games this way, adding the boot menu to the Hannah Montana game while making minimal changes to the High School Musical code, having it basically load up as an entirely separate piece of software once selected. It *almost* caught us out.

Hannah Montana - High School Musical G2 Hannah Montana - High School Musical G2 Hannah Montana - High School Musical G2
Hannah Montana - High School Musical G2 Hannah Montana - High School Musical G2

Neither game is properly playable yet tho as these use the GPL16250 tech, although it does look initially like they’re going to provide some good test cases for fixing up some aspects of the emulation there. Hannah Montana does allow you to navigate the game menus and world a little bit (with some broken / missing graphics) while High School Musical crashes shortly after booting due to unemulated unSP CPU core instructions – this is good, it gives us a test case for implementing them.

Of course with this not being the two separate units, but a combined one, it became necessary to pick up the separate units too, so I did that and they’re flying around the postal system as I write this.

We also got a Sing Scene Pop. This is another JAKKS Pacific unit developed by HotGen, it also used the funky Sandisk NAND ROMs, but now it was possible to dump them. The dump passes test mode, and as this isn’t a 2-in-1 there’s no reason to suspect any trickery here, we can trust that result. Again the basic machine runs here, but there’s no sound, graphical issues, and no lyrics displayed, so it isn’t playable. Again I’m hoping it helps us figure out some more details of the GPL16250 level of SunPlus tech. The Ultimotion Disney Fairies unit was also dumped with this newfound knowledge of dumping these Sandisk ROMs, however that displays nothing as it’s by a different developer and uses the hardware in ways we understand less at the moment (and again uses some previously unseen unSp 2.0 opcodes)

All in all, several dumps that have the potential to be very useful for figuring things out.

Sing Scene Pop Sing Scene Pop Sing Scene Pop
Sing Scene Pop Sing Scene Pop Sing Scene Pop

Let’s have a look at one that is playable then.

Guitar Super Star: You Take The Stage is the 2nd ‘Guitar Super Star’ game from Senario and builds on the foundations set by the first game. This time around the songs are fully licensed, which alone is a big step up for a game in this genre. On top of that the controls feel a little more forgiving, making it not feel quite as awkward to play. It’s still got some questionable choices, such as only having a single direction strum bar, and it’s still, in reality, not a patch on the proper Guitar Hero games, but it’s an improved effort.

This is one of the SunPlus games to actually use 16MBytes of data, this time in a 32MByte ROM (with half the ROM blank) This is because the 10 backgrounds, even tho they’re fairly short loops, take up a significant amount of space. To facilitate the extra data, the upper half of the ROM space is banked, but figuring that out was easy enough. This will be marked as WORKING in the next MAME release. There’s also a video from MAME here

Guitar Super Star You Take The Stage Guitar Super Star You Take The Stage Guitar Super Star You Take The Stage Guitar Super Star You Take The Stage
Guitar Super Star You Take The Stage Guitar Super Star You Take The Stage Guitar Super Star You Take The Stage

Moving on to one that I didn’t personally pick up, but was instead funded and dumped by Team Europe, we have the Spider-Man Super TV Air Jet (JG6000SP) which was put out under the Lexibook Junior banner. This is an inflatable Ride-On Air Jet, with game controller, if you want to see what it looks like the manual can be found by Googling the part number (JG6000SP)

I’m including here this as Team Europe are a big part of this Plug and Play emulation initiative by not only creating initial interest in emulating this kind of unit, but also supporting the project financially, throwing in probably more of their own money than both fundraisers combined, and also dumping a lot of the less ridiculously difficult cases to ease the workload on Sean.

Spider-Man Air Jet Spider-Man Air Jet Spider-Man Air Jet

Anybody familiar with Lexibook will know that most of their licensed products are reskins of existing games, so it probably won’t be surprising to hear that this SunPlus based unit reskins 7 of the common SunPlus games. I’m going to do some side-by-side comparisons below. It’s also worth noting that Lexibook also released a version of this without the Spider-Man license, where presumably the unmodified versions of these games will also be found. Pictures of the non Spider-Man themed games, the rightmost of the 3 shots, are in this case taken from the “Lexibook JG7415 120-in-1” Video from MAME is here

Spider-Man Air Jet Spider-Man Air Jet Multigame
Spider-Man Air Jet Spider-Man Air Jet Multigame
Spider-Man Air Jet Spider-Man Air Jet Multigame
Spider-Man Air Jet Spider-Man Air Jet Multigame
Spider-Man Air Jet Spider-Man Air Jet Multigame
Spider-Man Air Jet Spider-Man Air Jet Multigame
Spider-Man Air Jet Spider-Man Air Jet Multigame

Clawgrip has been another huge supporter of the work being done on Plug & Play units, again picking up many such things in Spain and having them shipped across to Sean. One such unit he picked up with his own money was a Spanish VTech ‘TV Station’ which is some kind of educational / organizer type thing for use with a TV. Currently the inputs aren’t hooked up (I guess based on the presentation it has some kind of mouse, but haven’t checked this with him yet) It’s possible the hookup for inputs here is similar to some other VTech units, but again I haven’t yet checked that. As maybe you’re noticing by now, there’s plenty of room for somebody to come in and help document how the inputs work by studying the code / hook up the inputs on many of these units. I think this can be a positive as it gives people an avenue to start contributing in non-financial ways if they have an interest.

VTech TV Station VTech TV Station VTech TV Station
VTech TV Station VTech TV Station

Finally for now, I picked up a “Go! Go! Connie-chan! Asobou Mouse” which is a 1997 Bandai Plug & Play. When I saw it I was hoping that it would use the SH6578 style hardware, as Bandai’s other 1997 unit ‘Game Pad’ did, and that turned out to be the case. Due to the limited amount of SH6578 software we have every unit that provides further evidence is helpful as even with a document on the chip, not every possible edge case or change from standard NES behaviour is fully documented so having software to help validate the emulation is important. This one also needs a mouse hookup, and currently falls to test mode where it fails a RAM check, meaning I need to look into that. It was pointed out to me that there’s a long Japanese video covering this unit on YouTube too, so that should be a useful reference for improving the emulation.

Go! Go! Connie-chan! Asobou Mouse Go! Go! Connie-chan! Asobou Mouse

That’s all for now, but as you can see plenty more seeds being planted, several useful test cases for helping to further developer the emulation of things like the GPL16250 and SH6578 in addition to some bits that are already considered ‘working’

Again, if you wish to throw something into the money pool for picking up these Plug and Play units then the PayPal address to use is “hazemamewip@hotmail.com” everything helps.

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