Archive for the ‘NGPC USB Linker’ Category
I just picked up a batch of laser cut enclosures for the Linkmasta USB NGPC cart reader/programmer. I thought you might be interested in seeing the result.
There’s not a whole lot to say about this. Over the weekend, I was finishing up a bunch of Linkmasta USB devices for some Neo Geo Pocket Flash Masta bundles. I recorded some video of me soldering ‘em. It’s like 30min of watching me solder and ramble on. I figured I should post it, so maybe someone will find it interesting in some way.
In the last week, the forum has had an influx of new user registrations. This sounds good, but with it came a bunch of forum SPAM. Upon further investigation, I think there was a new exploit to get around one of the anti-bot security measures I had in place. After (hopefully) patching the hole, I ended up cutting a BUNCH of forum users (not with a laser).
If you are a legit user and find that you lost your account, PLEASE register again. I may have inadvertently cut some real users. I’m very sorry if I accidentally removed your account.
As you may know, the Linkmasta USB device comes inside of a translucent blue box. To accommodate the NGPC cartridge, a rectangular opening is hand cut in the top of the plastic case. There is also an opening for the USB cable that gets hand cut in the side of the case.
Last week, I paid a visit to a company that specializes in plastics to talk about getting these cuts done more professionally. Unfortunately, they said that they couldn’t do both cuts with their laser. However, they should be able to do the top NGPC cartridge socket.
This is not going to be cheap. It will cost me significantly bit more than what I am currently doing. I don’t know if it’s sustainable, due to the costs involved. The main reason I decided to do it for now is just to learn about the process, so I’m chalking the cost up to education. I am having them cut 25 case tops, and I will check out the quality and make a determination if it’s worth it to proceed this way in the future or not.
One think this may mean is that any purchases made in the next week or so may be delayed as I wait for the laser cutting process to be done. I think it will be worth the wait, though. If you want to be first in line to get a bundle with a laser cut case top, head over to the NGPC flash devkit purchase page.
Today a new owner of the NGPC Flash Masta & Linkmasta bundle emailed me with a question about backing up Neo Geo Pocket savegame data. In particular, he was asking why the software won’t backup only the save-game data when you are using a flash cartridge. If you’ve never tried it, the Linkmasta software will allow you to backup the savegame data from an official cartridge, but it won’t do it when it detects a flash cartridge. To backup the savegame data on a NGPC flash cart, you need to backup the entire (usually 32mbit) cartridge.
To understand this, first of all, it’s important to understand that the NGPC does not have separate savegame “SRAM” and game data “ROM” memory. This is a common misconception, because many systems had this architecture. What the NGPC has is flash memory that is used to store both game and savegame data.
In official games, the game data is protected so the NGPC can not write over the actual game ROM. However, you can write to every official NGPC cartridge. To do it, you’d have to write to an unprotected area of the cartridge memory, and this is typically where the savegame data would live.
What happens when you want to backup the savegame data from an official cartridge is that the Linkmasta uses some low-level routines to talk directly to the flash memory chip and ask about the protection status of each block. Whenever it encounters an unprotected block, it assumes that is where savegame data lives (or could possibly live) and backs it up. It saves this in the NeoPop savegame format which is the closest thing we have to a standard for this.
The problem arises when you try to employ this technique on a flash cart. The flash cart is 100% unprotected. The Linkmasta has no way to know which blocks contain savegame data and which ones contain game code/data. It could make guesses, but they would not be 100% accurate. The only way to be sure that you backup all of the savegame data is to backup ALL of the data on the cart (savegame plus game data).
I have thought about this before, and there is another way that the Linkmasta could (most likely) determine what data is savegame related. There could be another function to backup changes in the cart. This would probably be slightly different than the NeoPop savegame format. What you would do is to write a ROM file to the Neo Geo Pocket Flash Masta cart. Then, you would play it and save your progress. If you wanted to backup changes, you would (in theory) hit the “save changes” button. The software would then ask you to supply the ROM file used to create the cartridge. Then, it would compare, byte by byte, the contents of the file against the contents of the cartridge. Whenever it encountered a mismatch, it would save this to a savegame backup file. It would be like using the verify feature and saving a “diff”.
So, now that I’ve laid this out, I wonder if anyone is interested in implementing it. I am spending most of my time lately working on building bundles and researching and designing a WonderSwan cartridge. In the past, I have talked about making the NeoLinkmasta software open-source. I would be interested in hearing from anyone that would want to work on adding features like this. Do you have other ideas? If so, contact me. I just haven’t gotten around to “opening” the source, but I’m definitely interested in discussing this with coders.
I have been trying to get a bunch of bundles ready. It wasn’t my intention to announce that I only had 3 ready, but that’s the reality. I’m expecting to get a bunch more ready in about 2 weeks (when I can get some more NGPC cartridge connectors made).
As always, head over to the purchase page to find the Neo Geo Pocket Flash Cart for sale.
I know that some people have contacted me inquiring about the availability of the NGPC bundles, and I’ve said to sign up for the automated emails or watch the site to find out when there are bundles in stock. If I don’t announce this stuff here, then I may be letting people down.
Otherwise, my work on the WonderSwan continues, building more NGPC bundles continues, real life continues, etc.
If we haven’t connected on Twitter yet, please send me a message and we can follow each other. I’d like to start using that more as a way to connect with people.
Summer has been a bit crazy. It definitely hasn’t been bad for me. I’ve had a chance to take a couple little vacations with another coming up, so I’m not complaining. It’s just that I’ve been off my regular schedule, and I haven’t had a lot of time for soldering and assembling Neo Geo Pocket Color Flash Masta carts.
To help make up for my lack of time, a friend of mine has been helping with the soldering. While I was out, he soldered up some cartridge PCBs. This past week, he soldered up some Link Masta PCBs, so now we’re dangerously close to having full bundles available again. All I need to do is put the NGPC cartridge socket on the Link Masta PCBs, do a bit of assembly with the cases, and test them out to make sure they’re at 100%.
This time around, I already have a waiting list of people that have contacted me ready to make a purchase. I don’t like selling something I don’t have, so I want to make sure these are all working before putting them up on the site. However, I will be contacting those on the list now to offer bundles to those that have been waiting.
Part of what this means is that if you were someone that contacted me and you want to be sure that you get one of these, email me back, especially if you don’t hear from me in the next day or so.
I should have enough bundled to cover those on the waiting list, and still have a few left to put up for general sale here on the site. We’ll definitely be building more now. I’d prefer if I could stay in stock and keep up with demand, but I’m sure I’ll come up with some lame excuse about having a baby or being on vacation or something.
I’ll post again when bundles are ready to go live (and remove the “Sold Out”) on the purchase page.
I had a little photo shoot with some good poses. No, I didn’t wear a bikini, but I think you’d rather see these pictures.
Things have been slow since summer started. I haven’t had much time for stuff, and I assume that you guys are pretty busy, too. Ever since school got out, sales have dropped off. Because of these things, I have decided to offer a “Summer Sale” and dropped the price of the bundles. Check here for the summer cheap NGPC devkit pricing. I should note, however, that this coming week is a holiday here in the US, and any orders that come in during that week will probably be delayed by about a week.
Here are the results of this morning’s photo shoot.
How To Make A Videogame Cartridge Connector For Neo Geo Pocket (or Gameboy, NES, SNES, Genesis, etc.)
I just finished editing a tutorial video to instruct other makers and hackers how to make their own NGPC cartridge socket (or any other videogame cartridge socket). These cartridge connectors are impossible to find, unless you remove them from a console. If you’re lucky (or unlucky as it may be) enough to own a non-working system, you can just pull its connector. Otherwise, you probably want to make your own connector.
The video specifically shows my father and I cutting a PCI socket to make two NGPC cartridge connectors. To make other sockets/connectors, the same process can be used, but you may have to start with a different edge connector. Just choose something with the same pin pitch as your project, grab a Dremel tool, and start hacking.
Here’s the video. Below it, I will lay out some of the steps involved. Please leave a comment (especially on YouTube) about the project you’re working on.
Here are the steps shown in the How To Make A Videogame Cartridge Connector video. Also, the images below are in the same order as the steps.
- The PCI socket has 2 openings. One is large enough to accommodate a Neo Geo Pocket cartridge. Then there’s a “key” and a smaller area of pins. Cut the PCI socket right at the key to remove the smaller area of pins. It’s useless to us. (Images: Cutting, Cut, Cut Angle 2)
- Turn the PCI socket so that the through-hole legs (for soldering to the PCB) are toward you. Cut the socket in half the long way. Be very careful not to nick any pins or legs. Do not allow your cutting wheel to get too deep as to enter the edge connector portion of the PCI socket. It’s better to too shallow, because it’s easy to break apart later. (Image: Just After Cut)
- On each end of the PCI socket, there should be a bit of plastic. Carefully slice this plastic vertically. Again, do not allow the cutting disc to contact any of the pins.
- With a pliers and flat-head screwdriver, crack the remaining bits of plastic to end up with 2 halves of the PCI socket. Each of these halves can produce a cartridge connector.
- Using some sort of guide (or carefully counting pins), mark the center. The NGPC cartridge has a “key” here, so we need to provide a slot for the key to enter. Pull out one pin from either side of this center mark.
- Similarly, find and mark the final pin. Pull out one (or more) pins after the final pin. On one half of the PCI socket, you will be marking the right side. On the other half, you will mark the right side. It’s hard to explain via text, but I think it will be obvious especially if you watch the video.
- Make a vertical cut for the center key.
- Make a vertical cut for each end of the cartridge.
- Make a horizontal cut on each end to create a “shoulder” for the cartridge to rest on when inserted into the socket. This step is not strictly necessary. The ends of the socket can be completely straight down to the PCB, but the shoulders really help insertion and alignment and alleviate stress from the socket.
- Feel free to round or widen any of the edges. I find that if you’re doing it all by hand, it’s best to cut it a bit wide (or skinny in the case of the center key slot). You can always file it down. However, if you make the connector too skinny (or the key slot too wide), the cartridge may fit in sloppily and the connectors may not properly align.
That’s about it. Here’s the finished product. Of course, you have to have a PCB or breadboard adapter that will accept this newly created socket.
Hopefully you found this interesting. Maybe you just wanted to know how we did it, but maybe you’re going to use the info for your own project. Either way, I’m curious what you’re working on or playing. Leave a comment on YouTube and share your reaction.
I had a chance to shoot some video this morning, so I made a little tutorial style video about how to install the Neo Pocket Linkmasta under Windows. I stole my wife’s laptop, because it had never gone through the install before. Anyway, here’s the video. I have a bit more footage for a follow-up video. Maybe I’ll get to that tomorrow.
I’m putting some more bundles up for sale right now. To purchase, click here.
I have several bundles ready that just need a bit of assembly before I send them out. I put some of them for sale just now, and I will adjust the quantity as I build more units. If they sell out, I will update the purchase page to reflect that fact. If I sell out, I will then publish a new post here when I have more available. If I don’t sell out, the Add To Cart link on the Flashmasta purchase page will remain open.
As the title suggests, there’s also new “gear” available. That wasn’t intended as a pun, but, as you can see on the right, the T-Shirt features Gears Of Fate which is a homebrew game created by Thor. You can find the game at Thor’s site.
If you’d like to get yourself this NGPC-themed T-Shirt, I’ve listed it on eBay. I have more than one, but I plan to only list one at a time. If you know anyone else that might care, please share this link.