Soldering Linkmasta NGPC Sockets

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. 😀

Neo Geo Pocket Color in 2013 / Thanks For a Great 2012!

Neo Geo Pocket Flash Masta & Linkmasta in France

We’ve made it to the new year once again. The Neo Geo Pocket scene just won’t die, and I want to thank you guys for keeping it alive after so long. Laurent is the latest guy to receive a NGPC Linkmasta & Flash Masta bundle, and he sent me the picture you see to the right. It seems that there is a strong Neo Geo scene in France, and it looks like Laurent is pretty proud of his new hardware. Thanks for sending that to me, Laurent!

I can’t believe that it’s already been almost two months since my last post here. I really like to keep you guys informed of what I’m working on, but the truth of the matter is that I’ve been working on “real life” a lot more lately. Yeah, as you can see from the picture, I’ve still been getting bundles built and sent out. I’ll definitely keep doing that. I’m also still working on the WonderSwan hardware. Mainly, though, I’ve been working on some life changes that I’m not quite ready to discuss publicly. (Well, that and things like Christmas, New Years, and vacation stuff, of course.) While I think that this “real life” stuff has taken time away from my projects, I think that it may open up more opportunity for this sort of thing in the not too distant future.

I want to say a big “HAPPY 2013!” to all of you and also thank each of you for an awesome 2012! Even if you’re not already an owner of a Neo Geo Pocket Flash Masta, you are still here and interested in NGPC. We’re all thankful for that!

I’m excited to see what the new year brings, and I hope that the potential upcoming changes in my life will help me to produce more new and fun things for all of you retro gamers out there!

Laser Cutting Forum Users

Laser, Lightsabre, What’s the difference?

Did that title get your attention? Are you all ready to read about how to cut forum users with a laser? Well, it’s actually 2 separate issues: Laser Cutting & Forum Users.

Forum Users
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.

Laser Cutting
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.

Neo Geo Pocket Cartridge Protection Information Database

You guys are great! You really make this NGPC homebrew community work.

After my last post explaining some technical details about NeoGeo Pocket SaveGame Backups, we got a little dialog going. Loïc chimed in with a proposal to build a database of information about known cartridges. The idea is that, when the information would not be retrievable from the cartridge, a database lookup could supply the necessary information about the cartridge.

Well, not only was this a good idea, but Loïc took it several steps further. He effectively built a database of NGPC cartridge identification and protection information. He was able to obtain information about almost every cartridge. From his data, it seems that he’s only missing data on 12 cartridges. Of these 12, some can be inferred from other data or dumped by someone else.

At the moment, I’m working on other things, but I need to come up with the best way to store and parse this data. Then it can be integrated into future builds of NeoLinkmasta.

If you are interested in working on adding this (or any other feature) to the software, please get in touch with me.

Thanks guys!

NeoGeo Pocket SaveGame Backups

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.

NGPC Linker / Flash Cart (Linkmasta + Flash Masta) Bundles Available

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.
http://twitter.com/freeplaytech

Magician Lord Neo Geo Pocket Color

Thanks to the “Magician Lord : la suite que personne n’a vue” article and the guys at Gamekult that made this possible, we now have a new Neo Geo Pocket Color prototype. This looks like what would have become Magician Lord 2 for the NGPC. If you, like me, can’t read French, you can try the Google translate version here.

This seems to be an early technology demo of the game. It’s “playable” as you’ll see in the videos, but only certain modes are available and there’s no sound or boss battles. At any rate, this is an amazing find for the Neo Geo Pocket community. Thanks to NeoTurfMasta, Reznor, and Keneda for each notifying me of this news via different channels.

What do you guys think? Are there more NGPC protos out there just waiting to be uncovered? Is Ikari Warriors next?

WonderSwan Flash Masta – WS/WSC Flash Cartridge

WonderSwan WonderMagic Color

Thanks to a loyal retro gamer, I now have a WonderMagic WonderSwan Flash Cart system in my posession. This should signify the start of the WonderSwan Flash Masta project. You can see a quick picture I took of the kit that just arrived. So far I have very little to say about the project, but it is promising.

Today, I also found out about a new WonderSwan translation project. The Rockkman EXE WS English Translation (MegaMan Battle Network WS English Translation) has recently been released. See the trailer below.

If you want to see more, here’s the “Rockkman EXE WS English Translation: Full Playthrough.”

NGP Flash Cart Bundles Available (Almost)

I just got done shipping out bundles to the people on the “waiting list.” I have a few more bundles available that are almost ready to ship, but I can’t list them right now. I will be out of town through next week. When I get back, I’ll have some to put up for sale here on the site.

That’s not much for news, but I wanted to keep you guys informed.

To the right, I included a completely unrelated video just for fun. A friend of mine just got a “Walkera QR Ladybird” quadcopter, and we went out and did some flips with it. The thing is pretty impressive. If you ever wanted to fly a quadcopter, this is the one I’d recommend starting with.

NGPC Flash Cart Bundles For Those That Have Contacted Me

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.