Monday, January 7, 2019

More Hardware related stuff! PC-Engine is awesome.

So I never owned a PC-Engine/TurboGrafx 16 back in the day. It wasn't a system that was mainstream enough for me to have access to back then, but I always admired the games library because it was a really good system for solid Arcade ports and wonderful exclusives from Sega and Hudson Soft.

Since I'm a grown-ass man and can purchase whatever I want now, I decided to dive into the PCE and get myself a cute little Coregrafx.

I ended up purchasing a SSDS3, which attaches to my PCE Coregrafx and outputs RGB and also acts as a flashcart for not only the PCE/TG16 library, but also the CD games too!  Incredible!

The only problem is, the creators messed up with the video and sound circuitry, causing your image to have colour noise, and the CD audio has a lot of hissing when the system is accessing the MicroSD card.  It's been reported everywhere from multiple customers about these problems, which makes this unit less desirable to a majority of people.

Enter the FU-RGB and FirebrandX Audio bypass boards.

These 2 boards make up for the engineering shortcomings and upgrades the video and audio circuitry (bypassing it the SSDS3 altogether) to output clean video and non-hissing audio!  Shouts-out to Voultar and FirebrandX for the creation of these boards, as well as MobiusStripTechnologies for the distribution.

Installation was a bit more advanced, since you have to remove a bunch of SMD's cleanly, so that the solder pads are accessible, but with a trusty heat tool and de-soldering wick you can get it done effectively. FU-RGB on one side, Audio Bypass board on the other:

The final result?  Immaculate!

You can really see the differences when you get up close to the pixels. A lot cleaner, better colour output, no noise:

I don't have a sample of the audio uploaded yet, but here's a bunch of pics (some with scanlines, some not) from my set-up using an OSSC into a Benq Zowie 1080p monitor:

Friday, June 8, 2018

Raiden DX custom Audio IC: HB-45A reproduction

I recently had a chance to test HB-45A’ reproduction chip built by Caius on the KLOV and Arcade-Projects forums.  He also posts regularly on, check out his repairs and custom chip post!  His works are excellent.

Since he didn't have a working Raiden DX to test this custom on, I offered to test it for him, in hopes that I can have working audio for many more years to come. These Seibu boards are notorious for Audio failures due to these custom IC's failing.

First I de-soldered the old IC, using my new Hakko FR-300. Wonderful tool, made this step of the process go very quickly. I had to de-solder 20 pins which took about 5 mins using the FR-300, which would have normally taken me over an hour with my old soldapullt sucker! It's a hellava lot cleaner and less prone to burning pads/traces!
(de-soldered clean!)

I then installed a new machined socket for the Custom to plug into.

Finally, Caius' HB-45A reproduction was inserted into the socket, and I proceeded to do some testing.

I haven't been able to hear any differences in quality between the old and new chips. Comparing the music at the beginning and end sound identical. The effects also sound the same.  There might be a slight variance if you were to analyze the signals, but that would be the same deal even if you compared to different boards with the original Audio IC's.

Big thanks goes out to Caius and his work on this. It's a beautiful replacement and I hope that the audio will keep working for many, many years to come!

Bonus: Here's a shot of my control panel with matching ship colours!

CPS1 "Dash" & Kick Harness Upgrade

Had a couple projects I needed to finish recently.  This time its more hardware related.

I picked up an old Street Fighter 2: Hyper Fighting (aka Turbo) for a good price, but noticed that this board had a 10mhz oscillating crystal.
(B-21 chip on the C-board, great for conversions!)

BITD the Hyper Fighting version was sold as conversion kits, and was recommended to be installed on the Championship Edition board-set. But CE boards were usually equipped with 12 mhz crystals, hence making them "Dash" versions.

(10mhz oscillating crystal)

I was recommended this crystal (link here) to install on my board, and after de-soldering the old 10mhz Crystal and solding the new one, everything turned out great. Though the new crystal didn’t make much of a difference in the game’s performance, it’s peace of mind having the A-board that Capcom recommends and gives opportunity to convert this to other 12mhz games in the future.
(12mhz crystal installed!)

Afterwards, I wanted to do a Kick Harness adapter to go from the old CPS1 harness, to the CPS2 kick harness. I decided this because most of my kick harness set-up revolves around using CPS2, so it made sense to only support one type of harness.   I could have just got a cable adapter, but I felt it would be cleaner and less parts to handle if I put the CPS2 adapter onto the board itself.
(CPS1 to CPS2 Kick Harness installed)

(Close-up of CPS2 kick harness header)

(How it connects to my Supergun)

I am very happy to how it turned out, and am looking forward to converting this to a multi-CPS1 board whenever those kits are available. For now, I can enjoy a bit of Hyper Fighting!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Long overdue update

Boy, life has definitely changed since my last update. So, I'm a dad now. My daughter was born last year a bit after my last post. Fatherhood is great, our little one is awesome, but it has impacted my free time these days to do projects on the side. But, things are coming to a regularity now that I can actually start jumping back onto art and gaming projects in the next few months. I'm going to try to update this more often.

Since I don't like posting without showing anything, I do have some gaming related art I did for last Inktober:

Top Left - Centipede (ink)
Top Right - Final Fantasy VII  (ink and white marker)
Bottom Left - Boxer (ink)
Bottom Right - Galaga (ink + watercolor)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Shmup Sprites from years ago

Found a bunch of old shmup sprites on my PC from a few years ago. I worked on a couple shoot-em-up designs for a small indie company that were looking to break into making  retro-styled mobile games. 

These designs were from a more serious looking art style, featuring metallic, no frills ships between red a blue factions. 

These next designs were from a more fun art style, using bright colours and more massive bosses.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Secret of Mana - Yearly Play-through Adventures

MSU-1 + Variable Width + Proper Case hacks

Every year I load up my trusty SNES copy of Secret of Mana for a full playthrough, usually around this time of year when I have time off for the holidays (lets face it, the holiday season is great for dipping into nostalgic gaming...).  Secret of Mana is my favourite SNES game out of the entire library, and this year's play-through is going through some update hacks for making SoM an even more enjoyable experience. Playing off my SD2SNES flashcart instead of my original cartridge, I wanted to enjoy 3 hacks that improve on this amazing title:
- MSU-1 hack, for adding CD quality music to the game
- Variable Width Font to make all the text more pleasant looking and not conforming to even "square" spaces
- Proper Case hacks, which removes the game's ALL CAPS words and gives them proper cases

Getting the MSU-1 hack to work with these other hacks wasn't straight forward as they were built by three different modders, but I was able to figure out the way to get this working.

1. First you need to get an SNES rom hacking tool, I used NSRT 3.4 for Windows
2. In NSRT, apply a header to a original NTSC rom (US version - CRC32: D0176B24)
2. Apply the Variable Width Font patch. This expands the rom to 3MB
3. Apply the Proper-caser patch
4. Back in NSRT, removed the header
5. Then apply the MSU1 patch

If done correctly you'll see the text greatly improved along with some epic music to go along with it!

Proper Cases - Before:

Proper Cases - After:

Variable Width - Before:
Variable Width - After:

ps. please don't ask me for roms or where to acquire these hacks. Use your google-fu.

Happy Gaming! ;)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


Recently picked up a RetroUSB AVS console and wanted to write-up a little review and first impressions for it.

I wasn't really planning on buying one of these, mainly because I already invested in RGB Modding my NES and have it hooked up to an XRGB Mini, but the price was right enough for an impulse-buy.  Figured I'd see how it stacks up in comparison to taking the more expensive route with modding an original console.

First things first, packaging.

Pretty simply designed box, no frills, nice bright red.
Inside, everything is securely divided, but the quality of the inside dividers are a bit flimsy and you can see from mine there was some crushing that happened during shipping from the small tear and crumpling in the middle.  No matter, the AVS is still in perfect shape but I figured I should mention it.

The AVS comes with an HDMI cable, a USB cable and a USB power adapter.  One of the things I love about this system is that it can run off the USB as the main power source. This is great for keeping cables tidy, and doesn't require an extra wall socket if your TV has a USB port for it to tap into.

The design of the AVS is pretty slick and pays homage to the original NES. Unlike other HD clone systems out there that try to pose as more than it is, the AVS has a humble design that is in tune with the history of the system it's honoring.  Even the build quality feels like an NES! Slightly thin plastic like the original, but still sturdy and solid.

Back of the console has 3 ports: HDMI for A/V, USB for power and firmware updating, as well as uploading high scores to an online Scoreboard. The third connector is a Serial port for Famicom Expansion.  But that online Scoreboard sounds awesome, can't wait to try it out!

Here's a picture of how a standard NES cart plugs into the system.

The slot itself has a vice-like grip, and games that are inserted work first try.  So no need to blow your carts...but you should NEVER BLOW YOUR CARTS. Blowing is not a proper solution to making your old NES games play reliably. BITD people blew on their cart PCB's, introducing a slight bit of moisture to the connection to get it to boot-up. But this only exacerbated the problem as over time your cart PCB's would accumulate film and rust!  The best thing to do is get a couple cotton swabs and some Isopropanol to rub the grim and dust build-up on the contacts. Don't worry about the label on the back of your cart warning you not to use anything but Nintendo's official Cleaning Kit. It's exactly the same thing, rubbing alcohol. They just wanted to make more money on their product line.

Anyway, unfortunately I don't have any Famicom carts on me at the moment, but there is another connector under the hood that takes the Japanese carts in a standing position. Not an ideal position for those who want to keep the lid closed, but oh well.

I should mention that the plastic matches my NES controllers almost exactly. There is even a slight yellow tinge to it, as if it were sun-kissed like my aging controllers.

The menu system is pretty straight-forward and understandable right off the bat.  5 options:  Start Game, Cheat Codes, Input Options, Video Options and Scoreboard.

The Video output is really nice. It's maxed at 720p, which is perfectly fine for the original resolution being upscaled since it multiplies cleanly. Also scanlines look great and you can change their intensity.

I should mention that when I use my RGB modded NES and XRGB-mini combo, I also to use 720p w/ scanlines on because it looks better on that set-up than it being upscaled to 1080p.

In terms of lag, I haven't noticed any. Playing RC Pro Am is a pretty twitch based game and requires some fine tapping of the d-pad for making some subtle turns around the curvy tracks. It felt great and just like the original. I will eventually test more games with this but so far it's perfect. On my XRGB set-up I do feel a slight feeling of lag, not that I've measured it, but the AVS could have a slight advantage in that department.

So far I think this is the best HD NES clone unit out there. The price is right, it sits in that zone of not being crazy expensive but not cheap that you fear the quality level. From a software standpoint the system options are all anyone really needs.  I would say that not being able to tweak these options without having to restart the system is a bit cumbersome, but hopefully this can be changed in a firmware update. Another thing I hope they add is a soft reset by pressing all the controller's buttons at once. This might go against the spirit of the NES console, but it would be a nice upgraded feature.

All in all I'm happy I impulse-bought this. RetroUSB has been a great product provider, and I still swear by the Powerpak for my NES needs. I can also say their customer service is excellent. I've sent multiple emails to them asking questions about this unit, as well as if they plan on updating their mappers for the Powerpak (which they plan to in the future - hoping for VRC7) and they've been promptly responsive within 24 hours.

To support their commitment to this system, RetroUSB also released a slew of homebrew games, one of which called Twelve Seconds looks the most interesting out of the bunch. I'll maybe pick it up later on to try out but for now I'm going to play some of my other games and see if I can put up some decent high scores!