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!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

CPS2 Multi Kit complete!

Here's my Yellow CPS2 Multi Kit! Yellow rental case, new custom label, yellow LCD holder and yellow Service/Volume buttons!  

The kit is Darksoft's CPS2 Multi add-on board. It's a great piece of hardware that plugs into a donor CPS2 B-board (the game board) and takes an SD card for loading up all the CPS2 games. Installation wasn't too difficult as it was mainly plug-n-play, except for one small solder job to add reset functionality. 
The LCD is attached for selecting games and displaying what current one is loaded. 

Damn it feels good to be a gansta. ;)

Monday, March 28, 2016

CPS2 Multi Kit - Alternative Label

For my CPS2 Multi Kit, I was looking for a label that follows the theme of a majority of the original CPS2 labels. Something simple, that clearly states what it is, paying homage to the creators of this kit, and with more characters representing each game and in the classic all-blue look.

I decided to quickly pull together a label for myself:

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

GCW Zero button update!

I recently got some new buttons and d-pad for my GCW Zero!

These new buttons are awesome upgrades, and feel so much better than the stock buttons that originally ships with the GCW.
Circular motions on the d-pad are smoother, and more precise, while the buttons feel more responsive and "solid".  Additionally, they're all a lot more quiet!
Besides, buttons in all red are pretty snazzy now. :)