Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 11th Jul 2016 22:13 UTC
Hardware, Embedded Systems

A look into Dr Abrasive's lab and a super detailed behind-the-scenes of what it took to engineer a plug-in-flash-card for the Sega Saturn.

Stop whatever you're doing (if at all safe), make a nice hot drink like coffee, tea, or some coco, sit down on the couch with your laptop or phone or whatever, get comfortable, turn down the lights, and enjoy 27 minutes of human ingenuity.

Stuff like this brings the biggest smile to my face.

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under appreciated console
by flanque on Mon 11th Jul 2016 22:41 UTC
flanque
Member since:
2005-12-15

At times I feel like the Saturn was a really under appreciated console. Maybe it's a generational thing.

Reply Score: 3

RE: under appreciated console
by SitrucKram on Tue 12th Jul 2016 01:29 UTC in reply to "under appreciated console"
SitrucKram Member since:
2013-12-02

It absolutely was under appreciated. It was a 2D powerhouse console. It had great arcade ports, great 1st party games. However, I've read that it was very difficult to develop for in comparison to the Playstation.

Reply Score: 2

RE[2]: under appreciated console
by osvil on Tue 12th Jul 2016 09:17 UTC in reply to "RE: under appreciated console"
osvil Member since:
2012-10-25

I talked once with someone that had the "pleasure" to work with it. Someone that was in the games industry since the arcade times. He mentioned it as the hardest machine he had worked on.

Reply Score: 3

RE[2]: under appreciated console
by daedalus on Tue 12th Jul 2016 09:27 UTC in reply to "RE: under appreciated console"
daedalus Member since:
2011-01-14

It was a 2D powerhouse console. It had great arcade ports, great 1st party games.

This may be true, but the fashion was shifting quickly towards 3D at the time, and in that arena it was quite a way behind the PlayStation. Nobody wanted 2D games any more - lumpy textured polygons were more impressive to the general public than quality arcade conversions, and comparing the same 3D game on the PS and Saturn will quickly make your mind up over which one to buy.

Reply Score: 3

RE[3]: under appreciated console
by Kochise on Tue 12th Jul 2016 10:22 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: under appreciated console"
Kochise Member since:
2006-03-03

That was basically the fate of the Atari Jaguar that was a power beast in 2D (like the NeoGeo, yet with far less system and cartridge memory).

BTW I had a Dreamcast, and despite its lack of hardware T&L and DVD player, it was a dream console which had almost eveything (modem, vmu, vga, homebrew).

Reply Score: 2

RE[4]: under appreciated console
by JLF65 on Tue 12th Jul 2016 19:38 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: under appreciated console"
JLF65 Member since:
2005-07-06

As an engineer who works on retro programming as a hobby, I like to group consoles by their architecture and capabilities rather than when and who they were marketed to. For example,

GBA < 32X < Jaguar

I lump those together as they had similar architecture and abilities, with the 32X and Jaguar being scarily similar, but with the Jaguar being clearly more powerful. Other groups,

CD32 < 3DO < Saturn < Playstation

You can argue over whether the Saturn or Playstation was more powerful, but devs got more out of the PSX in general, so I tend to rank it highest.

N64 < Dreamcast < PS2 < XBox

Yes, the N64 was a super-early release of a next-gen console, not a late release of a previous-gen console as people tend to think. If you look at the architecture and abilities, it was clearly part of the next-gen consoles.

NGC/Wii < PS3 < XBox 360

The NGC and Wii are basically the same machine, with a slight bump in speed and ram between the two. Even with the speed bump and ram, the Wii falls behind the PS3 and XBox 360. Again, you can make arguments for which was more powerful, the PS3 or the 360.

WiiU < XBOne < PS4

The WiiU is just a slightly faster Wii with a bunch more ram, but again falls short of the XBox and PS.

Nintendo tends to release consoles between the generations of other manufacturers, so they are generally better than the previous gen, but not as powerful as the coming gen. I prefer to think of them as early rather than late. Being first out means everyone else can tailor there consoles to be better in some way... maybe cheaper, or faster, or more memory, or with an optical drive...

Reply Score: 2

SitrucKram Member since:
2013-12-02

More importantly, people wanted Final Fantasy.

Reply Score: 2

RE[4]: under appreciated console
by feamatar on Tue 12th Jul 2016 11:38 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: under appreciated console"
feamatar Member since:
2014-02-25

And Gran Turismo. I am sure that GT was the game that convinced a lot of adults that consoles are not only toys for kids and teenagers.

Reply Score: 1

RE[5]: under appreciated console
by ilovebeer on Wed 13th Jul 2016 15:56 UTC in reply to "RE[4]: under appreciated console"
ilovebeer Member since:
2011-08-08

If you're talking about people who like racing games then sure, but I know plenty of adult console gamers who never played Gran Turismo or couldn't care less about it.

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: under appreciated console
by kwan_e on Tue 12th Jul 2016 11:39 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: under appreciated console"
kwan_e Member since:
2007-02-18

Nobody wanted 2D games any more


If people only knew the big comeback they'd make.

Reply Score: 3

RE[4]: under appreciated console
by Alfman on Tue 12th Jul 2016 12:36 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: under appreciated console"
Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

kwan_e,

If people only knew the big comeback they'd make.


On the computer, I really enjoyed the FPS. However on consoles I personally find them inferior and difficult to play. Mind you I'm no experienced gamer, but 2d games were always a lot more fun on consoles given the causal mode of input.


I don't mind 3d engines on consoles at all, but I've always thought they were at their best with 2d games.

http://www.playdead.com/games/inside/

I guess driving games are ok, but many of those crossover into FPS.


Anyone else feel the same?

Reply Score: 2

RE[4]: under appreciated console
by ilovebeer on Wed 13th Jul 2016 15:51 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: under appreciated console"
ilovebeer Member since:
2011-08-08

2D games already made a comeback on cellphones. Some of them, Angry Birds for example, even found their way onto current game consoles.

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: under appreciated console
by WorknMan on Tue 12th Jul 2016 18:40 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: under appreciated console"
WorknMan Member since:
2005-11-13

Nobody wanted 2D games any more - lumpy textured polygons were more impressive to the general public than quality arcade conversions, and comparing the same 3D game on the PS and Saturn will quickly make your mind up over which one to buy.


I think that's too bad, as the 3D games at that time looked absolutely horrendous, and they certainly haven't aged well either. IMO, 3D was unleashed onto the public one generation too early.

Reply Score: 3

RE[4]: under appreciated console
by feamatar on Tue 12th Jul 2016 22:27 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: under appreciated console"
feamatar Member since:
2014-02-25

On a small CRT TV those games didn't look that bad. On LCD, I think an emulator is enough to pimp up these games to an enjoyable level(and many of them are truly enjoyable even today).

And I would argue that those early games were not only about the lumpy polygons. Even the early titles added a new level of gameplay(eg.: Ridge Racer, Ace Combat). I think the real problem was that it took some time to figure out the controls and the camera in action games.

Reply Score: 2

RE[5]: under appreciated console
by WorknMan on Wed 13th Jul 2016 20:18 UTC in reply to "RE[4]: under appreciated console"
WorknMan Member since:
2005-11-13

I guess they were novel at the time, but they're really hard to look at today. 2D games though don't seem to have this problem. I mean, when I fire up Galaga or Super Mario Bros, I don't think to myself, 'Man, that's ugly ...' the same way I do looking at 3D Saturn/PS1/N64 games.

Reply Score: 2

RE: under appreciated console
by FlyingJester on Tue 12th Jul 2016 17:21 UTC in reply to "under appreciated console"
FlyingJester Member since:
2016-05-11

One thing I find is that even people who don't like that many Saturn games still like the system, and enjoy the first party games at least.

The Sega systems after the Genesis have this feeling of being let in on a secret, and playing them makes you feel like a part of something special.

Reply Score: 1

Bill Shooter of Bul Member since:
2006-07-14

Yeah, Everyone I knew already blew their video game system budget on the 32x and sega cd additions for Genesis. It was only owned by those without a budget, or the more patient.

Reply Score: 2

Cool
by WorknMan on Mon 11th Jul 2016 23:33 UTC
WorknMan
Member since:
2005-11-13

I love videos like this that explain a bit how these machines work, even if I don't understand half of it ;) Here's David Crane talking about how he made Pitfall for the Atari 2600:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBT1OK6VAIU

If you know of any good videos of this type, pls post them.

Reply Score: 3

RE: Cool
by Vanders on Tue 12th Jul 2016 11:12 UTC in reply to "Cool"
Vanders Member since:
2005-07-06

Not a video but if you haven't read Racing The Beam you really should.

Reply Score: 2

Comment by FlyingJester
by FlyingJester on Mon 11th Jul 2016 23:42 UTC
FlyingJester
Member since:
2016-05-11

As someone who grew up with the Sega Saturn and spent many hours trying to master the "swap trick" completely unsuccessfully, this makes me so happy.

To be clear, it was to play copies of that games that I owned but got scratched or lost. I more lost or scratched copies of NiGHTS than I'd like to admit.

Reply Score: 1

This is very relevant to me..
by LaceySnr on Tue 12th Jul 2016 00:01 UTC
LaceySnr
Member since:
2009-09-28

speaking as someone who destroyed (utterly) a Sega System disc that belonged to a friend. One of the most sickening noises I ever heard was the sound of my desk chair rolling over that disc.

Reply Score: 3

Comment by Billyz
by Billyz on Tue 12th Jul 2016 07:36 UTC
Billyz
Member since:
2016-07-12

nice

Edited 2016-07-12 07:37 UTC

Reply Score: 1

test
by MatsSvensson on Tue 12th Jul 2016 13:19 UTC
MatsSvensson
Member since:
2010-07-09

Well did you keep your receipt at least?

Edited 2016-07-12 13:20 UTC

Reply Score: 1

ThomasFuhringer
Member since:
2007-01-25

Since I am not much into gaming I might miss something, but wouldn't it be better to invest all that effort into writing an emulator?

Reply Score: 3

Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

ThomasFuhringer,

Since I am not much into gaming I might miss something, but wouldn't it be better to invest all that effort into writing an emulator?


I agree, hardware is going to continue to deteriorate and be a barrier. There may be a small niche there, but an emulator is the only long term option for a wider audience to appreciate these old games. Some of his work might be helpful with building an emulator though.

Reply Score: 2

FlyingJester Member since:
2016-05-11

A big issue is that modern consumer computers are still not even close to powerful enough to fully and accurately emulate a system as complex as the Sega Saturn.

Reply Score: 1

Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

FlyingJester,

A big issue is that modern consumer computers are still not even close to powerful enough to fully and accurately emulate a system as complex as the Sega Saturn.


Are you sure? What's your reasoning?

I've never tried any of these, but it seems there were Saturn emulators dating back to 2005/2006 that supported some commercial games back then.

http://www.emulator-zone.com/doc.php/saturn/
http://www.zophar.net/saturn.html

My guess is that if someone bothered put in the time and effort, emulation on modern computers would work pretty well.

Reply Score: 2

FlyingJester Member since:
2016-05-11

Running one game is not so hard. Often running several games is not so hard for any emulator. There are many emulators that are 'good enough'. But that is a long shot from actually accurately emulating a system.

Look at SNES emulation. It 'worked' since the 90s, but it did not really work well. Many less common games wouldn't run at all, and people only really cared about Mario World, Zelda, and Donkey Kong. People say that SNES9x was accurate in the early 2000s, but may I remind you that it shipped all textures that all known games used in a specific format with the emulator itself, since it couldn't really decode the format.

At this point, consumer computers are just barely able to accurately emulate the SNES in realtime. Barely. Even then, it's possible to write a homebrew rom that will work on real hardware that will not on even Higan/bsnes (the only 100% accurate snes emulator in existence to this day) because it uses an optimization in scanline drawing. It's just that expensive to actually emulate hardware with that level of accuracy.

Sega Saturn emulation is still at the point where only a handful of specific games really work without any (noticeable) errors. But increasing accuracy requires increasingly expensive computations.

The Sega Saturn is also much more complicated still than the snes. Just because emulators are capable of not producing immediately noticeable issues with a certain subset of commercial games does not mean that they are accurately emulating the real hardware. And that is a far cry from being able to replace the real system.

Edited 2016-07-13 22:19 UTC

Reply Score: 1

Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

FlyingJester,

The Sega Saturn is also much more complicated still than the snes. Just because emulators are capable of not producing immediately noticeable issues with a certain subset of commercial games does not mean that they are accurately emulating the real hardware. And that is a far cry from being able to replace the real system.


If you want perfect processor emulation down to each individual instruction cycle, that is very difficult to replicate, I'll grant you that. So, if you require an exact authoritative implementation, then nothing will ever beat the original.

However most people honestly won't care at all about individual cycle level accuracy as long as the game they're running works well enough. IMHO modern processing power is more than adequate to do the job, it's just a matter of getting developers to work on it. No one is claiming it's easy.


Look at SNES emulation. It 'worked' since the 90s, but it did not really work well. Many less common games wouldn't run at all, and people only really cared about Mario World, Zelda, and Donkey Kong. People say that SNES9x was accurate in the early 2000s, but may I remind you that it shipped all textures that all known games used in a specific format with the emulator itself, since it couldn't really decode the format.


I think they supplied texture packs to get better graphics, not because they couldn't support the original. I know I've run many titles just fine without any texture packs in all their original pixelated glory ;)

Reply Score: 2

FlyingJester Member since:
2016-05-11

You run into two obvious issues by going with 'good enough'. You end up with romhacks and homebrews that do not run on the actual hardware, only on a certain emulator (this happened a lot on the SNES), and you end up with more obscure games simply never working, since the hacks required to make emulation fast and easy are incompatible with the accurate emulation needed to run all commercial games.

So then you must ask yourself why you want an emulator. If you want to play NiGHTs without getting a Saturn, just buy the $15 steam version. If you want to actually play "Sega Saturn Games", and all that entails, I find it highly unlikely any emulator will show up capable of this in the near future.

Reply Score: 1

Alfman Member since:
2011-01-28

FlyingJester,

You run into two obvious issues by going with 'good enough'. You end up with romhacks and homebrews that do not run on the actual hardware, only on a certain emulator (this happened a lot on the SNES), and you end up with more obscure games simply never working, since the hacks required to make emulation fast and easy are incompatible with the accurate emulation needed to run all commercial games.




I'm not disagreeing with you about these things. The Sega Saturn emulators may never get enough resources to achieve perfect emulation. It may never be more than good enough for the selection of software that the developers are focusing on. I think we are in agreement here.


The difference is that I think better emulation is held back by a lack of developers/engineers rather than a lack of modern computing power.

Just as a thought experiment: say we were starting from scratch, but instead of building a software emulator we were building a hardware clone (down to the VHDL chip logic level) without original chip designs and schematics. This allows us dismiss the performance argument altogether and focus just on the "perfection part". I still think we'd face very similar problems with respect to being able to guaranty a perfect clone in every single way. Unless you have a lot of resources to spend on the project, the hardware clone would most likely end up being "good enough", rather than absolutely perfect.


If we had a perfect clone with VHDL, it would probably be helpful in building a software based emulator as well. The logic is all there, it becomes an optimization problem.

Reply Score: 2

ilovebeer Member since:
2011-08-08

No. He never set out to emulate the Sega Saturn so why would pursuing a goal you're not trying to accomplish be better? If hacking old hardware and deciphering code is how he chooses to spend his time, no problem. I don't have to personally benefit from his efforts to think what he's been able to do is amazing.

Reply Score: 2