Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Another World, a.k.a. Out of this World - Versions of a Classic



European Title

Another World, a.k.a Out of this World, was developed by Eric Chahi on an Atari ST and Amiga with music by Jean Francois-Freitas of Delphine Software, a French software company.  This game was released as Another World in Europe for the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST by U.S. Gold.  It was released in North America by Interplay for all platforms except the Sega Genesis and CD, which were released by Virgin Interactive.


North American Title
In this article, I intend to compare the various versions of this game.  I will give screenshots of the opening level for each version.  Some versions of the game support more than one graphics mode.  I have not included screenshots for the Macintosh (I have no experience with Macintosh emulators) or the 3D0 (ditto).  All screenshots are presented in their natural, unfiltered and non-aspect ratio corrected resolutions.



I.  Commodore Amiga and Atari ST


Commodore Amiga
Use 320x200 active pixels.  ST has a slightly darker palette than the Amiga.  No more than 16 unique colors are used for any given screen.

Atari ST
The Atari ST version runs somewhat slower than the Amiga at the stock speeds of the respective computers (8MHz ST vs. 7.16MHz Amiga).  Although the Amiga and ST share the same CPU, the 68000, the Amiga has far more advanced graphics and sound hardware than the ST.

Atari ST and Amiga support one-button joysticks.  The jump is activated by pressing up on the joystick, just like Prince of Persia.

Pressing "c" on the keyboard brings up the password screen.  With the Amiga and ST versions, putting in the code for the first level (EDJI) may be the only way to skip the introduction.

The game can be installed to a hard drive on the Amiga.  The ST version comes on double-sided disks (single sided disks were more common).

This game uses a code wheel for copy protection.  There is only one code wheel and it works for all versions of the game.  You may enter the symbols in any order, but you must successfully pass the code wheel protection twice to play the game.  If you fail the protection on the Amiga or ST, the game will hang.

How can you tell if someone is playing the Amiga or ST versions?  There is a little scorpion walking across the first level.

Amiga/ST Password Screen
Atari ST only has sound effects for the introduction and ending.  It seems as though the Atari driver could only handle one digitized sound stream at a time.  Music is heard when Lester looks out over the alien city in the second level.  The lack of music makes the ending seem especially eerie.

All versions of the game use a password save system.  The Amiga and ST use different passwords for the game than the later versions, twelve levels are available.

Amiga Cinemascope Mode

Amiga Vertical Mode
The Amiga has three special graphics modes available, "Cinemascope", "Vertical" and "High Resolution", selectable by pressing F2, F3 and F4, respectively.  Cinemascope uses a 640x200 resolution, stretching the graphics horizontally.  Vertical uses a 320x400 resolution, stretching the graphics vertically.  I believe that the "High Resolution" mode uses a 640x400 resolution.  WinUAE does not seem to display it correctly, so I am not including it here.  The 400-line modes should be interlaced, leading to flickering on real hardware.









II.  MS-DOS & Macintosh


MS-DOS VGA
MS-DOS supports VGA, EGA and Tandy 16-color graphics.  The palette is much more limited in the EGA and Tandy modes, but the resolution is always 320x200 in the DOS version.

MS-DOS EGA/Tandy
Out of this World for DOS supports Sound Blaster, Adlib, Pro Audio Spectrum, PC Speaker and Disney Sound Source, all at either 10 kHz or 5 kHz.  It also supports the Roland LAPC-I and CM-32L (and compatibles with a Roland MPU-401 interface), but not the MT-32 or MT-100.     It only uses the 33 extra sound effects found on the LAPC-I and CM-32L and music is not played.  Another World supports all of the above except the Pro Audio Spectrum and LAPC-I/CM-32L.  It will complain if an Expanded Memory Manager is loaded, as it could have an impact on the game's performance.  However on a 486, this should not be an issue.  The game supports digitized music through the PC Speaker or Adlib, but these are noisy and quiet options compared with the Sound Blaster, PAS or DSS.

DOS supports a two-button joystick, with attack/run on one button and jump on the other button, just like Super Mario Bros.  I strongly recommend using a digital joystick like the Gravis Gamepad for this game.  I could not get the joystick functionality to work correctly on my 486DX2/66 with a non-speed adjustable gamepad like those found on a Sound Blaster or Sound Blaster Pro and the 10KHz Sound Blaster or Disney Sound Source options.  No amount of speed-adjustments elsewhere worked.  When I used my Sound Blaster 16's joystick port, the problem went away without having to play with speed options.

Copy Protection
In DOS, failure to input the correct codewheel code will freeze the game after the third failed attempt, use Alt X to exit the game.   There are legitimate copies of the game for DOS which do not have the copy protection.  If the game came on a CD or cannot be played off the floppy disks which came in the box (using a compression-based installer), then it should not have copy protection.

The scorpion in the first level is absent from the DOS and later versions.

Lester's yell when he swings on the vine in the first level (without the beast chasing him) is heard in the DOS version but not in later versions.

MS-DOS Password Screen
The DOS and later versions use different passwords from the Amiga & ST, and fifteen levels are available.  This was done by Chahi to address complaints that the game was too short in the Amiga and ST versions.

The Macintosh port was a contemporary of the DOS port and uses a 640x400 graphics window.  If your machine is too slow for that, it can also do 320x200, 480x300 or 512x364.  The main benefit to the higher resolutions is that the polygon graphics look less aliased (less jaggy).

There are a couple of really tough spots in the game, most of which were added to the DOS version :

After you escape from the cage, you get to an elevator. You have to go down and into a small room to disable an electrical panel. In the Amiga/ST versions, the room is otherwise empty, in the DOS version, there is a guard there. The guard is very quick and you must shoot the moment you leave the elevator room or he will kill you.

When you are rolling around in the ducts, in the Amiga/ST version, harmless steam spews out at certain points. In the DOS version, the steam will kill you.  You must time your movements to get past the steam when it is not blowing.  This is in addition to choosing the correct path to avoid falling to your death.

The caves are full of difficulties, from the falling rocks, to the tentacles on the ceiling and the pit traps to avoiding drowning after you release the water.  The laser, fully powered up, can kill the ceiling tentacles.

Just after the caves, there is an corridor where you have to fight one guard on each side, and it is difficult to maintain your shields and charge up your gun to kill both guards before one gets you.

When you have to return to the caves, now flooded, an extra screen and pit traps were added to the DOS version in the area where you have to disable an electrical circuit.  A running jump is necessary to get back into the water.

Immediately after the sequence were the guards are destroying multiple gates to get at you, in the Amiga/ST version you go straight to the tank. In the DOS version, two extra levels are added where you have to rescue your alien friend twice.

The tank in the arena requires you to push more buttons in the DOS than the Amiga/ST version to activate the escape pod.  It does not seem like the enemies can destroy the tank, in the Amiga/ST version, but in the DOS version you will have to be pretty quick or the enemies will kill you.

III.  Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Apple //gs

The Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo versions of this game are ports of the DOS version.

Sega Genesis
The Genesis version uses the 256x224 (NTSC) resolution, even though the system can support 320x224 resolution graphics.  The gameplay is in a 224x176 pixel window, however.

The SNES version uses the 256x224 (NTSC) resolution, and it does not support a 320x224 resolution.  The gameplay is in a 224x160 pixel window.
Super Nintendo
The Genesis version allows you to input a code on the start menu or when you die.  It uses the YM-2612 FM synthesis chip to recreate the original music by Freitas instead of digitizing it like on the SNES.  The SNES, Genesis and the Apple //gs have an in-game text prologue with a journal entry from Lester.  All contain extra music from Charles Deenen or Tommy Tallarico.  While I understand that the music was trying to enhance the danger and suspense of the game, it is not really in keeping with the otherworldiness of the Freitas music.  Of Freitas' music, only the piece in the introduction remains, the short piece where Lester looks over the alien city and the ending music have been replaced.  Blood has been removed, and the red slobber in the tentacles has been replaced with green.  The nude alien girls have had their butt cracks virtually eliminated.

Apple //gs 16mm "Full Screen" Mode
Due to the compromises in the SNES version, there are loading times before viewing the intro and for each level, up to ten seconds.  This is virtually unheard of in a cartridge game of this era.  Unlike the Genesis version, you can only input a code on the game's start menu.  I have noticed one slight gameplay difference in the SNES version.  When you climb out of the pond, the first two screens to the left have these lethal slug creatures.  In the Amiga, ST, DOS and Genesis versions, 3 slugs will appear or drop on the first screen and 7 on the second.  In the SNES version, two slugs will appear on the ground on the first screen and two or three will appear on the second, but none will fall from the ceiling.

Apple //gs 35mm "Matted" Mode
The Apple //gs version is hard drive installable and ported from the SNES.  It requires an accelerator to get the game running at full resolution, and supports three lower resolution modes for those who are running a stock 2.8MHz CPU or not much faster.

While these versions have a journal entry just after the title screens, the earlier versions had virtually the exact same journal entry in their game manuals.

Apple //gs 70mm Widescreen Mode
Apple //gs Television Mode
The Apple //gs has four graphics modes, selectable when the game is booted.  The ideal mode is the 16mm mode, which uses the ordinary 320x200 pixels.  The next best mode is the 35mm (matted) mode.  This mode is squished vertically and uses 320x152 pixels.  The third available mode is the 70mm widescreen mode.  This stretches the image horizontally for 640x192 pixels.  The final and least detailed mode is the Television mode, which uses a 160x192 mode.  Using the most detailed mode requires an accelerated Apple //gs, at least 8MHz.



V.  Sega CD, 3D0


Sega CD
The Sega CD version is called Heart of the Alien : Out of this World I & II.  This includes Out of this World and Heart of the Alien, and apparently had no Another World European counterpart.  The game loads to a game select screen where you can choose either game.  For Out of this World, the introduction movie immediately begins.

This version has enhanced music and sound effects, the music being done by Freitas this time.  The load times are very reasonable.  Some of the sound effects, like the beast's growl, are not quite as good as the original Amiga/ST versions.  Unlike the Genesis version, the Sega CD version runs in the 320x224 resolution, but the graphics only occupy 304x192 pixels.  The graphics, however, are not shrunk, merely cropped.  This was probably done to limit the issues with overscan on TVs, not due to performance.  The extra music is far more complimentary to the game than the cartridge versions. It plays like the Genesis version, so you will get all the dropping slugs in the first level.

Once the game ends, the sequel, Heart of the Alien, will begin.  I will not say more about that game except it is so frustrating that it can drive one to violence, even with savestates.  Chahi had no involvement in the game, and it lacks his fine sense of difficulty and pacing.  The alien is much more difficult to control, and there are evil timing puzzles and pixel-perfect moves required.  While Out of this World retains the censorship of the SNES and Genesis, Heart of the Alien is far from censored and the game was originally rated MA-13.  Overall, if you have to play a console version, the Sega CD is the one to play.

It is well-known that the 3D0 version eliminates Freitas' music entirely and uses redrawn backgrounds with more detail.  Chahi approved of neither change, feeling the backgrounds gave too much detail and did not work well with the polygon character models.  What may not be so well-known is that the ending has been extended.  The alien returns Lester to the ruins of his village, and once there the alien recalls how his village was attacked and he was captured.  This same sequence is used, more or less, in the Sega CD version, but Heart of the Alien is not included in the 3D0 version.

V.  Windows 3.1 and 15th Anniversary Edition

I do not have access to the Windows 3.1 version, but I read that its very similar to the DOS version.  It may use MIDI music, however.  Nor do I have access to the Symbian and Power PC ports, any of the unofficial, non-commercial ports, or the iPhone, Android & iPad 20th Anniversary editions.  As I find the translation of joystick to touchpad controls to be a waste of time, I do not believe I will be trying them.

The 15th Anniversary Edition was released in 2006 and is compatible with Operating Systems from Windows 98 to Windows 7.  It offers enhanced backgrounds (redrawn to 1280x800), higher resolution polygon graphics and an enhanced sound track, but these options can be turned on and off individually.  It can run in a slow or fast mode.  It supports resolutions from 640x480 to 1920x1200 and maybe beyond.  It also supports joysticks and gamepads with redefinable keys.  It uses the Prince of Persia and Super Mario Bros. styles of control.  In other words, you can press Up or Button 2 on your gamepad to jump.

You do not have to turn any of these options on, so if you leave them off you essentially have virtually the same game as the DOS version, although it almost certainly sounds superior.  The aspect ratio is always 1.6:1, regardless of resolution used (black bars being used to keep the aspect ratio).

The game supports many more save points than the original, and will automatically keep track of all the levels you unlock, making passwords mostly superfluous.  There are three passwords for the first level alone.  I only played the demo version, but I may buy this even if only to use the high-resolution images for my desktop.  This was developed by Chahi, and seemingly represents his ideal vision for the game, both classic and modern.  The music was remastered by Freitas.

Windows 15th Anniversary Edition

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Industry Standard Atari-Style Joystick

In 1977, Atari released its Video Computer System (VCS), which later became known as the Atari 2600.  Its was the third programmable home video game system, following the Fairchild Video Entertainment System, later restyled the Fairchild Channel F, and the RCA Studio II.    It was the first system with a detachable game/joystick ports.  It used 2 DE-9 screwless male joystick ports at the back of the system.  These ports were double-duty ports, they supported either one joystick or a pair of paddles.  Because this was the first implementation for digital joysticks and worked simply, other manufacturers also used the design, sometimes adding to it.

Joystick

The Atari 2600 CX-40 Joystick is a box with a stick in the middle and a fire button on it.  The stick provides directionals and sits on top of four switches, Up, Down, Left and Right.  The button also sits on top of a switch.  When the stick is in the center, no contact is made with any of the directional switches.  The button rests on a spring and only makes contact with its switch when pressed.  When a directional or the button is pressed, a circuit is completed with the common or ground line and the button or directional line.  The console can then determine which switches were pressed by reading a particular memory location.   These are strictly digital controllers.  Diagonals can be represented by two closed directional switches.  The canonical pinout is here :

1 2 3 4 5
 6 7 8 9

1 - Up
2 - Down
3 - Left
4 - Right
5 - Not Connected
6 - Button
7 - Not Connected
8 - Common Ground
9 - Not Connected

This joystick pinout is explicitly followed on the Atari 2600, all Atari 8-bit Computers, the Commodore VIC-20, 64 & 128.

Paddles

The Atari 2600 CX-30 Paddle Controllers are a pair of boxes with a dial knob and a button on each.  The paddles are attached via a Y-type connector to a common DE-9 female connector.  Each dial sits on the stem of a 1000kOhm (1mOhm)  potentiometer.  On the side is a pushbutton with a spring to keep the switch from always making contact.  The potentiometer is supplied with +5v and provides a resistance value in a resistor-capacitor network.  For this reason, these are also called analog controllers.  The system can tell the position of each knob by measuring the time it takes for a capacitor to charge and discharge.  The more resistance, the long the capacitor takes to charge, and vice versa.  Each pushbutton is a switch which connects the ground line when pressed, functioning in the same way as the Left or Right directional on a joystick to the console.  The pinout is as follows :

1 2 3 4 5
 6 7 8 9

1 - Not Connected
2 - Not Connected
3 - Paddle 1 Button
4 - Paddle 2 Button
5 - Paddle 2 Potentiometer Output
6 - Not Connected
7 - Common +5v
8 - Common Ground
9 - Paddle 1 Potentiometer Output

This paddle pinout is explicitly followed on the Atari 2600, all Atari 8-bit Computers, the Commodore VIC-20, 64 & 128.  However, Commodore paddles use 470kOhm potentiometers.

Fairchild Channel F System II Hand-Controllers

The original Fairchild console had two hard-wired hand controllers, but the System II uses DE-9 connectors at the console for the hand controllers.  The Hand-Controllers were unique control devices, with a hand grip and a triangular knob on the top.  This knob could be pushed in any of the four directions like a joystick, pushed down and pulled up for the equivalent of buttons and twisted to one side or the other like a paddle.  However, this device is a strictly digital controller, even with the twisting and push/pulling motions.  Thus, except for the twisting, more conventional controllers can easily be adapted for the System II.  This also demonstrates the limit of the DE-9, for without multiplexing only eight digital inputs from a joystick are possible.

1 - Twist Left
2 - Twist Right
3 - Pull Up
4 - Push Down
5 - Right
6 - Up
7 - Down
8 - Left
9 - Ground

Magnavox Odyssey²

The early consoles had two hardwired controllers, in the later consoles they were detachable.  The two ports support digital joysticks, and they function the same, but the wiring is different :

1 - Common Ground
2 - Button
3 - Left
4 - Down
5 - Right
6 - Up
7 - Not Connected
8 - Not Connected
9 - Not Connected

Coleco Colecovision

Two ports, but each controller has one button on each side and a 12-button numberpad.  When in joystick mode, the functionality is identical to the Atari joystick, and the left button is used.  When in numberpad mode, the number keys and the right button can be used.  The inputs function as a matrix for the numberpad. Pin 5, +5v/Ground, from the console selects the mode which it will use.  A Colecovision game can therefore use Atari joystick if it does not require the numberpad functionality.

Texas Instruments TI/99 4A

The TI/99 4A uses one DE-9 connector to support two digital joysticks.  There are two separate ground lines on this connector, one for each controller.  In addition to a Y-adapter, the pinout is non-standard :

1 - Not Connected
2 - Joystick 2 Ground
3 - Up
4 - Button
5 - Left
6 - Not Connected
7 - Joystick 1 Ground
8 - Down
9 - Right

Atari 7800

Two ports, supporting joysticks or paddles.  In 7800 games, Pin 6 registers the Right button and Pin 9 the Left button.  Pin 7 must provide +5v for the 7800 controller to work correctly.  If a 2600 style controller is connected, its button will register both buttons to a 7800 game.  This system was officially released with a stick controller (Proline) in the U.S. or a gamepad in Europe.

Sega Master System

Two ports, the Master System uses a D-pad style gamepad controller like the NES, but pad is more of a square shape.  Two buttons on each controller.  Functions identically to the Atari 2600 joystick but uses pin 9 for the second button.  Although Sega Genesis controllers are easier to find, these are almost certainly the most compatible gamepad style controllers for the older systems, and they do not have a chip inside them.

Atari ST

All Atari ST and STe systems support two joystick ports, calling the two ports Port 0 and Port 1.  Port 0 supports either a joystick or mouse, while Port 1 is strictly for joysticks.  With a Joystick, only the strict Atari Joystick functionality is officially supported.  However, the Left Mouse button corresponds to Button 1, so it is not beyond reason that a controller like the Master's System's could be seen as the Right Mouse button, as Pin 9 is used for it.  Atari STe machines also have two HD-15 ports which Atari Jaguar controllers can plug into.

Commodore Amiga

The Amiga has two joystick/mouse ports.  It can support two mice, two joysticks, or one of each.  The joysticks support a second button on pin 9 like the Sega Master System and Atari 7800, but this was kind of unofficial as Commodore's official sticks (designed for their 8-bit machines) only had one button.  Some games do support two button joysticks.  Button 1 and 2 use the same pins as the Left and Right mouse buttons.

Sega Genesis/Mega Drive

The ordinary crescent shaped gamepad has a circular shaped D-pad and four buttons.

Pin 1 - Up
Pin 2 - Down
Pin 3 - Left/Ground
Pin 4 - Right/Ground
Pin 5 - +5v
Pin 6 - Button B/ButtonA
Pin 7 - Ground/+5v*
Pin 8 - Ground
Pin 9 - Button C/Start

Pin 7 activates a multiplexer chip inside the gamepad to enable the pad to support more than eight inputs.  The input before the / is when Pin 7 is ground and after the / is the input when Pin 7 is +5v.  It was designed for future expansion, as the standard pad only provides eight inputs.  These pads work on the Master System, (Button B = Button 1, Button C = Button 2), except for certain games.  They also work on earlier machines which support strict Atari-style joysticks.  If you wire pin 7 permanently to ground, you should be able to fix any incompatibilities with SMS games.

On the six-button controller, Pins 1, 2 & 3 also correspond to Buttons Z, Y & X.  I am uncertain how well a six button controller works with older systems.

Amstrad PC-1512/1640, CPC 6128

Only one port in Amstrad's machines.  Two buttons are supported, with Pin 7 given to the second button.

The original Covox Sound Master PC sound card supported a pair of DE-9 for Atari-style joysticks, it is unknown whether they support a second button.

Sinclair ZX Spectrum

The Spectrum had no joystick ports built-in, but one or two could be added through the expansion connector.  There were several popular yet software incompatible interfaces on the market, including the Kempston (most popular), the ZX Interface 2, the Protek and other Cursor interfaces and the Fuller Audio Box.  Spectrum and Fuller support two ports, the rest support one port.  Wiring is standard.

Sinclair ZX Spectrum +2/+3

Two joystick ports, but pin wiring is completely different :

Pin 1 - Not Connected
Pin 2 - Ground
Pin 3 - Not Connected
Pin 4 - Button
Pin 5 - Up
Pin 6 - Right
Pin 7 - Left
Pin 8 - Ground
Pin 9 - Down

MSX, Sharp X68000

Almost identical to the Atari standard, except supports button 2 on pin 7 and the ground is on pin 9.  Pin 8 functions as an output pin from the computer.  

FM Towns/Marty

Completely different pin arrangement.  Supports four buttons : Button 1, Button 2, Run and Start.  Diodes are used to make Start the equivalent of pressing Up and Down at the same time and Run is the equivalent of pressing Left and Right at the same time.  

Pin 1 - Not Connected
Pin 2 - Right
Pin 3 - Left
Pin 4 - Down
Pin 5 - Up
Pin 6 - Ground
Pin 7 - Not Connected
Pin 8 - Button 2
Pin 9 - Button 1

Covox Sound Master

This was an early IBM PC compatible sound card that never caught on and was only supported in a handful of PC games.  It does have two DE-9 ports that are supposedly Atari-compatible, which do not function anything like a typical PC joystick.

Apple IIe, Enhanced //e, //c, //c+, //gs

Not compatible with digital joysticks, but has many similarities with paddles when connected.  One female port on back of computer.  Also shared with mouse on the //c & //c+.  150kOhm potentiometers are used.  Button 3 is almost never used, and even though four analog inputs are supported only one pair of paddles are intended to be connected at a time.  Apple paddles are hard to find.  A two-button analog joystick was the more common device connected.

Pin 1 - Button 2
Pin 2 - +5v
Pin 3 - Ground
Pin 4 - Paddle Input 3
Pin 5 - Paddle Input 1
Pin 6 - Button 3
Pin 7 - Button 1
Pin 8 - Paddle Input 2
Pin 9 - Paddle Input 4

Incompatible DE-9 Joysticks

The 3D0 may use a DE-9 gamepad, but it uses a serial interface with a Data and a Clock line. Ditto for Famiclones and NESclones.  The Milton Bradley Vectrex has an analog stick with four pushbuttons, but the analog stick functions as a voltage divider and thus is not quite compatible with the Atari-style analog paddles.  The Mattel Intellivision II had detachable DE-9 ports, but that controller uses an 8-bit binary code to signal the state of the 16-position disc, 12-button numberpad and 3 buttons.  

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Krikizz Mega Everdrive : The Ultimate Sega Genesis/Mega Drive Flashcart

Nintendo fans have had products like the NES PowerPak and SNES PowerPak.  These cartridges allow the user to play game ROMs on real hardware.  They use flash media to store the games, and the cartridge hardware lets the user select a game from a file system and start the game.  Prior to the PowerPak, most devices were from the 90's and used floppies or CD-ROMs to store the games or were development carts.  These methods were often slow, not very compatible and the devices were hard to find and expensive to boot.  The NES PowerPak will play virtually any licensed or unlicensed non-Japanese game, and there are only two dozen games that the SNES PowerPak will not play due to the extra hardware contained in certain carts.  (The SD2SNES has the capacity to emulate some of that hardware).

The first modern device that allowed multiple saves on a flash cart for the Sega Genesis was the ToToTek MD Pro.  This will support multiple games, but the flash storage is on the chip and is a maximum of 64Mbit.  At 64Mbit you would be able to fit Sonic 1, 2 3 & Sonic & Knuckles, but not much else.  Like other older devices, it uses a parallel port to transfer games onto the flash memory.  It also supports games that have battery-backed save ram (S-RAM).

Krikzz has released a range of flash carts.  One of his first products was the Everdrive MD.  This improved on the earlier MD Pro by using SD cards to load the games.  Unlike the earlier device, save games are stored on the SD card, not on real battery backed S-RAM.  It also supports Sega Master System games, the MD Pro does not, and has a pause button soldered onto the top of the PCB for the SMS pause function.   Some games, like Alien Syndrome, Bomber Raid, Great Volleyball, Montezuma's Revenge, Penguin Land,
Shanghai, Tennis Ace, Where in the World is Carmen San Diego and Wonder Boy in Monster Land will require a true Sega Master System controller to work properly.  You can find IPS patches to fix these games here : http://krikzz.com/forum/index.php?topic=1203.0

Even with the Everdrive MD, there was room for improvement.  The use of flash memory to store a game during gameplay meant that when you want to play a new game, the flash chip must be erased and reprogrammed.  This can take close to a minute for larger games.  Additionally, the flash chip is only good for a limited number of writes, so the 10,000th time you write a game, it could permanently fail.   However, that is the minimum number of write cycles for a modern flash chip, so the chip may be able to handle many, many more writes.  It would take a very long time to write to the chip so many times that the chip would fail. Finally, to flash a firmware update required special JTAG hardware.  Users would be left out of new features and compatibility fixes unless they sent their cart to someone who had the hardware to reprogram it.

Krikzz released the Mega Everdrive last year to address several of these issues.  He used an Altera Cyclone II FPGA to drive the board and its functions, and there is still room for more features.  Updates to the OS firmware are as simple as copying a new OS file to a subdirectory on your SD card.  It does not have separate firmware requiring a JTAG Altera Byte Blaster to flash.  More importantly, games are run off RAM, not flash, so write cycles are no longer and issue and load times are extremely fast.  It has a slot for regular size SD and micro-SD cards, although extracting the latter when the PCB is fitted inside a cartridge shell would be tough.  It has a USB port for development purposes.

The downside to this is that the Mega Everdrive costs twice as much as the Everdrive MD.  In addition, for either device you will need an SD card and a cartridge shell to protect the PCB.  I used a fairly common game, but not a good one.  I peeled off the label and used Goo Gone to remove the sticky stuff.  Thorough wiping down and cleaning the plastic is also required.  A drill and a dremel are ideal to cut into the plastic top, but I used an X-Acto knife and a pair of pliers to cut the holes.  You will need to cut 3 holes, one for the USB connector, one for the reset button and at least one for the SD card.  A 4.5mm gamebit is necessary for opening the shell, of course.

My Mega Everdrive's Cart Shell, Hacked to Bits by Yours Truly
So, having cut the cartridge shell, what does one do to get up and running?  It is incredibly easy, first format an SD card using regular FAT.  A 1GB card will be sufficient for all US Licensed games.  Then download the OS (MEGAOS.BIN) file from Krikizz and put it in a folder on the root of the card named \MEGA.  At this point your cart will work on a Genesis/Everdrive and is ready for games.

With SD Card, Ready for Gaming Goodness!
For ROMs, I recommend using the No-Intro sets.  They are comprehensive and contain only verified dumps unless no good dump is known.  A good dump is a dump of a game cartridge that has been verified multiple times by multiple people.  The GoodSets from Cowering are useful to supplement these ROMs.

Sega Genesis/Mega Drive ROMs in the No-Intro sets have the .md extension.  Mega Everdrive has a few issues like Phantasy Star IV and some other games not saving and Super Street Fighter II' not loading with the ROM having an .md extension, so I would strongly recommend using a file renamer program to rename the file extensions to .bin.  With a .bin extension, those games work perfectly.  (This may no longer be an issue with the most current OS).  Whether .md, .gen or .bin, a Sega Genesis ROM is a straight binary dump of the contents of the cartridge ROMs.

The Mega Everdrive supports Sega Master System roms without a Power Base Converter, and the button on top acts like a SMS pause button.  Files should have an .sms extension (these are also straight binary dumps).  It also supports 32x cartridges if you have the Sega 32x addon.  These cartridges should have a .32x extension.  However, SMS games will not work if a 32x is in between the cartridge and the console.  Some SMS games don't like it when a Sega CD is attached either and should only be used in a Model 1 or 2 Genesis or Mega Drive system.  The ROM file size for a Sega Master System game must be a strict power of 2, (128KB, not 129KB like a NES game).  

This is the first screen from which you can use the cartridge, takes less than 10 seconds with a TMSS Genesis
Krikizz has made a few improvements over bunnyboy's PowerPak.  First, the menu system allows you to scroll by page, making it easier to use subdirectories with more folders.  The text is much easier to read on the Mega Everdrive than it is on the SNES PowerPak.  Of course, the Genesis used a 320x224 resolution vs. the SNES's 256x224, so more characters can be displayed on a single line.  Additionally, the Mega Everdrive creates save files, the PowerPaks required blank save files with the proper names.

Each subdirectory lists games like this
Important features of the Everdrive include the MEGAKEY options.  This allows you to to change the region of your Genesis/Mega Drive without having to solder a switch onto the console's PCB.  It does not work with some ROMs like Streets of Rage III or Golden Axe III, as they use advanced methods to detect the console region.  On early carts like Streets of Rage, you can see the Japanese title screen, Bare Knuckle, by using this option.

The cartridge also has support for savestates, something that took years for the PowerPaks to even begin to approach.  The functionality is not perfectly compatible, but some games (Sonic 1 & 2) really needed a password or battery backed save system.  It also supports Game Genie and Pro-Action Replay codes.  It only works with Genesis/MegaDrive games 4MB or less.

Official Genesis games can be 5MB, 4MB, 3MB, 3.25MB, 2.5MB, 2MB 1.5MB, 1.25MB, 1MB, 768KB, 640KB, 512KB, 256KB, 128KB, exactly (only US games included here).  This includes Sonic + Knuckles combos.

Just one more button press...
The device supports loading a different Mega CD BIOS so discs from other regions can play.  For those few CD games that use the 32x, you will need a region appropriate 32x.  The Sega CD + 32x games are all awful FMV games.  The cartridge will act like a CD RAM cartridge, so Sega CD games can save their games as intended.

Early non-licensed games from Electronic Arts & Acclaim, Budokan, Ishido : Way of the Stones, Onslaught, Populous and Zany Golf work just fine in my TMSS console (motherboard VA6), since the Mega Everdrive passes the TMSS detection when the console is turned on.  Ordinarily, the US cartridges of these games will fail to load in a TMSS system, with the exception of a licensed Zany Golf cartridge.  European cartridges of Populous and Budokan are licensed and work fine in an NTSC Genesis.  Also, if you press reset after turning the power on, you will not see the TMSS screen unless you were playing a Sega Master System game.

Sonic & Knuckles can work as a standalone ROM, or in combination with Sonic, Sonic 2 or Sonic 3.  Just use the approriate ROM that combines the code for Sonic & Knuckles with one of the other ROMs.  Note that for the Sonic & Knuckles + Sonic 2 combo, you need the ROM from the GoodGEN set with the filename "Sonic and Knuckles & Sonic 2 (W) [f1].bin".

And voila!  Just don't forget to press reset before turning the system off to save your games
Unlike an Everdrive MD, the game will not remain in memory when the system is turned off, and you need to press the reset button to allow saves to be written to the SD card.  This requires some self-training.  There is a new version of the Mega Everdrive, v2, which has a battery to power the SRAM chip.  This will allow the console to write the save to a file even if it is powered down.  It will write the file the next time the console is turned on.

A reset will not bring you back to the title screen but to the Mega Everdrive main menu.  Unfortunately, X-Men requires you to press the reset button lightly to initiate a soft reset and get past Mojo's World.  The current solution to this problem is hit reset, go back to the Mega Everdrive's menu, and input the Game Genie code which will allow you to start on the next stage.

Onslaught also uses the reset feature in a strange way.  In order to obtain a password, you must press press reset during gameplay or at a game over screen, and the password will appear on the title menu after the game reboots itself.  This will obviously not work in the Everdrives for the reasons stated above, but Onslaught is a craptastic game, whether on the Amiga, Atari ST or the Genesis and it is difficult to imagine anyone wanting to play it a second time.

As of OS v10, has a reset to game option, so you can run X-Men and Onslaught as they were intended.

The Mega Everdrive does not support Virtua Racing, as that cartridge had special advanced 3-D polygon processing hardware called the Sega Virtua Processor.  Unless and until this is emulated, this ROM will not run.  There is a 32x ROM of Virtua Racing that runs with a 32x.  J-Carts (with two extra controller ports built into the cartridge) from Codemasters,  Pete Sampras Tennis#, Pete Sampras Tennis 96, Micro Machines 2, Micro Machines 96, Micro Machines Military Edition, and Super Skidmarks will not support players 3 & 4.  I believe that all the J-Cart games were released with and without the J-Cart attachment.

# - Only J-Cart game released outside Europe

The Mega Everdrive cannot coexist with the Sega 3-D Glasses, so Master System games that require or support the 3-D Glasses will not work in 3-D.  The 3-D Glasses require a card slot, which is only available on a Power Base Converter in 16-bit Sega land.  The Mega Everdrive will not work with a Power Base Converter in between the cartridge and slot.  Also, since you are running Master System games on a Genesis, F-16 Fighting Falcon will not work and some games will require a Master System controllers and peripherals.  You can find patches for the ROMs of games which will not work with a Genesis controller here : http://krikzz.com/forum/index.php?topic=1203.0

There has been discussion of using the Mega Everdrive to emulate a Sega Mark III FM Sound Unit YM-2143 sound chip, nothing has yet come of it.  You can play the snail maze game, built into the BIOS of the early Master Systems, with the appropriate ROM.

Finally, the last weakness of the Mega Everdrive v1 and the Everdrive MD is that it does not support games which save to EEPROM.  This should be all the licensed commercial Sega Genesis/Mega Drive games that use EEPROM, but this list is not intended to be comprehensive.

Bill Walsh College Football
Blockbuster World Video Game Championship II
Brian Lara Cricket
Brian Lara Cricket 96
College Slam
Evander Holyfield's Boxing
Frank Thomas Big Hurt Baseball
Greatest Heavyweights of the Ring
Honoo no Toukyuuji Dodge Danpei
John Madden Football 93
John Madden Football 93 - Championship Edition
Megaman - the Wily Wars/Rockman MegaWorld*
Micro Machines 2 - Turbo Tournament
Micro Machines 96
Micro Machines Military
MLBPA Sports Talk Baseball
NBA Jam
NBA Jam TE
NBA Jam TE (32x)
NFL Quarterback Club
NFL Quarterback Club 96
NHLPA Hockey 93
Ninja Burai Densetsu
Rings of Power
Shane Warne Cricket
Wonder Boy in Monster World/Wonder Boy V - Monster World III

* - One version of the Japanese ROM exists that uses S-RAM, the other uses EEPROM.

While support for EEPROM saves may eventually come, Krikizz has indicated firmly that he will not add support for Pier Solar.  While the game has been dumped, it uses EEPROM in a unique way that Krikizz will not support so as not to encourage piracy.  The game checks for the existence of the EEPROM and will not work if it is not found.  For the other games, most have been hacked to change the save type to battery backed S-RAM.  Use GoodGen, currently at version 3.21, to find them.  I believe the [f1] or [f2] indicates the game has been fixed for saves.  Some only have an [h1C], [h2C] or [p1] etc. I believe this indicates the rom has been hacked to work in an old-style copier or in a pirate cartridge.  They should run but they may not be able to save.  NBA Jam and NBA Jam TE 32x are the only two games confirmed not to have fix or hack available. NBA Jam will at least play without the EEPROM, and if you really want to save, loose carts are as common as they come (or you can try the savestate feature).  The pirate Rings of Power ROM may not be able to save, unless the savestate feature works.  The MegaEverdrive v2 has support for EEPROMs, but has not been comprehensively tested outside Wonder Boy.

Since I have an NTSC machine, the Micro Machine ROMs will run too fast.  I don't care about sports games, so the only good games left in English are Mega Man and Wonder Boy, and they have fixes.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Godzilla on Disc - Criterion Blu-ray vs. Classic Media DVD

Godzilla was a big success when it was released in its native Japan in 1954, and one of the first elaborate special effects movies made in Japan since the end of World War II.  When it was released overseas, it was retitled Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, dubbed, cut and new footage of Raymond Burr "interacting" with the Japanese actors was added to make the film more marketable to Western audiences.  Outside of Japanese expatriate communities and in Asian countries, this was the version seen throughout the world beginning in 1956 and just about ever since.

The original Japanese version did make appearances in art-houses in 1982 and 2003.  The first time I saw Godzilla, King of the Monsters was on TV on TBS back in the late 1980s.  The first time I saw it on film it was in 2004 and it was the subtitled Japanese version.  The American version had been released many times on VHS and twice on DVD without the Japanese version.  These DVD versions (Scimitar, 1998; Classic Media, 2002) have long been considered inferior.  All you ever probably ever need to know about them can be found here : http://www.tohokingdom.com/dvds.htm


Specifications

I.  Gojira / Godzilla (Classic Media)

Released on September 5, 2006.  Two DVDs.

This was the first time the Japanese original was released in North America.  I own the DVD release.  DVD1 has Godzilla (labeled Gojira), DVD2 features Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (labeled Godzilla).  Aspect Ratio is 1.33:1.  Out of Print in single release shown above, but available as part of The Godzilla Collection (2012) with the other good Classic Media Godzilla DVD releases.  The DVDs, sans booklet, are available in a new reissue with a new cover :



Special Features :

Making of Godzilla Suit Featurette
Godzilla Story Development Featurette
Audio Commentary by Steve Ryfle & Ed Godziszewski
Trailers for Godzilla & Godzilla, King of the Monsters (DVD1 & DVD2, respectively)
"Godzilla's Footprint" by Steve Ryfle (Booklet discussing Making of the Film)

Released on September 22, 2009.  One Blu-ray disc.

The Blu-ray release uses an unnatural 1.47:1 picture frame, as the film was shot in the Academy Ratio of 1.37:1.  Only the Japanese original was included.  The Special Features from DVD1 are included (in Standard Definition), but the Booklet is not.  The Blu-ray is single layered.  The main feature uses a 1080i resolution.

You can purchase these discs from Amazon through these affiliate links :

Blu-ray :

Gojira [Blu-ray]

DVD :

Godzilla King of the Monsters


II.  Godzilla (Criterion Collection)

Released on January 24, 2012.  Two DVDs or One Blu-ray disc (separate packages).

This is the only other authorized release of the Japanese original in North America.  I own the Blu-ray (as do most other people who buy Criterion releases these days).  Both the DVD and Blu-ray offer Godzilla and Godzilla, King of the Monsters!.  The DVD presumably offers Godzilla on DVD1 and Godzilla, King of the Monsters! on DVD2.  The Blu-ray is dual-layered and both films are presented in 1080p.

Special Features (virtually all in 1080i):

Interview with Akira Takarada (Ogata)
Interview with Haruo Nakajima (Godzilla)
Interview with Yoshio Irie & Eizo Kaimai (Special Effects Technicians)
Interview with Akira Ifukube (Composer)
Special Effects Photographic Featurette
Interview with Japanese Film Critic Tadao Sato
"The Unluckiest Dragon" - Audio Essay about the Fukuryu Maru incident
Audio Commentary of David Kalat on Both Godzilla and Godzilla, King of the Monsters!
Trailers for Godzilla & Godzilla, King of the Monsters
"Poetry After the A-Bomb" by J. Hoberman (Booklet discussing History behind Film and Themes)

You can purchase these discs from Amazon through these affiliate links :

Blu-ray :

Godzilla (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]


DVD

Godzilla (The Criterion Collection)


Video & Audio

There is no real comparison.  The Criterion Blu-ray shows a sharper image and shows far more detail than anything from Classic Media.  Both use a mono soundtrack, so there is no "tampering" with the soundtrack.  The soundtrack on the Criterion has been praised as bringing out the elements which have been buried under a layer of hiss and muffled sound.  Classic Media's releases are interlaced, which is easily noticeable when watching the movie on a computer monitor.  Criterion is not.

Here are screenshots from Classic Media's release : http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/Gojira-Blu-ray/5496/ and Criterion's release : http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/Godzilla-Blu-ray/31499/#Screenshots.  The Classic Media's image is stretched out, lacks detail and suffers from an overuse of DNR.  Criterion's image is sharp, but a tad dark in Godzilla's scenes.  I would adjust the brightness and contrast a little if you wanted to make out more detail for those scenes.  The clarity of image and sound is a noticeable improvement from Classic Media's DVD.

The Criterion includes the Transworld logo on Godzilla, King of the Monsters, which has not been seen on an official DVD release since the Scimitar disc in 1998.  Classic Media does not, and while the audio is there, the image where the logo would be is black.  Apparently Classic Media added three digital transitions in Godzilla, see here :  http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film/dvdreviews20/godzilla_dvd_review.htm

The subtitles on Classic Media are yellow and on Criterion they are white.  Note that Classic Media defaults to the subtitles being on, the Criterion default is off.  Criterion translates more of the opening credits than Classic Media.  Classic Media fails to give the credit for Akira Takarada!  However, neither provides a full credit translation.  There are forty-eight lines in the credit scroll with Kanji characters, each naming a different person.  Translating or transliterating the lesser-known names who worked on or acted in this film may not give accurate results, especially in comparison to some other variation of that person's name elsewhere in literature.  The Criterion booklet seems to give credits for all the production crew and almost all the cast, including all the major players.  (Toho's crediting policy apparently was to provide a credit for just about anyone with a speaking role at the time).  The translations are different.

Packaging

Classic Media had a very striking packaging for its time.  The image of Godzilla rising out of the sea, with the blood-red lettering, is instantly eye-catching.  Someone had the bright idea to use a picture of the real full-body suit, not a publicity shot with one of the inferior clay models.  The title would have been better as "Godzilla" in the large lettering and "Gojira" in small caps.  The backing is very sturdy, it feels like the cover of a hardcover book.  The sleeve is a little annoying.  However, this fits extremely well with Classic Media's later Godzilla releases.

Criterion uses a thinner cardboard material, and has a sleeve that encloses all but one side of the Blu-ray tri-fold.  When you open up the tri-fold, Godzilla's head pops out the top.  The artwork is original, but the pop-up seems a combination of the Heisei and Millenium era Godzillas, and the art on the exterior of the tri-fold seems taken from Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah, Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (a stupid title if ever there was one).  The booklet takes adapts some publicity stills.

Special Features

Unless price is the sole factor that will determine your purchase (Criterions always sell at a premium, but currently as of June 8, 2014 the price is very reasonable), both discs have unique features.  The features may be a little sparser on the Classic Media, but that company was testing the waters with the first quality production of Godzilla.  Moreover, features were planned to span the entire library to which Classic Media had rights.  Moreover, they did not want to pay Toho for the rights to use the special features on Toho's Region 2 DVD releases.  Criterion came up with different special features, as with maybe one exception (Akira Ifukube's interview), Toho's special features on its Godzilla DVD/Blu-ray are not to be found in the Criterion disc.

Both discs provide commentary for Godzilla and Godzilla, King of the Monsters.  David Kalat had previously provided commentary for Classic Media's release of Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster.  Kalat wrote "A Critical History and Filmography of Toho's Godzilla series" which has had two editions.  The price dissuaded me from buying it when it was in print, and now it is Out of Print.  Ryfle wrote "Japan's Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of "The Big G".  I own this book and it is a a reasonably comprehensive look at Godzilla's history until the end of the Heisei era; its now Out of Print.  Godziszewski wrote "The Illustrated History of Godzilla", a book that has long been Out of Print (observing a common theme with serious Godzilla books here?)  Ryfle and Godziszewski provided commentary for other Classic Media Godzilla DVDs.  The commentary for the original Japanese Godzilla can also be found on BFI's Region 2 Godzilla DVD.  The Classic Media DVD is very useful for people who do not own Ryfle's book, and I would assume the same could be said for Criterion and Kalat's book.

Both commentaries cover much of the same ground.  Ryfle includes audio interviews from people like Terry Morse Jr., son of the director for the American footage of Godzilla, King of the Monsters! and others instrumental in bring Godzilla to the U.S.  Kalat discusses certain cultural issues surrounding the film.  I would recommend starting with Ryfle's commentary, then proceeding with Kalat's since the former is more geared to the kaiju novice.