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Zerosquare

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Zerosquare    10
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General

What is it ?
It is a 4 megabytes reprogrammable Jaguar cartridge, also known as a "flash cart".

What is it used for ?
The main use is allowing homebrew developers to release cartridge versions of their games. It can also be useful to people who don't have an Alpine Board/Atari Flash Cart/Skunkboard, to run cartridge-based games or betas.

What's the point, since blank cartridge PCBs already exist ? / If this is meant for building cartridges, why make it programmable more than once ?
The whole point is price and availability. The standard blank PCBs need special EPROMs chips that are expensive and hard to find, whereas this new cartridge uses modern parts that are cheap and readily available. Since Flash memory chips (which can be rewritten many times) are now cheaper than EPROMs, we thought we might as well make it reprogrammable.

Are cart shells included ?
It will depend on what people want ; we have a way to get them for a reasonable price.

What is the current status of the project ?
Hardware has been finalized and shown to work. Software is being worked on, and prices are being negotiated with suppliers.

When will it be available ?
When it's done -- no hard schedule, sorry ;)

Does this mean the JagCF project has been cancelled ?
Not at all. These are separate projects with different goals. The JagCF is still being developed.


Pricing and ordering

How much does it cost ?
We don't know for sure yet, since it will depend on the sales volume (electronic parts can be much cheaper when bought in bulk), and we have yet to get a quote on the assembly (soldering and shipping costs. For information, for 10 boards, the PCB and parts alone add up to less than 15 € (approx $19). A cart shell adds a few euros.

How many units will you manufacture ? Do I need to preorder right now ?
No need to hurry -- we'll take preorders once we know the final prices. There won't be a limit on the number of carts either ; we'll manufacture based on the number of orders.

Will you ship worldwide ? Will you accept PayPal ?
Yes to both.

Can I get a discount if I buy several carts at once ?
Unfortunately, no. Our profit margin will be very low, so we can't afford to offer discounts.


Hardware and support software

How is it programmed ?
By plugging it into the Jaguar, connecting a BJL cable to the second controller port, and running a flashing program on a PC.

Will I need a BJL-modded Jaguar, a JagCD, or something else for this to work ?
No. The cart will include the necessary code for communicating with the PC (like the Skunkboard does), so you won't need anything apart from the BJL cable.

My PC doesn't have a parallel port to plug the BJL cable into. Why didn't you include a USB connector on the cart ?
Because USB is complicated to support, and would have made the price significantly higher ; since one of the project's goals was to make the cheapest design possible for large releases, we decided not to include it. At this time, the cart requires a parallel port, either built-in or on a PCI/PCIe/PCMCIA/PC Card/ExpressCard. We're currently working on adding support for USB-based parallel port adapters, but it is too early to confirm if it will work.

What operating systems are going to be supported ?
Windows (from 98 to 7) and Linux.

What about Macintoshes ?
If the support for USB parallel ports works (as Macs don't have a built-in parallel port), and if we can find someone to port and maintain the code, it may be possible.


Usage

Will betas / commercial games work on this device ?
First, an important note : commercial games are not officially supported, and respecting copyright and other applicable laws is the user's responsibility. We don't condone or accept any liability for any illegal usage of this device.
That said, technically, the cart has a lot in common with the Skunkboard, meaning that the expected compatibility is about the same : most games will probably work fine.

Can I use it to play BattleSphere / BattleSphere Gold ?
See above. (oh, and by the way : it has not been tested, but we have reasons to believe it will not work).

Can I use it to run BJL games ? To create a cartridge version of a BJL game ?
Yes, both uses will be supported.

Can I use it to run CD games ?
In general, no.

Do game saves work ?
Yes.


For developers

Is any unauthorized software list / unique identifier / copy-protection hardware... included ?
No, as these features would have made the cost higher (and we don't think they're very useful or effective, anyways). If you need them, we suggest using a Skunkboard or manufacturing your own carts.

I don't want my games to run on this device.
No problem. Contact us, and we'll give you technical information on how to detect the cart and block it.

Can it be write-protected once it has been programmed ?
Yes. The included communication code can be removed after use, and there is a solder pad on the PCB which prevents any writes to the flash memory if it's enabled. Keep in mind that a motivated used could reverse both of these operations, though.

In what ways is it different from a "real" cartridge ?
The main difference is that the bus is only 16-bit wide instead of 32, and that the read accesses are 5 cycles instead of 10 -- the same as the Skunkboard. The EEPROM for saves works just like the one in commercial cartridges. The header (from $800000 to $801FFF) is not available, as it is used for the PC communication code ; the MEMCON setup value is also different to account for the different bus width and read cycle length.

Is there a way to program a large number of those boards quickly ?
Not really. Putting the contents to be programmed on a CD and using the JagCD could be a solution, but it remains to be seen if it's actually faster, not to mention the JagCD's flaky reliability.

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Fadest    0

IIRC, Scatologic stated many times on JS2 that there is a protection in Battlesphere, preventing it from running from something else that original cartridge, so there is no reason to not believe them.

 

Btw, this is not the primary reason for this cartridge ;)

 

 

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Starcat    0

This is so amazing!! :) I ALWAYS wanted to develop games for cart and I will definately consider it in the future.

I wanted an affordable solution to create carts ever since I started on the Jag. This really is a dream come true. Hats off to the whole team. :)

 

A few questions:

Is there a way to detect individual flash carts, like an individual serial on the skunkboard?

Are there any plans for bigger carts? (4MB is awesome already, but if there was a way to get more like 6 or more it would be even better.)

So did I get it right that there is no limited run.. If I decide I want to release a game in a few years, I could get these carts? ;)

Thanks to fadest on Atariage, who already answered my question about "locking" carts after programming. :)

 

Also another thought, if you could find a way to get manuals and boxes printed, Jagware could become the new one-stop source to help developers create cart releases of their games. ;) Well, I'm just very excited at the moment. hehe.

 

Regards, Lars.

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Zerosquare    10
Also another thought, if you could find a way to get manuals and boxes printed, Jagware could become the new one-stop source to help developers create cart releases of their games. ;)
Maybe Matmook and Reboot can offer some advice there ? :)

 

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sh3-rg    6

Well I was really impressed with the Aircars 94 release Gaztee & co made, the packaging there was really good for that authentic Jaguar look.

 

I'm not sure how Reboot are going to go about that side of things just yet, knowing us we'll end up doing something non-standard that annoys as many people as it pleases ;)

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Tursi    0
Is there a way to detect individual flash carts, like an individual serial on the skunkboard?

 

Just read the flash serial number. This is also possible on Skunkboard. The datasheet for the flash chip will contain information on this.

 

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Starcat    0

Another question: The serial eprom to store savegames is the standard 128 bytes one, right? Are there any plans to add a higher capacity one?

I don't remember if it needs different code, but this was a topic discussed on the underground mailing list some years ago. Back then Matthias Domin also wrote a e2prom browser that supported higher capacities and few people modified their alpines with bigger savegame eproms.

 

I'm just thinking it might make sense. 128 bytes is not very much for more complex games.

 

Would it be possible to use a part of the flash memory to store savegame data, if a game doesn't require the whole 4MB? (of course in this case the cart can't be locked I guess)

 

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Zerosquare    10

Tursi : the Flash chip we're using doesn't include a serial number or any other unique identifier (we couldn't use the Atmel chip you used in the Skunkboard, because it is no longer manufactured).

 

Starcat : yes, the EEPROM chip is the standard 128-byte one. But compatible chips with the same pinout and sizes up to 2 kilobytes exist, and they're not very expensive. That means we could offer a version with more memory, if there is enough interest ; or maybe we could only manufacture this version, if the standard Atari EEPROM code is compatible with larger devices (I don't know what happens in this case, we'll have to test it).

 

Larger (up to 128 kilobytes) EEPROM chips also exist, but they're not directly compatible, so it's not something we will look into unless there is considerable demand.

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Starcat    0

@Zerosquare: That's great news. I would really like the option of a 2k eeprom, as it would allow more complex savegames, even user levels for example, if a game supports it. You could take a look at Matthias' site at: http://www.mdgames.de/je2prombrowser.htm to see what is required to acces larger e2proms or if they are compatible. :)

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Matmook    1
Starcat : yes, the EEPROM chip is the standard 128-byte one. But compatible chips with the same pinout and sizes up to 2 kilobytes exist, and they're not very expensive. That means we could offer a version with more memory, if there is enough interest ; or maybe we could only manufacture this version, if the standard Atari EEPROM code is compatible with larger devices (I don't know what happens in this case, we'll have to test it).

Atari's EEPROM code is done for using only 64 word (63 Data + 1 CRC) !

So It should not be very hard to modify the code if the read/write method for both EEPROM type is the same ... I think and I hope so old games could be flashed on the cart with a functionnal save... :unsure:

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Zerosquare    10

I've checked the EEPROMs' documentation, and it appears that the 2 kilobytes ones are not directly compatible with the 128 bytes ones, after all :(

 

The problem is that I thought all of them had the same number of address bits, and that higher bits were just ignored for smaller devices. But it's not the case : the number of address bits to send depends on the size of the EEPROM. It's easy to fix in new programs, but it means that older games won't work with larger EEPROMs.

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Tyrant    0

Since all original games had to use Atari's eeprom code, would it be possible to write a tool that scans a rom, finds the eeprom code (if it's always the same source it should compile to the same binary) and replaces it with a compatible one for the new chip?

 

Or just make the general commercial release use the 128b eeprom, and have the 2k one available for developers doing bulk releases.

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Zerosquare    10
Since all original games had to use Atari's eeprom code, would it be possible to write a tool that scans a rom, finds the eeprom code (if it's always the same source it should compile to the same binary) and replaces it with a compatible one for the new chip?
Yes, it should be possible. Thanks. I'll look into that.

 

Or just make the general commercial release use the 128b eeprom, and have the 2k one available for developers doing bulk releases.
That's another option in case the solution above doesn't work for some reason.

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Tursi    0
Tursi : the Flash chip we're using doesn't include a serial number or any other unique identifier (we couldn't use the Atmel chip you used in the Skunkboard, because it is no longer manufactured).

 

Ah, interesting. We knew it was out of production, but it's not too hard to get still. We were shopping around for parts two weeks ago. :)

 

You could just burn it into the BIOS like we did if your users demand it.

 

Any of you guys near Paris? I'll be out there next week. ;)

 

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Zerosquare    10
You could just burn it into the BIOS like we did if your users demand it.
Yup, but there's no real protection forbidding anyone from reflashing it with anything. So I think it would be pretty pointless.

 

Any of you guys near Paris? I'll be out there next week. ;)
Neither SCPCD nor I are, unfortunately, but maybe someone else from Jagware will be ;)

 

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Fadest    0
Any of you guys near Paris? I'll be out there next week. ;)

I live near Orléans (a little more than 100 km from Paris).

Maybe we could try to schedule something during the week-end ?

When will you be in France ?

 

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Since all original games had to use Atari's eeprom code, would it be possible to write a tool that scans a rom, finds the eeprom code (if it's always the same source it should compile to the same binary) and replaces it with a compatible one for the new chip?

 

Or just make the general commercial release use the 128b eeprom, and have the 2k one available for developers doing bulk releases.

 

Most binaries in original carts are compressed, so this won't work for all. I'd have to say, if possible, make two versions. If thats not possible, just make the 2k version. Who wants to flash Checkered Flag anyway? :)

 

 

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Tursi    0
Yup, but there's no real protection forbidding anyone from reflashing it with anything. So I think it would be pretty pointless.

 

It's statements like that which make people think you guys are condescending -- I offered something I'd already done as a suggestion, and your response is that it is a pointless thing to do - implying that I wasted my time. I'm sure you didn't mean it that way.

 

While there's nothing stopping people from reflashing the Skunkboards either, people appreciate the fact that the boards are serialized -- both the content creators and the users like it. It's a silly little thing, yes, but if people like it, what the hell, eh? So far as I know, nobody's bothered to write a new BIOS for the Skunkboard either. ;)

 

I live near Orléans (a little more than 100 km from Paris).

Maybe we could try to schedule something during the week-end ?

When will you be in France ?

 

Leaving in 6 hours, be there in 24 or so. I'll be there through the 23rd, I think it is, staying near the Moulin Rouge. Will try to check back if I have internet access out there. ;)

 

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Starcat    0

@ Zerosquare: There is one thing I may have misunderstood in the first post, when you were refering to pricing.

for 10 boards, the PCB and parts alone add up to less than 15 € (approx $19)

 

Did you mean to say for 10 boards, each one would costs ~15 Euro? (+ shell, manufacturing etc?)

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