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> Cheap cartridges for developers and gamers
Zerosquare
post 15 Sep 2010, 18:49
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CITATION(Tursi @ 15 Sep 2010, 09:33) *
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.

CITATION(Tursi @ 15 Sep 2010, 09:33) *
Any of you guys near Paris? I'll be out there next week. wink.gif
Neither SCPCD nor I are, unfortunately, but maybe someone else from Jagware will be wink.gif


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Fadest
post 15 Sep 2010, 20:36
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CITATION(Tursi @ 15 Sep 2010, 09:33) *
Any of you guys near Paris? I'll be out there next week. wink.gif

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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Cyrano Jones
post 16 Sep 2010, 02:13
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QUOTE (Tyr of the Arcana @ 15 Sep 2010, 00:35) *
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? smile.gif

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Tursi
post 16 Sep 2010, 06:42
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QUOTE (Zerosquare @ 15 Sep 2010, 09:49) *
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. wink.gif

QUOTE (Fadest)
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. wink.gif
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Starcat
post 16 Sep 2010, 15:25
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@ Zerosquare: There is one thing I may have misunderstood in the first post, when you were refering to pricing.
QUOTE
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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Zerosquare
post 16 Sep 2010, 17:46
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CITATION(Tursi @ 16 Sep 2010, 07:42) *
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.
Not at all, I think we misunderstood each other there smile.gif

There's something I'm not sure I understand. Do you have an independent serial number in the BIOS in addition to the flash chip unique number ? I thought you used the flash chip number only, since it identifies the hardware directly and it's hard to counterfeit. Or maybe the BIOS number is generated from the flash chip number in some way ?

I should have been more clear in my reply. The crux of the matter is that your Skunkboard and our flash cart have different design philosophies, and things that are justified for one of them may not be so for the other :

If I'm not mistaken, the Skunkboard is primarily a development tool. Serialized Skunkboards make sense because the hardware supports it natively, and this feature can be useful for developers who want to release betas versions to a few persons, without the risk of their game being released without their consent.

On the other hand, our cart has been designed as a way for developers to make it easy to release cartridge games. We added support for using it as a "generic flash cart" because it didn't cost anything extra, but it's not the primary use, and it's not really intended as a development tool either. Reflashing will probably be slower than on the Skunkboard (because it uses parallel port communication instead of USB, and I think the flash chip we use takes longer to erase -- I'll have to compare the datasheets), and the Skunkboard's USB port is definitely more convenient.

One of the consequences is that we never intended to support serialization, and the design choices reflect that. The flash chip doesn't include a serial number, and there is no safe place to store a self-created unique number. Of course it would be possible to include one in the BIOS, but :
- it wasn't designed to be secure, so anyone can overwrite it. We may even release the source, which makes security-by-obscurity pretty moot.
- it wasn't designed to be protected, or even present : developers may want to write the standard header (or their own code) in this area. Additionally, it can be corrupted / erased if the flashing process fails for some reason, such as power loss (and sector locking is not possible, because we'd like to be able to use both "top-boot" and "bottom-boot" devices, as stocks of both variants tend to fluctuate). This means that even in "normal usage", it's easy to end up with the serial number being erased, with no way of knowing what it originally was.

To sum it up, while serializing is useful for the Skunkboard, I don't think it's relevant for our flash cart. And I prefer no to offer it at all, instead of using a implementation I consider flawed smile.gif
But if developers really want this feature, we could implement it.


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Zerosquare
post 16 Sep 2010, 17:47
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CITATION(Starcat @ 16 Sep 2010, 16:25) *
Did you mean to say for 10 boards, each one would costs ~15 Euro? (+ shell, manufacturing etc?)
Yes. 1.5 euro per board would be nice, but unfortunately, there's no way we can get those prices biggrin.gif


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« Soit A un niveau d'absurdité, il existe un post N tel que... » – Azrael et al., 2006
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Starcat
post 16 Sep 2010, 20:32
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Hmm, isn't there a way to get cheaper prices when ordering more parts at once, like doing a bigger runs? Maybe it would be possible to ask developers and collect orders to get lower prices?

I'm just saying this because as thrilling as these news are, even if I had a new release ready, it's really a lot of money a developer would have to put into production of a cartride run without knowing how much he'll sell.
While CD games are not as cool, not as relieable and you reach less people, but at least they are really low-cost and can be done on demand, so you don't loose as much money on a release.


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- The gothic fantasy Novel and Graphic Adventure Game for Dreamcast, Jaguar, PC
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Zerosquare
post 16 Sep 2010, 21:18
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Yes, in reality the prices will be lower, because we will be manufacturing much more than 10 cartridges. The price I gave above is a maximum smile.gif

We know it can add up to a lot of money in total. One solution is to ask for prepayment, or at least a money deposit, for preorders. That way you'll know how much persons are going to order, and you'll have some money from the start smile.gif


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Cyrano Jones
post 17 Sep 2010, 00:41
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QUOTE (Zerosquare @ 16 Sep 2010, 18:46) *
But if developers really want this feature, we could implement it.


Not something we'd ask for. We use Skunkboard for development, this will be for distribution. As you say, different end goals, different designs smile.gif

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Starcat
post 17 Sep 2010, 10:43
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QUOTE (Zerosquare @ 16 Sep 2010, 22:18) *
Yes, in reality the prices will be lower, because we will be manufacturing much more than 10 cartridges. The price I gave above is a maximum smile.gif

We know it can add up to a lot of money in total. One solution is to ask for prepayment, or at least a money deposit, for preorders. That way you'll know how much persons are going to order, and you'll have some money from the start smile.gif


That's true. smile.gif
Still, it may be worth a thought (if you didn't already intend to do this), to collect orders from multiple developers at the beginning to see how the prices will be.
Maybe it could be discussed in an ordering forum thread or so, when the time is there.

Of course you are right, I could also ask for preorders and then only produce as many carts of a game, as were preordered. smile.gif

Anyway, regarding the savegame eeprom, if you consider this, I'd vote for the idea of having "developers carts" with 2k serial eeprom so our games can make use of larger savegames.


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Tursi
post 17 Sep 2010, 12:05
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Thanks Zero, that actually makes a lot of sense. Published carts have no real need of a serial number. The flash cart feature could have it painlessly, though I see your reasoning for not doing it.

Fadest, successfully here in Paris, though it'll be a couple days till I am settled. Not sure how complex meeting would be and I wouldn't want you to drive an hour each way just for a lunch meet. wink.gif But up to you.
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Starcat
post 18 Sep 2010, 18:05
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@Zerosquare: I just got an idea. You said, in a way the new cart works like the skunkboard. There has to be code to pass the encryption and later start the actual rom image on the cart, right?
Is a BJL Jag required to flash data to the cart, or could a function to upload code to the Jag's ram or the flash cart be added (when a certain button combo is pressed on boot up for example), so that you don't need a BJL Jag, but just the BJL cable?
I'm just thinking if it's not much trouble and doesn't add extra cost, it may be a cool feature.

That way any Jag could act as BJL Jag. wink.gif Maybe even add a Jagtopia feature (if reboot agrees to this), while you're at it wink.gif
Just an idea. smile.gif



--------------------
"Starcat" Lars Hannig
Author & Game Designer (B.Sc.)
http://www.larshannig.com

Eerievale
- The gothic fantasy Novel and Graphic Adventure Game for Dreamcast, Jaguar, PC
http://www.eerievale.com
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Zerosquare
post 18 Sep 2010, 18:34
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The "BJL emulation" part is already planned. Check the FAQ for details wink.gif

I thought about the CD-bypass feature too ; I'm not sure if we'll have enough space to include it (we only have a few kilobytes for the code), but if we can we'll do so smile.gif


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« Soit A un niveau d'absurdité, il existe un post N tel que... » – Azrael et al., 2006
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Fadest
post 19 Sep 2010, 10:45
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CITATION(Tursi @ 17 Sep 2010, 13:05) *
Fadest, successfully here in Paris, though it'll be a couple days till I am settled. Not sure how complex meeting would be and I wouldn't want you to drive an hour each way just for a lunch meet. wink.gif But up to you.

Unfortunately, it will be very hard for me to come to Paris during working week, especially now that my sons sport activities have started again...
It would have been a pleasure to meet you, but I hope we will have another occasion.
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Cyrano Jones
post 20 Sep 2010, 07:19
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QUOTE (Zerosquare @ 18 Sep 2010, 18:34) *
The "BJL emulation" part is already planned. Check the FAQ for details wink.gif

I thought about the CD-bypass feature too ; I'm not sure if we'll have enough space to include it (we only have a few kilobytes for the code), but if we can we'll do so smile.gif


Chat on IRC smile.gif
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alexh
post 24 Sep 2010, 15:34
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Expressing and interest. If you need any help with HDL, electronics, sourcing parts etc. just ask as I develop hardware for a living.
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Cyrano Jones
post 25 Sep 2010, 02:28
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Bare minimum Jagtopia requires just over 2k - including the BIOS smile.gif

I'd be more than happy to donate the code to this project if it helps to stop the sale of crazy overpriced CD Bypass carts on ebay and other sites.
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Zerosquare
post 26 Sep 2010, 21:24
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AlexH : as a matter of fact, my job is designing hardware too, so I think I'll manage. But thanks for the help proposal anyways wink.gif

CJ : thanks, I'll definitely include your bypass code.


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Daniele
post 1 Oct 2010, 20:28
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QUOTE (Zerosquare @ 12 Sep 2010, 18:59) *



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 wink.gif

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.

-When you can order?
-With the cartridge and 'THE INSTALLATION including the driver?
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