You might be wondering why anyone would build device to dump Sega Genesis and Mega Drive cartridges. Perhaps they want to play their well-worn copy of The Lost Vikings on their phone, or they want to keep their QVC Limited Edition Maximum Carnage box set in near mint condition. Maybe. But we’re betting that [tonyp7] was just looking for a challenge, and as an added bonus, the world gets another cool open hardware gadget in the process. Sounds like a good deal to us.
Based on the ATmega324PB, the GenDumper can take those dusty old Sega cartridges and back them up to an image file on your computer. Right now the hardware depends on a Windows program, but according to the documentation, [tonyp7] is working on a platform-agnostic Python script so everyone can play along. What you do with the image file after you’ve dumped it is your business, but presumably loading it up in an emulator would be the next step.
Considering how easy it is to find ROMs for these old games online, do you actually need a GenDumper of your own? Probably not. But it’s still an interesting piece of hardware, and if you look close enough, you just might learn a thing or two from the design. For example, [tonyp7] shows how a relatively easy to work with 12 pin USB-C connector can be used on your USB 2.0 projects to embrace the new physical connector without diving into a full USB 3.0 implementation. The keen-eyed reader might also note there’s a lesson to be learned about finalizing the name of your project before sending off your PCBs for manufacturing.
A perusal of the archive uncovered a similar project from 2012 that, believe it or not, was also tested on a copy of Madden 96. Whether that means the game is so beloved that hackers want to make sure its preserved for future generations, or so despised that they are secretly hoping the magic smoke leaks out during testing, we can’t say.
For those who grew up with video games, the legendary sounds of consoles past are an instant nostalgia hit. [Thea Flowers] first got her hands on a gamepad playing Sonic the Hedgehog, so the sounds of the Sega Genesis hold a special place in her heart. Decades later, this inspired the creation of Genesynth, a hardware synth inspired by the classic console. The journey of developing this hardware formed the basis of [Thea]’s enlightening Supercon talk.
[Thea’s] first begins by exploring why the Genesis sound is so unique. The Sega console slotted neatly into a time period where the company sought to do something more than simple subtractive synthesis, but before it was possible to use full-waveform audio at an affordable price point. In collaboration with Yamaha, the YM2612 FM synthesis chip was built, a cost-reduced sound engine similar to that in the famous DX7 synthesizer of the 1980s. This gave the Genesis abilities far beyond the basic bleeps and bloops of other consoles at the time, and [Thea] decided it simply had to be built into a dedicated hardware synth.
It always sounded a bit crunchy, but crunchy in a good way. SEGA’s 16-bit console, whether you call it the Genesis or Mega Drive, always had a unique sound thanks to it’s Yamaha YM2612 sound chip. The chip’s ability to reproduce shredding guitars and blasting bass drums was a joy to hear when placed in the hands of capable game developers. Games such as Toe Jam & Earl, Streets of Rage 2, and Sonic the Hedgehog 3 provided some of the most incredible game soundtracks of the ’90s; and while the retail shelf life of those games may have passed, their influence on sound design should not. One individual that is seeking to preserve that quintessential SEGA sound is [Artemio] whose MDFourier project seeks to capture it for future generations to hear.
MDFourier is a crowd sourced project. Users are asked to use two pieces of software to first generate common audio through a videogame console, and another to analyze the output as to form an audio signature of that machine. Of course SEGA were not always known for their stellar manufacturing record. Throughout the dozen or so board revisions of the Model 1 console there were factory bodge wires, there was also the Model 2 console, Model 3 console, Nomad handheld, Mega Jet, CDX/Multi-Mega, and Wondermega karaoke machine. Each new revision of machine created a slightly new soundscape, and no single piece of emulation software takes them all into account. [Artemio] wants to aggregate all of this data in order to improve SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive emulators, FPGA implementations, or whatever else the future may hold.
Fans of the suite of SEGA consoles, or even fans of great documentation, can take a look at some of initial results as well as the written procedure for contributing to the MDFourier project. For those seeking a more visual step-by-step approach there is this video from YouTube channel RetroRGB below: If you’d like that Sega sound for your MIDI instrument, take a look at this MIDI synth using a Genesis sound chip.
There’s plenty of juicy reading material here. There are palette hacks to produce high-quality greyscale images, rendering tips to produce the smooth 3D rendered sequences, as well as optimizations to create the best possible sample playback using the onboard YM2612 sound chip. It’s a tour de force of development, and it’s astounding to look behind the curtain to see just what can be achieved.
The Sega Genesis, or Mega Drive as it was known outside North America, was a popular console for the simple fact that Sega did what Nintendidn’t. Anachronistic marketing jokes aside, it brought fast scrolling 16-bit games to a home console platform and won many fans over the years. You may find yourself wanting to interface with the old controller hardware, and in that case, [Jon Thysell] is here to help.
[Jon] has done the work required to understand the Sega controller interface, and has shared his work on Github. The interface is an interesting one, and varies depending on the exact console and controller hardware used. The original Master System, with its D-pad and two buttons, simply uses six pins for the six switches on the controller. The 3-button Genesis pad gets a little more advanced, before things get further complicated with the state-machine-esque 6-button pad setup.
[Jon] helpfully breaks down the various interfaces, and makes it possible to interface them with Arduinos relatively easily. Sharing such work allows others to stand on the shoulders of giants and build their own projects. This nets us work such as [Danilo]’s wireless Genesis controller build. By combining the knowledge of the Sega protocol with a few off-the-shelf Arduinos and Bluetooth parts, it makes whipping up a wireless controller easy.
Chiptune is a musical genre built upon the creation of music through the use of chip-based sound synthesizers, found in early game consoles. The Commodore 64’s venerable SID chip and the Game Boy Sound System are the by far the most popular on the scene. However, the Sega Genesis took a different path at the end of the videogame chipmusic era, packing a YM2612 FM synthesis chip to deliver fat basslines and searing solos. [Thea] has always been a fan of these electric 90s sounds, and thus decided to build the Genesynth.
The synth initially allowed only for playback of existing video game scores, but its capability has been expanded as [Thea] took the project from breadboard to protoboard to custom PCBs – with anime artwork, to boot. The synth uses a Teensy 3.5 as the brains, speaking USB to enable the synth to receive MIDI commands from music software. All parameters are exposed over the interface, and [Thea] has several videos showing the Genesynth under control from an Ableton Push.
The sound capabilities of the YM2612 are of an entirely different character to most chiptunes, by virtue of the FM synthesis engine. FM synthesis is a little less intuitive then classical additive synthesis, but we still see it crop up now and then.
During the 80s and 90s it seemed like Japan got all the good stuff when it came to videogames. In the US there were consoles called the NES, the TurboGrafx-16, and the Genesis. While in Japan they had cooler names like: the Famicom, the PC Engine, and the Mega Drive. The latter was incorporated into a plethora of different form factors, including the little known IBM PC/Mega Drive combo known as the Sega Teradrive. Finding a rare Japanese 1990s PC stateside is a feat in and of itself, and thanks to an electronics hobbyist named [Ronnie] there is at least one Teradrive out there still running strong thanks to an upgraded CPU mod.
In theory, the Sega Teradrive was a dream-machine; combining the utility of an IBM PC with the fun of a Sega Mega Drive. The dual functionality extended to the video modes where both VGA and composite video were supported. However, the reality was that the final design was less than desirable. The Teradrive shipped in 1991 with an Intel 80286, 16-bit processor which was already two processor generations behind at the time. The meager 10Mhz clock speed was on the lower end of the performance spectrum which meant that many DOS titles ran poorly…or not at all.
Not satisfied with those specs, [Ronnie] modded his Teradrive with an adapter board containing an Intel 80486 processor clocked at 66Mhz. The upgrade, accompanied with a complete re-cap of the motherboard, brings the IBM PC to 486DX status. This opened up a few new possibilities including the Thundercats Demo in the video below: