An Open Hardware Sega Genesis Cartridge Dumper

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.

MDFourier Project Seeks The Genesis Of SEGA 16-bit Sound

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.

Sega Mega Drive model 1 motherboard. (Bertram, Wikimedia Commons)

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.

Continue reading “MDFourier Project Seeks The Genesis Of SEGA 16-bit Sound”

Full Motion Video And 3D Graphics Make This Genesis Demo Pop

The SEGA Genesis (aka Mega Drive) was launched at the tail end of the 1980s, bringing a new level of performance to the console world. At the time, 2D graphics ruled the roost, outside a few niche titles here and there. Decades later however, the demoscene continues to work in earnest. The Red Eyes demo is a great example of what can be done when pushing the Genesis hardware to the limits.

The demo features full motion video and an impressive 3D sequence. It’s quite a feat to pull this off with the limited resources of the Genesis platform. [Remute], [Kabuto] and [Exocet] have laid their secrets bare in a technical document, describing in explicit detail how it’s all achieved.

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.

If you’re thinking about tinkering with the Genesis yourself, you might find it useful to have a dev kit on your bench. Video after the break.

Continue reading “Full Motion Video And 3D Graphics Make This Genesis Demo Pop”

How To Interface Sega Controllers, And Make Them Wireless

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.

In this day and age, most console controllers can be readily interfaced with a PC with a variety of simple solutions – usually USB. You might feel like trying something harder though, for instance interfacing modern Nintendo controllers to a C64. Video after the break.

Continue reading “How To Interface Sega Controllers, And Make Them Wireless”

Putting The Sega Teradrive Into Overdrive

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.

Sega Teradrive Motherboard CPU

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:

Continue reading “Putting The Sega Teradrive Into Overdrive”

Sega Genesis Chiptunes Player Uses Original Chips

If you were a child of the late 1980s or early 1990s, the chances are you’ll be in either the Super Nintendo or the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive camp. Other 16-bit games consoles existed, but these were the ones that mattered! The extra power of the Nintendo’s souped-up 16-bit 6502 derivative or the Sega’s 68000 delivered a gaming experience that, while it might not have been quite what you’d have found in arcades of the day, was at least close enough that you could pretend it was.

The distinctive sound of consoles from that era has gained a significant following in the chiptunes community, with an active scene composing fresh pieces, and creating projects working with them. One such project is [jarek319]’s Sega Genesis native hardware chiptune synthesiser, in which music stored as VGM files on a MicroSD card are parsed by an ATSAMD21G18 processor and sent to a YM2612 and an SN76489 as you’d have found in the original console. The audio output matches the original circuit to replicate the classic sound as closely as possible, and there is even some talk about adding MIDI functionality for this hardware.

The software is provided, though he admits there is still a little way to go on some functions. The MIDI support is not yet present, though he’s prepared to work on it if there was enough interest. You really should hare this in action, there is a video which we’ve placed below the break. Continue reading “Sega Genesis Chiptunes Player Uses Original Chips”

The Sega Mega Drive Dev Kit

segaWhile most homebrew video game development has focused on the original NES, Atari consoles, and has produced a few SNES games, there is another console out there that hasn’t seen much love. Sega’s classic console, the Genesis or Mega Drive, depending on where you’re from, was an extremely capable machine with amazing capabilities for its time. [Chris] figured the Mega Drive would make a good target for an all-in-one development kit, and with a lot of work he managed to put one together.

The standard cartridge for the Genesis or Mega Drive is just a simple ROM chip wired directly into the console’s address space. [Chris] took a cheap FPGA and some dual port ram to create a seamless interface between the modern world and the inside of this ancient console, allowing him to load every Mega Drive game off an SD card, as well as use modern tools to modify old games, or even create new ones.

To demonstrate his dev kit, [Chris] took a copy of Sonic 1, and using the debugger and GDB, gave himself infinite lives. It’s a very cool demonstration, searching through all the commands executed by the Megadrive CPU with the standard Linux debugging tools.Going through the trace, [Chris] found the instruction that decremented that value representing Sonics lives, replaced it with NOPs, in effect giving himself infinite lives. This is a lot like how the Game Genie works, only using much, much better tools.

Of course a USB dev kit wouldn’t be much use if it could only modify existing games. The real power of [Chris]’ work comes from being able to develop your own demos, games, and homebrew apps.

[Chris] needed to write a small homebrew Mega Drive app for the ROM loader portion of his dev kit using SGDK. Disassembling his own code with the dev kit, he was able to take a look at the instructions, and potentially even modify his loader.

It’s a really impressive technical accomplishment, and something that could be a boon to the extremely small homebrew scene for the Mega Drive. All the boards, code, and everything else are available over on [Chris]’ github, with the entire project written up on hackaday.io. Videos below.

Continue reading “The Sega Mega Drive Dev Kit”