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Oct 25

Nuevos detalles de NeoSD, el cartucho flash para NEO-GEO MVS

Ya os hablamos de NeoSD hace unos días y no podemos seguir más entusiasmados con este fantástico invento que permite disfrutar de todo el catálogo original de NEO-GEO gracias a una ranura para tarjetas SD donde podemos copiar los juegos.

El equipo responsable de NeoSD ha estado publicando algunos vídeos donde podemos ver su funcionamiento y ha remitido un cartucho al mismísimo Razoola para que lo pruebe y lo evalúe. Además nos enseñan en su canal de Youtube como son los tiempos de flasheo de los juegos y si bien los más grandes pueden llegar a 4 minutos, otros más pequeños como Windjammers no llegan al minuto para estar listos.

Por supuesto estos tiempos solo son necesarios una vez que se graba el juego en la memoria flash, posteriormente el arranque es automático aun apagando y encendiendo la placa. Además se ha confirmado que las protecciones de los juegos están perfectamente emuladas y TODOS los juegos funcionan a la perfección, sin ningún tipo de error visual, jugable o sonoro. Incluso permite hacer una copia de records y configuraciones en la tarjeta SD para no perder nada aun cambiando de juego.

También os interesará saber que el juego permite elegir entre modo MVS o AES, así como seleccionar la región que queramos para, por ejemplo, evitar censuras en los juegos. Todo ello sin depender de la Universe Bios.

Por último el cartucho es plenamente actualizable para poder recibir novedades de todo tipo en el futuro.

Como decimos, todo un lujo que ningún poseedor de NEO-GEO se debería perder.

1 comentario

  1. Wesker

    Juegos probados por Razoola:

    Código:
    Game Abbreviation   UniBios CRC32   SOUND   Flash Time
    -----------------   -------------   -----   ----------
    AERO FIGHTERS 2     PASS            GOOD    0:49
    ART OF FIGHTING     PASS            GOOD    0:46
    BLUES JOURNEY       PASS            GOOD    0:31
    BLAZING STAR        PASS            GOOD    2:02
    BURNING FIGHT       PASS            GOOD    0:27
    CROSSED SWORDS 2    PASS            GOOD    0:45
    FATAL FURY          PASS            GOOD    0:28
    GHOSTLOP            PASS            GOOD    0:52
    IRONCLAD            PASS            GOOD    1:38
    KOF 94              PASS            GOOD    1:46
    LAST BLADE          PASS            GOOD    3:07
    LAST RESORT         PASS            GOOD    0:24
    MAGICIAN LORD       PASS            GOOD    0:25
    METAL SLUG          PASS            GOOD    1:42
    NAM-1975            PASS            GOOD    0:26
    NEO TURF MASTERS    PASS            GOOD    1:13
    PULSTAR             PASS            GOOD    2:01
    REAL BOUT FF        PASS            GOOD    2:19
    SAMURAI SHODOWN     PASS            GOOD    1:07
    SHOCK TROOPERS      PASS            GOOD    2:13
    STRIKERS 1945 PLUS  PASS            GOOD    3:34
    VIEW POINT          PASS            GOOD    0:38
    WORLD HEROES        PASS            GOOD    0:40
    WIND JAMMERS        PASS
    KOF 98              PASS            GOOD    4:02
    KOF 99              PASS            GOOD    4:14
    KOF 2000            PASS            GOOD    4:30
    KOF 2001            PASS            GOOD    3:54
    METAL SLUG X        FAIL (P1 ROM)   GOOD    2:58
    METAL SLUG 3        PASS            GOOD    4:30
    METAL SLUG 4        PASS            GOOD    3:20
    SAMURAI SHODOWN 5   PASS            GOOD    4:28
    SAMURAI SHODOWN 5SP PASS            GOOD    4:26
    GAROU               PASS            GOOD    4:38
    MATRIMELEE          PASS            GOOD    3:55
    ROTD                PASS            GOOD    4:15
    SUPER SIDE KICKS    PASS            GOOD    0:34
    FATAL FURY 2        PASS            GOOD    0:51

    Y análisis:

    User Interface, Options and Usage.

    It is a little hard to give proper review of the user interface as the version I have is incomplete and some of the features are still missing or not working. Overall I would say the outlook is minimal and easily understandable. Given that it is incomplete it is a little rough around the edges which is to be expected at this point. Everything is displayed in an easily understandable way however and that's a big plus. The small title page screenshots is a nice touch.

    Flashing a game is done by simply selecting it in the game list and then pressing the button A. Button B takes you the options page, button C will filter the games list based on genre (feature not included yet). Button D will add or remove the selected game to a favourites list (feature not included yet either).

    Flashing a game.

    This is a very simple process. You just hit Button A after selecting a game and the erase / flash process will start. This twostep process is shown in the UI via a progress bar in the middle of the screen. During the erase step the green LED on the NeoSD PCB flashes quickly, during flashing it flashes more slowly. With the SDcard I am using (fast but not the fastest) this process takes between 0:25 seconds and 4:30 minutes depending on the size of the game. This is the total time taken to erase and flash the NeoSD to new game. It is a onetime wait period, once a game is flashed there is no other loading required each time the system is powered on or reset. This aspect is identical to how an original Neo Geo game cartridges operate which use ROM.

    Once there is a game flashed onto the NeoSD a new option 'Launch Current Game' is in the game menu. Choose this option to exit the UI without having to flash a game first.

    Options menu.

    The following options are present in the current UI version I am testing. Player 1 Joystick up and down are used to select options with left and right to alter them. Button B is used to exit the menu and return to the games list. A quick breakdown of the current options I see are;

    Boot Mode – Determines what happens at power on, Game or Menu.
    In-Game Trigger – Can be set to either AD+START, BC+START, ABC+START or None.
    System Mode – Can be set to either Bios, MVS or AES.
    Region – Can be set to either Bios, Europe, USA or Japan.
    Save/Restore Back RAM – Can be set to Yes or No.
    UI Sounds – Can be set to Yes or No.
    Help – This currently does nothing.
    Version – Displays information about the NeoSD, version numbers etc.

    Let's look at a couple of these options more closely given I know these will be of interest.

    System Mode and Region setting.

    Both these settings work as much as they can taking the bios environment into account. The MVS/AES mode switch works pretty much as it does in arcade emulators that have the option (WinKawaks for example). It should be noted however that this does not give the same experience as setting AES mode via a UniBios or the stock AES bios on AES. The Bios does some things beyond the control of NeoSD. For example, when using a stock MVS bios those with a keen eye will notice the Neo Geo jingle will display according to the MVS specification even when NeoSD is in AES mode. On true AES hardware with stock bios (or UniBios on MVS in AES mode) the jingle will always appears once before the first attract mode cycle and then never again.

    This is only a minor thing but worth a mention given UniBios users will get a true AES experience using the UniBios to control system type over the settings in NeoSD. I have suggested to neosd that it may be wise to disable or force these settings to BIOS when a UniBios is detected in the host system (easy to do). This would give the user the best possible AES experience. These options in NeoSD will be a welcome addition however for those without a UniBios installed as they get you most of the way there.

    Save and restore back RAM.

    This feature will need some testing before being able to say how well it works but from my short testing so far it does not work properly although I can see the expected files saved on the SD card. On speaking the neosd about it I know the cause is known and now fixed. I just need to wait for a new firmware (that has other fixes also) so I can try it out.

    From how I'm told it is implemented I feel it cannot be taken as a full proof way to save data but it is much better than nothing at all! I'm told it works by saving BackupRAM for the currently flashed game onto SD card at the point you choose a new game to flash. It is then reloaded when you flash that game back to the NeoSD.

    While this system in theory will work it, is quite dependent on the backupRAM battery being able to hold the data in backupRAM on the MVS. If the MVS backupRAM is reset any good data on the SDcard will be overwritten with that data when the game is changed. A temporary solution to this dilemma would be an option in the UI to load or store back RAM of the currently selected game which the user can force if they know the backupRAM system on the MVS is not preforming well. Ideally though this process should be automatic.

    Conclusion

    As I have said at the start the user interface is not yet complete so it's hard to critique something when you know beforehand it's just going to get better anyway. The UI does what it needs to do in a very controllable way without leaving the user frustrated due to it being non responsive. I feel it could be graphically improved but at the same time others will like its minimal nature.

    Here are some changes I feel would be beneficial to the user going forward over the version I'm testing (which is not the final version). These have already been passed on;

    Being able to wrap around when navigating the game list.
    NeoSD should automatically detect presence of UniBios and disable its System and Region options if found.
    Back RAM loading/Saving may need some refinement to help protect against data loss.
    Hiding rogue tiles that sometimes appear momentarily sometimes before title page draws etc.
    Instead of fading out the title page, fade it in only before running the main UI.
    Some screenshots need altering to remove vertical strips / non-straight edges. Can be done by stretching them out horizontally before the shot is shrunk and converted.
    Replace the '?' screenshot with one showing the NeoSD title page or Neo Geo logo jingle?

    How games play and the NeoSD preforms.

    Now comes the fun part of the review because it involves playing games. There is no point buying the NeoSD after all if it cannot or cannot do the fundamental thing you bought it for, or only do them to the same level as a multicart (161in1). With this is mind I will probably reference the multicarts a few times in this section comparing how games play on that compared to the NeoSD.

    KOF2003 (almost the ultimate test for the NeoSD).

    Given I knew a little bit about the NeoSD before I received one I knew this was going to be the first game I flashed onto it. This is game that would tell me whether the NeoSD was just Hype or the real deal. The 161in1 has this game supported via a hack but it does not display correctly. It was a nervous 4:30 minutes while I waited for the game to flash. Then bam, once done the Neo Geo reset itself and I was presented with the Blue Green SNK / Playmore logo and growling music undertones. It's working. It's working.

    For some that would be enough to say the game is supported and working but not for me. I want to make sure the hardware additions added to the original cartridge were also being handled correctly before I give my verdict.

    First thing on my list was checking the game is correct with the UniBios game cart CRC32 check. I want to make sure there is no patching happening to the main program ROM to fake features of the game or cartridge hardware. I cold booted the NeoGeo and entered the CRC32 check. Boom, all regions pass!

    Next priority to check was correct colour palette conversions I can see It's an easy pass given attract mode is drawing correctly. To be sure no other trickery was going on I used the UniBios v3.3 patch feature to confirm the palette features on the original kof2003 cartridge were working as expected, and they were!

    Next thing on my list, does it have small RAM region kof2003 holds in its cartridge? After a quick test (using UniBios again) BAM, it's there where it should be and 100% working!

    Next thing to discover, is the banking system working in the same way as the original Kof2003 cartridge? Again after a little probing I can see it is!

    Next thing to look at was if the NeoSD handles the FIX banking system used in the game. A simple thing to check too given as soon as the first attract mode fight sequence begins I'll have the answer. Winner!!! Correct transparent effects on the energy bars and names. There is no way this can be easily patched into the game either if only the smaller FIX space is supported.

    Lastly sound. There is not much to say given I can only use my ears as a reference. It sounds identical to the original to me though. There were no distortions or noise or anything else that I could say to myself this does not sound right. It was still sounding perfect after playing a few games.

    So what does this mean? Well I have thrown everything that comes to mind to try and find a weakness in the way the NeoSD is working compared to the original Kof2003 cartridge. Something where I could say this is not 100% right in how the game plays but I cannot find anything. As it stands now there is only a difference I can think of. That is if I were to put the PCBs of an original KOF2003 and the NeoSD next to each other they look different. That is how close and impressive the NeoSD is.

    We need to stand back for a moment to fully appreciate what this really means in relation to what the NeoSD is doing as a piece of hardware. Kof2003 was released well over 10 years ago and during that time there was never (to my knowledge) a bootleg version of the game. That is a bootleg that technically does the same and plays the same as the original including its extra features. The Bootlegs have always been easy to spot just by playing the game, this was true until October 2016. Now when you couple this truth with the fact you can load any other original SNK game onto the NeoSD and it be handled correctly It's like mind blown!

    Garou Mark of the Wolves

    I'm not going to spend as much time going into details like I did with kof2003 because the story is the same. Many of you will undoubtedly know this is another game that has never really had correct bootlegs (or been done correctly on a multicart). I have tested Garou flashed on the NeoSD and got the following;

    Confirmed the game is unpatched.
    Confirmed the extras SNK put on the cart are also present on the NeoSD.
    Confirmed game banking operates in the same way as the original cartridge.
    Confirmed expanded FIX tile support.
    Listened to sound to confirm it's good.

    Just like kof2003, Garou is just as impressive, for me it is no different than playing the game from the original cartridge. I want to highlight that original kof2003 and Garou both use a different SNK cartridge spec. There is no way you can take one game and expect it to run on the PCB of the other. This means the NeoSD is correctly identifying the unpatched game it's loaded with and configuring itself so that game runs correctly.

    I have done these same tests with various other protected games and the result is always the same. They are totally accurate with the NeoSD is setting itself to correctly copy the original game cartridge.

    Metal Slug X

    The thorn in the side, or is it? We already know this game currently is not going to run identically to the original. Neosd has been clear in the forum in mentioning this fact. It's well worth the mention here though because it highlights the effort being put in. Let me be clear first, you can flash and play the game on the NeoSD and it will appear to be original. It plays just as well as the version people use when their original MSX cart stops working and reprogram a replacement P1 ROM. In short there are patches applied to remove game protections so it will run on the NeoSD, I have confirmed this using the UniBios CRC32 check.

    So what is this the problem with this game? Well it's really very simple, currently the way the cart protection works is unknown. The NeoSD cannot be expected to copy something when there is no information on what it needs to copy. An original MSX cartridge will need probing to understand what it is doing. Only then can the patches be removed and the game be 100% the same as the original. There are also a couple of other areas where it is unknown if what the NeoSD is doing is totally accurate (though it may be accurate), steps are being taken to confirm either way I hear and of course changes will be make if needed.

    What this shows to me is the makers are not happy just to have a game that is playable, they will not be happy until the game is playable in an identical way to the original!

    Trash Rally, Riding Hero, League Bowling

    These three games do work on the NeoSD and pass the UniBios CRC32 checks. The original games do come with the ability to linkup however so players can play over multiple Neo Geo systems. This feature is not supported on the NeoSD and may never be. Neosd has said it may be technically possible to add the feature via a small daughter board in the future, so all is not lost. But he also makes clear no one should take it as given that the feature will be added, even he would like to see it himself.

    NGdevteam Games

    These game are not supported and will not work on the device. I took the MAME Last Hope ROM and tried in various different ways to get NeoSD to play the game. While it was easy to get the NeoSD to flash the game data I could not get it to run. All I got was the crosshatch screen. These games are not supported, confirmed.

    Other Games in General

    I have not yet found a single issue with the exception of MSX above. All the protected games appear to be totally accurate and all original games are supported (I have not tested all mind). I have not found any sound issues on any games tested so far. Thanks to the info from GadgetUK, I have also confirmed the following games do not suffer the sound issues they do have on the multicarts;

    Cyber Lip has no missing or broken voices during intro.
    League Bowling does not miss ADPCM-B samples (voice on intro for example).
    Kof98 plays radio chat voices on intro.
    Metal Slug 5 character select music has no volume shifts.
    NAM-1975 soldier screams does not breakup during intro.
    Ninja Masters has no breakup or volume shifts during intro.
    Neo Turf Masters intro and game music has no volume shifts in background music.
    Pulstar music has no breakup and volume shifts during intro.
    Strikers 1945 Plus has no volume shifts in background music.
    Rage of Dragons has no breakup or volume shifts during intro.

    I mentioned in the review section of the NeoBuilder that some bootleg games in MAME are not yet converted or supported. This is being worked on now I have been told. Many bootlegs that are on the multicarts will be instantly playable on the NeoSD once dumps become available given their generic nature.

    I have tested some bootlegs like Metal Slug 2 turbo and CD conversions and they are working as expected.

    Conclusion

    Apart from the Metal Slug X situation and the missing link feature there is simply nothing else I can see that needs addressing. I think to find faults will actually require me to start reviewing the games themselves I feel!

    This is a really quite an advanced of hardware for what it is. There is no worry of having to patch out protections before the game will run, the NeoSD replicates the original hardware so known game have what they need to work. It must actively selects from many configurations and choose the correct one for the game it holds in flash.

    It is very clear the priority has been put into the NeoSD playing games correctly rather than just playing games, this justifies the price in my view. What the NeoSD is doing is quite amazing! There is little more to say, speechless….

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