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January-March 2004 (oldest-to-newest)

8 Jan 2004 - T-4 days

Unless the boy gamer decides to make an early arrival I will likely be a dad next Tuesday. Due to complications during pregnancy, my wife will be induced Monday if she hasn't gone into labor by then. It's kind of neat knowing when it will happen since it lets us prepare. We have one last weekend of freedom.

I made it to Part III of Max Payne. I'll likely be selling it after I'm done since it isn't that special for me. Don't get me wrong it is really fun, but is lacking in that special something to make it a keeper.

I have my next couple games on the way. I ordered Beyond Good and Evil from Best Buy since the price has dropped to $20. I've heard good things about the game's story and cinematic qualities. I also snagged Silent Hill 2 from eBay. With talk of SH4 being in the works I may be behind the curve a little, but that's normal for me.

9 Jan 2004 - Decaying Orbit goodness! (sorta)

So I was perusing my eXTReMe Tracker (their capitalization, not mine). It seems a few folks came here from Hermit Games which is run by a long-time Yaroze friend. It seems that the Official Playstation Magazine in the UK is still putting Yaroze games on their cover discs. I jokingly asked him how I can get Decaying Orbit on the disc again. You can see where this is going :)

Decaying Orbit will be on the cover disc for the UK OPSM the issue after next. Not only that, but that will be the final issue of the magazine forever. Not only that, but it will have the largest Yaroze special ever. I don't know exactly what that means, but I'm anxious to see it!

That doesn't exactly help you people in the states since it's not easy to get a copy of that mag. Plus you can't play UK discs on a US console. However, if you have a chipped PSOne or some other way of playing it (emulator perhaps), this is your chance to play the full Yaroze version of Decaying Orbit before the NUON port gets *cough* finished.

Just a heads up :)

16 Jan 2004 - Gavin

Gavin was born Saturday January 10th at 10:34am (after a sleepless night for mom, and near-sleepless night for dad). He clocked in at 6 lbs 15 1/2 oz. Just couldn't quite hit 7 lbs :)

20 Jan 2004 - Chomp high score link

I moved the link to submit Chomp high scores from the top of the main news page to the navigation bar on the left. Look for it just underneath the "Chomp mods" heading.

I'll be doing some slight modifications to the nav bar soon. Nothing drastic, I just want to tighten it up and add some separators where appropriate.

26 Jan 2004 - Boot loader

Game Progress Technically I haven't made any "game" progress. However, I have been doing some programming so figured I should post an update. I think of it as getting back into the programming groove before diving into Decaying Orbit again.

I'm trying to write a boot loader that will let us burn multiple apps on one disc. The main purpose is to give Kev something to use when he makes discs for the Philly Classic in March. It'd also just be nice to have all homebrew apps on one CD so I don't need multiple discs floating around. Although it *is* cool to have proper CD cases and artwork for the more finished games.

So far I have some basic fonts displaying. I'm working how to read the disc's directory. If you're following the forums you know I'm having trouble with the FindName() bios call. I may need to switch to Andreas' CD library to get this all working. Trouble with that is I couldn't use the dev system to test it. I'd have to do the burn-and-try thing :P

28 Jan 2004 - Console output

Game Progress I implemented a method to display messages while running in order to help me debug. Click for a larger version.

For the time being I'm using the dev system's file server capability to mimic reading a disc. Eventually those calls will be replaced with Andreas' CD library functions.

This is for debug only. Everything below the line will be replaced by the actual boot selector menu when that gets done. I'll probably leave the console code in there and let you switch between the two with a button press.

Things are going rather smoothly so far I must say.

29 Jan 2004 - Image reading

One of the nice things about the baby is that he forces us to stay home. I've always been a home-body myself, especially with the programming projects. Feeding the boy takes up a lot of time for both of us, but since I'm not the one with the breasts I get more free time than my wife :)

I had a potentially frustrating moment last night when my computer's ethernet connection stopped working, even through multiple reboots. This was last night when I wanted to get some programming done. I tried swapping out the card for an old wireless one, but that never worked cleanly with Win2K. So I gave up. This morning I turned on the system and all was back to normal. Weird.

Game Progress Despite missing some prime programming time last night I did get some in this morning. I've started adding code to read TGA files. These will be displayed next to the menu selector to show a title image and screenshot of the app that's currently highlighted. The code for that is about 50% there.

Next thing on my list is to get COFF loading in place. I really should have done that first since if I can't get that working then there's no point in doing all the other stuff.

30 Jan 2004 - Coff loading

Game Progress No luck so far getting the boot loader to start another coff file. I've just started looking at the coff file format and it doesn't seem so bad. I may have to hack up my own routine to do what I want. At least that way I'll know exactly what it's doing.

This morning I added the ability for the user to input their own colors for various bits of the UI. I want nearly everything to be alterable by the input file. That way the user can customize the boot loader to their own tastes and needs. I'm not sure if I'll allow rearranging the layout of the various bits - just their colors. Definitely not in the initial release, that's for sure.

2 Feb 2004 - A potential breakthrough

Game Progress I spent most of the weekend analyzing the bios code that does MemLoadCoff(). I was hoping to extract some information and maybe even lift some code to do what I want. Things were going well until some time Saturday evening when I got several subroutines deep and got thoroughly confused what the hell it was doing.

My man Riff came to the rescue and pointed out that the sdk actually includes source code to do exactly what I want. It's in vmlabs/lib/src/mml2d/src/mrplib/loadr.s if you're curious. Oh what a wonderful thing. I haven't delved into it enough to know whether I can just use it verbatim. It certainly looks good enough. We'll see.

Time's ticking on this one since the Philly Classic is next month. I'd like to get this done in the next couple weeks so we can wring out any bugs before then.

3 Feb 2004 - Ported but not working

Game Progress I ported loadr.s to the boot loader and got it working how I think it should. It runs on MPE1 and loads the coff into memory and starts MPE3. It seems to copy the coff data into memory okay, but cannot get MPE3 to run it correctly.

I'm hoping it's something easy. I might need to analyze how the bios function LoadGame() works to see how they do it.

5 Feb 2004 - Success! Sort of.

Game Progress I got the boot loader to load an external coff file and run it. In this case it was the coff for Chomp. There are a few odd things to fix before it's 100%. The title screen is not perfect, the Chomp sprite on the main menu has a green halo, and the level selection and game play act really weird, eventually leading to a crash.

I changed the way the new coff is started. I used to try to halt MPE3 and restart it with the new program. Now I leave it running, but in a tight loop waiting for a comm bus packet from MPE1. Once MPE1 has loaded the coff into memory it sends the entry point to MPE3. MPE3 then does a jump to the new address.

The unstable behavior is probably due to some state left over from the boot loader. Still, I'm glad it partially works.

6 Feb 2004 - Er...um...yeah

Game Progress Heh. The "strange behavior" I'm getting from Chomp is actually a result of changes I made to the game a while back. I didn't leave it in the most stable state. Oops. Guess that means the coff loader works :)

However, I am getting a crash when booting into Decaying Orbit that I do not get when loading it direcly. More work to do.

9 Feb 2004 - Almost running on a real system

Game Progress I added the code to use Andreas' cd library rather than reading from my PC's hard disk. I tried it on my 501 and got some success. It seems to initialize properly, but does not compute the size of a file correctly. I'm pretty confident that if I can get past this hurdle I'll have the program loading a coff for real.

After that it's just a matter of getting the UI working, but that shouldn't take too long.

10 Feb 2004 - Try reading, duh

Game Progress If I had paid attention while reading this thread I would have known that gfp107 already stated that the two stat functions do not produce the file size correctly.

So now I'm faced with blindly allocating a buffer large enough to handle any files I might read. This isn't so bad for the boot loader since I don't need the memory for much else. However, if I want to use the lib in any games I'll have to be more careful.

I'll make the change and try it tonight.

11 Feb 2004 - Want to try it?

Game Progress So the stat functions do provide the file size. It is placed in the st_rdev field rather than st_size. Not too intuitive, but oh well. With this in place the boot loader worked all the way up to the point of loading the coff. Then it hung.

A couple compile-burn cycles later and I found out that the st_rdev field is only 16 bits wide. Any files larger than 65535 bytes will not be reported correctly. Oops.

Luckily there is another way to get the size of a file. The iso_lseek() function gives the current file offset as its return value. So by seeking to the end of the file you can get the file size.

  filesize = iso_lseek(cdContextPtr, fp, 0, SEEK_END, &cdError);

A more proper way to do it will retain the file pointer's position within the file:

  // Save the current pointer location
  fileloc = iso_lseek(cdContextPtr, fp, 0, SEEK_CUR, &cdError);

  // Get the file size
  filesize = iso_lseek(cdContextPtr, fp, 0, SEEK_END, &cdError);

  // Return file pointer to where it was
  iso_lseek(cdContextPtr, fp, fileloc, SEEK_SET, &cdError);

Ever thought you'd use SEEK_CUR, SEEK_END, and SEEK_SET all in one routine? :)

So the file size is now being acquired properly and, voila, the coff loads! What better way to celebrate this than to share it with y'all. Grab this zip to try it out. Of course read the README.txt file first. Then burn all the files to a disc with the same directory structure. You will see the boot loader start up and scroll some messages by as it does its thing. After "Loading coff" is displayed the new coff should start. It's just the Life sample demo from the sdk (it was the smallest sample I could find that did something interesting).

Right now the program will load the first app that is in the applist.txt file. Over the next few days I will get the GUI in place with a proper menu for app selection. Hopefully I'll have the fully working version done by the end of this weekend.

12 Feb 2004 - NUON.CD?

Game Progress Back when I was starting to test the boot loader on my N501 I came across some weird behavior. I had the boot loader NUON.CD in the disc's root as normal. I also had a NUON.CD in one of the app subdirectores, left over accidentally. When I put the disc in the N501 it actually loaded the NUON.CD from the app directory rather than the one at the root.

This might make supporting NUON.CD files difficult since I don't want the player to load the wrong app. Worst case the file will need to be renamed to something else, NUON.CD_ maybe, so the player doesn't recognize it.

13 Feb 2004 - Three day weekend! Wohoo!

Happy Friday the 13th. I like long weekends. Let's see if I can knock out this boot loader thing.

17 Feb 2004 - Scooped by the Dome on my own news

Game Progress Here's the latest build of the boot loader. It's not perfect, but I wanted to get it out there so folks can shake out bugs and suggest improvements. Be sure to read the README in the zip as it details all the functionality. There's a lot to know, especially for those building the discs for distribution.

I expect to release v1.0 in a week or two.

23 Feb 2004 - Stability problems

Game Progress I have the 1.0 release of the boot loader pretty much ready to go. It works just peachy on the dev system, but I'm getting hangs when run the N501. I need to spend a couple days debugging before I can feel comfortable releasing it.

Lots of good additions are coming in this release. Background and intro images are in. All image files can be in either TGA or JPG format. The description text can be scrolled if it doesn't fit on the screen. More help text and lots more parameters to adjust the spacing of the elements. Stay tuned.

24 Feb 2004 - What day is it again?

I'm three days late for the ritualistic updating of my age in the Staff section. I didn't even know it was my birthday last Saturday until my wife mentioned it. Must be getting senile in my old age.

Got up at 5:30 this morning for Gavin's feeding and figured I'd stay up. I got in some good time with the boot loader. Bug fixes and minor features added. Kev pointed out that the intro screen for Samegame gets corrupted when using the boot loader. For me the game doesn't even load. So thar's debuggin' to be had ye mateys.

27 Feb 2004 - Bugs a fixin'

Got a couple new games recently. The Atari Anthology on PS2 should be a good quick diversion. Plus Ape Escape 2 is supposed to be like the original, which I dearly loved. Of course Beyond Good & Evil is still waiting to be played.

Game Progress Bah, not much time to work on the boot loader lately. It's mostly wake up, attend to Gavin, go to work, come home, attend to Gavin, sleep.

I want to do some experiments with how the heap handles the transfer from the boot loader to the app. I've found that if the boot loader does not deallocate everything before starting the app, the app can have problems. Chomp and Samegame had trouble with this.

I was hoping that the app's startup code would init the heap and stack as necessary, but that doesn't seem to be happening. Odd.

1 Mar 2004 - Ahhhhhhh!

I played through a few levels of Ape Escape 2. It's almost a carbon copy of the first one. This doesn't bother me in the least, but I can see why reviewers weren't wowed by it.

Game Progress I fixed a big problem in the boot loader memory management and it *still* didn't fix the corruption Kev's seeing in Samegame. I cannot reproduce this corruption on my dev system and my 501 has trouble reading my CD-R/Ws, making debugging this a right pain. I will try the 504 when I get home. Maybe it will have better luck reading my discs. I can only hope. This is the only thing keeping me from releasing the new rev.

4 Mar 2004 - Gotcha!

Game Progress Kev sent me his coff file for Samegame and I was able to reproduce the corruption he was seeing. Turns out the corruption only happens with the Colors version of the game and I've always been using Shapes.

I did some debugging this morning, but couldn't find anything wrong. Also, the corruption would change depending on the contents of my applist file. When random errors like these appear it's usually a problem with stale cache contents. I added a _DCacheFlush and it seemed to fix the problem. Huzzah!

Look for an official v1.0 release this weekend.

8 Mar 2004 - Boot Loader
Game Progress

It ain't perfect, but here's the latest Boot Loader.

UPDATE (2006-02-08): The latest version can be obtained from the links to the left.

There's still a annoying problem with disc reading not working all the time. I'm working on it, but I'm not sure if this can be fixed.

The README has been significantly updated. You can search for what's changed by looking for the string "***" (three asterisks). Here's the changelist.

  • Added +SpaceBelow* parameters.
  • Toggle through the console with the NUON button. Also added +ShowConsole to default to the console screen.
  • Initialization startup screen.
  • Intro screen works.
  • Background image works.
  • Descriptive text automatically wraps based on font size.
  • Added +LineWidth - setting to zero disables the line
  • Added +ScreenBorder* parameters
  • Added +TextFontSizeDesc
  • All images can use either jpg or tga files.
  • Removed +ImageBG. Program will detect presence of bg.tga or bg.jpg automatically.
  • If the full description text does not fit on the screen you can scroll it with C-up and C-down.
  • Added second instruction string that's shown when holding B. Changed +TextInstr to +TextInstr1 and added +TextInstr2.
  • Added section 5 in the README dealing with the console.
  • The boot loader will automatically switch to the console when it detects an error.
  • Fixed bug that caused Samegame to have corrupted graphics.

Here's what's still left to do. I hope to have the stuff in italics done before Kev burns discs for the show.

  • myparams.txt does not work yet.
  • Sounds would be nice during menu navigation.
  • For players with Aries3, add the ability to go into fast mode before loading the app.
  • Arrows showing scrolling when appropriate.
  • Indicate disc access somehow.
  • Move all strings to aStrings[].
  • When pressing START from intro screen, menu flashes for a frame.
  • Allow the use of the remote for those without a joystick.
  • Improve stability when loading app images and description.

The official Boot Loader page is here. I still need to take screenshots to fill in the blanks.

15 Mar 2004 - Rebootin' galore

I finished Ape Escape 2 this weekend. A couple of the monkeys were rather difficult to catch, but I managed to do it without resorting to cheating. Now onto Beyond Good & Evil.

Game Progress Kev and I worked on the boot loader this weekend, but couldn't get it to be perfectly reliable. The system would just reboot or hang at random places depending on what files were burned. I've decided to overhaul the program, but that doesn't do Kev any good since the show is this coming weekend. At least we got *something* working.

I'll release v1.1 tonight or tomorrow. That will be the last update for the v1.X series. The new v2.0 will use a different scheme for loading files from the disc. I'm writing a utility to pack all the individual data files into a single file. That way the boot loader only has to deal with one file, and will only need to do a max of three reads from that file.

15 Mar 2004 - :oops:

Has it been six months since I released a build of Decaying Orbit? This is getting as bad as when I wrote it for the Yaroze. Time to polish off the boot loader and get back to DO me thinks.

18 Mar 2004 - Memory like a steel sieve

Activision Anthology is great! The soundtrack turns what could have been a quick shovelware title into something special. Funny, I was playing Stampede, a game I had in my youth. I must have really sucked back then because I played for a much longer time than I originally recall doing. I think now that I'm older and have played games for a couple decades I can pick up on patterns and strategies more easily. The controls they picked for Kaboom really stink, though.

Game Progress Obviously I didn't release the latest boot loader since, well, I forgot. Time to write myself a note so I remember.

I almost have the boot packing utility complete. Then I'll go about modifying the boot loader to use the file that gets generated.

20 Mar 2004 - Boot Loader v1.1

Game Progress Here's the latest boot loader binary and source. As I mentioned before this will be superceded by some fundamental changes in the next version.

UPDATE (2006-02-08): The latest version can be obtained from the links to the left.

23 Mar 2004 - bootpack

Not many games played lately. I'm still enjoying Activision Anthology and Midway's Arcade Treasures. Robotron rules.

Game Progress I finished writing the utility to pack all the boot loader files into one big file. Next I will add a parser to the boot loader so it can use it.

30 Mar 2004 - Almost

I dusted off the Yaroze to play a friend's new game. It's amazing that people are still developing for the thing. I also loaded up the original Decaying Orbit for a quick reminder of how the game is *supposed* to play. It's a dream to see it in all its 640x480 60fps glory. Too bad the NUON port won't hit such lofty heights. *sigh*

Game Progress I have the boot loader mostly converted to use the packed data file. It's not tested yet, though. I don't expect to have anything ready before this weekend.

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