PC Engine CD-ROM² Adventures!

It's been a while!

Geril spent his whole September in Thailand, working as a motion capture technician. It was hard, but we learnt a lot, and now we have our own performance capture workflow. We're planning to buy our own set of full body mocap gear, probably early next year. Also, we're learning about virtual production in general.

We bought a PC Engine in July, when we went to Osaka/Tokyo. We made it work by powering it with our Sega Mega Drive's power supply unit. Also, we got a basic Everdrive clone and an RCA out unit. We had some fun with it, and we were amazed of what this little 8-bit console with credit card-sized cartridges can do - Bonk 3 is something that I have no clue how they managed to make. The only thing that frustrated us was the controller, especially the lack of extra controller ports. First we wanted to buy a multitap and extra controllers, but most of the online sellers don't test their controllers and they still sell them for quite a lot of money. Also, the D-pad of the PC Engine is something that Geril somewhat dislikes - it's a bit too mushy, even more than the Mega Drive/Saturn controllers' - so we looked for alternative solutions, and found a Bluetooth adapter by Humble Bazooka that uses BlueRetro's technology to connect with basically any kind of bluetooth controller. We've used BlueRetro's adapters for many of our systems already (N64, Dreamcast, Saturn, PS1), so we knew what to expect.

After it arrived, it took some time to set up, but after the initial setup it worked pretty well, so we could finally play Bomberman '93! It's such a good game. A month later Lussy bought Geril a PC Engine Interface unit and CD-ROM² (it's pronounced "PC Engine CD ROM-ROM" - yeah, seriously) for his birthday

The seller's description was "untested", and it came with a Japanese power supply that we can't use here in Europe, so it's a project that we both like to mess around with. When it arrived, we tested the standalone CD ROM unit with the Sega Mega Drive power supply, and it lit up, but the motor didn't work. We took it apart and observed as the middle gear of the three small cogs on the CD's motor turned to dust as we touched it. Now that the middle gear disintegrated, the motor whirred up and spun happily without the restriction of the now broken gear. So we looked around and ordered a 3D printed replica of the middle gear.

While we waited for the tiny gear to arrive, we also ordered a European power supply unit for the PC Engine's interface. Now you could say, "that's impossible, the PC Engine was never released in Europe" and yes, you'd be right, but nowadays, it's easy to buy new, more advanced power supplies for older systems. And Retro Game Supply does exactly that! They make new modern power supplies for all kinds of retro hardware. After Geril read their info about the products they made, we immediately bought some extra PSUs for our old systems. We used the SNES' PSU for the NES and the Mega Drive's for the PC Engine, so we bought those two. After we started using them, we noticed that the SNES and Mega Drive no longer got hot! They used to heat up quite a lot after ten minutes (never overheating though), and because we used their official PSUs, we thought that's normal. Apparently that was an issue with the power delivery, and with the new adapters from Retro Game Supply, they keep nice and cool. The only thing we disliked is that the adapters look exactly the same and the only way to distinguish them was the handwritten labels on the little plastic bags they came in. So the first thing we did was print out some labels for them. I could foresee the disasters that could happen if we didn't label these adapters. So this is a heads up if you want to buy from them - but other than that, these adapters are awesome, cool and so far we find them quite reliable.

With the tiny middle gear and the interface PSU in our hands, we finally made the PC Engine CD-ROM² spin a disc. A good tip for anybody who’s working with old CD systems: apply a bit of mineral oil on the gears, it makes them move more seamlessly, with less noise, and it minimizes the wear that happens over time.

So we've got two PC Engine CD games, the first two Princess Maker games. We're working on our pet project which is somewhat inspired by the Princess Maker series - more about that in later posts -, so we're playing the Princess Maker games frequently, and what better way to play them than on the system they were first released, right? Also because they're in Japanese, Lussy can practice her language skills with them.

Anyways, do you know about System Cards for the PC Engine? No? Well, no surprise, it's a somewhat complicated topic. Basically, to make the CD ROM-ROM work, you need a Hu-Card, a cartridge in the PC Engine to connect to the CD-ROM addon, and communicate with the rest of the system - otherwise the CD ROM-ROM can only play music discs. I've heard about this, and when we were in Tokyo I bought a System Card in Super Potato. But here's the thing, when it comes to system cards, it's all about the versions. What I bought is a v2.1 system card, because that was the highest version available in the store. So the two Princess Maker games have a little icon on the jewel case art, telling us that they're for "Super CD-ROM² Systems". What is a Super CD-ROM² system? The Super CD ROM² system is System Card 3.0. That's it. Princess Maker 2 is also compatible with "Arcade Card Pro" which is basically the most advanced system card. The difference between these cards is the extra memory they provide, so this is how they kept the PC Engine relevant and comparable to the SNES and Mega Drive throughout the years.

So what happens if you try to play a CD game but don't have the System Card it needs? Well, some games just pop an image telling you to change the system card, others play some audio, like Princess Maker one where one of the characters actually tells you that they're sorry but you have to change the card, and they can't wait to actually meet you. And then there's Castlevania... I'll come back to that in a few sentences, but first I want to mention the CD-ROM² copy protection. Well, there's none. Back in '89 NEC just didn't expect that anybody could burn their own discs at home, so the ROM-ROM eats up whatever disc it can read! And because they are rare and the price of the PC Engine and TurboGrafx 16 (the american version of the PC Engine) CD games are quite high, we're taking on the high seas, and burning our CDs. We're on the look-out for ROM-ROM games now, but it will not stop us from playing some nice 30+ years old games on a system that never got released in our region.

So one of the most famous games that got released on the Engine is Castlevania X Rondo of Blood. It's an amazing Castlevania game, some say it's the best classic, non-Metroidvania entry into the series. And yeah, that game does not look or sound like an 8-bit game at all. So of course, we wanted to play it! We burnt it, plopped it in and:

Amazing. We got trolled by a 30+ years old game. We're touched.

So we ordered an Arcade Card Pro. I mean the Castlevania mini-game is nice and all, but we'd like to play the actual game now. So our adventure with the ROM-ROM is still ongoing. We'll also try one of the retrobright methods to make the CD unit less orange, but that's something for later.

Well, that was a long post, it's time for us to go back and play some more Ys Book I&II on the Engine.

Until next time!


Japan: Round 2!

Hi! Geril here.

This month, we visited Japan for the second time since our first trip five years ago. This time, we spent a week in Osaka, then the rest of our stay in Tokyo, and Lussy ended up going to six concerts!

We went to a bunch of BookOffs and HardOffs, and bought a classic 2DS, a PC Engine and a PS1 Classic - and, of course, tons of video games and some accessories. Sightseeing and being a tourist in general is not really something that we enjoy. What we did was more in line with thrifting and urban exploring. People were a bit threatened by my looks, but Lussy blends in quite well, and Japan is the country where she can buy clothes that actually fit her without much hassle.

So far our biggest surprise when it comes to the games we bought is Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari, or River City Ransom/Street Gangs as it is called in the US and Europe. We'd never played the series and when we put the cartridge into our Twin Famicom, we were blown away by how complex and impressive the game is. It's quite inspiring.

We also bought Metal Slug: 2nd Mission for the NeoGeo Pocket Color. It's so much fun, they really made the visuals and gameplay work on this tiny handheld. I love it.

Lussy found a Kanji drilling software for the DS and now she "plays" it on her 2DS. In the meantime I am trying to unlock the PS1 Classic.

We also got the first four Princess Maker games for several different game systems: the first one for the PC Engine and PS2, the second one for the PC Engine, the third one for the Sega Saturn and the fourth one for the PS2 and PSP. We're working on a pet project that is similar to the Princess Maker series, so these games serve as inspiration.
Translating Japanese text is a pain, and our only way of doing it (other than Lussy's translation skills) is Google image translate. It's far from perfect, but it works enough to get the gist of lines and helps us learn the language.

While I was mostly browsing the video game categories, Lussy managed to thrift so many new music CDs, DVDs and Blurays that we're definitely going to have to buy new shelves now. She also bought a lot of band scores, band merch and even managed to find me a Cowboy Bebop OST.

On our way back, we had to buy two additional small suitcases to fit everything in. This is the pile we ended up bringing back, although this is not everything we got, but most of the video games and other physical media are on it:

In other news, I am going to Thailand in September for work, and I needed a laptop for that, so we bought one. And because running motion capture software and UE4/UE5 at the same time requires a pretty powerful PC, we bought the best laptop available, the ROG Strix SCAR 16 G634 with a 4090 RTX GPU and 64GBs of RAM.
So far it works fine, except for the operating system. Win11 is a pain, and we don't like it.

Sadly, after we came back we got sick, which made working a lot harder; but at least now we're full of memories and stories of Japan. Let's just hope we won't have to wait 5 more years to visit again.



Hey, Geril here.

The last blog post got lost somehow – I wrote it, sent it to Lussy and it got lost somewhere.

Anyway, this month I started doing more photogrammetry, messing around with mobile software and such. The results are varied, and it needs work before it can be used in any kind of project, but it's still fun to work on a library of photogrammetry assets.

Another piece of news is that we're going to Japan, for the second time! We're going sometime in early July, so we'll get another chance to thrift for stuff - mostly videogames and other digital media.

Otherwise, we try to work on our own projects whenever we can, but most of our time is still occupied by our jobs and our preparation for moving: arranging home renovations, sorting through stuff, that kind of thing.


It's already March!

Hi! Geril here.

Working on a new project has its ups and downs. On the one hand, fresh new ideas and goals, and on the other hand, doing things that we already did many times.

But this time we got something new. We can't say much about the project - NDA and all -, but we are now gaining experience with working with motion capture. Because of this, we were forced to learn how to use Post Process Animation Blueprints in Unreal 4, and man, we should have learnt this years ago, it makes helper-bone handling a non-issue. We used Unreal's Metahuman as the basis, so we learnt how to do it by mimicking its methods, adjusting them to our needs and changing them to fit our custom skeleton.

I really want to show off things, but we can't.

On a different note, after the massive burnout and nightmares, Lussy is finally getting back to her usual creative mode, working on a 3D model she wanted to make for months now.

Oh, and we modded a Nintendo DS Lite to output an RCA signal. We're using it with our projector, so it looks pretty nice. This pushed Lussy to finally finish Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia and play Okamiden. One day I want to print a new case for the modded DS, but our 3D printer is acting up, so I'll just have to do it later.

Also, we needed an Xbox Series controller so we wanted to buy one. I asked Lussy to choose one, but she didn't like any of the controllers for sale so we ordered a custom one - Lussy designed the controller to her liking. It has our company's name on it, so it's officially ours. The extra features are nice and all but what I really like about it is its battery life.



We got through probably the hardest year of our lives so far.
Many things happened that made our lives difficult; we're moving soon and we're working on a different project now.

We're also dipping our toes into motion capture – full body, not just facial capture. So working on personal projects became somewhat hard, we rarely have time do it (again – or rather, still).

What Geril is messing around with nowadays is the iPhone app RealityScan, that creates photogrammetry in semi-real time. You basically have to take several photos of your target from all angles, and as you're taking the pictures, you can see the app building the 3D asset in AR. It can use up to 200 pictures – that you have to take inside the app –, and it uploads those to its cloud server. Making a preview can take some time, and you can only export the result into Sketchfab.

We used to upload some of our projects to Sketchfab, so we're familiar with the platform (for whatever reason, we have 4.7k followers). After the Sketchfab export, it's fairly easy to download the mesh and the two textures.

I shot a few (hundred) photos at our family Christmas, so I can share my grandmother's Christmas cookies with everybody. There's also a wooden hawk and a wall that is in a very bad shape.

We hope that we can show you something interesting this year, that we can be more active. Also, we hope that you all had happy holidays and will have a happy New Year!


Still Alive!

Sorry for the long silence. This year so far has just been too stressful to do anything but work. And because work created most of the stress and drama in our lives, it kinda fed off itself, overwhelming us to the point where we couldn't take it anymore.

So after three years, we're leaving the project we've been working on.

There were specific things that prompted the actual resignation (or more like, the last straws that broke the camel's back), but even if we end up writing about them, it won't be now, only some time in the future. We're not sure we want to even talk about the project we were on - and that makes assembling our portfolio quite hard.

Anyway, now that we're done, we can do things that we actually want to do, like improve our development skills, make our own little projects, spend time on hobbies or just in general, be less stressed.

We have several opportunities, we'll see what we want to do with our lives, but one thing is for sure, we'll need a bit of chill after this whole mess.

Also, we wrote a few posts in the last eight months that we never released, mostly because we were too tired and overworked to think about the blog. Here's some of those, just to log what happened with us in 2022 so far:


We rarely talk about our actual work nowadays, but there's something that we really want to share: we've been working with iPhone's Live Link Face app, based on the Apple ARKit. Connected with Unreal 4, it allows us to use real time facial capture. It works well out of the box, but to make it work the way we wanted it to, Lussy had to adjust many things, and create logic that mimics missing features and makes everything move smoother.

One of the issues with this tech is that it can not separate the two eyebrows' movements. We worked around this by using slow-moving eyebrow blendspaces fed by the eyes' lookat position. Also, shoulder movement was added to the head movements. Honestly, what really sells the method is the simulated physics on the hair.

We'd really like to show you what we did, but we can't.


This month, we got our hands on a Steam Deck.

Nice little machine, and it's a weird experience after the GPD Win 2. The most interesting thing about it is its operating system. Steam OS is a custom Linux that acts like Windows, making independent Windows-like directory systems for each software.

Control-wise it's quite agile, I (Geril) can customise it any way I want, and because we already have a Steam Controller, we know what to expect from its touch pads, and already got used to its quirks.

As somebody who played WoW a lot on the GPD Win 1 and 2, I found the Deck's options a big jump forward. There's many ways to adjust and optimize the controls, it is even possible to add scrolling menus and context sensitive values to change the controls' attributes.

We've played WoW, Hatsune Miku, Fallout 4 and a bunch of indie titles. We've even used Discord while playing WoW, and it worked just fine.

The next step is to figure out if we can use Unreal Editor on the Deck. It's not easy to set up a launcher on it, desktop mode has to be used to add the software to Steam as a Non-Steam title.

Lussy is exploring the hardware's latency with rhythm games, and on its own it works fine, but on the TV or with a controller, there is some noticeable latency.

Maybe the official dock will solve the issue, we'll see.


Anyway, in the coming months, look forward to a lot more content.



Merry holidays and such!

Geril here.
This year was... a lot. Didn't have time for personal projects or anything. Well, at least at the end of the year we had a bit of time to just do whatever, so we're trying to achieve Lussy's ultimate goal: getting a Pump it Up arcade system in our household.

Sadly, we don't have the space or the money for an actual PIU arcade cabinet, so we went for the next best thing: emulation. But not just plain old emulation with keyboard or basic flimsy dance-pad inputs, no. We're going VR.
Well, for the inputs at least, we're not sure about the headset. We may not need that.

So in our time over the holidays, we grabbed one of Lussy's old boots, and attached the Vive controller to it. The position recognition was fine after we figured out the right way to attach the Vive controllers. What Lussy didn't like was that the moment for the actual contact with the floor was imprecise.
Because of that, the next step was to attach pressure sensors to the boots. After some cutting, wiring and duct taping, Lussy found the right positioning for the sensors, and the VR boots 0.7 was born!

We did the whole thing in Unreal 4 – because of course we did –, and used a control rig to make a basic mannequin character mimic the foot and leg movements. It was pretty hard to figure out the right rotation values, but in the end Lussy made it work with the tech we made.
I made a basic dancepad mesh and we reused some of our old assets from our older rhythm game prototype, so we actually have some visuals. Nothing fancy, but it helps us understand what's going on. Can't wait to work on it more.

In January we'll probably have no time to work on it. The start of the year is never easy and now that we have a company it's getting nightmarish. But we'll see.