Discussion of game backup, reproduction, burning, and ripping. Covers ROM backup, cartridge reproduction, optical disc ripping, burning, and storage. Focus on archival purposes and not deceptive selling.
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Rayek4eq
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Starting discussion about WiFi-Enabled Carts/ODEs!

by Rayek4eq Tue Oct 26, 2021 12:17 pm

Hey all! It's been a while since I've posted (like 12 years or something), but this is a really active place to discuss these types of things, so I figured it would be a good place to generate discussion about the concept of WiFi-Enabled Flash carts and ODEs.

Devices with Wifi:
  • Fenrir Sega Saturn ODE (Features in development)
  • 64Drive N64 Flash Cart


Devices with Wifi potential:
  • X-Station PS1 ODE (Uses a processor with built-in Wifi, no word or update on whether the feature is to be developed)


Some will see this and think that there's no real reason to add this feature, so let me outline what this could enable in the future, should any cart maker implement it.

The main reason this concept excites me is the capability to locally map a remote folder hosted on a home PC, a home server, or on a Network-Attached Storage (NAS). This way, the backups of my media (ROMS, images, etc) are the same as the working copies. With a NAS, I'd likely have built-in redundancy, so if a drive fails, I don't lose any data. Having to skip the process of buying new storage once one fails, and having to transfer everything back to a new card isn't just annoying, if there are savestates on a corrupted SD or any other data (playtime? not sure what all gets logged with newer, cooler flash carts), I would inevitably lose all such data unless it is ritualistically backed up manually.

Another benefit of having one remote location host all files for a console is that any folder/hierarchy manipulation or adding new hacks/translations would be done once, and from your PC. Having a MODE and installing a 2tb platter drive into my Dreamcast right before the Atomiswave dumps was incredibly frustrating. Basically each time I wanted to try a new game or a new translation, I'd be pulling apart the chassis to plug a hard drive into my PC. There are ways to make this less painful (like using SD cards, etc) but nothing would cut this annoyance more than the process being replaced by just tossing new things into a network share and having them automatically "arrive" on my Dreamcast.

Netplay. This is likely a very complicated feature to implement, but there are already plans for NES games, utilizing Wifi, that have multiplay over the internet. Having the Wifi embedded into the cart could allow for future netplay possibilities should someone dedicate the time to work on something like that.

Automatic flash cart firmware updates (or semi-automatic). Much like how when you attempt to launch a game from the Switch or PS4, a popup can prompt a cart update?

Online-server-hosted game catalog. This is a weird one, but with small files I can imagine having an internet-hosted cache of games with which someone could potentially connect, and pre-load. Again, just a future possibility enabled by Wifi, not something I'd envision for the base feature set, and of marginal use, depending on the system, but a cool and interesting thought.

Implementation thoughts:

There are two ways I could see having network storage accessed by a cart. The first, and I think the most useful, would be to map the network folder as storage, meaning any ROM or file selected would load straight from storage into the buffer/RAM. Additionally, any savestates, save data, or metrics get written straight to the share and are automatically backed up. Second would be having network access to request transfer to local media. This might be optimal for systems with larger ROMs, ISOs, or homes with outdated/slower Wifi implementations.

I personally would still have methods of local storage (SD cards, HDD, USB) so that if the console is removed from the environment it can still have a load of files ready to go. It also allows people to use carts like they always have.

Pre-caching network folders. Much like some ODEs, there's a function that could cut down on pulls from the network, which is just manually scanning and caching the folder structure to cut down on load times. Again, marginally useful because home wifi networks are very fast, but anything to cut down on loading times would be beneficial.

Final stuff

I really think this is the way forward for new ODE and Flash cart devices. Aside from making them faster and more compatible, I can't see a reason to upgrade an old SD2SNES for something new, for example. Even if Wifi enabled something very lame like quick-dumping to a flash cart's SD card from a PC, I think it would be really well received. Look at the MemCard Pro! A memory card is probably one of the weirdest things to put Wifi into, but it's so useful and helpful.

Thanks! Really looking forward to discussion on this.

Edit: Fenrir ODE is implementing loading via WiFi. I think it will be very cool to watch this, see how it functions, how it's implemented, and how it can be improved!
Last edited by Rayek4eq on Fri Oct 29, 2021 12:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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marurun
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Re: Starting discussion about WiFi-Enabled Carts/ODEs!

by marurun Tue Oct 26, 2021 1:53 pm

It's a fun idea, but there are a number of concerns. You have to have more code and more CPU resources to handle networking, not to mention wireless hardware. You have to develop interfaces to handle proper configuration of the wireless connection and navigate network resources. Once you've cached the game locally and are running it, there's then the challenge of how to handle issues like matchmaking for multiplayer titles.. None of these are unique challenges, but managing them on the flash card through the console could add a lot more difficulty, especially for older systems.
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Re: Starting discussion about WiFi-Enabled Carts/ODEs!

by Rayek4eq Tue Oct 26, 2021 2:44 pm

marurun wrote:It's a fun idea, but there are a number of concerns. You have to have more code and more CPU resources to handle networking, not to mention wireless hardware. You have to develop interfaces to handle proper configuration of the wireless connection and navigate network resources. Once you've cached the game locally and are running it, there's then the challenge of how to handle issues like matchmaking for multiplayer titles.. None of these are unique challenges, but managing them on the flash card through the console could add a lot more difficulty, especially for older systems.


Let's address them one by one!

CPU capabilities are an interesting thought. We can take the Fenrir as an example for most of these, since the devs are beginning to implement Wifi loading and remote folder access.
Fenrir utilizes an ESP32 chip with built-in WiFi. From what I can tell, they are using the basic model of the ESP32 chip, running at a likely 160mhz. There are currently 4 versions of the ESP32 chip, some going up to 240mhz, which can provide more than enough overhead for Wifi. Much like the Fenrir, if any solution were to use an already-embedded-with-wifi CPU, it requires far less coding than starting from scratch because the switches for wifi control are baked into the development environment. The work is developing the UI, figuring out bugs, etc. Which is still very complicated, but not to the degree someone could imagine. Something to remember is that most of these MCU chips with wifi are designed to connect things to the internet, and allow them to function.

Most flash carts utilize FPGA, but the processor controlling the FPGA is more often another device altogether. changing that device to one with Wifi already installed into the development environment would go quite a way. Even if not, Wifi chips are incredibly small, have built-in libraries for most microcontrollers, and antennas are not large if required at all, as most of them are included with the chip itself.

Multiplayer is kind of another story. Matchmaking securely, validating roms via checksum, etc etc is quite a task, and again, probably not something that would be accessible immediately, but that's a bigger feature request and not really the selling point (for me anyway)

I don't anticipate any of the network configuration to be done on the console itself. Most good flash carts have USB, a very simple software tool to dump a config file onto the cart is what I imagine. MemCard Pro does it another way, through a hosted webGUI, but that would be another way. I think the only feedback from the cart itself would be somewhat descriptive error readouts when loading the folder structure, and maybe a WIFI access light.
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Re: Starting discussion about WiFi-Enabled Carts/ODEs!

by marurun Tue Oct 26, 2021 3:23 pm

Oh, I agree that most of these are not unsurmountable problems. I'm just pointing out that they are additional requirements that require additional accommodations.
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Re: Starting discussion about WiFi-Enabled Carts/ODEs!

by Rayek4eq Tue Oct 26, 2021 4:05 pm

Absolutely.

And I think with the potential inherent in making this kind of thing available is a cart seller. An example would be... I have 2 MODEs, a Super SD System, a Mega Everdrive x7, an FXPak Pro, and an N8 pro. As far as I'm concerned, I'm done with buying flash-loading hardware until I buy another old console.

However, with Wifi and the slight possibility that someone, somewhere down the line will develop some of the cooler uses of that wifi (combined with the knowledge that I'm done buying flash media and hand-managing SD cards), I'd upgrade immediately. Wondering if it's just me? Or...
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Re: Starting discussion about WiFi-Enabled Carts/ODEs!

by Rayek4eq Fri Oct 29, 2021 12:29 pm

Adding an edit to the first post with 2 categories, Wifi Enabled devices, and Devices with Wifi potential.

The reason for the 2nd category is the X-Station, it uses the exact same chip (ESP32) as the Fenrir which has built-in wifi, it just hasn't been enabled through firmware on the device.
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Re: Starting discussion about WiFi-Enabled Carts/ODEs!

by Anapan Fri Oct 29, 2021 1:55 pm

Wifi enabled SD cards have been a thing for quite a while. I had one years ago - like 2012 I think. They were popular for digital cameras so you could view the images and video wirelessly while it's still in the device. You can buy MicroSD to SD ribbon adapters so this could be a solution for MicroSD devices too.

I recall there was a way to boot/stream DS games over wifi a long time ago from Samba shares or some such thing. I think it was patched out of later firmwares and console revisions.
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Re: Starting discussion about WiFi-Enabled Carts/ODEs!

by Rayek4eq Mon Nov 01, 2021 11:16 am

Anapan wrote:Wifi enabled SD cards have been a thing for quite a while. I had one years ago - like 2012 I think. They were popular for digital cameras so you could view the images and video wirelessly while it's still in the device. You can buy MicroSD to SD ribbon adapters so this could be a solution for MicroSD devices too.


Unfortunately, even with adapters, these wifi SD cards won't work on anything with a normal mSD slot, a bunch of folks have tried.

Another kind of issue is that these cards are kind of weird. They don't map as a share, they usually ask you to get software to manage the transfers. So while useful, they're not exactly what I'm looking for in terms of having these carts fully network connected. Would be great as a go-between to eliminate pulls for transfer though, should that be someone's biggest problem.
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