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USB, Meet Gameboy: Saving your Pokemon, Photos & Memories

October 5th, 2011 1 comment


Backing up GameBoy saves to Your PC
(A YouTube video briefly highlighting the process)

If you were a kid growing up in the mid 90′s there was probably a good chance you had a GameBoy from Nintendo. Most early games did not allow you to save your progress, alternatively a password system was used to pickup where you left off. But in 1998 a big game came along that used the save function, and it wouldn’t have been a success without it. That game of course was Pokemon, available originally in the United States in a Red or Blue version this game would go onto break records and hypnotize millions of kids into becoming Pokemon fanatics for life.

Growing up I was always a bit of a geek, so one day I found a device in a store titled the “Mega Memory Card” made by the now defiant company Interact. I just had to have it. This strange shaped yellow device almost looked like a Game Shark, but instead of hacking your games and giving you infinite lives, this device let you backup your game saves. The Mega Memory card had 30 available slots. Meaning I can backup my Pokemon game, erase the save file and let my brother play and restore my original game at anytime. As well as having alternate saves for a variety of games. This was really cool and I loved it. But until recently there was no easy way to get these saves onto your computer or into an emulator to really preserve it forever. There were other devices that were based on the use of the old Parallel port standard, but thankfully those days are behind us.

Enter the GB USB 64m Smart Card. This is basically a blank GameBoy cartridge with internal built-in storage and a USB port. This allows you to copy gamesaves and more from a GameBoy game to your computer! Finally allowing you to really preserve your gamesaves and other data forever. GameBoy games that involve saves run on a battery. Once this battery dies your save file is lost forever. For example most games are losing their saves recently, that’s because these batteries don’t last forever. For example Pokemon Red came out in 1998 and that game is now over 13 years old. Meaning the battery is over 13 years old. While it may still work now, the time is ticking on when the battery will finally fail. Better safe then sorry right? My Pokemon Red game just stopped working, a failure much larger then the battery was the cause I’m afraid. Thankfully years ago I made a backup using my Mega Memory Card. So this really pushed me to finally back these up to a computer once and for all. The save files are small and portable. I backed up over 60 saves to my computer (yes it took a long time), but the .zip file with them was only about 3 MB. So it’s really easy to back these up and keep them somewhere safe forever. Using a Gamil account and emailing them to yourself is a good option…

Anyway, here is how you backup your games. You’ll need all the items pictured at the top which include: The now out-of-print Mega Memory card. A game of your choice you wish to backup (in this case Pokemon Red) and a GM 64m Smart Card which is thankfully available for sale here.

First you need to download the software on the GM 64m Smart Card page (linked above). For 64-bit users of Windows this is a bit of a pain, but it does work. I’ve successfully installed the drivers and software on Windows 7 64-bit and Windows XP (32-bit). Needless to say a 32-bit version of Windows is easier to get this to work on. There are Mac & Linux options, but even though I’m using a Mac I took the shortcut of using Parallels Desktop with Windows instead of attempting the native-Mac route.

Step 1: Using your Mega Memory Card to backup the save. Plug the Mega Memory card into your GameBoy system, plug the cartridge you want to backup into the slot on the unit, for this example Pokemon Red. Make sure the top switch on the Mega Memory card is slid into the right hand side position (with the label facing away from you). So if you look at the purple MMC label the switch should be on the left position). But from the back of the GameBoy it’ll be on the right side.

Step 2: Turn on the Gameboy. If the Memory Card manager screen does not come up clean your game contacts of dust. This is a major factor in making this work smoothly, I have dumped games which did not have a working save, this was due to there not being a secure connection. So try again until the menu comes up. Once you get to the menu select ‘Backup’. You will be given a chance to type a title or name for your save. A screen saying “Working” will let you know it’s backing up the game save. This will only take a few seconds. If you’re backing up a GameBoy camera this will take significantly longer, maybe around 10-20 seconds, but more on the GameBoy camera later.

Step 3: Once the ‘Working’ screen goes away it is safe to shut-off the system. Remove the game you copied the save from (ex. Pokemon Red) from the back of the Mega Memory Card unit. Now plug in the GM 64m Smart Card into the Mega Memory Card. Turn on the system again and wait to get to the Memory Card menu. Again if it does not boot up correctly clean the game contacts. Now this time we choose ‘Restore’ since we want to write the save information we just backed up form the Pokemon game. Select the name of the save you created before. A ‘Working’ screen will again come up to let you know it’s working. When it’s done it’ll return to the main menu, this means it’s finished. It’s now safe to turn off the GameBoy.

Step 4: Thanks to the nature of USB you can disconnect the GB 64m Smart Card from the Memory card/ GameBoy all together and plug it into your computer via the USB port on the cartridge. The USB cable is a standard ‘Mini-B’ connection, found on most digital cameras and other devices.  Note: If you leave the cartridge plugged into a GameBoy (even if it’s off) it will not be read properly by the computer. So remove the cartridge from any connection before continuing.

Start up the GB_USB.exe application in Windows. The screen will indicate it’s loading. The program has two sections, one to save data to the card, and one to read data from the card (the bottom). We’ll be focusing on the bottom section. Game Card Information. Please note there are two 32M Slots/Pages. If you do not see anything listed under ‘Game Name’ you should change the Data page from the drop-down menu on the upper section. Changing this to Page NO. 2 solved the issue for me. You should now see something listed on the bottom section under Card Information. On my screen it reads ‘ADVENTURE’ with a size of 256k. This may vary depending on your game.

Now to copy this to your PC. Since we’re copying just game saves and not a ROM, we’ll select the ‘READ SRAM’ button. You will be asked to save your game file somewhere, be sure to add a .sav extension or your GameBoy emulator will not properly read the save file. This will show a progress bar backing up your info. When it’s done it’s safe to close the program and unplug the cartridge from the USB port.

Step 5: Playing your save file on an emulator. First you need the ROM of the original game. I won’t get into the whole legal issues with this, but depending on your country it technically may be illegal to obtain or own these ROMs unless you own them. If you do a web search you can probably find it, but don’t ask me where to download’em.  So now that you have the ROM of the game you downloaded the game save from we’re ready to go.

On Windows I used VisualBoy Advance, a pretty good GameBoy emulator which emulates GameBoy, GameBoy Color and GameBoy Advance games very well. Start by selecting ‘File > Open…’ and select the game ROM (for example Pokemon Red). The game will load and start to play, don’t worry about this. Once again go to the File menu, but this time go to ‘Import’ and select ‘Battery file’. The battery file is the save file we downloaded form our USB cartridge. Make sure the file has the extension .sav (for example “MyRedGameSave.sav”). If not the program will not see it as a save file and it may not work. Select your save. The program will warn you that loading the save will cause the current game to reset and lose any unsaved data. This is just fine because we just started the game. Click OK and watch the game reboot…

TA-DAH! You now have your gamesave loaded into an emulator. Your game save can be emailed to yourself, backed up, or shared online. It will live on forever!

Note about GameBoy Camera saves: Using the above method I was able to save my GameBoy camera photos. But not without a bit of a struggle. Hopefully the below notes will help you out. First this website was crucial. It follows the same process above but gives you a download link to the GBCameraDump.exe program, without this it’s not possible to view your photos. Especially since most emulators (like VisualBoy Advance) won’t read a GameBoy Camera save file because it can not properly load up the GameBoy Camera ROM file.

So please visit this wonderful site to start the process, but before doing so I have some helpful tips to ensure a smooth operation!

This is the result of a bad dump of a GameBoy Camera save file.

This is the result of a good dump of a GameBoy Camera save file.

Clean the contacts on the GameBoy camera! Are they clean? Good, clean them again! The camera will not easily slide onto the Mega Memory card. It can work, but it is a bit snug. This causes the game to be extra sensitive, so there’s a higher chance of it not backing up properly. I tried twice and I got gibberish photos (although my Game Face was usually okay). To fix this I cleaned all cartridges and slots with a Q-Tip (without anything on it, but you can go further, just be careful). Finally on my 3rd try everything worked okay. The key to this is the transfer times. The Mega Memory Card will take it’s sweet time to backup the GameBoy camera save. That is normal. However when ‘Restoring’ this save to the GM 64m Smart Card is where I was having the issue. The Mega Memory card would often take no time to restore the save to the card. And that is when I was getting zero usable pictures when opening the GBCameraDump.exe program. To fix this I formatted the GM 64m Smart Card (using the GB_USB.exe utility) and tried again. This time it worked great. So it may have been a combination of dust and formatting. This time the Mega Memory card took the same amount of time to backup the Camera save as it took to restore it to the USB card. All worked well and GBCameraDump.exe was able to save all of my photos into crisp Black & White .BMP image files. So don’t give up, it’ll work eventually! :)

Thankfully with these tools we can now successfully preserve our childhood gaming memories. Whether it be Pokemon game saves or GameBoy camera photos, they can now be saved and archived on your personal computer.

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Tame the Lion: Put Mac OS X back to the way you like it!

July 20th, 2011 No comments

So Apple’s new version of Mac OS X is out, version 10.7 nicknamed ‘Lion’. For the most part I really like it, Lion’s new features definitely out-weigh it’s flaws in my opinion. Before upgrading it’s wise to backup your data and make sure your apps are compatible, Microsoft Office 2008 and Quicken are two examples of apps that won’t work with Lion.

While Lion offers a lot of nice new features it tends to mess with the things that previous users of Mac OS X were used to. Some of them are little things that have been the same since Mac OS X’s earlier versions and were changed for one reason or another. Some of them may confuse a user who is upgrading or just make them plain unhappy that something is not as it once was. In this little blog post I’ll go over some of the changes that I’ve discovered in Lion and how to get them back to how you may prefer them. Most of them you can change back easily to how they acted before in Snow Leopard, but some are here to stay no matter what.

 

#1 Inverse Scrolling (Natural Scrolling): This is a feature that people either love, or they hate. Inverse scrolling (also called Natural Scrolling) mimics the iPhone’s scrolling habits, meaning if you move your scroll wheel or trackpad down, the page will scroll up. And if you move it up it’ll scroll down. Make sense? No? Don’t worry you can shut it off. This scrolling feature basically reverses everything we’ve been used to for the past 20 years. To shut this one off simply go into System Preferences and click on either ‘Mouse’ (if you’re using a mouse) or ‘Trackpad’ (if you’re using a trackpad). The first option is titled “Scroll direction: natural”, just uncheck the box next to it and you’re done! Thankfully Apple has given us a choice in the matter, we’re not so lucky for our next option…

#2 Monochrome Sidebar Icons: What is this 1992? Do I have a PowerBook Duo 230 with a greyscale screen? Is Apple afraid I’m going to hurt my eyes on all the color?! This is the same thing that happened to iTunes a few releases back. For whatever reason Apple thought it would be cool to ditch all of the color in the sidebar, and just replace it with plain old monocrhome buttons. Why did they do this? I honestly don’t have a clue. I think it’s actually quite stupid. Why on Earth would you want all of the icons and buttons to look like some gray blur?? The colors and shapes help us quickly find what we’re looking for. Purple is the Desktop, the Blue filmstrip is for Movies, the green arrow is for Downloads. It was very simple and easy to see.

But now what do we have? Even more buttons, but no color! Sure the shapes are still there, but the colors were a nice and easy way to help your eyes quickly look for something that was oh so familiar to you. They should have at least given us an option here. But sadly if you want to use Mac OS X Lion you’ll have to pretend that the sidebar is stuck in some monochrome display mode. I’m sure somebody can hack this and fix it, they did for iTunes. After all icons can be changed, but why fix it if it isn’t broken Apple?

 

#3 Dashboard (Widgets): Before the App Store was a twinkle in the eye of Mr. Jobs the Dashboard feature allowed users to quickly access mini-applications (called Widgets) to easily find out information like calendar events, weather conditions, stock quotes and more. This feature was introduced in Mac OS X 10.4 ‘Tiger’ and was touted as being a way to check quickly and then dismiss it just as easily. But in Lion Dashboard takes on a Spaces approach. Dashboard is accessed by swiping your multitouch pointing device to the right, which pushes in a big empty window with your widgets on them. Now for myself personally I have never tried to use Spaces, maybe one day I will, but for now I don’t so this seems very alien to me and I don’t like it. So can we change this back to the old way of showing things? Yes we can! All you have to go is once again open up ‘System Preferences’ click on ‘Mission Control’ and uncheck the box that reads ‘Show Dashboard as a space’. It’s just that easy, again I’m thankful that Apple has given us an option for this, as the new way may not work well for some people.

#4 Mail’s New View: Like many things in Lion they seem to be pulled directly from the iPhone or iPad. The inverse scrolling, the style of the scroll bars, and even the new Mail app. The new Mail app allows you to read Mail in a few new views, you can view a two-column or three-column view similar to how the iPad would display your email. Now this is a personal preference, but here’s how you can put Mail back to looking how it did in Snow Leopard. First off, if you want to see all of your inboxes click the ‘Show All’ button at the top left of your mail window. That’s simple enough, now you can see all of your folders and boxes.

Now to change the viewing format you want to use simply go to the Mail app, go to the Mail menu and select ‘Preferences’ [Or while in Mail simply do the following keyboard shortcut, Command (Apple Key) , (comma)]. Select the ‘Viewing’ tab up top and check the first checkbox titled ‘Use classic layout’. Here you also have some more options. But that checkbox will make you feel much more at home if you don’t care for the new layout.

#6 Restore Finder Window Details (Path Bar & Status Bar): After upgrading to Lion I knew something was missing, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then I realized it, the Path bar and Status bar on my Finder windows was missing! Some of you may not even realize what these are or even car, but the Path bar is the bar at the bottom of a window that tells you it’s location and what folder it’s in. The status bar tells you how many items are in a folder and how much disk space is available as well.

While this is nothing essential for most users, I personally like to know the path of the folder I’m in and the disk space available on the window I have open. Apple turns this off by default, but we can quickly turn it back on. Simply open any Finder window, now go to the ‘View’ menu and select ‘Show Path Bar’, the other option ‘Show Status Bar’ is right below it. So there you go, everything is back to normal. Now doesn’t that feel better? :)

#5 Need a Lion Install DVD?: Apple sure loves it’s new App Store. It saves them from making discs and shipping them to their store, it saves the planet some green too so it’s all well and good. It’s a great way for them to distribute their new OS. If you’ve installed Lion by now you know it’s a download-only operating system. It weighs in at about 3.76 GB and thankfully easily fits onto a single-layer DVD-R. The days of looking for a dual-layer DVD disc to burn a Mac OS X Install disc onto are thankfully behind us! A DVD copy of Lion is handy for those who don’t want to re-download a nearly 4GB file everytime you need to install Lion or need to use it as a bootup disk to diagnose a problem with a computer, or even use it when you replace your hard drive. It’s also handy for those who do not have easy access to a high-speed internet connection or have to install Lion on multiple machines. Thankfully the Install Lion app is pretty simple and you can easily share it on a network to do help with installing on multiple Macs. Apple officially offers a Lion installable USB flash drive, but it’s $69. You can save a bit by doing this yourself, you can use a friend’s internet connection to download Lion for $29, buy a 8GB USB flash drive for $12 (4GB may be cutting it too close) and make your own bootable Lion USB installer! But that’s a whole other story…

To make a DVD of Lion simply find your ‘Install Mac OS X Lion.app’ and right-click it, select ‘Show Package Contents’ to expand what files are actually inside of this app. Now go to ‘Contents>SharedSupport’ and you’ll find a file named ‘InstallESD.dmg’ this is the Mac OS X Lion install disk image. To make a bootable DVD out of this open up Disk Utility (found under the Utilities folder of your Application folder). Drag the ‘InstallESD.dmg’ file from the Finder window to the bottom half of the sidebar on the Disk Utility window. Select the ‘InstallESD.dmg’ file from the sidebar in Disk Utility and click Burn, insert a regular ol’ blank 4.7GB DVD-R disc and you’re done! You can also make a Lion bootable USB drive or hard drive, but other places online have this covered.

So the new version of Mac OS X is here at last, hopefully the above tips will help you get things working the way you like them. I may add to this list if I come across anything else I find interesting. :)

-Steve

Mac OS X: Automator and Error code -1728

November 27th, 2010 No comments

So some of you may know of Automator, Apple’s little automation program introduced in Mac OS X 10.4 “Tiger”. Well it’s a great application and I use it all the time. The current version in Mac OS X “10.6″ is better than ever. I’m currently scanning in old family photos. So I end up with dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of huge .TIFF image files. Thanks to Automator I can resize the images, compress them to JPEGs, and save them for the Web, all without harming the original high-resolution scanned in files.

But I came across an odd error. Error code #-1728. This was odd. I put my images in the workflow. I instructed automator to resize the images by 50% and to save them as JPG images. Automator seemed to work, but then stopped. I was puzzled. I keep getting error #1728. The only hint was the obscure dialog for this error “Change type of images failed – 1 error” and “Can’t get <class posx> of missing value”. I was so confused… I didn’t understand why some images would work and others wouldn’t.

Then it dawned on me. It was because of the file name! Some of the images I scanned in I added slashes (/) in the filename. Mac OS X will let you type it in the file – but I guess it’s not a smart thing to do when trying to edit or open files, especially in Automator. So all I did was rename my files. For example “Scanned Photo 35 (4/29/1994)” wouldn’t pass through Automator… but when it was renamed to “Scanned Photo 35 (4-29-1994)” the image passed through fine. After the fix everything went smoothly! :)

So remember if you have an odd issue in Automator make sure any forward slashes or other odd characters in the file names are removed. Good luck!

-Steve

Telling the difference between a Mac OS X Restore Disc and a Retail Install Disc (Archive)

August 17th, 2009 No comments

Note: This article was transferred from my original blog.


A lot more people have Macs today, which leads to a lot more people with a lot more questions. One frequent mix-up comes when a user needs to re-install Mac OS X or when someone wants to upgrade their copy of Mac OS X. Either they lose their discs or they decide to use one from a friend and they discover it just doesn’t work. They wonder why, that’s because not all discs will work with all Macs.

This happens because there are two common types of Mac OS X install discs. Three if you want to be specific. The first type is a Restore disc. These are gray-covered discs that come with your Mac when you buy it new. Usually there are two DVDs included, one has the Mac OS X software and the other has additional programs such as iLife. These discs will only work with that specific Mac model it was included with. For example a restore disc that came bundled with a MacBook will not work on an iMac. Or even a newer (2008) or older (2006) MacBook restore disc, may not work with your 2007 MacBook model.

The second type of a install disc is a Retail Install Disc. This is the type of disc you will buy from Apple. This is a full install disc and will work on any Mac that supports the minimum system requirements. It will install on an iMac, MacBook, Mac Pro, Mac Mini, etc. This version however does not include some bundled software that originally would of came with your Mac, such as iLife and some additional applications.

The third type of install disc is a variant of the Retail Install Disc, this is a Retail Upgrade Disc. These discs are usually received through Apple’s Up-To-Date program. You would receive this disc if you bought a Mac with the older software pre-installed on the system right after Apple has started shipping a newer version. For example if Mac OS X 10.5 came installed on your iMac and Apple released Mac OS X 10.6 a few days earlier, your iMac gets an upgrade. There may be a small charge to receive the updated discs. These discs will only install if it detects the older version of Mac OS X installed. For example it will not work on a Mac with no version of Mac OS X installed, or a version older then the previous version.

This can sound a bit confusing, but there is a simple way to tell the discs apart. A Restore disc has a gray cover and will say the model of the Mac it is for on the front along with a version number and a date. A Retail install disc will have a pretty graphic on the front and not mention a model such as iMac or MacBook. A Retail upgrade disc will look very similar to the Retail install disc, but it may say “CPU Drop-in DVD”, “Upgrade Disc” or “Update Disc” on it. This signifies that the install disc will check for a previous (and existing) installation of Mac OS X before it can install the updated version of the software, and will not work on a Mac that has no software on it.

So if you bought a new hard drive for your Mac and it’s blank, you will need a Retail install disc or the appropriate Restore disc for your Mac. An Upgrade disc will not work in this situation. Above is a graphic showing the difference between a restore disc and a retail install disc. I hope this helps with some confusion about the different Mac OS X install discs. Happy installing!!

-Steven