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SEGA ST-VE (Saturn/ST-V Enhancer)

jollyroger

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XenForo says Oct 18, 2008, but actually I originally register in 1998...
As I noted in the other thread, this is definitely one of my holy grails.

I have information that SEGA apparently developed and tested a special, improved ST-V board named "ST-V Enhancer", I am guessing for arcade use only.

The board adds to the system a second VDP1 and two Analog Devices ADSP-21062 DSPs, quite a punch!

I would absolutely love to put my hands on one of the prototypes and play with it...
 

Allie

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What are the odds of that so-called ST-V Enhancer having the same specifications as the ill-fated Eclipse accelerator cartridge once being developed by Sega of America's in-house technical R&D division? I've seen this described as including anything between "Model 3" quality components and a custom 3dfx processor, but it's far more likely Sega would have built on the Saturn's established architecture rather than needing this to interact with anything too different, which must have surely reduced its effectiveness. Saying that, could a secondary VDP1* have been put into a device intended for the port otherwise exclusive to the Video CD Card? I still don't fully understand how such an upgrade might have worked or what it most likely contained. If we factor in the additional communication bottlenecks, I reckon this solution wouldn't have offered less than 1.5 times the power of a single VDP1 to justify its existence. On the other hand, I can't imagine it providing double the performance or more, either...
 

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XenForo says Oct 18, 2008, but actually I originally register in 1998...
Hard to tell, but it would have hardly been the first time a similar configuration had been used in arcade boards, so not completely out of question.
From the information I have, the Extender system seems to be mapped entirely on the B-bus with bank switching, so for command and control operations it seems the communication bottlenecks may have been indeed an issue.
The reason it never surfaced is likely that the performance difference was not worth the extra cost/issues...
Still, I love how they experimented with a yet more complex configuration of this madhouse :)
 

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What are the odds of that so-called ST-V Enhancer having the same specifications as the ill-fated Eclipse accelerator cartridge once being developed by Sega of America's in-house technical R&D division? I've seen this described as including anything between "Model 3" quality components and a custom 3dfx processor, but it's far more likely Sega would have built on the Saturn's established architecture rather than needing this to interact with anything too different, which must have surely reduced its effectiveness. Saying that, could a secondary VDP1* have been put into a device intended for the port otherwise exclusive to the Video CD Card? I still don't fully understand how such an upgrade might have worked or what it most likely contained. If we factor in the additional communication bottlenecks, I reckon this solution wouldn't have offered less than 1.5 times the power of a single VDP1 to justify its existence. On the other hand, I can't imagine it providing double the performance or more, either...

The VCD port is too limited in terms of access to the HW like MD unlike PCE which has an Ext. port as it should be. You need the main Saturn slot. As far as I know regarding VF3 there are rumors of two builds. One is a slot-accelerated GPU design by Core Design and one stock Saturn AM2 design which uses very low texture BGs. Of course Yu doesn't know about that. maybe b/c he was pissed that he was backstabbed with VF3 DC when getting VF3 SAT ready to ship? ;)

The main problem with Saturn is communication between those chips and the amount of those stoopid chips. The bus-system is very limited. PS1 smokes Saturn like double in bandwith. So putting a second VDP1 in there would have meant some serious architecture reconstructuring and still you would not get double the output you hope for.

@lollyroger Madhouse, that is what Saturn is all about. On the other hand two steps away from Model 2/AM2 department we have a simple to program for "pedal to the metal" HW. Sega was not only too dumb to communicate with Sega of America, nope... they were even to dumb ato communicate with YU, that little guy who made Sega big.
 
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Allie

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The VCD port is too limited in terms of access to the HW like MD unlike PCE which has an Ext. port as it should be. You need the main Saturn slot. As far as I know regarding VF3 there are rumors of two builds. One is a slot-accelerated GPU design by Core Design and one stock Saturn AM2 design which uses very low texture BGs. Of course Yu doesn't know about that. maybe b/c he was pissed that he was backstabbed with VF3 DC when getting VF3 SAT ready to ship? ;)

The main problem with Saturn is communication between those chips and the amount of those stoopid chips. The bus-system is very limited. PS1 smokes Saturn like double in bandwith. So putting a second VDP1 in there would have meant some serious architecture reconstructuring and still you would not get double the output you hope for.

According to several ex-SOA staff members, there were two very early tech demos for Saturn VF3 doing the rounds internally. One was described as being a female character (either Pai or Aoi, depending on who you ask) practicing moves over a plain background, while the other is almost certainly the same model of Akira that was included as a sample with the Sega Graphics Library. There were also claims of the former appearing on terrestrial TV in the UK, but after years of trying to find this, I've given up searching - at the very least, we know material relating to VF3 was included in the 15-minute infomercial that Sega broadcast on Channel 4, which was little more than the same FMV sequence later featured on the Dreamcast version of VF3tb.

Speaking of that conversion, Yu Suzuki supposedly gave his blessing to Genki producing this because of AM2 lacking the resources as a result of working on Saturn VF3 while carrying what later became Shenmue over to the Dreamcast. For those who don't know, Genki was a partial breakaway group from AM2, and Yu clearly trusted them enough to begin preliminary development on OutRun 2. My understanding is that it was management within SOJ that made the call not to release Saturn VF3, fearing that a less-than-arcade-perfect treatment would harm sales of Genki's own effort. Also, there were actually two so-called revisions of Saturn VF3, both running on stock hardware, as did the prototype of Shenmue that has since been revealed in video form.

Of the two Saturn VF3 revisions known to exist, the first complete build was dated 8 July 1998 and looked quite similar to Fighters Megamix. Although it's considered a later version, the second revision had actually been shelved months before as offering better visuals at the cost of its frame rate, which was half of that seen in other AM2 games for the period such as Digital Dance Mix and the aforementioned Fighters Megamix, though it did introduce basic 3D stage geometry that was reportedly achieved by using a combination of the rarely used SCU DSP and SH1, the latter typically assigned to controlling the Saturn's disc drive. I'm not quite sure how that would have worked, but there was indeed some vague official documentation about the DSP being able to at least theoretically handle matrix transformations.

From what I was told years ago, Sega initially approved the second revision of Saturn VF3 and even sent the master for this to a Japanese pressing plant ahead of a possible release on 5 September '98, which is also the same day that Deep Fear became the console's last PAL game. Along the way, it's been conflated that AM2 was therefore planning for Saturn VF3 to launch in Europe, though I've never seen confirmation of this beyond a vague, brief listing on Sega's official website. However, that doesn't necessarily mean anything, since Sonic The Fighters was also a regular title there as well, even receiving a provisional street date of 5 May '98 before disappearing altogether.

Saying that, what are the odds that Sega Europe wasn't at least considering the possibility of giving the Saturn a more deserving send-off with both Deep Fear and VF3? Going into production concurrent with its producer giving a speech at a press conference in November '96 where he also revealed Fighters Megamix, nothing further was shown of Saturn VF3, and my guess is that AM2 had been hoping to surprise everyone by revealing the end product close to when they were close to shipping this. A document leaked to the main writer of the SegaBase website indicated that Saturn VF3 was finally cancelled on 17 September '98, just days after its master was ordered back from the pressing plant. I've no idea whether it went into mass production, but the lack of any circulating copies points to it being recalled before that stage.

The only other concrete details I was ever able to determine involved members of the press being allowed to play the last known build of Saturn VF3 backstage at the Autumn Tokyo Game Show in October '98, where Sega's emphasis was naturally on the Dreamcast, then just weeks away from its Japanese launch. Several members of the UK official Sega Saturn Magazine (which had just released its final issue) were definitely present, as former editor Richard Leadbetter reported for "sister" site Game Online on the near-final VF3tb, also showcased at the second New Challenge conference around the same time. Despite this, he'd later deny ever being shown Saturn VF3, and it's believed that Yu Suzuki's continued silence on the matter is because he considers its failure to reach shelves one of his first great failures while at Sega, later followed by Shenmue not meeting its sales expectations.

Before long, the once untouchable Yu Suzuki was reduced to very little, and it was quite depressing to watch him go from being on such a winning streak from the mid-1980s all the way through to 2001, only to then limp away from the company he'd done so much for. I recently saw claims that VF4 almost single-handedly kept Sega financially stable, but the subsequent takeover by Sammy left the AM departments in a state where they were not allowed to take any great risks. As a result of this new conservative mindset, Yu Suzuki put his name on nothing of worth except perhaps the mostly forgotten Sega Race TV, with the ill-fated Shenmue III and Shenmue Online being something of a final straw for him as Sega's in-house equivalent to Shigeru Miyamoto.

To make a quick side note, I really must apologise to anyone unfamiliar with my sometimes exhaustive passion for Saturn VF3. I've literally spent the last two decades chasing down every last piece of information I can get my hands on regarding this unreleased conversion, though I'm frustratingly no closer to owning any code except for a few rudimentary SGL Akira samples. For those of you who know me from over at the ASSEMblergames forum, I can only apologise for repeating a lot of what I've already posted there at considerable length. For some reason, it seems as if Sega and Yu Suzuki want to continue acting like VF3 never existed. Was it really that necessary for VF4 to be so regressive as a sequel, and now Model 3 emulation is advanced enough, can't we just get the arcade original on modern hardware instead of VF2 or VF5 yet again?

Finally, it should be noted that while there is evidence suggesting Core Design was involved with those SCUD Race materials found on some early Katana development kits, if not very early experiments relating to Tomb Raider II as well, I don't believe it's ever been confirmed that the same developer was responsible for any known version of Saturn VF3, though it's possible they did get something up and running purely for demonstration purposes using the Eclipse accelerator. On the other hand, I'm yet to see any proof this hardware was at a working prototype stage. Then again, the whole Eclipse project was allegedly being conducted without the knowledge of anyone outside SOA's walls, so would AM2 have been aware of a close third party like Core using VF3 assets? There's still so much to be determined, and I can only hope the end of now-expired NDAs might lead to new insights coming our way soon... Even some footage would be welcome!

P.S. Eclipse was definitely being created with the intention of using the Video CD Card slot, just as the upcoming Satiator device will.
 

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VF3 was also rumored to be in test development for the 3DO M2, if Sega licensed the tech for itself.

Digital Dance Mix : Namie Amuru was showcased running on M2 hardware at a Japanese expo after Panasonic moved the hardware to kiosk and consumer marketing. Sega software was shown, along with two other Panasonic Wondertainment demos, to showcase the 3D rendering of M2

There is one supposed screenshot of an M2 based VF3 model. Can’t confirm that’s where it’s from, but interesting story

But I have magazine scans from reporters who watched Panasonic demo Digital Dance on M2, and the story is that was a test for what hardware could run VF3, so I’d bet anything at one point VF3 was tested on M2 :)
 

Allie

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I forgot to mention the planned M2 version of VF3 before, though I had no idea Digital Dance Mix was also shown running on this hardware. As for the "screenshot" you posted, that was indeed often wrongly claimed to be from the M2, but it's actually an old promotional render from the VF2 era. Similarly, a few magazines back in the day claimed that VF3 was bound for the Tiger Game.com, while I suspect it ended up getting reworked into Fighters Megamix. (Sonic Xtreme was also tentatively announced as coming to the same platform, and I'm fairly sure that became the basis for the handheld version of Sonic Jam.)
 

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I forgot to mention the planned M2 version of VF3 before, though I had no idea Digital Dance Mix was also shown running on this hardware. As for the "screenshot" you posted, that was indeed often wrongly claimed to be from the M2, but it's actually an old promotional render from the VF2 era. Similarly, a few magazines back in the day claimed that VF3 was bound for the Tiger Game.com, while I suspect it ended up getting reworked into Fighters Megamix. (Sonic Xtreme was also tentatively announced as coming to the same platform, and I'm fairly sure that became the basis for the handheld version of Sonic Jam.)

I was never quite sure where that screenshot came from, but yes Digital Dance was shown running on M2. I’ll take a photo of the article and attach it here tomorrow. On my computer and I am on my phone :)

I wish something remained of M2 VF3. Would be fun to have more software available for the M2. I actually compared Battle Tryst to VF3 on my “M2 Graphical Comparison” episode. Funny how that happens :)

 

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According to several ex-SOA staff members, there were two very early tech demos for Saturn VF3 doing the rounds internally. One was described as being a female character (either Pai or Aoi, depending on who you ask) practicing moves over a plain background, while the other is almost certainly the same model of Akira that was included as a sample with the Sega Graphics Library. There were also claims of the former appearing on terrestrial TV in the UK, but after years of trying to find this, I've given up searching - at the very least, we know material relating to VF3 was included in the 15-minute infomercial that Sega broadcast on Channel 4, which was little more than the same FMV sequence later featured on the Dreamcast version of VF3tb.

Speaking of that conversion, Yu Suzuki supposedly gave his blessing to Genki producing this because of AM2 lacking the resources as a result of working on Saturn VF3 while carrying what later became Shenmue over to the Dreamcast. For those who don't know, Genki was a partial breakaway group from AM2, and Yu clearly trusted them enough to begin preliminary development on OutRun 2. My understanding is that it was management within SOJ that made the call not to release Saturn VF3, fearing that a less-than-arcade-perfect treatment would harm sales of Genki's own effort. Also, there were actually two so-called revisions of Saturn VF3, both running on stock hardware, as did the prototype of Shenmue that has since been revealed in video form.

Of the two Saturn VF3 revisions known to exist, the first complete build was dated 8 July 1998 and looked quite similar to Fighters Megamix. Although it's considered a later version, the second revision had actually been shelved months before as offering better visuals at the cost of its frame rate, which was half of that seen in other AM2 games for the period such as Digital Dance Mix and the aforementioned Fighters Megamix, though it did introduce basic 3D stage geometry that was reportedly achieved by using a combination of the rarely used SCU DSP and SH1, the latter typically assigned to controlling the Saturn's disc drive. I'm not quite sure how that would have worked, but there was indeed some vague official documentation about the DSP being able to at least theoretically handle matrix transformations.

From what I was told years ago, Sega initially approved the second revision of Saturn VF3 and even sent the master for this to a Japanese pressing plant ahead of a possible release on 5 September '98, which is also the same day that Deep Fear became the console's last PAL game. Along the way, it's been conflated that AM2 was therefore planning for Saturn VF3 to launch in Europe, though I've never seen confirmation of this beyond a vague, brief listing on Sega's official website. However, that doesn't necessarily mean anything, since Sonic The Fighters was also a regular title there as well, even receiving a provisional street date of 5 May '98 before disappearing altogether.

Saying that, what are the odds that Sega Europe wasn't at least considering the possibility of giving the Saturn a more deserving send-off with both Deep Fear and VF3? Going into production concurrent with its producer giving a speech at a press conference in November '96 where he also revealed Fighters Megamix, nothing further was shown of Saturn VF3, and my guess is that AM2 had been hoping to surprise everyone by revealing the end product close to when they were close to shipping this. A document leaked to the main writer of the SegaBase website indicated that Saturn VF3 was finally cancelled on 17 September '98, just days after its master was ordered back from the pressing plant. I've no idea whether it went into mass production, but the lack of any circulating copies points to it being recalled before that stage.

The only other concrete details I was ever able to determine involved members of the press being allowed to play the last known build of Saturn VF3 backstage at the Autumn Tokyo Game Show in October '98, where Sega's emphasis was naturally on the Dreamcast, then just weeks away from its Japanese launch. Several members of the UK official Sega Saturn Magazine (which had just released its final issue) were definitely present, as former editor Richard Leadbetter reported for "sister" site Game Online on the near-final VF3tb, also showcased at the second New Challenge conference around the same time. Despite this, he'd later deny ever being shown Saturn VF3, and it's believed that Yu Suzuki's continued silence on the matter is because he considers its failure to reach shelves one of his first great failures while at Sega, later followed by Shenmue not meeting its sales expectations.

Before long, the once untouchable Yu Suzuki was reduced to very little, and it was quite depressing to watch him go from being on such a winning streak from the mid-1980s all the way through to 2001, only to then limp away from the company he'd done so much for. I recently saw claims that VF4 almost single-handedly kept Sega financially stable, but the subsequent takeover by Sammy left the AM departments in a state where they were not allowed to take any great risks. As a result of this new conservative mindset, Yu Suzuki put his name on nothing of worth except perhaps the mostly forgotten Sega Race TV, with the ill-fated Shenmue III and Shenmue Online being something of a final straw for him as Sega's in-house equivalent to Shigeru Miyamoto.

To make a quick side note, I really must apologise to anyone unfamiliar with my sometimes exhaustive passion for Saturn VF3. I've literally spent the last two decades chasing down every last piece of information I can get my hands on regarding this unreleased conversion, though I'm frustratingly no closer to owning any code except for a few rudimentary SGL Akira samples. For those of you who know me from over at the ASSEMblergames forum, I can only apologise for repeating a lot of what I've already posted there at considerable length. For some reason, it seems as if Sega and Yu Suzuki want to continue acting like VF3 never existed. Was it really that necessary for VF4 to be so regressive as a sequel, and now Model 3 emulation is advanced enough, can't we just get the arcade original on modern hardware instead of VF2 or VF5 yet again?

Finally, it should be noted that while there is evidence suggesting Core Design was involved with those SCUD Race materials found on some early Katana development kits, if not very early experiments relating to Tomb Raider II as well, I don't believe it's ever been confirmed that the same developer was responsible for any known version of Saturn VF3, though it's possible they did get something up and running purely for demonstration purposes using the Eclipse accelerator. On the other hand, I'm yet to see any proof this hardware was at a working prototype stage. Then again, the whole Eclipse project was allegedly being conducted without the knowledge of anyone outside SOA's walls, so would AM2 have been aware of a close third party like Core using VF3 assets? There's still so much to be determined, and I can only hope the end of now-expired NDAs might lead to new insights coming our way soon... Even some footage would be welcome!

P.S. Eclipse was definitely being created with the intention of using the Video CD Card slot, just as the upcoming Satiator device will.

Thank you Allie. So much new information I wasn't aware of and I researched VF3 SAT to death. It's sad how Sega treated Yu. Capcom and Konami did the same with their cash cows, stoopid.

Why would they put the Eclipse into that slot instead of the bigger one? And yes I heard that too that Core had some accelerator in the making.

If you compare VF3 Arcade vs DC the differencies are not that much. Polygon count seems identical two things the DC version has lacked is far away textures like the chineese wall stage are lower res, not all of the but some. This is ok BUT where Genki really messed up was the 2D BGs, they are so pixalated it's not even funny. The beach stage is a mess.

BTW if you didn't know about vcdecide, they make very good side-by-side comparison videos which should run in 60fps, check it out.

Here we have VF3 AC vs DC:

 

Allie

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Whenever anyone suggests VF3tb on Dreamcast was identical to its Model 3 counterpart, I always like to point out some very obvious differences... In addition to the considerably lower resolution backgrounds that have already been mentioned, compare the joints of certain character models. Polygon counts were reduced across the board, but while most changes weren't really noticeable, Jeffry and Shun have awkward seams at the top of their legs. Also, Akira and Kage suffer from less geometry being used for under their arms - you can see that textures are being applied across a much greater distance than they were in the arcade version, which results in some unnatural stretching over more inorganic angles.

Despite all these relatively minor optimisations (even though many within Sega claimed their newest console was perfectly capable of surpassing its high end coin-op platform in terms of performance), there are still instances of slowdown, perhaps most notably when much of a stage is in view as the camera zooms at the start of each round. On top of all this, there are instances when distance fogging can be a little too aggressive, plus there's the infamous shadow breakup issue that was only partially fixed after its initial Japanese release. Speaking of that earliest version, the absence of a dedicated versus mode shows just how rushed everything was!

Finally for now, one trick carried over from AM2's original work is a clever algorithm designed to only show the hanging details on Aoi's outfit if there are enough free resources available. Curiously, her own arena causes the most problems, which is likely a result of this also containing fully 3D snow and particle effects for when its stream is interacted with. In contrast to the Model 3 base, you're less likely overall to see Aoi with sleeves on Dreamcast. Speaking of clothes, Jacky's coat doesn't appear to be as fluid, either. Where this was once a jacket with somewhat realistic flowing movements, it had been reduced to an almost entirely solid garment. Really, the differences are there if you know what to look for. Where's DF Retro to set the record straight when we need them?
 

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I remember importing a Dreamcast and VF3 and being disappointed with the graphics a bit. Especially the 2D backgrounds.

Compared to Soul Calibur VF3 does not hold up near as well visually. Gameplay wise it’s still amazing to me though
 

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"Matsushita, Panasonic Wonderainment's sister company.....Digital Dance Mix Namie Amuro, a karaoke title, completed the trio"

So Digital Dance was showcased at an expo in Japan in 1997/98, so we know Sega was developing for the M2, per the rumors they may purchase the hardware designs. Considering Digital Dance was a test for rendering VF3 on Saturn, it's a decent assumption to say that VF3 was at least planned, if not started, for M2 had Sega bought the tech.

I wish I knew where the "Memory Breaker" game went. Never heard of it outside the article (Dolphin is known and in a collectors hands. Unfortunately I don't have it yet)

2120
 

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XenForo says Oct 18, 2008, but actually I originally register in 1998...
The VCD port is too limited in terms of access to the HW like MD unlike PCE which has an Ext. port as it should be. You need the main Saturn slot. As far as I know regarding VF3 there are rumors of two builds. One is a slot-accelerated GPU design by Core Design and one stock Saturn AM2 design which uses very low texture BGs. Of course Yu doesn't know about that. maybe b/c he was pissed that he was backstabbed with VF3 DC when getting VF3 SAT ready to ship? ;)

The main problem with Saturn is communication between those chips and the amount of those stoopid chips. The bus-system is very limited. PS1 smokes Saturn like double in bandwith. So putting a second VDP1 in there would have meant some serious architecture reconstructuring and still you would not get double the output you hope for.

@lollyroger Madhouse, that is what Saturn is all about. On the other hand two steps away from Model 2/AM2 department we have a simple to program for "pedal to the metal" HW. Sega was not only too dumb to communicate with Sega of America, nope... they were even to dumb ato communicate with YU, that little guy who made Sega big.

Indeed the cart and MPEG slots are insufficient for this level of extension.
The Saturn is indeed a very overcomplicated system, and yet it is still fascinating to me.

Everyone: as much as I appreciate all the VF3 info, would it be possible to keep this thread for discussion/opinions on the ST-VE and related Saturn rumored extensions, rather than the Dreamcast/M2...? Thanks :)
 

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Both cart slots feature digital video inputs. As long as you fit the electrical limits of what the Saturn power supply can do, you could fit in any kind of video expansion there; limited only by the VDP2 output resolutions. The biggest concern would be timely communication between the Saturn side and the expansion side, but even that would be a major hurdle only if you use the MPEG slot since then you have to piggyback the SH1 instead of being able to DMA the cart.

The MPEG carts work using this, by the way (although they also do a lot more, reading the CD sectors directly).
 

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Today I felt compelled to set up my Model 3 and play VF3 for a bit. I wasn't sure if I would be able to get it working, because I had experimented with it some the last time I used it, and it also had a problem with the power supply. It seems my experimenting had no effect though, and I think I've figured out the cause of the issue with the PSU. My PSU is a Sanwa JVS power supply, and I've built a JVS to Model 3 power adapter. It seems that there's a problem with the JVS connector, of which I still don't know the cause. But it seems that when the system won't boot, jiggling the connector a little makes it work. It's kind of annoying, but at least it's usable for now.

One thing I've been trying to get working with this system is 31kHz output. A person both on ASSEMblergames and Arcade Otaku told me there's a way to get the Model 3 to output 31kHz RGB rather than the default 24kHz, but so far I've had no success. I have some things I'd like to try, though. One idea I had was that it could be a problem with how my monitor handles sync; the manual says it accepts TTL-level composite sync, but it doesn't say anything about analog composite sync. So maybe it doesn't accept analog, and it's treating the sync as if it were TTL-level instead, which would explain why it's giving strange numbers for the sync on the info display. The only problem with that idea is that when the system is set to the defaults, the monitor seems to correctly detect it as 24kHz, which makes it seem like it's at least capable of detecting the scan rate properly. I'm not sure.

Supposedly you have to change the jumpers on the board to enable 31kHz. I'm going to experiment with different combinations of that. The other thing I'm going to try is connecting the system to another monitor, one that hopefully accepts analog composite sync, and see if that works. If it does, then I just need to build/buy a sync separator for my other monitor.
 

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Similarly, a few magazines back in the day claimed that VF3 was bound for the Tiger Game.com, while I suspect it ended up getting reworked into Fighters Megamix. (Sonic Xtreme was also tentatively announced as coming to the same platform, and I'm fairly sure that became the basis for the handheld version of Sonic Jam.)

This is news to me, do you have any more info on this?
 

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XenForo says Oct 18, 2008, but actually I originally register in 1998...
I never knew that there was going to be an enhanced version of the ST-V. Real obscure stuff.

Obscure indeed, can you imagine the complexity? I mean, it's not like the machine was trivial to develop for in the first place!
 
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