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As my game nears completion, a little concerned about cartridges...


wallaby
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I'm fairly close to having a finished prototype for my DPC+ game and it slowly dawned on me that I've effectively locked myself in to the Harmony/Melody ecosystem. That wouldn't be a big deal, but there are no competitors and the cartridge is expensive. Okay fine, so it's more expensive than making your own cartridge. It still has some nice features. But what about the lead time and the shipping costs? Now I wonder if I might have made a mistake.

 

I've read in a few threads on AtariAge, games that have been waiting years for a physical release. Why is this? Are they just waiting around to get published by Atari Age? Or have they never ordered cartridges?

 

I don't want to wait around. I'm ready now. :-D

 

I figured it would be a good idea to know the total cost for a hundred or so cartridges but the "Contact" form never seems to complete properly.

 

So anyone with experience: Why does it seem to take so long to get a physical release? And what have your experiences been with publishing your own cartridge / ordering through AtariAge?

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That's something you can talk with Albert(publishing) PM him or CPUwiz(circuit board supplier). You would also have to secure cartridge shells to be cleaned and recycled to be use for new games. Then print a bunch of cartridge labels and stickers. Put PCB in the cartridge and test them to make sure they work before applying the stickers. Make and print out Manual. If you want boxes, then it will cost more and I believe there's a minimum order you have to put down to print boxes. Then you would have to glue and fold them. Once you have the boxes, manual and game done. Then you will have to ship it to people and hope that the packages get there.

 

It something I want to try one day. The anxieties I have if the games are buggy and defective persists.

 

The feeling that I hand off the final ROM to Collector Vision is weird, like you just got off a wild ride.

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I think the worry about the ROM having a bug is a universal fear.

 

The manuals and boxes and things are no problem. Tons of places can sort you out there.

 

Not sure about using cartridge donor shells for new games. Granted, there are a lot of Pac-man and Combat carts, it seems like there are better options in today's age of 3D printers and print on demand companies. I haven't looked into that as the Melody cart ordering says it offers the shell and labels as part of the package.

 

What I'm worried about is the lead time and if it's actually counted in months (and possibly years) then all bets are off.

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There are many reasons why some games may take quite some time before they are published. Sometimes I am the holdup, either I am busy and don't have as much time as I'd like, or I'm trying to put together several releases together so I can have boxes, manuals and labels printed at the same time to help make it more economical (especially for boxes, which are expensive to have professionally printed in relatively low numbers). Sometimes a homebrew author may be busy with real life and that can string along a project for years. Boxes, manuals and labels can also take a fair bit of time to complete, again, depending on how much time the various parties can devote to these projects. I released around 20 homebrews last year, which is a considerable amount of work. I also built cartridges for several homebrews that were sold by other parties, such as Conjoined.

 

I am busy working on releasing another batch of projects at the moment (for the 2600, 5200, 7800 and Jaguar), and once they are in the store, that will catch me up (for the most part) on homebrew projects that are ready to be released. There are always going to be projects that are still "in development", and it may not be obvious as to why they aren't yet complete. For instance, "The Stacks" for the 2600 has been in development for a while, and it is still being actively worked on.

 

You are correct in the Harmony/Melody boards are unique and they are a bit supply constrained. And they are more expensive than boards that don't have a complex ARM processor on them.

 

I did get the emails from the Contact form you sent two days ago--I'll take a look at the form to see why it doesn't appear to be sending the messages. I just responded to the PM you sent earlier today..

 

..Al

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Not sure about using cartridge donor shells for new games. Granted, there are a lot of Pac-man and Combat carts, it seems like there are better options in today's age of 3D printers and print on demand companies. I haven't looked into that as the Melody cart ordering says it offers the shell and labels as part of the package.

 

What I'm worried about is the lead time and if it's actually counted in months (and possibly years) then all bets are off.

 

3D printing isn't really a viable option for me at the moment, as the quality of the finished carts isn't high enough for me (at least on lower-end 3D printers), and carts would be too expensive. For an individual project where you're making a limited number of carts it could certainly work. I have several prototypes of a 2600/7800 cart design we've been developing that were printed on a high-quality 3D printer and they are very nice, but still not as nice as injection mold carts would be. Getting new 2600/7800 shells produced is a high priority for me.

 

I built varying numbers of carts for non-AtariAge projects this year, and those get high priority so I can deliver them on time. If the game is completed, I have finished label artwork on hand, and I have all the parts I need (which is generally the case), I can churn out carts in pretty short order.

 

..Al

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You can usually find common carts for dirt cheap at flea markets or mom n pop video game stores. Way back before the Princess Rescue release Al put a call out for carts. I managed to find a mom n pop store that was really, really eager to sell a literal laundry basket full of carts. I bought him out and sold the rest to Al for credit.

 

I've got some plastic to use up so I'll try and make a Atari 2600 cart. Report back the results. The bottom line is that it's not cheaper and even the best prints have ridges and bumps that plastic molds never have.

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Sometimes I am the holdup, either I am busy and don't have as much time as I'd like, or I'm trying to put together several releases together so I can have boxes, manuals and labels printed at the same time to help make it more economical (especially for boxes, which are expensive to have professionally printed in relatively low numbers).

 

That's fair enough. I can understand that.

 

 

 

You are correct in the Harmony/Melody boards are unique and they are a bit supply constrained.

 

If there is only one source for these PCBs then there is a danger that your game could go "out of print" without you being able to do anything about it. I wonder if it's a better idea to create a custom PCB? I remember seeing an ARM binary somewhere. I haven't opened my Harmony cartridge, but I imagine it's the processor, some ram, and flash to hold the ARM code.

 

Another option would be to re-write the entire game without using Harmony/Melody features. But I spent a fair amount of time learning the system and there seems to have been a lot of effort in creating it. Would be a shame to ignore it.

 

 

 

I've got some plastic to use up so I'll try and make a Atari 2600 cart. Report back the results. The bottom line is that it's not cheaper and even the best prints have ridges and bumps that plastic molds never have.

 

I think it depends on the type of 3D printer. The filament types leave lines and ridges on the plastic, but there are types that don't. I wonder how SLA stacks up, for example. You can also smooth out the ridges after printing the object.

 

Also, there is the benefit of making your own completely new design for cartridges.

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I think it depends on the type of 3D printer. The filament types leave lines and ridges on the plastic, but there are types that don't. I wonder how SLA stacks up, for example. You can also smooth out the ridges after printing the object.

 

Also, there is the benefit of making your own completely new design for cartridges.

Shapeways does not use "filament" prints but instead uses laser stinted nylon powder. It is not without issues however. The material is extremely expensive, probably $50-$60 for a single cart, down to about $30 if you cheap out and make it extra thin walls. Then the material comes in little baggies and tend to release lots of white powder when handled. There are also dye options but the powdery prints would be a problem for game carts as it would shed fine material into the cartridge port. You would probably want to spray matte, paint, clear coat, or fixative on the parts to prevent shedding. There are other materials besides the nylon powder based "Strong and flexible" but these materials may tend to break more easily and should not be used for structural parts where force is exerted. Overall I consider powdered nylon superior to filament prints, but neither is ideal solution for carts.

 

I do not understand why injection molded Atari 2600/7800 cart shells do not exist yet. Nearly every NES Homebrew I have purchased for several years has had a new plastic shell. There are several different manufacturers now in a variety of colors. RetroUSB and INL both make their own NES shells. Piko made his own snap together SNES and Genesis shells. Krikzz makes his own Everdrive shells which are available from Retrograte. I understand the initial investment issue but AtariAge shells would be a big boon to homebrew, and guys like Albert wouldn't have to perform the labor intensive process of procuring and cleaning cart shells. It would likely pay for itself within a year or two. Perhaps Albert can do a kickstarter to fund production of shells since he posted pics of a prototype a couple years ago. Homebrew game carts (possibly in KS exclusive colors) could even be possible reward teirs.

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I do not understand why injection molded Atari 2600/7800 cart shells do not exist yet. Nearly every NES Homebrew I have purchased for several years has had a new plastic shell.

 

Seems like an opportunity for enterprising person. It might not have happened because the homebrew market isn't large enough. Or one person has the die and machine and everyone orders their carts from them.

 

 

 

Shapeways does not use "filament" prints but instead uses laser stinted nylon powder.

 

I wouldn't use Shapeways. Those cost alone isn't worth it.

 

You could 3D print your mold. Get a cheap injection mold machine and go from there. I read 3D printed molds can last for 20 or more uses. That's good enough. Not sure how much pressure you need to fill a half shell of an Atari cart. That thin wall would probably be difficult.

 

Messing around with that would be a lot of fun. Steel die are what keep that cost prohibitive. 3D print your mold, test it, if all is well, get the die made.

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Seems like an opportunity for enterprising person. It might not have happened because the homebrew market isn't large enough. Or one person has the die and machine and everyone orders their carts from them.

 

 

 

 

I wouldn't use Shapeways. Those cost alone isn't worth it.

 

You could 3D print your mold. Get a cheap injection mold machine and go from there. I read 3D printed molds can last for 20 or more uses. That's good enough. Not sure how much pressure you need to fill a half shell of an Atari cart. That thin wall would probably be difficult.

 

Messing around with that would be a lot of fun. Steel die are what keep that cost prohibitive. 3D print your mold, test it, if all is well, get the die made.

 

I'd love to. Got any links?

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100 copies of your game is a very large number to assume you could sell. Even with the best of homebrews over the years, reaching 100 units in sales is not a common occurrence. Certainly not in the short term. As for the the 3d printed shells? Everyone uses common carts for donors as the only guy with a mold for atari shells stopped making them a decade ago

and 3d printing is not cost effective or up to the quality of a simple common donor cart that can be had for 50 cents to $1 when bought in bulk.

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100 copies of your game is a very large number to assume you could sell. Even with the best of homebrews over the years, reaching 100 units in sales is not a common occurrence. Certainly not in the short term. As for the the 3d printed shells? Everyone uses common carts for donors as the only guy with a mold for atari shells stopped making them a decade ago

and 3d printing is not cost effective or up to the quality of a simple common donor cart that can be had for 50 cents to $1 when bought in bulk.

 

I wouldn't assume anything, of course. That doesn't change the fact that making a game where someone holds all the cards (in this case, limited PCBs) is a bad idea. I read all about the DPC+ features and all the options on the order page made it sound like this great thing that developers could really utilize. As time went on though, I started sensing a little indifference in some of the threads I was reading. That got me wondering if I should have just used a normal cartridge or designed my own. Now I'm wondering if DPC+ as a platform is mostly dead.

 

As for carts, it's not about cost. The time span from the current day to when the Atari was released is only going to increase. Eventually, cannibalizing old carts is going to have an effect on their availability. Maybe I don't want a stock Atari cart? Maybe I don't want to mimic Atari's design?

 

Wallaby,

 

Will you be releasing a demo or at least a video of the game play? I hope you had enough outside play testing before you go to cart.

 

I'll release a demo. I'm sure it will have many bugs initially. It uses a lot of DPC+ features so if I decide to switch gears I'm going to have to re-evaluate what I can reasonably accomplish.

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I don't think DPC+ is a dead platform by any means. I think what you fear is vendor lock in. For many AtariAge users this isn't an issue because we're enthusiastic about AtariAge and/or long time members.

 

I'm a very cautious person. I like to be sure the parts for a game are available to me before I commit many, many man hours to a project. If someone from the Q continuum removed AtariAge from history the best you could secure from multiple vendors is 32k ROM no SARA RAM carts. Next game I'd go for that spec.

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I don't think DPC+ is a dead platform by any means. I think what you fear is vendor lock in. For many AtariAge users this isn't an issue because we're enthusiastic about AtariAge and/or long time members.

 

That's a great point. I guess the thing that is bothering me is the promise on the Melody page isn't matching my expectations. I assumed I could just order what I needed and didn't consider how low volume could change that. This is a great helpful community and I've learned a lot. Stilllll...

 

I'll finish this current project, but I'm fairly certain my next one won't use DPC+.

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That's a great point. I guess the thing that is bothering me is the promise on the Melody page isn't matching my expectations. I assumed I could just order what I needed and didn't consider how low volume could change that. This is a great helpful community and I've learned a lot. Stilllll...

 

I'll finish this current project, but I'm fairly certain my next one won't use DPC+.

 

Albert has always done right by me small order or not. He is just one dude though. Efforts to clone him haven't succeeded yet. If you ever want to switch platforms I'd suggest the sega genesis. It has two different BASIC compilers and various options for cart making (including me).

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Albert has always done right by me small order or not. He is just one dude though. Efforts to clone him haven't succeeded yet. If you ever want to switch platforms I'd suggest the sega genesis. It has two different BASIC compilers and various options for cart making (including me).

 

Yes, Albert was very helpful.

 

Love the idea of creating Genesis games. Interesting it has BASIC compilers too. I wonder why not C or C# syntax? They're more elegant (especially C#) and you could use a world class IDE like Visual Studio to write your game.

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