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Remembering the Game Factory. Are the programmable cartridges good for anything without a programmer?


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I just posted a totem of my shame and my ignorance for sale on PriceCharting.



It is one of the rarest officially sanctioned cartridges for the Sega Genesis, and is probably totally useless. It is the Game Factory (Blue) cartridge, a relic of a curiously far-sighted experiment by Sega, Blockbuster, and Blockbuster-IBM joint venture New Leaf Entertainment.


You can read a lot more at SegaRetro,  or watch this Gaming Historian video:



but basically the idea was that Blockbuster stores would have a programmer and a connection to a remote server (or maybe physically delivered hard drives, it’s not clear) and would be able to burn games on the fly to the rental cartridges, freeing stores from having to make costly and risky bets on what games would run out and leave customers disappointed and what games would sit on the shelf.


(Yes, yes, other more evolutionarily promising approaches like Satelliview and the Sega Channel were much older, but we’re talking about Blockbuster here.)


Well, it didn’t work out. It was piloted in ten stores in South Carolina and they pulled the plug after a couple months. It didn’t help that it was effectively the end of the 16 bit generation anyway, and besides the memory was expensive enough that they made a low capacity cartridge (the blue one) to save on costs, causing confusion to the poor store clerks who were already being asked to do something way more complicated than they ever did before and causing the stores to have to guess how many popular games would need more storage capacity.




And at this juncture Blockbuster did a very characterically Blockbuster thing: instead of burning all of the evidence of this program in an incinerator like normal companies would have, they simply funneled all of the prototype hardware into their used game sales network and blasted useless, empty cartridges halfway across the country.


Which is how I got one at my local Blockbuster. This program was not public knowledge at the time, but not being a total idiot I quickly figured out what the point of this useless brick I just bought was.


I wanted to see what it was, so I opened it up the only way I could with the tools I had on hand: with the crappy old soldering iron. At first I tried to melt out the screw post from the front, but thankfully I came to my senses after several failed attempts and stopped massacring the label. Then I melted out the back.


Behold what I found when it was open:




Good old OG Intel flash memory, a CR2032 to keep it powered, a BIOS chip, presumably a microcontroller of some kind, and an SRAM chip.


Pretty fancy hardware to manufacture in bulk. I wonder if everything had gone as planned and the 16 bit cart era hadn’t ended if they even would have saved money vs buying physical copies of games.


Anyway, I don’t think I did anything to kill this board, just foolishly broke the welds on the CR2032 because I thought maybe a new battery would make it work ?


Does anybody know anything about these things? Could it be flashed with an off-the-shelf flash cart adapter? Or did they have some kind of authentication (bios chip argues for yes) that only allowed it to be written to by their custom programmer? Anybody have one I could borrow? (If not and if you do have a programmer, do you want to borrow this one?)

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Sega seems to have made a failed attempt at copying what Nintendo did at Lawsons stores in Japan, the SFC and GB Memory Nintendo Power carts as they were called.  At the stores in Japan, they weren't blockbuster ignorant, so it worked, for years no less and successfully.  You like Sega there, got these clean SFC and GBC carts and they had X space, and a menu system on them.  You could blow it out with one BIG game or smaller ones to fill up the capacity there and then use the menu to select in that case.  The games were very cheap, you just had to buy the cart, so you could get a lot of games, some which never retailed (like Balloon Fight GB or for Japan which we did get Super Mario Bros Deluxe) flashed to the Nintendo flash kit....yes a licensed legal Nintendo flash kit.  Unlike Sega they did it at the prime of those systems into their twilight, so it kept things going, popular, and healthy with new offerings and spread out pretty well support too.


Sega stole a nice idea, then blew it hard with this thing they failed at with the genius counter reps and more with blockbuster.


I don't know if you ever saw one before, but I do own one of those carts, and it has the non-ever retailed SMBDX on it too for the GBC (I don't have the SFC Memory cart though.)   I took a picture of it once with my other multicarts I had at the time, you can see it there in white.  The former owner didn't take advantage of the little removable stickers you could pop onto those little rectangles to write the game of the game in there as that's how that was done too so you don't ink up the actual cart.


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You didn't even check to find out what kind of screw was holding it together? or even ask for advice? And with a soldering iron? It's clearly an ordinary Sega cart shell too, you didn't have a gamebit? Mmmmmkaaaaay, at least you didn't pull an Xbox development system "case mod" on it.


EDIT: oh, you probably did that a long time ago, right?


Flash memory is written by, um, writing to it. You write commands to its address space to put it in programming mode, then start programming. A Genesis could be hacked into doing that with a properly designed sidecar board (on the CD connector), or even an actual Sega CD. Since the Genesis cart has a write line, this just means it needs the right logic to make the ROM space write-able. I can see the Lattice logo on the two chips at the top left, so they are obviously GAL16V8, the question is if they are read protected. It might be interesting to reverse engineer the logic design. At the bottom, SP720AP is a diode array for transient suppression, basically 30V zener diodes, which apparently they decided they didn't need.

Edited by Bruce Tomlin
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On 10/7/2021 at 7:29 AM, Steven Pendleton said:

Makes me wonder if this


would work for it. It's for this


but I still wouldn't try it using it on anything other than the Krikzz cart just in case.

It would have to know the specifics of that type of flash chip, which is pretty old. The first thing it should do is read the chip ID, and it wouldn't match anything it knew about.

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On 10/11/2021 at 8:14 AM, Bruce Tomlin said:

It would have to know the specifics of that type of flash chip, which is pretty old. The first thing it should do is read the chip ID, and it wouldn't match anything it knew about.

Yes, not likely. Kind of a waste of money to try it, though...

35 minutes ago, jgkspsx said:

That bad decision isn’t just old enough to vote, it’s old enough to drink alcohol, which is what I want to do every time I think of it.

If the front half is intact, get a random sports game that nobody cares about since there are 6 trillion of those and sacrifice it to get a new shell. Hell, I'd send you all of the ones I got in a lot with my Nomad last year for free if shipping wasn't so expensive lol

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