Thursday, May 30, 2013

Famiclone Power Supplies

When it comes to powering video game consoles I've always had one adapter that was labeled for each given system and I never questioned it. On some rare occasions I have needed to know what adapter I could use on what (my Atari Jaguar, and 2600), and the internet was a quick reference in power supply interchangeability. But when it comes to Famiclones there aren't a lot of sites out there asking or answering the questions to what power supply will run a Famiclone without burning it up.

When I picked up my very first Famiclone, a Power Joy without the battery door, I was completely ignorant of what power supply to use. The only thing I had around at the time was an NES AC adapter (NES-002), and instead of seeing anything light up on the screen I quickly smelled the melting of internal components. For years I thought I had burnt the thing to a crisp and it would never work again, later I found out I didn't do it any harm, luckily!

During the years that followed all I found were Super Joy 3 systems, which use a much easier to understand and more readily available battery power source, so it wasn't until I acquired a complete Super Joy 3 system that I ever really worried about a wall wart slowing me down. Having this one power supply subsequently helped me save tons on batteries and it also helped me test out my Super 57000 Video Game, as it was just the console and controllers, no power supply. But most importantly this one power supply ran all of my Famicom clones without any issues, but I needed more than just this one for my entire collection.

I now own 2 different Famiclone power supplies which show me the needs of a Chinese Famicom clone are quite simple to sustain. And although these power supplies are for 2 different styles of Famiclones, they work across the board on all of my consoles and handheld systems that offer the option of being powered by a wall wart. But as with anything from China these things are super cheap plastic and I wouldn't trust running my systems on them for both my own and the Famiclone's safety, but I'll get into that later.
There are a handful of components that you'll need to pay attention to when it comes to the safety of your Famiclone: Input allowance of the power supply, DC output, amperage output and the polarity of the barrel plug going into your system. Most importantly you need to make sure the input is standard for where you live, so you don't overheat the power supply and cause a fire hazard. Next you'll need to make sure the output is what the Famiclone needs, which for all mine has been 9 volts DC, 350 to 500 milliamps, with a outer positive polarity on the output end.

Do not feed your system too much voltage, and do not mix AC with DC, all mine work on strictly DC voltage. You can run slightly higher amperage without worry as the system only takes what it needs, but do not starve it by using a power supply that offers less amperage (about 500mA is ideal). Last make sure you have the correct plug polarity, positive outside and negative inside, most power supplies have a diagram on them showing which polarity the output plug will give your device.
Since the supplied DC adapters for Famiclones are pretty standard Chinese junk, I've found a handful of alternatives that are substantially better quality but offer the needed power for my systems. I haven't tested them personally but I also believe a Sega MK-3025 or MK-1602 should work perfectly fine as well. In short make sure the power supply works with your wall outlets, provides 9 volts DC and has as much amperage as your Famiclone needs, and finally make sure what you plug into your console has outside positive and center negative polarity.

There are the simple rules I've learned and currently follow. My Famiclone collection is always growing and I'm not the type of person to turn down a good Famiclone simply because it doesn't have all the hookups needed. Now that I know what most Famiclones run on, I've got the most important part covered!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The long and short of Famiclone controllers.

More often than not Famiclone controllers have exceedingly short leads, forcing users to sit close to the system. This hearkens back to the days of the Nintendo Famicom and its own short controller leads. But luckily, since most Famiclones use a standard DB9 connection for controller input, there is a cheap and easy way to quickly add length to any Famiclone controller.

The other day I was rummaging through a box of old video game controllers when I came across a Sega Genesis controller extension. At first I didn't think much of the simple wire, but later that afternoon I had pulled out one of my Famiclones and remembered just how short the controller leads are! It took me a few seconds to mentally fit everything together but soon after I was heading back to that box to dig out that extension cable.

The extension cable is a simple point-to-point pass through, so it can be used interchangeably with any system or controller using the DB9 connection. You simply plug your Famiclone, Sega Genesis, Master System or even Atari controllers into the one end of the cable and the other end goes into the system, its as simple as that. This particular cable adds an additional 10 feet to any given controller I use it with; while 10 feet may sound excessive its much better than the 12 inches most Famiclone controllers give you.

Shortly before publishing this article I checked to make sure I was being factual with everything said herein, and I didn't make a complete ass of myself merely running on assumption. I tested the extension cable on almost every Famiclone I own and only had issues when a cartridge was plugged into a handheld, such as my Super Joy, Power Joy and Vs. Maxx systems, player 2 functions seemed to work for built-in games on these units though. But the same issues did not occur when I used the extension cable on the exact same cartridge in an actual system with 2 controller ports, as opposed to built-in controller 1 and a single port for player 2.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Innovation Super 8 "Famiclone"

When I saw the item above sitting in a Goodwill outlet bin exactly as you see it pictured I ignorantly -- and overzealously -- assumed I had struck gold. I originally hoped it was an excessively rare Nintendo Powerfest or Campus Challenge ROM cartridge, but recessed deep in the back of my mind I knew what it was. I had wanted a Super 8 for a couple of years but never thought I would run across one, but the Goodwill outlet store never ceases to amaze me.

If you're not familiar with what an Innovation Super 8 is, its an attachment that goes on the top of your Super Nintendo/Super Famicom and allows you to play four different types of video games: Super Famicom and Super Nintendo (simply used as a pass-through) as well as NES and Famicom games. Some call these a Famiclone, but I tend to think of Famiclones as a standalone system that is self-sufficient and plays Famicom games, either built in, through a 60 pin cartridge slot or both. That is why I classify the Super 8 as an attachment, more so than a Famiclone, although I can't really argue against it being a Famiclone, because it does play Famicom/NES games via an internal NOAC.
When you boot the Super Nintendo/Famicom with the Super 8 attached you are presented with a pretty awesome screen, giving you the choice of either 8-bit (Famicom Controller) or 16-bit (Super Famicom Controller) games. The first of which is obviously going to boot either your Famicom or NES game which is plugged in, but the system will only boot one or the other; I'm not sure what happens if you try both at the same time, but I'm not willing to chance it. And the second is the single Super Famicom/Super Nintendo slot, luckily there are no plastic stoppers built in preventing you from playing Super Famicom or Super Nintendo games making the Super 8 completely region free, as long as its NTSC.
One issue with the Super 8 is the means in which you run the video through it. The Super 8 runs straight off the power of the Super Famicom/Nintendo, but the Super 8 has its own built in AV cable that needs to be plugged into the back of the SNES and the AV cables, the normally go where the Super 8 is now plugged into, go into the back of the Super 8. The jack that goes into the SNES is really nice and fits well, but the jack coming out of the Super 8 is weak and often times you'll need to completely reset the connection from minor bumps and moving.

Another issue that is common with NOAC Famiclones are verticle lines on the screen, which I've only noticed while using the standard SNES/N64 AV cables. I managed to remove those lines entirely using a Nintendo RF modulator (NUS-003), yet the colors were muted and the volume seemed to drop dramatically. There is a mod to remove them for good, but the lines aren't really that big of an issue to myself, but they are noticeable and problematic to some people.

The final issue with the Innovation Super 8 seems to be an intentional break in the traces that prevent any Super Famicom/Nintendo games using the Super FX chip from working through the Super 8 attachment. Again I've read there is a super simple mod to repair this, but I currently don't have any games that use this chip to test whether or not my unit needs this mod or not. Even though the mod is simply bridging a gap with some solder, I'll wait until this problem arises before I'll take personal offense and fix the issue.

Sure I own a Super Nintendo, an NES and a plethora of Famiclones and I don't currently own any Super Famicom games that need special means to be played, as of yet, but having the Super 8 opens up the doors to so many possibilities. I am a sucker for systems or attachments that allow me to save room on my entertainment center and the Super 8 allows me to play 4 different type of games through one system, with impeccable compatibility. If nothing else the Innovation Super 8 shows the modern Famiclone consoles just how much better an NOAC was back in 1995 and its simply a cool piece to own!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

This is a Famiclone?

I've acquired quite a few Famiclones of all different shapes, sizes and designs in my years of video game collecting. Famiclones range from the bizarre and ugly to an exact replica of the Nintendo Famicom, visually speaking. What I happened to find today sits somewhere between those two, yet I'm still not sure exactly where.

At first glance this thing is a bottom of the barrel scraping third party Xbox 360 controller, but if you look a little closer the telltale signs of a Famiclone are present. There is no brand name to be seen, simply a strange logo where another analog stick should be. But whoever made this was so dedicated to trying to incorporated the Xbox 360 feel that the power button is a large circle in the center of the controller, with a border that lights up, just like the controller this is trying to resemble.
Xbox 360 Famiclone
There is a second player port nestled at the bottom, between the handles, but the main player controls offer the standard Famiclone fair in a confusing array. There is a standard D-pad and a pseudo analog stick, which works as a standard D-pad and is there merely for looks, and six action buttons to choose from. What are listed as A and B are backwards, X and Y are the turbo versions of the aforementioned buttons, while LB seems to work as both A and B simultaneously and RB does absolutely nothing at all.
Xbox 360 Famiclone Xbox 360 Famiclone
On the very top of the controller are a pair of plastic humps, I assume to simulate shoulder buttons, that are pretty much pointless and useless. Between those are a standard set of AV output jacks as well as a power input. Unlike almost all my other handheld style Famiclones this one offers no battery power option at all, but luckily works off the same DC 9volt 300mA power supply all my other Famiclones use.
Xbox 360 Famiclone
When I found this at a local Goodwill I originally didn't want to buy it, but once I saw that it was 50% off this week I quickly changed my mind. I honestly didn't know what to expect from this unit; was it a bunch of 8-bit homebrews or would it be just another 9999999999999999 in 1 pirate fest? With the uneasy feeling of whether the system would work and what I could expect from it once I got it home set aside, I plunked down the whole $1 for it and waited to get home to find out.

After plugging in the AV cables and wearily plugging in the AC adapter, hoping it wouldn't blow up, I pushed in the power button and watched as it lit up green and Fun Time flash quickly on the screen. Immediately after that a list of 76000 games appeared, which equated to approximately 50 games listed over and over again. Almost all of them were Famicom/NES pirates, but there were a few games I've never heard of.

As per normal this Famiclone is packed with games such as: Contra, 1942, Arkanoid, Super Mario Bros., Circus Charlie, Mappy, and many more. But there are also games I've never heard of such as: Nature Clan Island, Knight Hero and Ice Oceans, the gameplay of all these games isn't anything I'm familiar with, so I know its not a simple retitle. Some of them even have extremely well done title screens, leading me to believe someone took pride in making these games.

Again, as normal this system is made of extremely cheap plastic, the lower D-pad is almost completely unresponsive, the reset button takes a good hard press to work (which is better than resetting a game on accident) and overall its just another standard Famiclone from China. Its small and packs in a lot of games, but without the option to power it with batteries this system is not portable, which would have been extremely easy if they had tried to clone a wireless Xbox 360 controller. Other than being a different shape and lacking a 60 pin connector (perhaps a detail I should have pointed out earlier) this thing isn't much different than any of my Super Joy systems.

To simplify, knowing what I know now if this system wasn't $1 I wouldn't have picked it up!