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PostPosted: Tue May 15, 2018 12:06 pm 
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Again, I'm completely lost in a subject, so I have quite a few questions regarding the practicity of producing and selling nes games today.

In practical terms, what is the current state of producing cartridges in quantity for sale? I mean, considering all costs, what would for example be the best mapper to develop for? I feel like the most important aspect is price, but if there's a huge advantage for a really small difference then it's worth the cost. I checked Infinite Nes Lives board prices, and the mapper 3 board seems to be the cheapest right now on their website.

What about where to get parts from?

Is it too crazy an idea to make an injection mold for producing the shells or is it never going to be easier than importing from china? When previewing the shipping of 100 units on aliexpress, it raises the cost by a whooping 50%, which should be prohibitive. But maybe it's the only practical way to get my hands on some shells.

Have any parts disappeared from shelves and become only acquirable by destroying old cartridges? For example Cic lockout chip.

What about the process, can I develop and test the rom on an everdrive and accurate emulators and then burn the final version to a permanent EPROM or is it advisable to use rewritable chip for testing? I'm a complete noob, so sorry if this made no sense.

ps.: it may or may not matter than I'm in Brazil, so in the case of making a game it could be better to close some deal with local cart makers to make and sell my game instead of making the games on some country and then shipping to other countries.

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PostPosted: Tue May 15, 2018 12:24 pm 
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nesrocks wrote:
considering all costs, what would for example be the best mapper to develop for? I feel like the most important aspect is price, but if there's a huge advantage for a really small difference then it's worth the cost. I checked Infinite Nes Lives board prices, and the mapper 3 board seems to be the cheapest right now on their website.
Currently you can't buy nonvolatile memories any cheaper than 128 KiB.
Absolute cheapest but stupid: Mapper 218.
Practical cheapest: NROM (0)
Almost as cheap: all the "just a latch" one-IC discrete logic mappers: CNROM (3), BNROM (34), ANROM (7), GNROM (66), Color Dreams (11).

Noteworthy: Memblers' GTROM

Costs work out to roughly:
$4 for the shell
30c to $2.50 for the PCB depending on dimensions, volume, and whether you spring for the gold-plated contacts like you ought to
$1 per memory
10c per discrete logic IC

Quote:
What about where to get parts from?
Depends on just how big your order is. The suppliers of 5V programmable memories right now are Macronix, Microchip, and Greenliant; for Microchip the correct choice is to order directly from them. For the others it depends on volume.

Quote:
Is it too crazy an idea to make an injection mold for producing the shells or is it never going to be easier than importing from china? When previewing the shipping of 100 units on aliexpress, it raises the cost by a whooping 50%, which should be prohibitive. But maybe it's the only practical way to get my hands on some shells.
Having an injection mold made costs somewhere between "several thousand dollars" and "20k$". Afterwards, the cost of plastic is pretty negligible per unit.

Quote:
Have any parts disappeared from shelves and become only acquirable by destroying old cartridges? For example Cic lockout chip.
There are modern microcontroller-based clones (e.g. AVRciczz)

Quote:
What about the process, can I develop and test the rom on an everdrive and accurate emulators and then burn the final version to a permanent EPROM or is it advisable to use rewritable chip for testing?
EPROMs are dead technology now, no new ones are being manufactured. For large volume you basically can't not use flash.

That said ... having to wait for EPROMs to erase is a waste of your time. You'll be happier using flash anyway.


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PostPosted: Tue May 15, 2018 12:26 pm 
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A microcontroller can replicate the function of a CIC, and you don't need a CIC if selling your game in the 60-pin form factor for the famiclones that were common in Brazil at one time. (Are they still?)

You can build any of these out of a shell, PCB, CIC, two 8-bit parallel ROMs (which are usually flash nowadays), one 74LS161 used as a latch, and bypass caps:

CNROM (3), GNROM (66), Color Dreams (11) (limited to 64 KiB PRG + 64 KiB CHR)

You can build these out of a shell, PCB, CIC, one ROM, one 6264 or compatible SRAM, one 74LS161, and bypass caps:

BNROM (34), AOROM (7)

You can build these out of a shell, PCB, CIC, one ROM, one 6264 or compatible SRAM, one 74LS161, one 74LS32, and bypass caps:

UNROM/UOROM (2)

Yes, Brazil is a special case because of its customs policy, which appears to be an attempt at import substitution industrialization. If you anticipate shipping a lot of cartridges within Brazil and other countries that trade with Brazil, it might be worthwhile to get your own injection molds and PCBs made in Brazil if practical, and then making up the setup cost through volume.


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PostPosted: Tue May 15, 2018 12:32 pm 
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For new game development, i strongly recommend reflashable ROM:s. Both InfiniteNESlives and memblers provide those (INL did provide the oldschool way and might still do, but i think you have to ask for it specifically. The main page has a long update about the reasons why, which explains everything).

But basically, the process is less fidgety and you can test your game on a real cartridge/hardware in quick turns.


Both INL and memblers provide shells. I got some fancy colours with my two GTROM boards i use for tests.

Last i checked (which was a long while ago) GTROM was comparable if not cheaper than NROM; closely followed by CNROM and UNROM (in that order), and i expect mapper 30 to be priced close in price to UNROM though there's no price on the page. Note that those prices are for small quantities, 1-10 pieces. For larger quantities, ask INL for a quote.

This is all excluding cost for the shells. ask for those too, in larger quantities. INL has a few options listed on the site. Ask memblers too.

Edit:
If imports are troublesome, maybe have somebody assemble, package & distribute your game by license abroad (in the US, mainly).

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PostPosted: Tue May 15, 2018 6:43 pm 
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Alright, this is all very good. I wasn't aware of cheapocabra. Looks like an incredible thing.
One quick question: what exactly is the flash memory chip? How can I search for it and how would I know it fits the board?

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PostPosted: Tue May 15, 2018 7:18 pm 
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Flash in this context just means that it's an EPROM type that can be erased and programmed directly in place on the board, rather than putting the data on it in a separate device, and then soldering it into the board after. (Or you can use sockets to easily remove and reprogram it, but that's only good for development testing, not final publishing.)

Some basic types of ROM that you might use:

UV EPROM - Have to be erased with a UV light device. Programmed with a specialized programmer.
OTP EPROM - One Time Programmable, basically a UV EPROM with the little glass window to let in UV light removed so it can only be programmed once.
EEPROM / Flash - Can be erased with an electrical signal, so it's possible to program/reprogram it where it is on the board.

Some of choosing between these has to do with price or availability, some of it has to do with the utility. For the end result it doesn't really matter which of these three is used, but re: the ease and cost of making this stuff it does matter. I will say that for development at least, a Flash board is a lot quicker and easier to work with than a socketed one for UV EPROMs. (Plus it's a lot easier to find new Flash EPROM than UV, but there's plenty of old stock around on eBay and elsewhere.)

In all cases, make sure the parts you're using are made for 5 volts. Especially with Flash, some parts may come in versions for 3.3 V or other voltages that are not directly suitable for an NES.


I think size designations and pinouts are more or less standardized between all these things, but if you want to use the main feature of Flash (i.e. reprogramming on the board), that board has to be made for it. Your board is going to dictate which sizes you can use as well. Smaller does not necessarily mean cheaper, either, and you can almost always use a larger size with a smaller ROM just by duplicating data.

nesrocks wrote:
...how would I know it fits the board?

The simple answer is just read what the board's documentation says. Ever board is different, but it's usually documented what you need. In a lot of cases the flash memory might be sold as part of the board anyway.


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PostPosted: Tue May 15, 2018 10:36 pm 
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GTROM boards are $9.25 each (previously was $11.75, in the first batch). To be clear, that comes fully assembled, fully tested, CIC is programmed. You just write your game onto it. For GTROM I try to do cart shells for $3 each when I can, but it can be more depending on availability and how soon you need it. I don't really have a website for the stuff, amazingly it just sells through word-of-mouth. Beau of Sole Goose Productions http://www.solegooseproductions.com/ is the main distributor of my boards (and I can ship them out, too), and he's also the first person I'd recommend talking to if you're looking for a US distributor.

GTROM is part of the Cheapocabra devkit, I'm still working on something more professional-looking, but for now it includes a modified Game Genie and a USB to NES controller port adapter. You test your program by uploading it from PC to the NES. GTROM is supported in PowerPak with a mapper by NovaSquirrel, and supported in FCEUX with a mapper by rainwarrior. Neither support 100% of the feature-set, but they are usable. No Everdrive support yet, unfortunately. Most people are just using NROM, UNROM, or mapper #30 to develop/debug their games in emulators, and all of those convert over to GTROM quite easily. The USB adapter can also be used with the PowerPak (using a loader by thefox), for any mapper. I think it's more fun using a real NES, when it's that easy. Until you need to view RAM contents, heheh. GTROM does have a debug port, if you want to print ASCII text out of it, so far I'm the only one that uses that feature. I actually hooked it up to a printer for the fun of it.

Shipping cart shells overseas will be ridiculously expensive. They don't weigh much, but they are very bulky. I'm sure they could be made in Brazil, but you would need to make and sell A LOT of them (best cost per unit is doing one big production order..!) to earn back the cost of the mold. I was only able to get into a mold because we shared the cost among several people (who I am grateful to). It's an on-going coordinated effort to keep the price down for us all, but it's needed, and they are excellent quality. Custom color wouldn't cost much, but there may be a very long lead-time. It's worth noting that our mold doesn't have a space for the usual warning label on the back side. One of the guys has recently put his share of the mold up for sale, if you really wanted.. That doesn't really help with the shipping situation, though.


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PostPosted: Wed May 16, 2018 12:57 am 
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Quote:
What about the process, can I develop and test the rom on an everdrive and accurate emulators and then burn the final version to a permanent EPROM or is it advisable to use rewritable chip for testing? I'm a complete noob, so sorry if this made no sense.
Emulators and a flashcart (Everdrive/Powerpak) work for 99% of the dev work, but for final testing you do need a proper hw board.

Brazil's massive customs do put you at a disadvantage for anything that crosses borders; perhaps it'd be best to produce copies for Brazil locally and to have everywhere else handled by one of the producers in the US. Plug for Mega Cat here, they can handle the US/worldwide production and shipping for you.


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