Intense Tech with Defense Mech – So You Want a Cartridge Family?

- Posted May 21st, 2020 by

Welcome back to Intense Tech with Defense Mech! Although I usually discuss techniques within LSDj, I get a lot of questions about what kind of cartridges I recommend. The Game Boy flash cartridge market tends to change every few years, so I hope to add more information as it becomes relevant. Today, I’m going to cover 3 different kinds of flash cartridges and how to use them if you want to write music in LSDj on Game Boy hardware (my preferred working method). Let’s dive in!

Art by @dethrood.


SD-card-based flash cartridges

For SD-card-based flash cartridges, the LSDj rom and save are stored on a microSD card that loads into the flash cartridge itself. Examples of these cartridges, which have gained popularity over the last several years, are the Krikzz Everdrive GB (X3/X5/X7), the BennVenn El Cheapo SD, and the EZ Flash Junior.

While the Everdrive GB X5 is a perfectly reasonable and functional choice of cartridge as it supports the necessary 128kb SRAM that is required for LSDj to function, they are often cost-prohibitive, costing around $90 or more. A much cheaper alternative is the EZ Flash Jr, which can be purchased for around $40 on Amazon as well as Game Boy modding shops.

If you plan to use an EZ Flash Jr, you will need to download the firmware from the website ezflash.cn and load the “ezgb.dat” file onto the root folder of the microSD card. You can also copy the LSDj rom onto the root of the microSD card. When you boot the cartridge up, a menu appears with the options to select the LSDj rom. After loading the save file into memory, LSDj will start (save files go into the “SAVER” folder on the microSD card).

When you’re done working in LSDj and turn the Game Boy off, a battery keeps the save in memory. The next time you turn on the cartridge, the menu will prompt you to back up your save onto the microSD card. If you say no, all your work will be lost. You can load as many LSDj roms and saves onto the cartridge as you can fit onto the microSD card. As long as your save file shares the same filename as the corresponding LSDj rom, it will be loaded with the respective rom of your choosing. If there is no save file found, a new one will be created.

The EZ Flash Jr. also has a soft reset button that you can use to take you back to the main menu, removing the need to turn the Game Boy off and on again. The button is slightly hidden within the cartridge: pressing the middle of the cartridge inwards will trigger it. This might be a word of warning to those using Game Boy Color or SP, as setting it down on a table and pushing on it could activate the reset button. Otherwise, this cartridge is a very solid choice for the price.

USB-based flash cartridges

Possibly the most popular cartridge format are those with their own mini- or micro-USB port. The EMS 64M Smart Card and the Drag’n’Derp are arguably the two most popular cartridges of this kind. Sadly, Drag’n’Derps have not been produced for a number of years and, even more sadlier, production on EMS 64M cartridges has recently halted. While stock is still available, you may have luck getting them from either retromodding.com or store.kitsch-bent.com (although prices are likely to rise as the supply dwindles).

Despite their scarcity, I’ve included the EMS 64M cartridges in this post because they are extremely popular, and also because a very handy software called ems-qart makes this cart much easier to use on modern operating systems ( the software is written in Java and supports Windows, Mac, and Linux). Once you download the software, follow the instructions in the README to install the necessary USB drivers. At that point, you can use the software to manage any number of roms and save files (both reading and writing). If you’re comfortable at the command-line, command-line tools are available as well that can make flashing and backup as simple as typing a command, giving more bang for the buck for scripting-savvy users.

Flasher-based flash cartridges

When Game Boy flash cartridges started to become widely available to the public, dedicated flashers were often needed and could be finicky to use. Although many people find the ease of use of SD-card-based and USB-based cartridges to be superior, I find it important that this category isn’t overlooked. The folks over at insidegadgets.com have been making some rock-solid cartridges and flashers for very reasonable prices.

A 1MB cartridge with 128kb SRAM is completely sufficient to run LSDj, and this cartridge runs only $29. The shop will flash the LSDj rom of your choice onto the cartridge before it ships, which means you can get straight to composing in LSDj on your Game Boy as soon as you get it.

However, if you want to be able to upgrade LSDj, backup your save file, change the samples on your LSDj rom, or copy a new save onto the cartridge, you’ll need the GBxCart-mini flasher in addition to the cartridge itself. Together, they cost $50 which is slightly more than the EZ Flash Jr. (not including the cost of a microSD card). But if you’re like me and you want to have two different cartridges (or even three or four), the cost will be cheaper for each additional cartridge than it would be to buy the same number of EZ Flash Jr’s and microSD cards.

The GBxCart-mini flasher itself is a tiny PCB with a micro-USB port and a cartridge slot. You have the choice of whether you want to use a command-line interface or a graphical interface to manage your roms and save files. All the programs are downloadable from insidegadgets.com, and all the source code is open and freely available. I’ve modified the code for my own needs so all I have to do is run one simple command which backs up my save file to a new file with a timestamp. My version even lets me drag a save or rom onto a command and flash it onto the cartridge. This won’t be the most convenient option for everyone, and sometimes getting the computer to detect the cartridge takes some adjusting, but it’s otherwise every bit as simple as using an EMS cartridge. I should also note: the 4MB ROM 128kb FRAM cartridge uses battery-less memory, meaning you will never have to worry about a lost save due to a dead cartridge battery. That’s pretty great!

I hope you find this useful and if you find any cartridges that I missed out on, please let me know so I can update this for future users. Until next time, this is DEFENSE MECHANISM, signing off!

Note: traducción al Español por Pixel Guy encontrado aquí.

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