SuperSoniqs announces “Franky” a new VDP cartridge for MSX computers

We are SuperSoniqs, a new international group of MSX techies. This blog is about a exiting new product for MSX computers called “Franky” (working name). Franky is a VDP on a cartridge, most specifically the VDP used in the Mark III, SMS1 and SMS2 range of game consoles.

Last week, our prototype board saw the daylight and turned out working as expected. As a result this blog has been started to update the community with the latest news and progress on this new and powerful extension for your MSX.

“What does Franky do?”, you might ask. Well, it is not a Sega in a box to start with. You really need a MSX to control the card. True, existing SMS home-brew software can be easily converted so that all your favorite programs will run, but that’s not why we have designed this card.

The Sega VDP used in the Master System and others is actually a MSX1 compatible VDP with an extra screen mode. The extra screen mode not only gives you the possibility to use horizontal smooth scroll, but also allows for two color palettes of 16 colors, one for backgrounds and one for sprites, out of 64 available colors. Besides, this VDP also includes it’s own three channel PSG with noise generator (looks very much like the MSX PSG) so you will have the option of using six channels of PSG in your MSX. That’s pretty cool huh?

As history has shown us, a new card is nothing without software. Therefore we take this opportunity to call upon all active developers to support this card.

How can you help? We are searching for developers that does or want to do one of these things:

  • Extending existing PT3 replayers and/ or trackers on MSX to support the new PSG channels.
  • Modify your old MSX1 productions to execute the VDP code on the new VDP card and toy around with the new VDP possibilities. Only a few commands are necessary to accomplish this.
  • Build in support for new games to support this new card. For example: if you build in code for your MSXDEV productions to support both MSX1 and MSX2, you can probably easily extend your MSX1 code to support the new VDP card and use some more colors for backgrounds or sprites. Please note that this card will support MSX1 computers and up!
  • If you are part of a MSX emulator developer team, please consider adding support for the Sega VDP. This will allow for more people to develop things quicker.
  • If you are a crack in extending MSX basic, you could extend basic with some new commands for this new VDP and build in PSG.

How can you get one? Well, we are currently busy with finalizing the second prototype and then we need to do some further testing. After testing has finished, we will produce a sample batch of 10~20 cards, depending on interest.

If you are an active developer and you or your team want to develop for this card, please send us information about your new or existing project(s), and we will send you one for FREE upon approval of your project. That’s right, FREE (as long as stocks last). If you need multiple cards, you can get additional samples at production costs, depending on amount of submitted projects and while stock last. If you have won a MSX development competition lately and you have a great new project (or old one you want to adjust), we will probably put you on front.

Please do note that your announced project will be published on this page for all to see. If you finish your project you can keep the card. We’ll make a hall of shame for those who don’t 😉 We will update this site with technical documentation to aid your development efforts.

What about us normal MSX users? Well, we don’t like vaporware and as much as we want this card to be produced for a bigger audience, we don’t make any promises for a time to market estimate. If there’s no interest with developers we will produce a few, play some sega stuff, enjoy it  and that’s that. If you know people who develop things for MSX, well you know what to do..

You can contact us via e-mail: info@supersoniqs.com

P.S. Did you know your MSX1 can now potentially do graphics like this? (Press HQ button first when available.)

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46 thoughts on “SuperSoniqs announces “Franky” a new VDP cartridge for MSX computers

  1. Very interesting project. I’d be interested in writing a Sega Master System emulator for this cartridge.

    A side note however, it seems meaningless that the SMS VDP is TMS9918 compatible, you could’ve put a SNES VDP on the card and it wouldn’t have made any difference 🙂

      • True. But that card has no software to run on it that will justify obtaining it. Futhermore, it’s list price was 177 euro. We aim to produce and sell this card at production costs.

  2. The SNES has a 16bit processor. One of the things this card supports is easy porting of Sega code to run on your normal MSX. Both the Sega and MSX run on the same clock speed, for Z80 and VDP. Futhermore: Existing MSX1 code can be adjusted to be excuted on the new VDP and then you can toy around with the new vdp possibilities. I think we will show that meaningless will prove meaningfull in a couple of weeks :))
    Thanks for submitting your project, we will consider it.

  3. The SNES 16bit CPU is only slightly more ’16bit’ than a Z80. It’s an evolution of the very very 8bit 6502 CPU. Like the MSX, the SNES CPU runs at 3.58MHz.

    But it’s not about the CPU, it’s about the VDP. The SNES VDP has an 8 bit databus just like the MSX and SMS VDP’s.

    So what’s left is the “ease of porting” claim. I don’t see an advantage to this, except for MSX to copy-cat SMS in stead of doing its own unique thing.

    Note that I’m not trying to be negative, just offering some perspective.

  4. “it’s list price was 177 euro.”
    Gfx9000 doesn’t cost 177 euros now. It costs max. 134 (I’ve seen it on sale for 119). Which probably is even below production costs.

    “But that card has no software to run on it that will justify obtaining it. ”
    This is a very subjective opinion, and a self-fulfilling prophecy.
    The same is (currently) true for this SMS VDP cart. Efforts for developing software that justifies it could in stead be targeted at strengthening the already existing Gfx9000 software library.

    • We have a few things to consider. First we like SMS a lot. Second, we think that a video and integrated sound chip that looks very much as our existing hardware will get people to develop more quicker. Third, we want to create a low cost solution. So we also have to consider the price of obtaining the necessary components, whether it will be from a pull operation or buying old stock. Fourth, a new card with a potential of running more than 300 applications at launch will attract more people to buy it than an expensive card with no software for it. Fifth, we are make this card primarily for ourselves. We hope more people and developers will be interested, but if not we will just have fun playing sms software on it and that’s that.

    • We’ll hope someone will take the lead and develop basic extensions for it. Currently we are only busy with make this hardware happen. We’ll see what comes next.

  5. Those are valid reasons, especially that 5th one 🙂

    As said, I’m interested in writing an SMS emulator for it. It probably won’t run on a 64K MSX1, but when the cartridge with 4MB memory mapper is done, I expect no problems to make it run on MSX1.

    As you might know I’ve written GEM (and still working on that off and on), the Gameboy Emulator for MSX. I’m also working on a NES emulator, but I haven’t worked on it since writing a 6502 CPU core a few years ago.

    I looked at the possibility to emulate SMS 100% in software, but even on turboR and Gfx9000 it would take too much processing to be anything close to playable. However, this cartridge is ideal, because all graphics and sound can be off-loaded to it without needing conversion or processing!

    As you say, simply the prospect of being able to run all those SMS homebrew apps is enough for you, the prospect of being able to run all those SMS commerial games is enough for me 🙂

    • 🙂 Sounds good. BTW: it would be nice if we could play SID files on the next prototype series. But it seems that SID files also contain 6502 code for register programming. Could you dig in to that format and look if your emulator code could handle those instructions too? A SID replayer would be nice to have in the future.

  6. Very interesting hardware. If it sees the light and you sell it, I’ll be very interested and maybe I could port my current project to it (when I finish it, this year I hope).

    Of course, a SMS emulator on MSX is a very good idea. I’m sure that Guyver can do it!

  7. Best of Luck to your dear project! LONG LIVE FRANKY! 🙂

    You said: “it would be nice if we could play SID files on the next prototype series.”

    Did you mean to play SID files in some other prototype project or in next Franky generation?

    Anyway, sounds VEEEEERYYYYY INTERESTING!!!!!!!!<3

    First you told about six psg channels and now sid! 😀 Great! 🙂

  8. First versions to roll out to developers will be a card with vdp only.
    Then the new protypes will be made with 4MB and SID on it. If FPGA programming takes to much time we’ll consider a SID standalone card first. But our aim is to roll out the second batch of samples with VDP, SID, 4MB SDRAM and FPGA.

  9. Very interesting hardware, really!
    This year i hope to publish MonsterHunter 2.0 .. the game is finished and i’m working join AAMSX for the publishing. To me will be nice to detect your hardware and give it support.
    Furthermore, i’m working in a new game for MSXDev’09 and i could give it support too.
    Let me know what do you think about it and i hope your new hardware for MSX will be a success!!

  10. Does Franky allow simultaneous use of both VDPs at the same time? Could be nice to have some transparency effect trick with MSX VDP while SMS VDP is outputting the rest for example. Could be nice GFX mix plus also a mix of SMS PSG+MSX PSG+SID+FM-PAC+SCC… 😉

    Anyway, just make it work on my Turbo R please 😉

    • Currently it doesn’t. MSX1 VDP supports transparency overlay, but not on the cartridge slot signals. So then users would need to break open the MSX1 and make necessary adjustments. Not really something much people would do. The Sega VDP does have the bits for overlay, but those are disabled in hardware according to the technical documentation. So that option is not available too.
      We are currently looking if the VDP signal of the MSX can be routed through Franky, so you don’t need a dual monitor or switch box setup. This requires extra compontents on the card. We’re not sure yet about the additional costs of this. Besides, extra components also mean less space for other components and maybe some spacing problems as a result.

      In short to answer your question: probably not. Maybe some programmers can some tricks with pushing code to both VDP’s at the same time and then switch the VDP’s if we manage to get both VDP signals out of Franky. The other option would be to have a external overlay device that mixes both VDP signals. We’ll see.

  11. Good ideas can be copied. My proposition is copy/cooperate with MSX DEV contest. Perhaps a new category for this VDP would work

    Regards,
    Alex

    • I’m not sure if another category would be a great idea. We don’t have that many developers or entries. I would rather see people build in a little extra code to support this card on the existing or future productions. Just like it’s done now with extra palette support etc. depending if you run the entry on MSX1 or MSX2.

      But then it’s up to the developers and organizers. We just want to make this card a reality.

  12. Does using SMS VDP slow MSX down? Thought if they both have Z80 running 3,58Mhz, then maybe not, but liked to know. Thought bit slow down may not be too bad when considered what you get with Franky. 🙂

  13. The SMS VDP runs at about the same clock speed as the MSX1 VDP (as far as exact clockspeeds go on different MSX1 computers..)

    Besides, the Z80 of the Sega runs at about the same clockspeed as our Z80.

    I don’t think we will see large differences in speed.

      • I should’ve said maximum 20% faster. In real world it’s probably closer to 15%… Note that this only has implications for games that either make full use of vblank time to do VRAM transfers, or games that are close to using all cycles in a frame.
        For most games you probably won’t notice it… Games like Aleste which already slow down when lots of action occurs, it might slow down a bit sooner.

        So nothing particularly worrying, but something to take into account nevertheless.

  14. Oh, there´s nothing new then. 🙂 We MSX-1´ers are familiar with Spectrum port slow down syndrome, and most of us never even notices it! ;D So welcome Franky, you act like Spectrum port, so you are our friend! 🙂

  15. That’s nice. But the PX7 uses a lot more hardware to make such things possible. A cartridge the size of the PX7 base unit would not really work I think..

  16. Have you considered to add ADVRAM support? I mean CPU direct VRAM access, for instance mapping VRAM on Z80 page 0. This could be very nice and would open a lot of possibilities.

  17. It starts with detailed photo’s of the print, or better yet the schematics. I believe the print must be soldered inside the MSX2. I’m not sure if this would work in a cartridge. It might help counterfeit possible slowdown problems when excessive VRAM transfers are necessary. But then, there’s no detailed information available so we will probably never know.

    • Update: we looked at the ADVRAM but it wouldn’t make much difference. Besides introducing artifacts it is also really designed to work with 9938. Testing shows that the Sega VDP is probably much faster.

      • Well, I just suggested to use a Dual-port RAM for the VDP VRAM memory, and, apart from connecting it to the VDP, map it on $0000-$3FFF Z80 adressing space. So it will also be possible to directly access to the VRAM instead to do all w/r stuff through the VDP.

      • The problem with this is that the Sega VDP is much faster than a MSX2 vdp. When we want to use memory that supports writing and reading at the same time, it could very much be that the VDP is simply to fast and misses data from the memory when using vblanks. Also, when data is lost all kinds of strange artifacts are introduced. It would require quite some extra logic to work around this. In practice, the VDP and his memory will be fast enough not to require direct access from the Z80.

        Of course, everyone is free to submit a project and to obtain the card. If you manage to get it modified and working with dual port ram without problems, we could take it into consideration.

  18. Very nice accomplishment !
    But I think I’ll stick with my GFX9000 for now. It can do so much more…

    but I will keep an eye out on your progress …cause it does fascinate me somewhat.

  19. I am not sure about the final decision about this question but you should consider to mix the video signal of VDP standard and Franky … in my opinion, GFX9000 had the same error of design.
    It is just a suggest! 🙂

    • There are pro’s and con’s with providing one solution for both videosignals. Con: It’s not possible to use two screens at once in games and demo’s
      Con: If you want overlaying, then there would be a lot of extra components needed, that’s probably not gonna fit in the final product.
      Pro: you need only one monitor. But that is also very easy to fix with f.e. a scart switchbox. Those are only a few euro’s and such a solution would be much cheaper than expensive components on the card.

    • Hi Guyver, could you bring your GFX9000 with you this saturday? Maybe we might take a look inside. I don’t know if there are any schematics available?

  20. Verry nice 🙂 i like the whole idea 😉 the new vdp the sid the extra 3 channels i stil have a c64 and a c128 waiting for such special operation…. is it possibe to make a sid stereo mod and a midi device?????? good luck im looking forward to the moment i hear sid tunes out of my msx 🙂 btw it would sound awsome sid and 6 channel psg 😛

    kind regards poisonic

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