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Despina83

Something odd that happened to a cartridge of mine once

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Years ago I was playing Q*Bert on a 4 switchy woody that I used to have and for some reason I was stupid (or just tired) enough to pull the game out without shutting off the system first. This cart has been screwed up ever since. I don't know the technical terms, but the "randomness" is gone fron the game. Every single time you put that cartridge in (no matter what system) the exact same thing will happen in the game every time. The balls will come out at the same time, appear on the same cube, every game is exactly the same. Nothing is random anymore. What exactly could cause a cartridge to be broken in that way? It just seems really odd. I bought a new copy right away, but I still have that one that I fried. My system was also damaged when I did that (not only did I yank the game out without turning it off, but somehow I left the system on all night. Talk about being out of it...). It was stuck on high difficulty, regardless of where I moved the switch. I don't have that system anymore...

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I've had/seen that happen with 2600 games before. There used to be a term for it; not 'flashing', but something like that. It probably was 'frying'. I'm sure I'd remember if I hadn't imbibed so much alcohol in university.

AFAIK, there's no cure for a fried game, and frying a 2600 game isn't uncommon.

 

I don't remember it happening with INTV or 7800 games or any other cart-based systems, though it probably did with the earlier, pre-NES consoles. There was a rumor (put out by Nintendo, I'm almost positive) that the Game Genie could fry NES games, but I've never seen or heard about that actually happening and I seriously doubt the claim. Nintendo had recently lost their copyright lawsuit against Game Genie makers and they most likely (imo) put that rumor out there to dissuade NES owners from using the device.

Edited by Smatchmo

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I'm no chip expert, chip intermediate or chip amateur for that matter; I know just enough electronics to be dangerous...

 

I can imagine a single byte in a ROM could be corrupted, especially as a result of the electrical chaos caused by removing a cartridge under power. Depending on which byte was changed the game would just not work, work then crash or, if you're lucky, just play differently.

 

-tet

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What exactly could cause a cartridge to be broken in that way? It just seems really odd.

Except for a very unlikely coincidence (e.g. a very special bit rot happening at the very same time), I cannot imagine anything causing this.

 

Are you 100% sure the game behaves differently than before?

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100% agreed with Thomas. Mask ROM isn't particularly fragile, and I'd expect a failure to be more dramatic.

 

Somewhat more likely would be a failure of something in the VCS itself caused whatever the game was using for random entropy to be static. (A floating gate got grounded, or???)

 

Frying just means the 6507 didn't run through its initialization, so the RAM/PC is random. It happens all the time, especially when power switches go dodgy, but it doesn't harm the cart.

 

Suggest you run the game in an emulator and see if it plays randomly. Perhaps your little grey cells had a bit flip. ;)

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Actually, I had the very same thing happen with a TRS-80 Colour Computer game in the 1980s.

 

I don't recall what, if anything, I did to trigger it, but this one cartridge ceased to be random. The game map was the same every time I played it. There were no peoblems with the console/computer itself; I used it daily for many years thereafter.

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It's 100% true. I just fired up the game and it's exactly as I remembered it. Each time you play, the same thing happens. Immediately before you even start, Sam (the green guy) comes out on Q*Bert's right side and descends the pyramid in a straight line. This in itself is strange enough, since he shouldn't be coming out right at the start before you even have a chance to start changing cube colors. And then the purple ball comes out on Q*Bert's right side as well, and then goes down the pyramid, hitting the same cubes each time before Coily hatches. It's the same exact thing everytime you fire up the game. Regardless of what system you play it on.

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That's really weird. Bit rot could possibly happen but it would be that 1 in a million chance....maybe you should buy a lottery ticket soon :D

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What's inside a Q Bert anyway? I would assume it's the same as most others with a single ROM chip, maybe some RAM, and perhaps a filter cap.

 

If something happened to the code, dumping the code would reveal it.

 

I've played several other games that behave differently on the various systems they are compatible with. I wonder if your cart would play them same on something like a Heavy Sixer or a 7800?

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Yeah, not really sure what Q-bert uses for randomness, if anything.

 

Stella seems to play the bin with the exact same moves from the enemies every time, but they don't do what Despina83 described. Either that's the way its supposed to be, or its using something that Stella isn't emulating.

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Very weird indeed... although proving it to a collector would be next to impossible methinks.

 

BTW, who is that in your display pic, Despina?

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It's 100% true. I just fired up the game and it's exactly as I remembered it. Each time you play, the same thing happens. Immediately before you even start, Sam (the green guy) comes out on Q*Bert's right side and descends the pyramid in a straight line. This in itself is strange enough, since he shouldn't be coming out right at the start before you even have a chance to start changing cube colors. And then the purple ball comes out on Q*Bert's right side as well, and then goes down the pyramid, hitting the same cubes each time before Coily hatches. It's the same exact thing everytime you fire up the game. Regardless of what system you play it on.

 

If you have the cart still, you should see about getting the rom inside dumped so we can compare it with a working version. If it's bit rot in the cartridge itself, it should show up in the dump. :)

 

I should probably read the rest of the thread to see if this is already suggested, but too late! hitting reply! :D

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What exactly could cause a cartridge to be broken in that way? It just seems really odd.

Except for a very unlikely coincidence (e.g. a very special bit rot happening at the very same time), I cannot imagine anything causing this.

...

That reminds me, years ago I read an article that stated that Gamma rays (or neutrinos, or some interstellar energy that constantly bombards Earth from space, can't remember exactly...) can ruin a memory chip. In fact, to combat this problem, chip fabricators would design memory chips with redundant cells so if one bit got zapped, its redundant "partner" would still work, and the chip could still operate without errors.

 

Granted, it's been a long time since I've kept up with the tech literature, so I don't know how bad the situation is now. Still, with ever-increasing chip densities, I can't imagine the odds improving over the years.

 

Again, since a change of one bit can change the value of its byte, that's all it would take to either change a program instruction or, perhaps less critically, cause the top row of Space Invaders to grow a third antenna. OK, if it's only one bit we're talking about, I guess it would only be an antenna stub. :rolling:

 

-tet

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The kind of memory chips that can be affected by gamma rays are high density RAM chips. The gamma ray knocks an electron out of position, which flips a 1 to a 0.

 

Unless this was a proto cart or a loaner cart, or was similarly unique, its going to be made with a mask ROM, which is a physical structure.

 

I'm not a physicist, but with a mask ROM I'm fairly sure you'd need more energy than a stray gamma ray is going to provide, to flip a bit by knocking an atom or molecule out of place.

 

But other methods are definitely possible - a strong static discharge for one.

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Sorry, I know this topic is a couple years old, but I came across this again and thought maybe I should send it to someone to be dumped just for the heck of it, as it might be interesting to see what's going on. Anyway, I first tried that "broken" cart, and then after seeing that it's still doing the same thing, I popped in my good, replacement Q*Bert cart that I had been playing just last night. It started doing the same thing, with Sam appearing next to Q*Bert and descending straight down the pyramid at the very start of the game, before even making a move. Now, I'm not ignorant enough to seriously believe that my cart has "caught" what was wrong with the other cart, but I am really befuddled. Because now it happens every single time on my good cart as well. Remember, I'm not playing on that old 2600 I "fried" (that's long gone), I'm using a 7800. Is this something that happens to anyone else? Do you ever see Sam appear first thing at the start of the game, always on the right cube below the top? Shit, I didn't think it was doing that last night, but maybe I didn't notice. But I keep re-inserting the game, resetting, and it just keeps doing that same thing. Also, is the single beep that sounds after solving a pyramid supposed to signal an extra life earned? That's what I always thought, but my carts are doing this all the time, even when no extra lives have appeared. End of first level and second. Maybe I'm just losing my mind.

Edited by Despina83

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Sorry, I know this topic is a couple years old, but I came across this again and thought maybe I should send it to someone to be dumped just for the heck of it, as it might be interesting to see what's going on. Anyway, I first tried that "broken" cart, and then after seeing that it's still doing the same thing, I popped in my good, replacement Q*Bert cart that I had been playing just last night. It started doing the same thing, with Sam appearing next to Q*Bert and descending straight down the pyramid at the very start of the game, before even making a move. Now, I'm not ignorant enough to seriously believe that my cart has "caught" what was wrong with the other cart, but I am really befuddled. Because now it happens every single time on my good cart as well. Remember, I'm not playing on that old 2600 I "fried" (that's long gone), I'm using a 7800. Is this something that happens to anyone else? Do you ever see Sam appear first thing at the start of the game, always on the right cube below the top? Shit, I didn't think it was doing that last night, but maybe I didn't notice. But I keep re-inserting the game, resetting, and it just keeps doing that same thing. Also, is the single beep that sounds after solving a pyramid supposed to signal an extra life earned? That's what I always thought, but my carts are doing this all the time, even when no extra lives have appeared. End of first level and second. Maybe I'm just losing my mind.

 

Two different Youtube videos and Sam appears at the start of the game on both of them. I think it's normal.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5jEpUiy_bc

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdnYB9o3IWU

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Yes, Sam always starts the game. That similarity is to be expected across all games and all cartridges. However, I assume everything in the game afterward should be unique, or at least as unique as the Atari can make it.

 

However, it wouldn't be entirely without precedent to discover everything in the game has lost its randomness. If you fry Asteroids, all of the asteroids are white, all except for half of the medium-sized rocks move from left to right, and the UFO's and aliens always fly in the same path and fire in the same direction.

 

Here's where I confess to being ignorant on some inner workings of the 2600. Does the system have a random number generator, or is it up to the games to create their own randoms? If it's up to the game, then perhaps frying or otherwise damaging the cartridge can prevent the code in charge of randomness from executing properly, resulting in the same number being spit out every time.

Edited by FujiSkunk

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Well, apparently this is just me being completely and utterly ignorant of the game. :dunce: But that is strange that they programmed him to come out immediately, since his whole purpose is to reverse your work and he shows up before you even have time to start.

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Does the system have a random number generator, or is it up to the games to create their own randoms? If it's up to the game, then perhaps frying or otherwise damaging the cartridge can prevent the code in charge of randomness from executing properly, resulting in the same number being spit out every time.

The games have to create their own pseudo-random numbers.

 

One easy and popular way to create those numbers are so called linear feedback shift registers (LFSRs). Those have to be initialized with anything except 0, because else they get stuck at 0. Sometimes the returned numbers are randomized with some in-game parameters (e.g. the number of frames displayed). Then there still would be some randomness in the game even with missing initialization.

 

But if games use LFSRs without any further randomization, there is a good chance that frying leads to a complete loss of randomness.

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