Interview with Darksoft, Creator of the Neo Geo Multi Cartridge

A fan’s Q&A session with Darksoft

Grab a coffee, sit down and put on your reading slippers as we continue our coverage of the NEO·GEO Multi AES Cartridge with a chat with the creator himself (Darksoft, not God).

I previously wrote about Darksoft’s excellent NEO·GEO Multi AES Cartridge.  For those who missed the article, the Multi AES cartridge is a must-buy for any Neo Geo fans.

More recently, I’ve had the pleasure of asking Darksoft some questions that I, a huge fan, have long been curious about.  Enjoy!

SM: First of all, thank you for agreeing to take time out of your busy schedule for this little interview. Let’s kick off with the really important one, how did you end up with the name Darksoft?

DS: The name just happened to me when I was 16 and started getting some PC games from games that were protected and I badly wanted to play them, so I learned some assembly for the x86 and wanted to have some credits for what I did, so I needed a name! It probably comes from Software which is of Dark source.

SM: You’re very well known in the scene, particularly for your range of arcade system boards, but what was the first electronics project you ever created?

DS: IIRC I was already doing some stuff with my C64 and the user port. Small PCBs printed on special film paper sensitive to light that you had to put on a PCB and then on some acid, it was a very archaic process back in the 90s. A friend of mine taught me a couple of things. His father was an electronic engineer.

SM: Which of the many retro related products that you have made are you most proud of?

DS: Products, probably CPS2. Special versions of games, I think it would be either the AW conversions or a special CPS3 “robot” which was a very program that I did in order to create playable versions of the games ready to run in a battery-less dead cart.

SM: Which one of your products has been the most difficult to create?

DS: NeoGeo by far. It mixes many many technologies, RAM, flash memories, ARM, FPGA, level shifters, it was a nightmare.

SM: Which one took the longest, from conception to release?

DS: NeoGeo as well.

SM: Many of the creators in the scene I have spoken to, actually make their products as a hobby. Do you have a full-time job, and if so, is it even remotely related to electronics?

DS: Yes, I do have a job, not full time, that’s why I can do all these things which is actually what I like to do 😀

SM: Has the increasing demand for retro based products, particularly in recent years, come as a surprise to you?

DS: Dunno. I’m a gamer and a freak, so I always played them. Retro things seem to be lately very on. I power on my Amiga and C64 from time to time, so they are not retro to me 🙂

SM: What was it that first inspired you to get into the retro scene, and start making your products?

DS: I started in 2004 making some releases for C64, doing it solo, then Hokuto Force asked me to join and I did several works on the C64. After that I had a break of the scene, kids, etc. but was always playing and buying Jamma PCBs. Then in 2013, just after being told that CPS3 couldn’t be revived and proving everyone wrong, I thought…I like this CPS3 system of changing games with the same HW. You know what? I’d like to have the same for other systems. I started with something simple like STV, and then the story goes on. I’m still surprised by the butterfly effect and how I got into CPS3. I bought a very cheap CPS3 from eBay that had SF3:NG and that’s how it all started…

SM: Do you do all of the work on your various projects yourself, or do you get help with some of them?

DS: I don’t like routing PCBs and I get someone to do that for me. Also, I can’t take care of assembly, it would be too much, so I just use a company that produces them for me following my Schematics, BOM, testing procedures, etc. The rest is mine

SM: What is it that keeps you motivated to keep creating new, and indeed updating old, products?

DS: Seeing people enjoying the multis and hearing that it’s a dream come true, that is very gratifying and motivating.

SM: With regards the NEO·GEO cartridges, were there any major technical limitations with the system you had to overcome?

DS: The biggest problem with NEO-GEO is that there are sooo many boards and so many custom protection chips and mapping modes, it’s a titanic project.

SM: The NEO·GEO is such an iconic system, with a well-earned reputation for expensive software, so having a multi-cart makes a great deal of sense. Other than the sheer number of man-hours which went into (and are still ongoing) the creation, what is the most expensive part of the multi-cart?

DS: The FPGA is the most costly part in the cart.

SM: There has been talk on your forums of potential features for the NEO·GEO carts, are there any major new features on the horizon which could realistically see a release?

DS: I had many ideas in mind, like linking 2 carts, converting new games so they would linkable and several other features that could be a game-changer. However, this project is too much for a solo. The concept was so innovative and broke so many lines. I’m proud of what I achieved. It has 3 slots, based on RAM and you can just switch from game to game with the joystick! The loading times were below 12 seconds for the biggest game! There was a lot of passion and hours put into this cart.

SM: As for the actual hardware inside your current NEO·GEO cartridge, is there much headroom left to cope with potential new features, or are you pushing the FPGA pretty hard as it is?

DS: There is still space in the FPGA and the RAM, but If I were to do all the things I have in mind, I’d need some help and a couple of things in the cart would need to be changed, so that would require a new revision of the PCB. Time will say if that will happen. For now, I’m happy with the results.

SM: Finally, is there anything you would like to say yourself on past, current and future products, or just anything at all really?

DS: I’d like to invite everyone to join our forum ( I think it’s a nice place to be, where you can learn a lot, even if you are a novice on this. We’ve all been learners. I still have 2-3 multis in mind that I’d like to finish, after that I would consider to have in my library all the cool multis, that I ever wanted to buy if I hadn’t made them myself  🙂

I’m sure many more things will come. I have a couple of projects in mind as well, but one at a time.

Thank you, Darksoft, for taking the time to answer our questions.  Readers, if you have any questions you’d like us to put to Darksoft in any future interviews, please leave them in a comment, below.