InterView With Superfro

Superfro is the coder behind MameX, fancbox, logo-x, bios hacks and tutorials for the Xbox Scene.

This interview conducted on the 7TH October 2002.

Xbox Evolution: 1) Can you tell us where were you born, where you live,etc.?

Superfro: I'd prefer not to.

Xbox Evolution: 2) What qualifications do you have?

Superfro: Well, I have my diploma from high school, and 10 years of development experience. All self taught. I've written software in pretty much every language, on many platforms.

Xbox Evolution: 3) What made you get into computers?

Superfro Back when I was about 13 I had a friend who I used to hang around with alot. His father did something with computers, and he was fortunate to have a Apple II that he neglected to show interest in. And hanging around him, I used to play with his computer and ... what can I say I was hooked! A year or 2 later I had a class in school dealing with computers... and it was on from there.

Xbox Evolution: 4) What projects/coding have you done previous to your Xbox Scene work.?

Superfro I've done development on PS1 (nothing big), Linux, and alot of PalmOS software.

Xbox Evolution: 5) You were the second coder to take on the MameX project, what have you brought to it and how far can it be took ?

Superfro After I found out that OpCode was leaving the project, I felt that this was my calling. I wanted to get into the XBOX scene, I had a XBOX, and the XBOX being so PC-Like, I felt I was there. OpCode did an exellent job getting it put-together, figuring out what _needs_ to be done, I started filling in some gaps starting with beta-5. The basic elements where there, but the gui needed a splash of color, error messages needed to be mostly xbox related, not really MAME. Then a new MAME core (.61) was released by Sadly enough it wasn't a easy upgrade, the .diff file was ~ 4.5 megs. They've been doing alot of internal changes. So after a few failed attempts to merge the .61 update, I started over. Using the foundation that OpCode provided, I knew what problems I would have by comparing what was changed in .60.
Starting the port over worked out much better than trying to merge .61 changes to .60's core. That was beta 6 which I also added a NeoGeo/CPS version that has all the drivers stripped so more memory is available. Alot of larger games can be run by using a this version, and switching between the two is easy. There were bunch of features added, nvram settings, 1st attempt at the highscore saving, alot of stability adjustments.
Now I've been working on beta 7, with alot of debugging, trying to figure out why the games that don't work, simply don't work. Mostly it's memory related but i've been fixing a few of the drivers, pal60 bugs, trimming code to save memory, vector games like asteroids, and the most major thing has been partitioning the drivers so that I can de-allocate the unused drivers from memory when launching a game. So far this part has been a bit slow.
So I've been working on my own Demand Paging system, allowing the XBOX to utilize the harddrive to swap memory, since the XBOX does not have this funcntionality.

Xbox Evolution 6) What limitations on there with regards to ram on the Xbox and the size of some of the bigger Mame Games.?

Superfro Well the retail XBOX comes with 64 megs of shared system-videocard memory. So thats problem #1. Second the XBOX loads the entire executable into memory before executing it. So MAME being as large as it is, you load a 12 Meg executable, and between that and the system/videocard overhead, you're only left with about 44 Megs in ram. Then the MAME code was designed to load the entire rom into memory before executing (just like the xbox). So considering you have a rom that is < 44 megs, once it's loaded some games need to build tilemaps and allocate RAM for their own code execution.
This is definately a challenge for post pacman era games. But i'm loving it.

Xbox Evolution 7) What do you have planned for another of your projects fanCbox ?

Superfro fanCbox, well pretty much at it's point now, it's used to make designer-like-bioses. Changing colors and other useful hacks. I have some more bios hacks lined up, all I can say is keep watching the news boards for those features. I have been trying to dedicate more time to getting MAME-X beta 7 out, so thats why I havn't added these parts yet.

Xbox Evolution 8) What was the Breakthrough in getting emulators or infact any software working on the Xbox?

Superfro Breakthrough? Well modification chips that allow homebrew software to be ran are still fairly new. But I believe MAME was the first thing that caught people's eyes and gave hope to all the other emulators. I get email every day telling me they bought the xbox just for MAME. There is however an older port, say 8 months ago, a guy using a Development box ported MAME but never gave anyone a way to access it. He has screenshots, but nothing else.
So the big breakthrough applause goes to the original guys who figured out how to modify the XBOX allowing homebrew code to be ran. My hats off to them.

Xbox Evolution 9) How easy is it to port emulators from Windows DirectX Versions to the Xbox?

Superfro It depends on the code. MAME code is somewhat cryptic, Lots of defines of defines. The main problem with porting code to XBOX is the GUI/Engine abstraction. Luckily for MAME, it's a commandline version which pretty much leaves the whole UI up to you, and just setting internal variables like commandline switches. Other then that, It's easier to port windows code to XBOX then it would be to say... Linux.

Xbox Evolution 10) When will we see a fully legal emulator/ application for the Xbox?

Superfro All eyes on the OpenXDK project. The goal is to provide a SDK developers can use without using Microsoft's code. I have faith in the OpenXDK project and have been trying to help out, it's real tough at the moment because the beginning steps are the toughest, and most people have work/school to attend to first. OpenXDK needs a devoted project coordinator with plenty of time on their hands. Time is very valuable, So I understand what the problem is. Once a bare foundation is released, OpenXDK will skyrocket, and that is when you will see legal emulators.

Xbox Evolution: 11) However unlikely, will there be a way of using Homebrew on the Xbox without a Modchip.?

Superfro Microsoft took alot of measures into their encryption methods, mod chips will continue to get easier, but having looked for loopholes in the boot process myself, I almost doubt you will be able with no chip at all.

Xbox Evolution: 12) We have seen some great emulators and software already come out on the Xbox, Whats your favourite so far?

Superfro I'm trying not to be biased on this one but MAME is my passion, I own lots of other consoles, and PC emulation doesn't thrill me, I have a PC, I have windows, I have linux, I have a dvd/vcd player. MAME is the one thing I do not have, I don't own 3000 cabnets of games. I would even purchase the roms lagally if I could without buying warehouses full of old arcade machines.

Xbox Evolution: 13) What would you like to see ported to the Box and what is realistically the limit to what can be done?

Superfro What would I like to see? Tough decision, currently nothing comes to mind. I'd like to see more non-ported software, original XBOX software designed to use the networking features that older console's lacked. Network games, Network appliance usage. But honestly I'm very contempt with the progress that everyone who has contributed has accomplished. It can only get better from here.

We at Xbox Evolution would like to thank Superfro for his time in answering these questions and for his many efforts in continuing the Xbox hobbyist development scene.

This document/interview is Copyright © 2002 by Wraggster and may not be reproduced in whole or part without permission

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