Here’s a collection of the most common questions I get, and their answers.
Q: Weren’t you the Poor Student Hobbyist?
A: Yep, same guy. Rebranded!
Q: Can you make this licensed game for me?
A: No. If you ever find or buy any licensed games that were made with my boards, that game was not made by me. I do not sell licensed games – I never have, and I never will. Please do not ask me to do this for you 🙂
Q: Why doesn’t my game work?
A: This is the big one, and why you’re probably here. Unfortunately, there are a ton of possible reasons for that. Making a game involves many steps, and missing just one of them can completely screw it up – though, luckily not usually irreparably (but hopefully you didn’t put an MMC3 chip in backwards, they don’t like that). Make sure you followed all the steps correctly, and check out the more specific troubleshooting section at the bottom of the tutorials for the board you’re using or making. And chances are, it’s something minor, like a bad solder joint or two points touching that shouldn’t be.
Here are a few general things to check that usually fix the problem:
- Make sure you followed the ROM preparation portion of the guides correctly. Getting a socketed test PCB that you know works to test your ROMs before you solder them into a permanent board is a good idea.
- Make sure your console is working with regular games, and if you used a donor cartridge for a game, hopefully you’ll remember if the donor game worked first.
- Check for any wires, pins, or pads that you forgot to solder. Some of these boards require 100+ solder points to work, and just missing ONE of them can cause problems.
- Look for cold solder joints – these are usually caused by poor quality solder, or soldering at too low of temperatures. If your solder joints don’t look smooth and shiny, you might have a poor solder connection. You can fix these (called “reflowing”) just by putting your soldering iron on them, and possibly adding some extra solder. And be sure your solder is of good quality!
- See if there’s any damage to traces or pads, dirt or contamination on the board, or solder touching two metallic points where it shouldn’t. Sometimes when soldering, you can inadvertently make solder balls that can short circuit your board where you don’t want it to.
- Make sure all your parts are in the correct direction, and you’re using the proper parts in the proper places.
- Check to make sure you are putting an NTSC game into an NTSC console, or a PAL game into a PAL console. This not only includes making sure the CIC is for the correct region, but that the ROM file itself is for the correct region. You generally can’t use a PAL ROM with an NTSC CIC in an NTSC console without some kind of issue.
- If your game is using a clone CIC, like the SuperCIC or AVRCIC, try turning on the game and resetting the console five to ten times (and try some power cycling as well). Sometimes this is necessary for the clone chip to detect the proper region.
- Make sure you have all the decoupling capacitors and electrolytic capacitors on the board – especially the ceramic decoupling capacitor near the CIC chip. These CIC chips normally don’t work unless you have the proper capacitance on them.
I generally don’t mind helping you to get a working product, but the volume of emails and messages I get is considerably high so if you’re able to check these things first, it would really help me out! 🙂
I rigorously test all of my designs to make sure they work before I sell them, and manufacturing errors on the boards themselves are pretty rare, though not impossible. And in the past, I’ve missed a few things before, but nearly all of the boards I offer currently have been time-tested and pretty robust. If you’ve got more questions, feel free to email or message me.
Q: Do you do custom work?
A: That depends on a few things – my availability, what projects I’m currently working on for others, and how complex your request is. It’s hard to estimate how much to charge for certain things, so your results will vary. Here’s a list of things that I can probably do for you:
- Put the game that you have developed yourself onto one (or more) of my custom cartridge boards, assuming I have the available hardware necessary.
- Designs that are identical or very similar to boards I already have. An example of this would be a CNROM-only board with a designer’s logo and website printed on it. For this request, I modified my NES board that included NROM, CNROM, AxROM, and UxROM compatibility – I simply removed all compatibility other than CNROM. No solder pads required. If you’re planning on making a game and would like me to source the PCBs, I may be able to help!
- Boards that are available as an existing design/type that I don’t currently offer, but may be planning to implement. An example of this would be a Mapper 30 board (used for NES Maker) – I was already planning on making this design for myself, but because I was asked for this board (with an added logo), I bumped up the design in my priority list and they got the first revisions.
And here’s a list of things I probably won’t do for you:
- Flash cartridges, and boards that use mappers or specialty chips that aren’t able to be made without a flash cartridge. This would include NES games with the MMC2 or MMC5 mapper, and SNES games that use the C4, SuperFX, SA-1, S-DD1, DSP, or SPC7110 chips. I may have or be able to make boards that make it easier to use these boards as donors, but otherwise, I cannot make full replacements. Flash cartridges are already a long-term goal for me – if I decide to tackle this challenge, I’ll be doing it when I’m ready to!
- Boards unrelated to products that I already have available (like non-retro gaming related).
- Consoles that generally don’t have many simple DIY PCBs available already. This includes consoles like Game Boy and N64. Trust me, there are good reasons you can’t find these readily available elsewhere.
If I do custom work for you, please give me credit for the work if you’re going to advertise it on social media or elsewhere.
Q: How did you learn all of this?
A: The basis of my knowledge comes from my electrical engineering background, but other than that? A lot of googling, a lot of studying original game PCBs and schematics, a lot of thinking, and a LOT of testing. Hands-on learning really helps. For my actual career, I’ve done a lot of PCB design and layout, so I have a lot of experience there as well.
I try to document knowledge whenever possible to make this accessible for others – I set out to create something that would help people jump-start the hobby faster than what was available when I started out. That being said, I do not consider myself an expert by any means, just an enthusiast, so feel free to challenge me on anything I say. I’m not afraid to fix something I’ve gotten wrong.
Q: Is this your job?
A: As hinted at in the previous question, no this is not my main job, and it won’t ever be my main job. I love my actual job. This is just a hobby of mine (it has actually supplanted most of my time actually playing video games). As such, my time is quite limited – at best I can get only a few hours a day to work on this – so if I do not respond to your emails or messages immediately, please give me the benefit of the doubt. I will try to get back to you when I’m able to. This is also why my handling time for orders is generally a week long, because there have been many weeks where I was completely swamped with other work and home life, unable to do anything for the store or website for days on end, and burnout is a very real thing that I’ve experienced and want to avoid again. I hope you can understand!
Q: Can you give me gerber files so I can order your boards myself?
A: Unless I’m designing a custom board for you, I don’t give out gerber files. However, I do provide many schematics and in-depth details of my boards on the site across various pages for you to use to make your own boards if you’d like. Feel free to ask for clarifications too.
I only ask that if you are going to use my documentation to produce your own boards in order to sell them, please try to understand how it all works before doing so.
Q: What’s the best way to contact you?
A: Please use email via the contact form whenever possible. I am bad at checking social media.