Pandora's Year in Review 2019
Let's take a quick look back at everything that happened this year.
But first, an apology to you, the reader.
I'm sorry that I haven't been keeping the blog up-to-date as much as I wanted to and as much as you were hoping I would. I can tell as I received emails asking me about why I haven't been updating as new things came out and such. The honest truth is that I'm the kind of guy that gets laser focused into a particular interest for weeks and sometimes I disappear from it for a few months as I rotate to some other interest for a little while and then come back.
But I've also been super busy at work for the last few months so I've had little free time to really spend on my own interests, whether Pandora's Box or others, so the blog slipped onto the back burner. I was still answering emails and hanging out on the PB6 Discord, as always. I'll try to stay on updating this blog as much as I can. I sometimes forget that I don't just write this for myself, as I was when I first started it up. Expect another blog post in the next few days covering the future of this site and the blog (and don't worry, nothing negative).
A year ago, I decided to start some community initiatives as I had noticed that my blog here was getting more traffic than I was ever expecting. Indeed, it came to become one of the top results for Google searches for "Pandora's Box", which goes to show how little information is really out there.
On the blog, we took another look at the technical details of the Pandora's Box 6 as well as detailed the first noticed Pandora's Box 6 board revision that we stumbled across which had a few small new features included.
We also started up our Discord which has grown far larger than ever expected. Honestly, I only ever imagined a small handful of people would ever roll through so I am continually surprised by the community that has grown there. It's the best place to go to interact with me and also find other like-minded Pandora's Box owners interested in getting more out of their boxes. it's been humbling to talk to so many of you who have been avid readers and have been thankful for the work we've put into creating the community. I'll never get tired of it.
Probably the most major thing from this month was the announcement and launch of the Pandora's Box 6 Community Collection, a crowd-sourced initiative to collect all the MAME and FBA ROMs and test them on the PB6 to create a curated collection of games that function, play well and don't require knowledge of Japanese to play. Thousands of games to go through and test and we managed to get it done in a few weeks together, which still amazes me. People have asked me time and time again why I put the links only on Discord and the reason is because I had hoped that by bringing more people there, some will see our little community and decide to stick around. Many, many of you have and I couldn't thank you enough for that.
Here on the blog, we showed people how they can use the Neo*Geo Unibios and announced the release of the Community Collection. I couldn't tell you offhand how many people have downloaded the Community Collection but I know it's a pretty sizable amount. I've received so many messages from random parents and players thanking us for having gone through the effort.
Blogwise, we switched away from Wordpress to something that I felt looked a bit nicer and was easier to deal with. But the major news of the month was the launch of a new Pandora's Box Android-based clone, the new Heroes of the Storm 5 board, GB3000, also known as the Pandora Games 3D. Those of us in the Discord knew as soon as we saw the feature set that the board was very interesting.
As the months rolled on, the GB3000 received many, many revisions with the most recent changes including on-board wifi and a store that you can download more ROMs from built-in. It also received a major logo change. I would say that right now in January 2020, it is the current king of the hill in terms of PB clones.
3A Game releases the Pandora's Box 9D with 2222 games on it with the major feature update being the addition of several fighting game hacks allowing players to practice their combos. It is more or less the same as a Pandora's Box 6 but with fewer features, no ability to add games and is meant to target the clone market with a cheaper box.
Within the community, the release of the PB9D sparks a lot of talk about whether or not it is really from 3A as it is being sold on a different Aliexpress store and 3A themselves have repeatedly stated that if it doesn't come from their official store, it's not official. But the 3H logo is on all their products and their official store and even in the background of the store right alongside the 3A logo. It is a foregone conclusion at this point in the minds of all but the most hardline that 3A and 3H are the same company.
Koch Media announces the upcoming launch of the Capcom Home Arcade, a Pandora's Box style dual arcade stick and software in one box with a small smattering of games, the most surprising of which is Alien vs. Predator which hasn't had any other home release. The announced October release gets overshadowed by the controversy of the license of the emulator software being used, Final Burn Alpha. It appears that the main person behind Final Burn Alpha licensed his software to Koch Media without having the rights to do so from any of the other developers that worked on it with him.
The release of the Pandora's Box 9D continues to stir up controversy about who is behind the release and what the purpose of it is, with many believing it to be yet another fake clone out there. I have been one of those people as well with the launch of the original PB9 box the previous year, but there was just too much evidence to the contrary. I wrote up a full explanation of why I felt that these were real boxes from the real creators which generated yet more discussion. In the time since I wrote it up, yet more evidence has come to light that agrees with that assessment. I feel bad that my original skepticism was steering people the wrong way when the PB9 came out but at the time, we didn't have the technical data needed to really disprove anything which we do now.
We also covered rumors of an upcoming Pandora's Box 6 3D which was supposedly meant to launch in the fall. Tipped as being primarily for 3D games instead of the previous PB6 which was almost all 2D only. As of January 2020, the new Pandora's Box 6 3D has not materialized yet.
I was contacted by someone who found my blog and was also interested in hacking the Pandora's Box 6. I hadn't really touched the hacking work in a little while as I had been pretty busy with work. We compared notes and he showed me that I had been so very close to breaking through some of the roadblocks I had previously hit. Within about a week, we were able to extract some of the files and understand a bit more about how it all worked. I posted a video showing the Pandora's Box 6 running a game it couldn't normally run, Joust. I also got quite a few others to run that wouldn't normally, such as Defender and Run n' Gun. This new partnership would come to be extremely fruitful and he has been incredible to work with on this journey of ours.
I also covered the new revision of the Pandora's Box 9D, this time with 2500 games by default as well as some limited support for 4 players in certain games and some SNES and Genesis emulation thrown in as well. I purchased one to disect and take a look into. I was hoping to do what we had done before, mount our USB stick and edit some files to grab the emulators and other support files and make them available to us, however since all the games and files to support them are on the OS SD card, the USB stick couldn't be mounted through normal means. (We will come back to this sometime in the very near future.)
It was around this time that we saw the Pandora Games 3D add some new features which we covered. Saving and loading save states was probably the most important feature included followed by being able to search and categorize games by emulator type. Another step in the right direction for this clone to step out of the shadows of the Pandora's Key 7 and make a name for itself.
We detailed another revision of the Pandora's Box 9D with 2226 games which is meant for JAMMA machines only that offers most of the same features of the previously mentioned PB9D 2500 games version. Not a whole ton here to detail though.
I officially announced here on the blog the upcoming Pandora's Box 6 Customization Platform, the result of all of our hacking work. It isn't quite ready for wide release at this point, but the main idea here is that our hack allows for almost all the files the Pandora's Box 6 uses to be pulled from the USB stick instead of from the SD card's hidden vault. This allows the user a lot more ability to customize their experience. Want to have different music in the settings menu? Drop an mp3 called music.mp3 into the USB stick. Want to use customized hacked versions of some of the emulators? Want to make more games playable? Want to fix some of the games that have issues on the Pandora's Box by default? You can do those things with more on the way. As I write this in January 2020, I can tell you that just today, we made some very major breakthroughs and we will likely make a new announcement shortly.
It was about this time that the blog went on a bit of a hiatus. I had intended on updating it with my thoughts on some of the newer clones out there, especially the Pandora Games 3D adding wifi and a game store allowing free downloads of game ROMs directly to your unit.
At this point, my vision was mainly on getting the hacking work on the PB6 done with my partner, but we hit a difficult patch in the work itself and both of us got extremely busy. We went months without really talking aside from the odd message here or there.
I started looking into different ways of adding features to the blog that ultimately were helpful but required a bit more work than I had time for.
I had decided that we had made people wait enough for our hack. We weren't making progress as we were too busy so I had hoped that by releasing what we had, we'd attract a few like-minded people to help us continue onwards. Unfortunately, the vast majority of those who volunteered to help us test what we had never actually showed up or disappeared way too quickly to be remotely helpful.
We discovered that our hack didn't work with CGA output on certain JAMMA board revisions we weren't aware existed while testing with a few helpful people on Discord. It appears that the PlayStation vibration crash may have finally been fixed with these newer board revisions but we haven't been able to fully confirm that yet. If you will be using our hack, you'll have it fixed regardless.
We started up a Wiki for documenting everything we could about the hacking progress and the knowledge we gained while working on the Pandora's Box 6. While not all of it is fully public yet, there's a TON of stuff to be found there so if you found the hacking blog posts interesting, there's quite a lot of stuff to read there.
I'll be writing up another blog post within the week detailing changes I'm planning on making here on the blog, a permanent forum instead of using Disqus which isn't as helpful as I had hoped.
We will also have an announcement regarding the customization platform hack in the near future. Some very exciting stuff, I promise.