Virtua On: Sega Astro City Conversion

SEGA 005

This post is a two part post based on another Astro City conversion project from a few years ago using my ‘junker’ Astro cab which I was always more than happy to butcher. Although this post shows the conversion process, I also found it good to reflect on why the “Medium” of the game (Console, PC, Arcade etc) is so vital to Game Design using this project as an example of a really good technical project that was a terrible gaming experience.

naomishiz 006

I’d had a Sega Model 2B stack in storage for a number of years which was running Virtua Striker. I really had no idea what I was going to do with it until I got offered a very rare, new old stoke Virtua On control panel.

HOTD Restoration 001


This panel was brand-new. Still in it’s box. It was almost a shame to even use it. What made this acquisition even more rare is this version of Virtua On was never sold in Australia. How it ended up “down-under” is beyond me but I was glad to grab it.

Although I could have reprogrammed the Model 2Bs ROM board, it would have been an expensive exercise. All of the Mask ROMS would need to be ditched in favour of more expensive (although re-programmable) 32Mega-bit EPROMS. This was not really an option at the time given that this was meant to be a cheap and quick conversion. So I decided to hunt down a Virtua On ROM board.

Virtual On

The hunt only took a few months and I was able to find one for sale in California. This leads to an interesting point about this hobby. From my perspective, most of the time you are simply looking for parts. Projects usually come about due to opportunity rather than a specific desire to achieve a specific outcome. I’ve always found that the more specific your project aim is the more it tends to cost! It’s not like you can simply walk in to a shop and purchase this stuff. You need to wait, network and deal with all kinds of bullshit to make some of this stuff come to life.

Back to the specifics of this project, one of the great things about Model 2 (and 90s non-JAMMA) in general is that they are cheap boards to acquire. Cheap because they tended to require a lot of additional hardware to run so demand is relatively low on some titles. (i.e. not Daytona!)

The next step in the process was to convert the Model 2B’s filter board to JAMMA so that it would integrate with the Astro’s internal wiring harness. Note that my JAMMA conversion harness also had a very basic mono audio amp built in. This wasn’t really necessary in the Astro but still a handy addition should I wish to put it in another JAMMA cabinet. I also had to mount the board in such a way that it would fit in the cab. Luckily it wasn’t the behemoth that the Model 1 was.

In the end, it came together quite well. Everything was completely functional and it was a very clean installation – far cleaner than Star Wars Arcade was. The only issue is that I was really disappointed with it as an arcade game experience.

I’d played this game a lot when it came out on the Saturn and really loved it. Even as a “lesser” game technologically it was still a very engaging Single Player experience.

Once I had Virtua On running on the Astro, I realized just how much it was dependant on being a competitive, PvP experience. Although you could play against the clock and try and beat your best times, once you had figured out the AI, there was very limited challenge. It’s funny how the simple “collectable” items in the Saturn version gave it such greater longevity.

It’s funny how gamers in the 90s always considered the home console conversions to be inferior to their arcade fore-fathers. It just goes to show how much extra work is required beyond the porting itself to make a game appropriate for another medium and alternatively, how important medium us to game design.






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