Japan : Nov.21st, 1990
CPU / Clock speed
65c816 / 16-bit
1 MB (128 KB)
0.5 MB (64 KB)
unknown to author
TV (RF modulator for NTSC or PAL), AV Cable, S-Cable
max.sprite size: 64*64
2 controller ports
When the SNES arrived it came bundled with Super Mario World and has later been released with many other titles such as: Donkey Kong Country and Street Fighter 2. In Japan the SNES is called Super Famicom (Super Family Computer).
A new SNES was launched on X-mas of 1997 in Japan and came bundled with Super Mario World 2 : Yoshi's Island. This new SNES had a new fresher look and costed about 99 dollars. Arkanoid, Space Invaders and Kirby's Dreamland 3 was released with it.
Effects and Techniques
The SNES is a truly wonderful little machine, it has many different "hardware modes" like rotation, transparency, scaling that help the games to scale and rotate sprites. Hardware modes are special routines that are programmed into the SNES hardware that help the SNES to make all the great effects in the SNES games.
Before the SNES, in the days of the NES, rotation was hard to do, because in order to make a smooth rotation you had to make an animation consisting of a large number of frames - the more frames the smoother rotation! Unfortunately that takes up a LOT of valuable space. Now the SNES can rotate the sprite all by itself in realtime which saves lots of valuable space. Rotation is for example used when Bowser turns around with his Koopacopter to drop a ball on Mario in Super Mario World. Rotating can also be used to create courses like the ones in Contra 3 where you see the action from above and the background rotates when you turn around (course 2 and 5).
To scale a sprite means that you resize it, making it bigger or smaller than it originally was. If you start with a small sprite and enlarge, it will become rather "pixely" after a while. But if you start with a big sprite it won't happen so fast, though it consumes quite a lot of memory. If you would like to do scaling on the NES, you would have to make one frame for every scale step, so this is not even thinkable if the sprite isn't very small!
The great thing with the SNES is that you can make backgrounds and sprites semi-transparent. An example is: the mist outside the ghost houses in Super Mario World. Transparency makes many amazing effects possible like clouds, laser, rain, fire, and water effects.
The SNES has seven different "states" to work in and the seventh is the most spectacular because it lets big backgrounds be scaled and rotated to create impressive 3D illusions like flying over a landscape in a plane. This technique is used in many great games for example in F-Zero, Super Mario Kart, Pilotwings and Secret of Mana (when you ride with Flamie!). Some of the these games uses the additional DSP chip too.
The Sound System
The sound chip (Sony SPC700), which is actually a seperate processor, is an 8-bit sound chip with a 16-bit program counter, but all of it's registers are 8-bit. Even though it is an 8-bit chip, it doesn't generate more than 4-bit ADPCM sound data. It has 64Kbyte memory and 8 stereo channels.
The C4 chip Game cartrigde built in chip
This is a special graphics chip, used to create better semi-transparent graphics effects (eg. rain or water) and 3D effects in Mega Man X2 and Mega Man X3. They are the only games that use it. The chip was developed by Capcom.
The SA 1 chip Game cartrigde built in chip
This monster of a chip was developed by Nintendo for multiple purposes. One of its tasks was as a memory compression chip, allowing the games to be bigger than normal by compressing the data. The chip also stored supposedly 1/4 of the video game itself on it so people could not copy the games or use them in a copying device. The chip is also a second trimmed down (I believe) version of the SNES main cpu.
The games that ever uses this chip is:
Jikkyou Oshaberi Parodius: Forever With Me,
from Konami (Japan only)
Super Mario RPG
Dragonball Z Hyper Dimension
Kirby's Dream Land 3
Masoukichin : Lord of Elemental
The DSP chip Game cartrigde built in chip
The DSP chip is a chip that helps the SNES to handle more advanced 3D effect in mode 7, than it can handle normally. DSP stands for Digital Signal Processor.
Here is list of games that uses the DSP chip: Armored Trooper Votoms, Ballz, F1 ROC II, PilotWings, Super Mario Kart, Super Air Diver, and Dungeon Master.
The DSP 2 chip Game cartrigde built in chip
A more advanced DSP chip developed by Seta that increases the SNES's speed from 3.58 Mhz to 8 Mhz. The first game to have the chip built in was Seta's own F1 Race of Champions. It was later also used in the Japanese game Ace wo Nerae (Aim for the Ace) and Top Gear 3000 from Kemco.
The Super FX chip Game cartrigde built in chip
This invention from the people at Argonaut is a special chip that is implanted in a SNES cart, like the ones above and is called the Super FX chip. It's specialized to help the SNES to create 3D worlds made by shaded polygons and texture mapping and light source shading. The Super FX chip is a mathprocessor and a sort of Co-CPU to the SNES CPU. With the FX chip in a game the SNES's speed goes up from 3.58 Mhz to 10.5 Mhz!! The FX-chip can also make ordinary 2D games better. It has been used in StarFox (StarWing) and Vortex (formerly known as Citadel) by Argonaut; a shoot'em up where you can transform between being a walker, a boggie, a tank or a jetplane and Stunt Race FX (a.k.a. FX Trax and Wild Trax) a nice polygon racer made by Nintendo.
Cartridges with the Super FX chip have a number of additional pins at both sides of the origanal pins. But it still fits in the SNES's cartrigde slot, but not in many NTSC to PAL converters and other such things.
The Super FX2 chip Game cartrigde built in chip
The next Super FX chip was even faster at 21.0 Mhz! The SFX2 consists of two chips, each with a speed of 10.5Mhz that work together in tandem. Games that SFX2 has been used in (or supposed to be used in) are:
Transformers (never released), a game with the famous Transformers toys. By Argonaut.
FX Fighter (never released), a port of the PC game with the same name. By Nintendo.
Power Slide, a dull looking racing game that were developed for the SNES, PC and 3DO. The game was supposed to be very realistic. By Elite.
Dirt Trax FX. I know nothing about this game except that it's by Electro Brain.
Dirt Racer SFX. Elite were so sure of the success of their first FX game Power Slide that they already during the production of Power slide started developing a sequel called Dirt Trax. This game was more like an off-road game with big Dune Buggies, 4*4 Monster Trucks or Off-Roaders for the player to control. The game also featured an splitscreen option for 2 player races.
Doom needs no further presentation I hope!!
4x4 Racer, a racing game from Elite. I'm not sure if this game ever existed or if it's the same as Dirt Trax SFX!
Comanche, a conversion of the PC game with the same name. Sadly never released. By Nintendo.
Winter Gold, an 3D Winter Olympics game.
Super Mario World 2 needs no further explanation. By Nintendo
Star Fox 2 (never released). In this game, the player was no longer limited to fly on a "pre-made" path, they could fly in any direction that they wished. Fox now had six wingmen instead of three. Another new feature was the split screen mode. By Nintendo.
Street Fighter Alpha 2, a massive, almost arcade perfect conversion. Some say it is even better looking than the Playstation version.
The SNES CD-ROM Extension
The Big SNES CD-Rom Project Never Released!
From 1991 to 1994, there were various plans by Nintendo for different SNES CD-ROM addons. The following information will talk about this topic in three parts:
1. Development - How the initial developmental process was carried on.
2. Presentation - On the last known technical specs and information about the console/addon and the games rumoured/planned for them.
3. Conclusion - The consequences of Nintendo's abandonment of the the project.
A) The Initial Collaboration with Philips
Things started out as mutual co-operation between Philips and Nintendo to develop a SNES CD-Rom that would be compatible with Philips' CD-I machine.
Nintendo would take complete control over licensing the games for this new SNES addon and Philips would supply them with the CD player. In the process, Philips also got the rights to use some Nintendo characters in couple of of their CD-I games. One Mario puzzle game was released and three other Zelda games. Nintendo were planning to introduce the machine at the C.E.S. in June, but there was a problem. The recent deal between Philips inflicted with a previous deal made with Sony in 1988.
B) Tumult at the C.E.S.
Things made a dynamic turn here. Instead of maintaining their deal with Philips, Nintendo suddenly introduced the Playstation at the C.E.S. in June the same year. The machine played the "Super Discs", as Nintendo called them, containing 680 MB, as well as also playing normal SNES games. The project was decent and seemed to be on rail for a great success until Nintendo realised that the 1988 contract granted Sony the rights to control the licensing of all CD based games for that console. The fact that the only supplier for the special sound chips used in the SNES was Sony made the situation even worse for Nintendo. They were at the very brink of a life or death situation.
C) The Second Collaboration
Nintendo were quick to respond. They decided to stick with their previous collaboration Philips, claiming they did so because "Philips' technology were superior". This was a deperate attempt on the side of Nintendo to maintain their control over software rights.
Sony threatened Nintendo that they would take them into court, but Nintendo insisted that the Philips' deal wouldn't clash with the ongoing CD project with Sony, namely the Playstation. The Sony people decided to see how Nintendo would proceed with their CD project before they made a major response.
Sony was expecting that Nintendo would propagate for the Playstation at the annual C.E.S. conference, but instead saw them announce plans for an exclusively collaboration with Philips. This time, Sony took this seriously and claimed it to be a violation of contract.
D) The Last Second Negotiations
The process from here is quite perplexing. To start from the conclusion, the two Japanese firms made up with a new deal, thus avoiding major legal conflicts. Sony decided that it would be better to maintain a coalition with Nintendo by solving problems rather than confronting Nintendo hand in hand. For Nintendo, the fact that they needed Sony sound chips in order to maintain their supply line of the SNES was the crucial factor. The outcome resulted in Sony giving the controlling rights of the CD games over to Nintendo while Nintendo in turn promised to benefit Sony through the playability of SNES games on the Playstation. This new deal did not confine Nintendo from working with Philips, either.
Some Americans have criticised this process as beening typically vague and ambiguous in the Japanese way, and hence unfair because it was based on very protective policies that Japanese firms resort to against foreign competitors.
The crucial point that this criticism lacks is the fact that though Nintendo had become the largest name in the gaming industry, they were still a tiny ant in front of gigantic corporations like Sony and Philips. If they had not allied with Sony, what countermeasures could they have taken? Afterall, though they were in the midst of success, the SNES and its games were the only profittable thing Nintendo had, whereas Sony and Philips had a whole bunch of stuff to sell and whole lot of capital to spend on. And let's think, would've and couild've Philips taken Nintendo out of the mud if they had lost supplies from Sony? That's not likely.
The criticism also lacks the fact that in every modern country, including the USA, there are group alliances among industries in the shape of unions, associations, federations and so on, which basically strive to protect their industry. There are also commitees in the congressional houses of any country solely formed to protect and promote their industries. There are lobbyists everywhere in the world, of which the USA seems to be the prime example.
In short, speaking in international manners is neither fair nor relevant to the matter. The most important thing is that the whole new concept of videogames were developed through very diligent and ingenious works of smaller firms and programmers. Seeing that the new area was profitable as well as highly marketable, the big corporations came on to the stand. The Nintendo/Sony dispute was symbolic in that it might represent the last showdown between giant firms and smaller game companies. Seeing that Playstation has taken a big lead in the industry and now plans to take over most of the software producing process utilising the new Playstation 2, we should see why Nintendo's struggle for initiative in software licensing was so crucial. Haven't anyone learned a lesson from the brutal advent of Microsoft?
Some people may think that companies like Nintendo and Sega are big enough, but look at Sony! I'm only 29 years old, but when I was a kid, Nintendo was only a company making traditional Japanese playing cards never known to the world.
Don't forget the 3DO lesson, either. Panasonic didn't screw up after the 3DO breakdown, the 3DO company did. But look at Sega. They are experiencing a near bankruptcy just for the initial failure of the Dreamcast. Hadn't Nintendo the rights for their games, Nintendo may as well be blown out, too, considering the ill sales of Nintendo 64. Don't forget, Nintendo and Sega and the like made it here the hard way!!
E) The Strike Back, 1992
During the C.E.S. in January, Nintendo finally announced that they were abandoning their partnership with Sony.
Philips, on the other hand, announced that they will go on working with Nintendo and that they would release the well awaited console by Christmas that year. Later they changed the due date to 1993. Nintendo announced at the C.E.S that they would take on the same licensing system as their NES and SNES systems had taken on.
Below is a list of technical specs from Electronic Gaming Monthly dated around June-July 1992 :
Technical Specs RAM memory 8 MB Co-CPU Yes SUB memory 2 MB Video Yes ROM memory 2 MB CD-I compatible Yes Min. access time 0.75 sec Price: (in USA) $ 200 US Max. access time 1.3 sec Release (USA) January, 1993
F) The Second Showdown
The counter strike came quick when Sony helped Sega in promoting and releasing the Mega CD for $300. Sony helped Sega by producing games for their CD system, which for the third time brought Sony and Nintendo to the table.
The main factor to this re-negociating was that the smaller software/hardware producers grew increasingly anxious about all the different CD formats on the market and hoped to produce a world-wide standard for the industry. Top executives from the largest Nintendo licensees met with Nintendo's Hiroshi Yamauchi to persuade him to join forces with Sony again so that Nintendo, Philips and Sony could use the same CD standard, which would in turn not only benefit the producers but also the consumers.
Still working with Philips, Nintendo began negotiating with Sony again. It resulted in an agreement between the two companies in October, 1992. Nintendo maintained the rights to control and license all games for both Sony's Playstation and Nintendo's own machine, whilst Sony controlled all non-game softwares. Nintendo even controlled Sony's own games for the format. What finally brought in Nintendo's victory was the fact that the SNES was now inevitably becoming the winning 16-bit console, of all the others on the market. Being a newcomer to the gaming field, and having aspirations towards the future, Sony couldn't risk falling out of Nintendo's market.
The rise of a very promising CD console called the 3DO, backed up by the electronic giant Matsushita/Panasonic (the only electronic company larger than Sony), might have caused the haste, too. For it was also decided in the deal that the next machine would be a 32-bit based console which the 3DO had already made a head start on (SEGA's CD addon was 16-bit).
G) The End of a Party
Some things turn out very ironical. After all the turmoil, the main actors in the power game set off in a friendly vessel. Sony and Nintendo start developing together a new console, the SNES Nintendo Disk. The same thing was now in the development by Philips under the name of CD-ROM XA. At last, Nintendo cooperated with both Sony and Philips. The problem was that, only now, Nintendo was losing interest towards the development of a new CD system, presumably because other CD systems from Sega and NEC were failing out.
Around April/May 1993 Nintendo released their last tech specs and info about the CD addon and set a release date for early 1994. From this info, we have put together a presentation of the SNES Nintendo Disk with tech specs and a list of planned and rumoured games.
The Super Nintendo ND
Technical Specs RAM : 8 MB Sub memory : 1MB ROM Memory : 2 MB Co-CPU : 32-bit RISC CPU speed : 21.477Mhz Cache : 8 KB Access time : 0.7 sec Data transferring speed (between the SNES and the CD-ROM) 150 or 300 KB/sec CD-I compatible : Yes Storage : CD-ROM : 540MB System Cartridge : 56 KB RAM memory chip built in cartridges Price : $ 299 US Colours : 16.7 million Release : Autumn, 1993
First, an SNES cartridge named the System cartridge was put into the normal cartridge slot. This cartridge contained a chip that handled the communication between the original SNES console and the ND addon's RAM memory using a system called H.A.N.D.S. (standing for Hyper Advanced Nintendo Data transfer System).
The CD-ROM drive, CPU and RAM etc were attached beneath the SNES, through it's bottom expansion slot.
There were only so many games announced for the Nintendo Disk.
They are as follows :
Rumoured Games to had come 7th Guest Virgin PC port adventure Gdleen Seta - Robocop became PC Cosmic Osmo became PC new Final Fantasy - new Zelda - Mario - Street Fighter -
Before concluding anything, let's sum up the whole development procedure of the SNES CD addon.
Procedure by date
- August, 1992.
Nintendo announces the advent of their new Super FX chip. This might've had an effect on Nintendo's delays concerning the release of their CD addon because the CD-ROM device had to be upgraded to be better than the S-FX chip.
- Early 1993.
Nintendo announced some new technical specs about the machine. It's CDs would have 540 MB of storage and would probably be compatible with Philips' machine, presumably the CD-I and/or CD-ROM/XA. Rumours about a new Zelda game and a Street Fighter 2 sequel for the SNES CD was also prominent. The release date was set to Autumn 1993, but the price was still $200. Nintendo promises to show the CD addon on the S.C.E.S show later the same year.
- S.C.E.S. Chicago, 1993 .
Despite Nintendo's promise to reveal their ND on the S.C.E.S in Chicago 93, they failed to show any new CD device at all. They had also said that it would be released in early 1994. At the S.C.E.S., Nintendo introduced new S-FX games like FX-Trax (a.k.a. Stunt Race FX) and Super Mario Allstars.
- Late 1993.
Nintendo announced that they has abandonned any aforementioned development and release of a SNES CD device.
The main effect of Nintendo's abandoning of their CD project with Sony and Philip was that the machine that Sony and Nintendo were planning on first, the Playstation was later released by Sony as a standalone console that today is the worst competitor of the Nintendo 64.
To sort things out there were 3 different Nintendo CD consoles:
1. The Playstation which Nintendo and Sony were planning on based on the their deal with Nintendo from 1988.
2. The Nintendo/Philips CD-ROM add-on based on the agreement between Sony and Nintendo around the time of the C.E.S. in June 1991.
3. The Philips CD-ROM XA / SNES Nintendo Disk which were a product of the cooperation betwen both Nintendo, Sony and Philips. BAsed on a deal struck around October - November 1992.
Maybe there is no way to determine the real reason behind Nintendo's backing off from their long awaited CD project because opinions seem to differ even among Nintendo workers. The sudden decision was that perplexing to the gaming industry. What actually made Nintendo change their minds from thinking that the CD-ROM was the future of video gaming to that it would doom their fate may never be explained.
Some say that CD-ROMs were too limited because they took too long a time to load and that they were read-only media. Others say Nintendo came to a conclusion that a CD gaming line would make it very difficult to protect their copyrights and profits compared to a cartridge based system considering how easy a CD could be copied and thus distributed. Since CD-ROMs can be read on any computer nowadays, they thought it would allow for a huge pirating market, I guess. Yet, others say Nintendo just chickened out because a new CD console might die out like Sega and NEC's CD systems. Nintendo then began to work on the Nintendo 64 and the Virtual Boy instead.
Personally, I believe that abandoning the SNES ND project was the most crucial mistake Nintendo had ever made because if they had released their CD addon, the Playstation and the Saturn may not of stirred up the sensation they had caused when first released to the gaming public. This sensation caused the Nintendo 64 to lose their huge potential market while they nagged behind in releasing their console. If Nintendo had released their CD system before the Playstation and Saturn, there is enough rational evidence that a large proportion of Playstation and Sega Saturn/Dreamcast user's of today would've bought the Nintendo machine instead. If things had happened that way, many software developers would've never had given a glance to other consoles.
Besides, if Nintendo had continued working with Sony, the Playstation may not have even existed as a Nintendo competitor because it was originally a Sony-Nintendo project. Even if Sony and Nintendo each announce different hardware for thier CD systems, Nintendo would have never had to compete with Sony for the CDs would've had the same format. Rather, it would've been bad competition for Sony.
Hence, it's a pity that Nintendo had ever decided to abandon their well perceived, ahead-of-time project of making a CD-ROM console.
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