Nintendo Entertainment System
Top: NES control deck with controller
Bottom: Family Computer ("Famicom") main unit
|Also known as||
Family Computer/Famicom (Japan)|
Hyundai Comboy (Korea)
|Type||Home video game console|
¥14,800 (Japan) |
$179 (US Deluxe Set)
JP: September 25, 2003
Worldwide: 61.91 million |
Japan: 19.35 million
Americas: 34.00 million
Other: 8.56 million
|Media||ROM cartridge ("Game Pak")|
|CPU||Ricoh 2A03 8-bit processor (MOS Technology 6502 core)|
2 controller ports|
1 expansion slot
|Successor||Super Nintendo Entertainment System|
|Related articles||Famicom Disk System, Famicom 3D System|
The Nintendo Entertainment System (or NES for short) is an 8-bit home video game console developed and manufactured by Nintendo. It is a remodeled export version of the company's Family Computer (FC) platform in Japan, also known as the Famicom for short, which launched on July 15, 1983. In the U.S. the NES was launched through test markets in New York City and Los Angeles in 1985, before being given a full nationwide launch in 1986. The NES was launched in Europe during 1986 and 1987, and Australia in 1987. Brazil saw only unlicensed clones until the official local release in 1993. In South Korea, it was packaged as the Hyundai Comboy and distributed by SK Hynix which then was known as Hyundai Electronics; the Comboy was released in 1989.
The best-selling gaming console of its time, the NES helped revitalize the US video game industry following the North American video game crash of 1983. With the NES, Nintendo introduced a now-standard business model of licensing third-party developers, authorizing them to produce and distribute titles for Nintendo's platform. It was succeeded by the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
Although the Japanese Famicom, North American and European NES versions included essentially the same hardware, there were certain key differences among the systems.
The original Japanese Famicom was predominantly white plastic, with dark red trim. It featured a top-loading cartridge slot, grooves on both sides of the deck in which the hardwired game controllers could be placed when not in use, and a 15-pin expansion port located on the unit's front panel for accessories.
The original NES, meanwhile, featured a front-loading cartridge covered by a small, hinged door that can be opened to insert or remove a cartridge and closed at other times. It features a more subdued gray, black, and red color scheme. An expansion port was found on the bottom of the unit and the cartridge connector pinout was changed.
In the UK, Italy and Australia which share the PAL-A region, two versions of the NES were released; the "Mattel Version" and "NES Version". When the NES was first released in those countries, it was distributed by Mattel and Nintendo decided to use a lockout chip specific to those countries, different from the chip used in other European countries. When Nintendo took over European distribution in 1990, it produced consoles that were then labelled "NES Version"; therefore, the only differences between the two are the text on the front flap and texture on the top/bottom of the casing.
In October 1993, Nintendo redesigned the NES to follow many of the same design cues as the newly introduced Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Japanese Super Famicom. Like the SNES, the NES-101 model loaded cartridges through a covered slot on top of the unit replacing the complicated mechanism of the earlier design. For this reason the NES-101 is known informally as the "top-loader" among Nintendo fans.
In December 1993, the Famicom received a similar redesign. It also loads cartridges through a covered slot on the top of the unit and uses non-hardwired controllers. Because HVC-101 used composite video output instead of being RF only like the HVC-001, Nintendo marketed the newer model as the AV Famicom. Since the new controllers don't have microphones on them like the second controller on the original console, certain games such as the Disk System version of The Legend of Zelda and Raid on Bungeling Bay will have certain tricks that cannot be replicated when played on an HVC-101 Famicom without a modded controller. In October 1987, Nintendo had also released a 3D graphic capable headset called the Famicom 3D System (HVC-031). This peripheral accessory was never released outside Japan.
When Nintendo released the NES in the US, the design styling was deliberately different from that of other game consoles. Nintendo wanted to distinguish its product from those of competitors and to avoid the generally poor reputation that game consoles had acquired following the video game crash of 1983. One result of this philosophy was to disguise the cartridge slot design as a front-loading zero insertion force (ZIF) cartridge socket, designed to resemble the front-loading mechanism of a VCR. The newly designed connector worked quite well when both the connector and the cartridges were clean and the pins on the connector were new. Unfortunately, the ZIF connector was not truly zero insertion force. When a user inserted the cartridge into the NES, the force of pressing the cartridge down and into place bent the contact pins slightly, as well as pressing the cartridge’s ROM board back into the cartridge itself. Frequent insertion and removal of cartridges caused the pins to wear out from repeated usage over the years and the ZIF design proved more prone to interference by dirt and dust than an industry-standard card edge connector. These design issues were not alleviated by Nintendo’s choice of materials; the console slot nickel connector springs would wear due to design and the game cartridge copper connectors were also prone to tarnishing. Many players would try to alleviate issues in the game caused by this corrosion by blowing into the cartridges, then reinserting them, which actually hurt the copper connectors by speeding up the tarnishing.
The Famicom contained no lockout hardware and, as a result, unlicensed cartridges (both legitimate and bootleg) were extremely common throughout Japan and the Far East. The original NES (but not the top-loading NES-101) contained the 10NES lockout chip, which significantly increased the challenges faced by unlicensed developers. Tinkerers at home in later years discovered that disassembling the NES and cutting the fourth pin of the lockout chip would change the chip’s mode of operation from "lock" to "key", removing all effects and greatly improving the console’s ability to play legal games, as well as bootlegs and converted imports. NES consoles sold in different regions had different lockout chips, so games marketed in one region would not work on consoles from another region. Known regions are: USA/Canada (3193 lockout chip), most of Europe (3195), Asia (3196) and UK, Italy and Australia (3197). Since two types of lockout chip were used in Europe, European NES game boxes often had an "A" or "B" letter on the front, indicating whether the game is compatible with UK/Italian/Australian consoles (A), or the rest of Europe (B). Rest-of-Europe games typically had text on the box stating "This game is not compatible with the Mattel or NES versions of the Nintendo Entertainment System". Similarly, UK / Italy / Australia games stated "This game is only compatible with the Mattel or NES versions of the Nintendo Entertainment System".
Pirate cartridges for the NES were rare, but Famicom ones were common and widespread in Asia. Most were produced in Hong Kong or Taiwan, and they usually featured a variety of small (32k or less) games which were selected from a menu and bank switched. Some were also hacks of existing games (especially Super Mario Bros.), and a few were cartridge conversions of Famicom Disk System titles such as the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2.
Problems with the 10NES lockout chip frequently resulted in the console's most infamous problem: the blinking red power light, in which the system appears to turn itself on and off repeatedly because the 10NES would reset the console once per second. The lockout chip required constant communication with the chip in the game to work. Dirty, aging and bent connectors would often disrupt the communication, resulting in the blink effect. Alternatively, the console would turn on but only show a solid white, gray, or green screen. Users attempted to solve this problem by blowing air onto the cartridge connectors, inserting the cartridge just far enough to get the ZIF to lower, licking the edge connector, slapping the side of the system after inserting a cartridge, shifting the cartridge from side to side after insertion, pushing the ZIF up and down repeatedly, holding the ZIF down lower than it should have been, and cleaning the connectors with alcohol. These attempted solutions often became notable in their own right and are often remembered alongside the NES. Many of the most frequent attempts to fix this problem instead ran the risk of damaging the cartridge and/or system. In 1989, Nintendo released an official NES Cleaning Kit to help users clean malfunctioning cartridges and consoles.
With the release of the top-loading NES-101 (NES 2) toward the end of the NES' lifespan, Nintendo resolved the problems by switching to a standard card edge connector and eliminating the lockout chip. All of the Famicom systems used standard card edge connectors, as did Nintendo’s subsequent cartridge-based game consoles, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Nintendo 64.
In response to these hardware flaws, "Nintendo Authorized Repair Centers" sprang up across the U.S. According to Nintendo, the authorization program was designed to ensure that the machines were properly repaired. Nintendo would ship the necessary replacement parts only to shops that had enrolled in the authorization program. In practice, the authorization process consisted of nothing more than paying a fee to Nintendo for the privilege. In a recent trend (July 2016), many sites have sprung up to offer Nintendo repair parts, guides, and services that replace those formerly offered by the authorized repair centers.
Famicom 3D System
Nintendo released a 3D headset peripheral called Famicom 3D System for 3D stereoscopic entertainment. This was never released outside Japan, since it was an utter commercial failure, making gamers experience headaches and nausea.
Nintendo released a modem peripheral called Famicom Modem. This was not intended for children. Instead, adults would use it for gambling horse races, set stocking dates, use their bank, and more.
The NES contains 2 kB of onboard work RAM. A game cartridge may contain expanded RAM to increase this amount. The size of NES games varies from 8 kB (Galaxian) to 1 MB (Metal Slader Glory), but 128 to 384 kB was the most common.
The NES uses a custom-made Picture Processing Unit (PPU) developed by Ricoh. All variations of the PPU feature 2 kB of video RAM, 256 bytes of on-die "object attribute memory" (OAM) to store the positions, colors, and tile indices of up to 64 sprites on the screen, and 28 bytes of on-die palette RAM to allow selection of background and sprite colors. The console's 2 kB of onboard RAM may be used for tile maps and attributes on the NES board and 8 kB of tile pattern ROM or RAM may be included on a cartridge. The system has an available color palette of 48 colors and 6 grays. Up to 25 simultaneous colors may be used without writing new values mid-frame: a background color, four sets of three tile colors and four sets of three sprite colors. The NES palette is based on NTSC rather than RGB values. A total of 64 sprites may be displayed onscreen at a given time without reloading sprites mid-screen. The standard display resolution of the NES is 256 horizontal pixels by 240 vertical pixels.
Video output connections varied from one model of the console to the next. The original HVC-001 model of the Family Computer featured only radio frequency (RF) modulator output. When the console was released in North America and Europe, support for composite video through RCA connectors was added in addition to the RF modulator. The HVC-101 model of the Famicom dropped the RF modulator entirely and adopted composite video output via a proprietary 12-pin "multi-out" connector first introduced for the Super Famicom/Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Conversely, the North American re-released NES-101 model most closely resembled the original HVC-001 model Famicom, in that it featured RF modulator output only. Finally, the PlayChoice-10 utilized an inverted RGB video output.
The stock NES supports a total of five sound channels, two of which are pulse channels with 4 pulse width settings, one is a triangle wave generator, another is a noise generator (often used for percussion), and the 5th one plays low-quality digital samples.
The NES supports expansion chips contained in certain cartridges to add sound channels and help with data processing. Developers can add these chips to their games, such as the Konami VRC6, Konami VRC7, Sunsoft 5B, Namco 163, and two more by Nintendo itself: the Nintendo FDS wave generator (a modified Ricoh RP2C33 chip with single-cycle wave table-lookup sound support), and the Nintendo Memory Management Controller 5 (MMC5). Due to wiring differences between the Famicom and NES, a stock NES console is incapable of passing through audio generated by expansion chips utilizing additional sound channels, but can be modified to regain this capability.
The game controller used for both the NES and the Famicom featured an oblong brick-like design with a simple four button layout: two round buttons labeled "A" and "B", a "START" button and a "SELECT" button. Additionally, the controllers utilized the cross-shaped joypad, designed by Nintendo employee Gunpei Yokoi for Nintendo Game & Watch systems, to replace the bulkier joysticks on earlier gaming consoles’ controllers.
The original model Famicom featured two game controllers, both of which were hardwired to the back of the console. The second controller lacked the START and SELECT buttons, but featured a small microphone. Relatively few games made use of this feature. The earliest produced Famicom units initially had square A and B buttons. This was changed to the circular designs because of the square buttons being caught in the controller casing when pressed down and glitches within the hardware causing the system to freeze occasionally while playing a game.
Instead of the Famicom's hardwired controllers, the NES features two custom 7-pin ports on the front of the console to support swappable and potentially third-party controllers. The controllers bundled with the NES are identical and include the START and SELECT buttons, allowing some NES versions of games, such as The Legend of Zelda, to use the START button on the second controller to save the game at any time. The NES controllers lack the microphone, which is used on the Famicom version of Zelda to kill certain enemies, or for singing with karaoke games.
A number of special controllers were designed for use with specific games, though were not very popular. Such devices include the Zapper light gun, the R.O.B., and the Power Pad. The original Famicom features a deepened DA-15 expansion port on the front of the unit, which is used to connect most auxiliary devices. On the NES, these special controllers are generally connected to one of the two control ports on the front of the console.
Nintendo made two advanced controllers for the NES called NES Advantage and the NES Max. Both controllers have a Turbo feature, where one press of the button represents multiple automatic rapid presses. This feature allows players to shoot much faster in shooter games. The NES Advantage has two knobs that adjust the firing rate of the turbo button from quick to Turbo, as well as a "Slow" button that slows down compatible games by rapidly pausing the game. The NES Max has a non-adjustable Turbo feature and no "Slow" feature, and has a wing-like handheld shape and a sleek directional pad. Turbo functionality exists on the NES Satellite, the NES Four Score, and the U-Force. Other accessories include the Power Pad and the Power Glove, which is featured in the movie The Wizard.
Near the end of the NES's lifespan, upon the release of the AV Famicom and the top-loading NES 2, the design of the game controllers was modified slightly. Though the original button layout was retained, the controller's shape resembles that of the SNES's controller. In addition, the AV Famicom dropped the hardwired controllers in favor of detachable controller ports. The controllers included with the Famicom AV have 90 cm (3 feet) long cables, compared to the 180 cm (6 feet) of NES controllers.
The original NES controller has become one of the most recognizable symbols of the console. Nintendo has mimicked the look of the controller in several other products, from promotional merchandise to limited edition versions of the Game Boy Advance.
A number of peripheral devices and software packages were released for the Famicom. Few of these devices were ever released outside Japan.
Family BASIC is an implementation of BASIC for the Famicom, packaged with a keyboard. Similar in concept to the Atari 2600 BASIC cartridge, it allows the user to program their own games, which can be saved on an included cassette recorder. Nintendo of America rejected releasing Famicom BASIC in the US because it did not think it fit their primary marketing demographic of children.
The Famicom Modem connected a Famicom to a now defunct proprietary network in Japan which provided content such as financial services. A dialup modem was never released for NES.
Family Computer Disk System
In 1986, Nintendo released the Famicom Disk System (FDS) in Japan, a type of floppy drive that uses a single-sided, proprietary 5 cm (2") disk and plugs into the cartridge port. It contains RAM for the game to load into and an extra single-cycle wavetable-lookup sound chip. The disks were originally obtained from kiosks in malls and other public places where buyers could select a title and have it written to the disk. This process would cost less than cartridges and users could take the disk back to a vending booth and have it rewritten with a new game. The disks were used both for storing the game and saving progress and total capacity was 128k (64k per side).
A variety of games for the FDS were released by Nintendo (including some which had already been released on cartridge, such as Super Mario Bros.) and third party companies such as Konami and Taito. A few unlicensed titles were made as well. Its limitations became quickly apparent as larger ROM chips were introduced, allowing cartridges with greater than 128k of space. More advanced memory management chips (MMC) soon appeared and the FDS quickly became obsolete. Nintendo also charged developers considerable amounts of money to produce FDS games, and many refused to develop for it, instead continuing to make cartridge titles. Many FDS disks have no dust covers (except in some unlicensed and bootleg variants) and are easily prone to getting dirt on the media. In addition, the drive uses a belt which breaks frequently and requires invasive replacement. After only two years, the FDS was discontinued, although vending booths remained in place until 1993 and Nintendo continued to service drives, and to rewrite and offer replacement disks until 2003.
Nintendo did not released the Disk System outside Japan due to numerous problems encountered with the medium in Japan, and due to the increasing data storage capacity and reducing cost of the highly reliable cartridge medium. As a result many Disk System games such as Castlevania, The Legend of Zelda Zelda, and Bubble Bobble were converted to cartridge format for their export releases, resulting in simplified sound and the disk save function replaced by passwords or battery save systems.
A thriving market of unlicensed NES hardware clones emerged during the climax of the console's popularity. Initially, such clones were popular in markets where Nintendo never issued a legitimate version of the console. In particular, the Dendy, an unlicensed hardware clone produced in Taiwan and sold in the former Soviet Union, emerged as the most popular video game console of its time in that setting and it enjoyed a degree of fame roughly equivalent to that experienced by the NES/Famicom in North America and Japan. A range of Famicom clones was marketed in Argentina during the late 1980s and early 1990s under the name of "Family Game", resembling the original hardware design. The Micro Genius (Simplified Chinese: 小天才) was marketed in Southeast Asia as an alternative to the Famicom; Samurai was the popular PAL alternative to the NES; and in Central Europe, especially Poland, the Pegasus was available. Samurai was also available in India in early 90s which was the first instance of console gaming in India. Since 1989, there were many Brazilian clones of NES, and the very popular Phantom System (with hardware superior to the original console) caught the attention of Nintendo itself.
The unlicensed clone market has flourished following Nintendo's discontinuation of the NES. Some of the more exotic of these resulting systems have gone beyond the functionality of the original hardware and have included variations such as a portable system with a color LCD (e.g. PocketFami). Others have been produced with certain specialized markets in mind, such as an NES clone that functions as a rather primitive personal computer, which includes a keyboard and basic word processing software. These unauthorized clones have been helped by the invention of the so-called NES-on-a-chip.
As was the case with unlicensed software titles, Nintendo has typically gone to the courts to prohibit the manufacture and sale of unlicensed cloned hardware. Many of the clone vendors have included built-in copies of licensed Nintendo software, which constitutes copyright infringement in most countries.
Although most hardware clones were not produced under license by Nintendo, certain companies were granted licenses to produce NES-compatible devices. The Sharp Corporation produced at least two such clones: the Twin Famicom and the SHARP 19SC111 television. The Twin Famicom was compatible with both Famicom cartridges and Famicom Disk System disks. It was available in two colors (red and black) and used hardwired controllers (as did the original Famicom), but it featured a different case design. The SHARP 19SC111 television was a television which included a built-in Famicom. A similar licensing deal was reached with Hyundai Electronics, who licensed the system under the name Comboy in the South Korean market. This deal with Hyundai was made necessary because of the South Korean government's wide ban on all Japanese "cultural products", which remained in effect until 1998 and ensured that the only way Japanese products could legally enter the South Korean market was through licensing to a third-party (non-Japanese) distributor (see also Japan–Korea disputes).
NES Test Station
The NES Test Station was a diagnostics machine for the Nintendo Entertainment System introduced in 1988.
It was a NES-based unit designed for testing NES hardware, components and games. It was only provided for use in World of Nintendo boutiques as part of the Nintendo World Class Service program. Visitors were to bring items to test with the station, and could be assisted by a store technician or employee.
The NES Test Station's front features a Game Pak slot and connectors for testing various components (AC adapter, RF switch, Audio/Video cable, NES Control Deck, accessories and games), with a centrally-located selector knob to choose which component to test. The unit itself weighs approximately 11.7 pounds without a TV. It connects to a television via a combined A/V and RF Switch cable. By actuating the green button, a user can toggle between an A/V Cable or RF Switch connection. The television it is connected to (typically 11" to 14") is meant to be placed atop it.
At the front of the Test Station are three colored switches, from left to right: a green switch for alternating between A/V and RF connections when testing an NES Control Deck, a blue Reset switch, and an illuminated red Power switch. The system can test:
- Game Paks (When set to this, the test station would run like a normal NES.)
- Control Deck and Accessories (NES controllers, the NES Zapper, R.O.B. and Power Pad)
- AV Cables
- AC Adapters
- RF Switches
Upon connecting an RF, AV, or AC adapter to the test station, the system displays a 'Pass' or 'Fail' result.
There was a manual included with the test station to help the user understand how to use the equipment, or how to make repairs. The manual came in a black binder with a Nintendo World Class Service logo on the front.
In 1991, Nintendo provided an add-on called the "Super NES Counter Tester" that tests Super Nintendo components and games. The SNES Counter Tester is a standard SNES on a metal fixture with the connection from the back of the SNES re-routed to the front of the unit. These connections may be made directly to the test station or to the TV, depending on what is to be tested.