Nintendo Entertainment System

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) is a video game console released by Nintendo in North America, Europe, and Australia.

For more information on the Japanese version of this console, see: Nintendo Family Computer

Table of contents
1 History
2 Licensed vs. Unlicensed
3 Technical specifications
4 External Links

History

Nintendo saw firsthand how successful videogames were in the late 1970's. They also saw the success the Colecovision, released in 1983, had with their own game, Donkey Kong, as a pack-in. Nintendo wanted to get into the console race. At first, they distributed the Magnavox Odyssey in Japan, before they decided to make their own console. Hiroshi Yamauchi, then CEO of Nintendo, wanted this console to outperform the other consoles. He decided to let Masayuki Uemura make this console. At first, the console was supposed to be a 16-bit machine with a disk drive, and average for 75 U.S Dollars. However, the price was too high due to component prices, and so they made an 8-bit system. The disk drive would be an add-on exclusively in Japan.

In the wake of the video game crash of 1983-1984, many said the video game console industry was dead and that Atari had killed it. While the American videogame market might've been in shambles, in Japan, Nintendo was enjoying a great success with its Famicom (Family Computer) system. In 1984, Nintendo wanted to bring this console to the States. Originally, Nintendo had been negotiating with Atari to have the Famicom released under the name "Nintendo Enhanced Video System" with Atari's name, because of the perilous market conditions of the time. But this deal fell through, and Atari decided to concentrate on the Atari 7800, leaving Nintendo to itself.

In June 1985, Nintendo presented the console at the CES to skeptical gamers. Nintendo was forced to promise to retailers that Nintendo will buy back all unsold consoles, since they were afraid that they might not sell. Nintendo released its system in the US in 1985, a decision that was to prove hugely profitable for the company. The system had first been test-marketed in New York, New York, where its 100,000 systems sold out.

Treading carefully after the crash, Nintendo decided to release the system as an "Entertainment System" as opposed to a "Videogame System" (hence its name); it used "Packs" and not "Cartridges." If they had not done this, most retailers, seeing that the NES was a video game system and knowing the current status of video games, would not have accepted it in their store in fear of losing money. Nintendo drastically redesigned the casing of the Japanese Famicom: its playful red and white color scheme was muted to an A/V component grey, and the cartridge was made to be hidden inside the console when inserted (the Famicom's cartridges popped up from the top of the unit, much like the American Super Nintendo). These modifications served to make the unit much less "toy-like" in the eyes of its designers.

Additionally, Nintendo revived the R.O.B (Robotic Operating Buddy), a plastic robot that connected to the NES and was moved around as part of an on-screen game, to unveil along with the NES at the Consumer Electronics Show of 1985. R.O.B was alredy dead in Japan (with only two games, Gyromite and Stack-up, ever released for it), but it would demonstrate the NES's technical superiority above other consoles of the time. Packaged with the NES were Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt.

The console could be bought with the ROB, a light gun, and three games for $249. The console with Duck Hunt and Mario Brothers only was sold for $199. Different packages came along as the NES went worldwide.

These games had proven themselves in American arcades, and the prospect of a home console powerful enough to handle arcade-perfect versions of them was cause for some excitement among gamers. Despite favorable reactions from both industry critics and early American testers, Nintendo had a difficult time selling stores and distributors on the idea of another videogame system, so they hired Worlds of Wonder (makers of Laser Tag and Teddy Ruxpin) to handle the NES's marketing. Worlds of Wonder was successful: the NES had sold over 20 million units in the US alone by the end of its production run.

Having Super Mario Brothers on the package meant success for Nintendo, whom controlled the market with a 10 to 1 market share, due to the fact that many video games published by third parties went to the NES. The NES ended up outselling the Atari 7800 and the Sega Master System in North America.

However, the NES was not as successful in Europe. Many 3rd party publishers went with the Master System instead of the NES in that market, and the NES wasn't sold in as many places. Nintendo was forced to get licenses to popular Master System titles. Nintendo would not have much success with the Super Nintendo in Europe either.

The NES was able to outsell the Master System in Australia, although by a slighter margin than it did in North America.

Nintendo re-released the NES in 1993 with smaller red and white casing at $49, just in time for the Christmas season. The reason for the rerelease was because a lot of older Nintendo Entertainment Systems were dying due to bent connectors and dirt in the United States. Finally, after a full decade of production, the NES was formally discontinued by Nintendo in 1995. However, due to a continued interest on behalf of its fans, it has continued to thrive via a large secondhand market and proliferate ROM images.

The NES had survived for a long time, and many great games had been made for the said console. 50 million consoles and more than 350 million games had been sold in all. The NES is credited with resurrecting the video game market from the dead, and the video game market has not suffered a crash since.

The NES After 1995

The NES was in popular decline from 1991-1995, with the Sega Genesis in the US, the Sega Megadrive in Europe, and Nintendo’s own Super NES in both the US and Europe eating away at its market share, and next-generation CD-based systems on the horizon. However, even though the NES was discontinued in 1995, it had left the mark of many millions of game cartridges. The secondhand market – video rental stores, Goodwill, yard sales, flea markets, games repackaged by Game Time Inc. / Game Trader Inc. and sold at retail stores such as K-Mart – was burgeoning. Parallel to or perhaps because of this, many people began to rediscover the NES around this time, and by 1997, the games were becoming quite collectible.

At the same time, something else was happening: programmers who were also NES enthusiasts began to create emulators capable of reproducing the internal workings of the NES. When paired with a ROM image, a bit-for-bit verbatim copy (or dump) of a NES cartridge, the games could be played on a computer. ROMs and emulators were traded on various BBSss around the country, and as it became more popular and accessible, on the Internet. ROMs were hard to come by, and emulators extremely buggy – sometimes designed to play one specific game.

On April 2, 1997, Bloodlust Software released NESticle 0.2 – an emulator that was considered highly stable, compatible, and easy to use by the standards of its day (the product, according to its creator Sardu, of "two weeks of boredom"). After this, emulators quickly became more refined and ROMs more easily available, which brought more people into NES emulation, which in turn served as a catalyst for further development. Nintendo, needless to say, did not take to these developments kindly; no other video game company has been as tenacious in its dedication to trying to wipe out ROM trading as they have. Nintendo claims (along with some NES fans themselves) that ROM trading represents nothing more than gratuitous piracy. Others claim that ROM images are necessary to preserve the games outside of their more fragile cartridge formats.

The NES revival settled back down, to a degree, in 2000, after the secondhand market began to dry up or charge collector’s prices, and finding ROMs no longer represented the challenge it had in the past. Still, developments continue, and the NES appears likely to command throngs of fans for years to come. Publishers have released over 700 titles but no longer produce new commercial games. However, there is a strong independent community producing demos and games for the NES. The SNES is being revived in this same process as the NES, and the NES and SNES are taking the same path.

Licensed vs. Unlicensed

Nintendo was known in the 1980s for its draconian licensing conditions and rabid prosecution of all "unlicensed" game producers. One of the sore points among developers of the period was the fee that they had to pay to Nintendo to get their games licensed, which meant that Nintendo tested them and produced them at its own facilities (either part of the fee or for an additional cost). Another sore point was that Nintendo actually decided how many cartridges of each game it would manufacture. The company's virtual monopoly in the console market at the time allowed it to basically impose any rules that it chose, and the rules were always meant to increase profit, quality, or both. Several companies began producing games, refusing to pay the licensing fee (or being refused by Nintendo), and all were eventually forced out of business or out of production by legal fees and court costs for extended lawsuits brought by the giant against the transgressors. The one exception was Color Dreams whose religious themed games under the subsidiary name Wisdom Tree prevented Nintendo from suing due to a fear of public backlash. Companies that made unlicensed games include:

  • Active Enterprises – only two games
  • American Game Cartridges – several games
  • American Video Entertainment – several small companies rolled into one
  • Camerica
  • Color Dreams
  • S.E.I – one game: Impossible Mission 2
  • Tengen – the most popular of the unlicensed companies; many games
  • Wisdom Tree – was not sued due to religious themes in games

Note: Nintendo did not sue every one of these companies.

Technical specifications

  • CPU: Nintendo 2A03 8 bit processor based on MOS Technologies 6502 core, running at 1.79MHz, with four tone generators, a DAC, and a restricted DMA controller on-die
  • Main RAM: 2 KB
  • Palette: 48 colors and 5 grays in base palette; red, green, and blue guns can be individually darkened somewhat on a particular scanline
  • Onscreen colors: 25 colors on one scanline (background color + 4 sets of 3 tile colors + 4 sets of 3 sprite colors)
  • Sprite sizes: 8x8 and 8x16 pixels
  • Maximum onscreen sprites: 64
  • Maximum number of sprite pixels on one scanline: 64, dropping out the lowest-priority sprites on overflow
  • Video memory: PPU contains 2 KB of tile and attribute RAM, 256 bytes of sprite position RAM ("OAM"), and 28 bytes of palette RAM (allowing for selection of background color); 8 KB of tile pattern ROM on cartridge (bankswitchable to up to 512 KB)
  • Scrolling layers: 1 per scanline
  • Resolution: Most games used 256x240 pixels; for additional video memory bandwidth, it was possible to turn off the screen before the raster reached the very bottom.
  • Expansion port on the bottom right hand side used originally for the Famicom Disk System, but piracy concerns kept this device from being released in the US.
  • 2 seven pin controller ports in the front of the machine
  • 1993 re-release does not have RCA composite output plugs.

See also: list of NES games, list of NES accessories, Super Nintendo Entertainment System

External Links


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