Category:Nintendo Entertainment System

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The system that brought video game consoles back from The Great Video Game Crash of 1983 in North America (they were pretty healthy elsewhere) and ushered in the modern era of video gaming. Known in Japan/Asia as the Family Computer (commonly abbreviated as the "Famicom") and in South Korea as Hyundai Comboy (현대 컴보이) made by Hynix with unlicensed clones made in Eastern Europe, India, the Middle East and in China, it was the console that brought in the oldest and longest lasting competitor in the Console Wars, Nintendo. It also served as the initial console for many of gaming's oldest franchises, introduced the modern third-party licensing model for video games, and set the standards in control pads for consoles. It is still very much an icon of video games (less so the redesigned variant).

The reason almost all NES games are tile-based is because that's what the NES does. As with the ColecoVision, the Picture Processing Unit is a separate processor that has its own memory space for palettes and images. It only understands tiles, tilemaps, and sprites, and it implements them directly in the video output hardware. While this imposed limitations on developers that even Atari 2600 games didn't have to suffer under, it also freed them from having to deal with the minutiae of graphics. Yes, you could only do tile-based graphics with sprites, but at least they were good tile-based graphics.

While the NES-001 is an iconic part of video game history, it's pretty badly designed. While the Japanese version is a remarkably solid piece of engineering that often continues to work over 25 years later, the American release (handled by Nintendo of America) was rather sloppily redesigned to distance itself from pre-Crash consoles due to many vendors refusing to stock anything even remotely resembling the console, fearing that they wouldn't sell.

So what was wrong with the NES-001? Well…

  • NOA's industrial designers made the console look like a VCR, adopting a VCR-like front-loading cartridge. To ease insertion, a "zero insertion force" mechanism was used (put a cart in, press it down to secure)…which allowed crud to build up on the contacts especially easily, since the normal “scrubbing” action on insertion and removal is practically absent here.
  • The infamous 10NES lockout chip, required for all NES cartridges. While intended to keep unlicensed games from being used, the fact that it required a constant connection meant that constant usage of the system made it block even the licensed titles (hence why the system occasionally resets once per second). The Famicom didn't have this problem because it had no lockout chip (or any contact problems in the first place, all due to being a traditional top-loader).

Why so? Well, the Big N reaped enormous profits from being the sole manufacturer of the carts for its system, and thus being able to decide what gets published, in what amount, for what price, and what the developers would have from it. While the Japan branch was able to enforce it without resorting to technical means, the American one was wary of the Atari situation when everybody and their dog was producing carts for the Atari 2600…hence the 10NES and 72-pin cartridge. But in a brilliant bit of Idiot Hardware Design, NOA engineers removed two pins that connected the motherboard to the sound extension chips in the cart and rerouted the original Famicom expansion port to the cartridge connector, ensuring that American releases would have inferior sound and that the FDS would never work on the NES.

The NES-101 (aka "NES 2"), a top-loader styled after the Super NES and a bit after the original Famicom, was released in 1993 and not only used a 72-pin version of the original 60-pin connector but further lacked the 10NES chip. Despite being released in all Nintendo markets simultaneously, nobody remembers it. The last official games were released in 1994, after which the console as a whole was discontinued...although Japan produced new units until 2003 and continued support until 2007 (and only stopped because they finally ran out of the necessary parts).

See here for the system specs.

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