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July 16, 2013 8:20 AM   Subscribe

Nintendo's Famicom (the Japanese counterpart to the NES) launched in Japan three decades ago this week. Ars Technica and NintendoLife have posted tributes and history lessons of this console.
posted by porn in the woods (15 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Why did I have no idea what a Famicom looked like? It's gorgeous. Also, it is the single most "Japan in the 1980s" thing that I have ever seen.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:22 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Got a yen for one of these? Or 7,500,000 yen for 1,000 of them? This Yahoo Auction would have been for you. (The auction closed last night with no bids; perhaps that starting price was just too much for potential purchasers ...)
posted by woodblock100 at 9:01 AM on July 16, 2013

Or perhaps all the potential buyers realized you can buy a working Famicom at any of 100 stalls in Akihabara for way less than 7500 yen?
posted by murphy slaw at 9:07 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

The NES color palette contained only 54 usable colors, but the real limiting factor was that only three can really be used on a sprite or tile at a time.

I've always liked this. Such severe technical restrictions ended up creating a uniquely recognizable aesthetic; one that lots of people still try to evoke, with very little success.
posted by byanyothername at 10:31 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

It wasn't released in Europe until September 1, 1986. I remember seeing it demoed, and wondering why anyone would buy a computer you couldn't write your own games for.
posted by scruss at 10:38 AM on July 16, 2013

It's "Famicom," as in, "Family Computer."
posted by EmGeeJay at 10:56 AM on July 16, 2013

It's Famicom

Well, yes and no. The Japanese is ファミコン (fa mi ko n), which is short for ファミリーコンピューター (Family Computer), so 'Famicon' is not incorrect I think.
posted by woodblock100 at 11:07 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's been "Famicom" in every post, trade publication, and retro gaming site I've ever seen, as it is in it's wikipedia entry. Further, since the subsequent Super Famicom was screened with the m, rather than n on the chassis, I'd assume this was settled nomenclature.
posted by stenseng at 12:03 PM on July 16, 2013

It's Famicom. Yes, the katakana could be taken to produce Famicon, but there is an official romanization and Nintendo tends to be very consistent with those. In cases where languages do not precisely line up with each other we depend on context information and the intent of the originator, and both of those indicate Famicom, with an 'm'.

Famicon is "not incorrect," but it's less correct than Famicom.
posted by JHarris at 12:25 PM on July 16, 2013

I notice the tag is Famicom. Maybe porn in the woods corrected it after the fact.
posted by JHarris at 12:27 PM on July 16, 2013

The NES color palette contained only 54 usable colors, but the real limiting factor was that only three can really be used on a sprite or tile at a time.

These days, where you can almost push arbitrary pixels through maxtrix math graphic cards (I'm learning OpenGL at the moment), they make me pine for having solid definite sprite-and-background based 2D hardware, although they don't make me pine for the limitations.

The following is written without having yet followed any of the links, which will have to come later tonight:

Displaying hardware sprites is complex, and many classic systems pull off tricks to try to display as many as they can using their limited silicon and budget. The Famicom/NES's trademark flickering comes because, while the system can display up to 64 sprites, they're all a tiny 8x8 pixels, and the system can't display more than eight on the same scanline in the same frame. Mario is two sprites wide. He can't share the same plane with more than three goombas without flickering.

Another big problem is that the system only has 8KB of program RAM. It was possible to include more in the cart, but very expensive. The Wikipedia page linked below notes that this was probably the factor that caused a full NES port of SimCity not to be released, and may also explain why the finished English port of Mother, after some teasing in Nintendo Power, wasn't released in the US.

The Wikipedia's page on the NES' limitations
posted by JHarris at 12:40 PM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I botched the title - must have been thinking of 'favicon.' Mods, can you correct the title please?
posted by porn in the woods at 1:04 PM on July 16, 2013

[Spelling famiretconned.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:29 PM on July 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

JHarris: "The Wikipedia's page on the NES' limitations"

"External Links: Forum: Proposed SRAM layout for port of The Sims to NES"

Keep on keeping on, weird NES programmer nerds.
posted by boo_radley at 1:48 PM on July 16, 2013

Only eight comments so far. Alas.

Well, here's some bits of information about the Famicom and NES you may not have known about....

- This one's fairly well known, but you never can tell. The original Famicom's controllers were hard-wired into the console and not replaceable. Player 2 had a microphone in it. Some games used it to detect noise -- most notably the original Legend of Zelda, in which you could kill the Pol's Voice enemies by shouting at them. In the US version, without the microphone, they were given a weakness to arrows instead, but they didn't update the manual to reflect this.
- In the US, Nintendo kept a tight rein on producing cartridges, including claiming the right to actually manufacture all carts made, giving them a consistent appearance and forging the beginning of the game console licensing business model that, for better or worse, game companies use to this day. But in Japan there was no such arrangement, and each company made their own carts.
- Because of this, there is a much wider array of mapper, or specialized hardware, in Famicom carts than NES ones, since companies were free to design their own silicon for inclusion. Several of the bigger companies did.
- Most notable was Konami, who used a special chip in the Famicom version of what we know as Castlevania III that gave it notably richer music and provided other effects. They had to reprogram the game for the US market.
- They were able to do this because the Famicom cartridge port has more pins, which were cut from the US version to save costs, because most games didn't use them.
- Because the Famicom and NES have mostly the same pins, it's not hard to construct a cheap adaptor to run (most) Famicom games on an NES. In fact, if you have some early NES games, there's a chance you already own one! Some early NES carts actually contain a Famicom board and an adaptor between it and the external NES connector pins.
- Another game with notable differences between the Famicom and NES version is Contra. On the NES the game is thought to be fairly difficult by most people. Me, I think it's just average difficulty. The Famicom version is MUCH harder, but also contains considerably more graphic effects.
- One of the add-ons for the Famicom is the Disk System, attempting to fulfill the Famicom's promise of being a full computer, allowed it to read special format floppy disks. You could buy blank disks, and take them to public kiosks where, for a fee, have software written to them. Many NES classics, including Metroid, Kid Icarus and The Legend of Zelda, got their start as Disk System games. Since the Disk System had additional sound hardware than a stock Famicom/NES, these games tended to have somewhat different music in their original releases. Examples: Kid Icarus Title, Metroid soundtrack (main change is in title, sound effects are a bit different in FDS version though), Comparison between NES/Famicom Rom and FDS versions of Zelda's title theme.
- If you're interested in the history of the Famicom and how it relates to the NES, one of the best resources I know of, and has been previously linked from Metafilter, is Dr. Sparkle's excellent video series Chrontendo, which has been going through every Famicom release, of several hundred, from the beginning.
posted by JHarris at 12:49 AM on July 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

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