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Nintendo Entertainment System

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) is a video game console released in August 1985 (US) by Nintendo. The NES is the North American version of the Nintendo Famicom (Family Computer), which debuted in Japan in 1983. Originally it shipped with two hand controllers and the Super Mario Brothers game; special packs also included a Zapper light gun and the Duck Hunt game and/or a Power Pad floor controller.

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History 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. Originally, Nintendo had been negotiating with Atari to have the Famicom released under 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. Wisely, Nintendo forged ahead to release its system on its own in 1985.

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, chances are 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. Also, 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. 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 sucessful: the NES had sold over 20 million units in the US alone by the end of its production run.

Nintendo re-released the NES in 1993 with smaller red and white casing at $49, just in time for the Christmas season. 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 After 1995

The NES was in popular decline from 1991-1995, with the Sega Genesis and Nintendo’s own Super NES 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 BBSs 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.

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.

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.

See also: list of NES games, list of NES accessories

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