About the NES

NES System History

In the pre-NES video gaming times (Whoa! That's almost ancient!), Atari was the company in control of the video gaming console industry. They were selling their Atari 2600 console in toy stores while many different companies produced the games for it. But Atari had one problem with their console - there was no way to control the games that were released on it. There was a lot of horrible games being sold to the people, keeping those valuable gamers from purchasing video games anymore. This is what caused the great video game crash of 1984.

Nintendo, a Japanese company that had been founded in the late 1800's, became popular with their 1981 smash-hit arcade game, Donkey Kong (Japanese for "stupid gorilla"). With this success on their hands, Nintendo made plans to make their way into the console market. They designed the Famicom system and released it in Japan in 1983. After repairing a small, malfunctioning chip that would cause the system to freeze in the middle of a game, the system sold like hotcakes in Japan. Seeing the popularity of their new system, Nintendo released their system to America in 1985; and they renamed it to the Nintendo Entertainment System.

When Atari and Sega saw the NES sales take off, they both created their own consoles to try to out-do the NES. Yet, Nintendo still kept tight to their 90% hold on the video gaming market. You may be wondering how Nintendo accomplished this feat. To make sure they didn't make the same mistake as Atari, Nintendo built each NES system with a lockout chip that acted as a type of security system. This chip could only be passed if a game cartridge contained a key chip that could pass this lockout chip. When a company wanted to produce a game, they would have to buy a license and a NES development kit from Nintendo. When a game was designed, it would first have to fit Nintendo's quality requirements (which basically was to make sure the license was paid and to make sure there was no offensive material in the games); and, when the game passed the requirements, Nintendo would give the game an official seal of quality and a batch of key chips to use in manufacturing. In this case, Nintendo made sure that the games released were all quality games, keeping the system popular and avoiding another video game crash.

With Nintendo's tight control over the gaming companies, great licensed games were released, like Super Mario Bros., Megaman, and Final Fantasy. In 1988, a company called Tengen (a division of Atari Games) officially found a way to copy the NES key chip through emulation (Nintendo sued Tengen for copyright infringement because of this). Tengen produced quite a few games for the system, including Tetris, which was the cause of another lawsuit between Nintendo and Tengen when Nintendo realized that Tengen had illegally produced the game. After legally obtaining the rights to Tetris, Nintendo began producing it for the NES, making the game a legend ever since. One of the next companies to produce unlicensed games was Color Dreams. This company was the first to legally produce unlicensed games because they found a way to bypass the NES lockout chip themselves, instead of copying the key chip. After making bad sales, Color Dreams began another company called Wisdom Tree, which was the only company to produce religiously-based games for the system. With all that went on in the market, the NES system ended up with a very wide variety of games from many different companies. This is one of the ways the system achieved greatness.

Games and Peripherals

Games released for the NES give a great variety to the cartridge selection and any gamer's cartridge collection. Action/adventure games (which usually have a side view or an overhead view) include those in the popular Super Mario Bros. series and popular games like The Legend of Zelda and Kirby's Adventure. On this system, you can also find role-playing games (RPGs), such as the Final Fantasy games, which first saw the light of day on the NES. Fighting games, like River City Ransom and Double Dragon, are available, as well as sport games, like one of Nintendo's best-selling NES games, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out. Puzzle games, like Tetris and Dr. Mario, are also found on the system. Several of these games are available in order to create a great array of cartridges to buy and play.

The standard NES controller is small and rectangular with very few buttons on it. At the left side of the controller, you have your black, cross-shaped control pad that is usually used to navigate characters back and forth through the levels. On the right side of the controller, there are two red buttons, buttons "A" and "B", that sit side-by-side and become necessary to perform whatever actions that each game requires. Side-by-side in the center of the controller sit the two small "SELECT" and "START" buttons, which are usually used to pause the game and/or make an in-game menu selection.

Along with the standard controllers, you can buy many extra system peripherals, most of which are useless. The most common of these peripherals is the NES Zapper (light gun), which is used to shoot down things (like clay pigeons) in certain Zapper-using games, such as Duck Hunt. Another peripheral, the power pad, is a large, square pad that lays on the floor and has red and blue circles on it (looks kind of like a Twister pad) to jog on top of when playing in running/track games, like World Class Track Meet. A ridiculous amount of different controllers and joysticks were manufactured, all of which had the same standard buttons but a different shape or design. A few other peripherals were made, such as the NES Satellite, which let the NES controllers work from a distance without a long cord, like a remote control (batteries not included), and the little-known NES Power Glove, which gave the player virtual reality capabilities in certain games, but proved to be mostly a flop.

Technical Stuff

The NES uses a Motorola 6502 class processor. It has an 8-bit data path width, and it runs at a speed of approximately 1.79 MHz (That's more than 100 times slower than a Pentium II PC and more than 200 times slower than a Pentium III PC of today). Also on the system is 2KB of standard RAM and 2K of video RAM.

The graphics of the system are 8-bit, with a 256x240 resolution. It has a palette of 256 colors, but the number of colors supported on the screen at one time is only 16. The NES graphics uses sprites, like most other systems (besides the Vectrex system, which uses vector graphics). A total of 64 sprites are allowed on the screen at one time and 8 sprites are allowed per line. A sprite size is either 8x8 pixels or 8x16 pixels.

The NES witnessed the creation of many great games; and they did have their bad ones two, like every other system. But one of the main things that let the NES stand out was that the good games were really good. And even if the capabilities and games of the system may seem old-school, it's still a fun and entertaining system that I consider one of the best to ever appear on the market. If you don't own or have never even played this system, you don't know what you're missing out on!

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Fun Facts

- Donkey Kong really does mean "stupid gorilla" in Japanese.
- Nintendo was going to sign a deal to have Atari sell the NES system anywhere outside of Japan. Atari turned their backs on Nintendo and the deal never went through.
- When Nintendo first announced the NES debut in America, the systems were supposed to be shipped along with 25 games. This figure was later changed to 20, which was dropped to 15 even later.
- The Legend of Zelda was the first stand-alone game to sell one million copies. Super Mario Bros. was the first to reach one million sales; but it was, after all, sold along with the system.
- Nintendo sued Blockbuster in 1987 for illegally copying game manuals to rent along with the games.
- With over 18 million copies sold worldwide, Super Mario Bros. 3 made more sales than any other stand-alone video game ever.
- Nintendo attempted to sue Galoob for releasing the unlicensed Game Genie (a code-making peripheral used to make video games easier or harder). After a long wait, Galoob finally won the case and continued to sell their product.
- The U.S. state of New York sued Nintendo in 1991 for having an illegal monopoly on the video game market. Nintendo was then forced to give its customers each a $5.00 gift certificate for any licensed NES game.
- In 1994, Nintendo released Wario's Woods, the last game they ever created for the NES.

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A Quick Rundown of the Technical Specs

CPU: Motorola 6502 processor, running at approximately 1.79 MHz

Graphics: 8-Bit

Resolution: 256x240 resolution

Color Palette: 52 colors

On Screen Colors: 16, 4 per sprite

Max. Sprites: 64 per screen, 8 per line

Sprite Size: Minimum 8x8 pixels, Maximum 8x16 pixels

RAM: 2KB

Video RAM: 2KB