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Author Topic: How powerful was the Famicom for its time?  (Read 1877 times)
Salduchi
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« on: November 27, 2017, 08:00:52 PM »

Mid 1983. Over 2 years before the NES New York test market sales in October 1985 and even then nothing in video gaming was as powerful that I know of until the Sega Master System in 1986 and that was by a small margin and it came  3 years after the Famicom. Anything I am missing here?
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« Reply #1 on: November 27, 2017, 08:35:55 PM »

Well the arcades had their golden age then, so I would say the newest gaming hardware was there. But home computers were also very popular, so hard to say... Atari800XL came out in 83, 130xe in 85.
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Ghegs
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« Reply #2 on: November 28, 2017, 05:22:32 AM »

I remember reading or hearing somewhere that the Famicom was slightly outdated already upon release, much like Nintendo's later consoles. It was basically made just powerful enough to play a solid port of Donkey Kong. Can't really offer any source on this at the moment...

And then with MMCs the developers went beyond the capabilities of just the console's own hardware, so "how powerful the console was" depends on whether you mean just the console or the games themselves as well. Launch Famicom games and those using MMC5, VRC7 or FME-7 are different beasts.
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Salduchi
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« Reply #3 on: November 29, 2017, 02:01:08 AM »

Is there a list of games that used mappers?
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jpx72
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« Reply #4 on: November 29, 2017, 03:03:02 AM »

There's a full database:
http://bootgod.dyndns.org:7777/home.php
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« Reply #5 on: November 29, 2017, 09:22:10 AM »

There are far more games using a mapper than not. Super Mario Bros is widely considered the most advanced game that doesn't use a mapper.

Back to the question I believe it was considered weak because the console market was probably very limited, there was not much else to compare it with except arcade machines and home computers which both are naturally more powerful than consoles. Mr Yamauchi wanted it to be less than 25 000 yen (or something like that, I don't remember the exact sum), and it ended up costing more than that despite that they had to scrap a lot of features.

I also read (in an Iwata Asks) that they decided to model it after Donkey Kong. If it could run that game it would be powerful enough to be successful.

It uses an 1.79 MHz 8-bit CPU 6502 with built-in APU, a custom 8-bit GPU (which they named PPU - Picture Processing Unit) with good pixel-per-pixel scrolling in both axes and good sprite capabilities, but only 2 Kb Work RAM and 2 kB Video RAM plus 256 byte RAM used for sprites that they named OAM - Object Attribute Memory (Nintendo always officially use the term "object" for the hardware sprites in all their systems). It was probably built with mapper capabilities in mind so that cartridges could expand the hardware by adding extra ROM or RAM, something which was used a lot by games.

I think it was a normally powerful for a console of its time if you compare it to the first consoles in every console generation, not weak.

Oh and if anyone thinks the port of Donkey Kong was bad you should check out Sumez' port. It was coded entirely from scratch with a lot of reverse engineering by looking at the disassembled Z80 code from the original arcade game. Mesen just got a "tate mode" just so that it can display this game correctly.
I think the only reason the NES version of Donkey Kong was so different from the arcade version was because Nintendo's programmers weren't really used to the new 6502 CPU yet (both arcade machines and computers used mostly the Z80 CPU), which was chosen just because Nintendo wanted to avoid third party support, and the 6502 was mostly unknown in Japan at the time.
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« Reply #6 on: November 29, 2017, 02:59:51 PM »

There are far more games using a mapper than not. Super Mario Bros is widely considered the most advanced game that doesn't use a mapper.

Back to the question I believe it was considered weak because the console market was probably very limited, there was not much else to compare it with except arcade machines and home computers which both are naturally more powerful than consoles. Mr Yamauchi wanted it to be less than 25 000 yen (or something like that, I don't remember the exact sum), and it ended up costing more than that despite that they had to scrap a lot of features.

I also read (in an Iwata Asks) that they decided to model it after Donkey Kong. If it could run that game it would be powerful enough to be successful.

Hiroshi Yamauchi wanted something powerful, not weak, in comparison to other consoles that existed in Japan.  He wanted something that could not be matched for at least 18 months.  He proved to be a demanding task master but his engineers succeeded.  The Sega SG-1000 came out on the same day as the Famicom and was clearly inferior.  Other consoles had not made much of a dent in Japan and withered away.

Oh and if anyone thinks the port of Donkey Kong was bad you should check out Sumez' port. It was coded entirely from scratch with a lot of reverse engineering by looking at the disassembled Z80 code from the original arcade game. Mesen just got a "tate mode" just so that it can display this game correctly.
I think the only reason the NES version of Donkey Kong was so different from the arcade version was because Nintendo's programmers weren't really used to the new 6502 CPU yet (both arcade machines and computers used mostly the Z80 CPU), which was chosen just because Nintendo wanted to avoid third party support, and the 6502 was mostly unknown in Japan at the time.

Donkey Kong was the first game developed for the Famicom, so a little slack to the programmers should be given.  Even so, NES Donkey Kong was closer to the arcade than any prior port, such as those to the Colecovision, Commodore 64 or Atari 8-bit home computers (although the last two have the missing cement factory level). 

Security through obscurity may have had a hand in the selection of the 6502, but it was principally used because it was cheaper than a Z80.  A 6502 takes up a quarter of the die size of a Z80, so by using the 6502 Nintendo could fit the CPU and the APU in one chip instead of two. 
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« Reply #7 on: November 29, 2017, 09:17:05 PM »

Yeah so it was quite powerful for a console when it came out, although still inferior to arcade machines, that's quite common for new systems today as well. Although lately computers don't become so much more powerful than the previous generation as they used to. Things like clock speed doesn't seem to change too much anyway.

From what I've read in interviews of the engineers, the biggest reason they picked the 6502 in the end was to prevent other companies from making games for it (and it's a quite known fact that Nintendo still made a hard time for third party developers even after allowing them), but who knows how much truth there is in such interviews. The programmers wasn't happy though. Luckily they got hold of Mr Iwata who was one of those few Tokyo University graduates that was actually familiar with 6502 (although the reason was apparently that he had a Commodore PET in his room, which uses a 6502 CPU).
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Salduchi
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« Reply #8 on: November 30, 2017, 01:14:45 PM »

Very interesting! So how does the FDS work? I know it has the ram adapter but how would it work with games like Zelda or Doki Doki Panic that use mappers on cartridge? I would think the FDS and the ram adapter would only work with games that wouldn't usually have mappers.
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« Reply #9 on: November 30, 2017, 03:11:54 PM »

Very interesting! So how does the FDS work? I know it has the ram adapter but how would it work with games like Zelda or Doki Doki Panic that use mappers on cartridge? I would think the FDS and the ram adapter would only work with games that wouldn't usually have mappers.

The FDS RAM Adapter is essentially like a RAM version of a mapperless ROM cartridge with 32KB of PRG-RAM and 8KB of CHR-RAM.  The rest of the hardware is responsible for filling that RAM with data from the disk.  However, even though there are many mapperless games that were ported from ROM cartridge to disk, you just can't put a ROM image onto a disk and expect the game to run off RAM.  The FDS BIOS ROM shifts the CPU memory addresses by 8KB, so standard ROMs would have their memory offsets wrong unless they were modified. 

Cartridge CPU Memory Layout :

6000-7FFF - Optional Cartridge W-RAM
8000-FFFF - Cartridge PRG-ROM

FDS CPU Memory Layout :

6000-DFFF - Cartridge PRG-RAM
E000-FFFF - FDS BIOS ROM
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« Reply #10 on: November 30, 2017, 09:12:26 PM »

Being able to upload the data from the disk (64x2 kB was thought to be very large by Nintendo at the time) at any time from any number of disks means the size of a game is virtually unlimited (no game used more than two disks though). Other advantages was that the whole disk was a writeable medium and could not only hold tons of save data but also be rewritten with another game for cheap distribution.

However I think a cartridge game that used bigger ROM than an FDS was released at the same time as the FDS was released so the size advantage of the disks had already started to decline. As bigger mask ROMs and battery backed RAM became cheaper both those two advantages of the FDS was eventually gone, and developers started making mostly cartridge games again. And although the disks could technically hold much more save data than battery RAM (which was only 8 kB until MMC5 cartridges came) could, not many games seems to have used much save data.
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Ghegs
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« Reply #11 on: December 08, 2017, 06:02:14 PM »

Oh and if anyone thinks the port of Donkey Kong was bad you should check out Sumez' port. It was coded entirely from scratch with a lot of reverse engineering by looking at the disassembled Z80 code from the original arcade game. Mesen just got a "tate mode" just so that it can display this game correctly.

Heh, I didn't know this existed, very cool. I actually have a dedicated TATE monitor (used to play lots of shmups and it's still hanging around) but it's sadly turned the other way, since that's the way 95% of shmups do it.
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« Reply #12 on: December 08, 2017, 09:08:08 PM »

Yeah it was just released and it's still not finished yet as discussed in the thread. It currently follows the US version's confusing stage order, but he plans to add the original one as well.
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