Sunsoft Famicom and NES

Started by dragon1952, June 11, 2014, 08:50:01 am

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My name is David Siller and I was for four years VP of Product Development for Sun Denshi in the US also known as SUNSOFT.

I will try to answer any questions as well as tell accounts of what Sunsoft was doing back in the Famicom/NES era. I will tell as accurate an account as I can, keeping in mind that I am still under "non-disclosure" and still in communication with them. I will must also say that of all the video game companies that I worked for, Sunsoft was the best. I enjoyed my time there and was sad to see a new President channel away their resources into a golf course that never happened! There may be some interviews on the Internet with other people that do not necessarily tell a true account of what was going on there at that time.  :redcart:
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Hello!  Welcome to Famicom World, glad to see you here :)  Do you know why some of the Sunsoft games, such as Ufouria and Gimmick, never made it to the USA?  From my understanding, some American NES prototypes for these games had been found, suggesting that they were possibly going to get released in the USA.
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Thanks for doing this thread!

What years were you at Sunsoft? I'm gonna guess around '90 to '94 :D


Yes, 90 to late 94 is correct.

The reason that Gimmick and Ufouria, among others were not released is a problem that is as old as the Game Industry.

I believed in both of these games, especially Gimmick, but management often does NOT listen to those who know what the true market wants. Rather, management listen to their "sales" staff who in turn are influenced by the "reps" who talk directly to the store "buyers". The store buyers are often people who know very little (or nothing) about the product and they study the sales reports that tell them what is selling (last week) and they then arrogantly tell the reps what they want, which is often the "new" stuff. They seem to forget that an installed base of millions is better to support when new hardware comes out, but they still want the early hardware adopters dollars, believing that to be a safe bet. Later, or late in the Christmas selling season they suddenly want the "old" stuff because that what the shoppers are buying and they don't have enough stock! They forget that as of that point, there are zero consoles of the new one yet in the hands of consumers and leave for dead the millions that are supporting the older console yet. It is a vicious cycle that is repeated every time a new hardware comes to the market. The blind leading the blind. The end result is that newer projects on the old console are cancelled and they now want shovelware to sell to the unsuspecting consumers. Usually the new console software is not that effectively made.

The irony is that by that point, we developers have found new and more clever ways of extracting great software from the older console but those games will never be made...! In the case of NES/famicom, developers have invented newer chips to add to the original specifications and therefore produce better games (that will never be seen or played).
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June 11, 2014, 10:09:42 am #4 Last Edit: June 11, 2014, 10:20:10 am by L___E___T
So much of this rings true from certain things I've seen in my experience.  Sadly, this can happen to any industry.  Unfortunately 'marketing' usually gets the blame :)

Having spoken to you before I know you were involved in all of the development scene back then, I'd love to hear what plans there were for the follow-up games on NES and Famicom with the new kinds of chips you guys were looking at.

Obviously if anything is confidential then nobody will try and pressure for details, so it's cool to call out what can't be discussed.  Really good of you to take the time to share some of these memories we all chase..
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June 11, 2014, 10:54:26 am #5 Last Edit: June 11, 2014, 03:34:15 pm by dragon1952
We were in the planning stages of several famicom games that would exclusively feature the Sun 7 video chip for enhanced graphic presentation and Sun 5 chip for better orchestrated sound. These chips were used in the "Battle Formula" and "Dynamite Batman" games. Gremlins used an earlier enhancement chip set, but I did not like that game so much as I thought that with additional dev time it could have been much better. The problem is always that management is LATE is green-lighting a project and then wants it tomorrow!

No one can or will support the following accounts but it was what was discussed between myself and Japan R&D in Nagoya.

We sometimes used other studios, such as the one headed by the late Kenji Eno, whose studio in Tokyo developed "Sunman". I was involved with that project which was intended to be a "Superman game, but Eno and I could not agree on direction and he didn't understand the culture of "Superman". Unfortunately, this contract allowed him to have the final say and that is why it got changed into "Sunman". Warner Bros. loved us but would not accept this version so the rest is history now. Kenji was a talented gent and he had his own vision whether it was correct for us at Sunsoft or not.

We were able to convince WB to allow Batman to have a weapon in "Dynamite Batman", also known as "Return of the Joker". Batman was at that time entering a creative phase where he would be older and known as the Dark Knight. It was imagined that Batman would then resort to the use of weapons as criminal elements were getting armed more heavily themselves. It was always a fight when dealing with "licenses", something that frustrated both Japan R&D and myself, but that was the direction that we were heading due to the zealous nature of Sunsoft of America's marketing director.\

More later...
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I read that Blaster Master was a surprise hit in the US.
It didn't sell in Japan at all, even if the developers thought it was a great game.
Do you have an idea why it became so popular in the US? Better marketing?

Also, I have the impression that SunSoft's best selling games were their earliest games, at least in Japan. I think their first game Ikki was the one that sold the most, but it also is arguably the worst game. Thoughts?
And was there any particular reason why many SunSoft games were released in such small numbers? (in Japan at least) Such as Wing of Madoola, Hebereke, Gimmick, Dynamite Batman, Gremlins 2, Ripple Island, Maharajah and some others.

Games like Gimmick and Hebereke weren't popular back then. In Scandinavia (where I live) you could buy it for 10$ after a while. It wasn't a cult hit until later.
Bad marketing? Not enough kid-oriented? Too advanced?

Also, I am curious about why the quality of games declined....  Or am I wrong? Did SunSoft try every genre without knowing how to? Such as the fighting game Waku Waku 7, some pointless Hebereke puzzle game, a few generic RPGs, some Pachinko games...  Thoughts?

Thank you.
Selling  Japanese games in Sweden since 2011 (as "japanspel").


Quote from: fredJ on June 11, 2014, 11:52:11 am
Did SunSoft try every genre without knowing how to? Such as the fighting game Waku Waku 7

I hope you're not implying that Waku Waku 7 is a bad game :'(


Wow, that's a lot to chew on...!

"Blaster Master" was a HIT in the US more so than in Japan because at that time US players wanted a newer or better action game experience. Japanese players were still into the "me too" syndrome or games that were similar to popular games but a little different. Also RPG's started to dominate in Japan as early action games were too tough for the mass appeal audience. Regarding "Blaster Master" it wasn't the marketing in the US that succeed, as that only helps make customers aware of what is out there. The proof was in playing a game with some depth and unique features that other games didn't have.

In Japan, the earlier Sunsoft games were popular because the themes were more to the liking of that culture, farmers - fantasy heroes, etc... They were simpler to play and understand for children playing in a dark bedroom while kneeing in front of their small TV's. Most companies outside of Namco and Konami would always "short" the market to insure sell through. Japan companies do not like to have any left stock, not even one!

It is always that games are not treasured when they come out, only years later when they are better understood. Then, because there is only a short stock they become rare and more valuable. The Industry retail market in Japan was also a tough sell and they didn't automatically accept or distribute every new game product. That was due to so many games being released and they could not afford big stocks of all of them until they were somewhat proven. Even then, it was time to move on to the next one and although some games were popular and out of stock, it would take months before more were available. This was due to the large lead times of mask ROM's.

Sunsoft of America US management did not even support "Hebereke/Ufouria" or "Gimmick" although I believed that both could find an audience. The characters were deemed too strange or quirky compared to the Disney/Warner Bros. world of cartoons. I believed that they would fly because consumers really don't know what they want until you present it to them. That is the mother of invention!

Lastly, in later eras staff would depart for more money somewhere else and more rookie development teams would take over. That is why quality could not be maintained as the Industry evolved.
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It seems Ninendo of America had a policy of not allowing third-party mapper chips (like the Sunsoft 5B) and instead insisted on using their own MMC chips.  I'm curious how much of a headache this was to deal with.  Gremlins 2, for example, uses the Sunsoft 5B in the Famicom version and the MMC3 in the NES version.


That's a very good question.

It was a major pain and required a lot more time to reprogram various aspects of the game further delaying the schedule. It certainly affected what we were hoping to do with the game and is a reason that it was not as good as it could have been. The MMC3 could digitally split up the screen easily for separate displays and was a good chip. but NOA was a bitch to work with since they NEVER compromised. If you didn't do what they said, you didn't release that game. Later they restricted companies to only five game releases per year. They were very arrogant and had a monopoly that was contested in the courts. This was another factor that killed the NES, which they wanted to do anyway.

BTW, fcgamer, we did indeed make prototypes of those games but only a small few.
Success is where preparation meets opportunity!


Hi, David. Do you have any tech info about FME-7. Thanks.
I don't buy, sell or trade at moment.
But my question is how hackers at that time were able to hack those games?(c)krzy


Unfortunately no.

Japan would not let me have those specs and I did request all of them for the entire group of famicom chips. Sun Denshi had a hardware division and that kind of information was certainly proprietary. I wanted to then and still do want to make brand new high quality famicom games, but that is probably not a realistic goal.
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Dire 51

Hi David, good to see you here! There's definitely a lot of interesting stuff you've posted in this thread so far.


Hi David,

This might be before your time, but what (if anything) can you tell us about the development cycle of Batman: Return of the Joker? Who was the person directly responsible for producing such an unusually horrible title in the Sunsoft library?

It absolutely pales in comparison to it's predecessor. Sunsoft was always underrated, especially in the music department.