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Nintendo's Family Computer, or Famicom, turns 30 today!

Nintendo’s Family Computer, or Famicom, turns 30 today!

Update, December 9, 2021: Masayuki Uemura, the chief architect of both the Famicom and the Super Famicom, died on December 6 at the age of 78. Uemura worked at Nintendo from 1971 to 2004, overseeing notable accessories such as the Super Famicom’s Famicom Disk System and the Satellaview modem accessory.

In honor of Uemura’s career and his lasting impact on the gaming industry, we’re republishing this 2013 piece that we showcased on the 30th anniversary of the Famicom, delving deep into the technicalities of the system and its history and legacy. explore it.

We’re on the cusp of a new generation of gaming consoles, and whether you’re an Xbox One fan or a PlayStation 4 fanatic, you probably know what’s coming after you’ve gone through a few of these cycles. The systems will launch in time for the holidays, each will have one or two decent launch titles, there may be a year or two where the new console and the old console will co-exist on store shelves, and then the “next generation the current generation – until we do it all over again in a few years. For gamers born in or after the 1980s, this cycle has remained familiar, even as old console makers have distanced themselves (Sega, Atari) and new ones have taken their place (Sony, Microsoft).

It wasn’t always like that.

The system that started this cycle, revitalizing the American video game industry and the third-party game publishing system as we know it, was the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), which was released in Japan on July 15, 1983. launched as the Family Computer (or Famicom). Today, in celebration of the original Famicom’s 30th anniversary, we look back at what the console accomplished, how it worked, and how people (both legally and illegally) are keeping its games alive today.

From Japanese beginnings to American triumphs

The Famicom wasn’t Nintendo’s first home console — credit goes to Japan-only ‘Color TV Game’ consoles, which were inexpensive units designed to play a few different variations of a single built-in game. However, it was Nintendo’s first console to use interchangeable game cartridges.

The original Japanese Famicom looked like some sort of hovercar with controllers attached. The top-loading system used a 60-pin connector to accept the 3-inch-tall, 5.3-inch-wide cartridges and originally featured two wired controllers that stored in holders on the side of the unit (unlike the removable controllers, these were permanently connected to the Famicom).

The second controller had an integrated microphone instead of the start and select buttons. A 15-pin port intended for hardware add-ons was integrated into the front of the system – we’ll talk a little bit about the accessories that used this port. After an initial hardware recall related to a faulty circuitry on the motherboard, the console became quite successful in Japan based on the power of arcade ports such as Donkey Kong Jr. and original titles such as Super Mario Bros

An early prototype of what would become the North American version of the Famicom.  The Nintendo Advanced Video System communicated wirelessly with its peripherals via infrared.
enlarge An early prototype of what would become the North American version of the Famicom. The Nintendo Advanced Video System communicated wirelessly with its peripherals via infrared.

The North American version of the console has been plagued by several false starts, not to mention unfavorable marketing conditions. A distribution deal with then-giant Atari fell through at the last minute after Atari executives released a version of Nintendo’s Donkey Kong running on Coleco’s Adam computer at the 1983 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). By the time Atari was ready to renegotiate, the video game crash in 1983 had crippled the US market and killed the “Nintendo Enhanced Video System” before it had a chance to live.

Nintendo decided to go its own way. By the time the 1985 CES rolled around, the company was ready to show a prototype of what had become the Nintendo Advanced Video System (AVS). Impressive in its ambition, this system came with accessories including controllers, a light gun and a cassette drive all intended to communicate wirelessly with the console via infrared. However, the still horrendous video game market made such a complex (and likely expensive) system difficult to sell, and after a lukewarm reception, Nintendo went back to the drawing board to work on what would become the Nintendo Entertainment System we still know today. and love today.

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