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In the latest Iwata Asks column, conducted with Masayuki Uemura and Hiroshi Imanishi, Nintendo president, Satoru Iwata, delves into the development of the Famicom in 1983. At the time, Uemura was in charge of developing Nintendo hardware while Imanishi headed the the General Affairs Department, which was responsible for providing auxiliary support.

 

The talk with the two developers is rather long, so here’s a few bullet points to give you an idea of the kind of content you can expect to find:

 

  • Since the Famicom used a processing component called “6502” that wasn’t widely used or understood by programmers, Nintendo developed the majority of games for the Famicom themselves. In fact, they considered the complex nature of the CPU an asset as it allowed them to be the only company developing Famicom software.
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  • Shortly after its release, however, an engineer at Namco was counted amongst the first game developers to recognize the Famicom’s CPU outside of Nintendo.
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  • The first third-party-developed Famicom peripheral was created in collaboration with Hudson. It was titled Family BASIC and was composed of a cartridge and keyboard for creating game using the BASIC programming language.
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  • Unsurprisingly, one of the very first third-party games for the Famicom was created by Namco in 1984. It was called Galaxian (pictured above) and was based on its arcade counterpart, released in 1979. Namco followed it up with Xevious, also based on its original arcade version released in 1983.
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  • Random tidbit: Recently, Iwata cited Xevious as being the game that convinced Nintendo to re-release classic games touched up with a stereoscopic 3D effect on the Nintendo 3DS.
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  • Ultimately, third-party developers resorted to manufacturing their own Famicom cartridges to develop software for the machine, as a licensing model didn’t exist at the time. As the number of faulty cartridges grew, Nintendo established their first ever licensee system whereby they would manufacture the cartridges.
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  • Problems weren’t restricted just to cartridges, however. The Famicom itself suffered from a number of problems including the tendency to heat up quickly and render quick-moving sprites invisible. The square buttons on the controller would also get stuck.
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  • This was despite a one-million-punch test Nintendo put the controllers through before manufacturing them. However, this made no difference whatsoever and the company’s repair service was soon flooded with complaints. The buttons were later made circular to deal with the issue.
Ishaan

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