Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Super Nintendo Entertainment System
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System, also known as the Super NES or SNES, is a 16-bit video game console released by Nintendo in North America, Europe, and Australia. In Japan and South Korea it is known as the Super Famicom (スーパーファミコン). It was Nintendo's second home console, and the followup to its successful Nintendo Entertainment System (NES, also known as the Famicom), the SNES could not quite match its predecessor's widespread popularity in Asia and North America, thanks in part to increased competition from Sega's Mega Drive console (known in North America as the Sega Genesis). Despite its relatively late start, by the end of its lifespan in the mid-1990s its sales had exceeded those of its competition, and the SNES had become the best selling console of the 16-bit era.
Even as the original NES/Famicom was at the height of its popularity, several companies were launching their own consoles. In 1988, both Sega and NEC launched their contenders, the Mega Drive and the PC Engine, the first 16-bit gaming systems to be made available to the public. Although the NES would continue to dominate the video game industry for years to come, Nintendo's hardware was beginning to show its age, and though Nintendo executives initially showed little interest in developing a new system, Sega and NEC's growing marketshare soon forced Nintendo to reconsider.
Masayuki Uemura, the man responsible for designing the Famicom several years earlier, was put in charge of the design of the console, called the Super Famicom, which was released in Japan on November 21, 1990 for ¥25,000. An instant success, Nintendo quickly sold out its initial shipment of 300,000 units. The system was so popular that it was said to have attracted the attention of the Yakuza, leading to the decision to ship the devices at night in order to avoid robbery. In Japan, the Super Famicom easily outsold its chief rival, the Mega Drive, and Nintendo retained control over approximately 80% of the Japanese console market, thanks, in part, to Nintendo's retention of most of its key third party developers from the Famicom, including Capcom, Konami, Tecmo, Square Co., Ltd., Koei and Enix.
Ten months later, in August 1991, Nintendo released the Super Famicom, given a new external shell and renamed the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, in North America. Initially sold for a price of $200 USD, the North American package included the game Super Mario World (the Japanese release was sold without a pack-in game). The SNES was released in the United Kingdom and Ireland in April 1992 for £150, with a German release following a few weeks later. The PAL versions of the console looked identical to the Japanese Super Famicom, except for labelling.
However, a number of factors worked against the American and European launch of the system. Firstly, many US gamers had come to expect backwards compatibility from console developers (as was the case with the Atari 2600 and 7800), but the SNES was not designed to play NES cartridges. Secondly, by late 1991 the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis had already became firmly entrenched in the US and European marketplace, and Nintendo was already lagging well behind its main competitor from the start, a fact which was not helped by the fact that the Mega Drive/Genesis console and games sold for less than the SNES.
Although the SNES was comparatively slow to surpass the Genesis in North America, the SNES's marginally superior technical capabilities, coupled with Nintendo's family-friendly image, iconic game characters like Mario, and a larger pool of third-party developers eventually propelled it past its competition. By the end of the 16-bit era, the SNES had sold twice as many units as the Sega Genesis.
By 1996, the 16-bit era of gaming had ended, and a new generation of consoles, including Nintendo's own Nintendo 64, caused the popularity of the SNES to wane. In October 1997, Nintendo released a redesigned SNES deck in North America for $99 USD (which included the pack-in game Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island). Like the earlier NES 2, the new model was designed to be slimmer and lighter than its predecessor, and would prove to be among the last major SNES-related releases in America. A similar redesigned Super Famicom Jr. was released in Japan around the same time.
Nintendo of America ceased production of the SNES in 1999. In Japan, the Super Famicom continued to be produced until September 2003. In recent years, many SNES titles have been ported to the handheld Game Boy Advance, which has similar technical capabilities. Some video game critics consider the SNES era "the golden age of video games," citing the many groundbreaking games and classics made for the system.  whereas others question this romanticism . See also video game player.
Game cartridges, depending on which market they were released in, were of different shapes to restrict the playing of games intended for a single market and to control pricing in those markets. The North American model had a rectangular bottom has inset grooves which when inserted complemented the console's shape whereas the Japanese/European cartridges had a smoothed curve on the front of the cartridges with no inset grooves. Since the North American console has protuding grooves, the Japanese/European cartridges could not be inserted without the removal of these grooves and North American cartridges being completely rectangular could not fit into the slightly curved opening of the Japanese console unit.
Additionally, a regional lockout chip within the console and in each cartridge prevented European games being played on Japanese/North American consoles and vice versa (despite the fact that European and Japanese Cartridges fit in each other's consoles). The Japanese and North American machines had the same region chip, so once the difference in the shape of the cartridges was overcome, cartridges were interchangeable. The simplest way to allow the Japanese and European cartridges to play in the North American system is to use a Game Genie cheat device to pull out the small rectangular piece of plastic out of the top of it. Thus, the device can be used as a filter and allow the plugging of the European and Japanese cartridges into it. The user can then play the games through his or her North American system. The reason the European version still works, even though it has a different regional chip, is simply because when the owner uses the Game Genie to filter, the chip doesn't function.
Physical modification of the consoles and adaptors helped individuals overcome these barriers.
Throughout the course of its life, a number of peripherals were released which added to the functionality of the SNES. Many of these devices were modelled after earlier add-ons for the NES: the Super Scope was a light gun similar to the NES Zapper (though the Super Scope featured wireless capabilities) and the Super Advantage was a arcade-style joystick with adjustable turbo settings akin to the NES Advantage. In addition, Nintendo itself released the SNES Mouse in conjunction with its Mario Paint title, and Hudson Soft, under license from Nintendo, released the Super Multitap , a multiplayer adaptor that allowed games to support up to eight players.
One of the most interesting and successful first-party peripherals released for the SNES was the Super Game Boy. The Super Game Boy was an adaptor cartridge that allowed games designed for Nintendo's portable Game Boy system to be played on the SNES. The Super Game Boy touted a number of feature enhancements over the Game Boy, including color support (in reality, merely the ability to substitute a different color palette: the games themselves were still limited to four colors), and custom screen borders.
Like the NES before it, the SNES saw its fair share of unlicensed third-party peripherals, including a new version of Galoob's Game Genie cheat cartridge designed for use with SNES games, and a variety of game copier devices. In general, Nintendo proved to be somewhat more tolerant of unlicensed SNES peripherals than they had been with NES peripherals.
Japan saw the release of the Satellaview, a modem which attached the Super Famicom's expansion port and connected to the St. Giga satellite radio station. Users of the Satellaview could download gaming news and specially designed games, which were frequently either remakes of or sequels to older Famicom titles, released in installments. The Satellaview was broadcast from April 23, 1995 through June 30, 2000.
Towards the end of the SNES's life, Nintendo was in talks with two different companies to develop a CD-ROM-based peripheral for the console. Ultimately, negotiations with both Sony and Philips fell through, and the two companies went on to develop their own consoles based on their initial dealings with Nintendo (the PlayStation and the CD-i, respectively).
Like the NES before it, the SNES has had a retained interest among its fans even following its decline in the marketplace. It has continued to thrive on a second-hand market and later through console emulation. Many gamers discovered the SNES after its decline. The SNES has taken much the same revival path as the NES.
Emulation projects began in 1996 with projects such as "VSMC" and "Super Pasofami," which, despite some important initial gains, did not last long past 1998. During that time, two competing emulation projects, Snes96 and Snes97 emerged, forming a new initiative entitled Snes9x. In early 1998, SNES enthusiasts began programming a console emulator named ZSNES. From then on, these two emulators have continued to offer the most complete emulation of the system and its various add-on chips like the Super FX Chip.
Nintendo took the same stance against the distribution of SNES ROM image files and emulation as it did with the NES, insisting that they represented flagrant software piracy. Proponents of SNES emulation cite as arguments for their continued distribution: the discontinued production of the SNES, the right of the owner of the respective game to make a personal backup, the frailty of SNES cartridges (even though cartridges are far more durable than optical discs), and the lack of certain foreign imports. Starting in the 128-bit era, both Nintendo and emulation proponents began to have a less active stance on this issue.
Despite Nintendo's attempts to stop the proliferation of such projects, ROM files continue to be available on the Internet. Since the console's discontinuation, second-hand market decline, and rapid growth of the Internet, finding the files has become less of a challenge than it had been with the NES. Most general ROM sites offer files for the SNES.
More screenshots can be found in the gallery of Super Nintendo Entertainment System screenshots.
The design of the Super Nintendo/Super Famicom was unusual for its time. It featured a relatively low-performance CPU supported by very powerful custom chips for sound and video processing. This approach would become common in subsequent video game hardware, but at the time it was new to game developers. As a result early third-party games were of low technical quality. Developers later became accustomed to the system, and were able to take advantage of its full potential. It was the first console capable of applied acoustics in video game audio sold in North America, Europe, and Japan.
- CPU: Nintendo custom '5A22', believed to be produced by Ricoh; based around a 16-bit CMD/GTE 65c816 (a predecessor of the WDC 65C816). The CPU runs the 65c816-alike core with a variable-speed bus, with bus access times determined by addresses accessed, with a maximum theoretical effective clock rate around 3.58 MHz. The SNES/SFC provided the CPU with 128 KB of Work RAM.
The CPU also contains other support hardware, including:
- for interfacing with controller ports;
- for generating NMI interrupts on Vblank;
- for generating IRQ interrupts on screen positions;
- DMA unit, supporting two primary modes, general DMA (for block transfers, at a rate of 2.68MB/second) and Hblank DMA (for transferring small data sets at the end of each scanline, outside of the active display period );
- multiplication and division registers.
- Cartridge Size Specifications: 2 - 32 Mb which ran at two speeds ('SlowROM' and 'FastROM'). Custom address decoders allow larger sizes, eg. 64 Mb for Star Ocean and Tales of Phantasia
- Sound Controller Chip: 8-bit Sony SPC700 CPU for controlling the DSP; running at an effective clock rate around 1.024 MHz.
- Main Sound Chip: 8-channel Sony S-DSP with hardware ADPCM decompression, pitch modulation , echo effect with feedback (for reverberation) with 8-tap FIR filter, and ADSR and 'GAIN' (discretely controlled) volume envelopes .
- Memory Cycle Time: 279 Minutes
- Low-pass filter for improved quality of low-frequency (bass) tones
- Sound RAM: 512 Kb shared between SPC700 and S-DSP.
- Pulse Code Modulator: 16-Bit ADPCM (using 4-bit compressed ADPCM samples, expanded to 15-bit resolution, processed with an additional 4-point Gaussian sound interpolation).
- Note - while not directly related to SNES hardware, the standard extension for SNES audio subsystem state files saved by emulators is .SPC, a format used by SPC players .
- Picture Processor Unit: 15-Bit
- Video RAM: 64 KB of video RAM for screen maps (for 'background' layers) and tile sets (for backgrounds and objects); 512 + 32 bytes of 'OAM' (Object Attribute Memory) for objects.
- Palette: 32,768 Colors.
- Maximum colors per layer per scanline: 256.
- Maximum colors on-screen: 32,768 (using color arithmetic for transparency effects).
- Resolution: between 256x224 and 512x478. Most games used 256x224 pixels since higher resoulutions caused slowdown, flicker, and/or had increased limitations on layers and colors (due to memory bandwidth constraints); the higher resolutions were used for less processor-intensive games, in-game menus, text, and high resolution images.
- Maximum onscreen objects (sprites): 128 (32 per line, up to 34 8x8 tiles per line).
- Maximum number of sprite pixels on one scanline: 256. The renderer was designed such that it would drop the frontmost sprites instead of the rearmost sprites if a scanline exceeded the limit, allowing for creative clipping effects.
- Most common display modes: Pixel-to-pixel text mode 1 (16 colors per tile; 3 scrolling layers) and affine mapped text mode 7 (256 colors per tile; one rotating/scaling layer).
- Power Adapter
- Mary Bellis. History of Sony Playstation. Retrieved 9 February 2005.
- Mattias Liedholm. The Golden Era. Retrieved 1 February 2005.
- Silent Axis. The Golden era - Just for the nostalgics?. Retrieved 1 February 2005.
- The official Nintendo Corp. homepage
- N-Sider (Nintendo fansite database)
- Super Famicom Console Database
- SNES Console Database
- Sufami Turbo at Gamers Graveyard
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