The NES: How It Started, Worked, and Saved an Industry


Nintendo’s Family Computer or Famicom turns 30 today!

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

In honor of Uemura’s career and his lasting influence on the game industry, we’re publishing this 2013 article.

We’re right on the cusp of a new breed of gaming consoles, and whether you’re an Xbox One fan or a PlayStation 4 zealot, you probably know what to expect by the time you’ve gone through some of these cycles. The systems will hit the market in time for the holidays, each will have a decent starting title or two, it will be maybe a year or two for the new console and old console to coexist on the shelves, and then it will be the “next generation.” “the generation – until we do that again in a few years. For gamers born in or after the 1980s, this cycle has remained familiar even after the retirement of old console manufacturers (Sega, Atari) and new ones (Sony, Microsoft).

It was not always like this.

The system that started this cycle, resurrected the American video game industry, and established the third-party game publisher system as we know it, was the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), which released as a Family on July 15, 1983 in Japan. Computer (or Famicom) came on the market. Today, in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the original Famicom, we’re taking a look back at what the console did, how it worked, and how people (through legal and illegal means) are keeping their games alive today.

From Japanese beginnings to American triumphs

The Famicom wasn’t Nintendo’s first home console – that honor goes to Japan-only “Color TV Game” consoles, which were inexpensive units designed to play several different variations of a single, integrated 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 accommodate its 3-inch high and 5.3-inch wide cartridges, and originally had two hard-wired controllers that could be stored in brackets on the side of the unit (as opposed to the detachable NES devices). Controller, these were hardwired to the Famicom).

The second controller had an integrated microphone instead of its start and selection buttons. A 15-pin port has been integrated into the front of the system, which is intended for hardware add-ons – the accessories that use this port will be discussed in more detail in a moment. After an initial hardware recall related to a faulty circuit on the motherboard, the console became like in Japan due to the strength of arcade ports. quite successful Donkey Kong Jr. and original titles like 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 using 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 using infrared.

The North American version of the console was plagued by multiple false starts, not to mention poor marketing conditions. A distribution agreement with then-giant Atari failed at the last minute after Atari executives saw a version of Nintendo Donkey Kong runs on Coleco’s Adam computer at the 1983 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). When Atari was ready to negotiate again, the video game crash of 1983 paralyzed the American market and killed the Nintendo Enhanced Video System before it did Had a chance to live.

Nintendo decided to go its own way. When CES launched in 1985, the company was ready to show a prototype of what is now Nintendo Advanced Video System (AVS). This system was impressive in its ambition and came with accessories including controllers, a light gun, and a cassette drive, all of which were intended to be wirelessly connected to the console via infrared. The still dire video game market made such a complex (and likely expensive) system difficult to sell, however, and after a lukewarm reception, Nintendo went back to the drawing board to work on what the Nintendo Entertainment System would know and become today love.


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