Welcome back again.
Let me ask you something. Imagine that the company behind your favorite game console has just released what they call an upgrade for that console. The thing is, the upgrade results in the console being completely unable to play any games in its old format. What’s more, the company is calling this complete break with the past a good thing. How would you feel? Well, believe it or not, Nintendo tried something like this decades ago (although, to be fair, the upgrade they came up with wasn’t permanent). Have I got you intrigued? In that case, hang on for a quick jump into the past.
It’s the mid-1980s in Japan. Although the Nintendo Famicom is enjoying some degree of success, the government has recently given in to pressure to ban the rental of video games. Since all games must now (in theory) be purchased for full price, the public is looking for ways to pay less for them (considering the expense involved in producing cartridges). Nintendo’s solution: looking to small floppy disks as a cheaper method of data storage that also offered more available space. Of course, if you’re going to use floppy disks with the console that originally used cartridges, you’re going to need to come up with some sort of adaptive system. In this case, that was the Famicom Disk System.
The Disk System itself is very easy to set up. All you do is plug something known as the RAM Adapter into the Famicom cartridge slot, and connect the cable on the back of the adapter to the actual Disk System unit. Interestingly, while the Disk System is capable of being powered through a wired connection, it can also be powered independently via batteries (apparently, executives thought that convenient power outlets would already be occupied by the Famicom and the TV). After that, it pretty much works just like the old model: turn it on, insert a disk, and enjoy yourself.
At first, this whole thing might have seemed like a great idea. The Disk System offered not only an increase in storage space and easy save data capability, but also enhanced sound capability. It was where such franchises as The Legend of Zelda and Metroid made their first appearances. The disks were cheaper to produce, and could be made more quickly (apparently, the original release of Kid Icarus entered actual production only three days prior to its release date).
What’s more, the peripheral had its fair share of neat additional features. For example, by making use of a machine called a Disk Writer, it was possible to purchase blank discs for a rather low price and have new games written to them. You could even go so far as to overwrite a game on a disk that you owned already with another game for even less money. Depending on the size of the games you were buying, you might even be able to fit two games on a single disk (one on each side). There was even a feature where high scores from games on special blue disks could be faxed to Nintendo in order to compete for spots on a sort of leaderboard. Prizes would be awarded to the winners of score contests.
Of course, the system wasn’t perfect. For one thing, presumably as a cost-cutting measure, none of the disks (except for the special blue ones that I mentioned earlier) came with protective shutters. Instead, wax sleeves were used to protect the disks. As a result, a disk left lying out could easily accumulate enough dust or fingerprints to leave it unplayable. The fact that the system used entirely proprietary parts also meant that repairs required sending away to Nintendo for assistance. The error codes displayed by the system in the event of a problem offer no explanation as to what the trouble actually is. Not long after the system was released, cartridges began catching up to what the disks were capable of, and the costs of producing cartridges began to fall. After only a few years, the Disk System was discontinued, and Nintendo returned to using cartridges as the medium of release for their games.
Although the Disk System may be gone, it hasn’t been completely forgotten. If any of you remember Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door, the sequence that plays when Peach inserts a disk into Sir Grodus’ personal terminal is a scaled-down version of the Disk System boot screen.
Thanks for visiting me this time. Next time, we’ll be taking a look at what I would call maybe the most well-known peripheral for the NES. I know, that isn’t much of a hint; but if you think about NES peripherals a bit, you should be able to make a guess that’s “on target.”
I’ll be seeing you…