Was SMB really supposed to be the last cart game for FC?

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Was SMB really supposed to be the last cart game for FC?

Post by tepples » Thu Sep 19, 2019 2:25 pm

In an interview for the 25th anniversary of Super Mario Bros., which would be on or before October 2010, Famitsu magazine sat down with Shigeru Miyamoto. The defunct 1UP.com provided a translation of a portion of the interview in which Mr. Miyamoto explained that the game
was the culmination of a variety of factors. First, we had a lot of technical know-how built up from games like Excitebike and Kung Fu. Second, the Disk System [a Japan-only attachment] was coming out shortly, so I wanted to make a game that would put a final exclamation point on that era of cartridge games. Third, I wanted to build upon our tradition of what we called 'athletic games' at the time -- games where you controlled a guy and had to jump a lot to overcome obstacles. We felt strongly about how we were the first to come up with that genre, and it was a goal of ours to keep pushing it
I'm more interested in the second factor, which some western media have interpreted as SMB being intended as a farewell to carts on the Famicom while the NES rollout was just getting started in North America. Does anyone have access to the original Famitsu article in Japanese so someone can verify whether this is a gross mistranslation?

EDIT: koitsu suggests it may be Famitsu volume 1138, 1139, or 1140 based on the dates listed in the issue list on Retromags.

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Re: Was SMB really supposed to be the last cart game for FC?

Post by Pokun » Sat Sep 21, 2019 3:57 am

I don't have the magazine, but googling turned up an interview here where Miyamoto says something similar:
『スーパーマリオブラザーズ』20周年ということで、誕生にまつわるお話をお願いします。
宮本:当時、スーパーマリオを作っている時は、社内からは「またマリオ?」と言われていたんですよ。それまでにもたくさんのソフトに出演していましたし。ファミコンが出て約2年が経過し、ディスクシステムへ移行しようという時で、カセットでの最後のゲームとしてディスクシステム用のゲームと同時に作っていた物…というのが本当のところです(笑)。
Rough translation:
It's now the 20th year aniversary of Super Mario Bros, could you please tell us a little about the birth of that game?

Miyamoto: At that time when I was making this game, I actually got the reaction "Mario again?" from people in the company. He had already made lots of appearances in games up to that point. It was already about 2 years since the Famicom was released, and this was a time when we were about to migrate to the Disk System, so for that reason we made it as a final cartridge game and a Disk System game at the same time... And that's the real story (laugh).
Now this interview was found on Nintendo's homepage so I wouldn't trust every word they say in it, as it's a PR thing.
But I think it's plausible that Nintendo at the time thought that the disk format where going to take over the cartridge format completely. That's why they developed the FDS in the first place. SMB is the most advanced NROM game, and is even more impressive gameplay-wise, so I don't find it strange that they wanted to put everything they had into making it. In this interview he doesn't say anything about putting exclamation points in the cartridge era, he literary says they made SMB as a final cartridge game.

I don't think it was going to be the end of the Famicom though, just of cartridge games. Just like homecomputers got more disk games and less cartridge and tape games as disks drives got cheaper, and computers got more RAM.
If that really had happened though, Nintendo might had released something like the Twin Famicom but Nintendo-branded, so people wouldn't have to buy the mandatory disk drive separately. The NES would probably also have gotten a disk drive.

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Re: Was SMB really supposed to be the last cart game for FC?

Post by Dwedit » Sat Sep 21, 2019 8:33 am

While SMB1 might have been the "final" NROM cartridge game before the disk system, mappers would take over within a year. According to Bootgod's database, Gumshoe (GNROM) and Makimura (UNROM) from June 1986 were the first two games released to use PRG expanding mappers. DxROM compatible boards were also released in June 1986, but it wasn't until September 1986 that Super Xevious used expanded PRG for that mapper.

But even without expanded PRG size, games were already storing data in bankswitched CHR memory instead, most famously Dragon Quest 1.
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Re: Was SMB really supposed to be the last cart game for FC?

Post by Sumez » Mon Sep 23, 2019 6:28 am

I think it's hard to find a source more reliable than Miyamoto himself.

I also find the claim very easy to believe, even though it's the first time I've heard of it. While it might not be a definitive business decision, I think it's unlikely that the idea wasn't at least circling within the Nintendo offices. Floppy disks were much cheaper to produce, and the FDS peripheral made it possible to do things not previously possible on cartridges until mappers starting becoming the standard.
Even though the FDS didn't last very long before being replaced entirely by cartridges again (I guess due to piracy issues?), of course that wasn't the intention from the start. The western NES came shipped with an expansion port obviously designed to accommodate the disk drive, and it sounds very likely that cartridges were meant to be entirely replaced by floppy disks along the way if the FDS hadn't ended up being pulled.

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Re: Was SMB really supposed to be the last cart game for FC?

Post by Pokun » Mon Sep 23, 2019 4:39 pm

Yeah it has been said in many interviews that Nintendo's engineers thought quickdisks were almost too good to be true since it could hold two cartridge games (NROM) and was fully writeable to boot which would allow saving in games, not mentioning being cheaper to produce. Games were smaller back then so they probably thought quickdisks had a huge capacity. Then games suddenly got bigger (SMB used up a lot of the NROM and Zelda pretty much used up a disk). This interview could contain a lot of buttered up PR talk, but I doubt the story about the FDS is completely made up.

The FDS did last quite long though, or else it wouldn't have such a good library of games and disks wouldn't be in such large quantities as they are (a total of 4.4 million FDS units were sold, not too shabby). It lasted about three years before companies abandoned it in 1989 according to Wikipedia, and at that time the Famicom was getting near its end as the Super Famicom was coming out. And it's not about piracy, but rather the fact that all the problems they attempted to solve with disks, were solved with cartridges pretty soon after its release. Mask ROMs got cheaper and bigger, mappers became more common, battery SRAM on cartridges allowed saving, I guess SRAM chips got cheaper too and companies started to put audio chips in the cartridges like in the FDS. The disks on the other hand didn't get bigger, the only way to expand a game was to span multiple disks. Not for mentioning the quite slow loading times. Also for a third-party company there were little reason to target a format that not everybody could play when they could just target cartridges.

Piracy was a thing, but I really don't think it was such a big problem in Japan, not to the point that it killed the FDS anyway. Piracy was more in Hong Kong and probably Taiwan. Hong Kong got their Famicoms by importing them from Japan and modifying them for PAL. Taiwan used NTSC.


BTW if someone got the magazine with the interview of the topic, it would still be interesting to see what it said in Japanese, to settle it.

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Re: Was SMB really supposed to be the last cart game for FC?

Post by Oziphantom » Mon Sep 23, 2019 11:52 pm

from http://shmuplations.com/miyamoto1989/
—What was your basic concept for Super Mario Bros? I’ve heard the basic idea was to make a platformer that used the Mario character.

Miyamoto: From a marketing standpoint, the idea was to make a game that anyone could enjoy, yet would also appeal to game maniacs. At the planning stage, we talked about wanting to make a game that would compile the best aspects of post-Donkey Kong platformers, and also set a new standard. We all thought it was going to be our final celebration of cartridge games… we had a lot of fun making it.
Cart slow and expensive to make, long lead times and dead stock if it doesn't sell. Rewritable disks with kiosks - digital distribution rapid time to market no dead stock. Disks also had larger storage and using multiple disks would also be possible. However they were slow, and having 512K on instant banking gives you a lot more capabilities..

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Re: Was SMB really supposed to be the last cart game for FC?

Post by koitsu » Tue Sep 24, 2019 12:28 am

Random quotes of mine from Discord on 2019/09/19. If you want references, ask, but they're mentioned.

TL;DR -- I can certainly believe to some degree that Nintendo "sure did like the FDS", but in absolutely no way did the upper echelon at Nintendo Co. Ltd. bet everything on it to the point of abandoning cartridges. Yamauchi did not have a history of behaving that way, and he shunned floppy/disk concepts from the beginning (which is why the FDS to me is still somewhat of a surprise). Miyamoto is/was always a "dreamer", and that's part of what makes him a great game/character designer. I also shouldn't have to mention that it's very easy and human to misremember something from 30+ years ago. But let's also not forget the NES FDS (US patent 4783182, filed August 1986 -- keep that date in mind when reaching the end of the below) was abandoned by Nintendo (and that SMB and Zelda were both being developed in parallel by R&D4/Miyamoto in parallel).

I have not yet gotten around to transcribing the FDS "section" of Game Over due to its length (several pages), but I do plan on it.
13:57] koitsu: i haven't read any evidence from reputable sources -- if you have some, hand it to me, i'd love to read it! -- that either:
a) Nintendo intended SMB1 to be "the last game on the system". If that was the case, they wouldn't have invested in bringing the Famicom to the United States. Pick up this book and read it: https://jdc.koitsu.org/gameover/
b) Nintendo planned on going pure-FDS. Their original statement/goal was never to do a disk drive, then that changed later (explanations for why weren't explained), but nothing in that process I've read said they wanted to go full-disk -- Yamauchi repeatedly voiced concerns over piracy using disk-based media rather than cartridges. See same page above (though I haven't finished writing up the section on FDS, it's very long). If they had planned to go pure-disk, they would've made that decision prior to / alongside doing the NES, and that obviously didn't happen.
13:59] koitsu: Let's also not forget Nintendo was heavily invested in several companies all relating to semiconductors and general IC production.
13:59] koitsu: Cartridges were their main focus, disk changes a lot of that, even despite things like the RAM adapter,
14:15] koitsu: it is very likely that given what was going on with Miyamoto at the time, given his role at that point, he probably felt that he wanted to do something "memorable" for cartridges and then "do more amazing things" with the disks system.
14:48] koitsu: the entire contents of the book i linked basically refute the claim {edit: I'm referring to what's being claimed in the subject}. but this is kind of backwards logic; we should be asking the people claiming that SMB1 was "supposed to be the final cartridge" for actual published references backing up that view
14:50] koitsu: i'm strongly inclined to believe it's a bullshit claim, with people somehow thinking that because Nintendo did the FDS that it was "the end-all to cartridges", which really everything i've read so far says otherwise. FDS was just "another option". i have another undiscussed book to read/skim, so i will do that, but yeah.
15:07] koitsu: so the other book i just skimmed (and read several pages of) is I Am Error, which covers some of this. there's absolutely no statement, including anything implied, that Nintendo planned on stopping cartridge development. they did seem to put a lot of focus on FDS as "the next thing", but it kind of failed. the book is too long on this subject -- i'm talking quite literally 60 pages on the matter -- but there's no such statement.
15:08] koitsu: in fact, repeatedly mentioned is the fact that Miyamoto was responsible for both teams doing Zelda and SMB simultaneously. don't forget that Zelda came out on FDS.
15:09] koitsu: mappers, particularly UNROM, came out around 1986 due to the FDS "failing" in several regards -- easily piratable games (and there's hard proof of Nintendo knowing this was happening), shoddy disk drives/belts, disks prone to problems due to exposed magnetic surface, magnets, and other maladies (customers REALLY hated loading times, which were sometimes 15+ seconds between areas/levels), in combination with literally 3 ways in hardware to try and circumvent copy protection. so to me, based on all of that, it seems pretty obvious Nintendo did not hedge all their bets on FDS
15:10] koitsu: also, they did apply for a US patent on the NES version of the FDS, which was either rejected and/or abandoned. need to re-read that part to be sure, but regardless they did not do it.
15:11] koitsu: i suspect timing (in the market, FDS failure rates, etc.) matters here more than anything, literally down to the month or even week
15:12] koitsu: so that said: i can certainly see Miyamoto at the time thinking "wow, the FDS offers so much new stuff, so much more capacity/capability in exchange for these other issues/complications that carts don't have" and thinking that maybe it was The Future(tm). but i strongly doubt that as of 2010 he would look back on history and say "so SMB1 was intended to be the last cartridge Nintendo made"
15:14] koitsu: the fact he was responsible for both Zelda and SMB being developed simultaneously in parallel i think acts as a strong refute to the original argument, but if twisted, might be used to "prove" the opposite view. but i tend to think there's no way the guy who was responsible for both games simultaneously thought that in 2010, retrospectively, that SMB would be the final cart game. there's just no way.
15:18] koitsu: oh and as for the patent {edit: referring to NES FDS patent}: i misunderstood what was previously written. apparently the patent was approved, but they abandoned the entire thing. if cartridges "were coming to an end", why would they do that in a market they were about to dominate?
15:32] koitsu: so i guess i'll end my rant saying: i'll go out on a limb and say hogwash. if Miyamoto truly thought the FDS would be the end to cartridges at some point during SMB/Zelda development, it was probably a very short-lived thing: probably a feeling within a year. here's why i think that:

* FDS was RTMd Febuary 1986

* Nintendo did CNROM and UNROM mappers alongside Makaimura/Ghosts 'n Goblins which was RTMd September 1985
- BootGod DB says it came out May 1986
- I Am Error says, quote, Within four months of the Disk System's launch, Capcom released Makaimura

* Nintendo filed patents for MMC1 in the US in 1987 says I Am Error
- USPTO patent 4,949,298 lookup says November 1987

* Zelda release dates:
- JP FDS release Feburary 1986
- US cart release, BootGod says June 1987, Wikipedia says July 1987
- PAL cart release November 1987
15:32] koitsu: so as i said, i suspect any "hype" over the FDS in any way, including internally, was probably very short-lived at Nintendo, as much as they may have wanted it to pan out.

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Re: Was SMB really supposed to be the last cart game for FC?

Post by Memblers » Tue Sep 24, 2019 2:38 am

It makes sense if that's what they thought at the time. But we can see now that ICs became cheaper over time, while disk prices wouldn't haven't changed as much. We see a similar dynamic today with computer storage, SSDs vs HDDs. HDDs capacities seem to go up, while the media physically is the same size. SSD capacities are going up because the physical media is getting smaller. That combination is perfect if you're buying small capacity storage.

Piracy gets mentioned a lot, but my suspicion is that reliability is probably what killed the FDS. I've heard that developers complained about the high cost to release an FDS game through Nintendo, but it makes sense from Nintendo's standpoint because they probably had people working non-stop on repairing the units sent back to them (and weren't they still doing that into the mid-2000's or something?). That must have been a factor in the cost of disk games, besides the disk itself.

Kinda fun to speculate what it would have been like otherwise though. Was interesting listening to some UK podcasts, and they talked about as kids they could go to the corner store or wherever and have all these weird little games on tape for 50 pence. I guess we would have seen more low-budget stuff like that, so maybe things worked out OK. The games seemed really expensive, but it was neat how there was this whole underground economy around it, with kids trading and loaning carts, even seemed like most grocery stores rented out NES carts.

Fun side note, I had my own pseudo-NES FDD experience. One of my older PCs only had 120MB HDD, and at that time I kept NES ROMs on floppy disks (in a ZIP file, browsed with a front-end utility that could launch them NESticle).

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Re: Was SMB really supposed to be the last cart game for FC?

Post by Pokun » Tue Sep 24, 2019 5:21 am

Yes Nintendo manufactured and sold Famicoms (the AV version) up until about when the patent ran out, and it seems they had technical support on everything including the FDS until then as well.


I don't know where the claim that Nintendo ever took a decision to stop producing cartridges comes from, and that's not the topic question, but I also find that very hard to believe. Cartridges were highly successful and there's little point in stopping selling them while they were still popular and before they even had tried out the floppies (SMB was released 1985 and the FDS/Zelda was released 1986). Once the FDS was out, its problems started to become clear and cartridges had already started to catch up, so there was no reason to ever make such a decision. NES proved to be popular in USA (1985) and Europe (1986) right from the start as well, so when it became obvious that floppies were not the future, there was little else to do but put the NES FDS on ice, and just convert the highest selling FDS games to cartridge instead of taking the risk of investing in a floppy drive for NES.

About SMB being the last cartridge, it was probably more of an idea circling in the offices as Sumez said. The engineers said that they believed floppies were the future, and I guess Miyamoto (who was neither a programmer nor an engineer) believed the engineers and thought that SMB might be the last cartridge game he was to make or possibly even the last cartridge to be released. That is the impression I get from all the various interviews anyway.
koitsu wrote:koitsu: so as i said, i suspect any "hype" over the FDS in any way, including internally, was probably very short-lived at Nintendo, as much as they may have wanted it to pan out.
Well we already know that this "hype" probably lasted up to about when the FDS was released or a bit before that, because at that time cartridges had already started to catch up.

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Re: Was SMB really supposed to be the last cart game for FC?

Post by strat » Wed Sep 25, 2019 6:21 pm

Nintendo probably realized early on that while the FDS might fly in Japan, it would be a no-go internationally and that FDS games would have to be on cart. The main reason I doubt they ever seriously entertained a North American FDS (in any form): they positioned the NES as a toy (the whole point of R.O.B.) and tried to avoid calling it a videogame system. It would've made no sense to bring out a disk attachment that makes it look like a cheap computer. They could throw every wacky idea at the wall in Japan, but given the scrutiny of consoles in the US at the time they had to pick an approach and stick with it.

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Re: Was SMB really supposed to be the last cart game for FC?

Post by 93143 » Wed Sep 25, 2019 10:29 pm

Well then they shouldn't have rerouted the audio pin to the expansion port, should they?

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Re: Was SMB really supposed to be the last cart game for FC?

Post by Pokun » Thu Sep 26, 2019 2:34 am

Yeah if they had realized that the FDS wouldn't work they would never have made it in the first place.
At that point (1985) it would have been stupid to not prepare for that the NES might also need a floppy drive in the future if the NES proved to be successful. The toy stunt was just to be able to get the NES up on the American market.
Since Europe wasn't affected by the American game crash as much as USA, the ROB strategy didn't really apply (I think a PAL ROB was released in some countries, but not in Scandinavia which was the entry point for NES). SMB was already out when the NES reached PAL regions, so it was just a matter of getting that game out to make the NES a success.

Once the NES had taken off, and if floppies proved to be a format for the future, they would probably have launched a NES FDS as well. But as we now know that didn't happen.

BTW the Quickdisk was a cheap type of floppy that never took off on much anything else but the FDS. But it was impossible to know that when the QD was new.
In Europe floppy drives were expensive, and cassette tapes and cartridges was more popular storage formats for computers for a much longer time than in USA. Maybe a cheaper floppy format like the QD had worked better.

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Re: Was SMB really supposed to be the last cart game for FC?

Post by strat » Thu Sep 26, 2019 7:34 pm

By "early on" I meant soon after the release of FDS when the NES was still pretty new. I didn't mean to imply Nintendo gave no thought at all to bringing the FDS stateside (though given that an early version of the NES with a keyboard had a poor showing at CES, I doubt they were anxious for it, either).

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Re: Was SMB really supposed to be the last cart game for FC?

Post by Pokun » Tue Oct 01, 2019 2:56 am

I see, that's what I was saying too.

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Re: Was SMB really supposed to be the last cart game for FC?

Post by tepples » Tue Oct 01, 2019 6:57 am

In the NESdev Discord server, koitsu shared with me speculations based on parts of the book Game Over that not bringing a keyboard and disk drive to North America and Europe eventually helped Nintendo land a publishing deal in 1989 for Alexey Pajitnov's block puzzle game Tetris in those regions. These missing peripherals helped BPS, Nintendo, and Pajitnov's publisher Elorg draw a sharper distinction between "computer" rights and "console" rights to limit the scope of the deal that Andromeda and Mirrorsoft had already made with Elorg but which since went sour.

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