Nintendo Entertainment System Game Pak
The Nintendo Entertainment System Game Pak is the software storage medium for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
All officially licensed NTSC-U and PAL region cartridges, or "carts", are 5.25 inches (13.3 cm) tall, 4.75 inches (12 cm) wide and 0.75 inches (2 cm) thick. Early NES Game Paks are held together with 5 small, slotted screws. Games released after 1987, designated "Rev-A" on the back label, were redesigned slightly to incorporate two plastic clips molded into the plastic itself, eliminating the need for the top two screws. This is why older NES carts are referred to as "5-screw" and are distinguishable by their flat tops and, as the name suggests, five screws instead of three. Around this time, the standard screws were changed to 3.8 mm security screws to further secure the ROMs inside from tampering.
The back of the cartridge bears a label with instructions on handling, explaining that the cartridge is not to be stored in extreme temperatures, not to be immersed in water, and not to be cleaned with benzene, thinner, alcohol, or other such solvents. These labels are gray for standard games and gold (or in rare cases silver) for games that feature battery-powered storage. Production and software revision codes were imprinted as stamps on the back label to correspond with the software version and producer.
With the exception of The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, which are available as gold plastic Game Paks, all vintage licensed NTSC and PAL cartridges are a standard shade of gray plastic. Vintage unlicensed carts were produced in black (Tengen, American Video Entertainment and Wisdom Tree), robin egg blue (Color Dreams and Wisdom Tree) and gold (Camerica) and bear a slightly different shape and style than a vintage Nintendo-licensed NES Game Pak. Nintendo also produced yellow-plastic carts for internal use at Nintendo Service Centers, although these "test carts" were never made available for purchase by consumers.
Famicom cartridges are shaped slightly differently, measuring only 2.75 inches (7.0 cm) in length, and 4.25 inches (10.8 cm) in width. While the NES uses a 72-pin interface, the Famicom system uses a 60-pin design. Some early NES games, most commonly Gyromite, are actually 60-pin Famicom PCBs and ROMs with a built-in converter. Unlike the predominantly gray colored NES Game Paks, official Famicom cartridges were produced in many colors of plastic. Adapters, similar in design to the popular accessory Game Genie, are available that allow Famicom games to be played on an NES.
60-pin vs. 72-pin cartridges
The original Famicom and the re-released AV Family Computer both utilize a 60-pin cartridge design. This yields smaller cartridges than the NES, which utilizes a 72-pin design. Four pins are used for the 10NES lockout chip. Ten pins were added that connect a cartridge directly to the expansion port on the bottom of the unit. Finally, two pins that allow cartridges to provide their own sound expansion chips were removed. Some early games released in North America are simply Famicom cartridges attached to an adapter, such as the T89 Cartridge Converter, to allow them to fit inside the internally compatible NES hardware. Nintendo did this to reduce costs and inventory by using the same cartridge boards in North America and Japan. The cartridge dimensions of the original Famicom measure at 5.3 × 3 inches, compared with 4.1 × 5.5 inches for its North American redesign.
External sound chips
The Famicom has two cartridge pins that were originally intended to facilitate the Famicom Disk System’s own sound chip, but are also used by cartridge games to provide sound enhancements. In the design of the NES, these pins were removed from the cartridge port and relocated to the bottom expansion port. As a result, individual cartridges can not make use of this audio functionality, and many NES localizations suffer from technologically inferior sound compared to their equivalent Famicom versions. Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse is a notable example of this problem.
Third-party cartridge manufacturing
In Japan, these companies manufactured the game cartridges for the Famicom: Nintendo, Konami, Capcom, Namco, Bandai, Taito, Irem, Jaleco, Sunsoft and Hudson Soft. This allowed these companies to design their own customized chips for specific purposes, such as the increased sound quality of Konami's VRC 6 and VRC 7 chips. All licensed US cartridges were made by Nintendo except Konami and Acclaim, who produced their own PCBs, but used Nintendo's provided gray cartridge shells.
- Memory management controller (MMC), the main chips which can be deployed inside of each Game Pak, to extend the NES or Famicom's capabilities
- "eBay Guides – What's a Five Screw Nintendo NES game 5 screw huh". Reviews.ebay.com. Retrieved 2008-10-20.
- Edwards, Benj (2005-11-14). "How to Tell if a Copy of Gyromite has a Famicom Adapter in it". Vintage Computing and Gaming. Retrieved 2008-10-20.
- Edwards, Benj (2005-11-07). "No More Blinkies: Replacing the NES's 72-Pin Cartridge Connector". Vintage Computing and Gaming. Retrieved 2007-06-03.
- "NES – Famicom Cartridge Pinout Sheet" (PDF). Retrieved 24 August 2010.
- Edwards, Benj (2006-03-10). "Japanese Castlevania III: The Music is Worth it". Vintage Computing and Gaming. Retrieved 2010-07-22.
- Sheff, David (1993). Game Over. New York: Random House. p. 61. ISBN 0-679-40469-4.