Super NES CD-ROM
SNES-CD add-on prototype concept art
|Also known as||Super Famicom CD-ROM Adapter|
|Type||Video game console add-on|
|Media||CD-ROM, ROM cartridge|
The Super NES CD-ROM System (commonly shortened as the SNES-CD), also known as the Super Famicom CD-ROM Adapter, was an unreleased video game peripheral for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). The add-on built upon the functionality of the cartridge-based SNES by adding support for a CD-ROM-based format known as Super Disc..
The SNES-CD platform was developed in a partnership between Nintendo and Sony. The platform was planned to be launched as an add-on for the standard SNES, as well as a hybrid console by Sony called the PlayStation. Another partnership with Philips yielded some poorly received Nintendo-themed games for the CD-i platform instead of the SNES-CD. Sony independently furthered its developments into its later console, also called the PlayStation, which served as the chief competitor of the Super NES's cartridge-based successor, the Nintendo 64.
The relationship between Sony and Nintendo started when Sony engineer Ken Kutaragi became interested in working with video games after seeing his daughter play games on Nintendo's Famicom video game console. He took on a contract at Sony for developing hardware that would drive the audio subsystem of Nintendo's next console, the Super NES. Kutaragi secretly developed the chip, known as the Sony SPC 700. As Sony was uninterested in the video game business, most of his superiors did not approve of the project, but Kutaragi found support in Sony executive Norio Ohga and the project was allowed to continue. The success of the project spurred Nintendo to enter into a partnership with Sony to develop both a CD-ROM add-on for the Super NES and a Sony-branded console that would play both SNES cartridges, as well as titles released for the new Super Disc format.
Development of the format started in 1988, when Nintendo signed a contract with Sony to produce a CD-ROM add-on for the SNES. The system was to be compatible with existing SNES titles as well as titles released for the Super Disc format. Under their agreement, Sony would develop and retain control over the Super Disc format, with Nintendo thus effectively ceding a large amount of control of software licensing to Sony. To counter this, Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi sent Nintendo of America president Minoru Arakawa and executive Howard Lincoln to Europe to negotiate a more favorable contract with Philips, Sony's industry rival. At the June 1991 Consumer Electronics Show, Sony announced its SNES-compatible cartridge/CD console, the "Play Station". The next day, Nintendo revealed its partnership with Philips at the show—a surprise to the entire audience, including Sony.
While Nintendo and Sony attempted to sort out their differences, between two and three hundred prototypes of the PlayStation were created, and software for the system was being developed. In 1992, a deal was reached allowing Sony to produce SNES-compatible hardware, with Nintendo retaining control and profit over the games, but the two organizations never repaired the rift between them and by the next year, Sony had refocused its efforts on developing its own console for the next generation of consoles.
In November 2015, it was reported that one of the original Nintendo PlayStation prototypes had been found. The prototype was reportedly left behind by former Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Ólafur Jóhann Ólafsson during his time at Advanta. A former Advanta worker (Terry Diebold) acquired the device as part of a lot during Advanta's 2009 bankruptcy auction. The system was later confirmed as operational and the unit plays Super Famicom cartridges as well the test cartridge that accompanied the unit, although the audio output and CD drive were non-functional. In March 2016, retro-gaming website RetroCollect reported that they (and influential members of online emulation communities) had received (from an anonymous source) a functional disc boot ROM for the SNES-CD.
In July 2016, a homebrew game titled Super Boss Gaiden was developed for the add-on. Later that month, Benjamin Heckendorn posted a teardown of the device to his YouTube channel, "The Ben Heck Show", and repaired the CD-ROM drive to the point of getting CD audio output, but games could only be played from the top cartridge slot. On May 5, 2017, Heckendorn published a video of a fully functional version of the console to his channel, where he described the procedure by which he repaired it, and played a couple of homebrew games from the console's CD-ROM drive.
In July 2016, Benjamin Heckendorn documented a teardown of the only known prototype of the SNES-CD and published the specs of the console. The standalone unit has the following connectors: Two Super NES controller ports, a cartridge slot, a dual-speed CD-ROM drive, RCA composite jacks, S-Video, RFU DC OUT (similar to the PlayStation SCPH-1001), a proprietary multi-out AV output port (the same one featured on the Super NES, Nintendo 64, and GameCube), headphone jack on the front, a serial port labelled "NEXT" (probably for debugging) and one expansion port under the unit. According to Ben Heckendorn the system would probably be as powerful as a standard Super NES, but not as powerful as the Sega CD.
|SYSTEM||PC Engine CD-ROM²||Sega CD||SNES-CD (SFX-100)|
|Bus Width (Bits)||8||16||8|
|Add-on Processor (MHz)||None||12.5||None|
|Main RAM (KB)||8||64||128|
|Video RAM (KB)||64||64||64|
|Audio RAM (KB)||0||8||64|
|Exp RAM (KB)||64||512||256|
|Exp Video RAM (KB)||0||256||0|
|Exp Audio RAM (KB)||64||64||0|
|CD Cache RAM (KB)||0||16||32|
|Backup RAM (KB) for save data||0||8||8|
|Total RAM (KB)||200||992||552|
After the original contract with Sony failed, Nintendo continued its partnership with Philips. This contract provisioned Philips with the right to feature Nintendo's characters in a few games for its CD-i multimedia device, but never resulted in a CD-ROM add-on for the SNES. The Nintendo-themed CD-i games were very poorly received, and the CD-i itself is considered a commercial failure. The main game in development for the SNES-CD platform launch was Squaresoft's Secret of Mana, whose planned content was cut down to the size suitable for cartridge and released on that medium instead.
Ken Kutaragi and Sony continued to develop their own console and released the PlayStation in 1994. The CD-based console successfully competed with Nintendo's cartridge-based Nintendo 64. The broken partnership with Sony has often been cited as a mistake on Nintendo's part, effectively creating a formidable rival in the video game market. Nintendo would not release an optical disc based console of its own until the release of the GameCube in 2001.
- Famicom Disk System, an add-on for the Famicom used to play games on floppy disks
- TurboGrafx-CD, the CD-ROM add-on unit for the TurboGrafx-16, and the first attachment for playing CD-based games released for a dedicated game console
- Sega CD, a CD-ROM add-on unit released for the rival Genesis
- Nintendo 64DD, magnetic disc add-on released for the Nintendo 64
- Pioneer LaserActive, disc-based system compatible with the Genesis and TurboGrafx-16 through add-on units
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