Friday, June 21, 2013

Famicom Disk never knew you wanted one !

Welcome back after our short break and now keeping in theme with the 30th Anniversary of the Famicom coming in July were gonna talk about a huge piece of the Famicom's history .... The Famicom Disk System !!!! or FDS for short.

Disk Kun the FDS mascot ! NO Seriously !

Don't worry if your scratching your head most people raised outside Japan might have no clue to what Im talking about since this big piece of hardware never made it past the shores of Japan and some would say with good reason... but I still wish it had.

On February 21 1986 Three years after the launch of the Famicom System Nintendo released its next piece of hardware and after 2 big delays The Famicom Disk System was here. Nintendo publicly boasted that this would be the "New Media Format " of the Famicom. The new system was a Disk drive that was attached by way of a RAM adapter being inserted in the Cartridge slot. Using this the Famicom would run games and "software" off floppy disks instead of the standard cartridge. At the time the ROM chips Nintendo made and sold to its game developers were quite expensive to make, so this was the companies solution to manufacturing costs and also passing the savings on in the retail costs of the consumers.

Isn't she beautiful ?

The problem for consumers was the cost to invest in the system upfront in a price tag of 15000 Yen which was more than $100. Nintendo tried hard to sell the system in stating that the disks offered much more room than the current cartridges could handle which meant the possibility of bigger better games. And also that the Disk would be far cheaper than carts. In 1983 Famicom carts cost consumers about 2500 Yen that price doubled by 1985 to 5000 Yen. Games like Dragon Quest 4 were selling around 80 bucks but the new disk titles would be around 2600 Yen which is roughly $20... not bad.

The biggest selling point was the Disks could be used Over and Over and Over again by being rewritten. Nintendo dropped 10,000 Disk Writing Kiosk Machines in the first year across Japan in Hobby shops and Toy stores. If you bought a game that sucked like OH I dont know say... Milon's Fu*king Secret Castle  and you decided you didn't want it stinking up your home you could take the disk to the kiosk and for a fee of 500 Yen could rewrite the disk with a new game from the machines rotating selection of 9 titles on each machine. Half a MILLION Disk Systems were sold in the FIRST 3 MONTHS almost 2 MILLION were sold in 1986 WOW thats quite a launch for a add-on device. These numbers may have had something to do with that fact that Nintendo threatened... oh I mean "promised" to release all of its new first party games strictly on Disk.

Its incredibly hard to find pictures of any Kiosk Machines 

You can see on the front the 9 slots for the titles to choose from

But the FDS did meet with some who where very unhappy mainly the Licensees/Game Companies they now had to decide wether to release games on the FDS or cart or both. Putting titles on the New disk media alone would alienate some of the consumers and the lower prices of the disk games meant lower return profits for them. But Nintendo made out entirely it demanded new contracts be signed if a company wished to make disk games these contracts held "New" pushy restrictions which Nintendo had already become known for. Nintendo not only decided which games would be allowed to be released on the Disk System but the contracts also stated that they retained "half ownership" to the copy writes to ALL FDS games...WTF ?!?!?!? Listen we as consumers may love nintendo but they TOTALLY invented ways to screw publishers from day one of the Famicom in fact some companies
spent the 80's suing them.

All the Kool kids stack their Famicom,  I do!

Now get this ..
By the end of 1986 Semiconductor technology improved and the prices dropped so now the Disks actually had LESS capacity then carts and the prices where almost comparable and you didn't need that NEW contract that gave Nintendo even more profit and control over you ( shaking my head). And a further kick in the crotch was that store owners were starting to complain about the Disk Kiosk machines taking up too much store space.

By the time 1990 rolled around 4.4 Million Disk Systems had been sold, Impressed ? Well don't be this was far less than Nintendo had hoped just remember that earlier I mentioned that the first 2 Million had already sold in 1986. Nintendo took back its "promise" to release games strictly on Disk. Super Mario Bros had originally meant to be released only on Disk was now available in both formats. Many of the best games were released on cartridge as well as disk so many units fell out of favor in the home. To Nintendo selling 4.4 Million units at 100 dollars a pop was a failure hmmm some failure eh ?

Many Nintendo fans such as myself don't see the failure, except in the fact that it failed to come to America WHERE I COULD NAG MY DAD TO BY ME ONE !!!! Whew... sorry its just that I don't remember where I saw and briefly read about the unit as a young grade schooler it was probably Nintendo Fan Club magazine or its predecessor Nintendo Power but no matter which ever it was since the day I first saw the FDS I wanted to play one to see one to experience one to own one...... And 23 years later I finally get my wish !!!!!!

Take a Minute and check out the videos below to see the dream become the reality ....

Lets see if it actually works...

As you saw in the second video I was running a bootleg copy of Metroid this was another killing blow to the Disk System. The 3 inch "Quick Disk" format that Mitsumi company created for Nintendo was a great product with 64k available. To secure it against piracy Nintendo had the Disks made with the Nintendo name imprinted on the bottom front and back of the Disks, the Disk Drive had a special plate in it so that when the disk was fed in it needed to have the "I" and "N" grooved deeper so it would match the internal plate. Disks not bearing this would be rejected by the drive but.... Other brands such as Tiger, Mag Disk, and Mitsuya Co would make disks with small slots or holes cut out so they would not be rejected. Other bootlegs would have variants on the Nintendo name such as the 16 disk bootleg Lot I recently received from "ecnorrington2012" all bearing the name NIN"F"ENDO ( 5 of which didn't work stay tuned soon to see which in a coming article ). Buying both official & bootleg used Famicom Disks is a risk since Nintendo kept costs down by supplying no metal shutter protecting the magnetic disk. The disks were already fragile and with no shutter dust could easily ruin the disk or kids touching the exposed portion and lets not forget putting it near magnets which happened when many kids put it on on or next to the TV (speakers have magnets). Selling delicate disks to kids that were use to throwing cartridges in their bags and pockets for 3 years was a dangerous move.

NIN"F"ENDO ? Hmm Pirate !

Only photo thats not mine its from NESWORLD.. thanks !

Nintendo managed to sell quite a few of the Systems solely on the exclusive BIG titles threat. Super Mario Bros 2 the "REAL" SMB2 was released only on the disk system. The Legend of Zelda was a Disk exclusive thats right no golden cart in Japan I guess we got something good here for once. Zelda benefitted from the Disk format because at the time of its Japan release NO carts had a "real" save feature, so on the Disk the advantage was you could save to it. Later by the time of the N. American release the cartridge's capacity was larger and internal batteries for saving had been thought up with Zelda being the first. But we still missed out on the amazing music scores & sound quality the FDS offered on many titles. Metroid was another Disk only title that besides saving to Disk broke many boundaries with Its lonely creepy non-soundtrack and having the first Female Lead, when brought to the States Metroid was one of many games that had the horrible password system that drove kids crazy entering in huge passwords they had to write down and save to restore their saved games.  Castlevania, Kid Icarus, Pro Wrestling, Zelda 2 The Adventure of Link and many many others were Disk exclusives that helped contribute to its System sales and my growing desire to own one. Kids in Japan that didn't own a FDS never got to play some great titles, Zelda was finally ported to a Green cartridge years after its disk release but Zelda 2 and many others remained unplayed and out of reach for many....

My only OFFICIAL Disk game the REAL Super Mario 2 !!!  Its complete too ooohhh

Help Mario we've been surrounded by pirates !!!

Over the Years bootleg cartridges of FDS exclusives have popped up, this being one of the only ways some have ever played some of the elusive Disk titles. I have a Cart copy of SMB2 myself but Pirates purposely didn't include the title screen as a way of trying not to be sued if caught ( ???). Im always on the hunt for a "affordable" bootleg cart copy of Pro Wrestling I loved the NES version and have never stopped playing it but the Bootleg cart just grabs me, The same 2 sellers seem to own all the copies and ask horrible crackhead prices for what should be 20 bucks at most.

The only way to play SMB2 on cartridge ...Bootleg !! RARE !!! MINE !!

When collecting FDS games another HUGE risk I should mention is that because of the Rewritable format and Kiosk Machines that Nintendo had placed in stores "you can't always get what you want" 
a sought after Disk copy of Castlevania may actually contain Bubble Bobble if some kid decided he was sick of getting the smack down from flying medusa heads. Lots of times people find a game they didn't want on the B side or on both sides of the Disk. Personally I think its part of the fun, keep hunting you'll find it and also it should help keep price inflating down as the buyer takes the risks.

The Disk system had 27 different error codes seeesshhh... there are charts online to tell you what the problem is.

For those of you thinking you'll want to go out and track down a Disk System Kiosk as a super awesome collectable...forget it Nintendo quite efficiently went out picked up and dismantled all of them in one fell swoop many years ago. And I mean ALL. When the system sales dropped The Kiosks were pulled and only boxed copies of the Disk games remained available on stores shelves BUT...... all the way up till 2003 Nintendo offered a service by mail in which you could send them your Disk games to be rewritten with other titles but only rewritten no new copies of disks were available. Thats pretty Fu*king kool though think about it... in the age of PS2 & Xbox you could send a disk to Nintendo to get Zelda2 Adventure of Link rewritten for your FDS while playing Zelda : Wind Waker on the GameCube.... Fu*king Kool ... thats Nintendo!

Even though Im happy to finally own a Famicom Disk System I still can't help but feel some remorse at the missed opportunity of having one on our N.American NES. Could you imagine how great it would have been as a child to afford to replace your Nintendo games on your own with just some small saving. And goin down to a local store and using a automated machine to transfer the games on to the disk right there in front of you ? I would have loved it ! The Nintendo Entertainment System does have a spot which for years has been speculated that it was an expansion port and quite possibly for the Disk System. Even though this mystery has been questioned since the NES's heyday which has come and gone Nintendo sticks to its reputation of keeping its secrets secret and refuses to this day to comment on  any ideas behind this possible expansion port on the NES.

Well as we get closer to that special day in July take sometime to check out this video below of what it was like to use the Disk Kiosk Machine. Till next time Famiru !  My fellow Famikaa !

                                        Click here if you don't see the embedded video below

Super Secret Prize Contest..........

Email: with the answer put "Contest" in the subject line.

Whats the title (USA or Japan version) of the game in the picture... answer carefully..Good Luck 2 You

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