Useful Notes / Super Nintendo Entertainment System
aka: Super Nintendo

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"Now you're playing with power! Super power!"
— The first slogan, carrying over from the NESnote 

"The Best Play Here!"
— The second slogan for the console

"Play It Loud!"
— The third slogan, made to appeal to the youth of that time

The NES had a long run, and was still quite popular years after it launched. Yet competition wouldn't stay away forever (and Nintendo had been told that their demands for third party exclusivity in the United States were an illegal monopoly, and were legally struck down), and 16-bit systems were getting in vogue; the Sega Genesis was catching up in the United States, while the PC Engine was gaining ground in Japan.

The Super NES was made to keep up, and so began one of the fiercest Console Wars in history. It was known as the Super Famicom in Japan (officially adopting the "Famicom" nickname of its predecessor, the Family Computer) while in South Korea, it was known as the Super Comboy (슈퍼 컴보이) and it was distributed by Hynix. While the SNES was very much a success (eventually beating out the rival Genesis in market share), Nintendo would still make some mistakes behind the scenes. Nintendo originally had a deal to make a CD add-on for the SNES, and signed with Sony for the latter to make the device. But the contract for the sound chip Sony made included a clause where Sony would receive all software royalties. The President of Nintendo, Hiroshi Yamauchi, decided to drop the contract and sign with Philips midway through development (and behind Sony's back), which turned the relationship into a rocky one. Eventually Nintendo, Sony, and Philips consolidated forces to work on the CD add on, until Sony decided to go it alone, using the already-constructed hardware to launch their own console, the Playstation.

One add-on for the system, did get made: The Super Game Boy, a cartridge attachment that allowed the system to play Game Boy games, and even add color to them. Japan received a second add-on, the Satellaview, a downloadable game service similar in principle to Sega's attempts at cable-based gaming services.

Also notable for having very different casings on both the console and the games between the American and European versions. The picture shows the American version, with harder edges and lighter shades of grey compared to the more rounded Japanese and European editions. The controllers are also different; while Japan and the PAL region got controllers with multi-coloured red A, yellow B, blue X, and green Y convex face buttons, which matches the coloured Super Famicom logo, the North American controller got purple-colored convex A and B face buttons and lavender-colored concave X and Y face buttons, though at least both North America and the rest of the world have the same overall controller shape and plugs/ports (unlike the cartridges).

A smaller version of the console was issued in North America (the model SNS-101) in 1997 and Japan (the Super Famicom Jr.) in 1998. The slimmed-down redesign removed the expansion port (meaning the SFC Jr. was incompatible with the Satellaview), the RF output (though the N64's optional RF modulator was compatible), and the eject button. Support for S-Video and RGB output was also Dummied Out, though console modders could reinstate those features without any additional hardware. PAL regions did not receive the redesigned console.

Specs:

Processors
  • Like the NES, the Super NES has a Central Processing Unit for main data processing, and a Picture Processing Unit[[note]]in this case, a pair of tightly interlocked units for the graphics. Also like the NES, the Super NES CPU and PPU have a master clock speed of 21.477 MHznote , but the CPU divides it down to between 1.79, 2.68 and 3.58 MHznote  due to slow (cheap) cartridge ROM, and it was cheaper to make the system with said clock speed. This led to the belief that the SNES is a slow system, and that too much on screen action would slow it down.
    • The processor itself was a Ricoh 5A22 which was based on the Western Design Center 65C816, a 16-bit successor to the MOS Technology 6502 used in the NES, Apple II, Commodore 64, and Atari consoles and computers. Nintendo actually used Apple IIgs computers as development systems, since they also used the 65C816. Since the 6502 family has only one accumulator register, every operation that uses a second operand must reference the RAM. Accessing the RAM is limited by the 8-bit data bus. Therefore, 16-bit operations were slower than 8 bit operations, but the 16-bit operations were still faster than emulating them with 8-bit instructions.
  • The 8-bit wide data bus speed is a problem, but the system has a lot of memory, and like the NES before, it has a cart-accessible expansion bus, which meant carts could add their own extra processors to run at higher speeds.
    • One of the most famous of these chips is the "Super FX" chip, a highly specialized 16-bit RISC CPU which is generally used for running Polygonal Graphics. It included some extra RAM for use as a rendering buffer, and for general computing if needed. The Super FX went through a number of revisions over its lifetime; the version used in Yoshi's Island and Doom ran at twice the clock speed and could address twice as much memory as the one in Star Fox.
    • Another famous chip called SA-1, used in Kirby Super Star and Super Mario RPG, is a second faster 65C816 clocked at 10.74 MHz that was also used for Polygonal Graphics (as well as for Copy Protection).
    • One of the most widely used add-on chips (second only to the SA-1 by number of games) was the DSP-1, a math coprocessor typically used to speed up 3D calculations in games like Pilotwings and Super Mario Kart.
  • The system also has its own sound processor, made by Sony (naturally, this was before Sony made its own system). This wasn't made just to generate sound, but to also mix it, like a MOD with its own custom instruments/samples, with 8 16-bit ADPCM sample-playback channels available. This sound accelerator is notable for producing 16-bit sound in the base model of the console while its main competitors were limited to lower sample sizes like 5, 8, 9, or 10 bits per sample in the TurboGrafx-16, 9 bits per sample of FM music from the Mega Drive, or 8 bits per sample of PCM encoded sound from the Mega Drive. Even though this hardware was advanced, it is bottlenecked by the low amount of space provided by the cartridges, the limited sound RAM, and the requirement to use sampled sound that uses more memory than FM sound because it is incapable of generating FM sound. The filtering hardware managed to remove aliasing in heavily compressed audio samples. However, it also muffled certain types of audio samples. It also did reverb and other sound effects.

Memory
  • The system has 128 KB of main Random Access Memory and 64 KB of Video RAM. That alone gave the Super NES more on-board memory than either of its 16-bit competitors. This doesn't count including extra memory on the carts, as the other systems may have been able to do that as well. Unfortunately, the data bus for the system is 8 bits wide and therefore severely limited RAM throughput and the system speed because all CPUs in the MOS Technology 6502 family are bottlenecked by RAM throughput and clock speed.
  • The system also has 64 KB of sound memory. Some games (Final Fantasy VI being an excellent example) loaded up to 10 minutes of music into the sound RAM and played it entirely from there. However 64KBs of RAM was a bottleneck to high quality samples which either had to be compressed heavily or relied on streamed data from the cartridge in order to overcome the RAM limitation. Tales of Phantasia and Star Ocean are known games that used a specialized engine for this.
  • The ROM size could range from 256 KB (Frogger, Space Invaders) to 6 MB (Star Ocean and Tales of Phantasia). Keep in mind that these were advertised by their bit size, not their byte size, so they would be listed as 2 megabits to 48 megabits.
    • The system's main address bus is 24-bit, allowing it to access up to 16 MB, but this included RAM and hardware registers mirrored across banks, and ROM is generally mirrored as well (it's complicated). The largest official memory maps allowed up to 8 MB (64 Mbits) of read-only memory. The largest known program for the Super NES is a chip-free hack of Star Ocean that weighs in at 12 MB (96 Mbits). (The official version of Star Ocean used an S-DD1 data decompression chip, allowing it to fit into only 48 Mbits of expensive mask ROM.)
      • Bankswitching chips were sometimes used to fit large ROMs into small memory maps. In principle, this could have allowed games to bypass the limit imposed by the 24-bit addressing scheme, but in practice no games ever got that big. note 
  • Like competing video game systems, the SNES had a DMA unit to rapidly move data between different areas of memory. It also had a special mode called H-DMA whereby it could be set to automatically write up to eight small handfuls of data pretty much anywhere in the system in between one scanline and the next. These data packets could be read or addressed from tables in ROM or RAM, allowing sophisticated raster effects to be executed with minimal CPU time.note 

Sprites
  • The sprites can be as large as 64×64 pixels, with up to 128 on screen, but flickering may still occur if more than 32 sprites (or 34 8x8 sprite tiles, whichever comes first) are on the same horizontal line (although that's much rarer than on an NES, which allows only 8 sprites of 8 pixels wide, totalling 64 pixels).
  • The backgrounds can be more complex, with up to four layers of background graphics, although games rarely used that many due to severe color limitations with more than three layers. Or instead of a layered background, games could set the PPU into Mode 7, which was used to achieve the scaling and rotating backgrounds that were part of what set the SNES apart in those days.

Display
  • The standard resolution is 256×224 pixels. The reason the vertical display is shorter than the NES is that on a typical NTSC television, the extra scanlines would be off the screen anyway, and since the CPU can't send graphics to the PPU while the latter is busy drawing the screen, the system would be wasting precious VRAM update time drawing scanlines nobody would ever see.note  The SNES does have an "overscan" mode that gives it the same resolution as the NES, but developers rarely used it. There were also higher resolutions such as 512×448, but these had limited color depth and were not for sprites; RPM Racing was the only game to use hi-res graphics outside of menus and such.
  • The total color depth is 15-bit (or 32,768 colors), but everything drawn to the screen can only use 256 of those colors at any one time. Unless you start to mess with transparencies. Or direct-color modes. Or HDMA (the storied "scanline trick")... It is theoretically possible to display all 32,768 colors onscreen at the same time, with certain limits on what colors can appear where.
  • The system could blend the colors of backgrounds and/or sprites through color addition, subtraction, or averaging, which allowed transparencies to be used, and override the normal on-screen color palette limits.


Notable games/series:

Tropes Related To The System And Its Add-Ons:


Alternative Title(s): Super Nintendo, Super Famicom, SNES, Super NES

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