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Useful Notes / Neo Geo

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From top to bottom: The Neo Geo MVSnote ; the Neo Geo AES; the Neo Geo CD

"Neo Geo, Neo Geo. Four bright buttons and two joysticks.
Neo Geo, Neo Geo. Cool red cab and a name that sticks."
Keith Apicary, Four Bright Buttons & Two Joysticks
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In the late 1980s, SNK developed an Arcade system that could work with multiple games: the Neo Geo Multi Video System. Unlike most arcade games, which have dedicated motherboards and ROM chips, it used cartridges, like a game console. A home version was the logical extension, and thus was born the Neo Geo Advanced Entertainment System.

However, arcade machines cost a lot more than home consoles, and SNK knew that. At first, the AES was a luxury item for rent in hotels. When guests started letting the company know they'd be willing to buy them, SNK decided to put it on sale. The Neo Geo was released to the general public in January 1990. At the time of release, it was the most powerful home video game system available.

The Neo Geo is notable for being the first console to save data on memory cards; the principle behind this was that players could save their data from a session at the arcade and resume it at a later time from where they left off without the need for a password, either at the arcade or at home (though the latter required players to own the cartridges for the games they'd saved). The format, however, wouldn't really take off until the advent and growth of CD gaming.

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The cost was high, not just for the processing power, but for the joysticks and games. The games cost about $200, partly because their size was comparable to N64 carts and partly because of their architecture — the RAM chips needed to play the game were built into the cart rather than in the system. The system launched in the US, with two controllers and the game Magician Lord, at $650. Just a bit later, a bundle with no game and one controller sold for $400.

SNK released the Neo Geo CD in 1994; unlike the CD-ROM units for other 16-bit consoles, it was intended less to enhance the system's capabilities than to allow games to be rereleased in a cheaper format. (There were only eight CD-exclusive titles.) It was $300, and games were $50, but with a 1x CD-ROM drive it fell victim to Loads and Loads of Loading.

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The price of the system and games meant the mainstream was out of the question, so SNK decided to upmarket to appeal to hardcore gamers, who actively embraced the system just as they would the Sega Dreamcast a few years later. This had some initial success, but unfortunately that cost didn't go to proper anti-piracy measures, and the system was rife with it. SNK blamed that as a major factor in their bankruptcy in 2000, though the Neo Geo managed to not only survive their collapse but last long enough to see their reconstitution as SNK Playmore.

The final Neo Geo game, Samurai Shodown V Special, was released in 2004. The MVS turned out to be the longest-lived arcade hardware of its kind, outlasting Nintendo's VS. hardware by several years and serving as the second-longest-lasting video game console in history (beating out the Atari 2600 by just four months), bested only by the Nintendo Famicom. But the Neo Geo lives on, with fans making homebrew games for it years after the system was discontinued.

On December 18, 2012, SNK Playmore released the Neo Geo X, a handheld that had twenty Neo Geo games built into it and could play additional games through the SD card slot on the side of the unit.

On December 8, 2015, SNK Playmore and DotEmu released computer ports of various Neo Geo games through Humble Bundle as part of the Humble Neo Geo 25th Anniversary Bundle, and later re-released the games a month later on the Humble Store for those that missed the bundle.

In 2016, Hamster Corporation began releasing digital versions of the arcade/MVS versions of the games under the "ACA NeoGeo" series (a subdivision of their Arcade Archives series), initially for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, than expanding to the Nintendo Switch beginning in 2017.note 

In 2018, SNK released the Neo Geo Mini, a portable console styled like a miniaturized MVS cabinet. While the games on the unit are the home console ports with limited continues, there is a save system that lets players make save states that they can load from. There are two different versions of the Neo Geo Mini with different game lineups: a Japan version and an International version. A third version of the Neo Geo Mini, the Christmas Limited Edition version, was released around Christmastime in 2018, it featured a different roster of games and came in a highly-desirable-in-North-America red color (the international edition was released in white and blue- a familiar color to those used to the "trash can plastic" cabinets found in abundance in Japan and Asia since the late 90s, but not in North America, where the iconic red wood cabinet unique to North America was firmly burned into many arcade patrons' minds).

Specifications:

Processors

  • Motorola 68000 CPU, 12 MHz. The Motorola 68000 is a 16/32 bit processor. Its arithmetic and logic unit is 16 bits wide, but its registers are 32 bits wide. This CPU uses microcode to emulate 32 bit instructions in hardware slower than a full 32 bit processor, but faster than emulating the 32 bit instructions in 16 bit software. It has a 32-bit internal data bus and 16-bit external data bus.
  • Z80 co-processor, 4 MHz, partly used for audio control, although there is a separate sound chip.
  • Custom GPU graphics processors: LSPC2-A0 and PRO-B0. It is a 24-bit GPU chipset, as it has a 24-bit external data bus.
  • Additional GPU processors on game cartridges: LSPC2-A2, PRO-B1, and PRO-C0.

Memory

  • 64K main memory.
  • 74K total Video RAM: 64K screen/sprite memory, plus 8K for the color palette and 2K of high-speed VRAM.
  • 2K audio memory.
  • Removable memory card (the first of its kind): 2KB or 68-pin JEIDA ver. 3 spec memory. Any 68-pin memory that fits the JEIDA ver. 3 spec will work.
  • Cart sizes could be 41.25 MB (330 megabitsnote ) without bank switching, and 89.5 MB (716 megabitsnote ) with it. Keep in mind this was a system made in 1990, so that was a hell of a lot of ROM space, and was very pricey.

Sprites

  • Sprites could be up to 16x512.
  • Up to 384 sprites on-screen.
  • All that extra video memory and sprite power is needed, as the system doesn't use tiled backgrounds. They're all sprites done as strips instead of squares (hence the long sprite size).

Display

  • 320x224 resolution.
  • 4096 (12-bit) simultaneous colors out of a 65,536 (16-bit) color pallette.

Audio

  • Yamaha YM2610 OPNB sound generator that is controlled by the Z80.
    • 4 13-bit FM channels.
    • 3 programmable sound generators that generate square waves.
    • 1 programmable noise generator.
    • 6 8-bit 18.5kHz ADPCM sound channels.
    • 1 8-bit ADPCM sound channel whose sampling rate can be varied from 1.85 to 55.5kHz.
    • 2 interval timers.
    • 1 low frequency oscillator.

In short, this was a beast. It took until the Sega Saturn and PlayStation for stronger home video game systems to come out for less than $400, and even then the PlayStation was primarily made for 3D (with only the Saturn rivalling its 2D capabilities). There wasn't a dedicated 2D home video game system to rival it until the Game Boy Advance, coming out just over ten years later.

On a side note, it's also interesting how the Neo Geo share many of the standard components as that of the Sega Genesis despite being developed by rival companies independently of each other, even having the same Z80 and Motorola 68000 CPU. Even the AES/MVS' sound chip is from the same family as the Genesis' YM2612 and has almost the same features as both the YM2612 and TI76489 PSG combined (short of two FM channels, which it makes up for with seven ADPCM channels). On the other hand, this CPU combination was probably pretty popular for it's time, and was even used By Taito's System Z boards, and Sega has recycled the Genesis hardware design for several different arcade board models.

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