Super Famicom: July 1989

The Second SFC Demonstration
HARDWARE Variations
Dragonfly | Super Mario World

Here are some incredible pics from the second major demonstration of the Super Famicom's power. These pictures come from a press meeting on July 28, 1989, a mere 16 months before the Super Famicom went on sale.  All the major magazines published their reports on the event.  Seen below are pages from Famicom Tsushin.

These are quite amazing for their history! Some quick info from the pictures:
The headline of the article says "Super Famicom will not be released for at least another year!" The second page shows an older SFC design, with A,B,Y,X buttons, but in a different arrangement. Start and Select are also in a different orientation. The right side of the page shows the same "mode 7", scrolling, sprite, colour, mosaic, and "sound" demos from a year prior.

The next pages have some great images of an early Super Mario World, and what turned into Pilotwings. I don't know about you, but I think a game where you play as a dragonfly with guns and missiles would have been much more fun than a straight flight simulator...

Some images of the press conference itself...

As Hiroshi Imanishi, general manager of Nintendo corporate communications, announced the SFC's eventual 16-month delay, slides would appear on the projector screen in the centre of the room. Perhaps video reels of the SFC software would also have been played via the large-screen TV on the right.

All this projection technology, and photographs of games being taken from it from across the room, unfortunately led to most early SFC pre-release screenshots having poor contrast and being very muddy in general.  So, apologies before you reach the screenshots below.

Nintendo technology director Masayuki Uemura shows off the SFC's internals (as he had done a year earlier...) We can also see the all-important Shigeru Miyamoto waiting in the wings.

And now, for those of you following at home, here is a timeline of the Super Famicom's progress as followed (rumoured?) by the Japanese press:

Kyoto Shinbun
Nintendo President Yamauchi: "16-bit Super Famicom. Compatible with the Famicom"
Yomiuri Shinbun
"Software/Games are already under development. Price set at under ¥20,000."
B-Young Age
"Old Family Computer is taken as a trade-in."
Nikkei Computer
"The CPU will be 65C816. Improved graphics & sound."
Jan. 1988
A Club (Hong Kong)
"The system will accept 2 types of disks, cartridges." (This seems to be pure conjecture.)
Jun. 1988
Sendenkaigi (Advertisement meeting)
"Development is going smoothly."
Famicom Tsushin
"Super Famicom will come out within the year!?"
TOUCH Magazine
Yamauchi: "Demonstration set for Nov. 11.  Super Mario 4 and Dragon Quest 5 are planned for the SFC."
Famicom Tsushin
"Super Famicom is finally demonstrated. Release planned for July 1989."
Nintendo trade meeting
"Super Famicom will not be released for at least another year!"
Super Famicom is -- finally -- released!

I've made a timeline of the Super Famicom, along with drawings of the prototype SFC units!

Check my Creations page for more details / larger images!

Here are some variations of the early Super Famicom Hardware.

Even though the SFC would go through a few cosmetic changes, it is clear to me now that the hardware was basically finished by mid-1989, and that Nintendo sat on the SFC for over a year. They probably did this to let other software developers finish their games, but another reason was that the 8-bit Famicom was still selling rather well, and so they feared that releasing the SFC too early would have killed hardware sales of a still-successful system. (Bah, at the very least, they could have spent that year upgrading the CPU speed!)

(Click on image for a close-up)

Here are the technical specs of the prototype SFC, circa mid-1989...

1. CPU (16-bit CPU)
memory space 14 Mbyte maximum addressable
system clock 1.79Mhz, 2.68Mhz, 3.58Mhz automatically switchable
work RAM 256Kbit (32Kbyte) standard PROTOTYPE SPECS!
2. PPU (Super Famicom TV interface LSI)
BG layer

modes: 8 modes
layers: maximum 4 layers
resolution: noninterlace: 256(512)x448
interlace: 512x448
colour capability: max 256 colours (8bit/dot)
character size: 8x8, 16x16
palette: 2,048 colours out of 32,768 colour maximum. (depending on BG mode)
additional functions: rotation, enlarging, shrinking, column and line partial scrolling

animation layer sprites: max. 128 on-screen, 280 pixels (35 8x8 sprites) per scanline
character size: 8x8, 16x16, 32x32, 64x64 in 4 arrangements, individually selectable
palette: 128 colours out of 32,768 colour maximum, 16 colours per character
additional V-RAM: 64Kbyte standard
special effects: window, mosaic, screen addition/subtraction (transparency), fixed colour addition/subtraction, brightness adjustment
3. APU (Super Famicom Sampler Stereo Audio Chip)
audio source waveform operation (ADSR?), PCM, noise, etc. in 8 individual channels
additional effects (digital echo) available
•I/O (input-output):
cassette connector 62-pin (CPU address bus, data bus, PPU address bus, etc.)
expansion connector 20-pin (programmable I/O, external latch, sound input, etc.)
controller 1,2 5-pin
A/V output 12-pin (R,G,B, video, Y,C, sync, sound L/R, etc.)
AC adaptor same type as Famicom
RF output TV channel 1 or 2
•System Dimensions: W 200mm x D 242mm x H 72mm
•Weight: 1160 grams
•Optional Parts:
AC adaptor same as the Famicom's
RF switch same as the Famicom's
controller Super Famicom-specific (sold separately)
stereo cable Super Famicom-specific (sold separately)
S-Video cable Super Famicom-specific (sold separately)
RGB cable Super Famicom-specific (sold separately)

So it looks like the SFC was pretty much shippable then. The only big differences I can see between these specs and that of the released version is much less main RAM. The release SFC has 128Kbytes of RAM, a very large increase. Most games don't use such a whopping amount of RAM, except for SlowROM games to run their code in at 3.58Mhz. So, perhaps Nintendo added the RAM in to get that speed boost.

Hmm... 2048 colours at once in the BG???!?!? (A technically-savvy friend has pointed out that this is the SFC's "direct colour mode" which displays 256-colour tiles, but with a lower single bit of colour selectable from the palette memory (256x8) for each tile. In other words, a mostly useless colour mode.)

Software Screenshots:

Many of these pics appearing in various magazines were identical to each other. That means that Nintendo probably distributed slides or photographs in a media package to the magazines.  Or, still slides were projected on the screen in the conference room (top of page), and the magazine photographers took snapshots from it.  Only some of the images taken by magazines at the SFC show were from live video (or more likely videotape, given their blurriness.)

1988 Mode 7, Sprite, and Sound Demo
These images are identical to those shown at the SFC's first demonstration in November 1988, so Famitsu simply reprinted them.

Dragonfly - The unreleased precursor to Pilotwings!

First there was Dragonfly, then Flight Club, and finally Pilotwings!

Famicom Magazine
Famicom Tsushin

Since the two leading Famicom magazines of the day, Famimaga and Famitsu, each published almost a dozen pictures of the games demonstrated here, I thought I'd put similar photos side-by-side to give readers a better chance to pick out details in the game itself.

Unfortunately, these shots are rather small and indistinct in both magazines.  As they were too dim, faded, or blurry even on paper, I had to do a lot of colour adjustment to bring out the details of the underlying game screens.  I did minimal descreening so as to minimize extra blurring during my scanning process.  Well anyway, I hope you can make out enough detail to fire the imagination as to what these games could have been.

My comments:

Wow!  Now, while the eventual Pilotwings was a real technical showcase for the Super Famicom, this early version called Dragonfly looks to have been an attempt to make an actual action game out of the Mode 7 flight simulator.

Taking off from a helipad on a cruising ship, hovering like a dragonfly, and zipping up above the clouds, the game appears similar in concept to Atari's Blue Lightning or Namco's Metal Hawk.

First off, a digital mock-up I made giving you a good idea of what the game would look like on a clear screen:


Super Mario World

Famicom Tsushin

My comments:

This is the first time I've ever seen the old title screen to Super Mario World! Well, it's good that they changed it, since this seriously lacks colours... I can count maybe just 10 colours or so. It does have a nice Japanese "parchment" feel to it.

It's interesting to note that the island in the title screen is the same as the "world" that you walk on in the map. It's an interesting mushroom-shaped world, though it's disappointingly small for a world if you ask me.

Super Mario World looked very much like a 16-bit version of SMB3 back in 1989, what with the note blocks, coins, square question blocks, and raccoon-Mario power-up. No sign of Yoshi whatsoever.

"COUSE [sic] CLEAR!"

In this early version of SMW, the worlds and stages had a weird Japanese numerical naming convention.  "4 W-1" meant World 4, Stage 1, the worlds seemingly branching in each direction from the house in the centre of the map screen.

Again, if I had an army of trained ninjas, you know to whose archives I would send them to rifle through and pilfer, don't you?