What was dev like on the NES back in 1987?

Discuss technical or other issues relating to programming the Nintendo Entertainment System, Famicom, or compatible systems. See the NESdev wiki for more information.

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hugemikeyd
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What was dev like on the NES back in 1987?

Post by hugemikeyd »

Just curious what it was like for a company like Capcom to develop licensed games on the NES. Did Nintendo provide any hardware/software for this? How about any manuals/documentation? I know folks have reverse engineered several processes to homebrew today, but I was curious what it was like back in the day.
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MottZilla
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Re: What was dev like on the NES back in 1987?

Post by MottZilla »

I'm not sure too many details are known. What I've generally heard is developers like Capcom, would have gotten some basic documentation about the system. Such as the memory map, registers, descriptions of the CPU (that it's basically a 6502 without decimal mode), PPU (general graphics info), and APU (general info about the sound hardware).

It's unlikely there was any development kit as we would imagine one today. Just basic information. Probably among the programming relevant info would have been some hardware info like a cartridge pinout.

Other developers were known to make their own pc programmable dev boards.
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koitsu
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Re: What was dev like on the NES back in 1987?

Post by koitsu »

hugemikeyd wrote:Just curious what it was like for a company like Capcom to develop licensed games on the NES.
How would we know? :-) If my memory serves me right, there's only one person here on the forum who did NES development (specifically music, and AFAIK only music) back then. Everything else is just speculation. There are articles/interviews online with Famicom (not NES) developers if you want to read those; they're about as good as it gets. There are some articles/interviews on NESWorld as well, but with smaller developers.
hugemikeyd wrote:Did Nintendo provide any hardware/software for this? How about any manuals/documentation?
I'm under the impression Nintendo did give out some kind of software (I think I read somewhere about them providing an assembler and that's it) -- not sure about hardware -- but it was very sub-par in quality, causing the majority (80-90%?) of companies to write their own. Since you mention Capcom, it's safe to say you're wanting to know about the "big boys" -- all developed their own tools.

Regarding manuals and documentation: yes, documentation was provided. I have only seen a single page of the documentation issued to developers in the United States, and it was atrocious (a very, very bad Japanese->English translation job; I'm under the impression it was done by Nintendo of Japan, by someone of Japanese descent who had a very basic (and bad) grasp of English). Remember: everything back then tended to be done hastily and with severe monetary focus (especially when it came to hardware: ICs were expensive).
hugemikeyd wrote:I know folks have reverse engineered several processes to homebrew today, but I was curious what it was like back in the day.
Many companies did reverse-engineering back then as well, and I'm not just referring to Color Dreams, Tengen, etc.. I imagine there was a **lot** of "try this and see what happens" type of development as well -- similar to reverse-engineering but by trial and error.
lidnariq
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Re: What was dev like on the NES back in 1987?

Post by lidnariq »

Admittedly 1990, but: Making of Solstice: viewtopic.php?t=9078 links to http://youtu.be/894_PNqBkx4 and http://youtu.be/uqhLSNCJCBc

Those tools don't look very sophisticated.
ccovell
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Re: What was dev like on the NES back in 1987?

Post by ccovell »

You can see here how programming/Gfx were done by Nintendo themselves: http://www.chrismcovell.com/secret/week ... puter.html

Also, Sunsoft: http://www.chrismcovell.com/secret/misc ... IntPic.jpg

FDS: http://www.chrismcovell.com/secret/1980s/FDS_Dev.jpg

Generally, it was all minicomputers and EPROMs. Graphics were either done with direct hex entry or on the usual NEC PC98 or Fujitsu computers with a specialized graphics board. Sunsoft did a lot of their graphics editing directly on the Famicom w/ a TV!
tepples
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Re: What was dev like on the NES back in 1987?

Post by tepples »

ccovell wrote:Sunsoft did a lot of their graphics editing directly on the Famicom w/ a TV!
So I guess the NES graphics editor I wrote wasn't that far off from what some companies actually used.
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infiniteneslives
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Re: What was dev like on the NES back in 1987?

Post by infiniteneslives »

Man with all the powerful tools we have nowadays, we don't have much excuse for not developing quality games of our own. The development teams weren't near as big as I would have previously thought. It does present a stumbling block if a coder can't draw, but at least you don't have to be able to write music. It would probably help to have making games as your day job, but who needs sleep anyways?
If you're gonna play the Game Boy, you gotta learn to play it right. -Kenny Rogers
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koitsu
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Re: What was dev like on the NES back in 1987?

Post by koitsu »

It's rarely about the tools, it's usually about the level of interest, amount of free (dedicated, i.e. uninterrupted and linear) time a person has, and the complexity.

Honestly I really think if key folks in the nesdev community got together and found a game they'd like to make -- cease the "I want to really stress the fuck out of the NES and do mid-scanline buttwiping while riding snakes, naked, around Ohio" thought processes -- and worked together as a team, it'd be quite possible to do.

I think things like this, however, tend to get done quicker and *much* easier if done in person. Typing (and editing) takes a lot of time, and it's a lot easier to just have a small office space with small rooms (with doors on them) where people can work, or yap with one another when needed. Online, there's just too many distractions, IMO.
tepples
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Re: What was dev like on the NES back in 1987?

Post by tepples »

infiniteneslives wrote:It does present a stumbling block if a coder can't draw
True. See also the previous discussion about homebrew complexity.
but at least you don't have to be able to write music.
What exactly do you mean like this?
koitsu wrote:I think things like this, however, tend to get done quicker and *much* easier if done in person.
In that case, what holds back modern game development for retro platforms is difficulty of forming a team due to lack of enough interested developers within a single city's transit system. For example, that's why I jumped at what I perceived to be a chance.
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MottZilla
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Re: What was dev like on the NES back in 1987?

Post by MottZilla »

About music he probably means the available FamiTracker and other options that could be used in a homebrew project to allow many composers familiar with FamiTracker to work with you. The original NES developers didn't have such a music/sound engine available to them. They had to make it. Similarly there are graphical editors we have that they didn't. And in general computers are better, and we have emulators with debuggers.
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infiniteneslives
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Re: What was dev like on the NES back in 1987?

Post by infiniteneslives »

Yeah I was referring to the numerous composers who show up here asking if people would like to put their music in a game. We always have to turn them away due to lack of worthy games.
If you're gonna play the Game Boy, you gotta learn to play it right. -Kenny Rogers
Tricky
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Re: What was dev like on the NES back in 1987?

Post by Tricky »

On the subject of hardware, there was also this monstrosity of wiring
http://devkits.handheldmuseum.com/NES_M ... ontrol.htm
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Re: What was dev like on the NES back in 1987?

Post by Bananmos »

Not that much of a monstrosity for being the 80s I'd say - I remember doing a far worse amount of hand-wiring in electronics projects at uni, ca 2005 :)
Tricky
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Re: What was dev like on the NES back in 1987?

Post by Tricky »

I envy electrical engineers for the patience that must be required for projects like that :p

I am curious what exactly that 'Mission Control' piece is for. Far as I can make out, it seems to be similar to a CopyNES, but made from discreet logic. And it makes me wonder what other designs for 'homebrew' hardware developers back then came up with. No standardized kits, not exactly the great wealth of info we have available today, they must've had to get quite creative.
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qbradq
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Re: What was dev like on the NES back in 1987?

Post by qbradq »

koitsu wrote:Honestly I really think if key folks in the nesdev community got together and found a game they'd like to make -- cease the "I want to really stress the fuck out of the NES and do mid-scanline buttwiping while riding snakes, naked, around Ohio" thought processes -- and worked together as a team, it'd be quite possible to do.
Jesus, I haven't laughed that hard in a while :D

I find it interesting that many companies back in the day developed there own tools. Many modern homebrewers do this as well, myself included.
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