Audio of old games and a sense of nostalgia – what an unusual disk system for the NES could offer

We are talking about the Famicom Disk System peripheral, which expanded the capabilities of the standard set-top box. Including in terms of sound.

Photo: Nick Hamze.  Source:
Photo: Nick Hamze. Source:

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In 1983, the Japanese company Nintendo released the Famicom game console, also known as the NES (under that name it was sold in Europe and the USA). The novelty turned out to be extremely successful and won a decent part of the Western and Japanese markets. In total, the developer company has sold more than 60 million devices and half a billion game cartridges.

Not surprisingly, by the mid-1980s, the Japanese entertainment market was seriously heating up, and Nintendo was the dominant force. Players were eager to get a new technology product from the company. Then the managers drew attention to the sphere of personal computers, where floppy disks gained momentum.

So, the company decided to release a “prefix to the prefix” – the Famicom Disk System (FDS), which allowed to use magnetic disks instead of cartridges. Game developers have been able to make larger products. Yes, especially for FDS released the games The Legend of Zelda, Castlevania and Metroid, which then became popular series. At the same time, players got the opportunity to easily save progress and not remember special passwords to access certain levels (as it was implemented on cartridges).

Three months after the launch of the Famicom Disk System, were sold 500 thousand floppy disks with games. By the end of the year, that figure had risen to two million. But despite the commercial success, the company decided to turn sales of the disk system, but it never entered the international market (although there were such plans).

Among the reasons is a conflict with developers who did not suit Nintendo’s licensing terms, and development of piracy. On floppy disks was embossed NINTENDO logo copy protection [его как раз видно на КПДВ] and reciprocal protrusions inside the drive that prevented the insertion of unlicensed media. But the pirates quickly learned to copy the shape of the grooves.

But despite the rather short life, the disk system managed to leave a mark in the history of game consoles, at least because of its other unusual feature.

Unpopular audio feature

A microchip was installed inside the Famicom Disk System RP2C33. She acted as a drive controller and expanded the sound capabilities of the Famicom set-top box.

Photo: Possessed Photography.  Source:
Photo: Possessed Photography. Source:

Chip has provided wavetable and FM synthesis functions. The first uses waveforms (small fragments of samples) stored in the device’s memory in the form of a matrix. This matrix describes the structure of the generated signal. The second is based on frequency modulation of sinusoid oscillations – this type of synthesis was used by the developers of the cult Yamaxa DX7 digital synthesizer, which we talked about last time.

We can say that the FDS system added an additional sound channel to the game console. It was sometimes used to play audio in intros and title screens. But in general, game developers used it quite rarely – for example, it did not not involved in the iconic Legend of Zelda.

Still wondering

But even 35 years later, enthusiasts are interested in the operation of the Famicom Disk System, developing personal projects based on the device. For example, one developer reproduces this retro system on modern components – ATMega2560 or STM32. To do this, he plans to reverse engineer the FDS.

On the web, you can also find a thematic sitededicated to the Famicom Disk System. There is a gallery with photos of the device, guides for working with floppy disks and even instructions for desoldering special cables for copying them.

More rare devices in our “World of Hi-Fi”:

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