Family Computer Disk System
The Family Computer Disk System is a peripheral for Nintendo's Family Computer home video game console, released only in Japan on February 21, 1986. It uses proprietary floppy disks called "Disk Cards" for cheaper data storage and it adds a new high-fidelity sound channel for supporting FDS games. Its name is sometimes shortened as Famicom Disk System or simply Disk System, and abbreviated as FCDS, FDS, or FCD.
|Type||Video game console accessory|
|Units sold||4.4 million|
|Media||112 KB Floppy disks|
|CPU||Ricoh 2A03 coprocessor|
|Memory||32 kB disk cache|
8 kB game RAM
|Sound||1 extra channel of wavetable synth|
|Predecessor||Game cartridge, Famicom Data Recorder|
|Successor||Game cartridge, Nintendo Power kiosks|
|Related articles||Famicom Data Recorder|
Fundamentally, the FDS device serves simply to enhance some aspects already inherent to the base Famicom system, with better sound and cheaper games—though with the disadvantages of high initial price, slow speed, and lower reliability. However, this boost to the market of affordable and writable mass storage temporarily served as an enabling technology for the creation of new types of video games. This includes the vast, open world, progress-saving adventures of the best-selling The Legend of Zelda (1986) and Metroid (1986). It includes games with a cost-effective and swift release such as the best-selling Super Mario Bros. 2. And it includes nationwide leaderboards and contests via the in-store Disk Fax kiosks, which are considered to be forerunners of today's online achievement and distribution systems.
By 1989, the FDS was inevitably obsoleted by the improving semiconductor technology of game cartridges. The FDS's lifetime sales reached 4.4 million units by 1990, its final game was released in 1992, and Nintendo officially discontinued its technical support in 2003.
In 1983, the Disk Card's 112 KB of storage space was quite appealing due to the high cost of cartridge-based solid state storage chips. The rewritability of the disks also enabled the instant storing of game progress including scores, environment, and inventory. Therefore, a sea change was seen throughout the industry as the floppy disk was expected to become the dominant new home console game delivery medium. When beginning development on Super Mario Bros. in January 1985, Nintendo's development team intended for the 40 kilobyte game (drastically and ingeniously optimized for cartridge size) to represent "the grand culmination" of and "a final exclamation point" on the Famicom's ROM cartridge medium in favor of the following year's FDS launch.
On February 21, 1986, The Legend of Zelda was launched alongside the FDS to a phenomenal reception, as the FDS's killer app. Zelda, Metroid, and Kid Icarus originated as FDS exclusives, with large worlds and progress storage features.
The FDS peripheral bore a steep initial price of ¥15,000 (more than US$100 at the time), but promised cheaper games on retail disks at ¥2,600-3000 (then about US$17) compared to cartridges at ¥2,500, ¥5,000, or ¥8,900.:75–76 The Famicom's total lack of copy restriction for cartridge games gave developers free access without licensing, but third-party FDS licensees suddenly faced Nintendo's new and onerous restrictions: Disk Card copy protection; Nintendo's fees for creating proprietary floppy disks containing each third party game; Nintendo's sole determination of which games are allowed to be published on FDS; and Nintendo's half-ownership of copyrights of each FDS game.:75–76 Some publishers, notably the publicly acrimonious Namco, were resentful of this additional level of control represented by FDS publishing, over Nintendo's already dominant video game market position.
In early 1986, Nintendo of America preannounced the intention to internationalize the Famicom Disk System peripheral to the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) within the same year. The NES features a bottom-facing port for such expansion in theory, but which would ultimately never be utilized.
In the following few years, cartridge capacities steadily increased far beyond the Disk Card's and prices dropped closer to the Disk Card's, while acquiring the ability of basic gameplay progress saving via passwords and onboard batteries. Only four months after the FDS's launch, the June 1986 release of Ghosts 'n' Goblins is the first Famicom cartridge to have already surpassed the Disk Card's storage capacity at 128 kB, and one month later Ganbare Goemon! had doubled that. By 1987, cartridge developers gained the option of battery-backed SRAM, just large enough to store the player's game progress. By 1988, even Nintendo's own FDS games were receiving concurrent NES cartridge releases such as Ice Hockey. By 1989, developers commonly opted for a memory management controller (MMC) chip aboard their cartridges to expand the Famicom far more than the FDS can—with even more advanced sound, diagonal scrolling, splitscreen displays, and huge storage sizes as seen with Nintendo's own cartridge-only release of Super Mario Bros. 3 (1988). In 1990, Dragon Quest IV reached the largest size the Famicom library would ever have, at 1 megabyte which is 8 times that of a Disk Card. This is all with the instantaneous speed and physical durability which are inherent to the ROM medium but disabled by fragile floppy disks, and crucial to a child-focused toy. Many of the FDS games were subsequently converted to cartridge format and released for the NES one or two years after their FDS releases, though lacking the richer audio from the FDS's onboard extra wavetable sound channel.:75–76
By 1989, the cartridge medium manufacturing process had returned to optimal profitability so publishers had returned to it, and stores complained about floor space wasted by Disk Writer kiosks that Nintendo had abandoned. The FDS was obsoleted mainly by the inevitable rapid proliferation of cartridge semiconductors, attributed by NintendoLife to Moore's Law. In total, at a time when one third of Japan's households had a Famicom and Nintendo was Japan's biggest company,:76–78 By 1990, 4.4 million FDS units had been sold, a considerable achievement for an expensive aftermarket peripheral sold only in one country.:76 But as NintendoLife would recall, "the peripheral was not the runaway success Nintendo had envisaged".
The drive's NES launch had never materialized, the final FDS game release was Janken Disk Jō in December 1992, and Nintendo's technical support for the original FDS was discontinued in Japan in 2003. Long after the Disk Writer Kiosks had been removed from stores, Nintendo continued a Disk Card writing service via postal mail for ¥500.
Disk Writer and Disk Fax kiosksEdit
Widespread copyright violation in Japan's predominantly personal-computer-based game rental market inspired corporations to petition the government to ban the rental of all video games in 1984. With games then being available only via full purchase, demand rose for a new and less expensive way to access more games. In 1986, as video gaming had increasingly expanded from computers into the video game console market, Nintendo advertised a promise to install 10,000 Famicom Disk Writer kiosks in toy and hobby stores across Japan within one year.:75–76 These jukebox style stations allowed users to copy from a rotating stock of the latest games to their disks and keep each one for an unlimited time. To write an existing disk with a new game from the available roster was ¥500 (then about US$3.25 and 1/6 of the price of many new games).:75–76 Instruction sheets were given by the retailer, or available by mail order for ¥100. Some game releases, such as Kaettekita Mario Bros. (lit. The Return of Mario Bros.), are exclusive to these kiosks.:75[further explanation needed]
In 1987, Disk Writer kiosks in select locations were also provisioned as Disk Fax systems as Nintendo's first online concept. Players could take advantage of the dynamic rewritability of blue floppy disk versions of Disk System games (such as Famicom Grand Prix: F1 Race and Golf Japan Course) in order to save their high scores at their leisure at home, and then bring the disk to a retailer's Disk Fax kiosk, which collated and transmitted the players' scores via facsimile to Nintendo. Players participated in a nationwide leaderboard, with unique prizes.
The kiosk service was very popular and remained available until 2003. In subsequent console generations, Nintendo would relaunch this online national leaderboard concept with the home satellite-based Satellaview subscription service in Japan from 1995-2000 for the Super Famicom. It would relaunch the model of games downloadable to rewritable portable media from store kiosks, with the Nintendo Power service in Japan which is based on rewritable flash media cartridges for Super Famicom and Game Boy from 1997-2007.
Calling the Disk Writer "one of the coolest things Nintendo ever created", Kotaku says modern "digital distribution could learn from [Disk Writer]", and that the system's premise of game rental and achievements would still be innovative in today's retail and online stores. NintendoLife said it "was truly ground-breaking for its time and could be considered a forerunner of more modern distribution methods [such as] Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and Steam".
The device is connected to the Famicom console by plugging its RAM Adapter cartridge into the system's cartridge port, and attaching that cartridge's cable to the disk drive. The RAM Adapter contains 32 kilobytes (KB) of RAM for temporarily caching program data from disk, 8 KB of RAM for tile and sprite data storage, and an ASIC named the 2C33. The ASIC acts as a disk controller, plus single-cycle wavetable-lookup synthesizer sound hardware. Finally, embedded in the 2C33 is an 8KB BIOS ROM. The Disk Cards used are double-sided, with a total capacity of 112 KB per disk. Many games span both sides of a disk and a few span multiple disks, requiring the user to switch at some point during gameplay. The Disk System is capable of running on six C-cell batteries or the supplied AC adapter. Batteries usually last five months with daily game play. The inclusion of a battery option is due to the likelihood of a standard set of AC plugs already being occupied by a Famicom and a television.
The Disk System's Disk Cards are somewhat proprietary 71 mm × 76 mm (2.8 × 3 in) 56K-per-side double-sided floppy. They are a slight modification of Mitsumi's Quick Disk 89 mm 2.8 in square disk format which is used in a handful of Japanese computers and various synthesizer keyboards, along with a few word processors. QuickDisk drives are in a few devices in Europe and North America. Mitsumi already had close relations with Nintendo, as it manufactured the Famicom and NES consoles, and possibly other Nintendo hardware.
Modifications to the standard Quick Disk format include the "NINTENDO" moulding along the bottom of each Disk Card. In addition to branding the disk, this acts as a rudimentary form of copy protection - a device inside the drive bay contains raised protrusions which fit into their recessed counterparts, ostensibly ensuring that only official disks are used. If a disk without these recessed areas is inserted, the protrusions cannot raise, and the system will not allow the game to be loaded. This was combined with technical measures in the way data was stored on the disk to prevent users from physically swapping copied disk media into an official shell. However, both of these measures were defeated by pirate game distributors; in particular, special disks with cutouts alongside simple devices to modify standard Quick Disks were produced to defeat the physical hardware check, enabling rampant piracy. An advertisement containing a guide for a simple modification to a Quick Disk to allow its use with a Famicom Disk System was printed in at least one magazine.
Nintendo's flagship mascot brothers Mario and Luigi make an appearance in the FDS's boot firmware. After turning on the system, a "battle" between the two characters begins over the color scheme of the Nintendo sign and screen border, until a disk is inserted into the FDS.
The moving parts of the drive and the magnetic medium of the floppy disk both have reliability issues which the cartridge medium is immune to. Even more fragile than every other floppy disk inherently is, the shutter-less Disk Cards must be handled "with almost painstaking care" and are prone to damage by elements of everyday life such as fingerprints, dust, scratches, and proximity to magnets such as those in TV speakers. The drive belt in the drive is a proprietary size, smaller than standard floppy drive belts. Due to a flaw in manufacturing, the old belts have a tendency to break, decompose, or occasionally melt.
In an effort to save money on production, Nintendo opted to not use disk shutters (a feature seen on 89 mm (3.5 in) floppy disks) to keep dirt out, instead opting to include wax paper sleeves as with the older 133 mm (5.25 in) disks. The only exception to this were certain games that were specially released on blue disks, which do have shutters.
Error messages produced during disk read operations are unusually simple, to the point where it is difficult to know what the exact problem is. Most in-game error messages during loading are often displayed as "Err. ##", with "##" being the designated number for the type of error message; the most common ones are Err. 02 (the Disk System's batteries being low on power or with no batteries put in altogether), Err. 07 (Side A and B reversed when trying to load the disk), and Err. 27 ("Disk trouble", usually involving the disk surface itself, but can also be due to a belt replacement from an inexperienced technician, resulting in the disk drive's head being inaccurately aligned). However, the error messages themselves consist of little explanation (Err. 27, for example, only gives the accompanying message "Disk trouble") and in most cases within gameplay itself, such as Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, the error message is not given at all, with only the number code shown.
Until 2004, Japanese residents were able to send their systems to Nintendo Co, Ltd. for repairs. In modern times, the entire Disk Card medium has been replaced by the third party retrogaming market in the form of highly reliable and convenient flash storage accessories for the FDS.
There are about 200 games in the Famicom Disk System's library. Some are FDS exclusives, some are Disk Writer exclusives, and many were re-released years later on the cartridge format such as The Legend of Zelda for NES in 1987 and for Famicom in 1994. The most notable FDS originals include The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Kid Icarus, Ice Hockey, and Akumajō Dracula (Castlevania).
Square Co., Ltd. had a branch called Disk Original Group, a software label that published Disk System games from Japanese PC software companies. The venture was largely a failure and almost pushed a pre-Final Fantasy Square into bankruptcy. Final Fantasy was to be released for the FDS, but a disagreement over Nintendo's copyright policies caused Square to change its position and release the game as a cartridge.
Nintendo released a disk version of Super Mario Bros. in addition to the cartridge version. The Western-market Super Mario Bros. 2 originated from a disk-only game called Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic.
Nintendo utilized the cheaper and more dynamic disk medium for a Disk Writer exclusive cobranded advertisement-based game, a genre now called advergames. Kaettekita Mario Bros. (lit. The Return of Mario Bros.) is a remastered version of Mario Bros. with enhanced jump controls and high score saving, plus a new slot machine minigame branded for the Nagatanien food company.
These games accompanied the Famicom Disk System's launch to market. Some had been adapted from cartridge, but The Legend of Zelda and Akumajō Dracula (Castlevania) are FDS launch originals whose development was enabled by the large storage space of the Disk Card.
Nintendo held game score contests for certain games that were released on blue-colored Disk Cards. Some of the prizes to these contests included two gold prize disks, one for the game Golf US course, and one for Golf Japan course (not to be confused with Golf). These two gold disks have metal shutters on them, like the blue Disk Cards. Nintendo's historically rare prizes at 10,000 total awards each include a stationery set, and gold colored Famicom cartridge versions of golf games and Punch-Out!!. In the gold version of Punch-Out!!, the final opponent is Super Macho Man, before Nintendo used Mike Tyson and Mr. Dream instead in later NES versions.
The Famicom Disk System briefly served as an enabling technology for the creation of a new wave of home console video games and a new type of video game experience, mostly due to tripling the size of cheap game storage compared to affordable cartridge ROMs, and by storing gamers' progress within their vast new adventures. These games include the open world design and enduring series launches of The Legend of Zelda (1986) and Metroid (1986), with its launch game Zelda considered to be one of the greatest games of all time due mostly to its expansiveness. Almost one decade ahead of Nintendo's Satellaview service, the FDS's writable and portable storage technology served as an enabling technology for the innovation of online leaderboards and contests via the in-store Disk Fax kiosks, which are now seen as the earliest forerunners of modern online gaming and distribution.
Within its library of 200 original games, some are FDS-exclusive and many were re-released one or two years later on cartridges for Famicom and NES, though without the FDS's additional sound channel.
In subsequent console generations, the system and its Disk-kun mascot would be recognized by Nintendo and others. The background music to the GameCube's main console menu is actually the FDS boot-up jingle slowed down by a factor of 16. In Super Smash Bros. Melee, switching the language to Japanese enables a Disk-kun trophy. The FDS boot up theme is briefly played in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door when Princess Peach inserts a floppy disk into Sir Grodus's computer during the fifth chapter's interlude. Disk-kun appears in Super Mario Maker as an unlockable Mystery Mushroom costume via an update.
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