Super NES CD-ROM

The Super NES CD-ROM System (commonly shortened as the SNES-CD), known as Super Famicom CD-ROM Adapter in Japan, is an unreleased video game peripheral for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). The add-on built upon the functionality of the cartridge-based SNES by adding support for a CD-ROM-based format known as Super Disc.

The SNES-CD platform was developed in a partnership between Nintendo and Sony. The platform was planned to be launched as an add-on for the standard SNES, as well as a hybrid console by Sony called the PlayStation (nicknamed the "Nintendo PlayStation" to distinguish it from the later Sony console of the same name) similar to Sharp's Twin Famicom and NEC's TurboDuo. Another partnership with Philips yielded a few Nintendo-themed games for the CD-i platform instead of the SNES-CD. Sony independently furthered its developments into their own stand-alone console, which ended up inheriting the PlayStation name and would serve as the chief competitor of the Super NES's cartridge-based successor, the Nintendo 64.

History

Recreation of a Super Disc logo used from 1991 until 1993

The relationship between Sony and Nintendo started when Sony engineer Ken Kutaragi became interested in working with video games after seeing his daughter play games on Nintendo's Famicom video game console. He took on a contract at Sony for developing hardware that would drive the audio subsystem of Nintendo's next console, the Super NES. Kutaragi secretly developed the chip, known as the Sony SPC 700. As Sony was uninterested in the video game business, most of his superiors did not approve of the project, but Kutaragi found support in Sony executive Norio Ohga and the project was allowed to continue. The success of the project spurred Nintendo to enter into a partnership with Sony to develop both a CD-ROM add-on for the Super NES and a Sony-branded console that would play both SNES cartridges, as well as titles released for the new Super Disc format.

Development of the format started in 1988, when Nintendo signed a contract with Sony to produce a CD-ROM add-on for the SNES. The system was to be compatible with existing SNES titles as well as titles released for the Super Disc format. Under their agreement, Sony would develop and retain control over the Super Disc format, with Nintendo thus effectively ceding a large amount of control of software licensing to Sony. Further, Sony would also be the sole benefactor of licensing related to music and movies software that it had been aggressively pursuing as a secondary application. Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi was already wary of Sony at this point, as Sony was the sole provider of the audio chip, the S-SMP, used in the SNES and required developers to pay for an expensive development tool from Sony. To counter the proposed agreement, Yamauchi sent Nintendo of America president Minoru Arakawa and executive Howard Lincoln to Europe to negotiate a more favorable contract with Philips, Sony's industry rival. As described by David Sheff in his book Game Over, “[The Philips deal] was meant to do two things at once: give Nintendo back its stranglehold on software and gracefully fuck Sony." At the June 1991 Consumer Electronics Show, Sony announced its SNES-compatible cartridge/CD console, the "PlayStation". The next day, Nintendo revealed its partnership with Philips at the show—a surprise to the entire audience, including Sony.

While Nintendo and Sony attempted to sort out their differences, between two and three hundred prototypes of the PlayStation were created, and software for the system was being developed. In 1992, a deal was reached allowing Sony to produce SNES-compatible hardware, with Nintendo retaining control and profit over the games. The two organizations never repaired the rift between them and by the next year, Sony had dropped further development of the Super NES CD-ROM, and instead refocused its efforts on developing its own console for the next generation of consoles which became known as the PlayStation.

Prototype

A photo of the only known SNES-based PlayStation prototype

In November 2015, it was reported that one of the original "Nintendo PlayStation" prototypes had been found. The prototype was reportedly left behind by former Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Ólafur Jóhann Ólafsson during his time at Advanta. A former Advanta worker (Terry Diebold) acquired the device as part of a lot during Advanta's 2009 bankruptcy auction. The system was later confirmed as operational and the unit plays Super Famicom cartridges as well as the test cartridge that accompanied the unit, although the audio output and CD drive were non-functional. Some groups attempted to develop homebrew software for the console, such as Super Boss Gaiden, as there were no known games that utilized the CD drive.

The prototype came with a Sony/PlayStation-branded version of the standard Super Famicom controller (model number SHVC-005). In March 2016, retro-gaming website RetroCollect reported that they (and influential members of online emulation communities) had received (from an anonymous source) a functional disc boot ROM for the SNES-CD.

Diebold had given the unit to Benjamin Heckendorn, a console modder, to look at, around 2017. Heckendorn provided a tear-down video of the system, through which he was able to identify faults in several on-board components that he subsequently replaced, which resulted in fixing the audio and CD drive issues indirectly. Heckendorn showed audio CDs working on the system, as there were no known game CDs, but affirmed that homebrew games worked.

The prototype was put up for auction by Diebold in February 2020, with an initial asking price of US$15,000, but the auction quickly exceeded US$350,000 within two days. It was auctioned off at US$360,000 to Greg McLemore, an entrepreneur and founder of Pets.com, who has a large collection of other video game hardware and plans to establish a permanent museum for this type of hardware.

Technical specifications

Heckendorn's July 2016 teardown video provides technical specifications of the prototype, as none was published by Sony or Nintendo. Heckendorn said the system would have probably been as powerful as a standard Super NES, but not as powerful as the Sega CD. The standalone unit has the following connectors: two Super NES controller ports, a cartridge slot, a dual-speed CD-ROM drive, RCA composite jacks, S-Video, RFU DC OUT (similar to the PlayStation SCPH-1001), a proprietary multi-out AV output port (the same one featured on the Super NES, Nintendo 64, and GameCube), headphone jack on the front, a serial port labelled "NEXT" (probably for debugging), and one expansion port under the unit.

Legacy

After the original contract with Sony failed, Nintendo continued its partnership with Philips. This contract provisioned Philips with the right to feature Nintendo's characters in a few games for its CD-i multimedia device, but never resulted in a CD-ROM add-on for the SNES. The Nintendo-themed CD-i games were very poorly received, and the CD-i itself is considered a commercial failure. The main game in development for the SNES-CD platform launch was Square's Secret of Mana, whose planned content was cut down to the size suitable for cartridge and released on that medium instead.

Ken Kutaragi and Sony continued to develop their own console and released the PlayStation in 1994. The CD-based console successfully competed with Nintendo's cartridge-based Nintendo 64 and other CD-based console systems such as the Fujitsu FM Towns Marty, the NEC PC-FX, the SNK Neo Geo CD, the Panasonic 3DO Interactive Multiplayer and the Sega Saturn. The broken partnership with Sony has often been cited as a mistake on Nintendo's part, effectively creating a formidable rival in the video game market. Nintendo would not release an optical disc-based console of its own until the release of the GameCube in 2001.

See also

External links

Uses material from the Wikipedia article "Super NES CD-ROM", released under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license.