Nintendo

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Nintendo
Nintendo.svg
Founded 1889-09-23
Headquarters Kyoto, Japan
Website www.nintendo.com
Other Names
  • Nintendo EAD
  • Nintendo R&D
  • Nintendo R&D4

Nintendo (任天堂株式会社 Nintendō Kabushikigaisha = Nintendou Co., Ltd.) is one of the largest game companies in the world. The company originally started off as a playing card company. The company hit it big when they released the NES and Game Boy, which sold in the millions. They are known for several major game series including Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Pokémon, Metroid, Donkey Kong, Star Fox, Fire Emblem, and also series through HAL Laboratory like Super Smash Bros., Kirby, EarthBound, and many others. Nintendo later started Nintendo Software Technology Corporation, a development studio for their US division.

In the early days of Nintendo's development, game designers weren't allowed to be credited in games for fear that their talents would be courted away by other companies. The first games didn't include any credits as they took up too much memory, but creative developers often added their initials into the high score lists. In later games, when memory constraints weren't so tight, developers were allowed to use aliases. Again, creative methods were used to broadcast the true identity of developers. For example, Shigeru Miyamoto used the name Miyahon, which, when written in kanji, is the same name (宮本) because hon and moto use the same character.

In 1980, Nintendo created a division in Redmond, Washington, USA, simply titled Nintendo of America. The company localized the Famicom to North America as the Nintendo Entertainment System. However, learning from their previous endeavors in Japan, Nintendo created strict guidelines to release games for their system. One of these policies included limiting publishers to create five games per year, in an attempt to avoid games of undesirable quality. However, this rule was easily broken by both scenarios; developers going to different publishers, as well as publishers using different names. For example, Konami used their Ultra label so they could publish more than five games a year. Companies that complied and met with Nintendo's quality standards would have their games stamped with the Nintendo Seal of Quality (equivalent to the Famicom's Famicom Family label). However, many publishing developers still released games of undesirable quality, the best known of which was LJN. Another guideline was that Nintendo games were not to contain neither vulgar language nor religious references. There was also a rumored rule from Nintendo that if a game from another platform, it had to be unique from the original version of the game. An example of this is Rygar (NES), which is vastly different from its original arcade counterpart, as well as the many Capcom arcade games that received NES releases being massively different.

There were also companies like Color Dreams and Tengen did not agree to Nintendo's standards and released games not endorsed by Nintendo, known as "unlicensed" games. However, to make these games, the company had to figure out how to get around the NES's lockout chip, which prohibited games not endorsed by Nintendo to function on the system. The companies eventually found ways of doing so. Nintendo would go on to file legal action against some of these companies. These companies argued several reasons for defying Nintendo's quality standards, including overpriced cartridge production costs, and too many restraints on Nintendo's quality standards.

Games

Music Development

Arcade

Most of Nintendo's arcade games used a custom sound chipset designed by Yukio Kaneoka. The chipset consisted of an Intel i8035 microcontroller, a sample bank, and a digital-to-analog converter; Kaneoka and Hirokazu Tanaka used an unidentified analog synthesizer to generate the samples, which were played back using a sound driver designed by Kaneoka.

Kef Schecter reverse engineered the sound engine for Donkey Kong and elaborated in a post on Quora:

Donkey Kong’s music and a few sound effects are produced using an MCS-48 chip, specifically a clone of an Intel 8035. This is a CPU much like any other, though it is a very simple one—what we call a microcontroller. The program for this chip takes as input what sounds to play, and it generates the waveform in real time as output.

There’s just one problem with outputting a waveform that way: it hogs the CPU. This meant that the program could only handle two sound channels at a time. Because of this, and possibly other limitations, they added a few TTL circuits to produce additional sound effects, like the sound of DK beating his chest or the sound of Mario jumping. By TTL, I mean these sound effects are produced using pure logic gates, like AND and OR gates. No doubt this required a lot of chips, and indeed, you’ll see a lot of chips on the motherboard. (If you ever looked at the game’s specs in MAME and wondered what “discrete sound” meant, it’s talking about this.)

Donkey Kong Jr.’s sound hardware is the same as Donkey Kong’s, except different TTL circuits are used in order to produce different sound effects. Mario Bros. also uses much the same hardware, except it uses a different, faster MCS-48 chip and its TTL sounds are different yet again.

Nintendo moved to using dedicated audio processors later on, using the AY-3-8910 on Popeye (ARC), and then the RP2A03 on their final arcade titles.

FDS

The early Famicom Disk System games mostly used Yukio Kaneoka's driver which utilized the RP2A03, but he later implemented support for the Disk System channel into his driver (RP2C33). However, games such as Zelda and Super Mario Bros. 2 used Koji Kondo's driver which used both the 2A03 and the 2C33. In the later days of Disk System development, games used Akito Nakatsuka's driver which also utilized the 2C33. All of these drivers utilized music written in assembly on a computer.

Game Boy

Nintendo's early Game Boy titles used a sound driver designed by Hirokazu Tanaka, which was based on his NES sound engine, albeit ported to the Z80 assembly code used by the DMG-CPU B. Later, Nintendo's titles on the system began using newer sound drivers; one was designed by Kazumi Totaka and based on Tanaka's code, while another was programmed from scratch by Ryoji Yoshitomi. The latest known version was programmed by Yuichi Ozaki, and was mostly used on titles designed for the Game Boy Color.

The America-based Nintendo Software Technology division used their own sound driver, which was programmed by Emory Georges and Chantal Levert.

Game Boy Advance

The standard Game Boy Advance sound driver was officially named AGB MusicPlayer2000, though is more commonly referred to as "Sappy" or "MP2K". The early versions of the driver credit someone named "KY" as the programmer; possibly Kenji Yamamoto or Katsuya Yamano. As with the SNES's Kankichi-kun driver, many different versions of the driver customised by several composers and programmers exist.

NES

The main composers at Nintendo were required to program their own sound engines. There were three main sound engines at Nintendo; The first version programmed by Yukio Kaneoka (later reprogrammed by Hirokazu Tanaka), the second programmed by Koji Kondo, and the third programmed by Akito Nakatsuka. All of these drivers required music to be entered in assembly, possibly on a Family Basic computer.

Super NES

Nintendo developed sound software called Kankichi-kun (かんきちくん). This driver was loaned out to several developers and modified, and as a result, there are many, many variants. The driver credits someone named Y.K as its programmer, presumably Yukio Kaneoka. It could also be Yumiko Kanki, but she was not known to be a sound programmer. The sound samples were created in a few programs, namely the Tako (Octopus) sampler (タコサンプル), named possibly in reference to the 8 sound channels of the S-SMP and Ika (Squid) Listen (イカリッスン), which allowed sound designers to listen to their instrument samples.

The music was written in a similar fashion to a MIDI sequencer, and the program ran on a Sony NEWS computer.

The samples were provided by Sony, the manufacturers of the S-SMP. These sound samples were taken from many various keyboards and synths including the Korg M1 (slap bass) and Moog (synth bass). However, it is unknown what source the instruments came from in games such as Super Mario World, but it is rumored they came from Koji Kondo's Casio keyboard.

While the source code to Nintendo's original version of Kankichi-kun hasn't been released, games like Top Gear that use a variant of the driver, have had their source code released.

Audio Personnel

These composers worked at Nintendo:

Hardware

Consoles

Handhelds

Audio Chips

Nintendo has designed or contracted several audio chips for its various console and arcade systems.

Release Chip Designer Devices
1983-??-?? RP2A03 APU Yukio Kaneoka Famicom, Nintendo Entertainment System (NTSC)
1986-??-?? RP2A07 APU Yukio Kaneoka Nintendo Entertainment System (PAL)
1986-??-?? RP2C33 APU Yukio Kaneoka Famicom Disk System
1989-??-?? DMG-CPU B APU Satoru Okada, Hirokazu Tanaka Game Boy
1990-02-03 MMC5  ? Numerous NES games.

Picture Gallery

Links