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View Full Version : How mcuh more advanced was a NES to computers at the time?



facattack
May 8th, 2012, 02:39 AM
I mean like being able to fluently scroll left or right or up & down. The amount of colors displayed at one time. The RAM? It's a given the NES games in America were on cartridge but some games in Japan I have heard were on floppies of a sort. Games like 3-D worldrunner and Final Fantasy were on FAMICOM disk drives.

So, what's the diff? I only remember seeing a few games that were NES on DOS or other machines.

marcoguy
May 8th, 2012, 03:01 AM
So basically, you want to look at just the display and, based on that, the NES is better? I have both an IBM PC XT and a NES that were built in Nov. 1986. I think it really depends on the graphics card in the computer. If you got a 256 color SVGA sdspter in your computer, that would be equivalent to the NES, IIRC.

facattack
May 8th, 2012, 03:09 AM
I am not saying "better" just to toot the NES' horn. Just wondering quite honestly if computer games scrolled on the fly like that.

DEJA VU, Uninvited, and Shadowgate were on Apple II GS but they didn't scroll. They used static images that faded in to black or faded out or was it a transition or something between screens. I forget. But those are ports to NES.

I'm pretty sure the NES Metal Gear was on DOS... but that had a static screen, and it wasn't constantly scrolling in any direction. You moved to the edge of the screen and the next one replaced the old one.

I just recalled Nintendo had exclusivity agreements which were very excessive. Maybe that's why few NES games were ported outward?


EDIT: I just remembered Thexder on Tandy. I think this was a DOS game as well. This one definitely had dynamic scrolling... :D

Great Hierophant
May 8th, 2012, 04:12 AM
The NES did have certain hardware advantages over several computers, although I think it was thoroughly eclipsed by the Commodore Amiga in the graphics and sound department.

True smooth scrolling on a DOS machine had to wait for Commander Keen.

3-D Worldrunner did come out on the Famicom Disk System first, but was later re-released as a Famicom cartridge. Final Fantasy never came out on disk for the Famicom, only for the MSX2.


I mean like being able to fluently scroll left or right or up & down. The amount of colors displayed at one time. The RAM? It's a given the NES games in America were on cartridge but some games in Japan I have heard were on floppies of a sort. Games like 3-D worldrunner and Final Fantasy were on FAMICOM disk drives.

So, what's the diff? I only remember seeing a few games that were NES on DOS or other machines.

facattack
May 8th, 2012, 05:15 AM
Hah. I remember one low point of NES history was "King's Quest V."

NES
http://www.skyrender.net/lp/kq5nes_crispins.png


PC
http://www.robertlindsley.com/images/king5.jpg

The PC version had full digitized voice. The NES? Not so much. Text was generated, white font on a blue screen.

ChrisCwmbran
May 8th, 2012, 05:17 AM
I'd say that Atari 520ST gave the NES a good beating on both graphics and sound too.

vwestlife
May 8th, 2012, 09:10 AM
I'd say that Atari 520ST gave the NES a good beating on both graphics and sound too.

Even the Atari 7800 had better graphics than the NES. The problem is that most of the games for it were just enhanced re-releases of old 2600 games, and the few new 7800-specific games all pretty much sucked.

The Sega Master System suffered the same fate: better graphics than the NES, but not enough good games to play on it.

Maverick1978
May 8th, 2012, 09:54 AM
You're comparing two different animals here. The NES uses a 6502 processor, which was (IIRC) the same processor used in the Apple II computer. The C64 used a totally different processor, as did the IBM PC, and Tandy CoCo.

The graphical tricks were pulled off on the NES because of the secondary processors that dealt specifically with graphics, and because the programmers were trying to pull off such tricks using that hardware. In the computer world, most game designers were designing games around the lower-powered machines so that their product could be enjoyed by more people (i.e. they wanted more sales, and didn't want to try and force someone to upgrade their system just to play a game).

IMO... we could've had NES-style graphics much earlier on the PC had the computer industry and business-minded developers and engineers converged with the home-minded/gaming systems. And, of course, if hardware prices had fallen enough to allow for such expansions. And as has already been noted, the ST and Amiga series had the hardware in place as standard to far surpass the NES graphics and sound at their initial launches.

Always remember in these kind of hypotheticals... the NES is a MUCH less complicated machine designed to do a single task with relatively low-cost devices. The computers of the era were designed to do a broad multitude of tasks, and were built to be expanded - usually with relatively higher-cost devices :)

vwestlife
May 8th, 2012, 12:11 PM
IMO... we could've had NES-style graphics much earlier on the PC had the computer industry and business-minded developers and engineers converged with the home-minded/gaming systems. And, of course, if hardware prices had fallen enough to allow for such expansions.

The IBM PC was supposed to be a business machine, not a gaming computer, so we should be glad it supported any kind of graphics and sound, however limited!

The PCjr was IBM's home computer made with games in mind, and its improved graphics and sound (which later became the Tandy 1000 standard) was enough to make it comparable to the ColecoVision, which was the top video game console at the time (1983). However, it still lacked sprites (a.k.a. "player/missile graphics"), so its animation capabilities were not as strong as a C64, Atari 800, or any of the video game consoles of the time.

NathanAllan
May 8th, 2012, 07:48 PM
This is a pretty neat take on the old idea of console vs. PC. Have to agree, the Atari 520 ST's sure did a whooping on the NES as far as games went. Also, afaik the IBM compatibles could do more given the hardware and software in them.

carlsson
May 9th, 2012, 04:49 AM
No, the 6510 in a Commodore 64 is nearly identical to the 6502 (or Ricoh actually) in a Nintendo Entertainment System. The only difference between the 6502 and 6510 is the latter has a built-in I/O port that allows it to map ROM on top of RAM, thus making it possible to have either 64K RAM, 0K ROM or 40-56K RAM and ROM on the rest.

The IBM PC used a 8088, which indeed is a different animal. The Tandy CoCo used a 6809 which is something like a 6502 on steroids, but in the same neighbourhood.

Now graphics abilities has rather little to do with CPU or amount of RAM. The PPU in Famicom/NES indeed is a remarkable design given it must've been designed in 1982 as the first Famicom went on the market in 1983. Compare with the C64 that went on the market in the fall of 1982, so Nintendo roughly had one more year of development. Also compare with arcade game hardware of the day to see what could be done and for how much money.

The Sega Master System on the other hand takes the good old Texas Instruments VDP as found in e.g. TI-99/4A and Colecovision, and extends it a little. I don't know enough about the SMS to say how much CPU intensive tricks it takes to produce detailed, colourful and moving graphics, but from a technical perspective the NES seems more unique to me.

facattack
May 9th, 2012, 08:59 AM
This is a pretty neat take on the old idea of console vs. PC.

I guess there's no way to settle this unless I could try out some games on emulator I guess, but I meant this as a discussion more about the complexity of the game itself rather than just plain ol' graphics.

Thexder was great. You had lazers and forcefields. You can turn into a freaking jet! Awesome! Definitely an arcadey game.

A favorite of mine is "Faxanadu." One of the few games where you could change the appearance of your avatar as you played: equip better armor as you progress, new weapons, new spells! It's also an abbreviation of "FAMCIOM XANADU" so you can look at the routes for the game right there...

And Thexder was awesome until you meet.......... The Guardian Legend! It was a girl who explored Zelda-style on a top down perspective world then turned into a jet for space shooting boss levels! :D

For some odd reason, "The Last Ninja 2" was ported onto NES as plain ol' "The Last Ninja." It took a few mins to figure my out of the first couple areas... and then I got killed! :( Again and again. Ganked.

Computer's Maniac Mansion was ported to NES and gave an extreme off-beat game experience.

But how about Super Mario Bros? You can stomp a goomba and kill it. Or you can hit the blocks beneath the goomba to kill it. Or yould stomp a turtle shell & kick it into other monsters for chain reaction. Careful you don't bounce the shell into a wall of some kind or your weapon can kill you! :D Love! The mechanics just got better with each sequel!

What computer game offers the.... well.... exploration of the orginal Legend of Zelda??? (I'm not a huge fan of this game. I could only find the first dungeon and got bored wandering too easily...) But anyway, there was a reason NES ruled the gaming world. (People who owned them were myopic tools! That's why!) :D



Now graphics abilities has rather little to do with CPU or amount of RAM. The PPU in Famicom/NES indeed is a remarkable design given it must've been designed in 1982 as the first Famicom went on the market in 1983. Compare with the C64 that went on the market in the fall of 1982, so Nintendo roughly had one more year of development. Also compare with arcade game hardware of the day to see what could be done and for how much money.

I would have to disagree. The beauty of NES tech was on the large cartridges. If a game was too complex for the original NES to handle it, then a new spankin new chip was introduced via the cartridge! I forget the chip's name, but it was only used in Punch-Out! :D Yahoo!

per
May 9th, 2012, 09:29 AM
The beauty of NES tech was on the large cartridges. If a game was too complex for the original NES to handle it, then a new spankin new chip was introduced via the cartridge! I forget the chip's name, but it was only used in Punch-Out! :D Yahoo!

There is actually a lot of different chips used in different game cartridges. The different chips, or MMCs (Memory Managment Controllers) allows for more than 32K of code, more than 8K of graphics data and extra RAM on the cartridges.

In terms of performance, the hardware in the NES is designed to use as little CPU as possible. It's graphics processor uses tile-based graphics, so all the NES has to do in order to redraw the display is to update a few parameters. In contrast; all the major graphics cards for the PC (up to VGA) are based on bitmapping, so PCs will have to use CPU to redraw every single pixel that changes during a game. This leaves a much smaller ratio of CPU power to actually run the game.

Chuck(G)
May 9th, 2012, 09:39 AM
Compare with the graphics capabilities of the NEC APC of 1982, which used two 7720 graphics controllers and graphics had its own private memory. The IBM PC was not particularly advanced for a personal computer of the time.

vwestlife
May 9th, 2012, 10:13 AM
Compare with the graphics capabilities of the NEC APC of 1982, which used two 7720 graphics controllers and graphics had its own private memory. The IBM PC was not particularly advanced for a personal computer of the time.

Or the ANTIC and GTIA chips in the Atari 400/800 series of 1979, with 256 colors and hardware sprites. Clearly the most advanced graphics of any home computer up until the C64 -- and even then, it could generally hold its own against the C64. And Atari did turn this computer platform into a video game console -- the 5200 -- although the terrible joysticks and lack of 2600 compatibility made that system a flop.

I'm also fond of how the Atari 400/800 series was able to make some really spectacular explosion sound effects, because with the POKEY chip you can use the distortion parameters to make noise from all four of its sound channels simultaneously, compared to most other sound chips of the era, which only have one dedicated noise channel.

Chuck(G)
May 9th, 2012, 11:47 AM
Well, it all depends on how you view sprites. If you're a gamer, they're important. If you're using your C64 to do CAD, maybe not so much.

Anonymous Freak
May 9th, 2012, 03:15 PM
The big difference is dedicated game-related hardware. For example: sprites. The NES could do sprites in dedicated hardware, greatly simplifying the actual CPU instructions.

The best comparison is to compare versions of "California Games" across platforms - as it was available for nearly every computer and game console on the market in the '80s. http://www.mobygames.com/game/california-games/screenshots shows screenshots across platforms.

Plasma
May 9th, 2012, 03:28 PM
In contrast; all the major graphics cards for the PC (up to VGA) are based on bitmapping, so PCs will have to use CPU to redraw every single pixel that changes during a game. This leaves a much smaller ratio of CPU power to actually run the game.

While it's true that the PC has no hardware sprites or tiles, EGA and VGA do support hardware smooth scrolling. Making games like Commander Keen 4-6 possible on a fast 8088 or slow 286, because they do not need to redraw the whole screen.

Chuck(G)
May 9th, 2012, 03:42 PM
As I said, it all depends upon what you'd like to do. I couldn't imagine running PageMaker on an NES, for example--the display quality and the CPU behind it simply isn't up to the job.

twolazy
May 13th, 2012, 04:37 PM
If you really wanted to compare an Nes to a PC, stand back and look at the specs. Since it was a 6502 based it woud be very slow compared to even an XT. Even the Snes had a slow cpu, the 65C816 which was shared by an Apple IIGS. That perhaps should put some perspective into this . It isnt so much that the hardware was better, but that you had a shared platform which makes coding/tweaking/debugging easier, and a video subsystem that had gaming in mind. Its basically just an stripped down Apple II with a fancy video card. The system itself only has 2kb ram!


BTW the Nes didnt have a pure Mos 6502. It was missing a few things to cut down cost, most notably BCD (Binary Coded Decimal) mode, which wasnt ever used.

facattack
May 14th, 2012, 04:24 AM
In terms of performance, the hardware in the NES is designed to use as little CPU as possible. It's graphics processor uses tile-based graphics, so all the NES has to do in order to redraw the display is to update a few parameters. In contrast; all the major graphics cards for the PC (up to VGA) are based on bitmapping, so PCs will have to use CPU to redraw every single pixel that changes during a game. This leaves a much smaller ratio of CPU power to actually run the game.

Thanks, per! When I think about it, the way a game tells the CPU to continue to load the tile for a given level or when to stop must have been ingenious.

Continue, Mario jumped over the pipe at co,ords then stomped the koopa at co,ords.

STOP!, Mario jumped over the pipe at co,ords then was killed by the koopa at co,ords. Reset level to beginning. Minus one life.

It's just ingenious also in how what direction you come into contact with an enemy depends the outcome of the collision. Mostly if you land on top an enemy who isn't spiked, you kill or injure it (depending on what it is). But if its a water-based enemy inside a water level, you take damage even if you hit on top.

So obviously a lot of math and thought was put into even something like a "simple" side-scroller. You couldn't literally compare the machines. Also, it isn't what the raw tech of the chips were in the machine that count, it's how they were programmed to work!

Thank you, tile-based programming! If it weren't for the genius of Nintendo and its many affiliates making games for its systems, it is unlikely we would be still in the middle of a gaming culture. Yes, Sony took the reigns to the kindgom, but even at third place Nintendo is still in the running. :D

vwestlife
May 14th, 2012, 05:47 AM
If it weren't for the genius of Nintendo and its many affiliates making games for its systems, it is unlikely we would be still in the middle of a gaming culture. Yes, Sony took the reigns to the kindgom, but even at third place Nintendo is still in the running. :D

Part of the NES's success was that it didn't look like a video game system; instead of a woodgrain console with joysticks, it looked like a miniature VCR with a pair of sideways remote controls. And at a time when VCRs were all the rage, that was a good thing -- even if the VCR-style "toaster" mechanism became its least reliable part.

VileR
May 16th, 2012, 02:00 PM
In contrast; all the major graphics cards for the PC (up to VGA) are based on bitmapping, so PCs will have to use CPU to redraw every single pixel that changes during a game. This leaves a much smaller ratio of CPU power to actually run the game.While it's true that the PC has no hardware sprites or tiles, EGA and VGA do support hardware smooth scrolling. Making games like Commander Keen 4-6 possible on a fast 8088 or slow 286, because they do not need to redraw the whole screen.

Smooth scrolling was possible on the PC before EGA/VGA - I've personally seen CGA games do it; Prohibition (1987/Infogrames) employes clever timing tricks to do exceptionally smooth 4-way scrolling, and apparently so does Super Zaxxon though I've never seen that one in action. Commander Keen 4-6 have CGA versions too.

Several games for the PCjr could also do smooth scrolling, if that platform counts. Off the top of my head there's River Raid and Pitfall II, though they only scroll vertically.

On that note... is Commander Keen's scrolling really that smooth? I've always found that it kinda fell short of the hype, at least parts 1-3.

Plasma
May 16th, 2012, 04:07 PM
As far as I know, any CGA game that scrolls is doing it all in software, since there isn't enough video memory to fit more than one screen. Software scrolling CGA is less taxing than EGA since you are only moving half the data (2-bits versus 4-bits per pixel).

If you compare the CGA version of Keen 4 with the EGA you will see that it doesn't scroll as smoothly, because it is doing software scrolling. I think Keen 1-3 scrolls as smooth as 4-6 (EGA), but the controls are clunkier.

VileR
May 16th, 2012, 06:57 PM
Here's a description of how Prohibition does CGA hardware scrolling (according to Trixter; taken from the game's Mobygames entry):


Prohibition holds the distinction of being one of the only two games (Super Zaxxon being the other) to support four-way hardware scrolling in IBM CGA at 60Hz, which is notable because IBM CGA only had one video page that took up exactly the size of the screen, so scrolling (in any direction, let alone all of them) shouldn't have been possible.

The game achieves this trick by exploiting a quirk of how IBM implemented CGA in conjunction with the Motorola 6845 character generator chip. IBM only used 14 bits for addressing, so attempting to scroll in any direction using the MC6845 shows the screen "wrapping around" to the other side as addressing space is used up. Prohibition draws new information into the section that is about to wrap around, and then scrolls anyway, bringing that new information into place.

Because the program is literally "racing the beam" to get that information into place before the MC6845 starts drawing the screen, it took careful precomposition of the game's graphics in system RAM so that no calculation would be necessary other than moving memory to video RAM.


So it's not all in software - technically a rather impressive way of getting around the single video page limitation. All I really know is that I was certainly impressed with it back then as a wee one. It really compares very well with games that do fast and smooth hardware scrolling in VGA like Battlestorm from Titus.

Not sure about the CGA versions of Keen 4-6, but it has been claimed that they added CGA support (which wasn't there in parts 1-3) only because they independently discovered a way to scroll it smoothly in hardware... take that for what it's worth. *shrugs*

Trixter
May 17th, 2012, 09:02 PM
Here's a description of how Prohibition does CGA hardware scrolling (according to Trixter; taken from the game's Mobygames entry):

Glad you found that; now I don't have to repeat myself :-)



Not sure about the CGA versions of Keen 4-6, but it has been claimed that they added CGA support (which wasn't there in parts 1-3) only because they independently discovered a way to scroll it smoothly in hardware... take that for what it's worth. *shrugs*

I talked to Romero a few years back and got the straight dope about Keen. Keen 1-3 doesn't actually use smooth scrolling as much as you think it does; it only scrolls left/right up to 7 pixels and draws everything else. Keen 4-6, however, uses a true intelligent tile engine with a 4-directional sliding window. When you scroll in any direction, only the bits coming into frame are drawn. On EGA/VGA, the entire playfield uses screen RAM; for CGA, they uses system ram and then just copy the entire visible window to screen RAM. A lowly 8088 can update the entire 320x200x4 graphics screen roughly 15 times a second which is acceptable for an action game.

Here's what Romero told me exactly:



Jim,

Each Keen engine was different. The Keen 1-3 engine worked as you
described: using the EGA panning register to get pixel-smooth scrolling and
when it was about to hit a tile boundary it refreshed only those tiles on
the screen that needed to change (thus "smart tile refresh").

Keen 4-6's engine was different in that it not only used the EGA panning
register for pixel-smooth horizontal scrolling but it also used the CRTC
ADDRESS register to change the start of screen memory as the screen
scrolled. This means that the entire 64k area of EGA RAM was used for the 2
page-flipped screens. As the player moved around, the start address of
screen RAM changed and tiles were drawn off the edges so when it scrolled to
that area of memory the tiles were already there.

For example, if the player started falling down a hole the CRTC ADDR start
would be moving down through memory as the engine drew tiles off the bottom
of the visible screen area. Eventually you would be wrapping around the EGA
screen segment (0xa000) - it didn't take too long because both screens (for
page-flipping) were in the same segment and ate twice the RAM.

Pretty crazy eh?

njroadfan
May 18th, 2012, 07:34 AM
So obviously a lot of math and thought was put into even something like a "simple" side-scroller. You couldn't literally compare the machines. Also, it isn't what the raw tech of the chips were in the machine that count, it's how they were programmed to work!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collision_detection#Video_games