There’s a Kickstarter up called Linked to the Wall, which aims to create game cartridge wall mounts. The driving idea they have is that games are made into similar form as paintings, framed to the wall. The idea seems to be solid in principle, but there’s few problems, one logistic, that they are either side-stepping or haven’t thought about.
Looking at the prototypes they have, I have to question why do they need to create separate wall mounts to different cartridges. They want to streamline and eliminate all possible manufacturing problems by creating a solid piece of plastic, which is understandable and admirable to a point, but also tells me they want to produce these as cheaply and fast as possible. Designing a wall mount that would be adjustable according to a cartridge’s width isn’t terribly hard. Designing it well is somewhat challenging. Smaller cartridges, like the Game Boy, Game Gear and GB Advance carts would require a smaller solution, one they are also offering, but again with a different mounts for each cartridge. Their design is also lacking Famicom cart design.
Let’s take a look at the depth of the cartridge connectors’ grooves between a Famicom, NES, Mega Drive, Super NES and N64 game carts. To measure the depth, I am using metal ruler that starts from 0mm at its end and a caliper to measure the width of the connector groove.
Let’s put the NES images up before we compare the two.
The Famicom cart is shallower than its Western counterpart on either direction. The width is not a problem with either of these in the design they are currently using. The depth is a minor inconvenience, but 10mm is more than enough build a prong that holds NES cart in place. The plastic thickness is not a problem either, as long as the prongs are not made of too rigid material, which is a given. An adjustable arm could allocate both FC and NES carts just fine, as their design currently places the cartridge on two prongs that supports both front and back with one additional support column going into the groove. This additional piece is what keeps the cart straight, whereas the main prongs take the carts’ weight.
Their prototypes have been 3D printed and it shows. All the larger cartridges they have are slightly slanted forwards. This means they don’t only need to invest into material research than just create injection moulds.
The Mega Drive carts’ groove depth is a bit shallower than either FC or NES carts’, but the width is between NES’ and FC’s. Because the MD cart is shallower, the support column would need to be 1mm shorter, but at this scale and weight that’s not an issue with the right material.
Super NES/Famicom cartridges have the same width and depth across the board despite their different outer appearance between US and EUR/JPN region. The NES still has the widest groove, meaning SNES carts shouldn’t pose a problem with an adjustable arm.
The N64 has similar depth to the FC carts, but a Mega Drive cartridge still beats it. It’s width is the smallest, which means the adjustable hand should be at that size, minimum.
Let’s say that the adjustable arm is a design where there’s basically two tubes inside each other and you pull them out. If the minimum width is 70mm, it’s has enough room to spread at least 40mm either direction, adding a whopping extra 80mm to the total width, making the arm at 150mm at maximum, an unneeded amount. The needed width could be marked down with slots a peg slides into or with a small screw, both low in profile if done right. Another option is to position the adjuster the point where the mount is secured to the wall. Just have two slaps of plastic that you screw together at whatever distance from each you want. They wouldn’t even need to make large change in their current design to accommodate this.
If you have an access to a 3D printer, you could actually just use these measurements and do your own mounts if you wanted.
With Game Boy and GB Advance games, you have the exact same width and depth with both cartridges and there’s no good reason why to have separate mounts for both of them. Have the support wedged slightly into the connector groove and it would keep either GB or GBA carts in place.
A thing that I haven’t mentioned at all is thickness. For the record, here are the measurements for the carts used:
FC – 17mm
NES – 16.5mm
MD – 17mm
SFC/EUR SNES – 19.8mm in the middle, 17mm at screw point
US SNES – 20mm in the middle section, 17mm in outer sections
N64 – 18.9mm before tapering out
Having the main supports elongating to 18mm should be just fine, keeping the mount low profile. With the adjustable design, you could have the support prongs holding the cartridge in place with similar level of low profile.
The design given in the Kickstarter also leaves the cartridges’ connectors all open for further oxidation. While this is supposed to be a solution to problem of having games in boxes, which is really a non-problem to begin with, at least in these boxes the games were sealed from excess moisture and other unwanted materials floating in the air.
The problem of connectors being exposed is not really all that easy to solve without additional design tweaking. To keep the production as low as possible, you really can’t have luxuriously separate pieces that would seal the grooves, as they have a different height. The height with Nintendo’s cartridges’ are pretty solid 10-12mm, with N64 having the largest height, but also the thickest wall. Mega Drive’s height is same as N64’s; 12mm. The wall thickness is not the same across the board either. An adjustable solution for this would not be too low profile. A solution would be to have the lower support be thin enough but strong enough to be adjusted according the width and height, but as mentioned that’d skyrocket the costs both in design and production.
They also have basically opened some of the game boxes in their examples. These cardboard boxes are hard to come by as it is, and opening them as such ruins them. I hope they used a scan copy from the Internet.
I also have to question their advertisement slogan “Turn your games into unique wall art!” seeing there are thousands of these games out there.
Of course, you could also do what I did to throw some of my games to the wall and save some room while you’re at it. Just pick some shelves from Ikea and put your games on it. You can put more games on the wall that way, save some money and protect them from dust. Plus, when you’re tired with them you can use the shelves for whatever else than just stash the frames and mounts away.
Looking at the home consoles we have now, there is little variety to them. Wii U doesn’t really have anything big to demand a purchase and most games on PS4 and Xbone are crossplatform titles. An argument that often stems from this is that this serves the consumer the best as he now has complete freedom to choose whatever platforms and get all the games he wants. While a valid argument, the selection nowadays seems to be more limited, more homogeneous than what it was in previous generations.
The competition between SEGA’s Mega Drive and Nintendo’s Super Nintendo illustrates well the difference two consoles can have in their library. When you add PC-Engine/ Turbografix-16 to the mix, you have consoles that have a distinctly different library to them. Games that crossed platforms at the time were relatively scarce. Some franchises did cross platforms from back and forth, like Castlevania. Mega Drive exclusive Vampire Killer/Bloodlines/New Generation does follow the usual classic Castlevania fare, yet a unique entry in the series. Similarly Rondo of Blood on PC-Engine had its own and Super Nintendo had the comparative Super Castlevania IV. This is a good example how three games in a same series offer similar experience, but are able to stand on their own. Not only all three are good games, but expanded the series as well.
Another way to bring similar yet totally unique games on a system was to create similar games. The Story of Thor/Beyond the Oasis on the Mega Drive is often compared to the 2D The Legend of Zelda games, thou the influences can be tracked to Hydlide and Ultima. Never underestimate the impact Ultima had on the game culture and industry alongside Wizardry. Anyway, nobody in their right mind would call The Story of Thor a simple Zelda clone. Sure, it offers top-down Action RPG gameplay, but that’s nothing too uncommon, especially for its era.
Nowadays you will not see companies making different games for different platforms like this. This is simply because the development for current generation of machines is expensive and time consuming. According to Masari Ijuin, it takes eight to ten times more work to develop for the current generation. Higher power also means higher needs for time, money and other resources. This is directly mirrored in game prices, which are on the rise.
To use Castlevania as a continuing example, developing both Lords of Shadow 1 and 2 took a lot of time and money. Mirror of Fate is a piece with smaller development budget simply because it was originally developed for a console that does not demand that insane development cycles modern Triple A games seem to automatically get. Mirror of Fate got ported to other platforms later down the line. The argument I’ve seen most thrown around is that pushing the same game on different platforms maximises the profit the company can gain from a game. While I do get called a corporate bitch from time to time, this isn’t something I would support, because that means we’ve lost variety. We don’t have three different Castlevanias on different platforms, we’re having the one and the same Castlevania.
To use Mega Drive and Super Nintendo as an example again, there was a reason to choose between the two, thou if you wanted to get Shooting games, you got the PC-Engine/Turbografix-16. Both consoles had their own variety of games to offer. When a company did one sort of game on one platform, you could be sure you would see a strike back on the other. The reason why Super Nintendo was named as the kiddy console was because it lacked the serious sports titles. The NES was filled with sports titles, and so was the Mega Drive. It gathered a different audience, and the games reflected it. There are so many legendary games on developed during the time when multiplatform titles were a universal standard. Even thou we are having more games developed than ever before, there is a distinct lack of that spark that made the best ones unique jewels.
I question if having an access to almost every game on one platform trumps over having variety in the library of games we are offered in the same manner I question the need for the higher power hardware for home gaming, especially during a harsh economic depression. It would be great if companies saw a game that becomes a huge hit on a system, and then proceed to aim to beat that game’s success on another. It’s true that the competition between developers is harsh, especially considering there are companies giving their games out for free and allowing Valve to devalue their products in Steam. Game industry has gotten too big for its own good, and games have become a common commodity with too little variety.
Cartridges or cassettes. Whatever you call them, the bottom line is there is something tactile in holding one. The corners, the plastic and the label artwork’s surface, they all carry something any of the disc based medias just lack. They can take abuse and survive being dropped into a lake below zero degrees after drying them out and other things like that. You can have them without their casing and still be sure that they’ll survive.
While it may sound stupid to review the cartridges Nintendo had for Famicom, NES, SNES and N64, take this as a thought practice. The insides of the carts don’t matter here, just the casing. Of course, you can’t have just the cart, you need to take into notice the overall design of the console. It would be unnatural to design a console and not give a damn about how the cart would look, right? With the exercise I hope you all think what has gone into each and every detail, how and why they were designed. One thing you all notice right away is that none of these carts have sharp corners. Things like that, small but every so vital are hidden in each design. Everything that looks simple has a complex design behind it, and these carts have some simplest shapes with reasons we can’t even begin to think why,
Let’s start with the FC cartridges.
I admit that I’ve grown to like FC carts more as the time has gone by. My first FC-sized cart was a 64-in-1 multicart that contained not too uncommon set of games. A good set, ranging from shooters like Gradius (renamed Grading) and B-Wings, to platformers like Nuts and Milk and Ninja JaJaMaru-kun, all the way classics like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man. Anyway, the problem with the cart is that FC carts need an adapter part in order to be pulled out from a NES that, and the pin layout is different. Still, FC carts are neat little things, combining a good size/weight ratio.
The FC cartridges came in variety of colours and shapes. Many hardcore Famicom collectors seem to pride themselves on recognizing the manufacturer of the game simply by glancing at the case’s shape, a deed that is not all too difficult with certain moulds having the logo of the company, like IREM or Jaleco. This is a splitting thing, as some of the designs are good, but some of the designs are just awful. The Bandai cartridge above baffles the mind, as the ribbed sides tend to get caught on the cart slot on the console. Well, this is a problem only if you don’t pull the cart straight up. However, this is not such a huge deal if you have a version of Famicom with the cartridge eject function, like the original or Twin Famicom. The AV Famicom could’ve used the same function, as just pulling the cart from the console isn’t a valid option, unless the accepting pins on the console are loose as hell or manage support your pull against the console with your fingers. It’s just faster and easier to hold the console with your other hand.
Still, the overall design serves the function very well. Sadly, most FC carts lack any sort of end or top label, whichever you prefer to call them. However, in the photo you can see that Konami games usually have a label that wraps to the top whereas Bandai has opted to use a specific slot for a sticker. Joy Mecha Fight actually has a tape on top of it, to which I’ve written the game’s name. Companies also tend to put something in the back of the carts, like a quick guide how to play the game and an area where to write your name in. This was dropped in every other Nintendo cartridge afterwards, replaced with the standardised info box.
The size can be a bit a problem, as the smaller the carts are, the easier they are to misplace and lose. The construction is good and the plastic used is pretty damn high quality, resisting mechanical stress very well. Next to this the plastic just doesn’t want to give in, unlike the plastic used in 64-in-1, from which we can see the insides.
Overall, the FC carts are well designed that have certain elements lacking, but seeing how there are wide variety of different ones to choose from and some of them fix problems that the other ones have. The lack of standard design has allowed more dynamic use of the carts, and everyone will find styles they like, and styles they will deem worthless.
On the other hand, the NES cartridges take a different approach. While some of the FC carts without a doubt look more like toys in comparison to the industrial grey, standard sizes and shaped carts West is more accustomed to.
The design made design choice is easy to understand. As the NES was redesigned to fit the Western sensibilities, the cart is to the console what a VHS tape is to a VCR. The Zero Force insertion, while pretty damn neat idea and functionality, was more or less a flawed design. Still, properly treated consoles didn’t have any troubles, as one of my consoles didn’t saw any sort of maintenance in fifteen years, and it was still working just fine.
Anyway, the NES cart is more utilitarian than the FC carts were. The division of the NES cart front follows the Golden Cut somewhat loosely, having the rectangle pattern on the left, and the label positioned so that its centre is in one of the cross points of the Cut. The label also wraps to the top, allowing for an end label. The arrow, which points what end goes into the machine first, is in the middle of the cart but also positions itself near the lowest line of the cut. Overall, rather pleasant design that allows the label to pop out more. The whole front is also covered in a very slight pattern fine sand-blast like pattern, which is common. It adds a nice feeling, despite the sides and the back being completely sleek.
The rectangle pattern ends with a spot for pulling the cart out from the console. The rectangle pattern also add friction and the whole position is pretty natural. However, I can’t but wonder whether or not it would have been better to shuffle these design bits around and dedicate the whole top for a sort of handle. This would have forced the label to be moved down and could’ve taken most of the cart surface. Could’ve been an interesting take.
The NES cart is about twice as high as the FC cart despite the PCB inside is still the same size. I have seen some people having problems with that, as it does waste space and plastic, but ultimately it is a very good sized cartridge. It offers more tactile experience, but sadly the carts after all these years do look somewhat barren in comparison to the Eastern brethrens. Nevertheless, the standardised appearance and more utilitarian design does work, and as the carts are sitting inside the console, there were no need to add additional bells and whistles to them. The toploader NES did change this, but this is more the fault of the redesigned console than the carts’ had one them.
The NES carts are of good design. Unlike the FC carts, they the standard shape doesn’t leave anyone cold, but at the same time they are incredibly subdued. Not many companies add so much space for the sake of design, and Nintendo did good with these. If you wanted more eyecandy from them, just remember that they’re not something to have your eyes on; they’re just containers for the game inside.
It should be noted that the FC and NES carts use different number of pins and the insides are turned. They don’t mix and match. As such, when you put a FC game into a NES with the adapter, it needs to face wrong way. Same with the NES games on FC consoles. It’s kind of stupid to play Turtles III: The Manhattan Project on my AV Famicom facing the back to front.
The Super Nintendo never lied. It was essentially a super version of the NES in many ways. Unlike with the NES, all the core designs each side of the ponds adhered to the top load mechanism. Unlike with the NES, PAL region shared the same console and cart design with Japan. For whatever reason the US design saw a change.
The insides of the carts are the same this time around, PCBs facing the same side and all that. The US and JPN Super NES shared the same regional coding, so the shape is different and the US carts have grooves in the back for further prevention. Funnily enough, the PAL carts have nothing to prevent the user from inserting JPN games into PAL consoles.
The JPN/PAL design is more curved and fits most hands just fine. There’s small ridges in the sides of the cart, but they offer no real purpose outside visuals. They could be for adding more friction when the cart is pushed into the console, but it’s far more practical just to push it down from the top. The lines going from the all around the cart are neat little touches on otherwise a very NES like standardised appearance. The slot on the front of the cart is part of the locking mechanism. When the power is turned on, a tab is pushed there and this is what holds the cart in place. It also prevents ejection until power is turned off. The back of the cart has a slight texture, and this adds decent amount of friction, despite the Super NES carts having no need for it.
The size is now utilitarian, build to house just the PCB and nothing more. The plastic quality is still good, thou the larger size means that the same thickness of the shells can raise some worry. I actually own a Super Return of the Jedi with the back cracked in. The PCB itself is still in perfectly fine condition, but the amount of room the PCB has inside the shells is surprising. Next to this, the JPN/PAL carts feel slightly cheap despite the plastic quality.
The Super Famicom cart is pretty neat. It’s like the best of both words of FC and NES cart, but it lacks the end label. Otherwise it’s very pleasing thing to look at. Unlike with the NES cart, the whole surface of the JPN/EUR cart is covered with that fine texture. The cart fits fine with the console design itself, and the slight curves are met with few straights.
The US carts however are… I’ll just say it straight; I’m not a fan of the US redesign of the Super NES with its darker gray and purple. The cartridge of course mirrors the console and follows the similar rugged, almost prototype look the US console has. Gone are curves, in are straight lines and levels. The locking slot is in the exact same position, but lacks the textured lines of the JPN/PAL carts. Instead of vertical lines, the US cart has sectioned 1/6 on both sides of the carts for what I imagine is where you hold the cart from. The rectangle pattern returns from the NES carts in a different form and are much larger and wrap to the back of the cart. They don’t really add much friction, as the lines on the carts are too shallow and too far between to service in this fashion. As such, they seem to be more akin to visual lines, which is not all too horrible. However, the side sections are just perfect size for pushing the carts down with your thumbs, leaving the label nicely into your view.
The US Super NES carts have a juxtaposition where they are just a tad too busy with elements with little to no detail in them. This opposes the JPN/PAL cart, which has less larger areas like that, but has the little details on the side. On the positive side, the US cart has an end label, which is nothing short of great. Perhaps it would be applicable to say that the US cart suffers from having the US Super NES as its parent console. Nevertheless, if you like how the US console was redesigned, then you’ll most likely find the US cartridge more appealing than the JPN/EUR design. It’s interesting to look at the two designs and notice how they both have a mix if FC and NES cart designs, but in different amounts.
The N64 cartridges on the hand are meagre in comparison to either 8-bit generation or 16-bit cartridges. The design path from Super NES to N64 cartridges is pretty clear and not necessarily a good thing.
First of all, there is only one version of the N64 cartridge. No regional variations. However, similar physical region locking still applied and the back mould had different slots between Japan and US once more to prevent people from playing games across regions. Let’s get the similarities off the table first.
The N64 cart has the same vertical lines for visual flavour as the Super NES cart and are relatively in the same place, framing the label in the middle. However, the label is now more confined and has more vertical dimension. It would seem similar area for holding the cartridge applies here as it did with the US Super NES cart, but lack any sort of texturing outside the fine grain. The N64 cart has also inherited both curves and straights from both Super NES carts, saving the curve for the top and being otherwise flat. This is closely tied to design of the console too, as the curve is exactly the same the N64’s front. It’s an excellent design consistency, something that lacked in previous consoles. Well, the NES did have it to some extent, but mostly because the NES was a box you pushed the cart in.
N64 carts are hefty. They are smaller than Super NES carts and their weight/size ratio is more closer to the FC carts, and perhaps are too heavy for their size. However, unlike the Super NES design, the N64 carts don’t feel cheap. On the contrary, a N64 cart feels almost like a luxary item with its sturdy build and the ever present high quality plastic.
While the design overall is rather minimalistic, the label is there to draw your eye in. The small concave areas at the lower front corners of the cart are there to add some good visual, but don’t take too much attention. They don’t serve any functional purpose, though adding just ever so slight guides into the cartridge port in the N64 could added some firmness in keeping the cart in place. The lack of locking and ejection mechanism had an impact on the design without a doubt and most certainly were taken away as a cost cutting method.
Sadly, N64 games lack end labels. However, the design doesn’t permit them from the get go. The curved top doesn’t allow the label to wrap to the top, but I would imagine a small section could have been reserved for a separate sticker.
Out of all Nintendo home console cartridges, at least from their main line, the N64 has the least elements to mention about. In a way it is the peak of Nintendo home console cartridge design, however I would argue otherwise. If there had been one more step, other than the 64DD, I would imagine Nintendo could’ve made a cartridge to finish all cartridges. A cartridge that would’ve become the very epitome what it means to have a part of the console itself in your hands. Nevertheless, as a swansong for home console cartridges from Nintendo, N64 carts do an admirable job in showing that a well designed and a well built piece is just a joy to use. It’s a well designed piece of hardware, it can proudly say it was the last.
(The reason why 64DD disks are not included in this is because 64DD was a failed addon and they were Zip Disks and not cartridges. GameCube also had a cartridge, but that was intended only for the developers and never for the home consumer.)
Square-Enix was once a company I followed. Two actually, Squaresoft and Enix. During the last decade after their merging we can pretty safely say that they made most of their money on remakes of their past titles of Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. The new Final Fantasy games haven’t even made me interested in them, and I bought Final Fantasy XII just because it’s part of the Ivalice Alliance. Never really bothered playing it more than some eight hours, and then basically discarded it to me shelf. Perhaps some day I’ll return to it.
I have to ask if Square-Enix is having a bias towards the games they own. We’ve seen that it’s the Square side of the company controlling and overseeing everything, and very little Enix is in there. We’ve seen rereleases of multiple Final Fantasy games from PlayStation to GameBoy Advance to PSP, but we really haven’t seen any Enix games been remade and released.
SquEnix has an interesting in this regard. They could play it all out with the Heaven and Earth tetralogy and call it the the only contender ever to stand against Final Fantasy on equal grounds or the like. Back in the day you could hear whispers of Terranigma being the challenger to Final Fantasy III (VI). Nowadays it’s almost universally accepted as one of the defining games in the Action RPG genre on the SNES. Being only released in Europe and Japan, the game’s pretty damn expensive unless you’re buying the German language version. Rereleasing this game (and adding more dungeons and other nifty extra stuff) would drop the English cart’s price even among collectors, and more importantly it would allow pretty much everybody to get their hands on Terranigma. The game does need a retranslation much like every other 16-bit game does. SNES game reverse engineering is easy these days even of they have lost the source code; they can just use the same tools emulation scene uses. It’s not unheard of.
Then on what console should Terranigma be rereleased, you ask. Seeing we’re getting bunch on new consoles next year in E3, putting (updated) Terranigma into WiiWare, XBLA and PSN wouldn’t be a bad move. I’d love the idea of getting a PSP/Vita or some sort of DS release, but seeing neither Sony’s or Nintendo’s handhelds are making any proper money, the only realistic route is digital sale. That doesn’t mean they could be cheap about it. On the contrary, they could be smart and pour few extra resources into the project and convert it into proper HD, or at least make it that the pixels won’t make your eyes bleed on a 50″ screen.
I’m usually against digital distribution because the customer has the least control over his products in that form. Good Old Games is one of the few digital distributors I can trust. However, I do recognize it’s advantages, and with Terranigma we can actually put the game’s quality into test with digital distribution. One advantage it has over traditional physical distribution that some of the competition is levelled down. It’s not eliminated, but every product has the same equal opportunity. On WiiWare it would be going against the likes of Super Mario Bros. in popularity. On XBLA and PSN there’s PacMan and the like. It’s a harsh competition. If Terranigma is as good as people tend to regard it as, it’ll sell like hotcakes. If it’s not, then most it’ll most likely stay somewhere around Top 50 selling games, but that’s it.
I do believe that Terranigma would sell. It depends on what SquEnix would do with it. The vanilla Terranigma shouldn’t cost more than 5 bucks or so. Twenty if they remake it like they did with the GBA and PSP ports. SquEnix doesn’t really have anything to lose with this idea, much like they don’t have anything to lose if they ever actually decide to remake Final Fantasy VII. However, FFVII remake would fetch far larger development team and longer time to properly make, while they can just whip Terranigma up just like they did with the Chrono Trigger port to the DS.
Speaking of Chrono Trigger, the amount if English cartridges on both Trigger and Terranigma are limited, but if you ever happen to check the prices of the Japanese carts you’ll notice that they’re much cheaper. Chrono Trigger’s actually commonly bundled with random 10 Super Famicom game packs that game stores sell to get rid of them, as is Terranigma. I actually got my copy of Tenchi Souzou around 15 euros few years back, complete with box, manual and the protective plastic bag. Seeing how the game frequently fetches 80€+ prices in every auction, it makes me a bit dumbfounded that SquEnix hasn’t managed to shove their hands in. 80€ is high price for Terraniga, seeing that a rather large quantity of them is in circulation in the end. Just like with bad games, it’s the collectors’ value and all that which jacks up the price. It’s stupid to see Terranigma go with such high prices. Having played the game quite some time, I can safely say that it is a good game by every standard you can think of. However, just like Final Fantasy III/VI, you do feel how age has caught upon some of its mechanics. Games like Super Mario Bros. 3 are basically ageless, but games like Final Fantasy and Terranigma are usually ravaged by time. Slowly, but surely. Another example would be the Ys series, but Nihon Falcom has been remaking the series for some time now and these remakes will stand the test of time better than the two SNES classics. Not because they’re newer, but because they’re more refined, just like Super Mario Bros. 3 or Space Invaders is. SquEnix has all the means to make Terranigma shine like it should.
And while they’re at it, they might want to check the rest of the tetralogy; Soul Blazer, Illusion of Gaia/Time and The Granstream Saga.
Hmm, perhaps I’ll dwell deeper into Granstream Saga some day. It’s the ignored last game of the Heaven and Earth tetralogy, so visiting it after visiting Ys would seem viable.