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CREATED XXX.XX.1997
UPDATED MAR.16.2006

I would like to thank the following people for their help creating this page, or for their feedback.

Kwok Kwai Fong, Jeremy D. Chadwick (aka Y0SHi), Amos, DeceiverX, P-r0t, Jayces, imid, Sgt. bowhack, goroh, James, Pascal Blancaneaux, Owe Bergsten (Bergsala Sweden), Yasuhiko Hirose (Nintendo of Japan), Sylvio Hodos, Kevin Grifford (aka |tsr)

DISK DRIVE ADD-ON FOR THE FAMICOM
NINTENDOS FIRST MAJOR PIRATE-FRIENDLY MISTAKE...
The folling information was taken from the book, Game Over - How Nintendo zapped an American industry, captured your dollars and enslaved your children, written by David Sheff. Minor things have been changed or added.

On February 21 - 1986, after two major delays, Nintendo was ready to launch a new product in Japan, an add-on piece of hardware for their extremely successful Family Computer, better known as Famicom. The new product was called Famicom Disk System, and would be the "new media of family computers" the company boasted.

The new add-on was no less than a disk drive which ad to be attached through the cartridge port of the Famicom, using a special RAM cartridge. With it, the Famicom could run software on floppy disks instead of cartridges. At the time ROM chips were quite expensive, so Nintendo invented the Disk System to lower not only manufacturing costs, but also retail prices.

The Disk System was rather expensive though, 15000 yen - whic is more than $100). Nintendo did everything they could to make it seductive though. They claimed that games would be better, since disks had more memory than cartridges. They would ofcourse also be cheaper. Famicom cartridges originally cost about 2500 yen. That figure doubled by 1985 to 5000yen, almost $40. Dragon Quest 4 was sold for more than $80. Disk games would only be 2600yen, about $20.

The biggest advantage to the Disk System for consumers was that the disks could be used again and again. If costumers who had bought a game they didn't like or ones they grew tired of, a special machine called the Disk Writer, which looked a bit like a jukebox, would be set up in toy and hobby shops throughout Japan. Instead of a menu of songs, the Disk Writer had a list of the latest games. A disk would slip into the Disk Writer and the existing game would be replaced by a new one. The fee was only 500yen.

In an expensive advertisement campaign, Nintendo announced that some of the up-comming games only would be available for the Disk System. It said there would be 10000 Disk Writers in retail outlets in the first year. Half a million Disk Systems were sold in three months, almost 2 million in 1986 alone.

But there was dissatisfaction with the system. Licensees hated it. They had to determine wether to sell games in cartridge or disk form - or both. Nintendo charged them a rather large fee to convert their games to disk, and returns were much lower than on cartridge games. Nintendo required the licensees to sign a new contract if they wanted to make Disk System games, and it included new restrictions. Nintendo not only determined which games would be released on disk, but also retained half ownership of the copyrights to all Disk System games.

There were other problems. Semiconductor technology improved and prices dropped, so Nintendo disks actually had less storage capacity than cartridges. As if that wasn't enough, retailers complained that the Disk Writer took up too much space in their stores.

By 1990, 4.4 million Disk Systems had been sold, sofar less than Nintendo had projected, keep in mind that the fist two million units were sold already in 1986. The company backed off it's promise (threat) to release games only on disk. Super Mario Bros was supposed to have been a disk game, but it came both as disk game and cartridge. The best games were available on cartridge, so many disk systems fell into disuse. The system was not a resounding success, but the sale of 4 million pieces of hardware at over $100 each can hardly be described as a failure.

However, the Famicom Disk System, in short FDS, was not as bad as David Sheff claimed in his book. Back in the days there were fan clubs, and serveral Japanese I've been talking to loved the system more than anything. If you search on some of the japanese internet searchengines, you will be able to find a long list of homepages made by people who have made Famicom Disk Fanclubs with slogans such as "WE LOVE DISK SYSTEM" :)

Another reason why the Disk System became such a huge success was that just about every disk game had a save function, even games like Castlevania and Metroid, which we remember as not having the ability to save.

But the success of the Famicom Disk System was mostly because of the pirate business going on at the time. At one point, pirate disks were much easier to find than original Nintendo disks. If you take a look on ebay today, you will also see that around 70-80% of the disks sold, are pirate disks.

The Disk System was put to rest around 1988, when Nintendo decided to take them off the shelves due to piracy. But the system lived on, the last Famicom Disk game known to have been produced, was Puyo Puyo Volume 5, released in 1991.

Nintendo didn't quit supporting the Famicom Disk System until Septemer 30 - 2003 though. Over 100 FDS titles had been available for purchase from their website in Japan. New disks were not available, but owners of original FDS disks could have them overwritten with new games for 500 yen (Disk Writer).

Because of the massive piracy going on at the time, a Nintendo Entertainment System Disk System was never planned, and then again, maybe it was. The NES featured a secret expansion port, for which a Disk System could have been planned. This is nothing but wild guesses though.

THE DISK SYSTEM HARDWARE

The Famicom disk system, labeled HVC-022, is a box with the drive itself and a battery compartment which requires 6 type C batteries. The system is also able to use a powersupply. I don't know the real specs, but I've with great result used a Sega Megadrive powersupply (output of 10V and 1.2A, center polarity negative).

To be able to connect to the Famicom, a RAM adapter, labeled HVC-023, is included. The RAM adapter connects to the Famicom through the cartridge slot and to the disk drive through an attached cable to the backside of the disk system. The RAM adapter contains 32 kilobytes of PRG RAM (Program RAM) and 8 kilobytes of CHR RAM (Character RAM).

When the Famicom is powered, with the FDS RAM cart inserted, the Disk System intro screen will start. A big sign saying "Nintendo", or "Famicom" on the Twin Famicom, followed by Please set disk card. If no disk is inserted, Mario and Luigi will appear on the screen and Luigi will be chasing Mario because he keeps turning the light off, good fun for a few seconds :-)

As mentioned, there's also a system called Twin Famicom. It was released by Sharp and is "just" a Famicom and Disk System merged into one unit. It was released in 1986 in two colors, black and red. It's said that one twin famicom color is harder to find, but personally I've seen 50/50 of each, so I'm not really too sure about that. If I remember correctly, the price back then was 32000 yen.

THE FAMICOM DISK

The Famicom disk, or "Disk Cards" as Nintendo called them, is 3" double-sided floppy disk, with a whopping 64K on each side. The format was invented by Mitsumi and was called "Quick Disk". The Nintendo version of Quick Disk only received minor updates, such as the word NINTENDO being printed into the disk, where the letters I and N were printed deeper into the disk. An opposite NINTENDO text was created inside the Disk System and was most likely thought to be a good security, so only official Nintendo disk cards would fit.

It didn't require a lot of pirate companies to bypass this security. Disks would pop up with words such as NINFENDO or NINIENDO. Other disk brands, such as Mag Disk, Mitsuya and Tiger, would make small holes in the disks, to ensure that they could be inserted without getting rejected by the I and N security logo inside the Disk System.

The Famicom Disk did not did not have cover protection of the magnetic disk, just like the 5" floppy we all know from the C64 and "early" (1980's) Computers. Nintendo did release 5 games with Disk Cards with a protective shutter. These disks are easy to spot as they were blue, the original Famicom Disks were yellow.

THE FAMICOM DISK MASCOT

To promote the Famicom Disk System, Nintendo came up with a mascot, a little yellow fella called Disk-Kun, also known as Mr. Disk. I'm not sure, but Disk-Kun seemed like a very quiet mascot, maybe due to the fact that he has no mouth. But he did appear on almost every disk label and "box art". But he did manage to guest appear in a few games, such as Super Smash Bros Melee, where he acted as a trophy. Bust also in the recently released WarioWare Touch! for the DS, Disk-Kun managed to get a minor roles.

SUPER MARIO BROS 2 AND DOKI DOKI PANIC

After the great success of Super Mario Bros, Nintendo Co. Ltd. decided that the next Super Mario game should be a Disk Only game, what a great way to promote their new piece of hardware, who wouldn't want to play a sequel to Super Mario Bros? and to do that, they of course had to purchase the Disk System. Super Mario Bros 2 was released in Japan in 1986 and it was directed by Takashi Tezuka who was programmer of the original Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario Bros. 2 was nothing more than the first Super Mario game though, but with new stages and minor changes, such as a mushroom with negative effect. This version of Super Mario Bros. 2 was never released outside Japan though, well until the Super Mario All-Star compilation was released worldwide, and the Japanese version was now known as "the lost levels".

The lost levels did exist on cartridge though. A pirate outlet somewhere in Asia managed to port the game and release it on cartridge. Back in the early emulation days, an effort to port the game once again carried out, the project was almost successful, but was then abandoned. Pirate carts with the lost levels are quite rare, so good luck if you want to hunt one down. The various dumps and hack (missing some of the titlescreen) should be floating around out there.

Of course Europe and America got a Super Mario Bros 2 game, but our release was completely different from how we knew and loved Super Mario. This alternative version of Super Mario Bros 2 was eventually released in Japan as Super Mario USA.

In 1987 Nintendo, in cooperation with Fuji Television, developed and released a Disk System game called Yume Koujou Doki Doki Panic, also known as Dream Shop or just Doki Doki Panic. The game was developed and released to promote their Yume Kojo event, held in 1987. The game featured the masco family of the Yume Koujou event, an Arab family with the siblings Imajin and Lina and their parents, Papa and Mama.

The other characters in the game were all created by Nintendo, such as the ones we know as Wart (Mamu) and Birdie. The story takes place inside a book and the game is not completed until all 4 main characters have completed all stages. Fortunately you are able to save in Doki Doki Panic.

Doki Doki Panic became quite a success in Japan and Shigeru Miyamoto must've liked what he saw in the game. The most likely reason why the original Super Mario Bros 2 game wasn't released outside Japan was probably because of the very high difficulty level.

Miyamoto changed the main characters in Doki Doki Panic as well as a lot of other minor tings, such as the bonus stage and so that you only had to complete the game with any of the characters - which now were changable before each of the 7 worlds, and Doki Doki Panic became Super Mario Bros 2 in the US and Europe.

As a kid I used to hate Super Mario Bros 2 for being so different from the first game. But over the years I've grown to love the game quite a bit and I will probably go as far as saying that this must be my favourite NES game ever.

When the Gameboy Advance launched in 2001, Super Mario USA (Super Mario Bros 2) was ported and used the the major launch title, called Super Mario Advance. Again the game received a graphical update and the addition of a whole new adventure where the player has to collect 2 eggs in each level and complete the level without loosing a life. The orignal Japanese Super Mario Bros 2 "The Lost Levels" was also released for the Gameboy Advance as a part of the Famicom Mini collection, a collection of 30 old Famicom games released for the GBA. The last 10 of the 30 Famicom Mini games were Disk System games.

FAMICOM DISK GAMES

Some of the Nintendo classics made their debut on the Famicom Disk System, such as the Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Kid Icarus (Mirror of Paltena) all were Disk System exclusive. The disks are stored in hard plastic cases with a "box art" inlay. The solid disk plastic box is then stored in yet another plastic box along with a manual. This box containing both disk and manual is sealed by a small sticker with Disk-kun on it. So if the seal was/is is broken, you would know that the disk could have been used.

Some games were packed in cooler packaging though, especially most of Square's games, released by their "Dog" label. But WaveJack/Imagineer also had some nice releases, like their release of a game called "Moeta Princess". No only did the game include a nice manual and map for the game, but also a poster of Yasuko Tomita (a Japanese actress), who on a cassette tape which also is included, tells a story, based on the game, I guess. Everything is packed nicely in a large cardboard box with styrofoam inlay.

DRIVE AND DISK ERRORS

The most common problem with Famicom Disk System, is a drive belt inside the drive. Over the years the belt will eventually break. Fortunately drive belts aren't as impossible to find these days as they were just a few years ago. A quick search on ebay and you should be able to find a replacement. The belt in my Disk System has been there since it was bought back in the 80's and it is still going at it. A complete guide to changing the belt can be found here.

Another thing is the damn Disk errors. Below is a complete list of error messages. All of them are numbered on the screen with no really great aditional information, hopefully this will help you. Error 1, 2 and 7 should be easy to figure out, the rest might be because of a faulty disk, though you might want to try it on another disk system before throwing it away or whatever.

ERROR 01 Disk not correctly inserted. (No Disk Card)
ERROR 02 Battery error. Check power adaptor or batteries.
ERROR 03 Broken prong on disk card.
ERROR 04 Wrong gamemaker ID.
ERROR 05 Wrong game name.
ERROR 06 Wrong version name.
ERROR 07 A, B side error (eject disk, turn and insert disk again).
ERROR 08 Disk #1 wrong.
ERROR 09 Disk #2 wrong.
ERROR 10 Disk #3 wrong.
ERROR 20 screen data differs.
ERROR 21 Disk header block(*NINTENDO-HVC*) part is wrong.
ERROR 22 Disk header block reecognition #$01 isn't read and cant be ignored.
ERROR 23 File recognition block #$02 can't read for several reasons and cant be ignored.
ERROR 24 File header block recognition #$03 can't read and cant be ignored.
ERROR 25 File data block recognition #$04 can't read and cant be ignored.
ERROR 26 Can't save properly to disk card.
ERROR 27 Block end mark seen and ends prematurely.
ERROR 28 The disk unit and the same period can't take it.
ERROR 29 The disk unit and the same period can't take it.
ERROR 30 Disk card too full to save.
ERROR 31 Data number of a disk card doesn't match up.

Cleaning cartridges does exist for the Disk System, but today they're extremely hard to find.

DISK WRITER AND OTHER WAYS OF COPING GAMES

The Disk Writer was sort of like a vending machine. People could either buy new empty disks, costing 2000 yen each, or they could bring in their own disks, and have them re-written with a new game. The Disk Writer was placed in most retail stores and the game price was 500 yen, including a manual for the new game.

Judging from the picture, one Disk Writer could contain 9 different games. While most Disk Writers dissapeared when the Famicom business died out, Nintendo kept the service running for as long as 2003, it was closed down at September 30 that year. Though at the end people were no longer able to purchase new disks, only old ones could be re-written.

A small upgrade to the original Mario Bros., Return of Mario Bros. (Kaettekita Mario Brothers) was one of the few Famicom Disk System games available exclusively from the Famicom Disk Writer and not sold separately. All Night Nippon Super Mario Brothers, a special version of Super Mario Bros was at one point available from the Disk Writer. The game was originally the prize of a competition held by a radio station. A few tousand copies were made for the radio station to give out to the lucky winners.

Consumers loved the cheap games available from the Disk Writer. But retailers complained about the Disk Writer not only having a negative effect on their software sales, but it also took up too much space. Pirates wanted their piece of the cake aswell. A device called ilinepc allowed users to connect a Famicom Disk System to a PC using the parallel port.

Other ways of copying games of course also existed, such as connecting two Famicom Disk Systems and using a special copy program, Doctor Copier or Hacker Disk by Hacker International. Or how about a modified RAM cartridge, also created by Hacker International, who probably is best known for their "adult" Famicom games.

FINAL WORD

Piracy wasn't the only thing that caused the economic failure of the Famicom Disk System. Nintendo demanded partial copyright ownership of any game being developed and released for the Famicom Disk System, causing many licensees to avoid the system as they already were paying Nintendo high enough royalties to be allowed to release games for the Famicom. Around the same time Nintendo released the Disk System, ROM chip prices started dropping and soon after, cartridges had more capacity than the Disk Card.

Some cartridges managed to feature battery backup, but this was expensive and while almost all disk games had save option, most cartridges either had passwords as a way to continue later on, or features no way of saving progress at all. One game which was featured game saving on the disk system was Metroid, but the cartridge version only had a password as a continue feature.