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OT: Why 80's consoles used the hardware they did?


CrazyBoss
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Hi.

 

Playing around with mame it, made me think why the gameconsoles and computers in the 80's use the hardware they do

they could make a deal with Nintendo, Atari, Capcom etc. and reuse 80's arcarde hardware.

 

If you look the arcade versions they usely much better than the console versions, mostly cause of what the Video

Processor could do. It was quite common to use Z80 processors for CPU's

 

But why ?

 

My guess is: The Hardware was much more expencive or the Companies which developed the hardware did not want to

sell to e.g Coleco, for home-use ? Maybe if E.G the ColecoVision was made with hardware from Capcom, Capcom did not

feel they could sell the Arcade mashines anymore?

 

the 9918/9928 was only used few times in Arcade mashines, I think BABY PACMAN, is one of them, maybe the only one.

 

I think I saw somewhere, Atari reused Older Arcade Mashine Hardware for there Consoles, but not sure if its true.

 

Games from the Early 80's had colorfull sprites, Bit-scrolling, great sound effects. But still powered by very

common CPU's.

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Awesome topic! I'd like to hear from some experts on this. My observations and thoughts are as follows:

 

The short "big picture" answer revolves around cost. Cost, cost, cost. But the technical reasons are many and each point is certainly material worthy of a thread of its own. Back in the day arcade cabinets were expensive, $1,000 - $5,000 depending what you got. When you're making tens of thousands of consoles, you have to play by the rules of mass production. Eliminating a single capacitor could affect the manufacturing budget by 10 or 20 thousand dollars at the end of the year. One market was price sensitive, the other not.

 

And cost had to be as low as possible to appeal to as many as possible. An arcade machine was more of a one-off deal when compared to the likes of the VCS or Intellivision. But no worries, we're seeing games today on the VCS that rival the early dedicated arcade machines anyways. Perhaps exceeding them. Maybe not in raw-hard resolution, but definitely in colors and game depth and speed. Things are being done on the VCS today that the early home computers couldn't hope to do. And look, the VCS has no BIOS, no firmware, no peripherals to babysit!

 

The cost of the support hardware that's needed to make an arcade board operate was also high. Power supplies, lights, hefty buttons, D/A converters for hot, heavy, lumbering CRT's. Yeh.. Arcade boards and cabinets were built to take a lot of abuse for a standard design life of 1- to 4 years. And they consumed a lot of power. Look at all the discrete parts in the early arcade cabinet. And the boards were physically huge. Lots of fail points. And oftentimes the boards were custom made for the game.

 

They would have clusters of logic gates wired up to push sprites around, or synthesize certain sounds, or draw vectors. You couldn't really swap "mainboards" like you'd do in a PC. Nor could you swap roms from one cabinet to another. They were custom to the game. And optimized for certain functions - at the expense of doing general computing tasks.

 

And just about every chip on the market back then was a generic chip, few were built with the idea of going into arcade game cabinets. Sure there were some VDPs & GPUs, and sound chips. But these were intended as generic industrial solutions. Medical and machine controller display controllers were a popular application. And the VIC chip was just that!

 

Furthermore arcade boards were not encumbered with babysitting disk drives, scanning keyboards, and watching over multiple controller interfaces and expansion slots. The board ran one program and that was it. Nothing else. No languages, no system monitor, no DOS, no BASIC, nothing! And that's why you get the best performance from a game written in Machine Language when working with classic home computers. The program loads and everything else is ignored. To "get back" you have to kill the power and re-start your system.

 

You could say the "peripherals" of the arcade machine were the sound and VDP chips. Some games needed 5 sound generators, others needed a mathbox for vector transformations. But these "peripherals" didn't really talk back to the CPU aside from an interrupt or ack/nak, if that.

 

Memory maps were simplified. And if a game need to quickly scroll a screen a certain way, the memory could be arranged (in hardware) to take a load off the main cpu. What one instruction does in a dedicated arcade board may take many instructions in a general purpose computer or cartridge-programmable game system. The cartridge-game system could not hope to hold 50 different memory layouts with each one being optimized for a certain game.

 

I don't believe any arcade game company refused to sell their hardware for the home market. Heck, it would just result in more sales. There just wasn't a market to begin with. Absolutely nothing prevented you from buying an arcade game back in the day, taking it home, and plugging it in in your basement.

 

Regarding Z80's being popular.. There are advantages and disadvantages to the Z80 vs. 6502 vs. 6809 vs. 6800 (of which there is a thread about here on AA). A particular company may have tended to use one over the others because they had invested in the development tools and manpower for an architecture already. Reuse and save when possible. Cost, cost, cost..

 

Later as chips got cheaper a mix of several different processors began showing up. As to "exactly" and precisely why a certain chip was chosen? Could be many reasons. Memory movements, certain execution times per instruction, overall speed, variety of support and interface mux/demux chips, cost vs. availability, a programmer's favorite?

 

Now:

To achieve the necessary versatility to run multiple games would take some time. And eventually the best solution was MAME getting started in the mid-1990's. With MAME you have 1 board about 0.2 meters square more or less depending what you get, which can run thousands of arcade games.

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I think there WAS some effort to reuse arcade hardware; just look at the Astrocade, which was basically the same design as the Wizard of Wor arcade cabinet, and the Vectrex which was an attempt to take home the Cinematronics stuff (and to put Vectrex games in the arcade as well).

 

In the beginning, before home consoles really took root, the coin-op business was HUGELY profitable, and they just created new games based on those economics, which allowed them to spend quite a bit of money on each individual machine, including tuning and refinement as they went out the door. With a console, you can't do that because each machine MUST be compatible with every other machine, so all those cartridges work right. When a new hardware technology appears and you want to use it, a new generation of console is required, and backward compatability can be very expensive to maintain.

 

Over time though, evolution of consoles became faster than evolution of coin-ops, just because more people were spending money on console games. This just increased investment in them and created a feedback loop that still keeps it going (although one can argue that console evolution has slowed quite a bit today). That's when coin-ops design really moved to the back of the line and companies started putting Amigas in coin-ops, and aftermarket companies sold arcade cabinet upgrade kits (and was the beginning of the end of the golden age of arcades)..

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It absolutely was about cost. While I wasn't around in the Atari/Coleco/INTV days of the games biz, I was most certainly around for the NES/Genesis/SNES/etc days. We were constantly challenged by our parent companies to make games using smaller carts, no battery back-up system, etc. And we would get early dev systems for new consoles coming out, and then revisions would have certain chipsets changed or removed based on cost. I was in the games industry for 22 years and while I wasn't around for the 80s stuff, the stories I heard were the same as what we were dealing with. It was all about trying to make the most you could out of as little as possible. There were many occasions where games we were working on had to cut levels, sound or animation because the parent company would surprise us mid-development and let us know they chopped the size of our cart specs down.

 

I remember one N64 games I was working on ended up getting cancelled because it required the largest cart that Nintendo made at the time, plus battery back-up plus whatever bells & whistles they offered, and the cost of manufacturing the cart was going to be so ridiculously high, that the risk wasn't worth the reward, so they canned the game.

 

And being a "launch title" for a new system was always the worst. You took things very cautiously because you never knew what would change with the next round of pre-release development hardware, and something was always changing. That was probably some of the most frustrating moments I can remember.

 

I'm just still super impressed with what the 80s consoles pumped out with what they had on board. But I'm sure the programmers and designers of those days went through the exact same things we did. I mean, that whole E.T. story is just living proof and the same mentality carried over to later console generations. We had 16 weeks to make Aladdin for the Sega Genesis. It was an "impossible task" at the time, but somehow we at least pulled that one off! :)

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yes, it is all about cost. But however, lot of console hardware are based on stripped down version of arcade hardware.

 

For instance, the Sega Genesis/ Megadrive is a based on Sega System System 16.

 

The Sega Saturn is based on Sega STV hardware

 

The Sega Dreamcast is based on Sega NAOMI system.

 

The Atari 8bit series (atari 400 /600 etc..) has an hardware based on what you can find on arcade machine like Missile Command.

 

the NEOGEO console is based on the MVS system.

 

Then as already mentioned there are "home" hardware that find their way to arcade like the Amiga or the NES (with the Nintendo VS system)

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From a kid's perspective back in the day, we'd often come home from the arcade and ponder the question. And we wondered what it would take to bring those exact graphics, colors, and speeds to the home.

 

While we foresaw integrated graphics being put on the cpu, we didn't foresee anything like mame. When we did, we dismissed it as nonsense. No computer could ever be that strong.

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