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Does a Japanese analog of the Atari 2600 exist?


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Before anybody pipes in about the failed attempt to market the Atari in Japan under the 2800 name, I am specifically referring to the golden years of the arcade, not some late attempt by Atari to cash in on the overseas gaming market.

 

I've read about the SG-1000 as the predecessor to the globally released Sega Master System or SG-3000 as it was known in Japan. According to Wikipedia, it was released on July 15th 1983, same day as the Famicom in Japan.

 

So I give it a look:

 

Seems more like an analog of the Colecovision than anything. So I did some more research about vintage Japanese game consoles. Excluding some early Generation 1 PONG consoles, there seems to be a gap in the late 1970s between when Space Invaders was released in the arcades and when the SG-1000 and Famicom simultaneously released in Japan.

 

It appears the SG-1000 did not fare well against the Famicom, as being an analog of the 2nd generation Colecovision in the United States, pitted up against the decisively 3rd generation defining Famicom/NES.

 

Many people consider the Colecovision, 5200, Vectrex, and other consoles to be unfairly lumped in the 2nd generation of video games when they were clearly defined as "3rd wave" back in the day.

 

Did Japan truly have any home console presence during the late 70s prior to the Famicom/SG-1000? There is some brief mention of SORD personal home computer released in 1977 and the Sharp MZ40K in 1987, but very little information exists about them online. What was the first true Japanese home console?

 

Aside from some mid-70s PONG consoles in Japan (yes, Japan it's share of those 1st gen PONG systems too), it seems the gap filled by the Atari VCS/2600 in North America was largely unfilled in Japan during the golden era arcade days.

 

No notoriously bad ports of arcade games, the guttural beeps and farts, sprites constructed out of rectangular bricks like American gamers had here during this tumultuous time in gaming history. Like there's a page missing somewhere.

 

The sheer rawness of the Atari compared to everything else that came after it was the primary draw for me, and what kept me engages is the amazing games people programmed on it. Japan was ripe to takeover the gaming world after the crash left a void in the United States, but nothing much has been said about the apparent void of games in Japanese homes during the golden years of the arcade while Atari ruled the west.

 

Recently I picked up two obscure Famicom odd fellows, ports of the classic Atari games Millipede and Stargate, which went pretty much unnoticed over there, and it got me thinking about the seeming lack of 2nd gen console presence in their homeland.

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Bandai Supervision 8000 (1979-82)

Epoch Cassette Vision (1981-84)

 

I wouldn't describe the Intellivision audio effects coming from it's AY sound chip as beeps and farts, it's actually very capable compared to third generation consoles. The sprite animation introduced by Intellivision in 1979 was remarkable compared to anything else home or arcade, american or japanese. Mattel's next generation console would have been comparable to the Amiga. Had the Amiga been consolised it would have made the nes look rather primitive. I like the nes, nintendo made some great innovations and advancements in 1983 but they are also fortunate american companies chose to abandon the home video game market.

Edited by mr_me
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It does seem a little weird to think that Japan, who was so pioneering with arcade games, might have been "late" to the home console party. The Atari 2800 didn't come out until 1983, which seems like it missed the mark by several years. Everything was pretty early back then, so perhaps they didn't miss much -- except all the Atari and Activision things we like so much here. Perhaps their arcade culture was even stronger than ours back then (just as it is now)?

 

I always think of Sega Master System as the rival to the Famicom/NES, but that's not really true ... it's only a match to the later games that had added mapper chips in the cartridges. SG-1000 does seem Colecovisioney, I think it shares hardware (also with MSX) but resembles the early "black box" NES titles only. It's like Sega needed two systems to compete with Nintendo's one. Not so different from how Megadrive/Genesis had SegaCD and Mars32X while Nintendo stood pat with SNES/SFC.

 

"Second generation" lumpage makes sense to me as is. ColecoVision and 5200 are just the overture, the on-ramp, the pre-ejac, the appetizer, the starter of the sourdough. I don't think they deserve a category of their own. Forgive my heresy but early Pong clones are forgettable too. Could be that I'm forgetting aspects of my own life as I age.

 

If you like the Millipede and Stargate ports, don't forget Joust from the same publisher. They all released on the US NES as well, I don't know of their rarity but I wouldn't call them obscure.

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Japan had several systems before 1983, including 3 made by Bandai. None were that successful, except for the Cassette Vision, which relied on micro controllers in each cart. Even that sold fewer than a million units.

 

My impression: Japan's economy wasn't good enough to support a console till about 1983, when the Famicom, SG-1000, & PV-1000 came out.

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Bandai Supervision 8000 (1979-82)

Epoch Cassette Vision (1981-84)

 

I wouldn't describe the Intellivision audio effects coming from it's AY sound chip as beeps and farts, it's actually very capable compared to third generation consoles. The sprite animation introduced by Intellivision in 1979 was remarkable compared to anything else home or arcade, american or japanese. Mattel's next generation console would have been comparable to the Amiga. Had the Amiga been consolised it would have made the nes look rather primitive. I like the nes, nintendo made some great innovations and advancements in 1983 but they are also fortunate american companies chose to abandon the home video game market.

 

Had the Amiga been consolised it also would have been way more expensive than the NES. It would have been like the Neo Geo of the time. So the NES still could have won by virtue of being much cheaper.

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I'm not sure there really was a "golden years of the arcade" in Japan prior to the early 1980's as it is. I think that's the main difference. Their arcade scene, at least in terms of video games, started a bit later than ours. People here were more familiar with video games earlier and wanted them in their homes earlier.

 

But Japan's "arcades" were different. They were more about amusement machines of various types. (Funnily enough, they've kind of gone back to that now, for the arcades that still exist there.) I think one reason for this might be that pinball was never big there like it was here earlier in the 70's, and video games appealed to that same demographic, so they could just slot right in at the same existing locations. But in Japan, their amusement games were more family-oriented or for something to do on a date, so hardcore arcade games didn't really fit in. It was a separate subculture.

 

Space Invaders did very well there but it was kind of an outlier until the early 80's. I think they were just less familiar with video games in general than we were until games like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, which could more easily co-exist with family-friendly amusement machines. Our arcade and home console scene kind of grew out of the young, male-dominated hardcore gaming demographic. But Japan's was way more heavily tilted towards family-friendly and date activity titles. Of course there was a lot of crossover, but it's obvious just by looking at them that Japanese games had kind of a different look and feel at the time, and that's because they were trying to attract the demographics who were used to their mechanical amusement machines.

 

Long story short, the video arcade business there developed later and grew out of different demographics, which in turn delayed the popularity of home consoles.

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I read that Japan came late to video games because, like in the US and Europe, system makers tried to sell them as computers.

But, if latin alphabet can be displayed with only a few pixels , Japanese kanjis and hiraganas require lots and lots of display power and memory.

It's one reason why there are no cheap computers from Japan.

Even the cheap PC-8800 series was a rather beefy compter for 1981, with 64Ko of RAM, an additional 48Ko of VRAM, and a display screen of 640*480 (and no lower resolution).


However, if it help understand why Japan made beefy computers like the MSX and the 68000, it doesn't help much for graphics based systems before the NES.

It's important to note that in the 1950's and 1960's, the USA banned sales of computer tech outside of the US territory, which explain why US companies settled factories in Europe and Europe got several local companies making computers.

It was probably the same in Japan, and this might have slowed down the adoption and development of a tech-aware population in Japan.

For example, Nintendo choose the Z80 for the Game Boy, becaues they knew that there were more Western programmers able to develop on a Z80 system than there were programmers accustomed to the 65C02 found in the NES.
Edited by CatPix
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Interesting observation about Japanese Arcade scene. Japan didn't really play much pinball, except in Pachiko gaming parlours. And Pachinko is a totally alien concept to western pinball from a mechanics perspective. So the arcade scene wasn't established in the same way like it was here.

 

 

If you like the Millipede and Stargate ports, don't forget Joust from the same publisher. They all released on the US NES as well, I don't know of their rarity but I wouldn't call them obscure.

 

Yeah I may as well pick that one up. The Stargate and Millipede were together inthe same auction, US Seller. Funnily all three have the same music selection on the title screen. Like many early games, the Game A / Game B and 2 player modes made up the title screen.
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Honestly, I could make the argument that the Famicom was the 2600 of Japan. It was the unassailable console that nobody could touch during its lifespan much like the 2600 here in the US. Nobody could touch it. Not the Super Cassette vision, not the MSX, not the sg-1000 and it's subsequent iterations. Hell, not even the PC engine ever beat it in terms of lifetime units sold. Like the 2600, it continued to see sales into its early third decade until it was discontinued. But unlike the 2600's sucessor, Nintendo had a clear vision of how to market and replace the Famicom with the Super Famicom.

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Really cool topic. Thanks guys for all the infos. I didn't know a lot of this.

 

Does anyone know wether the two directional knobs on the Cassete Vision were 8 direction stics, rotary, or what? I didn't really clearly see this information written anywhere I searched. They kinda look like rotary buttons, but they could actually be just about anything. just from the look of them.

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Wikipedia says the Cassette Vision has 2 two-dimensional lever switches, 4 push buttons, 4 revolving dials, 1 course switch and 3 buttons for Select, Start and Aux. While I haven't seen it in real life, I would suppose those dials just rotate. Also it should be noted the games have built-in CPU and RAM besides the obvious ROM chip. It almost makes them more alike the GI type games, except I suppose the CPU really runs binary code instead of being programmed with gates to achieve a certain gameplay. I understand that the Channel F also has some extra custom chips inside the games, though that console has the CPU in the main unit.

 

The Bandai Super Vision 8000 though seems to have a NEC D780C (Z80 clone) in the main unit, so it would be far closer to the concept of a 2600 or Intellivision. I wonder if there is any homebrew for this system, given it has relatively well known components such as at least the CPU and AY PSG.

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I think the Epoch Casette Vision "2-drectional lever switches" are only 2-way digital control, for games like space invaders. Space Invaders was everywhere in Japan and Epoch made a dedicated space invaders clone home console prior to the cassette vision. So for 2-dimensional movement you might have to use the two paddles on the Cassette Vision.

 

The Bandai Super Vision 8000 initially sold for 60000yen and was just not affordable compared to 13500yen for the Epoch Casette Vision. In 1982 Bandai scrapped the Super Vision 8000 and sold Intellivisions for 49800yen. Whether if it was the value of the yen, or taxes on foreign technology, prices were too high and Atari likely would have the same problem trying to enter the market. The Famicom was introduced at only 14800yen in 1983.

 

 

Had the Amiga been consolised it also would have been way more expensive than the NES. It would have been like the Neo Geo of the time. So the NES still could have won by virtue of being much cheaper.

The Amiga 500 was $699; subtract disk drive, keyboard, most of the ram, high resolution, I/O and you're well under neogeo pricing. With economies of scale why not an under $300 amiga console for 1986/87. Still more than double the NES, so in that sense they would be hitting different markets.

Edited by mr_me
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While neither of these are video games, I grabbed some list prices from I/O Magazine #2/1982 to get a feeling:

 

Sinclair ZX-81: 38700 yen

National JR-100: 54800 yen

Sharp PC-1500 handheld computer: 59800 yen

Commodore VIC-1001: 69800 yen

NEC PC-6001: 89800 yen

Atari 800: 118000 yen

(most other computers were in the range of 150000 - 200000 yen)

 

For comparison, I checked I/O Magazine #6/1983 which is more than a year later and highly contemporary with the Famicom and SG-1000 release.

 

Commodore VIC-1001: 49800 yen (yes, the Japanese C64 was launched by now, but apparently not worth advertising)

Sharp PC-1500: 59800 yen

National JR-200: 79800 yen

Sharp MZ-711: 79800 yen

 

It doesn't seem that prices or the yen had dropped a lot over this time period. Perhaps Nintendo subsidized the Famicom by a lot in hope to get money back from game sales? That is a trick often used in modern days, but someone gotta be the first?

 

By the way, here is an early reference to the Famicom (and SG-1000), in Amusement Life Magazine #8-9/1983. I browsed through issue 7 without spotting any Famicom but perhaps none is to expect in the July issue of a magazine when the product also was released in July.

 

Amusement Life had a full coverage of the SG-1000 and SC-3000 already in #10/1983 which also has an advertisement which gives the price of 15000 yen for the SG-1000 and 29800 yen for the SC-3000, which seems remarkably low even though it is a computer without RAM or built-in BASIC.

Edited by carlsson
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It does seem a little weird to think that Japan, who was so pioneering with arcade games, might have been "late" to the home console party. The Atari 2800 didn't come out until 1983, which seems like it missed the mark by several years. Everything was pretty early back then, so perhaps they didn't miss much -- except all the Atari and Activision things we like so much here. Perhaps their arcade culture was even stronger than ours back then (just as it is now)?

 

I always think of Sega Master System as the rival to the Famicom/NES, but that's not really true ... it's only a match to the later games that had added mapper chips in the cartridges. SG-1000 does seem Colecovisioney, I think it shares hardware (also with MSX) but resembles the early "black box" NES titles only. It's like Sega needed two systems to compete with Nintendo's one. Not so different from how Megadrive/Genesis had SegaCD and Mars32X while Nintendo stood pat with SNES/SFC.

 

"Second generation" lumpage makes sense to me as is. ColecoVision and 5200 are just the overture, the on-ramp, the pre-ejac, the appetizer, the starter of the sourdough. I don't think they deserve a category of their own. Forgive my heresy but early Pong clones are forgettable too. Could be that I'm forgetting aspects of my own life as I age.

 

If you like the Millipede and Stargate ports, don't forget Joust from the same publisher. They all released on the US NES as well, I don't know of their rarity but I wouldn't call them obscure.

 

I have that NES Defender II port. It plays okay, but they made some inexplicable changes from the arcade version. For one thing, you don't return humanoids to the planet surface. You just grab the humanoids and that's it. Nor does the planet explode and landers change into mutants when you lose all the humanoids. So the difficulty is somewhat nerfed from the original arcade. Too bad. I'm also not sure why there's Punch-Out music in Defender II.

 

 

However, NES Joust is still really hard from what I've played of it.

Edited by mbd30
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Upon further reading, Amusement Life in the subsequent issues had coverage of the Tomy Tutor Jr, Othello Multivision and Casio PV-1000 prior to paying any attention to the Nintendo Famicom. They have some coverage of Nintendo's G&W as well as arcade games with Mario Bros, so it wasn't a total Nintendo boycott.

 

In issue #16 from April 1984, there is a market summary of the time which consists of the Sord M5, Sega SG-1000, Atari 2800, Vectrex, Othello Multivision, Casio PV-1000, Casio PV-2000, Nintendo Famicom, Arcadia 2001, Tomy Tutor Jr and Gakken TV-Boy. From earlier issues of this magazine, I know that the sakes of Intellivision (as noted above) and Videopac G7000 were introduced late in Japan but apparently those no longer were in the scope of video games by 1984.

 

It is quite possible this is a poor example of a magazine, mainly focusing on arcade games, handheld LCD games and MSX computers, but as noted elsewhere the Famicom wasn't a smash hit from day 1 and Nintendo had some design or manufacturing problems which caused them to redesign or even recall it briefly so perhaps it didn't really start to gain momentum until later in 1984, after more than a year on the market.

 

Edit: Actually given that the Casio PV-1000 is said to only have lasted a few weeks starting from when it was launched in October 1983, at most perhaps a few months, it is interesting it was covered in April 1984 if it was commercially dead since long ago.

Edited by carlsson
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Upon further reading, Amusement Life in the subsequent issues had coverage of the Tomy Tutor Jr, Othello Multivision and Casio PV-1000 prior to paying any attention to the Nintendo Famicom. They have some coverage of Nintendo's G&W as well as arcade games with Mario Bros, so it wasn't a total Nintendo boycott.

 

In issue #16 from April 1984, there is a market summary of the time which consists of the Sord M5, Sega SG-1000, Atari 2800, Vectrex, Othello Multivision, Casio PV-1000, Casio PV-2000, Nintendo Famicom, Arcadia 2001, Tomy Tutor Jr and Gakken TV-Boy. From earlier issues of this magazine, I know that the sakes of Intellivision (as noted above) and Videopac G7000 were introduced late in Japan but apparently those no longer were in the scope of video games by 1984.

 

It is quite possible this is a poor example of a magazine, mainly focusing on arcade games, handheld LCD games and MSX computers, but as noted elsewhere the Famicom wasn't a smash hit from day 1 and Nintendo had some design or manufacturing problems which caused them to redesign or even recall it briefly so perhaps it didn't really start to gain momentum until later in 1984, after more than a year on the market.

 

Edit: Actually given that the Casio PV-1000 is said to only have lasted a few weeks starting from when it was launched in October 1983, at most perhaps a few months, it is interesting it was covered in April 1984 if it was commercially dead since long ago.

According to this source, the Famicom had breached 6.5 million units sold in Japan by 1985. It had already broken Japanese sales records the year prior. VGSales has the figure for 1984 as being 2.1 million units sold by the end of 1984. VGSales gets its figures from an old Neogaf thread that actually has access to old Japanese sales reports.

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Hm, according to one of those Japanese documents the market share for the third generation video games were 96.51% Famicom, 2.00% SG-1000 and 1.50% Super Cassette Vision. Probably those numbers only cover the top 3 systems but it seems strange if the Epoch was nearly as large as Sega before the Mark ///.

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Hm, according to one of those Japanese documents the market share for the third generation video games were 96.51% Famicom, 2.00% SG-1000 and 1.50% Super Cassette Vision. Probably those numbers only cover the top 3 systems but it seems strange if the Epoch was nearly as large as Sega before the Mark ///.

They Create Worlds did a podcast 2 weeks ago on the state of the Japanese Games industry on the eve of the Famicom and Sg-1000's debut on the Japanese Market. Epoch was a king but unfortunately, the Cassettevision was a king of a very small mountain. It's main competition was Bandai with the Intellivision and Vectrex and older dedicated units. This paints a pretty grim picture of a very very small home scene until 1984.

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Edit: Actually given that the Casio PV-1000 is said to only have lasted a few weeks starting from when it was launched in October 1983, at most perhaps a few months, it is interesting it was covered in April 1984 if it was commercially dead since long ago.

I've read that everywhere, but no one provides a source. :(

Edited by pacman000
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Regarding the PV-1000, I think it is a circle reference. Wikipedia cites a site that cites a site that cites Wikipedia. Quite possibly some stores focused on what customers asked for, and in a market consisting of newly released MSX computers, Famicom, SG-1000 and various older personal computers still going strong, oddball systems like Casio's and others probably had a hard time which also shows since Casio first released the similar though not compatible PV-2000 computer three months later, before fully embarking onto the MSX train.

 

I know that Japanese companies in general are reluctant about cooperation and consider it a risk of losing face asking someone else for assistance (perhaps the exception being Nintendo's long time cooperation with Sharp for production capacities), but given that Epoch had a very small market share prior to the Nintendo/Sega generation and Casio wanted in as well, one can wonder what they had achieved together, a combination of the PV-1000/PV-2000 and Super Cassette Vision. Perhaps they still would have ended at 2-3% of the total video games market, a little depending on which games they could publish and how playable those would be.

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I have that NES Defender II port. It plays okay, but they made some inexplicable changes from the arcade version. For one thing, you don't return humanoids to the planet surface. You just grab the humanoids and that's it. Nor does the planet explode and landers change into mutants when you lose all the humanoids. So the difficulty is somewhat nerfed from the original arcade. Too bad. I'm also not sure why there's Punch-Out music in Defender II.

 

 

However, NES Joust is still really hard from what I've played of it.

Stargate, Millipede, and Joust (Famicom variants) all have the punchout title theme music. Weird to say the least.
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1974, according to the wikipedia nintendo page. The magnavox odyssey and all pong video games are digital electronics with analog controllers. The original magnavox odyssey however was part video game and part board game. I think Epoch had a pong console in 1975.

Edited by mr_me
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