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[intro sounds of bliss]
[Plodding bass representing the 8 bit era commences]
The Nintendo Entertainment System.
It may not have been as popular in Europe as it was in the States, but that prevent
it from being a thing of intrigue, wonder and excitement.
If anything, it made it seem ore intriguing, wondrous and exciting.
And it is an intriguing thing.
I mean look at this corner shaped flap, just waiting to devour a cartridge into the belly
of the beast.
It's aesthetics deviate hugely from the original Japanese Nintendo Famicom, just as much as
it deviates from the more futuristic design of Sega's Master System.
But it does so in such a pleasing way.
Even the controllers are lust-worthy, in their own, simple rectangular way.
But the NES really is a box full of secrets.
As well as two bespoke controller ports on the front, and the standard power in and RF
out connections on the back.
The side reveals a composite out, which was fairly special at the time.
But it's underneath where things really start to get interesting.
At first glance you might see nothing of interest, but then this rectangle in the middle might
start to seem a little odd, and the fact that there are gulleys running away from it, further
increases the curiosity.
Now on early NES units, you simply get this plastic block.
But on later ones, there's actually a plastic tab underneath which needs to be physically
snapped off.
I presume Nintendo got sick of kids discovering the expansion slot and ramming stuff in, potentially
causing short circuits and the like.
Because once you get in...
*click*
*banging*
*fumble*
*snap*
*doink!*
*thud*
*crackle* (and pop, the knock off Rice Crispie characters)
you reveal this wonder.
[Music plods on like a feverish camel]
Now, a rumour, which likely started in the Master System flooded shores of Europe was
that this port was a secret connection, designed to accept Master System cartridges.
So NES owners didn't have to miss out on all those incredible Sega releases.
Well, it doesn't take many IQ points to assume that is indeed a pile of utter shash.
The NES doesn't contain nearly the right hardware to facilitate that, let alone all the legal,
marketing and really, common sense issues that this would produce.
But the edge connector itself is roughly the right size, so you can see where this story came from.
What makes more sense is foresight.
A powerful skill that can be far more useful than hindsight.
You see, the Famicom released several years prior in Japan was not too dissimilar.
Although lacking joypad connections, on account of them being permanently wired in, it did
have a male 15 pin port on the front.
This port was used for peripherals such as light guns, 3D glasses and additional controllers.
Of course the Famicom had other expansions such as a modem and disk system, but these
connected directly via the cartridge slot.
This was both practical, and in any case, the expansion connector wasn't geared up to
accept them.
-Will you be the one to witness the birth of the incredible Nintendo Entertainment System?-
So along comes the NES onto American shores in 1985, and, as we know, it was a very different
beast.
With the American video game crash of 1983, Nintendo had a lot riding on the NES.
They also had a lot of fear.
Both Atari and Coleco had tried to move their consoles away from being toys, so they could
be established as a necessary part of your home entertainment setup.
But Nintendo went one further, by actually making their appropriately named Entertainment
System resemble a Video Cassette Recorder; which was a booming product at the time.
Of course, this meant that it would be far more difficult to add things like a Disk System
or Modem if required in the future, and so the solution was a much more capable, 48 pin
expansion port, this time located on the bottom.
These cut-out chunks, are of course, for securing any peripherals securely to the base, or for
running wires out of the side.
And when I say capable, this thing really was wired up to take over Joystick connections,
audio lines, direct CPU connections and even had direct connections to cartridge pins.
At the time of it's creation, the idea by Nintendo President Minoru Arakawa was to introduce
as many peripherals for the NES and they had, and were still intending to, for the Famicom.
So, all we need now are those peripherals....
/Tumbleweed/
Yes, there doesn't seem to be, well, any peripherals which were made to take advantage of this
capable slot, except maybe for one....
[Funky 80s music appropriate(?!) for golf]
In 1987, Nintendo held a tournament based around the Famicom Disk game, Mario Open Golf.
To compete, you'd simply take your disk to a "Disk Fax Machine" and submit scores directly
to Nintendo.
This not only introduced a lot of people to to concept of online gaming, but it set the
seed for creating the Famicom Network System the following year.
By purchasing a Famicom Modem, users could access a server providing game cheats, jokes,
weather forecasts, stock trading and even horse betting.
Although novel, it wasn't a great success, particularly the services designed for adults,
with only 130,000 modems sold.
But Yamauchi didn't see this as a failure.
Instead he saw America as the true testing ground.
A testing ground which had an NES in about 30% of homes, leading Yamauchi to predict
a connection rate of 10 million homes by the end of 1991.
To assist with this Jerry Ruttenbur, Vice President at HBO was brought in by Nintendo
of America to setup a network, and working with AT&T.
developed a data terminal cartridge for the NES based on a Super Mario Bros style interface,
however the idea fell through, and it was for pretty much the same reasons of adults
unwilling to conduct online business on what was essentially, their kid's toy.
But, this wasn't the final attempt.
Building on the existing hardware, Control Data Corporation enlisted Nintendo to setup
an online lottery test.
10,000 residents of Minnesota received free kit to test this modem with their NES.
You can see where it slots directly into the expansion port, and would sit almost seamlessly
under the console.
The idea was, for $10 a month, you could connect up to the Minnesota Lottery, buy your tickets
and even check your winnings.
But this time the problems weren't with use, they were with the State Attorney General
laying siege to gambling being conducted on a device designed primarily for kids.
The safeguards in place to prevent minors from gambling were seen as easy to circumnavigate,
and the idea of an NES modem was almost put to rest.
I say almost, because Keith Rupp and Nolan Bushnell would try one last time with the
Teleplay Modem, under the company name Baton Technologies.
The premise here was a cross platform gaming network between Sega and Nintendo Systems,
and maybe this is where the original "being able to play Sega games on your NES console"
myth originated from.
In any case, Sega and Nintendo both refused to licence the technology and the dream quickly
died away.
Leaving us with our vacant expansion slot.
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[Slight fantasy land music plays]
Having foresight is incredible.
But sometimes, it's just not needed.
Although, arguably, it's still always far better to put something in, than keep it out.
But, fast forward to 2015, and we get this.
Now this may look like a perfectly innocuous tweet.
But, it was actually sent direct from an NES.
This fine gent, Trapper McFerron actually made use of the expansion port to connect
up with my favourite social network.
I suggest you go and check out his video if you want to find out more.
There's also a nice little hack, where if you solder a resistor between pins 3 and 9
of the connector, you can reclaim the expansion audio found in the Famicom, but which was
removed from the NES.
This was a feature where some Famicom games actually contained audio circuity and added
it into the Famicoms standard audio mix.
So, not really useful for NES games, but handy if you're running any Famicom games through
your NES
Back in 2012, there was actually a mod created for the NES, known as the ENIO EXP Board,
that did this for you, and converted the NES expansion port to the same as the Famicom.
Allowing you to use accessories such as those 3D glasses or keyboard.
Pretty neat, although quite hard to get hold of these days.
And of course, it should be noted that the Top Loader NES, does not feature the expansion.
By the time it was created, Nintendo of America realised it was now redundant.
But that wasn't the end for Nintendo's expansion dreams.
Of course, this is a legacy that would continue with future Nintendo consoles, from the EXT
ports found on the the SNES and N64, to the serial and high speed connectors found on
the GameCube.
Nintendo always made sure there were enough upgrade options on their consoles.
Unlike Sega's consoles, which tended to also employ edge connector expansion capabilities,
sadly, we didn't get to see most of the fruits of Nintendos expansion dreams, especially
in the West, but it's still nice to think of what could have been.
Anyway, thanks for watching and have a great evening.
[DAT 80S FUNK IS BACK]