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10 Game-Changing Facts About the Super Nintendo

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After dominating the video game landscape throughout much of the ‘80s with the NES, Nintendo needed to start the new decade with a more advanced console, one that would reinvent old favorites and give birth to completely new franchises. The world wouldn't have to wait long.

In November 1990, gamers in Japan got their hands on the company’s latest marvel, the Super Famicom; the following August, it was released in North America as the Super Nintendo. It was an instant success, becoming Nintendo’s third-best-selling home console (not counting handhelds) with the help of an impressive game library that included Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Metroid, and Donkey Kong Country.

As the company revisits one of its most prosperous periods with the release of the SNES Classic Edition on September 29, we’re looking back at 10 facts about the Super Nintendo.

1. IT WAS LATE TO THE 16-BIT PARTY.

Though the Super Nintendo won the 16-bit console war, the system certainly took its time getting to the battlefield. It was the summer of 1989 when the Sega Genesis was released, and for two years this pixelated juggernaut had the next-gen consumer base all to itself.

Nintendo, on the other hand, was in no rush. The NES was still selling incredibly well in North America, so the idea of a Super Nintendo wasn’t the first thing on the company’s mind. Soon enough, that dominance started to slip, most notably when Sega struck gold with its Sonic series in 1991. It may have been late, but the SNES quickly started taking back its dominant share of the marketplace once it hit stores.

When the console war was over, the SNES had sold 49.1 million units around the globe, compared to the Sega Genesis’s 29 million. While impressive, the system sold considerably fewer units than its predecessor, the NES, which came in around 61 million. Its two successors, the Nintendo 64 and GameCube, would each sell less than the SNES. Only the Wii packed enough punch to dominate an entire home console generation again, topping out at more than 101 million sold. (And please note a young Paul Rudd playing the role of Fascinated Gamer in the SNES commercial above.)

2.THE NORTH AMERICAN MODEL WAS DESIGNED TO HAVE A BIT MORE HEFT THAN THE JAPANESE ONE.

North America's SNES model is, well, not pretty. It’s about the games, after all, so you can excuse the fact that the system has all the charm of a first-generation VCR. But it looks noticeably clunky when compared to the smoother and more colorful Japanese version.

A lot of thought went into that grey and purple brick from your childhood, though. Nintendo of America product designer Lance Barr was tasked with making an SNES model for American audiences, and he had a clear vision of what he wanted. Upon seeing the Super Famicom, he decreed that they looked like bags of bread when stacked up and didn’t have enough of an edge. This led to the system looking like a hefty piece of electronic hardware in the U.S., complete with sharp corners and utilitarian design. A smaller, lighter redesign would later be released toward the end of the SNES's life.

3. THERE WERE ONLY THREE GAMES AVAILABLE AT LAUNCH.

Video game launches today are massive undertakings. Stores across the globe will open at midnight and welcome a flood of ravenous gamers who have their eyes on not only a brand-new system, but also the obligatory library of games that can be purchased with it. In 2017, the Nintendo Switch launched with around a dozen games, and in 2013, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One each launched with more than 20 games on day one.

So what about the Super Nintendo? When it finally hit Japanese store shelves in November 1990, the system had only three games: F-Zero, Pilotwings, and Super Mario World, which came with the system. More games soon followed, but on that first day, that was all customers had to look forward to. American gamers had a similar selection when the system hit shelves in the West in August 1991, with only Gradius III and Sim City added to the list.

Just a few years later, the Nintendo 64 fared even worse, with a launch lineup of only Super Mario 64 and (for the sake of symmetry) Pilotwings 64.

4. SUPER MARIO WORLD IS THE SYSTEM’S BESTSELLING GAME.

If 1985’s Super Mario Bros. proved that the portly plumber was destined to be Nintendo’s mascot, Super Mario World on the SNES cemented him as the capo of the entire video game industry. With the help of a launch-day release date, and the fact that it was a pack-in title sold as a bundle with the new system, Super Mario World became the Super Nintendo’s bestselling game.

The title opened up a far more colorful and elaborate world for players to traverse through, serving as an introduction to the powerful system. It also included the debut of Yoshi, which was based off an idea that Shigeru Miyamoto had as far back as the first Super Mario game back on the NES. With the SNES’s powerful new engine, the little green dino finally became a reality.

With more than 20 million units sold, the game outpaced the next best-selling game—Super Mario All-Stars—by about 10 million copies. That was followed by Donkey Kong Country in third place at over 9 million sold, Super Mario Kart in fourth with more than 8.5 million, and Street Fighter II: The World Warrior in fifth with around 6.3 million units sold.

5. IT HAD A SATELLITE MODEM PERIPHERAL IN JAPAN.

For every Nintendo success story, there’s a failed—if not charming—experiment left to rot in gaming’s great digital graveyard. You probably know all about the Virtual Boy, the Power Glove, and ol’ R.O.B., but one of the company’s more interesting misfires was the Satellaview.

Released only in Japan, this add-on would interact with a satellite provided by the radio company St.GIGA, in which Nintendo had purchased a stake. The idea was basically an early form of online gaming and downloadable content.

The Satellaview device was used in conjunction with the Super Famicom’s expansion port at the bottom of the system. Similar to satellite TV technology at the time, this peripheral allowed gamers to put the BS-X (Broadcast Satellaview X) cartridge into their machine, which acted as a central hub. From there, fans could download exclusive games (released episodically), magazines, and other materials onto memory packs. The material would stay on the memory device until the next wave of content rewrote it.

There was a problem, though. You could only download these games during certain times, because St.GIGA would spend the rest of the day using its satellite for radio and TV. If you missed the window, you might have missed your chance of ever playing a certain game. Couple this with the price of the equipment and the subscription fee and you have an add-on that likely proved too costly and too advanced to catch on with the average gamer.

6. THE CONSOLE IS PRONE TO TURNING YELLOW.

No, it wasn’t just you; chances are pretty much everyone on your block growing up had a Super Nintendo that began to turn yellow after a while. Though it wasn’t dangerous, nor was it a sign that your console would soon become a very expensive paperweight, it was a widespread problem caused by the company’s choice of plastic.

In an article on Vintage Computing, author Benj Edwards interviewed Dr. Rudolph D. Deanin, of the Plastics Engineering program at the University of Massachusetts, for clarification on why this may happen.

“The plastics most commonly used to make the structural cases for electronic equipment are polypropylene, impact styrene, and ABS,” Deanin explained. “These all tend to discolor and embrittle gradually when exposed to UV and/or heat. They become oxidized and develop conjugated unsaturation, which produces color. They crosslink or degrade, which causes brittleness.”

Vintage Computing also dug up an old Nintendo customer service reply regarding the yellowing, which they explained was due to using plastics with flame-retardant chemicals. So, if you have an old Super Nintendo that’s looking a little jaundiced, don’t start questioning your cleanliness. It’s a natural part of the system’s aging process—beautiful in its own way.

7. THE HIGHLY TOUTED FX CHIP BROUGHT 3D GAMING TO NINTENDO’S HOME CONSOLE.

As gaming was taking the leap into 3D, Nintendo teamed up with British-based Argonaut Games to create a new chip to install directly into cartridges that would effectively beef up their graphical power and make things like object rotation, texture mapping, and lighting all much more sophisticated.

Called the Super FX chip—or Mario FX during development—this chip didn’t force gamers to buy a new console or add-on device like Sega did with the 32X. Instead, the chip was already in the game, meaning if you didn’t care about the technical mumbo jumbo, you would never even notice.

The chip was only used in a handful of games over the console’s remaining lifespan, but a couple of them are among the system’s best, including 1993’s Star Fox and 1995’s Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, which used an enhanced Super FX2 chip.

For reasons that aren’t completely clear—aside from being completely Nintendo-y types of decisions—none of the Super FX games have been released on the company’s virtual consoles. However, they will see their first-ever re-release on the Super Nintendo Classic Edition.

8. YOSHI’S ISLAND WAS ORIGINALLY REJECTED.

Donkey Kong Country changed everything when it hit shelves in 1994. The title’s use of highly detailed, pre-rendered graphics was a revelation at the time, and it helped the game become one of the console’s top sellers. The game’s unique look was something the company wanted to capitalize on, but it almost came at the expense of one of the SNES’s most popular games, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island.

When Yoshi’s Island’s producer—and Mario creator—Shigeru Miyamoto unveiled the game to the company, his brightly colored, cartoony graphics were rejected by the marketing department. They wanted something more akin to what developer Rare did with Donkey Kong, not the type of visuals that Miyamoto was going for.

Miyamoto doubled-down on his vision, retooling Yoshi’s Island’s visuals to become even more colorful and exaggerated, almost like illustrations you would find in a storybook. Compared to Donkey Kong’s 3D sprites that aimed for realism, Yoshi’s Island looked almost dreamlike, as if it had been plucked from a child’s imagination.

Oddly enough, this second pitch was accepted, leading to one of the console’s most successful games, topping out at around 4 million units sold.

9. AN ABANDONED SNES ADD-ON INADVERTENTLY CREATED THE SONY PLAYSTATION.

When Sony researcher Ken Kutaragi first began paying attention to his daughter’s Famicom, America's original NES, he was disappointed. Not so much in the games it played, but in the system’s subpar sound design. This led him to go to his bosses to try and convince them to make a deal with Nintendo to build improved sound chips for their upcoming Super Nintendo.

Well it turned out to be more than that. Sony and Nintendo brokered a deal that was said to include a CD-ROM add-on for the SNES, while Sony would also produce a combined unit with both the CD drive and Super Nintendo cartridge slot built right into it, tentatively called the Play Station. Sony announced the device at the 1991 Consumer Electronics Show, but that’s about the last time the public really heard about it.

During CES ’91, Nintendo also announced a sudden deal with Philips to collaborate on the CD-i multimedia device behind Sony’s back. It has been reported that Nintendo soured on the deal with Sony over control and profits of the disc games. With the Philips deal making more financial sense for the company, the Sony/Nintendo partnership was effectively off, and Zelda and Mario were heading to the CD-i.

After the public announcement of the new deal, and subsequent betrayal by Nintendo, Kutaragi and Sony president Norio Ohga felt humiliated. Sony never wanted to get into video games in the first place, but when Kutaragi suggested that the company forge ahead with its own system, Ohga agreed. This resulted in a video game landscape currently dominated by Sony's PlayStation systems, and a line of cringe-worthy Zelda CD-i games that Nintendo barely even acknowledges to this day. 

If you want a glimpse of what could have been the start of a much different-looking video game industry, a "Nintendo Play Station" prototype was recently unearthed and demoed on The Ben Heck Show:

10. STAR FOX 2 WAS CANCELLED DESPITE BASICALLY BEING COMPLETE.

The original Star Fox was a smash hit on the SNES in 1993, offering the type of groundbreaking 3D environments that people thought were impossible at the time. So, naturally, a sequel was in order, and was slated for a 1995 release. However, the game never saw release; it was cancelled by Nintendo despite being 95 percent finished by the development team.

"It was the summer of 1995 and the PlayStation and Saturn were suddenly doing very well in Japan," Dylan Cuthbert, an Argonaut Software developer working on the game, told Nintendo Life. "I think that caught Nintendo off-guard. The decision was made because they didn't want the old-gen 3D going up against the much better 3D of the next generation, side-by-side.”

Though the game was still advanced for the SNES, it couldn’t compete with the more advanced games appearing on the market. Many of the ideas for Star Fox 2 would eventually make their way into 1997’s Star Fox 64, and after years of ROMs and emulations, Star Fox 2 officially hit shelves as part of the SNES Classic Edition.

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Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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15 Things You May Not Know About Close Encounters of the Third Kind
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We are not alone. Here are a few facts about Steven Spielberg’s 1977 UFO classic, on its 40th anniversary.

1. IT WAS INITIALLY A VERY DIFFERENT FILM.

Spielberg’s initial story outline involved UFOs and shady government dealings following the Watergate scandal, which became a script entitled “Watch the Skies.” The idea involved a police or military officer working on Project Blue Book, the Air Force’s official study into UFOs in the 1950s and 1960s, who would become the whistleblower on the government cover-up of aliens. There were numerous rewrites—Taxi Driver scribe Paul Schrader even took a crack at it, penning a political UFO thriller titled “Kingdom Come” that Spielberg and the movie studio rejected—before the story we know today emerged.

2. IT’S NAMED AFTER LEGITIMATE UFO RESEARCH.


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Spielberg partly based his idea on the research of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, a civilian scientific advisor to Project Blue Book who eventually admitted that 11 percent of the study’s findings about unidentified flying objects could not be explained using science.

The title (which is never specifically explained in the movie) is actually derived from Hynek’s own alien close encounter classification system: A close encounter of the first kind is sighting of a UFO; the second kind is physical evidence to prove the existence of an alien; and the third kind is actual contact with alien life forms.

3. THERE’S A CAMEO FROM THE GODFATHER OF UFO RESEARCH.

Hynek, who also served as a technical advisor on the movie, makes an uncredited cameo in the final scene of the movie. You can spot him pretty easily—he’s the goateed man smoking a pipe and wearing a powder blue suit who pushes through the crowd of scientists to get a better look at the aliens.

4. NOBODY WANTED THE STARRING ROLE.

Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Columbia Pictures

The director first offered the part of Roy Neary to actor Steve McQueen, who turned it down because he said he couldn’t cry on cue, something he saw as essential to the character. Spielberg then went to Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Gene Hackman, and James Caan who all turned him down as well before asking his friend Richard Dreyfuss, who previously worked with Spielberg on Jaws, to take the part.

5. BUT IT WASN'T THE MOST DIFFICULT ROLE TO CAST.

Spielberg approached French actors like Lino Ventura, Yves Montand, and Jean-Louis Trintignant to play Claude Lacombe—who was based on famous UFO researcher Jacques Vallée—before settling on director and sometimes-actor François Truffaut. The initially skeptical Truffaut, who was nervous about appearing in a big budget Hollywood movie, accepted the role because he wanted to compile research for a book about acting (he never did write the book).

6. MERYL STREEP COULD HAVE PLAYED ROY'S WIFE.

Many actresses—including a then-unknown Yale Drama School grad named Meryl Streep—auditioned for the part of Roy’s wife Ronnie, but he ultimately cast actress Teri Garr because he saw her in a coffee commercial and loved the way she was able to convey a wide range of emotions in a 30-second clip.

7. THEY SHOT IN A DISUSED AIR FORCE HANGAR.


Columbia Pictures

Spielberg wanted to shoot in real suburban locations rather than studio backlots, but the production had trouble finding locations. The biggest question: Where could Spielberg shoot the climactic canyon sequence with the mothership?

The production looked for huge indoor enclosures that would allow for the massive scale of the scene, though they only found ones with center support dividers that spoiled the openness Spielberg wanted for the UFO runway. The only location producers found without center dividers was a 300 foot by 300 foot disused hangar that had been used for dirigibles during World War II at Brookley Air Force base in Mobile, Alabama.

8. THE TEAM BOUGHT A HOUSE FOR THE PRODUCTION—AND SOLD IT FOR A PROFIT.

The Nearys' house, which is located at 1613 Carlisle Drive East in Mobile, was actually purchased by the production for $35,000 so they could do whatever they wanted with the interiors. It was later sold for $50,000 after production wrapped, netting a $15,000 surplus that went back into the film’s budget.

9. THE MEMORABLE 5-NOTE TONES TOOK A LONG TIME TO FIGURE OUT

Composer John Williams worked with Spielberg to come up with the movie’s distinct five-note musical method of communication between humans and aliens—which Spielberg partly based on the Solfège system of musical education—a year before shooting began.

Williams initially wanted a seven-note sequence, but it was too long for the simple musical “greeting” Spielberg wanted. The composer enlisted a mathematician to calculate the number of five-note combinations they could potentially make from a 12-note scale. When that number proved to be somewhere upwards of 134,000 combinations, Williams created 100 distinct versions, and they simply whittled the combinations down one by one until they had a winner.

10. SPIELBERG USED TRICKS TO GET THE PERFORMANCE OUT OF HIS CHILD ACTOR.


Columbia Pictures

Cary Guffey, who plays little Barry Guiler, had never acted before, so Spielberg set up ways to coax a performance out of the 3-year-old. To get a shot of Guffey reacting to the aliens first approaching the Guiler house, Spielberg slowly unwrapped a present for the young actor just off camera, making him smile. Guffey even exclaims “Toys! Toys!” in the final take.

To get the boy to react to the aliens offscreen, Spielberg had Guffey walk up to his mark where—unbeknownst to the little actor—two crewmembers were dressed as a gorilla and a clown standing behind cardboard blinds. When Guffey entered the kitchen, Spielberg dropped the first blind revealing the clown to scare him, and then dropped the other blind to reveal the gorilla, which scared him even more. The gorilla then took off his mask, revealing the film’s makeup man, Bob Westmoreland, who Guffey recognized, causing him to laugh and smile in the final take.

11. THE MOVIE NEARLY FEATURED VERY EARLY CGI.

Spielberg originally toyed with the idea of using computer generated images to create the aliens and their ships, even going so far as to have animator Colin Cantwell create a CGI test of three UFOs floating over a stadium. The single-shot test, which took three weeks to complete and was one of the first computer generated images ever created for a film, proved to be unfeasible for the whole movie—so the idea was dropped.

12. THERE WERE SOME UNORTHODOX IDEAS FOR CREATING THE ALIENS.

Spielberg wanted the aliens to be non-human beings that glided instead of walked, and he had a weird idea to pull it off: An orangutan dressed in a specially-made suit. For a screen test, the production team outfitted an orangutan in grey spandex and strapped it into roller skates. The orangutan immediately took off the skates and crawled to its owner, so a full test couldn’t be completed, and the team scrapped the idea. The majority of the small aliens in the final movie were played by local elementary school girls from Mobile in specially made grey suits and masks who were heavily backlit to create the final alien silhouette effect.

13. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS FEATURES A PRECURSOR TO E.T.


Columbia Pictures

To create the alien who bids farewell using the musical hand signals at the end of the film, Spielberg enlisted the help of Italian special effects artist Carlo Rambaldi, who designed a fully articulated steel, aluminum, and fiberglass animatronic puppet that Spielberg nicknamed “Puck.” Puck’s expressions were based on photos of Guffey. The puppet was operated by a crew of seven puppeteers, with Spielberg himself controlling the final articulation before the alien leaves to go to the mothership.

Puck would help inspire E.T. after Spielberg asked himself, “What if this little guy didn’t get back on the mothership?” Rambaldi would also go on to design the character of E.T.

14. SPIELBERG BET AGAINST HIS OWN MOVIE—AND REALLY CASHED IN.

Spielberg and his buddy George Lucas both had new movies coming out in 1977; Lucas’s was a little movie called Star Wars. Lucas thought his ramshackle space movie wouldn’t make back its budget, and he knew his friend’s new movie would break box office records just like Jaws had done, so he offered Spielberg a friendly wager. Both agreed to give the other 2.5 percent of the profits of their respective films. Lucas grossly underestimated his movie, which went on to become the second highest grossing movie of all time if adjusted for inflation (in comparison, Close Encounters is #71). The difference ended up being $40 million.

15. SPIELBERG DIDN'T LIKE THE VERSION THAT WAS INITIALLY RELEASED.

Spielberg wanted to release Close Encounters in the summer of 1978, which would have given him ample time to edit the film and finish its special effects—but Columbia Pictures, which was going through major financial troubles, insisted he have it ready for a November 1977 release, leaving the director with a final cut on a movie he didn’t feel was completely ready. 

Three years later, the company allowed Spielberg to “finish” the movie under one condition: That he show the inside of the mothership, which would give the studio’s marketing department an angle to sell this new version. The director capitulated, adding new scenes and cutting others to create a “Special Edition.” The director was unhappy with the scene, though, and later cut it for the Collector's Edition home video release.

ADDITIONAL SOURCES:Blu-ray special features; Close Encounters of the Third Kind: The Making of Steven Spielberg’s Classic FilmClose Encounters of the Third Kind Diary.

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