What is MyMedia Games Network Retrospective?
MyMedia Games Network Retrospective is a regular feature that will take a look at various video game systems, technological advancements and accessories from the past. This may be a trip down memory lane for some people or a history lesson for others. Over time many companies have contributed to the video game industry in their own way, whether it’s a revolutionary step forward for others to follow, or a prime example of what not to do. With that said, let’s take a peek into the past.
The Super Nintendo was a powerful video game console. It held its ground firmly against direct competitor the Sega Mega Drive during the fierce 16-bit console war. The Super Nintendo eventually eclipsed the Mega Drive and continued to sell millions of units well into the 32-bit console era. Consumer demand for 3D polygon based games and visually stimulating graphics began to grow and therefore the Super Nintendo wasn’t up to the task due to hardware limitations. Instead of resorting to expensive hardware add-ons that require an alternate format like the Sega Mega Drive did with the Mega CD and 32X, Nintendo opted for co-processor chips to be integrated into game packs to aid with graphics processing. One chip that made a substantial impact in history was the Super FX chip.
The Super FX chip was developed by Argonaut Games who have been devolving software since the early 80s on multiple platforms. Argonaut Games also co-developed with two FX titles with Nintendo - Star Fox and Stunt Race FX - and then later on developed their own FX chip featured title called Vortex.
Originally named the MARIO chip which is an acronym for Mathematical, Argonaut, Rotation & I/O, the super FX chip was a graphics accelerator chip that drew the polygons the SNES hardware couldn’t do on its own. These polygons were then transferred to a frame buffer located in the RAM that was on the game pack. To get all of this additional information to your television screen the FX chip would periodically transferrer data to the main video memory of the SNES using Direct memory access via addition contact points on the cartridge. These addition contact points had previously not been used by conventional SNES game packs.
Nintendo factored in the use of cartridges fitted with graphic accelerator chips when originally designing the SNES hardware and making it easy to interface cartridge coprocessors with the SNES main processor. This decision helped Nintendo keep SNES production costs down by not having to add a more expensive processor that would most likely become obsolete within a few years. However, the Super FX chip did increase production costs of game packs which then filtered down to the consumer as a slight increase in the recommended retail price of the games. This small increase in price was more appealing than having to purchase additional hardware add-ons.
A SNES game pack with the Super FX Chip
There were two versions of the Super FX chip with the first having a clock speed of 21MHz. This speed got halved to 10.5MHz due to the chips internal clock speed divider. A second version of the FX chip was introduced as the Super FX2 which was a revision of the original design and had a clock speed of 21MHz. This second version was packaged differently and featured more external pins that allowed the chip to access a larger amount of external ROM or RAM. Some people have taken it into their own hands and have successfully over clocked the Super FX chip by replacing the resonator with a higher rated version along with some caps, which resulted in a smoother running game at a higher frame rate.
Super FX chip specs
- Architecture: RISC
- Clock Speed: 10.74Mhz/21MHz
- Peripheral ROM: 16Mbits max
- Peripheral RAM: 1Mbit max
- Internal Data Bus: 16 bits
- External Data Bus: 8 bits
- Internal Registers: 16 bit x 16
- Instruction Cache: 512 Bytes
- Processing Advantages: Polygon Processing; Software Sprite Processing
Games that used the Super FX chip
Star Fox/Star Wing
The first Super Nintendo game to utilize the new Super FX chip, Star Fox has you taking on the role of Fox McCloud where you and your friends Falco Lombardi, Peppy Hare, and Slippy Toad go up against the evil Andros in a 3D space flight adventure.
Stunt Race FX/Wild Trax
The second game in the Super FX series also known as Wild Trax in Japan is a 3D racing game with 20 tracks to choose from and four different vehicles to choose from, which include a Formula racer, a 4WD monster truck, a subcompact car, and a motorcycle. Each vehicle has their own strengths and weaknesses which you can master in a variety of gameplay modes one of which is head to head multiplyer mode.
Dirt Trax FX
Dirt Trax FX is a action packed dirt track motorbike racing game where can choose from 50 cc, 125 cc, 250 cc, and 500 cc sized bikes with the choice of four different difficulty levels. Choose to race against the computer or against a friend using the multiplayer option.
In Vortex you take control of a transforming vehicle that can change into a walker, jet, land burner, or a hard shell, each transformation mode has to be utilized at the right time to ensure survival when battling it out across snow-packed wastelands, asteroids, deserts, and volcanoes.
This first person shooter was a cult classic on the PC and was converted over to all the platforms that could handle it. The Super Nintendo version was only possible with the aid of the Super FX chip2, although the SNES version had a reduced screen size along with a lower gore factor when compared to other ports.
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island
Yoshi’s Island showed everyone that FX chip can be used to enhance 2D graphics as well. You play the role of Yoshi and your mission is to carry Baby Mario back to his parents in the Mushroom Kingdom while avoiding danger. This game is loaded with six different worlds, each with eight stages all of which a jam packed with special effects and gigantic bosses that fill the screen.
Winter Gold/ FX Skiing
In Winter Gold you tour the world in circuit competition in six events to win prime medals. Leave a legacy by earning a spot in the record books. Play against your friends in competition and Circuit Modes. Featured events include, downhill, bobsled, luge, snowboard, aerial and ski jump.
A fan made video showing Super FX games
Doom on the SNES was powered by the Super FX chip
A end of level boss battle on Super Mario World 2
Other Coprocessor chips
The Super FX chip wasn’t the only coprocessor chip fitted to SNES game cartridges as Nintendo and third party developers used different chips embedded into game packs depending on the application, some of which enhanced graphics, aided in mathematical calculations, controlled AI, managed compressed data, and more.
DSP (Digital Signal Processor) aided the SNES in fast vector-based calculations, bitmap conversions, both 2D and 3D coordinate transformations. Four version of the DSP chip was used and was fitted to Super Mario Kart, Pilotwings, Dungeon Master, SD Gundam GX, and Top Gear 3000.
Cx4 was a Capcom chip used in Mega Man X2 and Mega Man X3 and helped with mathematical calculations, sprite positioning and rotation, and the handeling of wireframe effects.
S-DD1 Nintendo made this chip to handle data compressed by ABS Lossless Entropy Algorithm, due to cartridge storage limitations games that had massive amounts of sprite data required data compression to fit onto the cartridge. S-DD1 was used in Street Fighter Alpha 2 and Star Ocean.
SA-1 which stands for Super Accelerator 1 was used in numerous SNES titles, most notably Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. The SA-1 chip has 65c816 processor with a clock speed of 10MHz, in addition to the processor a memory mapper, DMA, decompression and bitplane conversion circuitry, multiple programmable timers, and CIC region lockout functionality that were added.
SPC7110 is a chip used by Hudson that contains a real-time clock for data compression.
OBC-1 was used in the title Metal Combat: Falcon's Revenge for sprite manipulation.
ST010, ST011, ST018 these 3 chips were created by Seta to help control AI(Artificial Intelligence).
S-RTC Used in the Japanese title Dai Kaiju Monogatari 2 that contained a real time clock.
MegaChips MX15001TFC this chip was contained in the Japanese only peripheral for the super Famicom called the Nintendo Power cartridge that allowed users to download games to flash memory.
Nintendo wasn't the only one exploiting the use of coprocessors installed in cartridges and even though the Sega MegaDrive/Genesis had hardware add-ons to enhance graphic capabilities. Sega did do a port of the arcade smash Virtua Racing using the SVP chip (Sega Virtua Processor) which was more powerful than Nintendo’s Super FX chip but at the same time much more costly.
Previous Retrospective articles
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Written by: Matthew Armitage