SNES CD-ROM Project history
In the years between 1991 and 1994
Nintendo had many plans for different CD-ROM addons for the SNES.
The years of development of the console, from 1991
to the middle of 93.
At first Philips and Nintendo are developing a
SNES CD-Rom that is going to be compatible with Philips's CD-I machine.
Nintendo would (as usual) have complete control over licensing the
games for their SNES addon and Philips would supply them with the
CD player. Philps also got the rights to use some of Nintendo's
characters in some of their CD-I games. One Mario game was released
(a puzzle game) and 3 rather crappy Zelda games. Nintendo were planning
to introduce the machine on the C.E.S. in June, but unfortunately
the deal that they had struck with Philips recently, inflicted with
a previous deal (1988) with Sony, Philips's worst competitor...
Nintendo switched sides and instead the Playstation was introduced
at the CES in June the same year! The machine was playing both special
"Super Discs" containing 680 Megabyte but also normal SNES games.
All was looking just fine until they found that the deal they had
struck with Sony way back in 1988 granted Sony the right to control
and license all the CD based games for the Playstation. Sony was
also the only supplier of the special sound chip that was used in
the SNES. Nintendo was in deep shit! (Or as one industry consultant
put it "Sony had Nintendo by the balls..!"
Nintendo quickly announced that they had allied themselves with
Philips once more, because "Philips's technology were superior".
I especially like the comment one industry consultant made: "...It
(Nintendo's cooperation with Philips) was meant to do two things:
Give Nintendo back it's stranglehold on software and gracefully
get one up on Sony!"!
Tumult at the C.E.S.
Sony tried to make Nintendo change their minds by threatening to
sue them but Nintendo insisted on that their co-operation wouldn't
interfere with Sony and Nintendo's CD project (the Playstation)
so Sony waited to see. Sony shouldn't have trusted Nintendo this
time because at the next C.E.S press conference about the Playstation,
Nintendo stabbed them in the back.
The Sony people were expecting that Nintendo would be there
and propagate for the Playstation but instead they announced their
plans to work exclusively with Philips. Sony commented the incident
by claiming that they had an exclusive deal with Nintendo that Nintendo
In USA, this would lead to lawsuits no doubt but since both companies
were Japanese things were taken care of in other manners/ways. First
of all, there were a policy among Japanese companies not to
turn against each other if it benefited foreign competitors. On
the other hand Sony would win on solving their problems with Nintendo
instead of exacerbating them, because of the Playstation's ability
to play SNES games (which Sony could profit from). Nintendo
could also benefit from their relationship if they won better terms
(like the control over the CD games). If they didn't 'make up' with
Sony as soon as possible, Nintendo would sure get problems getting
more of their precious SNES sound chips...
Because of the ambiguity and "vagueity" of the japanese contracts,
Nintendo managed to extricate itself from the bad parts of the contract
with ease and Nintendo continued to work with Philips...
Tokyo International Electronics Show
When it was clear to Sony that they wouldn't get any help from Nintendo
with new CD games for the Playstation, Sony decided that it was
time to show the world that they could manage on their own.
On the Tokyo International Electronics
Show in October they put on a big show previewing the console,
which they presented as a console both for gaming and education.
A whole bunch of various educational multimedia titles were announced,
amoung them: Compton's Enemy Encyclopedia, Software Toolworks world
atlas, Microsoft bookshel 1991 edition, languages of the world,
National Geographics Mammals of the world and a title called Mixed
up Mother Goose. No real games were presented, though. But Sony
were signing deals with other game developers. And still the Playstation
would be able to run all old SNES games (just like Philips and Nintendo's
machine). The release shedule is set 6 month before Philips and
Playstation tech specs, from Electronic Gaming
Monthly dated around October 1991:
stroke access time
On the January
CES show Nintendo made an official
announcement that they were abandoning their partnership with Sony.
Philips is working together with Nintendo and they announced that
the release date would be by Christmas that same year. Later they
changed the release date to 1993 and at he CES, Nintendo announced
that they would use the same licensing system as they had used with
their NES and SNES.
Here follows a list of tech specs from
Electronic Gaming Monthly dated around June-July 1992:
|Min access time
||Price: (in USA)
|Max access time
||Released date (USA)
Sega and Sony joins
Mega CD was released for $300. Sony helped
Sega instead by making games for their CD system!
and Nintendo began negotiating again...
The companies grew tired of all the different
CD formats on the market and in an attempt to create a industry
wide standard executives from the largest Nintendo licensees
met with Hiroshi Yamauchi to persuade him to join forces with Sony
again. This way Both Nintendo, Philips and Sony would be using the
same CD standard and that would be the worldwide one.
At last Nintendo began negotiate with Sony again (while they were
still co-operating with Philips). Their negotiations with Sony finally
resulted in a agreement between the two companies in October 1992:
In the deal Nintendo got the rights to control and license all games
for both Sony's Playstation and Nintendo's own machine and Sony
controlled all non-game softwares. Nintendo even controlled Sony's
own games for the format!
This is Sony' comment about the deal: "We concluded that we
had to ally ourselves with Nintendo when we saw that it was going
to be the 16-bit winner. We wanted access to all those
Nintendo players". It was also decided that the machine would
be 32-bit instead of 16-bit (SEGA's CD addon was just 16 bit).
Sony, Nintendo and Philips
After the reunion with Sony, Nintendo
starts developing a new console, the SNES Nintendo Disk a.k.a.
Philips CD-ROM XA. This time Nintendo cooperated with both
Sony AND Philips to make this new console. Some sources says
that Nintendo only had a slight interest in developing this
new CD system (because they stood to profit more from a cart based
model and that other CD systems like the SEGA CD and NEC's cd were
Around April/May 1993 Nintendo released their last tech specs
and info about the CD addon and set a release date for early 1994.
From this info We have put together a presentation of the SNES Nintendo
Disk with tech specs and list of planned and rumoured games.
The SNES ND (Nintendo Disk)
Last known techspecs...
|Data transferring speed
(between the SNES and the CD-rom)
||150 or 300 Kbit/sec
There wasn´t many games announced for the ND...
The adventure game 7th Guest ported from the PC by
Virgin and a game called Gdleen from Seta was on the
way though. Other titles that were planned were Robocop
and Cosmic osmo. These both titles later ended up on
the PC format instead. Also a new Final Fantasy game
was rumoured to be released to the ND. A new Zelda,
Mario and a Street Fighter sequel was also rumoured.
|The SNES Nintendo Disk
Nintendo's SNES CD extension was
named Super Nintendo ND (Nintendo Disk) and it was supposed
to have a 32-bit Co-CPU to assist the SNES original CPU. The
games wasn´t supposed to be just on a CD alone.
The games was going to be in cartridges with a 56kbit Ram memory
chip, to be use for saving game data (such as save games etc.).
With the ND extension the SNES´s CPU speed was going to be raised
from 3.58 Mhz to a massive 21.477 Mhz! The ND's CDs was going
to be able to contain 4 320 Megabits of data (540 Megabyte).
The ND-disks cartridges- a
package consisting of a CD and little memory chip for save
How the system worked...
A SNES cartridge named the System cartridge, was put
in the normal cartridge slot. This cart contained a chip that
handled the communication between the SNES and the NCD addon's
RAM memory using a system called H.A.N.D.S. which stands for
Hyper Advanced Nintendo Data transfer System. The CD Rom drive,
CPU and RAM etc was attached beneath the SNES (see picture
above.), through it´s bottom expansion slot.
The sad ending and speculations about when
and why Nintendo abandoned the project and what consequences that
The sad ending...
In August 1992 Nintendo announces
the advent of their new Super FX chip. This has the affect that
Nintendo delays their CD addon more. The CD-Rom had to be upgraded
to be better than the S-FX chip!
In early 93 Nintendo announced some new tech specs about the machine:
It's CDs would contain 540 Mbytes and the games released for
the format would probably be compatible with one of Philips's machines,
probably the CD-I... The machine was also made known as the Philips
CD-ROM/XA.The we also rumours about a new Zelda game and a Street
Fighter 2 sequel for the SNES CD. The release date was set to Autumn
1993 but the price was still $200. Nintendo promises to show the
CD addon on the S.C.E.S show later the same year...
S.C.E.S. Chicago -93
Nintendo had promised to reveal their ND on the S.C.E.S in Chicago
93 and they had also said that it would be released in early 1994.
When the S.C.E.S. came Nintendo didn't showed any CD system at all
instead they introduced new S-FX games like FX-Trax (a.k.a. Stunt
Race FX) and Super Mario Allstars but not a word about any CD. Later
that year Nintendo announced that they wouldn't release any
SNES CD at all.
The main effect of Nintendo's abandoning of their
CD project with Sony and Philip was that the machine that Sony and Nintendo
were planning on first, the Playstation was later released
by Sony as the standalone console that today is the worst
competitor of the Nintendo 64.
Note: None of the original chipset or technology from the Nintendo/Sony
SNES add-on was used in the Playstation that we know today. The
new 32-bit console was re-designed from scratch.
To sort things out there were 3 different
Nintendo CD consoles:
1. The Playstation which Nintendo and Sony were planning
on based on the their deal with Nintendo from 1991.
2. The Nintendo/Philips CD-ROM add-on based on the agreement
between Philips and Nintendo around the time of the C.E.S. in June
3. The Philips CD-ROM XA / SNES Nintendo Disk which were
a product of the cooperation betwen both Nintendo, Sony and
Philips. Based on a deal struck around October - November
Why did Nintendo abandon
the CD system...?
Still we haven't found out what made Nintendo so quickly change
their minds from thinking that the CD-Rom was the future of
video gaming to that it sucked! They said that it was to limited
because of it´s long loading times and the fact that it was an read-only
medium. Nintendo then began to work on the Nintendo 64 and the Virtual
Other factors may be that Nintendo figured that they would
make more profits with the cartridge based system than the CD system
and the fact that the CD was very easy to copy. Nintendo may
also has judged that a cartridge based console would be better
in fear that their new console would die out like Sega and NEC's
Was it the right thing to do?
I think that abandoning the SNES ND was Nintendo´s biggest mistake
ever because if they had released their CD addon, the Playstation
and the Saturn wouldn´t have such a big advantage as they have today
because of the huge delays of the N64 that accured. If Nintendo
had released their CD system before the Playstation and Saturn was
released, I think people would prefer Nintendo´s CD rather than
Sony and Philip's machines.
Also if Nintendo had continued working with Sony, the Playstation
wouldn't have competed with Nintendo's own CD in the same way since
the both CD systems would have used the same CD format etc, and
maybe the Saturn had never ever been produced! From this point of
view you can say that Nintendo dug their own grave when they abandoned
Just for the fairness of thing I'll end this article with a quote
from Nintendo's own Nintendo Power article, "Nintendo Power" publication,
"The next time when someone tells you that CD-ROM is the wave of
the future, tell them that the future doesn't belong to the snails"