The Game Master On Then And Now
January 15, 2010 Page 4 of 5
A History Lesson
BS: What was the original drive from Hudson to put the CD forth as a medium for game consoles?
TT: Well, there were two reasons. First off was manufacturing time. For a PC Engine HuCARD, or for that matter a NES or Famicom cartridge, it took two or three months to manufacture a batch for sale. If you wrapped up the production of your game in May, then you'd send it to the factory, and even in the best of situations, August would be the earliest you could put it on sale.
With a CD, meanwhile, all you have to do is run a pressing and you're done -- if you've got the instruction manuals printed, then the turnaround time was about a week. It was a huge difference in speed, and it also gave developers the ability to use that former downtime to debug and polish their work, which resulted in better games.
Also, in terms of memory space, a HuCARD could contain no more than eight megabits -- and that was up from the four-megabit limit the year previous. That's why R-Type had to be split up into two separate releases [in Japan]; there wasn't enough space. [Ed. note: The original HuCARD size limit was 2Mbit, and so R-Type I and II are 2Mbit each.]
CDs, meanwhile, can hold 640 megabytes, so really, a programmer could implement pretty much whatever he thought of doing on that medium.
CN: I read that NEC was more interested in changing the format because they were a hardware manufacturer. Is that the case? How do you remember it?
TT: Well, at the very beginning, CD-ROM wasn't even around -- we were talking about audio CDs. When it first got its start, Hudson distributed its programs on cassette tape, and our first idea was to use the medium in that sort of way [Ed. note: storing programs as analog audio data].
However, at the time, a CD drive would've just been way too expensive to build a home system out of. Afterwards... I'm not exactly sure which side brought it up first, but certainly one motivation behind NEC's support was that they'd be the first company in the world to use CDs for games.
BS: This was also a time when CD-ROM was moving from Red Book to Green Book, so there was another risk as well.
TT: Well, ahead of that, the initial discussion we had was whether we might be able to simply use audio CDs as the storage medium by themselves. The Red Book/Green Book formats are simply the format for storing audio and program data on a CD, respectively, so from a technological standpoint that wasn't the obstacle.
We took a pretty loose approach to it at the time; we figured that either way would work in the end. Of course, once we actually got to work on the tech, we realized that CDs can only store 70 minutes of music. Once we put in the audio data we wanted, there was a lot less space available for program content. That was something we didn't think about at first, so games wound up having a fair bit less music than we originally intended.
BS: This reminds me of how every PC Engine CD has track one explaining that this is a CD-ROM, so don't put it in your CD player. Getting rid of that minute-and-a-half-long message, you could've freed up a little more space.
TT: (laughs) Well, it's not that we wanted it to be that long; it just took that long to lay out everything we needed to say. If we didn't put that warning in, then people might actually put the disc in their CD players -- and if they had the volume up high enough, the results had the possibility of damaging their speakers.
The program track is just a stream of 0s and 1s, and there was no way for us to ensure that the track wouldn't emit extreme high-decibel tones when played as an audio CD. To prevent that -- to limit our liability, I guess you could say -- we had to expressly put all this out, and that's why the message went that long.
In terms of size, it really doesn't take up that much space. If this [meeting room] table was a CD, then that warning would take up about as much space as this business card. I'd need to check this, but I think the amount of RAM in the PC Engine [CD-ROM system] was about half the size of this card.
BS: From a marketing standpoint, how did you say "It's time to switch to CDs"? They were expensive, after all.
TT: To put it simply, we made people think it was awesome. We talked about how you could put the equivalent of 3000 Famicom games into a single disc; that was how amazing this new piece of media was. The other thing was that the games talked -- the characters actually spoke to you, creating this movie-like effect that was really shocking.
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