- Sep 25, 2013
- Wii U
The Super FX chip was a chip that was created for the Super Nintendo to help the SNES create "real" 3D polygons. Something that was completely unheard of back then. Back when sprites were the king of the gaming world. The Super FX chip was co-created by Nintendo and a Britsh videogame developer named Argonaut Games. Argonaut Games had created a game called 'Starglider". Starglider was a "3D" game that was inspired by the Star Wars arcade game. The one with the "wire frame vector graphics". Starglider went on to win a "Game of the Year" award by a British gaming magazine that no longer exists, called Crash magazine, and was soon ported over to many gaming systems and platforms in the mid-to-late 80's. There was even a sequel, Starglider 2, that came out in the late 80's.
Argonaut Games, soon after, worked with Nintendo on a game called "X" for the Japanese Gameboy. X, by the way, got an Exclusive DSiWare sequel (almost 20 years later, in 2010), called "X-Scape", which was released in all 3 major regions, not just Japan. So, Argonaut Games, having already worked with Nintendo on a game for the Gameboy, was given a prototype for the new SNES that Nintendo was going to release, so that Argonaut Games could make a game on it.
Now, Argonaut Games had already started a prototype game of their own on the NES, and it was up and running on the original NES (tho they never finished it, and thus, never released it), but then decided to try and put the game on the new SNES prototype that they had just gotten from Nintendo, instead. So, they decided to forget about the NES all together, and instead, focus their efforts on the SNES. In the end, they weren't happy with their game on the SNES, and told Nintendo that their game was as good as it was going to get, based on Nintendo's current hardware. So, Argonaut Games asked if they could make a custom hardware add-on for the SNES, to make it better at 3D graphics, to improve their game. Nintendo said yes, that Argonaut Games was allowed to make a custom hardware for the SNES, however, they (Nintendo) would help them, hand-in-hand and side-by-side, on this new "custom hardware", tho Argonaut Games was in charge of the development of the chip. So, the two started to work together.
Now, Argonaut Games didn't have an official title for their prototype NES game, so, they just codenamed it "NESglider", since they were known for the Starglider game, and this new game was on the NES. So, NESglider it was. It was inspired by their Starglider game, but, 'more advanced'. But now, they were helping Nintendo create something new in order for them to get more out of their prototype game, which they were now trying to put on the SNES. So, the owner of Argonaut Games hired the best chip designers that they could find. And what they came up with was a new processor chip to focus on 3D. The chip was codenamed the "MARIO" chip. Which stood for "Mathematical, Argonaut, Rotation & Input/Output" chip. Seriously.
So, work on the "Mario" chip was started. Tho, as everybody knows by now, the Mario Chip was later, officially, changed to the "Super FX" chip instead. Meanwhile, Nintendo wanted to make a new game using this new Mario chip. Argonaut Games figured, hey, they are working on the hardware, so they'll let Nintendo work on the software. So, they gave their prototype game to Nintendo. Thus, Nintendo helped Argonaut Games work on the chip and make sure that it was compatible with their system and everything,... and Argonaut Games helped Nintendo work on the game, giving them their prototype, and teaching them the in's and out's of it all, as well as having their own developers work side by side with Nintendo in actually making it. It was a 100% complete partnership, through and through. So this new chip and new game were being developed simulatneously.
Nintendo, after officially getting the prototype game, quickly assigned Shigeru Miyamoto as the producer of the game. Being in charge, Shigeru Miyamoto then picked out his own team of developers, artists, composer, director, etc.etc. and set the game in motion. He then took the prototype game, and gave it the "Nintendo Spin" or "Twist" or whatever you like to call it. I used "spin" as a reference to the "barrel roll" move that would eventually come out of this.
Anyways, with Shigeru Miyamoto in charge, he decided that since the prototype game was basically a "rail shooter" game, he wanted to make it more "arcade-y" and fun. He didn't want it to be boring. He wanted more action and more movement. Argonaut Games came up with the idea of using spaceships, and flying to other planets. So, Miyamoto had his designers create the levels and maps for this new 'space' idea. Also, Miyamoto absolutely did not want to make a boring generic game. So he decided that there would be absolutely no humans. He wanted anthropomorphic animals instead. Stating that he wanted to be different, and not use humans or robots or anything characteristically associated with sci-fi stuff. He was aiming for something that was fun, but that also stood out, in a good way.
And, much like how his ideas came to him for other games, he chose a Fox as the main character because there was an Inari shrine down the street from his office, and the shrine was associated with foxes. As many know, he came up with the idea of the Zelda game while wandering in the woods and caves and what not, as a child. Similarly, he chose the Fox, as it was a prominent feature at a popular nearby shrine. So, he was just taking ideas from his surroundings.
So, the fox was Miyamoto's choice as the main character. The character designer of the game chose the bird and rabbit from Japanese animal folklore. The toad was used because a fellow co-worker was fond of toads. Also, the Japanese have an expression about "fighting like dogs and monkeys". So, they used that too. The "good guys" were dogs, and the "bad guys" were monkeys. Hence, Pepper was a dog, and Andross was a monkey.
In the end, the prototype game for this new Mario...err.. Super FX chip.. was titled.. "Star Fox". As I'm sure you have all been able to guess by now. Star Fox was the first SNES game to use this new Super FX chip. The chip itself was on the board, inside of the cartridge, however, it required the use of more of the contact connectors. The part that you see inside of the "opening" of the cartridge. Because of these new contacts, that were completely visible, it made it impossible for the Game Genie to work with it, as those weren't made to read the new connectors. So, no Game Genie for Super FX games. However, this new chip, along with the new connectors, meant that the price of the game was higher than the rest of the 'regular' games in the SNES library. However, even so, Star Fox became a technological wonder, and a huge seller and success story.
Star Fox, however, wasn't the only game that used this new Super FX chip. Other games soon came out too. These are the Super FX games, in the order of their releases
Stunt Race FX
Dirt Trax FX
However, there was one more game, but it was never released here in America, tho it was in Europe.... Dirt Racer. Kind of like an "Off-Road" type game, or a cross between Stunt Race FX and Dirt Trax FX.
But... the fun doesn't stop there.
No, no.... There was another FX chip to come out. The "Super FX 2" chip. This chip was even better than the original FX chip, in terms of power and speed. However, the only games that used this newer chips were... again, in order of release, were....
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
And another game that was only released in Europe, and not here in America... Winter Gold.
The first FX chip allowed developers to make 3D games, using polygons instead of sprites. The second FX chip still allowed that, however, it also allowed sprite based games to have more power and options. For instance, with the Super FX 2 chip, the foreground and background sprites can be easily manipulated, also layered upon layered,.. and, the sprites themselves could be made much bigger, allowing for bigger enemies and characters on the screen, or for them to change in size on the fly better.
That, however, is where the fun stopped. 4 U.S. games with the Super FX chip, with another single European only game, and 2 U.S. games with the Super FX 2 chip, with another single European only game. That's it. 2 chips, and 8 total games that used it. The Japanese market got the releases too.
Tho, to be fair, there were more games in development for it. For instance, there was... in Alphabetical order...
Comanche - (this was a helicopter game, that saw multiple different games on other platforms in the 90s)
Dirt Racer SFX Elite - (which was rumored to be a sequel to the European only title Dirt Racer)
Elite - (this was a cancelled port of a game that was already 10 years old when they started this port)
Powerslide - (it's rumored that this failed game was turned into the fully released Winter Gold game)
FX Fighter - (this was developed for the SNES and PC, but the SNES version was cancelled. PC version was fully released)
Star Fox 2 - (which later turned into Star Fox 64. More in just a moment)
Transformers - (tho it's rumored that this failed game was turned into the fully released Vortex game)
So, that's it. That's all that the Super FX and Super FX 2 chips saw on the Super Nintendo. Part of the reason was the expense. Developing the games cost more, and the price for the games was higher than the other non-FX chip games. Also, there was another reason, as stated by the lead programmer for Star Fox 2.
You see, the Lead Programmer for Star Fox 2 said that Star Fox 2 was 100% officially completed. Some rumors going around said that it was only half finished and things like that. There was even an unfinished beta version that got leaked, which helped fuel those rumors. However, the developers of the game said that the game was 100% complete, and ready for release. However, the decision was made to hold onto the game instead of releasing it. The reason being was because the N64 was about to be released. Or, so they thought. Star Fox was released in 1993. Stunt Racer FX released in 1994. The Nintendo 64 was scheduled to release at the end of 1994. Right when they were about to release Star Fox 2 on the SNES. So Nintendo decided to port it over to the N64 instead, and be one of the first games on the system. However, development on the N64 itself took longer than expected. So it released a year and a half to two years later than they wanted it to. So, instead of releasing in late 1994 - early 1995, it ended up getting released in late 1996 instead. Meaning, according the developers of Star Fox 2, they said that they should of just released Star Fox 2 on the SNES, and then made a Star Fox 3 game on the N64. However, they kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting, for the N64 to release. They debated back and forth on whether to release it on the SNES, but they really wanted to save it for the N64. In the end, they chose to save it, as the longer they debated, the easier and easier the choice became to wait. But, in hindsight, they regret not releasing it on the SNES when they first completed the game, almost 2 years before the N64 was released.
Anyways, back to the FX chip.
Even tho the FX chip had a short life cycle, and small list of games, it was still highly regarded as a breakthrough in the console market. However, Nintendo and Argonaut Games went in seperate directions after that. Nintendo, as you all know, went on to bigger and better things. And still own Star Fox to this day. Which has become a widely popular franchise still.
Argonaut Games, however, didn't have as much luck afterwards. They only made a small handful of games for Nintendo consoles after Star Fox. They focused mainly on PC gaming instead. They dabbled in other consoles here and there too. Making, or helping to make, at least one game on every console to follow in the years after the FX chip was created. But again, they mainly focused on PC gaming.
However, Argonaut Games did try their hand and building new chips for other consoles. But they never reached the same success as they did with the SNES Super FX chips. For instance, they helped design the Philips CD-i 2 console, but that was cancelled after the failure of the first CD-i console. Then, they Then, they helped design an console for Apple (yes, that Apple), however, that also fell apart, and thus, was never released. Then, they tried to help Hasbro create a virtual reality machine. Again, another failed attempt that was never released. The following year, after all of these failed attempts, they split the company in half. Then, they tried to rebrand themselves later. However, with the failures of trying to help Philips, Apple, and Hasbro, all get into the console market, as well as sales of their own pc games going down due to the rise of console gaming popularity, they eventually had to downsize, and let people go. Then, with so many other companies in the industry by this time, they shut down all together in 2004.
Helping to create the Super FX chip and Star Fox was the highlight moment for the company. It was all downhill after that. Tho, that was largely because of their business decisions in trying to strike lightning twice, by helping other companies make chips and become big players in the console market. But, again, those all became failed attempts that never saw the light of day. If successful, Philips, Apple, and/or Hasbro, would of had their own consoles. But, alas, it wasn't to be. And Argonaut Games lost a lot of money on those, as well as made more bad decisions, and then got overshadowed by newer companies, as the video game industry began to grow and grow and grow at an incredible rate. Also, the fact that they were mainly PC game makers, and didn't focus much on consoles, didn't help them at all.
The last game that Argonaut Games helped to make was the EA title, Catwoman, based off of the Halle Berry Catwoman movie. Yeah... what a terrible end indeed. EA focused on the PC and Xbox versions, while giving the Gamecube and Playstation 2 versions to Argonaut games. Terrible movie, terrible game, and terrible end to the company that co-created the Super FX chip and co-created Star Fox.