Broadcast Satellaview - X

 

   

 

 

 
 
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Before we start, it's important to mention that information about Nintendo's BS-X (scarce but readily available if you know where to look) is at best confusing and not always accurate. Due to the system's obscurity and its Japan-only status the few websites that cover it either have some of their facts wrong, are incomplete, or just speculate about some of its features. The best way to present it here then, would be the wikipedia way: cross-referencing all the data available. Which brings us to the disclaimer:

Disclaimer:
All the information contained in this article is to the best of my knowledge (and unless otherwise noted) 100% accurate, and a result of cross-referencing everything I could find about the BS-X and its games. For the sake of the article's integrity, many assumptions and speculations have been excluded.

The BS-X is, as you might have heard, a sort of "online adapter" for the Super Famicom that Nintendo put out in 1995 after the infamous CD-ROM add-on fiasco with Sony. BS-X literally stands for "Broadcast Satellaview X" (not "Bandai Satellaview X", like some sources proclaim), "Satellaview" assumed to be a blend of the words "satellite" and "view", and "X" meaning "unknown".

Ok, so what do I need?

The basic system set retailed for ¥14,000 back then, which converts to $113.47 nowadays. It is composed of a base platform that fits underneath the console, a Super GameBoy-shaped adapter that plugs into the Super Famicom's cartridge slot, an AV selector, and the system's interface application "BS-X Soreha namae o nusumareta machi no monogatari" or "The Story of The Town Whose Name Has Been Stolen". This is the BS-X's user interface software, designed in the shape of an explorable town. When accessed for the first time, the system prompts for the user's name and gender to create an avatar (or Satellaview "Mascot") with whom you'll be able to roam the town at will. Each building represents many of the different features the BS-X is able to access thru its satellite connection: online high score boards, news, game demos, game cheats and tips, quizes, previews, games, etc.
All connecting cables are of course also included, and a supposedly "Deluxe" set came with an additional 8-Megabit (1MB) of extra storage space in the form of a small memory cart (also sold separate) that boosted the system's basic 256Kb of on-board memory and let you store more downloads. Unfortunately the sources for these numbers are not 100% accurate, so take them as an estimate.
It is also believed that the base platform helped the Super Famicom's performance with extra on-board RAM.

Where are my online buddies?

The service was completely different than the ones last-gen consoles present nowadays. Online multiplayer gaming was NOT the BS-X's purpose in any way. Instead, its only function was that of content delivery thru a satellite connection, while player feedback to the server was minimum to non-existent. For this purpose Nintendo teamed up with Japanese satellite station "St.GIGA" to handle the delivery and publishing; and although a few other giants like Squaresoft and Enix also signed up on the deal, the big N ended up producing more than 80% of BS-X titles.

St.GIGA's satellite decoder
The satellite decoder boxes used in conjunction with Satellaview systems back in 1995 might have looked like this current St.GIGA decoder.

St.GIGA's satellite decoder box and dish were a must to enjoy what the BS-X had to offer. These boxes must have been very popular in Japanese households, as Nintendo would obviously try to reach as much of a wider audience as it could without forcing gamers to pay full price for the extra equipment and its monthly fee on top of the already expensive BS-X system and Nintendo's own monthly subscription.

Worst than a cloudy Boktai day. Much worst:

With all the hardware set up, and having payed Nintendo's subscription fee, we are finally ready to start downloading games for free! But not so fast. St.GIGA also broadcasted its regular programming during the day, so the delivery of the BS-X's content was only available inbetween 4:00 PM and 7:00 PM. Not only were downloads, news, reviews and the rest of the BS-X's features unavailable outside this time frame, but all of the system's games with "live" elements (which were the majority) were rendered useless during the rest of the day. This is the main reason why nowadays most BS-X titles can't be emulated.

Make sure you have a calendar:

Daily, weekly or even monthly schedules were set by the station for users to download or play games, often dividing them in chapters, maps or areas. For example, you could only play Zelda's map 1-part 1 a thursday night between 4:00 PM and 7:00 PM, and would have to wait until next thursday to play the second part.
Working late, going out with your girlfriend / boyfriend, or any sort of event characteristic to having a normal life meant you would have to wait an entire month for the re-broadcast; which in some cases are not confirmed to exist. Blackout? Missed the train? Have a hot date? Tough luck. It was like waiting for the UPS man to deliver that great new game: You make sure you cancel any appointments and sit your ass at home around 4:00 PM because you know that's when he usually comes. But the moment you leave your house you miss him, only to find that dreaded note on your door: "Next delivery attempt: next month". Not a very strong content delivery model by today's standards, that's for sure.

Alright, alright, just point me to the games:

Downloadable games can be divided into two main categories: installment-based (most of them playable in during broadcasting hours), and stand-alone titles.
The first were delivered in parts, and most of them were real-time titles with elements like live voice acting, live music, and a real-time clock. Because of these features they could only be downloaded and played during the station's allotted broadcasting hours and were not accessible the rest of the time.
The second were stand-alone games that once downloaded and stored in memory (again inbetween 4:00 PM and 7:00 PM) could be played anytime without the need of satellite service, although highscore boards were posted online by St.GIGA which in turn got this feedback via either regular mail or a direct upload thru the interface.

Three examples:

Titles featured include NES upgraded remakes, re-releases of exact copies of older Super Famicom titles, BS-X system exclusives, and remixes of cartridge-based Super Famicom games. Here are three good examples of some of these categories that will give a better insight into what exactly Nintendo's peripheral had to offer. All of them are currently emulated either thru ROM patches or just for being stand-alone titles.

 

BS Zelda No Densetsu:
Map 1 & 2

Players: 1
About: Action RPG remake
Courtesy of: Nintendo
Back in: 1995 / 1996
Originally on: BS-X
Also on: N/A

"BS Zelda No Densetsu" is, as you can tell from the screenshots, a great-looking remake of the NES' "The Legend Of Zelda". It was divided into two versions literally called "Map 1" and "Map 2", each of them broadcasted in four episodes that could only be played separatedly each week. Just like a tv series.
Although I couldn't find out what the exact differences between the two maps are, the layout of the dungeons and overworld are known to be completely different from each other. You might also find these maps referred to as "Third Quest" and "Fourth Quest" respectively, as they could also be considered to be the successors of the first and second NES Zelda titles.

BS Zelda No Densetsu
Cool screens like this were accompanied by a narrator immersing the player into the story. A good developing choice since every download was 7 minutes long.

The story is still the same, and upgrades aside, the same can be said about it's core gameplay. You'll find that rupees no longer have their infamous 255 limit, overworld and dungeon map-layouts have been completely redesigned to add some variety, and Link's sprite has been replaced by the avatar of the current player. Be it male or female.
Lastly, the game's real-time clock played the role of triggering predetermined gameplay events. At pre-set times the screen will freeze and the Old Man's voice could be heard offering the player unlimited items for a couple of minutes, causing all on-screen enemies to die, making heart containers appear at set locations, etc. All of this depending on how many Tri-Force pieces the player held at the moment.

BS Zelda No Densetsu is a perfect example of what the BS-X was capable of. Great quality live voice and music (most likely streamed) were implemented; be it the narrator introducing the story during loading screens, the Old Man giving the player in-game help thru telepathy, or just the classic overworld Zelda tune, it was quite an experience. The catch was, of course, that because of these features the game was playable only in real-time and during broadcasting hours. Each episode lasted 58 minutes, not to mention it took a full 7 minutes to download before it could be played.

BS Zelda No Densetsu
"End of chapter" screen. See you next week!

In an issue of the Japanese "Nintendo Online Magazine" it is mentioned that upon completing the game players would receive passwords that contained the degree of completion of a set episode. These could be submitted to Nintendo and allow the best players to get a hold of unknown prizes, most likely Zelda-related merchandise.

Despite the real-time nature of most BS-X titles, BS Zelda No Densetsu is now playable on some SNES emulators thanks to the work of dedicated fans. All 8 episodes and 2 maps have been put together, a translation applied, and other issues like the clock and loading screens fixed so anybody can play it like any other ROM as long as the patch is applied.
Unfortunately its live voice and music are irreproducible nowadays, but at least you can still hear some early tracks that were forgotten inside the game's code by its developers. Check it out at: http://bszelda.zeldalegends.net/bszelda.shtml

There's also a video that shows how the game is accessed from the BS-X's interface, downloaded and even played. Your last chance to experience exactly how the system worked back then, and see all of its "live" features.

 

 

 

     
Broadcast Satellaview - X
 
Broadcast Satellaview - X
 
Broadcast Satellaview - X
 
Broadcast Satellaview - X
BS-X connection diagram.
 
Broadcast Satellaview - X
 
Broadcast Satellaview - X
 
Broadcast Satellaview - X
The system prompts for name and gender to create
a "Mascot".
 
Broadcast Satellaview - X
BS-X cart adapter and its
optional memory cart.
Broadcast Satellaview - X
Screen showing picture of St.GIGA's building.
Broadcast Satellaview - X
Each building represents one of the many features of
the service.
 
 
 
 
 
BS Zelda No Densetsu - BS-X
 
BS Zelda No Densetsu - BS-X
 
BS Zelda No Densetsu - BS-X
 
BS Zelda No Densetsu - BS-X
 
BS Zelda No Densetsu - BS-X
 
BS Zelda No Densetsu - BS-X
 
BS Zelda No Densetsu - BS-X
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
   
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