I wonder if you have played “Final Fantasy 7”? I’m not talking about Square’s widely acclaimed “Final Fantasy 7”, but the FC version of “Final Fantasy 7” launched by Shenzhen Nanjing Technology in 2005. After deleting a lot of content and adapting the screen to 2D, this “pirated” work actually reproduces the original gameplay and story to a certain extent.
When it comes to pirated games, the concept formed in our minds is roughly the act of cracking, copying, and redistributing a game. However, Nanjing Technology’s approach is obviously different, and it is not entirely a 1:1 clone of the original.
After Nintendo introduced the royalty system in the early 1980s, even more “original” content may also be classified as pirated. In order to make a distinction, they are often referred to as “unlicensed games”. The vast majority of “counterfeit games” like the FC version of “Final Fantasy 7” also belong to this category.
They largely represent a deformed market that has grown up under the iron curtain. The vitality of this market is so tenacious that it has not disappeared until today.
Why is the original pirated version? In fact, it has something to do with Nintendo’s policies against third-party developers in the FC era. There is nothing wrong with the royalty system-the developer (publisher) submits the work, accepts the quality review of the platform for sale, and then the sales are divided according to the agreed proportion. Now host manufacturers continue to use this approach.
The key is that Nintendo has strict limits on the number of third-party games, and the cassette itself has to be produced by the official assembly line. As a result, the earnings of some companies have been affected, so some people have moved their brains to make their own games while bypassing the Overlord Clause, and silently put the cassette into the hands of retailers.
Nintendo is certainly prepared for this behavior. In 1985, they designed a set of 10NES system for NES (American FC) games released in Europe and the United States, that is, a check integrated circuit (CIC) was installed in the cassette, which caused the third-party self-made cassette to fail to run.
To some extent, the 10NES system is designed to prevent events like the “Great Depression in the U.S. Gaming Industry” from recurring. Former Nintendo President Pu Yamauchi mentioned: “Atari went bankrupt because they gave third-party developers too much freedom. It’s full of junk games.”
But Mr. Yamauchi might not have noticed that Atari was theoretically not finished at that time. It split into two companies, Atari Corporation and Atari Games, and was jealous of Nintendo’s success.
Atari Games (hereinafter referred to as Atari) did not have the right to use its own IP as a trademark in the host field, so in 1987, it attracted a group of Japanese and established the “Tengen” department in California. Their initial business was mainly publishing, responsible for bringing the FC games of Namco and Sunsoft to the European and American markets. At this time, they were still a formal enterprise.
But this company called Tianyuan can then be said to be the starting point of all chaos.
Tian Yuan wanted to be a “good guy.” They first tried to obtain a less restrictive license from Nintendo, but they were rejected. The condition of the old Ren is that he can only release 5 games each year, and he exclusively owns the NES for a limited time for two years. Forced by lewdness, Tianyuan naturally “smiles on face, buy skin for psychology”. They wrote down their names while humiliating. In 1988, they released “RBI Baseball”, “Gauntlet” and “Pac-Man” according to the rules. Studying how to crack the 10NES chip.
It has to be said that locking the chip has stumped a large number of people with bad intentions. Many third-party manufacturers tried to solve the problem with physical methods, such as increasing the voltage instantly, but Tianyuan engineers felt that this might damage the player’s NES, and the gains outweighed the losses, so they chose reverse engineering. However, since Nintendo frequently modifies the NES system, it is difficult to get a soft cracking method.
Then something magical happened. Tianyuan had an idea and asked the US Copyright Office for help on the charge of “Nintendo’s alleged monopoly.” Their team of lawyers contacted the government office and requested a copy of the 10NES locking system, claiming that they would use this to fight a lawsuit. Unexpectedly, under the intervention of the government, Mizumi Arakawa (son-in-law of Yamauchi), who was the president of Nintendo of the United States at the time, didn’t figure it out, and stupidly handed over the program documents.
Tianyuan’s strategy was a great success. They were able to develop pirated 10NES chips. Since then, the market for unlicensed games on red and white devices has been officially opened. It is said that Arakawa was affected by this incident and gradually lost the trust of Yamauchi within Nintendo. In order to seek new development, in 2005, he and the inventor of Tetris Alexei Pakitnov formed a new company.
Having said that, after offending the strongest legal department in the Eastern Hemisphere, the life after Tianyuan was actually very difficult. When they launched a cracked cassette at the end of 1988, Nintendo seized the opportunity to immediately sue it for patent infringement. The biggest cause of trouble may be the copyright dispute of “Tetris”, which at one time caused Tianyuan to be forced to recall hundreds of thousands of unsold NES cassettes, which later circulated to the illegal market.
Within a period of time after losing the lawsuit, Tianyuan also made games for platforms such as Mega Drive, Master System, Game Gear and PC Engine, and obtained official licenses from Sega and Hudson. They even participated in the development of the Nangong Dream arcade game “Tinkle Pit” until it was acquired by Time Warner in 1994, and the brand disappeared completely.
The infringer counters the copyright party
In any case, although Tianyuan’s “rushing tower” is reckless, it has created new opportunities for a group of European and American colleagues. Among them, the degree of arrogance is even worse than that of a company called American Video Entertainment (AVE, American Video Entertainment).
AVE’s life experience is very interesting. The mother is Taiwanese chip manufacturer Macronix, who once recommended himself as a supplier of Nintendo, and wanted to provide NES ROM chips. After eating closed doors, a compatible system called NINA was created through this set of chips, and a patent was applied. In addition, Richard Frick, one of the founders of AVE, is also an old employee of Tianyuan.
In addition to selling unauthorized games at that time, AVE also did a very strange thing, that is, they opened a telephone hotline, specifically instructing players to change their machines, in order to bypass the obstacles of 10NES. This was not enough. In 1991, they simply jumped to the old Ren’s face to claim 105 million US dollars, on the grounds that Nintendo’s locked chips were suspected of monopoly, making their pirated cassettes unable to operate.
This lawsuit ended in private, not knowing what conditions the two sides made. But AVE has an employee’s daughter who is good friends with Arakawa Minoru’s granddaughter Masayo Arakawa (Masayo Arakawa), and perhaps this relationship played a role in reconciliation.
From the perspective of game development, even if horizontally compared with private unlicensed manufacturers, AVE can be regarded as the worst gear, with a typical tone greater than strength. Their original intention was to provide “cheaper Nintendo games”, but the price of cheap is often poor quality of work.
Part of AVE’s business is publishing unlicensed games from overseas colleagues, and they sometimes also OEM for butter manufacturers like Panesian. For example, Taiwan’s C&E (Quanwei Information)’s debut “Warring States Sichuan Province” was released in the United States by AVE with a “Tiles of Fate” (bricks of fate) vest. The gameplay is based on Mahjong’s Lianliankan and English localization. Very bad.
They also wanted to enter the European market at one time, but at that time there was no money for advertising, and most of the games were not optimized, and they couldn’t even run smoothly on the European version of NES. Because of its urgent research and development capabilities, the company naturally died after handling the lawsuit with Nintendo. Macronix survived very well later, and even realized its dream, providing memory and flash memory for 3DS and Switch.
Compared with the decline of Tianyuan and AVE, a company called Color Dreams is more representative of the United States in the unlicensed game market. They have survived to this day in a certain sense, and solid technical skills can be said to be a guarantee. Because for so many years, Nintendo’s legal department has been ignorant of Color Dreams. The reason is that they did not crack it, but used physical current to interfere with the operation of the 10NES system. Color Dreams also tried to implant an additional processor in the cassette in the past to modify the texture in the RAM to enhance the picture.
But a number of early games developed by Color Dreams did not sell well, including Baby Boomer, Captain Comic, Crystal Mines, and Robodemons. The reason is not that the quality is not good, but the old man used the supply as a threat to prevent retailers from entering their cassettes.
So Color Dreams immediately set up two sub-brands to conceal the public, namely Bunch Games, which sells small-scale games, and Wisdom Tree, which is famous for publishing Christian-themed games.
The performance of Wisdom Tree should be described as excellent. First of all, it is selling products through Christian bookstores in a different way. Nintendo’s authority can hardly influence these places. Secondly, they actively learn from the gameplay of Nintendo games, such as imitating the “Bible Adventures” of “Super Mario Bros. 2,” using platform jumps to show Noah collecting animals, saving baby Moses, and David and Goli The three stories of the sub-combat have sold a total of 350,000 copies. In addition, they launched “Spiritual Warfare”, an action-adventure game similar in style to “The Legend of Zelda”.
So that when the parent company Color Dreams divested its video game business in the mid-1990s and shifted its focus to digital cameras and surveillance equipment, the brand Wisdom Tree was bought by their former sales representative Brenda Huff, and a follow-up product called The computer 3D game of “Heaven Bound”.
In 2016, Wisdom Tree launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, using 341 supporters to raise $26,000 to create an NES box containing 7 classic games of its own. This company is still very active.
Centered on Taiwan
You may have noticed that I mentioned Taiwan in the previous article more than once. That’s because the “contribution” of Taiwanese developers is too great for the malformed market of unauthorized games. Counting the first wave of Taiwanese manufacturers that intervened in this business can list a large list: Bit Corp, Joy Van, Sachen, C&E, Crystal Technology, and Idea-Tek and NTDEC, their active time was roughly between 1986 and 1995.
Puze Company should have the strongest self-developed capabilities among this group of Taiwanese manufacturers. As early as the early 1980s, many original Atari games were produced and sold to the European and American markets. The more well-known games are “Open, Sesame!” and “Bobby is Going Home” (Bobby is Going Home). Since Atari does not require authorization, these games can be regarded as regular products with a copyright notice.
As for why it is necessary to attack the European and American markets first, the book “Nintendo’s Corporate Strategy” published by Times Culture mentions:
“Puzer, which produced Atari games as early as 1981, has repeatedly emphasized that developing a game is like making a movie. It requires the cooperation of three departments: character design, director and programming. Based on Puzel’s own experience , Each game takes about three to six months to develop, and the production cost is about 500,000 Taiwan dollars. At present, Taiwan’s technology and design standards are not a problem. In fact, the company has already produced products, but it is due to the Taiwan market The order is chaotic. They don’t plan to launch it for the time being. They plan to start with export. As for the game content, ethnic themes are not considered for the time being, because the sales target is Europe and the United States, emphasizing ethnic games, which may restrict the market.”
While developing the game, Puze also developed many compatible machines. For example, Creator50 (Dina 2 in one), which supports ColecoVision and SG-1000 games, is very popular in Europe and America, and is one of the few machines that can run ColecoVision cassettes. The Creator70, which went on the market in 1987, looks a bit like Sega’s Master System, but it is actually a FC.
In the era of red and white devices, since it is difficult for small and medium-sized manufacturers to get preferential policies from Nintendo, Puze is more willing to sell unauthorized games in Taiwan where the emperor is far away, because the product packaging uses plastic materials and the craftsmanship of cassettes is also comparable The peers are more sophisticated. Although they have gone through an evil way, the player’s reputation has always been good because of their serious attitude.
On the other hand, Jiehui, which works closely with Puze, can be said to be the Whampoa Military Academy in Taiwan’s unlicensed game market. Although the survival time was only one year from 1988 to 1989, a total of 11 games were launched during the period, and the efficiency was amazing. Jiehui later merged with Shengqian. Frank Sifardi, director of the Video Game History Foundation, also persuaded Shengqian to release an unauthorized collection of games called “Huge Insect”. Since only 30 copies have been released, it is worth very high.
As for the group of people who were born in Jiehui and didn’t want to go to Shengqian, they established Idea-Tek in the future, which is the publisher of “Warring States Sichuan Province” in Taiwan. Idea-Tek was eventually acquired by TXC and made a well-known Micro Genius game console at home and abroad.
This kind of matryoshka-like relationship radiates to the global market centered on the little genius game console. In Poland, the little genius is called Pegasus. After landing in Russia, its name is Dendy. When it came to Latin America around Colombia, it became Nichi-Man. From 1983 to 1993, TXC’s capital soared from NT$3.1 million to NT$473 million. Now Crystal Technology has opened two quartz component processing plants in Chongqing and Ningbo. For more details, please refer to another article of mine, so I won’t repeat them here.
One of the more interesting Taiwanese copycat companies is called “Nintendo Electronics Co., Ltd.” (NTDEC). But this Nintendo is not the other Nintendo. NTDEC’s main business is also to produce unauthorized FC cassettes. The name is probably to confuse the public. Because they are accustomed to plagiarizing the products of local competitors. For example, Huang Xinwei was cloned from the arcade game “Make Trax” and “Brush Roller” and then cloned. After modifying the image, they named the work “Bookyman”. The label of Nintendo would naturally attract more More consumers.
In order to avoid people’s eyes and ears to a certain extent, most of NTDEC’s games can only be obtained through mail order, but in 1991, the old man was really overwhelmed by their use of his trademark and caught the company selling products in the United States. Two employees of, filed legal proceedings on the grounds of infringement. The lawsuit lasted for more than two years, and the court finally ruled that Nintendo was awarded 24 million US dollars in compensation.
Since then, NTDEC has shown itself as Asder, and later developed “Three Kingdoms: Contest for Hegemony”, a fighting game based on the magic change of “Samurai Soul”. It has done a lot to run on FC. Picture sacrifice. After making an “educational” cassette in 1995, Yades’s business began to turn to toys. By 2016, they had also established a factory to produce cosmetics in Dongguan.
Cross the sea to “make yellow”
Based on Taiwan’s FC unlicensed games, two vendors that sold adult content appeared in the 1980s and 1990s. One of the more legendary is Hacker International. After all, this is a company that dares to commit crimes under the nose of Nintendo.
Hacker International did not develop games in the early days. Instead, it represented (or copied) the works of the above-mentioned Taiwanese developers, added naked Japanese-style pictures of beautiful girls, and then introduced them to the Japanese market. The theme of “Warring States Sichuan Province” under Quanwei Information was originally “Using Lianliankan to unify the country”, but they became “Idol Sichuan Mahjong” in their hands, and they would take off the girl’s clothes if they won. Later, Quanwei co-developed a match-3 game “Soap Panic” (Soap Panic), which also followed the path of “the more you hit the girl, the less clothes you wear.”
However, Hacker International was not so chaotic at first. The opportunity for founder Satoru Hagiwara to enter the game industry was mainly due to the personal computer boom in Japan in the mid-1980s. He believed that it was profitable, so he consulted to engage in publishing business. A friend of, and then published a magazine called “Hacker”, which is completely formal business.
Unexpectedly, the name “Hacker” has attracted many developers and writers who are interested in dumping, cracking, and reverse engineering. It just so happens that Akira Hagiwara has a “collusion” and private agreement between the console and the game publisher. There were a lot of negative emotions, and then Hacker International was founded, with the intention of promoting some of the authors’ ideas and embarking on the road of blackening.
After setting the development direction, they initially chose to make FC compatible machine-Hacker Junior, which provides composite video output and burst controller. This was supposedly sued by Nintendo, and eventually ended in an out-of-court settlement. Hagiwara Akira revealed in a 2005 “Game Labo” magazine column interview that in fact, the machine had been discontinued for a long time when the lawsuit was initiated because the project took a lot of effort, but the profit was insufficient.
The real headache for Nintendo may be Hacker International’s unauthorized adult games. Yamauchi personally strongly opposes these contents and believes that it will damage the company’s reputation. However, Hagihara Akatsuki sells cassettes mainly by mail. The so-called no middleman makes the difference. The “old sex critics” will attract each other and spread word of mouth. Nintendo The method of putting pressure on retailers is not so easy to use.
In one episode, the “Family Computer” magazine once ran an advertisement for Hacker International. As the publisher, Tokuma Bookstore was afraid that Nintendo would be held accountable. Five executives personally went to the door to apologize to Yamauchi. In contrast, NEC and Hudson are more tolerant of those adult content that Hacker International (branded by Games Express) lists PCE, and they are also grateful for their promotion of console game sales. The company was once authorized by PlayStation to publish 15 games.
Until 2001, after Akahara Hagiwara lost interest in the gaming industry and closed the company, he left a lot of “legacy”. For example, the “Saori Incident” that contributed to the Japanese game grading system, the company F&C (formerly MIMI-Pro) at the center of the event, and the developer of “Dark Bible” Active (some talents come from Super PIG), all seem to have a similar relationship with Hacker International. Wanlv’s connection. It is said that MIMI-Pro and Super PIG are both sub-brands of Hacker International, and at least there is a cooperative relationship between the two parties.
In addition, Panesian, headquartered in Taiwan, is responsible for selling adult content to the United States. From the business logic point of view, they are similar to Hacker International, except that they replaced the naked Japanese girl with a Western girl when they changed their games, and only released three games in their lifetime, namely “Bubble Bath Babes” “Hot Slots” and “Peek-A-Boo Poker”. Since the company’s cassettes are very rare nowadays, empty cards can be sold for US$500, and the box is worth more than US$1,000.
Future talks from the mainland
When FC entered the end of its life cycle in the late 1990s, most of the early Taiwanese unauthorized manufacturers should go bankrupt, and the transformation of this transition did not enter the new millennium. The Hummer team was relatively well-known in the later period. A considerable part of the members inherited from Quanwei, and it was closed until 2010. Their most famous work is probably “Somari”, a game that swaps Sonic for Mario.
At that time, there was another hobby in this circle, which was to forcibly port the content of 16-bit or even 32-bit machines to FC. Generally speaking, the effect of forced transplantation is extremely poor: the characters are too small to be clear, the scattered garbled characters are commonplace, the music is hard to hear, AI has also made a lot of simplifications, and the layout of the two buttons is far from enough. Up.
But there are exceptions. The most famous ones are “Aladdin” and “The Lion King” released by Super Game. These pirated versions are far better than the FC version officially released by Virgin Interactive. The first is that the button response is faster (although there is a slight delay in jumping), and the graphics are streamlined, but after all, they refer to the MD version, and the official transplant is based on GameBoy, and the judgment is high.
Alien Technology from Fuzhou has also produced a simplified FC version of “Street Fighter II”. The optional characters have been reduced to only Long, Chunli, Gulie and Sengilf, and the Street Fighter II engine provided by the Hummer group is used. (It was used to create copycat versions of “Mortal Kombat 2” and “Tekken 2”). The more impressive feature of this company is that it probably provides a lot of Chinese-style games, which are said to be copied from the strategy book produced in Taiwan, which can be regarded as the Chinese game enlightenment for many domestic players.
In 1995, Taiwan’s Dunhuang Technology and Lianhua Electronics launched a 16-bit home machine called Super A’Can. Later, it failed due to high prices, too few games, unclear positioning, and insufficient competitiveness. , Leading part of the core development members to finally flow into the alien technology. They have not gone bankrupt yet, and are still producing Wii-shaped knockoff game consoles and educational software.
Shenzhen Nanjing Technology, which was born in 2002, is also one of the last emperors in the field of unauthorized games. They are best at adapting based on popular works. The FC version of “Final Fantasy 7” mentioned at the beginning is even translated into English reverse output by foreigners. In addition, there are many slots “World of Warcraft Demon Hunter” and “Golden Sun”. “Pokemon Diamond/Pearl” and “Tomb Raider”, you can even see the name of “Stone Age”… This company is also alive now, the official website is still accessible, and the website exhibits a number of Handheld like PSP.
Even if FC has been discontinued for many years, unauthorized games have not completely disappeared. Now they are more inclined to be displayed in the form of Nintendo-on-a-Clone, which is to compress the original CPU, PPU and RAM onto a single chip to create a form Different knockoff game consoles, Alien Technology’s “Wii” and Nanjing’s “PSP” are probably also of this type.
There are more stories about unlicensed game manufacturers, such as Gluk Video in Spain, HES in Australia, and Milmar and CCE in Brazil. The relationship behind this gray industry that has accumulated for 30 years is too complicated. With a brief history, looking back at the son of a monster that Atari bred back then, it can’t help but make people sigh.
Hacker International’s head speaks
Puzer’s story: Atari 2600s
The Source for Many Unlicensed NES/Famicom Games