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(This question was inspired by my previous question What kind of software was used to develop Nintendo 64 titles?)

The NES used a modified 6502 processor and most games were written in Assembly. There are a number of open source tools available for writing, compiling, and decompiling NES executables, but what was Nintendo's official development environment like? What was the process of writing the assembly, compiling it, testing (locally?), and building test cartridges? What hardware was used for development? Were dev kits and environments given to select third parties for development? If not, what resources did third-party developers use?

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    I wonder if the full answer to this question is public or not. Some parts will have answers, at least. – Sean Houlihane Jul 21 '16 at 8:00
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    Given the NES vintage, I wouldn't be surprised if part of the development cycle was a custom hardware interface that basically emulated a cartridge. Especially post-release, something like that would be very useful as it would basically allow you to run your game on actual hardware, without commiting to cartridge manufacturing first. – a CVn Jul 31 '16 at 15:00
  • Early Macintosh development was apparently done in a similar fashion: "The [early Macintosh prototype] boot ROM allowed us to download other programs from the Lisa to the Mac over a serial line, to try out new code and test or demo the prototype." Source – a CVn Jul 31 '16 at 15:00
  • I don't think this answer is public. – Jordan M. Baron Aug 8 '16 at 22:22
  • It's probably confidential. On the other hand, it's been a while, with probably quite a few leaks. not a guaranteed answer, though. – Jack Kasbrack Oct 24 '18 at 0:26
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+100

This website might help. A guy (Chris Covell) picked up a children's picture book in Japan which shows kids how NES games were made. (Mostly focussing on Super Mario Bros. 3)

Chris actually scanned the whole book and translated it so you can read it on the website!

The book shows many things such as designing (with Shigeru Miyamoto smoking), programming, testing of the games, some of the warehouses, and much more. The book is 39 pages, (or at least that is all on the website) but it gives a pretty nice look into the development of the NES (known as the Famicom in Japan) and the development of Super Mario Bros. 3.

Source(s): NintendoAge and chrismcovell.com

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    This is really a borderline link-only answer. To award the bounty, I would expect a more in-depth answer with sources and citations, not just a link to a webpage. – JAL Aug 8 '16 at 22:36
  • @JAL I edited it and added more. – Jordan M. Baron Aug 8 '16 at 22:45
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    I think it would be quite reasonable to precis the answer to the questions about how the flow worked, using the referenced work. – Sean Houlihane Aug 9 '16 at 9:24
  • Here's what the hardware part of the NES development kit looked like: kotaku.com/5799768/… – snips-n-snails Aug 9 '16 at 22:31
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    @JordanM.Baron You've given us a lot of context, but not the actual answer to the question. Please include a summary of the book, not a description. – wizzwizz4 Aug 10 '16 at 18:27
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I worked with one and it was a pain to use. It was a cartridge made of static ram; the computer would write the contents to the cartridge and you would manually reset the console. it was slow, the upload would sometimes fail and there was no way to communicate anything back to the computer. We were using an assembler under MSDOS to make the games.

On the SNES they added a mechanism to pass back a few bytes of data to the PC once per frame.

  • Wow, very cool! Was it a dev kit officially licensed by Nintendo or was it third party? Did any of your games make it to production? Do you remember any other specs of your development machine? – JAL Dec 8 '16 at 0:25
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    We had both: we had an official Nintendo one that we were given by them, and we had a few from a company called "Cross Products" (I think they were in the UK); these guys did devkits and cross compilers on many platforms for many years; it was in a large studio, so all games made it to market. I used a 486 for development, with the cross products compiler and ultra edit, dos version, for editing. all graphics were done with deluxe paint (from EA) on the Amiga. – Thomas Dec 8 '16 at 21:17
  • Found an old newsgroup thread about Cross Products and their dev kits, interesting read groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/rec.games.programmer/… – JAL Dec 16 '16 at 20:13
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So I've been doing a little more research on this and it appears that in the early days of the NES, Nintendo did not license a dev kit themselves. Developers were forced to hack away and make their own dev kits. A popular one at the time was the "NES Mission Control" created by Rocket Science Production. Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and The Mutant Virus, among others, were created with this hardware.

Custom hardware was attached to a modified NES system and special RAM carts were used to transfer game data.

Mission Control

32K Cart

The hardware was paired with two 16-bit MS-DOS executables: NESTEST.EXE which was used to actually test/debug the debugging hardware itself, and HST.EXE which is the Mission Control software that actually communicates with the hardware.

Source

A comment mentions Cross Products and their development kits. While I believe they produced one, the earliest references to their hardware I could find was the manual to SNASM68K, their 68000 assembly language development system for MS-DOS and PC-DOS.

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