A Brief Look at the Satellaview with Fire Emblem

Here's a brief history lesson for you guys.

The Satellaview was a console accessory for the Super Famicom and a game streaming service that Nintendo ran back in the 1990s. It was sort of like the Sega Channel, in its own way. Games on the service commonly had titles that began with "BS," which stood for "Broadcast Service." Some of these games used a streaming technology called SoundLink to stream music, voice acting, and other live elements along with the game, and because of the various backend requirements involved, these specific games could only be broadcast at certain times of the day.

Among these games was a four-episode Fire Emblem title. The episodes served as prequels to the original game, but there's unfortunately no way to play the games in their original form, even with an emulator, because of the way that the sound was streamed. Well, you could emulate the game, at least. It would just be a very quiet game.

Anyway, I recently found this little gem on Youtube. It's a full playthrough of one of BS Fire Emblem's chapters, apparently recorded on video years ago. It's complete with music and voice acting, and it should give people a good idea of how such Satellaview titles actually worked, complete with loading screens and tutorial voice dialogue. It's over an hour long, so feel free to skip around.

Obviously, the game had it's share of limitations, as there are no battle screen animations, but in a twist, this Fire Emblem seemed to actually let you take your turn back in the event of a character getting killed, which was handy given that this game had a solid three hour time limit, assuming you played it from the start of the broadcast window.

32 Comments
33 Comments
Posted by Hailinel

Here's a brief history lesson for you guys.

The Satellaview was a console accessory for the Super Famicom and a game streaming service that Nintendo ran back in the 1990s. It was sort of like the Sega Channel, in its own way. Games on the service commonly had titles that began with "BS," which stood for "Broadcast Service." Some of these games used a streaming technology called SoundLink to stream music, voice acting, and other live elements along with the game, and because of the various backend requirements involved, these specific games could only be broadcast at certain times of the day.

Among these games was a four-episode Fire Emblem title. The episodes served as prequels to the original game, but there's unfortunately no way to play the games in their original form, even with an emulator, because of the way that the sound was streamed. Well, you could emulate the game, at least. It would just be a very quiet game.

Anyway, I recently found this little gem on Youtube. It's a full playthrough of one of BS Fire Emblem's chapters, apparently recorded on video years ago. It's complete with music and voice acting, and it should give people a good idea of how such Satellaview titles actually worked, complete with loading screens and tutorial voice dialogue. It's over an hour long, so feel free to skip around.

Obviously, the game had it's share of limitations, as there are no battle screen animations, but in a twist, this Fire Emblem seemed to actually let you take your turn back in the event of a character getting killed, which was handy given that this game had a solid three hour time limit, assuming you played it from the start of the broadcast window.

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Posted by EuanDewar
Games on the service commonly had titles that began with "BS,"

hahahaha

Posted by Hailinel

@EuanDewar said:

Games on the service commonly had titles that began with "BS,"

hahahaha

I knew someone was going to do that.

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Posted by Guided_By_Tigers

There are a couple other youtube videos that show Satellaview games with the original streamed voice acting/sound.

Posted by SeriouslyNow

@Guided_By_Tigers said:

There are a couple other youtube videos that show Satellaview games with the original streamed voice acting/sound.

A friend of mine played Radical Dreamers when it was still available in Japan.

Posted by countinhallways

I had actually never heard of this before. Seems pretty fascinating.

Thank you for the heads up, time for me to do some research on the technology involved.

Posted by Video_Game_King

@Hailinel said:

Among these games was a four-episode Fire Emblem title. The episodes served as prequels to the original game, but there's unfortunately no way to play the games in their original form, even with an emulator, because of the way that the sound was streamed. Well, you could emulate the game, at least. It would just be a very quiet game.

I think the sound is uploaded to YouTube (in its own videos; not as part of the actual gameplay, like with this video), but without some times to play them, you'd be pretty fucked. That's more than I can say for other Satellaview games (the third part of Famicom Tantei Club).

Oh, and fun fact: the Satellaview game appears as a series of bonus missions in Shin Monshou no Nazo. I have no idea if the voice acting is included or not.

Posted by Hailinel

@Video_Game_King: The voice acting isn't in the DS version.

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Posted by Chalphy

If you want a good source of BS info, Kiddo has an excellent blog about the Satellaview.

http://superfamicom.org/blog/

He even has all the BS Fire Emblem episodes recorded with full sound.

Posted by BoG

I just did a little research. Pretty wild that they streamed games with satellite radio. It's even wilder to think that video game streaming existed even before modern high-speed internet.

Posted by Flawed_System

Wait, so you had people doing the voice acting live while you were playing?

Posted by tourgen

wow that's pretty crazy

Posted by Hailinel

@Chalphy said:

If you want a good source of BS info, Kiddo has an excellent blog about the Satellaview.

http://superfamicom.org/blog/

He even has all the BS Fire Emblem episodes recorded with full sound.

Cool! Thanks for the link.

@Flawed_System said:

Wait, so you had people doing the voice acting live while you were playing?

The voice acting was basically done like a radio drama.

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Posted by erinfizz

Wow, thanks for posting that. Interesting stuff.

Posted by Pepsiman

I love watching BS Satellaview videos of games that had the live voice acting. They serve as a great reminder of how Nintendo has generally always been super experimental with game technology, even if most of the cases end up as being isolated incidents like this one that don't really go on to influence the greater industry. We should all really be grateful to whoever had the foresight to actually record this stuff back in the day; from an archival and game history perspective, footage like this may very well be all that's left to demonstrate how these games were properly broadcast and played back in their heyday. I actually plan to buy a Satellaview unit at some point, partly because some guys can still be made to work on the hardware, but mostly for that historical background. It's just too neat for me to ignore.

People like Hal and VGK probably already know about the existence of the BS Zelda footage floating around that also demonstrates that game's voice acting, but for those who don't know, I'll just dump that video in this post since, again, it's a neat time capsule that can't otherwise be replicated anymore completely. There's a much lengthier version several hours long that I believe goes through the entire game, but I don't remember at the moment whether that footage was uploaded to YouTube or not. I've been meaning to whip up some subtitles for this stuff since the existing translations are honestly kind of iffy, but that's neither here nor there.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

This stuff is super interesting from an outside perspective. The idea that Nintendo was streaming games to the player through the power of the internet on the goddamn Super Famicom seems like the same kind of experimental futurist technology that also spawned the Virtual Boy... but without the whole "This is really tragic how terrible this is" part. Yeah. I'm going to have to watch that video the entire way through at some point.

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Posted by Hailinel

@Pepsiman: Yeah, it's definitely great to see footage of these games as they were originally broadcast archived in video form. It's truly a blast from gaming's past that probably won't ever be revisited in this exact manner, and it's hard to really express what these games were really like without videos like these to really drive the point across.

And it's amazing how much mileage Nintendo got out of the Super Famicom. Between Satellaview, Nintendo Power cartridges, and everything else they did on the platform, its shelf-life ran out only a year and a half or so before the Nintendo 64 was discontinued. I can't imagine any of the modern consoles seeing that level of support.

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Edited by Pepsiman

@ArbitraryWater: Technically semantics, but the game data was broadcast via a satellite TV connection and not through the Internet per se. Here's a basic diagram of how it worked courtesy of Wikipedia:

Internet proliferation at the time of the Satellaview's release in Japan was likely too small to justify doing the data transmission that way, even if a satellite connection isn't otherwise the ideal medium for that sort of stuff. That's not to say that there wasn't Nintendo hardware pre-GameCube that had Internet/networking capabilities, though. The 64DD had an online service that was used predominantly used for content delivery for the art games Nintendo made for the add-on and, if my memory isn't mistaken, there was some sort of Famicom phone-jack adapter that was used to network consoles for one specific game whose name isn't immediately coming to mind for me.

Posted by ReyGitano

@EuanDewar said:

Games on the service commonly had titles that began with "BS,"

hahahaha

I remember seeing that when I would go through game catalogs on Gamespot. Great to finally know what that means... and that the Japanese weren't just faking game announcements all the time back then.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

@Pepsiman: Thanks for the clarification. Regardless, this is still crazy moon technology for 1995. Kinda like the Sega Channel, but somehow more inefficient and insane.

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Posted by Pepsiman

@Hailinel: Yeah, the lengths that Nintendo went to support the Super Famicom hardware during the N64 days were really quite astounding. Part of it can probably be attributed to the 64 being a generally less successful system, but I doubt many console manufacturers would go so far as to use hardware add-ons to justify continued use of it so long after the successor has come out. Sony also obviously tries to keep their consoles relevant for a similarly lengthy period of time, what with the whole ten-year shelf-life initiative that they're always apparently striving for, but usually they just use tactics like price drops and relaxed game licensing standards to achieve that; Nintendo, I'm pretty sure, is the only one to actually go to such lengths by providing first-party content, even if all other signs should point to them not doing so.

And Nintendo Power cartridges are also something I've been meaning to collect. I know that there aren't very many games that were exclusive to that particular service, but like the Satellaview, they serve as a neat relic that provide interesting insight into Nintendo's past. It's really easy to find them in used game shops here in Japan, so I honestly have no excuse to pick up at least one of the cheap ones. I'm kind of curious if anybody ever got around to dumping all of the ROM data for the games that were exclusive to that system, but that's another topic for another thread. Suffice it to say, I love the obtuse stuff in Nintendo's history and hope to really get into collecting it when I have an income that isn't just school loans. For now, I think you've motivated me to pick up that dumb cable you could use to connect a GameBoy Color/Advance to a Japanese cell phone for games like Pokemon Crystal because why not?

@ArbitraryWater: Oh yeah, definitely way ahead of its time regardless of how the downloads were actually achieved. I've actually found Japanese versions of the X-Band adapter that was used to unofficially play stuff like NBA Jam online back in the day, too, which I was really surprised to find since I'd always assumed it was just an American thing. Really an intriguing time for hardware innovations in general, though.

Posted by Chalphy

Perhaps the biggest tragedy of the Satellaview is that some games will be lost in time potentially forever. Perhaps one of the most enigmatic games of the service is R's Study, a visual novel from Nintendo like Famicom Tantei Club, but nothing else is known about it.

Hopefully, someday Nintendo will release more information about the service and the games.

Posted by WatanabeKazuma

Huh, and to think Sega Channel boggled my mind, that seemed otherworldly as a kid; This seems like something else altogether.

Posted by Pepsiman

@Chalphy said:

Perhaps the biggest tragedy of the Satellaview is that some games will be lost in time potentially forever. Perhaps one of the most enigmatic games of the service is R's Study, a visual novel from Nintendo like Famicom Tantei Club, but nothing else is known about it.

Hopefully, someday Nintendo will release more information about the service and the games.

You've got my attention with this post. Is literally nothing else known about the game in English aside from what you've already written? I ask because I decided to dig a little and do some Japanese research myself and while there isn't a whole lot of information to find, I have been able to track down some basic gameplay and plot information from a couple of different sources. It's not hard evidence obviously, but if you'd like, I could update the wiki on here to reflect what I've found. Usually I don't take on this sort of work, but I like using my Japanese knowledge to help bridge the gap in these sorts of situations, so to speak. There also apparently used to be video footage of the game sitting around on NicoNico years ago, but it's been long gone. I'm working on finding that, too, although I'm not gonna hold my breath on actually tracking down anything.

Posted by Video_Game_King

@ArbitraryWater said:

Regardless, this is still crazy moon technology for 1995.

What? We've had Internet (well, an Internet analog, meaning yea, it's pretty much the Internet) since 1877. No need for satellite fuckery. (Also, I kinda already knew a lot of this stuff about the Satellaview, because did you expect anything less of me?)

Posted by Hailinel

@Pepsiman said:

@Chalphy said:

Perhaps the biggest tragedy of the Satellaview is that some games will be lost in time potentially forever. Perhaps one of the most enigmatic games of the service is R's Study, a visual novel from Nintendo like Famicom Tantei Club, but nothing else is known about it.

Hopefully, someday Nintendo will release more information about the service and the games.

You've got my attention with this post. Is literally nothing else known about the game in English aside from what you've already written? I ask because I decided to dig a little and do some Japanese research myself and while there isn't a whole lot of information to find, I have been able to track down some basic gameplay and plot information from a couple of different sources. It's not hard evidence obviously, but if you'd like, I could update the wiki on here to reflect what I've found. Usually I don't take on this sort of work, but I like using my Japanese knowledge to help bridge the gap in these sorts of situations, so to speak. There also apparently used to be video footage of the game sitting around on NicoNico years ago, but it's been long gone. I'm working on finding that, too, although I'm not gonna hold my breath on actually tracking down anything.

I'm able to find a very, very, veeeeery slight bit of information if I do a Google search for the game's Japanese title (R no Shosai), but yeah, this game is a mystery.

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Posted by Ravenlight

@Pepsiman said:

BLACK MAGIC! BEGONE, WITCH-MAN!

Edited by SeriouslyNow

@ArbitraryWater said:

@Pepsiman: Thanks for the clarification. Regardless, this is still crazy moon technology for 1995. Kinda like the Sega Channel, but somehow more inefficient and insane.

It wasn't actually made by Nintendo AFAIK. St. GIGA was the company which ran the show. It was also a lot more multimedia in scope than SEGA Channel, which was all but a download service with some limited MP interaction.

@Pepsiman said:

@Hailinel: Yeah, the lengths that Nintendo went to support the Super Famicom hardware during the N64 days were really quite astounding. Part of it can probably be attributed to the 64 being a generally less successful system,

I think it mainly about the pre existing user base and the fact that what started out as a potential CD-ROM system for the SNES eventually morphed into both the Philips CDi and Sony PSX. Nintendo were still smarting over that and it seemed to me, at the time at least, that they were willing to try almost anything with the SNES to somehow prove that weren't going to be affected by their previous multimedia blunder.

Posted by Chalphy

@Pepsiman: I think I know the info that you're talking about. I can't read Japanese, so I couldn't make heads or tails of it, but if you're willing to work on it I would be most grateful for any light you can shed on it.

Posted by Pepsiman

@SeriouslyNow: Also a very valid point. From a business perspective, doing even more hardware after an already failed attempt to do add-on work for the SNES is perhaps not the first idea that would come to mind, but we all know that Nintendo has that knack for throwing caution to the wind when its back is up against the wall. As much as I like the machine for its novelty factor, I bet its existence is more attributed to what you've said than anything else posited here.

@Chalphy: Yeah, while digging into things, I noticed that it looks like the English Satellaview communities got the basic gist of what I found, although I did dig up a few technical details that I haven't seen mentioned outside of Japanese boards yet. I also noticed that some interpretations of the information is kind of skewed since it seems like most people have had to resort to online translators to get their Japanese information and although nothing is too profoundly different (surprisingly!), it's all probably worth clarifying. When I have the time, I'll compile what I've got onto our wiki. I'm also thinking about bugging some people on 2chan to see if they know anything more, especially about that footage; I found some evidence that suggests that the footage resurfaced a few years back after being deleted on NicoNico, so I suspect somebody might still have a copy lying around. It'll probably still turn up nothing in the end, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Edited by Halos_god

I have the Satellaview, but of course no one can play it anymore :(

Posted by Video_Game_King

@Halos_god said:

I have the Satellaview, but of course no one can play it anymore :(

I imagine you could still play it if you had access to wormholes or something that could destroy the laws of physics.

Posted by Halos_god

@Video_Game_King said:

@Halos_god said:

I have the Satellaview, but of course no one can play it anymore :(

I imagine you could still play it if you had access to wormholes or something that could destroy the laws of physics.

If only I had access to those wormholes...