There's a lot of PC Engine pages out there, and if you really wanted to read the same old history with the same old pics you'd probably have stopped there and never found this page. I'd rather go over some other stuff, and to that end I present to you 101 Secrets of the PC Engine! Irreverent trivia and technical tidbits tonight!
The insides of a HuCard aren't as exciting as you may have thought. The 'business end' of a HuCard consists of a super-thin PCB with two (or more) glop-top chips on it, flipped upside down and glued in place. The rest of the card is just to make it larger and allow space for pretty labels. Some cards have a raised section where the label is printed. These allow the PCB to be larger and encroach on the label space. Without this raised bubble platform the label space is greatly diminished, and we can't have that.
The PC Engine LT is three years older than the Hitachi HiSaturn Navi, but it has a screen that is easier to see and offers almost 50% higher resolution than the Navi. ~144,000 pixels on the LT, but only ~80,000 on the Navi.
Neither the LT nor the GT can display all the pixels created by the PCE. The LT comes really close, but the poor GT can display less than half. This isn't really noticable except where you're required to read on the GT screen - high-contrast white letters on a black background become very colourful indeed as the red, green and blue sub-pixels try to display all the detail required. Still kicks the GBA's ass though.
All three PC Engine core systems (PCE, Core Grafx, Core Grafx 2) can be used as CD racks. A maximum of five CDs may be stored safely on these systems. You can also store other things, like SmartMedia cards, or Pringles chips.
There's no copy protection on PCE CDs, the high cost of CD writing at the time was protection enough. Over $3,000 for a machine to write your own CDs, and no drag-n-drop software to churn out the data. Death to software pirates, by the way.
All but one pin required to connect a CD ROM to a PC Engine is present in the cartridge port. You could almost connect a CD ROM to a GT or Express this way. Almost.
There are enough pins on the back of a PC Engine Shuttle to connect it to a CD ROM system, though because some pins are duplicated not all the signals are present. Why this ability was removed remains a mystery to this day.
The PC Engine has only three main chips in it: The CPU + sound, graphics processor, and video encoder. The only other chips are RAM and an audio amp. Compare this to the Genesis or Super Nintendo, both of which had more than six chips in addition to the RAM + amp.
There are 13 pins on the PCE's expansion bus that were never used in expansion hardware. What are they for? Secret military applications? SuperGrafx upgrades? Factory-level troubleshooting? Probably none of these. See Secret 28.
The Hudson division responsible for creating the PC Engine chipset is still in business, and is still designing hardware. Or not. the hardware division was shut down when Konami bought Hudson.
The Kisado adaptor was not made in Japan, it was made by a Canadian who cleaned out the entire supply of connectors from a sewing machine manufacturer - connectors that just happened to be identical to the HuCard connector in the TurboGrafx + PC Engine.
The SuperGrafx is the same as PC Engine, except it has a duplicate set of video chips and four times as much RAM. Since the CPU wasn't upgraded most developers were unable to utilize the extra graphics capability; the CPU just couldn't keep up. This might not actually be true. While the CPU was not upgraded in the SGX, some developers maintain that the CPU was still able to drive both graphics chips without trouble.
Before there were HuCards, Hudson released a line of software on the MSX using a patented media called the BeeCard. Slightly thinner, and with fewer pins, but identical in size and appearance. Have a look to the right for two Bomberman games, one MSX, one PC Engine.
Japanese games don't check what region the hardware is from, but American games do. There are several US-released games that don't do this check, however. This is why only an adaptor is needed to run JP games on the US system, but a JP system has to be modified to play US games AND it needs the adaptor. (see Secret 43.)
There was a PAL version of the TurboGrafx released. It looked the same as the US version, but it was grey instead of black, and received basically no support. The few games that were released (And it's actually unclear if there was ever more than the pack-in released) are the same as the US games - Card, code and packaging. Since the Hudson chipset didn't support PAL video the PAL-TG16 had another video encoder to convert RGB to PAL, and the system outputs AV instead of RF. It uses a connector very different from the AV port found on the CoreGrafx series.
The PC Engine is the smallest home console ever released, and everyone agrees the design is pure sex. Dissenters must hang. Pocket sized and expandable the small size is one reason it's so loved by collectors and nostalgic players. Tiny system, tiny games.
Several clones were discovered in Ancient China. You can read more about these weird things on the PCEngine Clones page.
Most Sega conversions are agreed to be better on the PC Engine than on Sega's own MegaDrive.
Bonk's Adventure in Japan was called PC Genjin, a play on words - it rhymes with PC Engine, and means Primitive Man. The shmup sequel was called PC Denjin, which means Electric Man.
There was a Korean version of the PC Engine released, and it looks a lot like a modern cable modem or network hub. It was officially licensed from NEC. It's not known how many games were released in this region.
A modem was under development for the PCE but it was never released. A prototype, looking a lot like an AV Booster with lumps on, was sold on Yahoo auctions in Japan in 1999 for Y30,500. In 2008 another one was sold, this time for considerably more.
Chris Covell has some details about the modem, both the software and hardware.
The TurboGrafx-16 had two unused IC pads for a built-in game that never happened. One was a kind of switching controller for the other, which would house the actual game. It couldn't be a very advanced game though, the largest game possible would have been a mere 128k (1Mbit). Perhaps The Nu-Kote Kiosk (See secret 23) used this capacity?
Nu-Kote, producers of paint or something, had a kiosk system installed in paint stores in America, which apparently ran on a TG-16 and some custom software. From one TurboLister's account, Nu-Kote basically forgot everything they ever knew when he tried to get more information on this system. (see Secret 42.)
The LaserActive LD player from Pioneer had a PC Engine / TurboGrafx module allowing the use of HuCard, CD + LD games. The Pioneer Service Guide repeatedly makes reference to a Test HuCard which performs special functions to aid in troubleshooting the system. Pioneer doesn't sell these any more. If you happen to come across one I'd love to buy it from you. ;)
Contrary to popular belief the SuperGrafx version of Strider has never been confirmed to exist in playable form, though it seems that some assets were reused for an Arcade Card CD release. Now I know this rankles the True Believer, but think about it for a moment: There's no ROM image, there's no pictures of a proto HuCard, there's no interviews with anyone who's got one, there are only some blurry postage-stamp screenshots,
For fun, this fan page attempts to deconstruct the rumors, but succeeds in perpetuating some pretty silly ones at the same time. Only 5 EPROM copies indeed. ;)
Update Aug. 21, 2011: Sam Roberts linked me to a scan from an old EDGE magazine (local mirror) that quoted Kimihisa Usui, who said "work began on a SuperGrafx version back in 1990" but this, by itself, does not mean a playable version (or any code whatsoever) ever existed for the SGX. I wish there was a proto out there somewhere, but so far there's no sign of it.
Speaking of rumour control, Edge Magazine erred when in a recent PCE Retrospective they claimed the rare Sapphire Arcade CD game was released only at a game show. It was a normal release like any other, except that the quantities were insanely limited.
Many of NEC's pre-release ideas for the system's appearance and function were changed before release. From simple things like the shape of the d-pad to significant changes to the design of the CD ROM system, and cancellation of the modem + PC link (+ keyboard) modules. Check out this page for a small gallery of unreleased PCE hardware.
The 69-pin expansion bay on the back of the PC Engine and TurboGrafx systems is identical on both. But for a subtle difference in the shape of the connector's edges you can use all PCE accessories on the TG-16 and vice versa. You can read all about the incredibly useful PCEngine expansion connector on GameSX.com.
By most accounts the SuperGrafx was underpowered. While Hudson doubled up on the graphics chips they didn't enhance the already overworked 6502-based CPU, and the machine wasn't able to support the new graphics hardware to any great effect.
In some rare cases HuCards may have extra bits inside. The Tennokoe Bank and Populous had batteries, Street Fighter II' had an enormous 20mbit ROM taking far more than the usual amount of physical space, and the Super CD and Arcade System Cards had additional RAM.
Several Japanese (And possibly other) companies produced adaptors that would allow the PC Engine to function in an arcade cabinet. These would typically include a timer that reset the system when no additional money was inserted before it reached zero, an audio amp, and little else. The unit I have used a large elastic to hold the adaptor to the PC Engine, and with the addition of a few extra parts could function on a megadrive as well. Curiously, it supplied power to the PC Engine through the rear port, not the AC port. Also, it would flash the screen red when the timer was nearly out by maxing the red RGB channel. Obviously this required no changes to the software running on the system.
If you supply power to the PC Engine or CoreGrafx through the rear expansion port it will bypass the power switch, and you can't turn the system off. This will also bypass the regulator and fuse, so use caution!
No HuCard was larger than 8 MegaBits, except for Street Fighter which was 20. By comparison, the MegaDrive/Genesis version of the same game was 24 MegaBits (and by most accounts didn't look as good). The PC Engine version was the best home version of Street Fighter until the SNES' Super Street Fighter 2 was released years later.
Even though the PC Engine was released in Europe (As the TurboGrafx) and in Korea (As the Vistar) neither one had any official software released. The Vistar had a Korean manual included with its pack-in of Keith Courage, but it didn't fit in the CD case with the HuCard. All the Korean HuCards had the Vistar logo applied as a sticker over the TG-16 logo, and a large usage/caution sticker over the back. Both the PAL and Vistar units played North American, not Japanese games. The Vistar used a TG-16 controller, with a new Vistar overlay, while the PAL system had a controller unique to it.
There were several 6-button pads released for the PC Engine, but none were released outside of Japan. No PC Engine game requires a 6-button pad, though it could be argued Street Fighter was nigh unplayable without one. The original Avenue Pad 6 was a terrible pad, but Hori's pad was pure bliss, as was NEC's later release, the Arcade Pad 6. Technically the six button pad was a duplicated 2-button pad. The system would ask for the buttons and get the normal pad first, then the other extra buttons the next time. Games that didn't handle the extra buttons would freak out when, on the second pass, they'd get weird input.
Contrary to popular belief (ie: mine) the Playstation Castlevania game, Symphony of the Night, was not the first Castlevania to have a musical subtitle. The PC Engine Dracula X: Rondo of Blood was. Rondo is a musical term that means A musical composition built on the alternation of a principal recurring theme and contrasting episodes.
The CDROM attachments (all of them) include an extra ADPCM soundchip (Oki MSM5205) and some more RAM for playing sound samples. This RAM is not the same as normal PCE RAM, and was designed to be used with the new soundchip exclusively. Through clever programming the game Monster Lair (and later, others as well) used this RAM to store extra graphics, essentially increasing the RAM limitations of the PCE and System Card. It's probable that this is the first time that new sound hardware increased graphic quality. Interestingly this affected emulation too, as games relying on this would suddenly work properly when the emulation was corrected.
The PC Engine soundchip was integrated with the CPU, so the system cannot be overclocked without affecting the pitch of the generated audio.
The PC Engine's Hu6280 (CPU & sound) chip was used in several arcade games from Data East. It was the only time the PC Engine chips were used beyond the intended video game console hardware.
The PC Engine System Card v1.0 had a hidden debug and memory viewing tool. It was removed from all subsequent System Cards.
The first CD ROM add-on for the PC Engine was sold in two boxes: the CD-ROM drive itself, and the interface unit that connected it to the PC Engine system. This helped keep the cost of the system down, as 'audio devices' (the CD-ROM) were taxed, but the interface unit was not.
The PC Engine system was used in a Japanese dating software called Active Life Network, sold via kiosk from MAC 21, and in another kiosk called Kid's Station. Little more is known about these. (related: Secret 23)
The US HuCard game KLAX is the only US HuCard that doesn't check the region, so it can be played on a Japanese console with only an adaptor. No internal modifications required.
When R-Type was written for the PC Engine, the developers didn't know about NEC's rule that games using 320-pixel screen widths had to limit themselves to 14 sprites per line, instead of the normal 16. This was to guard against under-spec RAM being unable to keep up with the number of items being drawn. As a result, after R-Type 1's Japanese release, NEC started checking that this rule was obeyed. the TurboGrafx-16 version of the same game, and R-Type Complete CD - written years later - may have had fewer sprites or more flicker than the Japanese HuCard.
Hudson developer Izumi wanted to make the PC Engine R-Type identical to the arcade, and he largely succeeded in doing so. Two exceptions were made: since the PCEngine was so fast, it didn't slow down in the same places the arcade version did. And an exception was made for the attract mode demo, where the computer showed a pre-recorded play. The player in the arcade demo was so bad that Izumi demanded it be re-done.
The three main PC Engine chips, the Hu6280, Hu6270 and Hu6260, the CPU, video chip and 'colour controller' had code names. They were Dr. Pepper, 7up, and Oolong (tea).
Misc HuCard I found in Akihabara
PCE CD Rack? They thought of everything!
PCE motherboard - very simple
Two Hudson card formats