We all know how much fun it was to get our toaster NES to work in the good ol days. Our lungs got a pretty good workout from blowing into the cartridge and the system hoping that in the off chance it will magically work. As much as we'd like to believe that blowing the cartridge through your shirt bettered your chances, it all came down to luck.
The real crux of the issue is with the design choice to make the NES as toy-like as possible. But we don't blame the engineers one bit. The video game crash of 1983 just happened in recent memory and everyone had a bad taste in their mouth when the words "video" and "game" were mentioned in the same sentence.
The system shipped with a ZIF (zero insertion force) connector to make loading in a cartridge sideways as easy as possible. Unfortunately, ZIF connectors simply weren't designed to withstand the fascinations of an avid gamer. Eventually the contacts would wear out from the constant bending of inserting and removing a game. (Sorry Mr. Rodriguez, not all of life's problems can be solved with bending).
So how do we fix this? The short answer: Blinking Light Win.
The long answer: (Caution: long winded ramblings ahead)
First off, we have to ask ourselves an important question. Do other cartridge based consoles suffer from cartridge related issues? The answer is pretty much no. Even the top-loader works perfectly although it deviates from its original charming design.
So what gives? It all boils down to the ZIF connector wearing out and losing contact with the cartridge. Sure, we can replace the connector with a new one but all that does is give you enjoyment on borrowed time. In a few months, the replacement will wear out too. All the current fixes out there are just band-aids but what we really need is surgery. Get in there, do your business, and get back to the games.
And this is where the game changer comes into play. The Blinking Light Win is a complete re-engineering of the cartridge loading mechanism. It vastly simplifies how games are inserted and by virtue of it's simplicity, it reduces wear and tear on the cartridge slot connector that lets the game communicate with the system. It effectively makes the toaster NES a side-loading top-loader.
The Blinking Light Win consists of two parts, a dual connector PCB and a redesigned loading tray. The dual connector PCB takes the place of the original 72-pin connector. You'll notice it doesn't resemble a ZIF in any way and that's what makes it special. By being closer to a traditional edge connector, you'll get to enjoy the reliability of every other cartridge based system. Less bending = longer lifespan.
The redesigned loading tray completely eliminates the need to latch down the cartridge before you can starting playing (think Game Genie). This also provides a consistent path for the cartridge to interface with the dual connector. When latching down with the original design, small deviations in how it went down can mean the difference between annihilating Red Falcon or giving the TV the finger. One of our old friends swears that pushing it down half way was the formula for success. We still think the shirt method is better.
If you're worried about having a system that loads completely sideways, don't be. The majority of Neo-Geo 1-slot boards are side-loaders and they have been in active service for over 20 years. None of them have mechanical issues with the games loading horizontally and those boards have been mounted in every orientation possible. They are still going strong taking away our lunch money one quarter at a time. BONUS!
Installation of the Blinking Light Win is nothing to be afraid of. The installation process is as simple as using a Philips screwdriver. No soldering and no case mods are required. The loading tray was designed with the same footprint as the original tray so even the RF shielding still fits. With the front lid down, it cosmetically looks the same as an original unmodified system. None of your childhood memories will be ruined by unsightly holes or mountains of hot glue.
The team really had a good time working all aspects of this product from the industrial design, to the art assets, and finally the video short. It's been a long and exciting journey and we hope that you enjoyed the fruits of our labor. Next year, 2015 marks the 30th anniversary of the NES' release in the United States. Let's get the New Year started with a bang and put the Blinking Light Win into production. We'll definitely party like it's 1985!
For those curious about what a gold BLW may look like, wonder no more. The gold tray will be a natively gold plastic, not just a spray-painted black version. We are preemptively seeking out plastic dyes that closely matches the Zelda cart as possibly. Metalized colors, especially gold, are the most difficult to work with in terms of color matching and even plastic injection. Even the most famous gold cartridge in history is painted. But, we will never give up getting the best match possible. If an exact match isn't possible, we'll let the gold BLW pledgers put up a vote and decide which of the many shades of gold best suits their tastes.
*** STRETCH GOALS ***
We know these additions are a little late to the party but we wanted to make sure our homework and due-diligence was done. Our first priority was making sure that anything that comes promised with the stretch goals can be delivered in tandem with the original project. Delaying the delivery date of the Blinking Light Win because of problems on delivering the stretch goals is unacceptable in our book. There aren't many but we felt these goals contributed most to getting people back into 8-bit goodness. And now for the knitty-gritty.
- $30,000 : We're already almost there so lets power through it. This stretch goal adds functionality to the Blinking Light Win itself. We will be integrating a multi-region lockout chip to every Blinking Light Win so that systems will now be effectively region-free as well as make unlicensed titles playable on all systems. NTSC games will now work on PAL systems and vice-versa. And now PAL users are now free to play games from any region in Europe. This however, does not fix any 50/60hz speed issues when playing games from other territories. What this does is allow the games to boot by bypassing the region lockouts.
- $40,00 : This stretch goal puts into production a newly designed famicom to NES adapter. This new adapter will compatible with BLW-enabled systems as well as top loading NES systems. Tall case Famicom games like those made by Koei will not be an issue any more. Production would start at the same time as the Blinking Light Win so they will be available when the first shipment goes out. The design of the adapter is still under development so feel free to make suggestions in the comments. We'll be making progress updates in the comments section so keep your eyes peeled for new developments.
Risks and challenges
One of the challenges of this project to make a high quality connector that can last through the ages. Fortunately, we have preemptively started working with a company that specializes in making card edge connectors. They have decades of experience and all the empirical data that separates high quality from low and what works from what doesn't. We have confidence in their abilities to make a connector that doesn't suffer from the infamous "death grip" but will maintain a solid connection for years to come.
We are also happy to inform you that all the contract work required to make this project happen is sourced locally in the United States. That means we don't have to deal with time zone issues when dealing with overseas manufacturers and most importantly, communication barriers are non-existent. If we encounter any issues during production, a direct line of contact will get the problem solved before it causes any major delays. Being within driving distance of all manufacturers means status updates will be on time and more frequent.
PS: Slug 2 > XLearn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (36 days)