Hey, LuigiBlood here.
It occured to me that I talk a lot about Satellaview in places that don’t really make you easily find this information, so I hope to solve this in this blog post.
In the past few years, I spoke with people who actually played the Satellaview back then. One of these informations I stumbled upon is that the Satellaview never ever had a subscription.
I was told that the signal was descrambled when the Satellaview service was in effect (more on that later).
I tried to source this information and looked at Wikipedia, the JAPANESE Wikipedia, and it turns out it explicitly mentions that during the time soundlink programs are broadcasted, that the audio becomes a “free non-scrambled broadcast.” You can also assume this for the data portion of things. However it does not really tell me a source but I did find a Satellaview flyer presenting the features, and it does explicitly say ノンスクランブル (Non-Scrambled) about the audio, which really means this was not scrambled, and therefore can be accessed by anyone owning a BS Tuner and the other necessary equipment.
Source for the flyer (the black & white one mentions the non-scramble): https://twitter.com/Suterovich/status/835430133112635393
This also means that like, the thing about the subscription numbers is actually a different thing, and I feel like we don’t actually know the amount of players who played the Satellaview back then.
No upload, no Internet
I saw a bunch of people saying the Satellaview could do Internet, online multiplayer and stuff like that…
This is completely wrong. This is even impossible with the Satellaview hardware.
The only thing the Satellaview can do is tune in to a continuous signal from the sky that contains the audio and data. The Satellaview hardware handles the synchronization by itself; but that also means it cannot send any data through anything. This isn’t the Internet, this is a completely different technology.
This is also why you had to tune in at specific times to play and download content. This is like the radio or TV, a user cannot tell a service what to access (this is where upload would be used), you have to wait until you can get what you want.
The japanese satellite signal standard of its time was to have NTSC video signal with digital audio up to 4 channels and then a data channel modulated in together. Soundlink games merely only enable the standard audio channel that isn’t scrambled at this point and can be processed by the Satellaview hardware. This is why soundlink games are bound to their time as well, because the audio is streamed continuously.
You don’t necessarily need to understand the terms in detail, but I assume you should get the point by now.
The Satellaview itself, which connects to the Super NES’s EXT port, also has its own EXT port for an expansion for the Satellaview.
Thanks to japanese patents, and newer research, we know what that port is for: A Hard Drive.
The hard disk drive would be used to contain content via regular ATA commands. The connector itself is a proprietary ATA variant.
The BS-X BIOS does not contain any code to access the EXT hardware, unfortunately, which is why we could only find this information ourselves.
We however know that it cannot contain or play Soundlink audio, the patent never seem to mention anything about that.
Is Preservation doomed?
Honestly… yes. For many reasons.
The thing with Satellaview is that it is a lot more than about what’s contained in Memory Packs, which is its own can of worms, since we pretty much just buy them blind and hope for the best, especially for those that are treated as empty because we know that we cannot trust the BS-X BIOS for this.
Thank god for kukun kun and the others to have recorded VHS tapes of their playthroughs of Satellaview games, as it also brings a lot of context but also a way to visualize how it was meant to be at the time, which is very hard to get sometimes. This stuff is more important than anyone can realize.
Some at the time also figured out how to record satellite signal through tricks, such as plugging BS bitstream output directly into a D-VHS recorder and then being able to play the tape directly into the Satellaview’s BS IN port. This, essentially, would have been the perfect playable preservation state I would have dreamed of as we would have been able to reproduce the entire experience. Unfortunately, these tapes were lost over time.
To give an idea of the data we are missing:
- BS-X Town Data
It is easy to ignore this, but Nintendo programmed BS-X in a way that they can customize the town. This includes custom NPCs as well, custom text, custom event building, shops info, and the likes.
- PSRAM Program Data (for certain games)
A bunch of Soundlink titles like Waiwai de Q / Satella-Q rely entirely on the PSRAM, none of the contents are ever downloaded on Memory Pack.
There’s also the case of bigger games, like BS Zelda, BS Zelda Ancient Stone Tablets, BS Marvelous, Mighty Pockets and more, that first downloads a PSRAM program that contains the intro, ending and other screens. While the intro plays, it downloads the main game into the Memory Pack.
Some games like BS Zelda Ancient Stone Tablets rely on PSRAM content to contain vital game data, which is why the original dumps always end crashing: THIS DATA HAD TO BE RECREATED FROM SCRATCH because it was not in the Memory Pack.
A particularly sad side of preservation indeed.
- Soundlink Audio (Clean)
This is the obvious, soundlink games rely on those. It would have been great to preserve these in a clean state, at least to reproduce the experience more easily.
Due to the standards of the time and how the audio was non scrambled, it was actually possible to actually listen in with a BS Tuner without the need of the Satellaview, meaning you could actually possibly record this audio seperately from the Super Famicom and therefore avoid any possible sound effects.
Some people actually did this… and someone even has a collection of these. Unfortunately it is also very hard to negociate any access.
These are just examples, but what we can only preserve, at this time, are mostly Memory Pack content, and you can tell that’s really just a portion of the Satellaview experience.
I also could mention how Famitsu was important at the time for including a Satellaview schedule weekly.
Some people come in to upload their recordings as well, sometimes with more testimonials of the time from the japanese players who had the chance to play.
I recommend checking out https://ameblo.jp/satebo/ for that, includes a lot more context to parts of the experience. It is managed by Twitter user @Wifi_h1024.
Kukun kun is also a savior for bringing even more recordings, too bad that YouTube is so shitty: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuXH9J-zamUAOJPYc_nAQrA
…who stole the name of the town?
…it’s easy to forget that BS-X used to have a lore about “The Story of the Town Whose Name Was Stolen.”
Machi Magazine was among the few content we got about the NPCs’ names, but also a list of rumors, of which we could reveal the town’s name, as well as who actually stole it.
Upon asking the people who lived the days, I was told that this was never ever able to be solved and they don’t know the answer to that, and that at one point, the town lore was completely rebooted, with some NPCs changing names afterwards.
That’s kinda sad, hopefully we could eventually solve this.
I hope this post would dispel some confusion about the Satellaview with some nice information.