All stories have a beginning, and this one is no different. I was pretty young back during the original Atari days, I never actually owned a 2600 myself until I was 19. So I was always playing other people's. Naturally I have made up for my lack of owning an Atari as a kid in spades, but there was another system along the way as well...
Anyone familiar with videogames surely remembers 1988. That was the year the Nintendo Entertainment System really took off. EVERYBODY got a NES that year, myself included. It was THE thing. So, as a young teenager the NES was the system that captured all of my game playing time. (though I still played with my trusty Atari 800 computer)
It is a little known fact that one of my earliest portable-gaming experiments happened in the spring of 1993. I was in high school and our choir was taking a trip to Washington DC. I had the notion that it would be 'really cool' to bring a NES and a Genesis with me for the long boring bus trip. My solution was to electric-tape a Genesis on top of a NES to make the world's first multi-platform portable gaming device. The thing ran off a 9 volt battery, which would run the NES for about an hour and the Genesis for about 30 minutes. Coupled with a primitive yet color pocket television (also electric-taped in place) it was a gamer's dream come true. I could play Road Rash and Battletoads to my hearts content, 45 minutes at a time.
Obviously that was a long time ago and I know a few more things about portability now. I still love what the NES was, and is. It had graphics advanced enough to make much deeper games that the 2600 or Intellivision could allow, yet it did not dwell on graphics over gameplay. It was the first truly musical game system. Music ran all the time during games, which is something that made systems like the 7800 or XE Game System seem even more primitive than they already were. It cemented the idea of a platformer, we'd seen the likes of it before but the NES took it to the next level.
I don't want to sound like I'm bagging on Atari and the older systems. I simply want to state how much I admire the leaps, the evolutions, in gaming that the NES brought to the world. While Atari was repackaging Missile Command for the billionth time, Nintendo gave us Zelda, Mario and River City Ransom. Also, I am not deliberately trying to sound contradictive on my feelings about Nintendo. Please note that I am talking about the 1980's when I praise them :)
So anyway! After I had built the first Atari VCSp I naturally thought about other systems to make portable. The NES instantly sprung to mind. However, there was a problem...
The Nintendo has just about the largest cartridges of any system on Earth! In fact, according to the above reference photo, only the Neo Geo MVS has bigger carts! I'm sure this was part of [Nintendo's] strategy to make their system NOT look like a videogame system back in 1985 but still... These things are enormous, and they've got tons of empty space in 'em!
Therein laid my problem - I cannot make a NES cartridge smaller. As with most portables, the size of the media is the defining factor in the unit's size. Considering the fact that the unit also needs the game system's guts, batteries and a screen, I could see how the NESp would be anything but enormous. So I let the idea pass me by... Years passed... And things that should not have been forgotten... were lost...
BUT THEN... as fate would have it... I found... THE SUPER JOY FUN STICK PLAYER MECH GAME PLAYER GAME!
I had heard of the infamous "NES on a Chip" before, I had seen Kevin Horton's Portendo (a NES built into a Sega Nomad case) and he had used a "NES on a Chip". But I didn't have an actual real-world run-in with the Fabled Chip until earlier this year...
It was June 7th, 2003 and I was at the Midwest Classic game show in Milwaukee, talking to Bohus Blahut about stuff. He showed me the (also fabled) "Atari Joystick with a Bunch of Games Inside Thing", which I quickly deduced was an Atari 2600 EMULATOR (the non-flickering of Asteroids gave it away). He then showed me something else. The Super Joy Fun Stick Player Mech Game Player Game (as I like to call it)! I had seen this pirate stuff before, where they cram an old game systems into a controller shape, but I didn't know much about them. The unit had a Famicom cartridge port on the back of it, meaning you could plug in Japanese Nintendo games if you wanted (it came with a hack-ola "76-in-One" cart). Someone else then informed me that if you had an adapter, you could play American NES games on it.
AH HA! I thought. This thing must have the fabled "NES on a Chip" in it. Not only that, but the NOAC (that stands for NES on a Chip in case you were wondering) was already pre-wired to the necessary crap to make it work!
To paraphrase William Shatner; "If someone could... create.... an adapter... to play NES games on this pirate Famicom device... they could... theoretically... make a Portable Nintendo... that would be really really small... and use really really low amounts of power... but... could it... be done... theoretically?"
Not wanting to let ole' Bill Shatner down, I decided to buy a Super Joy Fun Stick Player Mech Game Player Game from Bohus at the show.
"How much?" I asked.
"That depends, are you gonna do something COOL with it?" he inquired back.
"Ha ha ha ha!" I chortled forth.
"Very well, then. I shall sell it to you for the low, low price of [omitted due to shaky economy]" he retorted.
"Well met! It is a done deal!" I spoketh as I finished the deal.
The Super Joy Fun Stick Player Mech Game Player Game was mine. Once back to my friend's house, I promptly ripped it apart...