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When Blockbuster Video Tried Burning Game Cartridges on Demand (hackaday.com)
137 points by szczys 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 57 comments

>Even if someone were able to obtain an unauthorized copy, a decent CD-ROM drive, sans burning capabilities, still cost in the neighborhood of $600.

I was part of the early CD-ROM days with a Yamaha CD-ROM burner in 1994. It was well over $3000. It wasn't until 1995 that HP introduced a writer for under $1000 at $995. Worse, the early burners didn't have any cache, so to support the Yamaha, I was using a high-end dual-processor Pentium system that was in the neighborhood of $16,000 and I still got plenty of buffer under-runs! On top of all this, the first writeable CD's I purchased were in the $30/each range.

For those curious, inflation adjusted $3,000 in 1994 is $5,173.99 and the budget $995 HP would be $1,669.23.

Source: https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm

I don't like the way the results of calculations like this are often presented with absurd levels of precision. So much more sensible to say $5200 and $1700. Arguably $5000 and $2000.

It's not absurd precision, it's just what happens when you multiply something by a percentage.

Whenever you do a calculation, whether it's multiplying by a number and dividing by a hundred (that's all multiplying by a percentage means) or anything else you need to think about what the result means before presenting it. If the result is the amount of money in your bank account after balancing your check account, sure present it to one cent precision. It's a precise, exact number. But the purchasing power of $3000 1994 dollars in 2018 cannot be anything else than a rough approximation, and so it should be presented with appropriate precision. Pretending the number is accurate to one cent is nothing short of ridiculous.

Also: those cd burners were 1x so it was a whole painful endless hour to burn a single CD-ROM!

An epiphany I once had as I was waiting for that endless hour to come to an end was Nero has a logo of the Colosseum on fire. It is a circular structure, like a burning CD and it is on fire because "Nero set Rome on fire".

Also, the full name was "Nero Burning ROM". It came from a German company, and Rome is spelled Rom in German.

And if we are reminiscing Nero, these track (and others like it) might bring up some memories:




OMG I just got it after all these years.

I realised all the rest but never that. Thanks for sharing.

The Colosseum was built after the reign of Nero...

...on land depopulated by Nero's fire. So, if the Colosseum as a symbol of Rome and an iconic circle isn't poetic enough for you, there is also the metaphor of destruction/fire leading to creation as in "CD burning."

While you're technically correct, you're still incorrect.

The area devastated by the Great Fire (allegedly started by Nero) was used to build Nero's Golden House (Domus Aurea) first. After his death, most of the Golden House complex was demolished and it was only then that the infilled artificial lake of the Golden House was chosen as the site for the Colosseum.

You learn something new every day. :)


To be fair, when the first 2x burners came out, you had to burn at 1x anyways to avoid a buffer underrun and a garbage disk.

And you'd better not bump your desk during that time.

Burning was a adventure back in the days xD

It sure was. I forget what brand my first CD Burner was (wanna say HP) but it was very susceptible to skips from shaking which would ruin the burn (around 98 or so). It was an old house with old floors and old furniture. So the CD burning procedure was to start the burn, gently tip toe out of the office, and close the door. Perhaps it was excessive but ruining a $10-20 cd wasn't exactly a fun thought for a kid on a budget.

In 1997 I upgraded my Yamaha SCSI CDR from 2x to 4x just by soldering out a 0R SMD resistor.

Yeah I remember keeping everyone away from pc to avoid mouse being moved causing a buffer underrun.. windows 311 :-/

I was writing video games back then, and we needed to make frequent drops to our publisher via burned cd-roms and Fedex (thankfully, the airport was nearby, so our late night pushes would make it out).

we were burning on one of those Yamaha burners, but on a Mac instead of a pentium - in our case, we would optimize the external scsi drive that held our game, and still hope we could get a clean burn before the last Fedex drop.

we did manage to find some cheaper cd-r's though, when we bought in bulk.

I still remember buying my own first burner, which was just over $500 at the time, I ended up mostly using it for backups.

anyways, thanks for the memories!

Amen, been there, done that. At work in 95 I had a high-end PowerMac 9500 with a 2x burner, the disks were in the $15 range each, and I quickly learn to not even move the mouse once the burning process started, or else...

When I first got my CD-RW drive about 15~20 years ago, usb drives wasn't really a thing and the idea of burning CDs were so cool I bought 50 blank CD-R disks. I still haven't used them all to this day..

I still haven't opened my 100-pack of CD-R blanks I bought on a fire sale at the local Microcenter.

Sounds like my setup. That original Yami, Dual Pentium Pro 180, dedicated scsi cache drive, Windows NT4.

Added together with the early MP3 scene on IRC and it was like having a super-power.

This reminds me that I thought I could mount a CD burner from one computer in the house as a “network drive” so that I could burn CDs from a different computer. Good times.

Yeah I remember burning CD-ROMs for a product at Microsoft and the burner being around $5000 and only 2X speed. The CD-ROMs in bulk were around $15 each. Not exactly something most people would have had access to.

By 1998, when I got my first external CD burner, a parallel port external 2x burner was $400 and discs were relatively cheap.

I was burning on a Gateway Solo laptop with a 200Mhz CPU.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Super_NES_enhancement_... would have made it difficult to do this on the SNES, especially for great games like Yoshi's Island that took advantage of this.

They did do this for SNES:


Obviously it was limited to games that did not use enhancement chips as you mention.

Easy, just put FPGAs in them :P

That's actually the current solution for SNES enhancement chip games: https://sd2snes.de

I believe Nintendo did this first in the 1980s with their Famicom disk drive. Players were able to buy games at a kiosk which copied the games to a floppy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ULRz20droeg

Multi-Game Hunter and files off of your local (or LD) AmiExpress BBS did this for SNES/Genesis.


Didn't Sega have the "Sega Channel" for streaming roms to something like this at one point?

I do remember being impressed with virtua fighter and virtua racing having processors embedded in the cart - that was a creative way to give life to the Genesis - obviously not being able to be be burned at the store unless there was a custom cart

Yep. 30 games that rotated monthly all over your cable subscription (additional fee applied).

Oh man, that reminds me of Satellaview. In the mid-to-late 90s, they would broadcast games to Super Famicom consoles. I'm pretty sure they could deliver real-time audio streams (voice acting) via SoundLink as well.


I've missed the Sega Channel for so long. I recently bought an Xbox One and was pretty pleased to find a "Sega Channel"-like subscription service. I'm a lot happier paying $8/mo for a big library of games than paying $60 for one game that I might only play for a month or two anyway.

Sony recently announced they are turning their Playstation Now service into a similar thing (previously it was cloud streamed titles, now you can download the title to your console for a monthly fee)


yeah i love xbox game pass. That + EA means i have more games than ever... i have 300 games installed just from free monthly games for gold, ea and xbox pass.

Aside from a some high profile / high demand games.... was this really solving a problem? I don't recall ever having problems getting my hands on a cartridge.

Obviously there are some supply chain savings and such but at least as far as availability I'm not sure this solved much.

High profile / high demand games actually were a bigger problem than your stating. However this solves other problems.

Reduced floor space usage. Better breath of inventory. Better customer service, you'll always have every title in stock.

When i was like 10, every time my parents were grocery shopping i'd walk into the (attached) video rental store and ask for specific copies of a couple games that were hard to get. To date myself, this was likely NES era.

I remember like SMB3 early on was hard to get, also rent, but aside from a handful of situations that always seemed to end pretty fast.

We were hiding the games you wanted behind games you didn't until we got enough allowance.

100% this, i'd hide games in the vhs section

Towards the end of the 90s I did some work for a startup who'd made an on-demand system for PC/Mac software. The unit was huge and contained a 4 burner/1 printer+robotic arm device, a raid array, two printers (black and white for manual, colour -from solid wax cartridges! - for DVD case insert), an iMac for customer to browse and make selection and a POS touchscreen.

All software was being sold in the big box style at the time so we did a lot of rejigging artwork for DVD case. We had blank CDs with a gold underside so they didn't look like the usual bluey-green home burned ones.

Goes to show that the best ideas don't always win, especially when they collide with the interests of critical partners. Maybe it took Napster et al. to really break open the status quo.

Blockbuster's plan failed because too many games were shipping on cartridges with custom hardware on the PCB.

In the NES days it was simple data mapper chips that allowed a program to address more than 40kb of ROM by switching between multiple 40kb data banks. On the SNES this went much further, with games including specialized co-processors for things like sprite scaling, digital signal processing, and even hardware accelerated 3D scene rendering.

Making a universal cartridge that can handle all of this is a challenge even today.

> Making a universal cartridge that can handle all of this is a challenge even today.

Oh it is, but let me tell you: it's beautiful. http://krikzz.com/forum/index.php?topic=8045.0

Until Krikzz stops producing them. His GBA carts are 10x faster than the ones from AliExpress (and 10x the cost, too)

Even the Famicom/NES had specialized hardware in many of its cartridges.

Particularly you saw a number of sound expansions that existed as additional chips sitting on the cartridge.

Good point. I was thinking more of the movie/music side of their plan.

Nothing like the good ol days. Burning a cd at 1x with your Yamaha in windows 311. Move the mouse and BOOM buffer under run. Kids today will never know the struggle.

Nintendo did this extensively in Japan, first with the Disk Writer for the Famicom Disk System and then later with Nintendo Power kiosks for Super Famicom and Gameboy.

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