Most in the gaming enthusiast community know of Star Fox; a fan favourite among the Nintendo faithful and other gamers alike. What many do not know is what lead to the circumstances of its creation, and how it all started with an independent British games developer called Argonaut Games. Argonaut was founded in 1982 by a sixteen year old Jez San. This young developer had gained a keen interest in computing at an early age and had taught himself the Assembly language by the age of thirteen. He started developing his first game, Skyline Attack for the Commodore 64 in 1984 and he also became a Wizard (Admin) for Essex MUD, which is reported to be the world’s first MMO.
In 1986, the company finally started to become profitable and gained the ability to hire other staff in 1986, following the release of Starglider; a title recognised as one of the earliest break-out 3D games.
Argonaut Games managed to successfully design 3D models for the NES and the Gameboy, becoming the first developers to do so. This feat attracted the attention of Nintendo, who then signed a deal with Argonaut Games to acquire their services. What they had done to pique the interest of Nintendo, Jez said “They had the Nintendo logo drop down from the top of the screen, and when it hit the middle the boot loader would check to see if it was in the right place.” Nintendo had engineered their games in such a way that they would only boot if “Nintendo” dropped down to the correct place on the screen. Argonaut had modified this so that they could drop down any word, but with a resistor and a capacitor installed. This meant that Argonaut could make the game think that it had read the text and successfully boot, essentially circumventing Nintendo’s copyright protection.
It is at this point that NesGlider comes in. Jez and Argonaut games had a working prototype of the game running on the NES console. NesGlider was merely a placeholder name and it came about due to the fact the game was similar to their StarGlider game and was being developed for the NES console. Argonaut Games also developed a prototype of the game for the new Nintendo hardware the SNES.
The game did really look quite rough as can be seen in the gameplay demo that can be seen online (and leaked thanks to Hidden Palace, here’s a backup copy), it seemed very slow and the graphics were shaky. This was because the SNES console was not primarily built with 3D games in mind. NesGlider on the SNES looked like it was not as good as the previous StarGlider game which used quick movements and looked a lot smoother. This is why Jez told Nintendo “This is as good as it’s going to get unless they let us design some hardware to make the SNES better at 3D.”
Nintendo whole-heartedly agreed with Jez and invested one million pounds for the new hardware to be developed. It was called the Super FX chip which was comically codenamed “MARIO” (Mathematical, Argonaut, Rotation & Input/Output) the chip would render 3D polygons that would assist the SNES in rendering 2D effects. The chip would actually be placed on the games cartridge and this allowed the SNES to finally utilize 3D graphics that may look archaic by today’s standards but were groundbreaking for a console at this time.
Argonaut then gave the prototype NesGlider to Nintendo to allow them to work on it, this was a completely collaborative effort as developers from both companies worked on the game. Shigeru Miyamoto from Nintendo was made the producer for the game and he picked his own developers, artists and other people from Nintendo so that NesGlider could become a more “Nintendo” type game.
This is where the prototype did a complete “Barrel Roll”, Miyamoto wanted to give NesGlider a more arcadey feel and wanted there to be more action. This is where the collaboration came in and Argonaut games gave Nintendo the idea that the player would be in a spaceship and fly to other planets instead of the way that the prototype played, which in gameplay seemed to be on Earth fighting tanks and walkers. Miyamoto also did not want the game to be considered boring and so decided that all the main characters would be animals and the reason that he chose a fox was that it was a prominent feature at a nearby shrine.
NesGlider is not a cancelled game but is purely a super early prototype for the highly regarded StarFox. If it was not for Argonaut Games and Jez San this hugely popular franchise would have not come into existence. This kind of collaboration between Nintendo and Argonaut was the main reason for the success this title deserved and with a bit of give and take between developers and publishers amazing games can be created.
Argonaut did also go on to start development on StarFox 2 for the SNES, this was ultimately cancelled though due to the imminent release of the N64. Unfortunately in October 2004 Argonaut had to lay off 100 employees and was put up for sale, this was reported to be because of a lack of deals with publishers which had led to cash flow problems. Then in 2005 the company was put into liquidation and finally dissolved in 2006.
Thanks to Celine for the contribution!