Brazilian software engineer Vitor Vilela has been praising Nintendo’s SA-1 enhancement chip for almost a decade, but never before have the benefits of the Super Nintendo processor soup been more obvious than when it was used on Race Drivin ‘, the glorious SNES gate from 1992 by Atari Games’ 3D arcade racer that originally ran on a single digit frame rate on the home console.
In a video published yesterday, Vilela shows how powerful the relatively common SA-1 chip can be by comparing footage from the original. Race Drivin ‘ to a conversion they developed for use with the more powerful processor. The upgraded hardware increases the game from around 4 frames per second to upwards of 30, making it look more like an actual video game and less like a slideshow.
Unlike recent attempts at add beam tracking in SNES gamesHowever, these improvements do not come from modern technology, but a chip that already exists in quite a few cartridges from the time. A total of 34 SNES games used the SA-1 “Super Accelerator” chip, which has much faster clock speeds and RAM, between 1995 and 1997, including classics such as Kirby Super Star and Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.
Vilela has spent the last few years showing how the SA-1 chip can benefit games that did not already include it in the cassettes, and implement equally impressive performance upgrades for Grade III, Contra III, and Super R-Type. Every conversion, says Vilela, takes over one hundred hours of work reverse engineering of existing code, mapping RAM and adjusting the game to ensure that it does not run too fast on SA-1. In this case Vilela estimates they touched around 90% of the game’s code.
All Vilela’s work up to this point is available via Github, compatible with multiple SNES emulators as well as real hardware if you manage to get the hacked code on a cartridge.