Experienced Points

Experienced Points
How Massive is Wolfenstein: The New Order?

Shamus Young | 3 Jun 2014 19:00
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Early personal computers

Commodore 64

Once again, a single big player steals the show. The Commodore 64 had a mind-blowing 23,000 titles. It supported both cartridge and disk-based games. Unlike the fixed-memory hardware of the early consoles, the disk-based games could be as large as you wanted. It was possible to make a game ten megabytes, as long as you could convince someone to carry around a pile of thirty floppy disks. (Nobody actually did this - that I know of.)

So I don't know how to answer the question of "how big is the average C64 game?" any way other than random sampling. I looked at a few dozen games. The smallest I found was just 6KB - barely bigger than the Atari games. The largest I found was 542KB, which would have been a two-floppy game. Of the games I looked at, their size averaged out to 83KB. 83KB times 23,000 games gives us 1,909,000. That's just short of 2 Gigabytes, which means the entire library of Commodore 64 games is 5% of the size of Wolfenstein: The New Order. Now we're getting somewhere!

However, the C64 was a complete anomaly. The libraries of the other platforms of the day don't amount to much, data-wise. If we add the Commodore Vic 20 (344 games), the TRS-80 (94 games), Atari 400 and 800 (337 games), the TI-99/4A (28 games), Amiga (3658 games), and the Apple II (443) we get just 4,904 games - nowhere near the Commodore 64 total. Those are the big players. There were also dozens of small-time computers like the Coleco Adam or the various Tandy mongrels. These machines had tiny libraries that are not well documented, but if we want to be extremely generous we can say they add up to another 500 games. A lot of these machines were less powerful than the Commodore 64 (there's a reason the Commodore was king of the hobby computers back then, and it's not because people couldn't get enough of that beige keyboard) but - again - if we want to err on the side of generosity we can say these games were about the same size as Commodore 64 titles, giving us another 448,532KB of game data. That's about half a gigabyte.

Third-generation consoles

Nintendo NES

In the mid-80's Nintendo released the NES, and that's likely where most of you were introduced to gaming. The NES had a strange and interesting lifespan. The first NES titles were as small as 24KB. The venerable Super Mario Bros. was just 40KB. But as time went on, devs began to pack more data into those carts. Super Mario Bros. 2 was 256KB and Super Mario Bros. 3 was 384KB. I can't think of another console that grew this much during its lifespan, which probably helps explain what made the NES so special. Makes me sad I missed it.

Given the size variation I think you'd need a really large sample size to get a really good working number, and I didn't want to spend days tracking down and downloading ROMS from slightly sketchy websites. But I have a friend who both collects and hacks NES ROMS, and he was able to give me the goods. He says, "The entire NES library, including unlicensed games, Japanese Famicom games, and revisions/localizations is around 522 mb total." (That's 522,000KB, for consistency.)

That's about as definitive an answer as we could ask for. That number might be slightly inflated for our purposes; a few of those games probably came out after our 1992 cutoff date, but this is close enough.

The Sega Master System had just 318 games. By my best guess (random sampling of ROM sizes) they weighed in at an estimated 182KB each for a total of 57,876KB.

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