Basically, the SGB (Super Game Boy) is an adapter cartridge that allows to play Game Boy games on a SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) gaming console. In detail, you plug the Game Boy cartridge into the SGB cartridge, then plug the SGB cartridge into the SNES, and then connect the SNES to your TV Set. In result, games can be played and viewed on the TV Set, and are controlled by using the SNES joypad(s).
More Technical Description
The SGB cartridge just contains a normal Game Boy CPU and normal Game Boy video controller. Normally the video signal from this controller would be sent to the LCD screen, however, in this special case the SNES read out the video signal and displays it on the TV set by using a special SNES BIOS ROM which is located in the SGB cartridge. Also, normal Game Boy sound output is forwared to the SNES and output to the TV Set, vice versa, joypad input is forwared from the SNES controller(s) to the Game Boy joypad inputs.
Normal Monochrome Games
Any Game Boy games which have been designed for monochrome handheld Game Boy systems will work with the SGB hardware as well. The SGB will apply a four color palette to these games by replacing the normal four grayshades. The 160x144 pixel gamescreen is displayed in the middle of the 256x224 pixel SNES screen (the unused area is filled by a screen border bitmap). The user may access built-in menues, allowing to change color palette data, to select between several pre-defined borders, etc.
Games that have been designed to support SGB functions may also access the following additional features:
Colorized Game Screen
There’s limited ability to colorize the gamescreen by assigning custom color palettes to each 20x18 display characters, however, this works mainly for static display data such like title screens or status bars, the 20x18 color attribute map is non-scrollable, and it is not possible to assign separate colors to moveable foreground sprites (OBJs), so that animated screen regions will be typically restricted to using a single palette of four colors only.
SNES Foreground Sprites
Up to 24 foreground sprites (OBJs) of 8x8 or 16x16 pixels, 16 colors can be displayed. When replacing (or just overlaying) the normal Game Boy OBJs by SNES OBJs it’d be thus possible to display OBJs with other colors than normal background area. This method doesn’t appear to be very popular, even though it appears to be quite easy to implement, however, the bottommost character line of the gamescreen will be masked out because this area is used to transfer OAM data to the SNES.
The SGB Border
The possibly most popular and most impressive feature is to replace the default SGB screen border by a custom bitmap which is stored in the game cartridge.
Up to four joypads can be conected to the SNES, and SGB software may read-out each of these joypads separately, allowing up to four players to play the same game simultaneously. Unlike for multiplayer handheld games, this requires only one game cartridge and only one SGB/SNES, and no link cables are required, the downside is that all players must share the same display screen.
Beside for normal Game Boy sound, a number of digital sound effects is pre-defined in the SNES BIOS, these effects may be accessed quite easily. Programmers whom are familiar with SNES sounds may also access the SNES sound chip, or use the SNES MIDI engine directly in order to produce other sound effects or music.
Taking Control of the SNES CPU
Finally, it is possible to write program code or data into SNES memory, and to execute such program code by using the SNES CPU.
SGB System Clock
Because the SGB is synchronized to the SNES CPU, the Game Boy system clock is directly chained to the SNES system clock. In result, the Game Boy CPU, video controller, timers, and sound frequencies will be all operated approx 2.4% faster than handheld systems. Basically, this should be no problem, and the game will just run a little bit faster. However sensitive musicians may notice that sound frequencies are a bit too high, programs that support SGB functions may avoid this effect by reducing frequencies of Game Boy sounds when having detected SGB hardware. Also, “PAL version” SNES models which use a 50Hz display refresh rate (rather than 60Hz) result in respectively slower Game Boy timings.
- NTSC SGB: 21.477 MHz master clock, 4.2955 MHz GB clock, 2.41% fast
- PAL SGB: 21.281 MHz master clock, 4.2563 MHz GB clock, 1.48% fast
- NTSC SGB2: Separate 20.972 MHz crystal, correct speed