Nintendo Designer Lance Barr’s Work on NES Modem, SNES Console

I got in touch with Nintendo’s former design and brand director Lance Barr. He has a long and accomplished career working for Nintendo of America (NOA), most notably as the designer behind the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). His career started in 1982 when he began redesigning Nintendo’s arcade cabinets (their bread and butter at the time).

As a fan of his work, I had sent him a few instruction manuals for the NES and SNES and requested that he sign them for me. To my delight, not only did he sign them but he also answered a few questions that I had for him.

Instruction Manuals by Lance Barr

SNES instruction manual signed by the illustrator/designer Lance Barr.

The first revelation that I got from Lance was that he had done the technical drawings contained within the NES and SNES instruction manuals that I had sent him to sign. I really couldn’t have picked a more perfect item for him to sign if I tried, as those manuals were packed with his work from cover to cover.

NES instruction manual by the illustrator/designer Lance Barr.
Technical drawings for the NES by Lance Barr

Interestingly, in addition to the industrial design (and general support of the NES and Super NES launch), I did the drawings found in these two manuals.

– Lance Barr

SNES Concept Art

After scouring the internet and performing reverse image searches, I was not able to find any previously published examples of the concept art that Lance sent me. Unfortunately, he asked that I not post those at this time. However, the previously published SNES design in the graphic below comes very close, with the exception of the buttons. On the design Lance provided, the power button retained the rectangular design from the NES.

Previously published concept art for the SNES.
SNES concept art from Playing With Power and other sources (Photo: Chad Margetts)

The NES and SNES were at one point to be paired together. Looking at the lower SNES concept art, we are able to see the similarities in their designs. The power button, red LED, and grill were all at one point designed to more closely match the NES. Interestingly, the art provided by Lance also shows how a cartridge was meant to be top loaded. The design feature is missing on the design shown above. In fact, the above art seems to suggest that it was front loading like the NES.

G4 did an interview with Don James, in which he describes how the ultimate design choice for the NES was decided upon.

NES Modem

Back in 1991, NOA was in the midst of making plans with the Minnesota state lottery. They sought to connect the NES to the internet in a bid to enable at-home gambling. Unfortunately, political opposition at the time meant trouble for the NES modem which Lance Barr designed. Connecting the NES consoles to a modem was kiboshed before the peripheral ever made it past the prototype stage.

NES modem prototype
From top left: NES modem prototype, Minnesota state lottery cartridge, screen shots from the state lottery user interface.

While a modem for the NES seems revolutionary for 1991, it’s important to remember that it had already been achieved in Japan. By 1988, Nintendo had already released the Family Computer Network System for the Japanese equivalent of the NES, the Famicom. By ’91, 130,000 units of the Famicom modem had been shipped across Japan so the technology would have been easily adapted for the NES.

Lance Barr Interviews

For more on Lance’s work, check out this interview, courtesy of Chad Margetts and nintendojo. Barr goes back to his early days at the company and has a lot of interesting stuff to share regarding his career which spanned from 1982 to 2021.

Published by Tim Santens

I am a gamer and autograph collector. I love writing about both and sharing the stories I find.

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