Nintendo 64, or simply N64, is Nintendo's third home video game console, released on June 23, 1996 in Japan, September 29, 1996 in North America, and finally March 1, 1997 in Europe. The Nintendo 64 was released with only two launch games (three in Europe): Super Mario 64, PilotWings 64 and Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (Europe only).
The system is occasionally referred to as "Project Reality" or "Ultra 64" or simply "64", two names which Nintendo used in press releases prior to the system's launch. The abbreviation "NU64" (Nintendo Ultra 64) is often used in older literature.
The N64 was first introduced in volume # 85 of Nintendo Power magazine.
After first announcing the project, two companies, Rareware (UK) and Midway (USA), created arcade games which claimed to use the Ultra 64 hardware (in fact the hardware had nothing to do with what was finally released, the arcade games used hard drives and TMS processors). These games were Killer Instinct and Cruis'n USA. Killer Instinct was the most advanced game of its time graphically, featuring pre-rendered movie backgrounds which were streamed off the hard drive and animated as the characters moved horizontally. This led to extreme hype for the system, which would turn out to completely rely on real time rendering which looked much worse than the pre-rendering used on Killer Instinct. Without the excitement generated by these "false" Nintendo 64 titles however, the Nintendo 64 would have probably sold far less, especially as Nintendo was running so late in bringing out its next generation console. Nintendo touted many of the system's more unusual features as groundbreaking and innovative. But many of these features had in fact been implemented before. The first game console to bill itself as "64-bit" was actually the Atari Jaguar (although the truth of this is disputed). The first console to use an analog stick was the Emerson Arcadia. And the first to feature four controller ports was the Bally Astrocade.
The system was designed by Silicon Graphics Inc., and features their trademark non 32-bit color dithered real time graphics look. The Nintendo N64 development system was an SGI Indy equipped with an addon board, that contained a full Nintendo N64 system. It was the first console to support mipmapping. Graphically, the Nintendo 64's main drawback was the lack of ROM to store texture maps. This made designers rely on low resolution texture maps which were heavily blurred by mipmapping.
While not being home to as many highly rated games as Nintendo's prior console the Super Famicom (in Japan) and SNES (in North America, Europe and Australia), and lacking essential third party support, it still has seen some particularly notable games such as GoldenEye, Super Mario 64, and Ocarina of Time. Super Mario 64 is still considered to have set the standard for 3-D adventure games and is considered by many to be one of the best games ever created.
Apart from Nintendo's own in-house development, Rareware (now second-party to Microsoft's gaming division) also produced a steady stream of popular titles for the Nintendo 64. From their second N64 title, Blast Corps., through GoldenEye, Diddy Kong Racing, Banjo-Kazooie (and its sequel, Banjo-Tooie), Perfect Dark, Jet Force Gemini, Donkey Kong 64 to the surprisingly adult-themed Conker's Bad Fur Day.
During development, Nintendo 64 was referred to by its code name: Project Reality. Once unveiled to the public, the name changed to Ultra 64. Nintendo speculated that this console could reproduce the CGI that present day super computers could produce, dubbing the system as Project Reality. Citing brand recognition, Nintendo changed the name from Ultra 64 to Nintendo 64 and the rest is history.
The last Nintendo 64 game to be released in the United States was Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3, on August 20, 2002 - while in Europe it was Mario Party 3 on November 16, 2001.
Cartridges vs. discs
The Nintendo 64 was the last home video game console to use ROM cartridges to store its games. Nintendo defended this choice for the following reasons:
- ROM carts have extremely fast load times in comparison to a CD based game. This becomes apparent from the loading screens which appear in many PlayStation games but not on the N64.
- ROM carts are difficult to duplicate (to resist unauthorized copying). Interface devices for the PC were later developed, though these devices are obscure when compared to a CD drive as used on the PlayStation.
- It is possible to add specialized support chips (such as coprocessors) to ROM carts, as was done on some Super Famicom games.
Another advantage was the fact that most carts store the save games on the cart itself, eliminating the need for separate and expensive memory cards. Graphically, benefits of the Nintendo cartridge system were mixed. While N64 games generally had higher polygon counts, resulting in characters and settings that were more complex with a high amount of 3D-detail, the limited storage size of ROM carts limited the amount of available textures, resulting in games which had an unusual flat shaded look. Later cartridges (such as Resident Evil 2) featured much more ROM space, which demonstrated that N64 was indeed capable of impressive, detailed in-game graphics when the media permitted, but this performance came at a high price.
At that time, competing systems from Sony and Sega were using CD-ROM discs to store their games. These discs are much cheaper to manufacture and distribute, resulting in much lower cost to third party game publishers. As a result many game developers which had traditionally supported Nintendo game consoles were now developing games for the competition because of the higher profit margins found on CD based platforms. The cartridge vs. CD debate came to an infamous climax during the release of Final Fantasy VII. Despite the fact that all six previous Final Fantasy games had been published on Nintendo systems, the series' producer, Squaresoft chose to release VII on the Sony Playstation, offering a highly-publicized denounciation of Nintendo's cartidge-based system which proved deeply embarassing for Nintendo.
Despite this, the N64 still managed to produce many popular games, giving it a successful life run. It took 2nd place in the competition of that era under the PlayStation. Much of this success was credited to Nintendo's strong first-party franchises, such as Mario and Zelda, which had strong name brand appeal yet appeared exclusively on Nintendo platforms.
In 2001, the Nintendo 64 was replaced by the disc based Nintendo GameCube.
- 93.75 MHz MIPS 64-bit RISC CPU (low-cost R4300 series, 32-bit external bus)
- RCP (Reality Control Processor) maps hardware registers to memory addresses and contains:
- 62.5 MHz RSP (parallel processor, mostly used for sound and graphics)
- RDP (pixel drawing processor) Z buffer, anti-aliasing, and realistic texture mapping (tri-linear filtered MIP-map interpolation, perspective correction, and environment mapping)
- Ram: RAMBUS D-RAM 36Mbit (4MB standard, 8MB with Expansion Pak)
- Media: 32 to 512 megabit cartridge (4MB to 64MB)
- Controller: 1 analog stick; 2 shoulder buttons; one digital cross pad; six face buttons, 'start' button, and one digital trigger.
- Controller Pak - a memory card that plugged into the controller and allowed the player to save game progress and configuration. The original models from Nintendo offered 256 kb Flash RAM, split into 123 pages, but third party models had much more. The number of pages that a game occupied varied.
- Expansion Pak - a memory expansion that plugged into the console's memory expansion port. It contained 4 MB of RAM. Only few games such as Perfect Dark and Star Wars: Rogue Squadron supported the expansion, while games such as Donkey Kong 64 and Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask required it for play. Supporting games usually offered higher video resolutions when it was present, or in the case of Perfect Dark, unlocked 100% of gameplay.
- Rumble Pak - an accessory that plugged into the controller and vibrated during gameplay. It has (since its release in 1997 alongside Star Fox 64) become a built-in standard function for the handcontrollers of the current era's home consoles (PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox).
- Transfer Pak - an accessory that plugged into the controller and allowed the Nintendo 64 to transfer data between Game Boy and N64 games. Pokémon Stadium is a game that relies heavily upon the use of the Transfer Pak. Rare's Perfect Dark was initially going to be compatible with the Transfer Pak in order to use pictures taken with the Game Boy Camera in the game but this function was scrapped.
- 64DD - The official disk drive that was a commercial failure and consequently never released outside of Japan. It featured networking capabilities similar to the Super Famicom's (SNES) Satellaview.
- Nintendo Official site (www.nintendo.com) (http://www.nintendo.com)
- N-Sider (Nintendo fansite database) (http://www.n-sider.com)
- Console Database (http://www.consoledatabase.com)
- eLook Nintendo 64 Cheats (http://www.elook.org/games/cheats/nintendo64/)
- Nintendo 64 Cheats (http://www.console-cheats.com/nintendo64/)