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Change the System!
Nintendo didn't drag their feet with the system this time, and released the Nintendo 64
as their entry into the fifth generation
to compete with the struggling Sega Saturn
and the newbie PlayStation
The N64 was a big hit in its early life, but it lost many key franchises, especially JRPGs
, because of Nintendo's reluctance to use CDs (which offered more storage space, especially for videos and voice acting) after the fiasco with Sony and Phillips on the CD add-on for the SNES
. While Nintendo's first-party games on the N64 were as awesome as ever, there simply weren't enough of them to go around, especially with promised installments of the Nintendo Wars
, Fire Emblem
series never materializing on the system
. The system launched with two
games total, and it only had about one new release a month. So if you were tired of playing Super Mario 64
for the umpteenth time, your choices in early 1997 were Pilotwings
and Cruis'n USA
. That was pretty much it. The Nintendo 64 gained something of a reputation for releasing three unique and groundbreaking games
a year, and absolutely nothing else. Nintendo's focus on local multiplayer party games began around this time.
This wasn't helped by Nintendo's general ham-handedness regarding third parties during the SNES period only getting worse. Third-party companies such as Atlus
, Namco, Bandai
, which had steadfastly supported the NES and SNES, were now releasing most of their games for the PlayStation
and Sega Saturn
rather than the N64. One big selling point of the N64 hardware was custom microcode, but Nintendo never released information on how to use it, fearing it would be copied by their rivals. Among other groin-punches, they also patented using the N64 pad's C-buttons to control an in-game camera, meaning every non-Nintendo game had a shitty camera system. Nintendo also continued in their usual habit of forcing developers to Bowdlerise
in-game content to be more 'family friendly' (although bowdlerization was not as frequent on the N64 as it was on the NES, SNES, or Game Boy); for example, forcing Perfect Dark
's "Adrenaline Pills" to become "Combat Boosts", and Duke Nukem 3D
's steroids powerup to become "Vitamin X."
Nintendo's adherence to bulky, expensive cartridges instead of the far-cheaper-to-produce CD-ROM format appears to have been in part to be a fear of piracy (Nintendo's early experiment with floppy disks, the Famicom
Disk System, resulted in rampant piracy). Instead, Nintendo adopted a proprietary rewritable magneto-optical disk format as a high-capacity storage medium for console video games. The 64DD add-on drive had huge potential and was massively hyped in the system's early days/pre-release
, but was a commercial failure when it was finally released in December 1999, and never made it to the West. The company's fear hurt everyone else: not only did multi-platform developers have to chop out features and add fogging so a game would fit on an N64 cartridge (as well as map controls to the system's unique controller), but the consumer typically paid at least $10-20 more than Saturn
, Playstation, and Dreamcast
- The CPU, a MIPS R4300i (the 64-bit version of the R3000 in the PlayStation, hence the name) runs at 93.75 MHz and has an internal 64-bit word size, but it also has a 32-bit mode. This was mainly used by the games because A) the bus is only 32 bits, B) the 64-bit mode uses twice as much memory and bandwidth, and C) until high definition graphics, anything more than 32 bits was actually redundant for 3D graphics.note So, in other words, the "64" in the name was mostly for marketing, even if the processor actually was technically capable of running 64-bit code (at least, it delivered more than the Atari Jaguar, which was also touted as a 64-bit console three years before the N64's launch).
- Besides, like most systems so far, the graphics are mainly handled by the GPU, called the "Reality Co-Processor." It runs at 62.5 MHz.
- It has a Vector Unit built into, to handle special programming, called "Microcodes."
- These offered even more system control than vector units today, but (perhaps) fears of abuse kept Nintendo from directly sharing their codes with developers. Some had to make their own, and they often made superior codes than Nintendo's anyway. Factor 5 was such a developer.
- The GPU can also process sound, but it took away processing power for other stuff like lighting effects, or system bottlenecks kept getting in the way.
- Memory is where the N64 runs into trouble. Just about everything about the system's memory tends to have some limitation on performance, called a "Bottleneck."
- There are 4 MB of RAM, which is "unified." The system can use any amount it wants for main, video, and audio. Unfortunately, Nintendo chose Rambus DRAM for the system. It has a high clock speed and well over twice the bandwidth of the Playstation memory, but the latency is so slow those advantages are negated.
- Ironically, RDRAM is great for playing FMV, and the one game that used those (a port of Resident Evil 2) showed them pretty well despite the heavy compression.
- The CPU also doesn't have direct access to the memory. Not that the bus went through the GPU, as a lot of systems do that, but those systems use direct memory access to allow smooth access through processors, and the N64 doesn't allow the CPU to do that.
- Just as bad, the system can hold as many textures as it needs in the RAM, but the buffer for textures to pass though during rendering is just 4 KB. Not only did that mean no single texture could be larger than that, if they were all that large, they would have to go through one at a time. Combined with the slow latency of the RAM, and this would slow the system to molasses of there wasn't some sort of compromise.
- Nintendo's method was to use textures only for objects that were the least animated, which included backgrounds. Anything more complex, like the player character, was instead detailed by gouraud shading, which is basically filling in a single color over one or more polygons. The blade of the Master Sword in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a good example — it is not textured, but is colored in with a bright silver color and a reflection effect. This does lose some detail up close, but it allows complex animations without clogging the texture buffer.
- Another solution was to limit the polygon count in order to have complex textures over every object, for example GoldenEye — the textures are over almost every object, but the draw distance suffers and characters look goofy up close.
- A third solution was to use greyscale textures. GoldenEye used this, and only added colour through vertex painting. This doubles the potential resolution, but also doesn't allow for more then one colour per texture.
- The best method took a few years to develop. It was to program the textures to steadily stream through the buffer. It wasn't as easy as it sounds, but developers like Rare and Factor 5 got the most advanced graphics from the N64 through this method.
- The frame buffer had a problem in that the default Z-buffering, which told the system which texel is supposed to be in front of the other, would slow down the fill rate, which is how fast the frame buffer can draw the graphics on the screen. Custom z-buffering through the microcodes did get around this.
- The N64 had an optional cart that could be swapped for the Expansion Pak, which added an extra 4 megabytes of RDRAM in addition to the internally included 4MB. Unfortunately, since this was still the Rambus DRAM it still had the tiny texture buffer. So it could have increased texture detail, but not by much. Its main use was increasing the screen resolution and draw distance. It also tended to cause framerate issues with game not made for it, so the old RAM pack had to be swapped back in.
- Cartridges sizes ranged from 4MB (Dr. Mario 64, Charlie Blasts Territory) to 64MB (Resident Evil 2, Pokémon Stadium 2, and Conkers Bad Fur Day).
- Once through all that, the system supported a maximum cartridge capacity of 64 MB. At first glace, this doesn't seem so bad, but the reality was that larger capacity carts cost more to produce, so most developers had to make due with smaller sizes. When developers did opt for these larger carts, they passed the heightened onto consumers, resulting in games that were often $20-30 more expensive than those on competing systems.
Add-Ons and Expansions
- For reasons only known to Nintendo, they decided not to implement RGB scart or S-video output on PAL region N64 consoles. European gamers were stuck with composite cables which gave a poorer, less sharper picture. This is insane marketing when you realise that the superior RGB video standard was being supported heavily in Europe. Even the PAL SNES supported RGB scart. Even more maddening, is that NTSC machines have S-video support, and can be easily modded to support RGB.
- Although the system would have poorer performance if not coded properly, it did have a few features built in, that worked no matter the coding.
- It was the first major home console to have anti-aliasing.
- It was also the first to have tri-linear filtering, which removes the blocky look of textures.
- The system can actually push 500,000 polygons in real time, five times what the Playstation and Saturn can do...yet that required a code that was never released before the system was discontinued. Some codes could still push the system up to 180,000 polygons, but only one or two games went that far. Most N64 games just pushed 100,000 polygons or slightly lower.
- In addition to the above effects, the N64 did have probably the best effects of the 5th generation, including real-time lighting in a few games.
- Aside from the aforementioned memory expansion module, Nintendo and other companies released several other expansion modules that could be plugged straight into the system's controller.
- The Controller Pak (a removable storage medium which could be used to save in-game progress).
- The Rumble Pak (which, packaged with Star Fox 64, made the N64 the first home system on the market to support force feedback, a feature which Sony would eventually incorporate into their own Dual Shock controllers).
- The Transfer Pak (let players plug in their Game Boy cartridges for gameplay benefits, such as being able to use Pokémon caught in the Game Boy titles in Pokémon Stadium).
- The Bio Sensor (made by SETA, for use with Tetris 64's Bio Tetris mode, where the pace of the game increases to the beat of your heart).
- The Mouse, bundled with Mario Artist: Paint Studio, usable with the entire Mario Artist series and StarCraft 64.
- The 64DD, a disk drive that could be attached to an N64, allowed players to play games off of larger magnetic disks, access the RANDnet service and also increased the system's memory capacity.
- The Modem Cartridge, The Phone Cable and The RANDnet Browser Disc, used for browsing the internet.
- The Keyboard, usable only with the RANDnet software, for browsing the net and typing messages.
- The Capture Cartridge and The Microphone, they were bundled with Mario Artist: Talent Studio and used as input method for pictures, video and audio.
Games and Series:
- 1080° Snowboarding
- 64 Hanafuda: Promise of an Angel
- 64 Professional Sumo Wrestling
- 64 Professional Sumo Wrestling 2
- 64 Trump Collection - Alice's Exciting Trip to Trump World
- Aidyn Chronicles (Last game released in Brazil)
- Air Boarder 64
- Animal Crossing (Japan only)
- Army Men: Sarge's Heroes
- Army Men: Sarge's Heroes 2
- Army Men: Air Combat
- Asteroids Hyper 64
- Automobili Lamborghini (Super Speed Race 64 in Japan)
- Bakushō Jinsei 64: Mezase! Resort Ō
- Bass Hunter 64
- Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker
- BattleTanx: Global Assault
- Battlezone: Rise of the Black Dogs'
- Beetle Adventure Racing
- Bio F.R.E.A.K.S.
- Blast Corps
- Body Harvest
- Bomberman 64 (Explosive Bomberman in Japan)
- Buck Bumble
- Bust-A-Move 2: Arcade Edition
- Bust-A-Move 3 DX (Puzzle Bobble 64 in Japan, Bust-A-Move '99 in America)
- Carmageddon 64
- Castlevania 64
- Chameleon Twist
- Choro Q 64 (Penny Racers outside Japan)
- Choro Q 64 2: Hachamecha Grand Prix Race
- Clay Fighter 63⅓
- Clay Fighter: Sculptor's Cut
- Command & Conquer
- Conkers Bad Fur Day
- Custom Robo
- Dance Dance Revolution Disney Dancing Museum
- Dark Rift
- Densha De Go! 64
- Derby Stallion 64
- Destruction Derby 64
- Diddy Kong Racing
- Disney's Tarzan
- Donald Duck Goin Quackers
- Donkey Kong 64
- Doom 64
- Dr. Mario 64
- Duke Nukem 64
- Earthworm Jim 3D
- Excitebike 64
- Explosive Invincible Bangaioh
- Extreme Pro Mahjong
- F-1 World Grand Prix
- F-Zero X
- F1 Pole Position 64 (Human Grand Prix: The New Generation in Japan)
- Famista 64
- FIFA 64
- FIFA: Road to World Cup 98
- FIFA 99
- Fighters Destiny
- Fighting Force 64
- Forsaken 64
- Game of Life 64
- Gauntlet Legends
- Gex 64: Enter the Gecko
- Golden Nugget 64
- GoldenEye 007
- GT 64: Championship Edition (City Tour Grandprix: Zen Nihon GT Senshuken in Japan)
- Hamster Story 64
- Harvest Moon 64
- Heiwa Pachinko World 64
- Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
- Hey You, Pikachu!
- Hot Wheels Turbo Racing
- Hybrid Heaven
- Hydro Thunder
- Ide Yōsuke no Mahjong Juku
- Iggy's Reckin' Balls (Iggy Kun no Bura 2 Poyon in Japan)
- Indiana Jones And The Infernal Machine
- Indy Racing 2000
- International Superstar Soccer 64 (Jikkyou J-League Perfect Striker/Jikkyou World Soccer 3 in Japan)
- International Superstar Soccer 98 (Jikkyou World Soccer: World Cup France 1998 in Japan)
- International Superstar Soccer 2000 (Jikkyou J-League 1999 Perfect Striker 2 in Japan)
- International Track And Field 2000
- J. League Live 64
- J-League Dynamite Soccer 64
- J-League Eleven Beat 1997
- J-League Tactics Soccer
- Jangō Simulation Mahjong-dō 64
- Jeremy McGrath Supercross 2000
- Jet Force Gemini
- Killer Instinct Gold
- Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
- LEGO Racers
- Live Powerful Pro Baseball 4
- Live Powerful Pro Baseball 5
- Live Powerful Pro Baseball 6
- Live Powerful Pro Baseball 2000
- Live Powerful Pro Baseball Basic-ban 2001
- Lode Runner 3-D
- Mace: The Dark Age
- Madden Football 64
- Madden NFL 99
- Madden NFL 2000
- Madden NFL 2001
- Madden NFL 2002
- Mahjong 64
- Mario Kart 64
- Mario no Photopi
- Mario Party
- Mario Party 2
- Mario Party 3 (Last game released in Europe)
- Mario Golf (Mario Golf 64 in Japan)
- Mario Tennis
- Master of Fishing 64
- Master of Fishing 64: The Sea Ride
- Mega Man 64
- Mia Hamm 64 Soccer (Michael Owen's World League Soccer 2000 in The United Kingdom, RTL World League Soccer 2000 in Germany, Telefoot Soccer 2000 in France)
- Mickey's Speedway USA
- Micro Machines 64 Turbo
- Mischief Makers
- Morita Shogi 64 (The cartridges have a built-in RJ-42 Modem Connection port with which you were able to connect to now dead servers to play against other gamers all around Japan)
- Mortal Kombat Trilogy
- Monster Truck Madness 64
- Morita Shogi 64
- Ms. Pac-Man Maze Madness
- Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon
- Goemon's Great Adventure
- Goemon Sugoroku of Mononoke
- Namco Museum 64
- NBA Jam '99
- Neon Genesis Evangelion (The first—and, to date, one of the only—Evangelion-licensed games to actually allow players to control the titular mechas, known for pushing the limits of the Nintendo 64's hardware. Sadly, it was only released in Japan.)
- The New Superman Aventures (also known as Superman and Superman 64, often considered one of the worst games of all time)
- NHL 99
- Nightmare Creatures
- Nintama Rantarou 64 Game Gallery
- Nuclear Strike 64
- OgreBattle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber
- Parlor! Pro 64: Pachinko Jikki Simulation
- Paperboy 64
- Paper Mario
- PD Ultraman Battle Collection 64
- Perfect Dark
- Pilotwings 64
- Pokémon Puzzle League
- Pokémon Snap
- Pokémon Stadium
- Pokémon Stadium 2 (Pokémon Stadium outside Japan)
- Pokémon Stadium 3 (Pokémon Stadium 2 outside Japan)
- Power League 64
- Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue
- Premier Manager 64
- Pro Shinan Mahjong Tsuwamono 64: Jansō Battle ni Chōsen
- Puyo Puyo Sun 64
- Quake 64
- Quake II (notable in that several changes were made from the PC original)
- Quest 64 (Eltale Monsters in Japan, Holy Magic Century in PAL Territories)
- Rampage World Tour
- Rampage 2: Universal Tour
- Rayman 2: The Great Escape
- Ready 2 Rumble Boxing
- Ready 2 Rumble Boxing: Round 2
- Resident Evil 2
- Ridge Racer 64
- Road Rash 64
- Robot Ponkottsu 64: Caramel of the Seven Seas
- Robotron 64
- Rocket: Robot on Wheels (this was where Sucker Punch—who would later go on to working for Sony—got their start)
- San Francisco Rush: Extreme Racing
- Shadow Man (Multi-platform but closely associated with the N64, where its mature themes stood out more and was one of two games officially translated to Brazilian Portuguese)
- Shadowgate 64: Trials of the Four Towers
- Shigesato Itoi's No. 1 Bass Fishing
- Shining And Solving! 64 Detective Club
- SimCity 2000
- Sin and Punishment
- Snowboard Kids (Snobow Kids in Japan)
- Snowboard Kids 2 (Super Snobow Kids in Japan)
- South Park (Multi-platform, was one of two games officially translated to Brazilian Portuguese)
- South Park: Chef's Luv Shack
- South Park Rally
- Space Invaders
- Space Station Silicon Valley
- StarCraft 64
- Star Fox 64 (known as Lylat Wars in Europe and Australia)
- Star Soldier: Vanishing Earth
- Star Wars Episode I: Battle for Naboo
- Star Wars Episode I: Racer
- Star Wars: Rogue Squadron
- Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire
- Strongest Habu Shogi
- Stunt Racer 64
- Super B-Daman: Battle Phoenix 64
- Super Mario 64 (Renowned, along with the subsequent Ocarina of Time, for being the title to revolutionize 3D gameplay with features such as a fully-rotatable camera and analog-controlled movement)
- Super Robot Spirits
- Super Smash Bros.
- Tamagotchi 64: Minna de Tamagotchi World
- Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six
- Tonic Trouble
- Tony Hawk's Pro Skater
- Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2
- Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 (Last game released in North America)
- Turok: Dinosaur Hunter
- Turok 2: Seeds of Evil
- Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion
- Turok: Rage Wars
- Twisted Edge Extreme Snowboarding (King Hill 64: Extreme Snowboarding in Japan)
- Vigilante 8
- Virtual Chess 64
- Virtual Pool 64
- Virtual Pro Wrestling 64
- Virtual Pro Wrestling 2: Ōdō Keishō
- War Gods
- Wave Race 64
- Wipeout 64
- Wonder Project J2: Josette of the Corlo Forest
- World Driver Championship
- Worms Armageddon
- WWF WrestleMania 2000
- Yoshi's Story
- Doshin The Giant
- Doshin the Giant: Rescue from the Front by the Toddlers that Tinkle at the Large Meeting Hall
- F-Zero X Expansion Kit (The final 64DD release, and if not the most sought after, definitely the most famous)
- Japan Pro Golf Tour 64
- Mario Artist
- Communication Kit
- Paint Studio
- Polygon Studio
- Talent Studio
- SimCity 64
- Book Ends: Super Mario 64, the first game for the console, begins (at least gameplay-wise) with Mario coming out of a pipe in the front lawn of Peach's castle... and in Mario Party 3, the last major game for the console, after the end credits, Mario and the other playable characters are seen relaxing in the front lawn of Peach's castle.
- Damn You, Muscle Memory: One thing nobody misses about the console is its highly impractical controller. It's been speculated that it's intended for someone with three hands.
- Digital Piracy Is Evil: The Nintendo 64 is collateral damage in the war against piracy, as Nintendo's choice of lower capacity but harder-to-copy cartridges over CDs limited game development, resulting in a dearth of third-party games as opposed to the CD-based PlayStation and consequently lower sales of Nintendo's console.
- Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition:
- The console had a "Limited Edition" only for sale in Daiei Hawks stores in Japan with a transparent orange top and a transparent black bottom. The controller with a transparent orange top and a black bottom that came with the console was also sold separately.
- The console had a "Jusco 30th Anniversary Edition" only for sale in Jusco stores in Japan to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the Jusco chain of stores with a transparent light gray top and a transparent white bottom. The controller with a transparent light gray top and a transparent white bottom that came with the console was also sold separately.
- The controller with a black top and a gray bottom had two variants:
- One sold only in Hello Mac stores in Japan with a lion emblem on top.
- One sold only in Toys Я Us stores in Japan with a Geoffrey the Giraffe emblem on top.
- 64 Professional Sumo Wrestling came with a Controller Pak.
- Choro Q 64 came with an assemblable toy car.
- Disney's Tarzan came with a Tarzan figurine.
- Densha de Go! 64 has a "Driver Pack"that came with a Voice Recognition Unit microphone.
- Extreme-G has a "Special Edition" in Germany that came with a music CD.
- Gauntlet Legends came with a Warrior miniature.
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
- It has a "Collector's Edition" in America and Australia that came with a Gold Cartridge.
- It has a "Limited Edition" in Germany that came with a Strategy Guide and a shirt (possibly unlicensed).
- The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
- It has a "Collector’s Edition" in America that came with a cartridge that had a holografic label.
- It has a "Limited Edition Adventure Set" in Europe limited to 1000 pieces that came with a shirt, a watch, a 2 CD soundtrack, a poster, a sticker and 2 pin badges.
- The New Superman Aventures has a "Collector's Edition" that came with a tie-in comic book.
- Pokémon Stadium has a "Battle Set" in Europe that came with a Nintendo 64 with a blue top with yellow Reset button, Power button, dust tray and bottom
- Rampage 2: Universal Tour
- It came with a Rampage Baby, one of three possible plush keychains of George, Lizzie, and Ralph.
- It came with a shirt.
- World Driver Championship came with a shirt.
- Loads and Loads of Loading: Deliberately averted, as Nintendo cited the long load times of CDs as one of the reasons for the cartridge medium. Unfortunately, CDs' loading times were a small problem compared to the painfully restrictive amounts of storage offered by carts.
- Really, the cartridges were less about loading and more about preventing piracy, which Nintendo feared from the last time it had used a standardized storage system, the Famicom Disk System, where piracy was rampant.
- Market-Based Title:
- Various games had this happen to them.
- The Smoke Black and Grape Purple consoles were released in Japan as Clear Black and Midnight Blue.
- The Atomic Purple controller was released in Australia as Clear Purple.
- Super Title 64 Advance: One of the Trope Namers.
- Tonka Tough: Nintendo 64s are built like tanks, and are guaranteed to last you for decades. One TV show even tried to destroy one, and it took two whacks from a large mallet before any visible cracks appeared!
- Averted, sadly, with the Nintendo 64 joystick. It was built in such a way that the plastic quickly wore itself down from the rotation, resulting in a stick with excessive center play. By contrast, it uses optical encoders instead of the potentiometers that later Nintendo controllers use, which are more durable and precise due to their contactless nature. Too bad the gimbal/pivot parts of the joystick can't hold up compared to the sensors.
- Writing Around Trademarks: The iQue Player, a plug-and-play variant released in China. Its purpose was to run through the holes in China's anti-console policy, and it was also meant to curb piracy. It was a brilliant idea, but never released anywhere else, ironically.
"Thank you for playing Nintendo 64!"
—Charles Martinet , in the kiosk demo