Useful Notes / Nintendo 64
Get N or Get Out!

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 thanks to it showcasing very powerful 3D graphics (for its time) and a very strong focus on local multiplayer party games. 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 (which would eventually lead to the PlayStation itself), and because of their fears regarding piracy and reduced licensing revenue. 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 and MOTHER 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 by January 1997 were Pilotwings, Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey, Wave Race 64, Killer Instinct Gold, Shadows of the Empire, or really crappy ports of Cruis'n USA and Mortal Kombat Trilogy. That was pretty much it at the time.

The Nintendo 64 gained something of a reputation for releasing three unique and groundbreaking games a year, and next-to-nothing else worth playing. The console's game release schedule was infrequent, but it was kind of unique though as about 10 titles at a time were released all in one day. For example, 17 titles for the console were all released on October 31st, 1999 in North America. Many these were console exclusives (such as Namco Museum 64) or ports with exclusive features (such as Resident Evil 2). To show how low the game count was for the system, there were only 296 titles (in North America) and simple math will show you that those 17 titles accounted for 5% of the entire Nintendo 64's game library.

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, Capcom, Jaleco, Namco, Bandai, Squaresoft, Sunsoft and Tecmo, 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 bad 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."

Despite the bowdlerizations mentioned above, the Nintendo 64 era was also the era that Nintendo finally gave up their family friendly image: late into the system's life, the console was losing ground to the PlayStation, and survey said that it was because many gamers find the family friendly image detrimental to their enjoyment. In a bid to save themselves, Nintendo allowed Rare to release a certain title called Conker's Bad Fur Day on the console without their meddling. This, along with several other M-Rated games that followed, saved the company from certain doom and finally convinced Nintendo that it needed to shed its family friendly image to survive (although it wasn't soon enough to save the N64 itself, this policy carried down to the GameCube, which in turn fared much better than it otherwise would have if Nintendo had kept its brain-dead draconian policies).

There is some speculation regarding Nintendo's decision to use bulky, expensive cartridges instead of the far-cheaper-to-produce CD-ROM format. Possible reasons include:

  • Fear of piracy. Nintendo's early experiment with floppy disks, the Famicom Disk System, saw piracy running rampant.
  • Previous CD-ROM systems (the CD-ROM add-ons for the Sega Genesis and TurboGrafx-16, respectively, as well as the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer and the Philips CD-i) had met with either questionable success or outright failure. The TurboGrafx-16's CD-ROM add-on did well in Japan, but not elsewhere, and the other CD add-ons and systems failed to reach even that level of success. Combined with the rocky level of quality these early CD-ROM games saw, Nintendo may have decided that the format was at worst a bad fit for games, and at best that it had not really matured to a useful degree.
  • Basically any game on CD-ROM was going to have load times to some degree, ranging from the reasonable, to the unobtrusive and/or well-disguised, to the frankly ridiculous. It's possible Nintendo's developers saw this as a detriment of the games they intended to make, "breaking up the flow" of progress, as it were. Shigeru Miyamoto himself is rumored to have held this opinion, and to have pushed Nintendo to continue making games on cartridges for this reason.

Altogether, these may have seemed like compelling reasons for Nintendo to stick with the cartridge format. However, with the benefit of hindsight, it's clear how badly Nintendo read the market. So instead of CD-ROM, 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 titles. All in all, it became clear that cartridges were an outdated format, leading Nintendo to abandon them in favor of proprietary optical discs with their next system. It wouldn't be until 2017 when chip technology would advance to a point where it would become a viable medium for home consoles again, with the next cartridge-based console after the N64 being the Nintendo Switch. While the N64 DID have a multitude of some of the best games created, this approach led to Nintendo losing their dominance until the Wii.


  • 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."
    • Chris Sutherland of Rare gave an example of the headaches the N64 memory handicaps gave in an interview discussing the original Banjo-Kazooie;
    "From a software perspective, we pushed the memory of the system very hard. As you move the camera around the map in Banjo Kazooie, the machine is constantly throwing out of memory things you can't see and pulling in the scenery that appears into view. This gave us major memory fragmentation issues. We used a proprietary system that "reshuffled" memory continuously as you played to eliminate the fragmentation. I'd doubt many N64 games of the time did anything like that—overall it meant we could dedicate a higher number of polygons to the characters and backgrounds than many other games at the time managed."
    • Super Mario 64 is a classic example of how N64 games were able to use programming tricks to work around limitations on graphic memory, sometimes obviously, sometimes discreetly—things such as trees or the bodys of a bob omb are square polygons with a flat sprite/texture applied to them that is always fixed and rotating with the camera (a technique called Billboarding). If Mario is walking around the Castle Hub, the other rooms will only load when Mario is absolutely near them and the door (and they load almost instantly). If Mario runs into the distance far enough with a fixed camera, his model will automatically switch to a lower polygon modelnote  (Mario has 752 polygons in his default model). Levels gradually load things in and out discreetly (i.e. Dire, Dire Docks disables the background textures once it loads the inner level up ahead, the trees and chain chomp in Bob Omb Battlefield vanish when you're up on the mountain), and sometimes it uses downright ingenious, subtle tricks, such as disabling collision detection on objects Mario isn't near (i.e. the spinning rock platforms in Bowser in the Sky). The game also had an object limit per level (c. 230-240 objects), crashing the game if it ever exceeded that limit by even one number (even if it's a small effects object like the dust from Mario running or a Bob-Omb fuse) and the game would drastically slow down if it would even get close to that limit.
  • 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 if 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.
    • Rareware came up with a clever solution for the texture issues for the first Banjo-Kazooie; the backgrounds had a very large number of textures, but in many cases they were actually very big textures cut into several 64*64 pieces (the largest texture size the n64 could draw) which allowed them to avoid tiling textures everywhere. They also had a decal technique that allowed them to blend areas of textures into one another.
    • 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 than 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. Notably, three N64 games absolutely required it to be played (Zelda: Majora's Mask and Donkey Kong 64, and while Perfect Dark could technically work without it, it was barely playable otherwise), and the 64DD needed it to work as well. There are 62 N64 games total that, while not requiring the Pak, could still use it to optimize their graphics. Unfortunately, it also tended to cause framerate issues with games 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 Conker's 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, as games on the Playstation like Ridge Racer would load all of its contents into RAM and run solely on it, but the reality was that larger capacity carts cost more to produce (and indeed so, as carts comprise of complex circuitry which would be expensive to produce anyway), so most developers had to make do with smaller sizes. When developers did opt for these larger carts, they passed the increased cost onto consumers, resulting in games that were often $20-30 more expensive than those on competing systems.
  • Typical graphical output was 240p, which was standard in previous generations and in this one. However, certain games could use the RAM Expansion Pak to display in 480i, which was the standard resolution for NTSC monitors but wouldn't become standard among game consoles until the next generation.
  • 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 realize 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. Unfortunately, a side effect of it was that textures tended to have a smeary look.
    • Another feature used was Dithering, which was used to mask the consoles lack of color depth. It was surprisingly effective in titles like Super Mario 64.
  • 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.

  • As stated above, the Reality Co-Processor processes the audio. The RSP can produce a maximum of 100 channels of PCM at a time, but only in a case where all system resources are devoted to audio and nothing else. It has a maximum sampling rate of 48 kHz with 16-bit audio.
  • Music was composed in two ways on the N64:
    • Games that were PlayStation/Sega Saturn ports, featured pre-composed soundtracks, and/or games with licensed music used compressed audio, usually MP3 or PCM. This allowed for licensed and/or real music on the N64 in expense for obvious lower sound quality, although one notable aversion was Resident Evil 2, where the music was upsampled and actually sounded even better then the Playstation version!
    • The other way was composing via MIDI or MOD, with the developers creating the soundbank to use or directly using the N64's built-in synthesizer. This gave music that took up way less memory and had higher quality samples, but the music tended to sound a bit artificial and a soundbank with extremely compressed sound samples made some game soundtracks on the N64 sound even worse than the Super NES, with Mortal Kombat Trilogy and Crusin' USA being some of the worst offenders.

Add-Ons and Expansions
  • 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:

64DD Games:

  • 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.
    • The first and last boss fight of Super Mario 64 involves you chasing down and grabbing Bowser's tail so you can swing him like an Olympic hammer to his doom. In one of the very last games released for the console, Conkers Bad Fur Day homages Mario 64 by having the final boss being defeated with the exact same technique!
  • Darker and Edgier: Learning from their mistakes in the Super NES years, Nintendo's censorship policies lightened up considerably for the Nintendo 64, with edits mostly reserved for minor aspects of the games, such as the aforementioned steroid power ups in Duke Nukem 3D. A lot of teen and adult oriented games got released for the 64 that would have never gotten the greenlight in their older days—Conkers Bad Fur Day, which features a superficially cutesy looking platformer game loaded with shamelessly comedic gore, heavy swearing and scatological humor, is probably the most notorious example of this.
  • 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.note 
  • 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.
  • Lighter and Softer: The console has an unfair reputation as being kiddy, mainly because of Nintendos emphasis on first and second party developed games to compensate for the lack of third party devs, which led to the consoles headlining hits (i.e. Mario and co., Banjo Kazooie) being the family friendly titles. However, there were also plenty of games aimed at the older crowd, most notably Goldeneye 007, Perfect Dark and Conkers Bad Fur Day. And while Nintendo occasionally forced censorship on a handful of games, the edits were nowhere near as drastic as what they did in their NES and Super NES years.
  • 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.
  • Never Live It Down: One thing the Nintendo 64 is remembered for among hardcore gamers is the distinct lack of RPG games compared to the PlayStation on account of the issue of storage space. This is because Square jumped ship to Sony for Final Fantasy VII for this very reason.
  • Quality over Quantity: For a short while, Nintendo tried to excuse the dearth of N64 games being released by saying that they "believed in quality over quantity." While the N64 had plenty of (mostly first and second party) Killer App games like Super Mario 64 and GoldenEye, this justification proved to ultimately be fruitless. The system's game library was quite slim compared to the Playstation's, and third parties made it less of a priority due to the cartridge unit.
  • 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