Useful Notes: Nintendo GameCube
"Who Are You?"
GameCube (officially abbreviated as GCN), Nintendo's entry into the sixth generation
of the Console Wars
, was released in late 2001. It marked Nintendo's shift from cartridges to optical discs in response to third parties being driven away by the Nintendo 64
's continued use of cartridges, using miniature proprietary discs. The graphical capabilities were better than the PlayStation 2
, and in some cases, on par with those of the Xbox
. Star Wars: Rogue Squadron III
actually holds the sixth-gen record for polygon count, at 20 million polygons. The GameCube was the first Nintendo console to have fewer buttons on its controller than its predecessor; this was due to the introduction of a second analog stick replacing the N64's C buttons, though this C-stick was smaller than the primary analog stick.
Nintendo offered many of its properties to other developers. Namco
ran around with Donkey Kong
and made the Donkey Konga
series, Dolled Up Installments
of the Taiko no Tatsujin
series of drumming games. Namco and Rare
(under the company's last days with Nintendo before getting bought out by Microsoft) both had Star Fox
-based games (although Rare's was too a Dolled Up Installment, this one born out of Nintendo meddling
with the would-have-been
Nintendo 64 game Dinosaur Planet
.) Most famously, Retro Studios
rose to fame with the smash hit Metroid Prime
was working on The Legend of Zelda
and liked the 'Cube so much they promised a few exclusive games for it, dubbed the "Capcom 5":
Oh, and this thing is tough
, as in physically. There are stories of people having dropped GameCubes off the top of tall buildings and them still being perfectly intact, and one G4 segment circa 2003 involved Morgan Webb abusing a PS2
, Gamecube, and
Xbox, with the Gamecube surviving every single bit of abuse. It's gotten a reputation for being damn near indestructible; someone once fended off a mugger with a knife with his Gamecube and it wasn't even damaged.
Intentionally trying to break it is just about the only way to go. Considering Nintendo's history of making their products Tonka Tough
, there might be a reason for that.
Its codename during development was "Project Dolphin" and there are often little nods to this throughout early Gamecube games, such as Super Mario Sunshine
being set on "Isle Delfino" (Italian for dolphin), and Olimar's ship in Pikmin
being called the "Dolphin". All official games and products also start with DOL in their product code. An early rumoured release name for the console was "Starcube", which was apparently dropped for copyright reasons.
There was a stylish-looking variant of the GCN that plays DVD movies and contained other multimedia functionality called the Panasonic Q, but it was only sold in Japan
and nowadays can only be bought by those who do not care about the health of their walletnote
The Gamecube, just like the Dreamcast, is a perfect case of Vindicated by History
. During its lifetime, it did not manage to sell as well as its competitors (however, Gamecube was only a couple million behind the Xbox, while Dreamcast sold about half of what Gamecube did), it received lots of undeserved hate, and while it did get a lot of third-party games, there were very few third-party exclusives. But a couple years after it passed on, the majority of the people who bashed it started to realize just what a great and underestimated system it was, and realized how ahead of its time it was.
Oh, and the slow, haunting theme
that plays when you turn on the thing? It's the start-up theme for the old Famicom Disk System
, slowed down a whole bunch. Pretty neat
- The CPU is a 486 MHz IBM PowerPC 750CXe based CPU codenamed "Gekko". While it was internally a 32-bit processor, it has a double-precision 64-bit FPU (which Nintendo got marketing mileage out of by misadvertising the system as 128 bit, most notably with its demo game "Super Mario 128"). It's essentially an enhanced version of the processor found in Apple's G3 based computers.
- The GPU was a joint venture between Nintendo and ArtX. ATi later bought ArtX, which explains the badge on the console. Codenamed "Flipper", it's a 162 MHz GPU superficially similar to ATi's own Radeon 7500 for the PC.
- Audio was done on a custom 81 MHz Macronix DSP that supported 64 CD-Audio quality channels. However it could only output stereo sound, but there was support for Dolby Pro-Logic II for surround sound if the speakers supported it.
- 24 MB MoSys 1T-SRAM main system RAM. 3 MB embedded 1T-SRAM within Flipper.
- 1T-SRAM is a type of RAM that is both high density and avoids the low-level complexity of DRAM.
- The fact that the Flipper has embedded RAM in it made it extremely fast, compared to the RAMBUS RAM used in the Nintendo 64
- 16 MB DRAM used as buffer for game disc drive and audio.
- Games were stored on a 8cm optical disc based on the DVD standard and created by Matsushita (Panasonic). A key difference is that the GameCube uses Constant Angular Velocity (in which the disk spins at the same speed regardless of the reading laser's position) rather than Constant Linear Velocity (in which the disc spins slower or faster depending on the reading laser's position to achieve a constant velocity of the laser beam traveling across the disc surface). The total storage capacity of the disc is 1.5GB. The three main reasons why this format was chosen was to reduce load times, to make piracy harder, and to avoid paying licensing fees to the DVD forum.
- To store game saves and other data, the GameCube used memory cards similar to the PlayStation. For better or worse, cards were formatted into blocks and capacity was Colour-Coded for Your Convenience. Gray came with 59 blocks, black with 251 blocks, and white with 1011 blocks. There's also memory cards that can save off of SD cards as well. Each block is about 8KB.
Add-Ons and Expansions
- The GameCube could output all forms of standard definition resolutions, including progressive scan. However, progressive scan could only be officially enabled on NTSC hardware; PAL hardware requires softmodding to enable progressive scan output.
- Maximum in game polygon count is about 20,250,000 polygons a second, or about 337,500 polygons a frame at 60FPS. This is about 10 times more than the developers could push on the Nintendo64; Maximum Polygon count is 60 million a second.
- Maximum pixel throughput is 648 megapixels per second.
- It supported all the nice graphical features at the time, such as anisotropic texture filtering, anti-aliasing, and bump-mapping. Color output is at 24-bits, the system also had a 18-bit color mode but only a hand full of games used it.
- The first generation models had two AV outputs, one labeled Analog AV Out for standard use with composite cables, and the other labeled Digital AV Out for component cables and D-Terminal cables. Though the output from the socket was actually digital, the cables that used Digital AV Out used a digital-to-analog convertor chip in the cable connector, meaning that actual output is analog. The chip explains why such cables, especially the component cable, were never produced by other companies the way the Wii component cable is today (the Wii seems to only output analog video through its AV port). Due to very few people using the component cables, Nintendo quietly released a second model that had the digital AV port removed.
- There were three expansion ports total. One was for a high-speed network adapter/modem used for online/LAN games (though very few used it). One was for the GameBoy Player. The last one never got used.
- The Game Boy Advance had an accessory that allowed it to be connected to one of the GameCube's controller ports. This was used in Pokémon Colosseum and Pokémon XD to transfer Pokémon back and forth. It was also notably used in Animal Crossing to allow access to Animal Island and free pattern tools. However, Square Enix was a notable abuser of this with Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles, where each Game Boy Advance was the controller.
- There are three versions of the intro jingle; the one played upon startup is dependent on whether 0, 1-3, or 4 players are pressing the Z button. The music is in a 7/8 time signature.
GameCube games and series include: