Nintendo 64 – N64

History of the Nintendo 64 or better known as N64

Nintendo 64 N64 logo with games

In August 1993 Nintendo anounced thier venture into the 64 bit market with project reality (codename for N64) completely skipping the 32 bit market, with a proposed price of $250. This lead to some concern amongst Nintendo’s rivals Sony and Sega who had thier 32 bit consoles to sell at double the price,

Then Nintendo made an announcement in mid 1994 that came as a surprise and would have long lasting implications: the game media for the Ultra 64 (the new N64 name) would be 100Mbit cartridges and not CDs.  The decision to go with the cartridges over CD format made quite a few software developers turn away from the system all together.  Not only were cartridges more expensive, but it meant that Nintendo would be the only supplier, enforcing their notorious grip on licenses.  Nintendo’s defense was that cartridges were still the media of choice for home consoles because they did not suffer from slow load times and were more practical than CDs.

In late March 1994, Rare and Williams sign on with Project Reality as software partners.  The first two members of what would be known as Nintendo’s “Dream Team,” a select group of developers and publishers developing for this new machine. Rare would develop arcade games based on the Project Reality hardware and Williams would market them under the Midway title. The first title would be Killer Instinct, a fighting game a la Mortal Kombat, except characters would be modeled and animated by Silicon Graphics machines. By proving Project Reality’s viability as an arcade level game hardware, Nintendo could clearly demonstrate its superiority over 32-bit systems, which required a great deal of compromises for arcade conversion. Also, this enabled Nintendo to create a stable of popular arcade games it could hand down to the home system with little effort.

Next, DMA Design Ltd. signed on in May 1994 as Project Reality’s second developer. Although DMA’s name was relatively obscure in the industry, their product was not. DMA had developed the original Lemmings, a classic puzzle game dealing with the misadventures of blissfully suicidal rodents, for Psygnosis.

Although Rare and DMA would eventually develop worthwhile games for Nintendo, they were relative unknowns in an industry based on hype and volume. Nintendo’s selection made little sense to the press, and the company gave no explanation regarding the reasons for its selection. This marked the beginning of Nintendo’s disturbing tendency to attach no-name companies to Nintendo 64.

nintendo 64 N64

CES

Almost a year later, the “Dream Team” revealed the fruits of their labor behind closed doors at the summer CES (Summer Consumer Electronics Show). Rare had nearly finished Killer Instinct and Williams’ Cruis’n USA was ready to go. General “oohs” and “ahs” peppered the air while viewers watched Orchid slice Chief Thunder from groin to neck with energy staves in 16.7 million-color glory. Howard Lincoln felt confident enough to say, “Game players will be able to play these same games with no compromise in graphics, sound, or gameplay next year at home when Ultra 64 is launched.” Wisely, he didn’t mention that Cruis’n USA was actually running off Williams’ own game hardware, not the Ultra 64. Now that the Ultra 64 had proved itself to be a capable machine, Nintendo was ready to take back the offensive.

November 21, 1994. On the night before the Sega Saturn’s Japanese introduction, Nintendo steals some of Sega’s thunder by announcing Shigeru Miyamoto’s involvement with Paradigm Simulation to produce an Ultra 64 game. The upshot was that one of the world’s best game designers and a bleeding-edge simulation company were getting together to create a 3D game. That game became PilotWings 64. Even better, the buzz hinted that the game would be a pack-in for Ultra 64’s release.

Nintendo then attempted to quash the CD/cartridge debate by partnering with GTE Interactive Media to deliver “network gaming and interactive service delivery.” Earlier speculation regarding Nintendo’s networking plans proved right. Ideally, distribution over cable or telephone lines would enable Nintendo to sell games directly to the user, without the extra cost of cartridges and packaging. Potentially cheaper than CD-ROM, the Nintendo network was the path to beating cheaper Saturn and PlayStation CDs. An interesting step, but the industry wanted to see if Nintendo could overcome lack of fast network infrastructure or provide equal content over slow 9600-28,800 bps lines.

Despite many licenses, the Ultra 64 project had produced few results. Nintendo’s high-profile fanfare was just that: noise. A lack of concrete or satisfactory results from their software developers gave rise to industry speculation that Ultra 64 would never see the light of day, that it was the next best thing to vaporware. As a result, everyone was stunned when Nintendo announced it was right on schedule.

Nintendo 64 N64

Setbacks

May 5 1995. The Ultra 64’s introduction got pushed back to the November Shoshinkai in Japan and a possible Japanese release for December 1. U.S. and Europe releases got rescheduled for April 1996. The news arrived at the worst time possible, six days before E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo). This gave Sega and Sony more than enough time to prepare a response. On May 10, Sony announced the American release of the Sony PlayStation for September 9, at a price of $299. On May 11, Sega one-upped Sony with the surprising declaration that the Saturn hit North America the day before. Suddenly, the next-generation race had only two contestants, Nintendo trailing so far behind it was almost irrelevant. PlayStation broke the $300 price-point and Sega, to remain competitive, matched that price by late 1995. With Ultra 64 almost a year behind, Nintendo had missed a critical launch window, in danger of losing ground before it even entered the market.

What happened? The delay “was a quality issue…we needed more time to get the quality level to the point where we were satisfied,” said Howard Lincoln. That was as close as Nintendo would get to admitting it had made some mistakes with its “Dream Team.” The companies Nintendo picked for their “Dream Team” software developers troubled the industry from the very start. Where Sony and Sega had hundreds of developers, Nintendo had chosen only 10. With the exception of Paradigm (which would develop PilotWings 64, with Miyamoto leading its development team), none of them were obvious choices. Williams was primarily a coin-op arcade game company. Spectrum Holobyte and Sierra Online were computer game developers, with little cartridge programming experience. DMA and Rare were unknowns. Gametek had no stable of hits. GTE Interactive Media and Angel Studios had never produced a game. And Acclaim was known for its high volume of lackluster, movie-licensed games for 16-bit systems. Either Nintendo knew something about them the competition did not, or the pool of Ultra 64 applicants was considerably smaller than predicted. The new November introduction date suggested the latter.

The road to Shoshinkai was an exercise in damage control. Nintendo had to move forward in the most visible ways possible to ensure the public progress they were making progress. Three new developers signed on, most notably LucasArts Entertainment, which would develop a high-profile Star Wars title, and Electronic Arts, to create a badly needed sports game for the new platform.

The first development Ultra 64’s reached the “Dream Team” in August. Along with their arrival came hints that the controller was truly revolutionary, producing unprecedented control over new game elements. Also piquing the public’s interest was the “storage accessory for the Ultra 64…not a CD.”

By the time November had rolled around, Nintendo felt confident enough to hype Ultra 64, “displaying [in Japanese department stores] 100 64-bit machines and 10 kinds of software we plan to sell initially. We will release the new model within the year.” The comment suggested the December Japanese release was looking good. Despite a seemingly irrepressible flood of either nonpositive or actual negative press, Ultra 64 seemed to be back on track.

Nintendo 64 N64 Super mario World

It’s me Mario!

In spite of, or perhaps due to, Nintendo 64’s problems, the industry immediately turned Shigeru Miyamoto’s Super Mario 64 into headline material. Even at 50% completion at Shoshinkai, SM64 wowed the crowds with their favorite Italian plumber interacting with the world’s first entertaining fully-realized 3D, “virtual world.” One critic went so far as to say “Nintendo has a classic on its hands with Super Mario 64, and Shigeru Miyamoto has once again proved himself as the king of gameplay.”

Whether or not that was true, Nintendo ran with it. Super Mario 64 previews ran in just about every game magazine on the face of the planet in the coming months, receiving almost universal acclaim (Next Generation’s claimed it to be the greatest videogame ever in its August issue). Criticism of N64’s troubles were conveniently forgotten or diminished under the positive press, and Nintendo used the cover to churn out more N64s for June 23.

As Miyamoto continued to progress on Super Mario 64, reviews kept getting better and better, to the point where it looked like just this one game could sell the system. By June, the Nintendo 64 was no longer a hot air balloon over Sega and Sony’s turf. Instead, it had transformed into a cruise missile in red and blue coveralls.

Nintendo had taken the advantage back. In connecting the world’s most recognizable mascot with N64, the new machine inherited a legacy of fun and great gameplay associated with all of the previous Mario titles. A 64-bit Mario game could spur sales ways no amount of sexy hardware could. Mario would be the point-man for the next generation.

Mario worked. On June 23, despite a meager three-title selection (Super Mario 64, PilotWings 64, and Shogi Chess), Nintendo sold 300,000 N64s, equal to the first day sales for Saturn and PlayStation combined. The game that everyone bought along with those 300,000 units? Super Mario 64

Specification

CPU 93.75 MHz MIPS 64-bit RISC CPU
Co-processor RCP (62.5 MHz)
Built-in Audio/Video Vector Processor (RSP)
Over half a billion vector operations per second
Graphics Processor Pixel Drawing Processor (RDP) Advanced Texture-Mapping
Detail Texturing
Tri-linear Mip Map Interpolation
Perspective Correction Environment Mapping
Depth Buffering
Color Combiner
Anti-Aliasing and Blending
Rasterizing
Z-Buffering
Automatic LOD Management
Vertex positioning and transformations
Depth, color and texture clipping
Transparency (256 levels max)
Gouraud Shading
Memory 36Mb RAMBUS DRAM
Display 256×224 to 640×480
Flicker Free Interlace Mode
21-bit color output
32-bit RGBA Pixel Color Frame Buffer
Sound Stereo 16-bit
ADPCMCompression
100 PCM channels possible
Features 4 controller ports, Ext. port

 

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