A charcoal grey Nintendo 64 console and grey controller.
|Also known as||N64|
|Type||Home video game console|
|Units shipped||Worldwide: 32.93 million
Japan: 5.54 million
Americas: 20.63 million
Europe & Australia: 6.75 million
|Media||Nintendo 64 Game Pak
Magnetic disc (64DD)
|CPU||64-bit NEC VR4300 @ 93.75 MHz|
|Storage||64 MB Game Pak, 256 Kb (32 KB) Controller Pak for game saves|
|Graphics||SGI RCP @ 62.5 MHz|
|Controller input||Nintendo 64 controller|
|Online services||Randnet (Japan only)
SharkWire Online (third-party)
|Best-selling game||Super Mario 64, 11.62 million (as of May 21, 2003)|
|Predecessor||Super Nintendo Entertainment System|
|Related articles||Nintendo 64 technical specifications, 64DD, Game Pak, Rumble Pak, games, accessories, color variants, programming characteristics|
The Nintendo 64 (Japanese: ニンテンドー64 Hepburn: Nintendō Rokujūyon?), stylized as NINTENDO64 and often referred to as N64, is Nintendo's third home video game console for the international market. Named for its 64-bit central processing unit, it was released in June 1996 in Japan, September 1996 in North America, March 1997 in Europe and Australia, September 1997 in France and December 1997 in Brazil. It is Nintendo's last home console to use ROM cartridges to store games (Nintendo switched to a MiniDVD-based format for the N64's successor, the GameCube). While the N64 was succeeded by Nintendo's GameCube in November 2001, N64 consoles remained available until the system was retired in late 2003.
Although the N64's design was mostly finalized by mid-1995 (when it was called Ultra 64), the launch of the console was delayed until 1996. As part of the fifth generation of gaming, the N64 competed primarily with the PlayStation and the Sega Saturn. The N64 was released with two launch games, Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64, and a third (Japan-only) title, Saikyō Habu Shōgi. The N64's suggested retail price was US $199.99 at its launch and it was later marketed with the slogan "Get N, or get Out!". The console was ultimately released in a range of different colors and designs, and an assortment of limited-edition controllers were sold or used as contest prizes during the N64's lifespan. The N64 sold 32.93 million units worldwide, and in 2009, it was named the 9th greatest video game console by IGN. Time Magazine named it their 1996 Machine of the Year award.
One of its technical drawbacks was a limited texture cache, which could hold textures of limited dimensions and reduced color depth, which had to be stretched to cover larger in-game surfaces. More significantly, the N64 still relied upon ROM cartridges, which were constrained by small capacity (particularly in an era when games became more complex and their contents took up more memory) and high production expenses, compared to the compact disc format used by its chief competitors. As a result of the N64's storage media limitations, many third-party publishers that previously supported Nintendo's previous consoles reduced their output or stopped publishing for the console; the N64's most successful games came from first-party or second-party studios.
At the beginning of the 1990s, Nintendo led the video game industry with its Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Although a follow-up console, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), was successful, sales took a hit from the Japanese recession. Competition from long-time rival Sega, as well as relative newcomer Sony, emphasized Nintendo's need to develop a successor for the SNES, or risk losing market dominance to its rivals. Further complicating matters, Nintendo also faced a backlash from third-party developers unhappy with Nintendo's onerous licensing policies. The company sought to develop a console with high-quality, 3-dimensional graphics and a 64-bit processor. Nintendo's code name for the N64, "Project Reality", stemmed from the bold belief that the hardware's advanced CGI capabilities would rival supercomputers of the era.
Nintendo had limited experience with 3-dimensional graphics, and worked with outside companies to develop the technology. Chip technology was provided by NEC, Toshiba, and Sharp. Silicon Graphics (SGI) and MIPS Technologies were responsible for the R4300i microprocessor and the 3D graphics hardware used in the N64. SGI had recently acquired MIPS Computer Systems, and the two worked together to create a low-cost real-time 3D graphics system.
James H. Clark, founder of Silicon Graphics, initially offered the SGI project to Tom Kalinske, then CEO of Sega of America. The ensuing negotiations are controversial. Sega claimed that their evaluation of the early prototype uncovered several unresolved hardware issues and deficiencies. They were subsequently resolved; but not before Sega had already decided against SGI's design. Nintendo resisted that assertion, arguing that Nintendo was a more appealing partner. SGI was apparently interested in using its chips in devices other than a game console; while Sega demanded exclusive rights to the chip, Nintendo was willing to license the technology on a non-exclusive basis. Nintendo expressed interest in SGI's work. James Clark met with Nintendo CEO Hiroshi Yamauchi in the spring of 1993, thus initiating Project Reality. The console itself was announced at the August 1993 Shoshinkai show. An official announcement regarding the business collaboration was made in October 1993.
The console's design was revealed to the public for the first time in late Spring 1994. Pictures of the console showed the Nintendo Ultra 64 logo, a ROM cartridge, but no controller. The final N64 console would retain the shape pictured by the Ultra 64. The news that the console would be cartridge-based prompted analysis by the gaming media. Nintendo's vice president of marketing Peter Main stated that "The choice we made is not cartridge versus CD, it's silicon over optical. When it comes to speed, no other format approaches the silicon-based cartridge." The system was frequently marketed as the world's first 64-bit gaming system. Atari had claimed to have made the first 64-bit game console with their Atari Jaguar, but the Jaguar only uses a 64-bit architecture in conjunction with two 32-bit RISC processors and a 16/32-bit Motorola 68000. Later in Spring 1994, Nintendo signed a licensing agreement with Midway's parent company which enabled Midway to develop and market arcade games using the Project Reality hardware and formed a joint venture company called Williams/Nintendo to market Nintendo-exclusive home conversions of these games. The result was two arcade games, Killer Instinct and Cruis'n USA, which boasted their upcoming release on the Ultra 64 platform. Killer Instinct did use the same CPU as the N64, a MIPS R4300i. Killer Instinct features pre-rendered character artwork, and CG movie backgrounds that are streamed off the hard drive and animated as the characters move horizontally.
The completed N64 was fully unveiled in a playable form to the public on November 24, 1995, at the 7th Annual Shoshinkai Software Exhibition in Japan. Nintendo's next-generation console was introduced as the "Nintendo 64" (a name given by Shigesato Itoi, who named the Game Boy before), contrary to speculation that it would be called "Ultra 64". Photos of the event were disseminated on the web by Game Zero magazine two days later. Official coverage by Nintendo followed later via the Nintendo Power website and print magazine.
In the lead up to the console's release, Nintendo had adopted a new global branding strategy, assigning the console the same name for all markets: Nintendo 64.
The console was originally slated for release by Christmas of 1995. In May 1995, Nintendo pushed back the release to April 1996. The prospect of a release the following spring at a lower price than the competition lowered sales of competing Sega and Sony consoles during the important Christmas shopping season.
In its explanation of the delay, Nintendo claimed it needed more time for Nintendo 64 software to mature, and for third-party developers to produce games. Adrian Sfarti, a former engineer for SGI, attributed the delay to hardware problems; he claimed that the chips underperformed in testing, and were being redesigned.
The console was first released in Japan on June 23, 1996. The North American version of the Nintendo 64 officially launched on September 29, 1996. It launched with just two games in the United States, Pilotwings 64 and Super Mario 64. In 1994, prior to the launch, Nintendo of America chairman Howard Lincoln emphasized the quality of first-party games, saying "... we're convinced that a few great games at launch are more important than great games mixed in with a lot of dogs.":77 The PAL version of the console was released in Europe on March 1, 1997.
Originally intended to be US$250, the console was ultimately priced at $199.99 to make it competitive with Sony and Sega offerings. Nintendo priced the console as an impulse buy, using a strategy from the toy industry. The price of the console in the United States was further reduced in August 1998.
The Nintendo 64 was in-demand upon its release. David Cole, industry analyst, said "You have people fighting to get it from stores." Time Magazine called the purchasing interest "that rare and glorious middle-class Cabbage Patch-doll frenzy." The magazine said celebrities Matthew Perry, Steven Spielberg's office, and some Chicago Bulls players called Nintendo to ask for special treatment to get their hands on the console.
The console sold 350,000 of 500,000 available units during its first three days on sale. Longer term, the console sold 500,000 units in North America during its first four months. George Harrison, vice president of marketing at Nintendo, expected sales of 5 million consoles by Christmas 1997.
The N64 sold 3.6 million in its first full year in the United States.
As of December 31, 2009, the N64 had sold 5.54 million units in Japan, 20.63 million in the Americas, and 6.75 million in other regions, for a total of 32.93 million units. Benimaru Itō, a developer for EarthBound 64 and friend of Shigeru Miyamoto, speculated in 1997 that the N64's lower popularity in Japan was due to the lack of role-playing video games.
To boost sales during the slow post-Christmas season, Nintendo and General Mills worked together on a promotional campaign that appeared in early 1999. A television advertising campaign cost $5 million. The advertisement by Saatchi and Saatchi, New York began on January 25 and encouraged children to buy Fruit by the Foot snacks for tips to help them with their Nintendo 64 games. 90 different tips were available, with three variations of 30 tips each.
Nintendo advertised its Funtastic Series of peripherals with a $10 million print and television campaign from February 28 to April 30, 2000. Leo Burnett, Chicago, was in charge.
The Nintendo 64 received generally positive reviews from critics. Reviewers generally praised the console's advanced 3D graphics and gameplay, while criticizing the lack of games.
Time Magazine named it their 1996 Machine of the Year, saying the machine had "done to video-gaming what the 707 did to air travel." The magazine said the console achieved "the most realistic and compelling three-dimensional experience ever presented by a computer." Time credited the Nintendo 64 with revitalizing the video game market, "rescuing this industry from the dustbin of entertainment history." The magazine suggested that the Nintendo 64 would play a major role in introducing children to digital technology in the final years of the 20th century. The article concluded by saying the console had already provided "the first glimpse of a future where immensely powerful computing will be as common and easy to use as our televisions."
Popular Electronics complimented the system's hardware, calling its specifications "quite impressive." It also complimented the controller, saying "We found the controller comfortable to hold, and the controls to be accurate and responsive."
The Los Angeles Times praised the system's "blistering speed and tack-sharp graphics," as well as its high-quality games, although it lamented the small number of games. It called the console small and light.
A total of 387 games were released for the console, though few were exclusively sold in Japan. For comparison, the rival PlayStation received around 1,100 games, while the earlier NES and SNES had 768 and 725 US games, respectively. However, the Nintendo 64 game library included a high number of critically acclaimed and widely sold games. Super Mario 64 was the console's best selling game (selling over 11 million copies), receiving much praise from critics and helping to pioneer three-dimensional control schemes. GoldenEye 007 was important in the evolution of the first-person shooter, and has been named one of the greatest in the genre. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time set the standard for future 3D action-adventure games and is considered by some to be the greatest game ever made.
Graphically, results of the Nintendo cartridge system were mixed. The N64's graphics chip was capable of trilinear filtering, which allowed textures to look very smooth. This contrasted with the Saturn and PlayStation, which used nearest-neighbor interpolation and produced more pixelated textures.
However, the smaller storage size of ROM cartridges limited the number of available textures; as a result, many games were forced to 'stretch' textures over larger surfaces. Compounded by a limit of 4,096-bytes allocated for texture storage, the end-result was often a distorted, out-of-proportion appearance. Some games, such as Mario Party 2, use a large amount of Gouraud shading or very simple textures to produce a cartoon-like image, which largely avoided the texture-stretching issue. Cartridges for some later games, such as Resident Evil 2, Sin and Punishment: Successor of the Earth, and Conker's Bad Fur Day, featured more ROM space, allowing for more detailed graphics.
Nintendo 64 games are ROM cartridge based. Cartridge size varies from 4 MB to 64 MB. ROM cartridges are expensive and time-consuming to manufacture. Many cartridges include the ability to save games internally.
Nintendo cited several advantages for making the N64 cartridge-based. Primarily cited was the ROM cartridges' very fast load times in comparison to disc-based games. While loading screens appear in many PlayStation games, they are rare on the N64. Although vulnerable to long-term environmental damage the cartridges are far more resistant to physical damage than compact discs.
On the downside, cartridges took longer to manufacture than CDs, with each production run (from order to delivery) taking two weeks or more. This meant that publishers of N64 games had to attempt to predict demand for a game ahead of its release. They risked being left with a surplus of expensive cartridges for a failed game or a weeks-long shortage of product if they underestimated a game's popularity. The cost of producing an N64 cartridge was also far higher than for a CD. Publishers passed these expenses onto the consumer. N64 games cost an average of $10 more when compared to games produced for rival consoles.
As fifth generation games became more complex in content, sound and graphics, games began to exceed the limits of cartridge storage capacity. N64 cartridges had a maximum of 64 MB of data, whereas CDs held over 650 MB. Software ported from other platforms was often heavily compressed, or re-designed with the storage limits of a cartridge in mind. Due to the cartridge's space limitations, full motion video was not usually feasible for use in cut scenes; when it was present, it was compressed to fit on the cartridge, extremely pixelated, and usually of very brief length.
The era's competing systems from Sony and Sega (the PlayStation and Saturn, respectively) used CD-ROM discs to store their games. As a result, game developers who had traditionally supported Nintendo game consoles were now developing games for the competition. Many third-party developers, such as Square and Enix, whose Final Fantasy VII and Dragon Warrior VII were initially pre-planned for the N64, switched to the PlayStation. Some who remained released fewer games to the Nintendo 64; Konami released fifty PlayStation games but only thirteen for the N64. New Nintendo 64 game releases were infrequent while new games were coming out rapidly for the PlayStation.
Despite the difficulties with third parties, the N64 still managed to support popular games such as GoldenEye 007, giving it a long shelf-life. Additionally, Nintendo's strong first-party franchises such as Mario had strong name brand appeal. Second-parties of Nintendo, such as Rare, helped.
Nintendo's controversial selection of the cartridge medium for the Nintendo 64 has been cited as a key factor in Nintendo losing its dominant position in the gaming market. Some of the cartridge's advantages are difficult for developers to manifest prominently, requiring innovative solutions which only came late in the console's life cycle.
Several Nintendo 64 games have been released for the Wii's Virtual Console service and are playable with either the Classic Controller or Nintendo GameCube controller. There are some differences between these versions and the original cartridge versions. For example, the games run in a higher resolution and at a more consistent framerate than their N64 counterparts. However, some features, such as Rumble Pak functionality, are not available in the Wii versions. Some features are also altered for the Virtual Console releases. For example, the VC version of Pokémon Snap allows players to send photos through the Wii's message service, while Wave Race 64's in-game content was altered due to the expiration of the Kawasaki license. Several games from Rare have seen release on Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade service, including Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie and Perfect Dark, the reason being that Rareware was purchased by Microsoft in 2002.
Prior to the Virtual Console's conception, unofficial emulation systems were developed in order to execute Nintendo 64 titles on multiple platforms, such as PCs, that would otherwise be impossible without the required N64 hardware.
The Nintendo 64's central processing unit (CPU) is the NEC VR4300. This processor was the most powerful console CPU of its generation; Popular Electronics said it had power similar to the Pentium processors found in desktop computers. Except for its narrower 32-bit system bus, the VR4300 retained the computational abilities of the more powerful 64-bit MIPS R4300i, though software rarely took advantage of 64-bit data precision operations. N64 games generally used faster (and more compact) 32-bit data-operations, as these were sufficient to generate 3D-scene data for the console's RSP (Reality Signal Processor) unit. In addition, 32-bit code executed faster and required less storage space (which was at a premium on the N64's cartridges).
In terms of its random-access memory, or RAM, the Nintendo 64 was one of the first modern consoles to implement a unified memory subsystem, instead of having separate banks of memory for CPU, audio, and video, for example. The memory itself consists of 4 megabytes of RDRAM, made by Rambus. The RAM is expandable to 8 MB with the Expansion Pak. Rambus was quite new at the time and offered Nintendo a way to provide a large amount of bandwidth for a relatively low cost.
The Nintendo 64 supports 16.8 million colors. The system can display resolutions of 256 × 224, 320 × 240 and 640 × 480 pixels. Few games made use of the 640 × 480 mode, many of them required use of the Expansion Pak RAM upgrade. The vast majority of games instead used the system's low resolution 256 × 224 (256 × 240 for PAL models) mode. A number of games also support a video display ratio of up to 16:9 using either Anamorphic widescreen or Letterboxing. However, very few of its games provided options to use this feature.
The Nintendo 64 comes in several colors. The standard Nintendo 64 is dark gray, nearly black, and the controller is light gray (later releases in America included a bonus second controller in Atomic Purple). Various color variations and special editions were released.
The majority of Nintendo 64 game cartridges were gray in color; however, some games were released on a colored cartridge. Fourteen games had black cartridges, while other colors (such as green, blue, red, yellow and gold) were each used for six or fewer games. Several games, such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, were released both in standard gray and in colored, limited edition versions.
A number of accessories, from the Rumble Pak to the Transfer Pak, were available for the Nintendo 64.
The controller was shaped like an "M", employing a joystick in the center. Popular Electronics called its shape "evocative of some alien space ship." While noting that the three handles could be confusing, the magazine said "the separate grips allow different hand positions for various game types."
Nintendo released a peripheral platform called Nintendo 64DD, where 'DD' stands for 'Disk Drive'. Connecting to the expansion slot at the bottom of the system, the 64DD turns the Nintendo 64 console into an Internet appliance and an expanded gaming platform. This large peripheral allows players to play Nintendo 64 disk-based games, capture images from an external video source, and connect to the now-defunct Japanese Randnet online service. Not long after its limited mail-order release, the add-on was discontinued. Only nine games were released, including the four Mario Artist games (Paint Studio, Talent Studio, Communication Kit, and Polygon Studio); many more were released in cartridge format or on other game consoles. The Nintendo 64DD and the accompanying Randnet online service, were released only in Japan.
The programming characteristics of the Nintendo 64 present unique challenges, with distinct potential advantages. The Economist described effective programming for the Nintendo 64 as being "horrendously complex." As with many other game consoles and other types of embedded systems, the Nintendo 64's architectural optimizations are uniquely acute, due to a combination of oversight on the part of the hardware designers, limitations on 3D technology of the time, and manufacturing capabilities.
As the Nintendo 64 reached the end of its lifecycle, hardware development chief Genyo Takeda referred to the programming challenges using the word hansei (Japanese: 反省 "reflective regret"). Looking back, Takeda said "When we made Nintendo 64, we thought it was logical that if you want to make advanced games, it becomes technically more difficult. We were wrong. We now understand it's the cruising speed that matters, not the momentary flash of peak power."
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Nintendo 64.|
- Billboard Magazine of May 18, 1996, p.58, covering the launch of Nintendo 64, including Yamauchi's explanation of cartridge strategy and negotiations about Netscape's online strategy for N64
- "Why Netscape Almost Didn't Exist", on Andreesson's choice to cofound Netscape instead of working on N64, and later proposing N64's first online strategy
- "Nintendo 64". Archived from the original on 2007-10-17.
- Index of all Nintendo 64 promotional videos
- Nintendo 64 at DMOZ
- US Patent for the N64
- The Most Complete N64 Game Releaselist by NESWORLD