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The Nintendo 64 (ニンテンドー６４, Nintendō Rokujūyon?) is Nintendo's third home video game console for the international market. The N64 was released on June 23, 1996 in Japan; September 29, 1996 in North America and Brazil; March 1, 1997 in Europe/Australia, September 1, 1997 in France (the system also saw a release in Latin America, albeit an unofficial one). It was released with three launch games in Japan (Super Mario 64, Pilotwings 64 and Saikyou Haniu Shogi), and two in North America and PAL region (Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64). The Nintendo 64 cost $199 at launch in the United States.
The N64 was first publicly introduced on November 24, 1995 as the Nintendo Ultra 64 (possibly the source of the numbering scheme prefix "NUS-" for the system, parts and accessories) at the 7th Annual Shoshinkai Software Exhibition in Japan (though preview pictures from the Nintendo "Project Reality" console had been published in American magazines as early as June 1993). The first published photos from the event were presented on the web via coverage by Game Zero magazine two days after the event. Official coverage by Nintendo soon followed a few weeks later on the nascent Nintendo Power website, and then in volume #85 of their print magazine.
During the developmental stages the N64 was referred to by its code name, Project Reality. The name Project Reality came from the speculation within Nintendo that this console could produce CGI on par with then-current supercomputers. Once unveiled to the public the name changed to Nintendo Ultra 64. Nintendo dropped "Ultra" from the name on February 1, 1996, just months before its Japanese debut, because the word "Ultra" was trademarked by another company, Konami, for its Ultra Games division.
After first announcing the project, two companies, Rareware (UK) and Midway (USA), created the arcade games Killer Instinct and Cruis'n USA which claimed to use the Ultra 64 hardware. In fact, the hardware had nothing to do with what was finally released; the arcade games used hard drives and TMS processors. Killer Instinct was the most advanced game of its time graphically, featuring pre-rendered movie backgrounds that were streamed off the hard drive and animated as the characters moved horizontally.
The system was designed by Silicon Graphics Inc., and features their trademark dithered 32-bit graphics. The early N64 development system was an SGI Indy equipped with an add-on board that contained a full N64 system.
Nintendo 64 had its share of high-quality games. Below is a list of some of those titles (organized by year of release).
Also notable was the debut of the Turok: Dinosaur Hunter video game franchise.
The last Nintendo 64 game to be released in North America was Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 on August 20, 2002 while Mario Party 3 released on 16 November 2001 was the last title Europe would see.
Cartridges vs. discs in home game consoles
The Nintendo 64 was the last mainstream home video game console to use masked ROM cartridges to store its games (although the last real cartridge based system to have still continued production was SNK's Neo Geo hardware until 2004).
Nintendo cited several advantages for making the N64 cartridge-based:
- ROM cartridges have very fast load times in comparison to disc based games, as contemporary CD-ROM drives rarely had speeds above 4x. This can be observed from the loading screens that appear in many Sony PlayStation games but are typically non-existent in N64 versions. ROM carts are so much faster than the 2x CD-ROM drives in other consoles that developers could stream data in real-time off them. This was done in Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine, for example, to make the most of the limited RAM in N64. One could describe the ROM as an additional amount of slow RAM, similar to virtual memory in a modern operating system.
- ROM cartridges are difficult and expensive to duplicate, thus resisting piracy, albeit at the expense of lowered profit margin for Nintendo. (Nintendo had likely weighed the tradeoffs and concluded that reducing losses from piracy would offset higher cartridge production costs.) While unauthorized interface devices for the PC were later developed, these devices are rare when compared to a regular CD drive as used on the PlayStation. Compared to the N64, piracy was rampant on the PlayStation and Playstation 2.
- It is possible to add specialized support chips (such as coprocessors) to ROM cartridges, as was done on some SNES games (notably Star Fox, using the Super FX chip).
- Most cartridges store individual profiles and game progress on the cartridge itself, eliminating the need for separate and expensive memory cards. Storing data at first required a cartridge battery whose energy would diminish over time, though the battery generally lasted for years, and in subsequent games EEPROMs were used instead.
- ROM cartridges are far more durable than CD-ROMs. It is extremely difficult to damage a cartridge, whereas CD-ROM disks must be carefully used and protected in cases. This makes the cartridges better for children who do not know how to take care of CD-ROMs. It also prevents accidental scratches even by adult owners, and subsequent read errors from these inevitabilities.
- It was also a frequent occurrence for the mechanisms of early CD-ROM drives to fail. There are no moving parts with a ROM cartridge system.
- While game cartridges are more resistant than CDs or DVDs to mechanical damage, they are sometimes less resistant to long-term environmental damage, particularly oxidation or wear of their electrical contacts. (The cartridges for Nintendo's earlier NES system were particularly notorious for this)
- Console cartridges are usually larger than optical discs and hence need more storage space.
- Cartridges can store significantly less data than DVDs or CDs - some games ported from other media had to use data compression or reduced content in order to be released on the N64.
- More complex manufacturing processes meant games were usually more expensive than their Optical counterparts.
- Because of a cartridge's space limitations, full motion video was not feasible (as on CDs) for use in cutscenes.
- It is not possible to have N64 magazines with demo versions of games, because adding a cartridge to a magazine wouldn't be as feasible as adding a CD-ROM.
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 compared to the Sega Saturn and the Sony PlayStation; neither could provide better than nearest neighbor interpolation, resulting in textures that were highly pixelated. However, the limited storage size of ROM cartridges limited the amount of available textures, resulting in games which had blurry graphics because of the liberal use of stretched, low-resolution textures, which was compounded by the N64's 4096-byte limit on a single texture. Some games, such as Super Mario 64, use a large amount of Gouraud shading or very simple textures to produce a cartoon-like look. This fit the themes of many games, and allowed this style of imagery a sharp look while hiding the texturing limitations of the machine.
Later cartridges such as Resident Evil 2 featured more ROM space, which demonstrated that N64 was capable of detailed in-game graphics when the media permitted.
At that time, competing systems from Sony and Sega (the PlayStation and Saturn, respectively) were using CD-ROM discs to store their games. These discs are much cheaper to manufacture and distribute, resulting in lower costs to third party game publishers. As a result many game developers which had traditionally supported Nintendo game consoles were now developing games for the competition because of the higher profit margins found on CD based platforms.
The cost of producing an N64 cartridge was far higher than producing a CD: one gaming magazine at the time cited average costs of twenty-five dollars per cartridge, versus 10 cents per CD. Publishers had to pass these higher expenses to the consumer so N64 games tended to sell for slightly higher prices than PlayStation games did. While most PlayStation games rarely exceeded $50, N64 titles could reach $70. Sony's line of PlayStation Greatest Hits retailed for $19.99 each vs. Nintendo's Player's Choice value line at $39.99 each. In the United Kingdom, prices around the time of introduction for N64 cartridges were Ł54.99, and PlayStation games at Ł44.99 for new titles. Over the years, this became Ł39.99 and Ł52.99 respectively, before it was commonplace to find many new PlayStation games at Ł29.99, but N64 cartridges at Ł39.99.
However, Nintendo was later fined Ł100 million for price fixing in Europe. Along with seven other UK based distributors, they were found guilty of maintaining artificially high prices for games from the period 1991-1998.
The election of the cartridge for the Nintendo 64 was a key factor in Nintendo's being unable to retain its dominant position. Most of the cartridge's advantages did not manifest themselves prominently and they were ending up nullified by the cartridge's shortcomings, which turned off customers and developers alike. Especially for the latter, it was costly and difficult to develop for ROM cartridges, as their limited storage capacity constrained the game's content. Most third-party developers switched to the PlayStation (such as Square, whose Final Fantasy VII was initially pre-planned for the N64), while some who remained released fewer games to the Nintendo 64 (Capcom, with only 3 games; Konami, with 13 N64 games and over 50 to the PlayStation), and new game releases were few and far between while new games were coming out rapidly for the PlayStation. Most of the N64's biggest successes were developed by Nintendo themselves or by second-parties of Nintendo, such as Rareware.
Despite the controversies, the N64 still managed to support many popular games, giving it a long life run. Much of this success was credited to Nintendo's strong first-party franchises, such as Mario and Zelda, which had strong name brand appeal yet appeared exclusively on Nintendo platforms. The N64 also secured its share of the mature audience thanks to GoldenEye 007, Nightmare Creatures, Perfect Dark, Doom 64, Resident Evil 2, Shadow Man and Quake II.
In 2001, the Nintendo 64 was replaced by the disc-based Nintendo GameCube, although even with this system they refused to use mainstream CD/DVD technology, opting for the DVD-based but incompatible GameCube Optical Disc, which is much smaller than standard-sized CD/DVD media. This was not only to deter piracy but it also reduced the form factor, making it the most compact and portable console of its respective generation.
Nintendo 64 is the culmination of work by Nintendo, Silicon Graphics, and MIPS Technologies. It is a surprisingly unified machine, especially compared to its peers of the day (Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation).
The CPU powering Nintendo 64 is a MIPS R4300i-based NEC VR4300. The CPU is clocked at 93.75 MHz and connects to the rest of the system through a 32-bit data bus. VR4300 is a RISC 5-stage scalar in-order execution processor with an integrated floating point unit. It is a 64-bit processor, in that it has 64-bit registers, a 64-bit instruction set, and 64-bit internal data paths. It also has a 32-bit processing mode which may have been more popular because 3D games don't necessarily need 64-bit data precision, and because 64-bit computations and data use more internal and external bandwidth. The CPU has an internal 24 KiB L1 cache but no L2 cache. It was built by NEC on a 0.35 µm process and consisted of 4.6 million transistors. The CPU is cooled passively by an aluminum heatspreader that makes contact with a steel heat sink above.
Nintendo 64's graphics and audio duties are performed by the 64-bit SGI co-processor, named the "Reality Co-Processor". The RCP is a 62.5 MHz chip split internally into two major components, the "Reality Drawing Processor" (RDP) and the "Reality Signal Processor" (RSP). Each area communicates with the other by way of a 128-bit internal data bus that provides 1.0 GB/s bandwidth. The RSP is a MIPS R4000-based 8-bit integer vector processor. It is programmable through microcode, allowing the chip's functions to be significantly altered if necessary, to allow for different types of work, precision, and workloads. The RSP performs transform, clipping and lighting calculations, triangle setup, and has a geometry throughput of approximately 100,000 full-featured polygons per second .
The RSP, as said, also frequently performs audio functions (although the CPU can be tasked with this as well). It can playback virtually any type of audio (dependent on software codecs) including uncompressed PCM, MP3, MIDI, and tracker music. The RSP is capable of a maximum of 100 channels of PCM at a time, but this is with 100% system utilization for audio. It has a maximum sampling rate of 48 KHz with 16-bit audio. However, storage limitations caused by the cartridge format limited audio size (and thus quality).
The RDP is the machine's rasterizer and performs the bulk of actual image creation before output to the display. Nintendo 64 has a maximum color depth of 16.7 million colors (32,768 on-screen) and can display a resolution range of 256 × 224 to 640 × 480 pixels.
RCP 3D features:
- Z-buffering (maintains 3D spatial relationships, is Mario in front of the tree or vice-versa?)
- Anti-aliasing (smoothes jagged lines and edges)
Texture mapping (placing images over shapes, for example
mapping a face image to a sphere creates a head)
- Bilinear filtering (prevents texture blockiness by blurring when resizing)
- Mip-mapping (creates distance textures of varying degrees of fidelity)
- Trilinear mip-map interpolation (filters mip-maps and textures smoothly without blockiness). Nintendo 64's filtering is not entirely accurate. Precision was reduced to lower mathematical demands.
- Perspective-correct texture mapping (keeps textures from "warping" when viewed at different angles)
- Environment mapping (best seen with metal Mario in Super Mario 64)
- Gouraud shading, Level of Detail (LOD)
- Fillrate: ≅30 megapixels/sec with Z-buffering enabled 
The RCP also provides the CPU's access to main system memory via a 250 MB/s bus. Unfortunately, this link does not allow direct memory access for the CPU. The RCP is cooled passively by an aluminum heatspreader that makes contact with a steel heat sink above.
The final major component in the system is the RAM. Nintendo 64 was the first console 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 MiB of RAMBUS RDRAM (expandable to 8 MiB) with a 9-bit data bus at 500 MHz providing the system with 562.5 MB/s peak bandwidth. 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 narrow bus makes board design easier and cheaper than the higher width data buses required for high bandwidth out of slower-clocked RAM types (such as VRAM or EDO DRAM). However RDRAM, at the time, came with a very high access latency, and this did cause some grief for the game developers and limited hardware performance.
Nintendo 64 was cartridge-based. Cartridge size varied from a tiny 4 MiB (32 Mbit) (i.e. Automobili Lamborghini) to 64 MiB (512 MBit) for Resident Evil 2. The cartridge dimensions were 10.23 × 7.48 × 2.87 inches (260 × 190 × 73 mm) W×D×H. Some of the cartridges included internal EEPROM or battery-backed-up RAM for saved game storage. Otherwise game saves were put onto separate memory cards.
The new controller included with Nintendo 64 was world-renowned for its innovative new take on how to play a 3D game. Its button layout consisted of 1 analog stick, 2 shoulder buttons, 1 digital cross pad, 6 face buttons, a 'start' button, and one digital trigger (Z).
Architecture and development
The central processing unit (CPU) was primarily used for game logic, such as input management, some audio, and AI, while the "reality co-processor" (RCP) did everything else. The RCP was a customized processor that performed the majority of audio and visual tasks within the Nintendo 64. The chip is split into two main units, the "reality drawing processor" (RDP) and the "reality signal processor" (RSP). It also provides the system's interface with the RDRAM. The RDP component basically just read a FIFO buffer and rasterized polygons. The RSP was a DSP, based around a MIPS R4000 core, designed to work with 8-bit integer vector operations.
In a typical N64 game the RSP would do transforms, lighting, clipping, triangle setup, and some of the audio decoding. Nintendo 64 was one of the few consoles without a dedicated audio chip so these tasks fell on the RSP and/or CPU. It was relatively common to do audio on the main CPU to increase the graphics performance. Workload on the Nintendo 64 could be arranged almost in any way the programmer saw fit. This created a fascinating system that was quite flexible and moldable to the game's needs, but it also assumed the programmer would be able to properly profile the code to optimize usage of each part of the machine.
The RSP was completely programmable, through microcode (µcode). By altering the microcode run on the device, it could perform different operations, create new effects, and be better tuned for speed or quality. However, Nintendo was quite unwilling to share the microcode tools with developers until the end of Nintendo 64's lifecycle. Programming RSP microcode was said to be quite difficult because the Nintendo 64 µcode tools were very basic, with no debugger, and poor documentation. As a result, it was very easy to make mistakes that would be hard to track down; mistakes that could cause seemingly random bugs or glitches. Some developers noted that the default SGI microcode ("Fast3D") was actually quite poorly profiled for use in games (it was too accurate), and performance suffered as a result. Several companies were able to create custom microcode programs that ran their software far better than SGI's generic software (i.e. Factor 5, Boss Game Studios, and Rare).
Two of the SGI microcodes
- Fast3D microcode: < ~100,000 polygons per second
- Turbo3D microcode: 500,000–600,000 polygons per second with PlayStation quality. Nintendo never allowed this code to be used in shipping games. (It was even actually banned by them to prevent extremely high prices.)
The Nintendo 64 had some glaring weaknesses that were caused by a combination of oversight on the part of the hardware designers, limitations on 3D technology of the time, and manufacturing capabilities. One major flaw was the limited texture cache of 4 KiB. This made it extremely difficult to load anything but small textures into the rendering engine, especially textures with high color depth, and was the primary cause of blurry graphics. The small texture limitation caused blurring because developers would stretch these small textures cover a surface and then the console's bilinear filtering would blur them even more. To make matters worse, because of how the renderer was designed, if mipmapping was used the texture cache was effectively halved to 2 KiB. To put this in perspective, this cache could be quickly filled with even small textures (a 64×64 4-bit/pixel (bpp) texture is 2 KiB and a 128×64 4 bpp texture is 4 KiB). Modern video cards and consoles (2006) frequently deal with 1024 x 1024 8 bpp and larger textures, and have a more flexible texture cache (not always larger). Towards the end of Nintendo 64's lifetime, creative developers managed to use tricks such as multi-layered texturing and heavily-clamped small texture pieces to simulate larger textures. Conker's Bad Fur Day is possibly the best example of this ingenuity. Games would often also use plain colored Gouraud shading instead of texturing on some surfaces, especially in games with themes not targeting realism (e.g. Super Mario 64).
There were other challenges for developers to work around. Z-buffering significantly crippled the RDP's fillrate. Thus, for maximum performance, managing the z-depth of objects, so things would appear in the right order and not on top of each other, was put on the programmer instead of the hardware. Most Nintendo 64 games were actually fill-rate limited, not geometry limited, which is ironic considering the great concern for Nintendo 64's low ~100,000 polygon per second rating during its time. In fact, World Driver Championship was one of the most polygon-intense Nintendo 64 games and frequently would push past Sony PlayStation's typical in-game polygon counts. This game also used custom microcode to improve the RSP's capabilities.
The unified memory subsystem of Nintendo 64 was another critical weakness for the machine. The RDRAM had very high access latency and this mostly cancelled out its high bandwidth advantage. A high latency memory subsystem creates delays in how fast the processors can get the data they need, and how fast they can alter this data. Game developers also said that the Nintendo 64's memory controller setup was fairly poor, and this magnified the situation somewhat. The R4300 CPU was the worst off component because it had to go through the RCP to access main memory, and could not use DMA (the RCP could) to do so, so its RAM access performance was quite poor. There was no memory prefetch or read under write functionality either.
Despite these drawbacks, the Nintendo 64 hardware was architecturally superior to the PlayStation. It was, however, more challenging to program for and to reach peak performance/quality.
One of the best examples of rewritten µcode on Nintendo 64 was Factor 5's N64 conversion of the Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine PC game. In this game the Factor 5 team decided they wanted the game to run in high resolution mode (640×480) because of how much they liked the crispness it added. The machine was taxed to the limit running at 640×480 though, so they absolutely needed to scrape every last bit of performance they could out of Nintendo 64. Firstly, the Z-buffer could not be used because it alone consumed a huge amount of the console's texture fillrate. To work around the 4 KiB texture cache the programmers came up with custom texture formats and tools to help the artists make the best possible textures. The tool would analyze each texture and try to choose the best texture format to work with the machine and look as good as possible. They took advantage of the cartridge as a texture streaming source to squeeze as much detail into each environment, and work around RAM limitations. They wrote microcode for real-time lighting, because the SGI code was poor for this task, and they wanted to have even more lighting than the PC version had used. Factor 5's microcode allowed almost unlimited real-time lighting, and significantly boosted the polygon count. In the end, the game was more feature-filled than the PC version (quite a feat) and unsurprisingly, was one of the most advanced games for Nintendo 64.
Factor 5 also showed ingenuity with their Star Wars games, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron and Star Wars: Battle for Naboo, where their team again used custom microcode. In Star Wars: Rogue Squadron the team tweaked the microcode for a landscape engine to create the alien worlds. Then for Star Wars: Battle for Naboo they took what they learned from Rogue Squadron and pushed the machine even farther to make the game run at 640×480, and implement enhancements for both particles and the landscape engine. Battle for Naboo enjoyed an impressive draw distance and large amounts of snow and rain even with the high resolution, thanks to their efforts.
First party/official accessories
N64 Controller - an 'm'-shaped controller with 10
buttons (A, B, C-Up, C-Down, C-Left, C-Right, L, R, Z and
Start), one analog stick in the center, a digital
directional pad on the left hand side, and an extension port
on the bottom. Initially available in six colors (gray,
yellow, green, red, blue and black) and later in transparent
version of such colors (except gray).
- Controller Pak - a memory card that plugged into the controller and allowed the player to save game progress and configuration. The original models from Nintendo offered 256 KB Flash RAM, split into 123 pages, but third party models had much more, often in the form of compressed memory. The number of pages that a game occupied varied. A Controller Pak was initially useful or even necessary for the earlier N64 games. Over time, the Controller Pak lost ground to the convenience of a back-up battery (or flash memory) found in some cartridges. Games by Konami often required the Controller Pak for saves, even though the games could have easily contained three or more save-slots (such as in the case of Holy Magic Century)
- Expansion Pak - a memory expansion that plugged into the console's memory expansion port. It contained 4 MiB of RAM. Some of the games to support this accessory are Turok 2, Hybrid Heaven, Pokémon Stadium 2, Shadow Man, Star Wars: Episode I Racer, Rare's Perfect Dark, Midway's San Francisco Rush 2049, and only a handful of games such as Donkey Kong 64, the single-player mode of Perfect Dark and The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask actually required it for play. Supporting games usually offered higher video resolutions or higher textures and/or higher color depth. For example, the Nintendo 64 all-remade version of Quake 2 features higher color depth but not a higher resolution when using the Expansion Pak. The Expansion Pak was shipped with some games and also available separately.
- Rumble Pak - an accessory that plugged into the controller and vibrated during game play. It has (since its release in 1997 alongside Star Fox 64) become a built-in standard for the current generation console controllers, with the exception of the Playstation 3, which, due to lawsuits, was left out of the controller.
- Transfer Pak - an accessory that plugged into the controller and allowed the Nintendo 64 to transfer data between Game Boy and N64 games. Pokémon Stadium and Pokémon Stadium 2 are games that rely heavily on the Transfer Pak. Both versions of Mario Golf & Mario Tennis used it too. Rare's Perfect Dark was initially going to be compatible with the Transfer Pak in order to use pictures taken with the Game Boy Camera in the game but this function was scrapped, and the Transfer Pack was usable only in combination with the Game Boy Color version of Perfect Dark for unlocking bonuses.
- The Wide-Boy 64 an adapter similar to the Super Game Boy and was able to play Game Boy games; however, it was only released to the developers and the press. Third party adapters allowed regular consumers to do the same.
- 64DD - The official N64 Disk Drive attachment was a commercial failure and was consequently never released outside of Japan. It featured networking capabilities similar to the SNES Satellaview.
- VRU (Voice Recognition Unit) - this device is packed in and required to play Hey You, Pikachu!. It consisted of a ballast that connects into controller port 4 of the system, a microphone, a yellow cover for the microphone and a clip for clipping the microphone to the controller. Players would hold the R or Z button on the controller and talk to Pikachu. One major drawback is the fact that the VRU is only calibrated to high pitched voices like that of a child as stated in the manual, so an older child will have problems issuing commands. However, female voices rarely change over age and most men can use their falsetto to talk in a higher voice.
- Dance Pad (Japan Only) - A dance pad packaged with Dance Dance Revolution: Disney Dancing Museum.
Third party accessories
- Game Shark - A cheat device made by Interact. Two versions were made. The first version had a LED display that would count down 5 seconds upon turning the system on. There is a slot on the back of the unit for an expansion card that was never made. The second version (Known as the 'Pro' series, versions 3.2 and up) had a SCSI or parallel port on the back for connecting to a computer for downloads. It also featured a cheat search function as well as being able to find the name of the game for you.
- Sharkwire Online Keyboard - An Interact device that adds a modem and PC style keyboard to the Nintendo 64 with expansion pack. Allowed emailing and Game Shark updates through the now discontinued sharkwire.com dial-in service.
- GB Hunter - Like the Super Game Boy, connects to the N64's Cartridge slot and allows you to play Game Boy and Game Boy Color games on it.
- Dex Drive - Made by Interact, allowed you to upload data from your memory cards and either store the files on your computer, or send via the internet.
- High Rez Pack - Mad Catz own version of the Expansion Pak. Performs the same job for less money, though there were reports of overheating due to inadequate cooling/venting, and generally inferior quality.
- Bio Sensor - An ear-clip that plugs into the Controller Pak slot of the N64 controller to measure the user's heart rate. Released only in Japan and compatible only with Tetris 64 where it will slow down or speed up the game depending on how fast the player's heart is beating.
- The standard Nintendo 64 comes in a dark grey color, often perceived as "black". Officially, it was known as "Charcoal Grey".
- Jungle Green
- This system was the first colored one released, originally available only with the Donkey Kong 64 bundle.
- Funtastic Series
- These consoles used brightly-colored translucent plastic that was a popular fad in 1999 (brought on in no small part by Apple's G3 iMac computers). These colors were marketed as Grape (purple), Ice (blue), Watermelon (pinkish red), Fire (orange), Jungle (green) and Smoke (grey). A limited edition fluorescent Extreme Green was later released.
- Nintendo released a Nintendo 64 controller for the debut of Donkey Kong 64 in the United States. The controller was yellow and the end of each grip was painted brown to look like a bunch of bananas.
- A gold Nintendo 64 controller was packaged along with the GoldenEye 007 console pack in the United Kingdom in 1997. Nintendo also released a gold controller for the debut of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in Japan. Soon after, bundle packs of the game, controller and gold Nintendo 64 were released for the US and PAL markets. The gold controllers were first introduced in issue 100 of Nintendo Power Magazine. The controllers had raised Nintendo Power logo stickers on the face above the Nintendo logo, and were sold for the regular retail price of $30, including shipping. The first lot of gold controllers was numbered at 100, but after a tremendous response, more were released. After that, the gold bundle was a Toys "R" Us exclusive in the US and, as such, is considered harder to come by than most of the other Nintendo 64 colors. In Australia, it was promoted by popular swimmer Michael Klim.
- Pokémon Edition Nintendo 64
- With a Pokémon sticker on the left side, sticker of Poliwhirl, Charizard, Meowth, Pikachu, Blastoise and Venusaur (from top to bottom) on the right on top of a blue top, yellow bottom Nintendo 64 ; this console was advertised in Australia for AU$199 which includes the "Pokémon: I Choose You" video.
- Pokémon Pikachu Nintendo 64
- With a large yellow Pikachu model on the top of a blue Nintendo 64; this console was set to promote Nintendo 64 Pokémon games such as Pokémon Stadium. It has a different footprint than the standard Nintendo 64 console, and the expansion port is covered. It also shipped with a unique blue Pokémon controller. In Japan, an orange edition was also released.
- Star Wars Black
- This was a completely black version of the Nintendo 64 available only during time of release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. It came bundled with Grey and Grape colored controllers and a copy of Star Wars: Episode I Racer.
- Extreme Green
- A bright green translucent controller that was exclusive to Toys "R" Us stores. This color was also an exclusive color for the Game Boy Pocket.
- Clear Blue and Red
- This was the last version of the Nintendo 64; it was sold with Super Mario 64. The Clear Blue was far more popular than the Clear Red; this was because Clear Red was commonly perceived to be pink.
Each Nintendo 64 cartridge contains a so-called lockout chip (similar in spirit to the 10NES) to prevent manufacturers from creating unauthorized copies of games, and to discourage production of unlicensed games. Unlike previous versions, the N64 lockout chip contains a seed value which is used to calculate a checksum of the game's boot code. To discourage playing of copied games by piggybacking a real cartridge, Nintendo produced five different versions of the chip. During the boot process the N64 would compute the checksum of the boot code and verify it with the lockout chip in the game cartridge, failing to boot if the check failed. Some games such as Banjo Tooie perform additional checks while running.
- Doctor V64 and Doctor V64jr, by Bung Enterprises Ltd
- Z64, by Harrison Electronics
- CD64, by Success Compu.
The Nintendo 64 was unsuccessful in recapturing the preceding SNES's market share and the fifth generation was taken over by the PlayStation; the N64 and PlayStation had 40% and 51% of the market respectively. The PlayStation would eventually tally sales of 100 million units worldwide, the N64 came second with 32.93 million units sold, and the Sega Saturn in third with 10 million. The North American launch on September 29, 1996 was a success with 500,000 N64 units sold during the first 24 hours, a record up until the release of Sega's Dreamcast (510,000) three years later.
- The SGI-based system design that ended up in the Nintendo 64 was originally offered to Tom Kalinske, then CEO of Sega of America by James H. Clark, founder of Silicon Graphics. SGI had recently bought out MIPS Technologies and the two companies had worked together to create a low-cost CPU/3D GPU combo that they thought would be ideal for the console market. A Sega of Japan hardware team was sent to evaluate the chip's capabilities and they found some faults which MIPS subsequently solved. However, Sega of Japan ultimately decided against SGI's design, apparently in part due to internal problems between Sega of Japan and Sega of America.
- Although the N64 had a 64-bit CPU, the games didn't necessarily use 64-bit instructions. This was taken advantage of by emulators like UltraHLE that had to run on 32-bit Intel systems, by simply doing most calculations at 32-bit precision, and trapping the few OS subroutines that actually made use of 64-bit instructions. The greater precision or range available with 64-bit data types is not typically required by 3D games, and 64-bit data uses twice as much RAM, cache, and bandwidth thereby reducing performance. In addition, the cost-reduced NEC VR4300 CPU used in N64 has only 32-bit buses whereas more powerful MIPS CPUs are equipped with 64-bit buses.
- NASA's Etsuko Hashima was a lead project designer for the Nintendo 64, noted for his strong belief that the new console should be disc, not cartridge operated, up until its release.
- Nintendo 64 game, The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time recieved a number of awardsfrom multiple publications which awarded their highest reviews with scores including 10 out of 10, 40 out of 40, and 98 out of 100. These outstanding reviews were complemented with awards, including game of the year.
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- List of Nintendo 64 games
- List of Player's Choice games
- Comparison of fifth-generation game consoles
- Nintendo 64 at GameFAQs
- Nintendo's official Nintendo 64 website
- Coverage of the official unveiling of the Nintendo Ultra 64 at the 7th Annual Shoshinkai Software Exhibition, in Japan
- Nintendo 64 at WikiKnowledge
- N64 hardware specs & connector pinouts