Nintendo 64 15th Anniversary

It’s been 15 years on March 1st 2012 since the N64 came to be in 1996, N64 may not of looked like it but it changed gaming forever, for me I see it as the core of all future gaming in full 3D graphics. You wouldn’t of had your HALO, or your Call of Duty games it it hadn’t been for the games that appeared on the N64. In 1993 Nintendo struck a deal with James H. Clark, the founder of Silicon Graphics for the development for the microprocessor which resides inside the N64, which enabled it to render graphics in realtime at a reasonable cost, and Nintendo named the new system Project Reality. Nintendo 64 had few different names, namely Project Reality, Project 64, and it’s what-would-of-been-name the Ultra Famicom before it’s final name Nintendo 64. The man responsible for naming Nintendo’s console was Shigesato Itoi, popular designer and copywriter Itoi-san is best-known for the Mother series, and indeed Earthbound 64 that would eventually become Mother 3 that was originally in production for the N64. N64 sold over 32.9 Million units Worldwide.

Nintendo 64 set

Nintendo 64 set with controller and blank cartridge

The ever popular games like Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Super Mario 64, Mario Kart 64, 007 Goldeneye, Super Smash Bros. of their time were the greatest titles ever, and still do to this day to me. I look back on it and see how far gaming has developed over the years, and quite alot I must say. The ones who made popular games like Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Super Mario 64, Mario Kart 64 who at the time acted as both director and producer on the launch titles, Shigeru Miyamoto, and a few other games like F-Zero X and 1080º Snowboarding, among several others, overseeing production of second-party titles including Rare’s Donkey Kong 64, Miyamoto’s attention to detail even saw him suggest idle animations for protagonist Dash Rendar in launch title, Star Wars: Shadows Of The Empire. –– The Stamper Brothers, Chris and Tim Stamper co-founded of Rare, and presided over an era where British developers almost matched Nintendo for quality and consistency of software. Rare produced no less than 11 titles for the N64, from Killer Instinct Gold in 1996, Conker’s Bad Fur Day in 2000, along the way redefined single and multiplayer shooters with Goldeneye 007 and Perfect Dark and in Banjo-Kazooie produced a platformer that competed with Mario for the affections of many N64 owners.

N64 during it’s time packed quite alot of power into the console itself, although there were limitations for programming games for N64, they were limited to 4KB Cache of Textures to which the console could handle due to oversite on the part of hardware designers, the limitations on 3D technology at the time and manufacturing capabilities. This made it difficult to load anything but small low color depth textures into the rendering engine. This small texture rendering limit lead to blurring due to developers stretching small textures to cover a surface and then the consoles bilinear filtering would blur it some more. To make matters worse, due to the design of the renderer, if mipmapping was used the texture cache was effectively halved to 2KB. Near the end of N64’s lifecycle developers used tricks to multilayered textures, and heavily clamped small texture pieces to simulate larger textures. Perfect Dark, Banjo-Tooie, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day are probably one of the best examples that has that, all of which are developed by Rare.

Lets take a look at what’s inside the N64 that makes it tick.

Media: ROM Cartridge
CPU: 93.75 MHz NEC VR4300
Storage Capacity: Cartridge Battery, Controller Pak
Graphics: 62.5MHz, SGI RCP
Controller Input: Nintendo 64 Controllers
Online Services: RANDnetDD (Japan Only), Sharkwire Online (third-party)
N64's CPU Motherboard

N64's CPU Motherboard

N64 originally had online capabilities for multiplayer, but of course it’s never been seen outside Japan, and with the exception of third-party like Sharkwire Online. We’ll go over more details of the N64’s hardware. –– The Nintendo 64′s central processing unit (CPU) is the NEC VR4300, a cost-reduced derivative of the 64-bit MIPS Technologies R4300i. Built by NEC on a 0.35 µm process, the VR4300 is a RISC 5-stage scalar in-order execution processor, with integrated floating point unit, internal 24 KB direct-mapped L1 cache (16KB for instructions, 8KB for data). The 4.6 million transistor CPU is cooled passively by an aluminum heat spreader that makes contact with a steel heat sink above. Clocked at 93.75 MHz the N64’s VR4300 was the most powerful console CPU of it’s generation. Except for it’s narrower 32-bit bus, the VR4300 retained the computational abilities of the more powerful 64-bit MIPS R4300i, though software rarely took advantage of the 64-bit data precision operations.

The N64’s graphics and audio duties are performed by the 64-bit SGI co-processor, named “Reality Co-Processor”. The RCP is a 62.5 MHz chip split internally into two major components, the “Drawing Reality 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. The “Reality Display Processor” is primarily the Nintendo 64′s Pixel Rasterizer, and also handles the console′s Z-Buffer Compute.

The major final component to the N64 is the system memory RAM, the N64 was one of the first consoles to implement unified memory subsystem, instead of having separate memory banks for the CPU, audio and video, for example. The memory itself consists of 4 megabytes of RAMBUS RDRAM (expandable to 8 MB with the Expansion Pak) 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 caused grief for the game developers because of limited hardware performance.

The system provides Composite Video and S-Video through “MULTI OUT” connector on the rear of the system; however, the Nintendo 64 removed certain pin connectors for providing RGB video, despite the DAC chip in early models having the capability built-in. In most countries the console came bundled with a composite cable (a.k.a: Stereo AV Cable), The composite and S-Video cables are the same as those used with earlier SNES and later GameCube systems. Available to buy separately was a RF Modulator and switch set for connectors of older TV’s and an official S-Video cable , although the latter only sold at retail stores in Japan. In the U.S., the official S-Video cables could only be ordered directly from Nintendo of America (NOA), and the cable was not officially sold in Europe. In the UK, N64’s were shipped with RF Modulators and switch set, but was still fully compatible with other cables. The system supports SDTV resolutions up to 480i, although very few games made use of this high-resolution mode, many of which required the Expansion Pak RAM upgrade. The majority of games instead use the systems 240p/288p modes, a number of these games support a video display ratio of up to 16:9, using either Anamorphic Widescreen, or Letterboxing. However, very few of these games provided options to use this feature, these were; Banjo-Tooie, Donkey Kong 64, GoldenEye 007, The World Is Not Enough, Jet Force Gemini, Perfect Dark, Starshot: Space Circus Fever, Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion, Mission Impossible, South Park. When I got Donkey Kong 2nd-hand from a car boot sale, I didn’t realize at the time that it needed the Expansion Pak to play it, I was a little disappointed I couldn’t play strait away, but a few days later I got the Expansion Pak for the Nintendo 64, and inserted it to the slot where the memory pak goes on the control deck.

The Nintendo 64 came in various color variations, including the Limited Edition models that were released. The green colored N64 came bundled with Donkey Kong 64, Black colored N64 came as standard color, but was also limited edition for the bundle that came with GoldenEye 007. Nintendo released a Limited Edition banana-like colored Nintendo 64 bundle with Donkey Kong 64 in the United States. The Millennium 2000 controller, available exclusively as part of a Nintendo Power promotional contest in the United States, was a silver controller with black buttons. A gold controller was released in a contest by Nintendo Power magazine as part of a raffle drawing. In late 1997 through 1998, a few gold Nintendo 64 controller packages were released worldwide. in the United Kingdom there was a limited edition GoldenEye 007 console pack which came with a standard gray console and a copy of GoldenEye. Also, a limited edition gold controller with a standard gray console were released in Australia and New Zealand in early 1998, endorsed by an advertising campaign which featured footage of N64 games including Top Gear Rally and ended with Australian swimmer Michael Klim wearing the gold controller as a medal around his neck. Nintendo 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 Pokémon Edition Nintendo 64, with a Pokémon sticker on the left side, included the “Pokémon: I Choose You” video. The Pokémon Pikachu Nintendo 64 had a large, yellow Pikachu model on a blue Nintendo 64. It has a different footprint than the standard Nintendo 64 console, and the Expansion Pak port is covered. It also shipped with a blue Pokémon controller; orange in Japan. A Limited Edition Star Wars bundle, available during the time of the release of the film Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace came bundled with Star Wars: Episode I Racer and a standard gray console. –– The other variation colors were the funtastic series used brightly-colored, translucent plastic with six colors: Fire Orange, Grape Purple, Ice Blue, Jungle Green, Smoke Gray and Watermelon Red.

Transparent Orange N64 and Controller

Transparent Orange N64 and Controller

Limited Edition Pikachu N64

Limited Edition Pikachu N64

The Nintendo 64 Controllers came in various colors, Grey, Black, Green, Blue, Yellow, each could be bought separately. I myself have 3 controllers, Grey(came with console), Green and Black. There were also Game Cartridges which came as limited edition colors, some of which games had some extra stuff on it. There was a gold colored cartridge of Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, there were many suspicious rumours to this game of the eluded Triforce which you could find and obtain in the game, the most famous rumor of them all was the Unicorn Fountain, and people posting images of this so-called secret room you could get into by doing various tasks around Hyrule, ie; blowing up every Shiekah Stones in Hyrule then playing some weird song afterwards which takes you there. But these rumors of course wasn’t true, because these people had made it all up and modified the game to display these things just so they could brag about it. ;P –– The other various colored carts for N64 were also Black colored, as well as Green, Blue, Red, Yellow and Gold, Legend of Zelda’s Majora’s Mask had a Gold Cartridge, but was a little darker colored.

When Nintendo 64’s sales were at their peak Nintendo decided to release the Nintendo 64 DD Add-on. the DD stands for Disk Drive, originally the Nintendo 64 was pre-equip for available add-ons with the Expansion Bay on the bottom of the console. The DD was to allow the Nintendo 64 to have CD/DVD games, but sales failed in Japan and was pulled from the market and it was never released outside of Japan. I presume it also included the feature to take your Nintendo 64 Online with RandNet website. There was about 9 games for the DD add-on for the Nintendo 64, three of these were Mario Artist games.

Nintendo Accessories were more or less essential to playing games, as certain games required certain accessories to either enhance Gameplay or to save Game Data, and vibration function. Nintendo released various equipment which you can simply plug into your N64 Controller with the slot on the bottom of the controller. There was Rumble Pak, this was released at the same time as the console as some games supported this feature, most notably GoldenEye 007, Banjo-Kazooie, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Then came along the Memory Pak which more or less released the same time as the Rumble Pak, some games required this to save your game data because it didn’t store it on the cart like other games do.

Rumble Pak

Rumble Pak add-on for N64 Controller

Memory Pak
Memory Pak add-on for N64 Controller

When Pokemon Stadium came out for Nintendo 64 they released a new add-on called the Transfer Pak, this allowed people who had GameBoy Color games of Pokemon Red/Blue/Green(JPN)/Yellow, you could use Pokemon you’ve raised to play them in 3D and battle with them on Pokemon Stadium to take on various challenges instead of using Rental Pokemon. There came alot of benefits of having this, because All Pokemon from your GBC game were more stronger than Rental Pokemon because you’ve raised them yourself to become strong. You could use your Pokemon at any raised Lv. but however the game has special official rule sets which sets your Pokemon to Lv.50 temporarily if they’re above Lv.50 if the Rules are Lv.50 or lower depending on the Cup Rules set in the game. There came a little extra bonus in Pokemon Stadium because those with Pokemon Yellow games were able to get a Surfing Pikachu. You could also play your Pokemon GBC Games on your N64 as the N64 emulates GBC on Pokemon Stadium for you to play and so you can play and raise your Pokemon that way. But there can be some issues with the Transfer Pak, sometimes if it’s not inserted properly or if it gets moved about accidentally while inserted it could erase your game save on your GBC game because the battery saves on the cart are so volatile. –– There were also other games that support the Transfer Pak namely Perfect Dark, but was scrapped the idea for using the GameBoy Camera to create your own Character’s faces.

Transfer Pak

Transfer Pak add-on for N64 Controller

Then came along VRU (Voice Recognition Unit), which was first available with Hey! You Pikachu! game, I’ve never really used this… so I’ve no idea how well it works. However later they came back with the idea for Wii Speakwhich came with Animal Crossing City Folk for Wii. x3

VRU (Voice Recognition Unit)

Voice Recognition Unit (VRU) add-on for N64 Console

The Expansion Pak, this little thing inserts into the deck of the Nintendo 64 Console, where the little cover top that says Memory Expansion, inside there is the RAM which runs your N64 Console, this is the Jumper Pak which has 4MB RAM, the Expansion Pak gives it 8MB RAM, this was for games that needed and supported it to make games show better vibrant colors and higher quality sharper graphics. Games like Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, Donkey Kong 64, they’re the only 2 games that require it, but every other game can support it.

Expansion Pak

Expansion Pak add-on for N64 Console

And finally the accessory that never made it outside Japan, the N64 DD(Disk Drive) add-on.

N64 DD (Disk Drive)

N64 DD (Disk Drive)

If there’s one thing I love about the Nintendo 64, that would have to be the controller, it’s one of the best made controllers to ever exist! – Why? …because it’s M shaped controller, and you can actually play pretty much any game with 1 hand! :D I could sit through and play GoldenEye 007 with one hand, and only using my left hand to press the Aim and D-Pad controls, but everything else can be done with my right. x3 I love the Nintendo 64, it was the greatest console of it’s time, and will always remain as my favourite and classic home console. I was pretty excited when I got my Nintendo 64 for Xmas, I was probably 6 at the time (1996)… so yeah probably. x3 The first 2 games I had was GoldenEye 007 and Mario Kart 64, I lost Maro Kart 64, although I think somebody stole it but I’ve no idea who though, cuz I had unlocked everything and gotten Gold on all CC Races, including Mirrored Tracks. >.> …I then later got Banjo-Kazooie, followed by Super Mario 64, Super Smash Bros. Mission Impossible, Donkey Kong 64, I did have Diddy Kong Racing, but I later got rid of it, but now I wish I didn’t. x3 I also got Pokemon Stadium, unfortunately I couldn’t get the Transfer Pak with it at the same time… you wouldn’t believe how long it took me to hunt one down long after they no longer sold them, but luckily I stumbled across a store that displayed it in their window and went in and asked them about it and got it for £10. :3

I also managed to get a hold of Pokemon Snap from a 2nd-hand store, I was quite intrigued by Pokemon Snap, so I thought about taking a look at it, and it’s an alright game. Then sometime in 2003 I got hold of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask at long last, I hunted high and low for this, but every other store I tried didn’t even have it, so I had to go online to find one from eBay. x3 But by the time I had already gotten familiar with OoT because I got a borrow of the game one time from one of my step-dad’s mates, and played a bit of Majora’s Mask on GameCube at a friends house on The Legend of Zelda Collectors Edition Disc. I still have my working Nintendo 64 till this day, I don’t play it as much as I use to, but it’s always there whenever I want to play it, plus I actually thinking turning the console into a handheld. I’ve seen some guides out there on the Internet which shows you how to turn your N64 Console into a Handheld with LCD Screen, and still retaining everything from the console, like Controller Ports, TV IN/OUT and Power Adapters, even having Memory and Rumble Pak’s and RAM modules inserted ready for any game, complete with Cart slots on the top. :3

I hope there’s others who see the N64 like how I do, I’ll never forget the moments from what it was like playing it for the first time ever. Furthermore, I was kinda inspired to become a Game’s Tester/Programmer as my dream job, I sense alot of joy from that kind of job, because you can sit and play games all-day long, and fix bugs in the game as you go along. :3


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