Nintendo 64 game console. Named for its 64-bit CPU, the N64 was released in North America on September 29, 1996. Oddly, there were only two launch games, Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64. It was formerly named the Ultra 64 and sold over 32 million units worldwide before being discontinued on August 20, 2002.
Top of the Nintendo N64 game console. Outside of the GameBoy family of handhelds, the N64 was the last Nintendo console to use ROM cartridges. The PlayStation had been released a year earlier and gained a quick foothold in disc-based games. Producing cartridges was also much more expensive than the optical discs that can easily be mass produced. The storage capacity was also remarkably larger than carts, but retrieving info from the discs still left them as slower options than the cart-based games. This was compensated for via programming and only loading content that was needed in current game play. (Yeah, I'm not much f a programmer)
Right side of the Nintendo N64 game console. Nintendo discovered that many of it's third party developers were abandoning the cart format in favor of the upcoming CD discs. The N64 derived much of it's success from Nintendo's top tier developers, as the smaller shops flocked to the disc format.
Left side of the Nintendo N64 game console. Nintendo felt that their 64-bit processor could rival supercomputers of the era, but it's difficult licensing regulations alienated many developers who found other new platforms from Sony & Sega much easier to navigate.
Back of the Nintendo N64 game console. At the time, Nintendo had limited experience with 3D graphics and had to work with outside companies to develop the technology. The N64 was born of Silicon Graphics (SGI) and MIPS Technologies, who 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 companies created a low-cost real-time 3D graphics system that could be employed in a gaming console at reasonable cost.
Another shot of the back of the Nintendo N64 game console showing the cartridge slot and top vent.
As the N64 came to market, Nintendo adopted a new global branding strategy of assigning the console the same name in all markets: Nintendo 64.
The bottom of the Nintendo N64 game console. A total of 387 games were released for the N64 though few were exclusively sold in Japan. This contrasted to the 1,100 games released for the rival PlayStation. The Economist (a weekly news & international affairs publication) described effective programming for the Nintendo 64 as being "horrendously complex". A major flaw was the limited texture cache of 4 KB. This made it hard to load anything except small, low color-depth textures into the rendering engine. However, some of the most polygon-intense N64 games, like World Driver Championship, could easily exceed the PlayStation's typical in-game polygon counts.
Nintendo 64 game console with a game inserted. All Nintendo 64 carts contain a lockout chip to prevent manufacturers from creating unauthorized 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 on a real cartridge, Nintendo produced 5 different versions of the chip. During the boot process, and sometimes while a game is being played, the N64 computes the checksum of the boot code and verifies it with the lockout chip in the game cartridge, failing to boot if this check fails.
Nintendo 64 Controllers
Nintendo 64 translucent controller is an 'M'-shaped controller with 10 buttons, an analog stick in the center, a digital directional pad on the left hand side, and an extension port on the bottom for the system's accessories. The analog stick is notorious for wearing out quickly, eventually not returning to centre position.
Nintendo 64 translucent controller. Initially the controllers were available in 7 colors (gray, yellow, green, red, blue, purple, and black) and later in transparent versions.
Nintendo 64 Game Cartridges
Front label-side of the Nintendo N64 game cartridge. Cartridge size varied from 4 MB to 64 MB. Some carts included internal EEPROM, flash memory, or battery-backed-up RAM for saved game storage. Otherwise, saved games were stored on a separate memory card, sold by Nintendo as a Controller Pak.
3/4 view of the Nintendo N64 game cartridge. The decision to go with cartridges was a controversial decision and a key factor in Nintendo's being unable to remain dominant in the gaming industry. Most of a cartridge's advantages were neither prominent or widely known to consumers and were nullified by cartridges' shortcomings.
Back of the Nintendo N64 game cartridge. A majority of 3rd party developers jumped ship to other platforms while others scaled back their N64 releases drastically. Konami was the biggest example of this, releasing only 13 N64 games while over 50 came out for the PlayStation.
Game board connector on the bottom of the Nintendo N64 game cartridge. ROM cartridges had very fast load times compared to disc-based games. Most CD-ROM drives, at the time, rarely had speeds above 4×. Loading screens were numerous on disc-based systems like the PlayStation, but were very infrequent on the Nintendo 64, due to memory constraints. Aside from speed, the carts helped greatly in piracy. Nintendo carts were proprietary and difficult to duplicate on black markets. ROMs were easy to come by but could not be sold as games in the traditional markets. You can't go to GameStop and buy a ROM of your favorite game... for good reason :)
An inside view of a Nintendo N64 game cartridge.
Nintendo 64 game cartridge and box. Another facet of disc-based games is the longevity or lifespan of the media. The metal contacts on game carts could oxidize (although this could be cleaned off) but the physical wear of being pushed in & out of the cart slot would diminish the console's ability to read game data.
Nintendo 64 Ports & Connections
Close-up of the Nintendo N64 console's memory expansion slot.
Close-up of the Nintendo N64 console's controller ports.
Close-up of the Nintendo N64 console's game cartridge slot.
Close-up of the Nintendo N64's power port on the rear of the console.
Close-up of the Nintendo N64's Multi-out port on the rear of the console.
Nintendo 64 Memory Expansion
Nintendo 64 console with the memory compartment lid removed showing the preinstalled Jumper Pak which makes a necessary connection until the user decides to upgrade the console's memory.
Nintendo 64 console with the memory expansion compartment exposed (empty).
Close-up of the Nintendo N64 console's memory expansion slot.
Close-up of the Nintendo N64 console's Jumper Pak. This Pak comes with the N64 system and completes a connection that allows the N64 to operate. The Jumper Pak must be removed when adding a memory Expansion Pak. Should you remove a Memory Expansion Pak, you must put the Jumper Pak back in the slot. Otherwise your N64 will become a doorstop ;)
Nintendo 64 memory modules. These can add additional memory when the Jumper Pak is removed and replaced with a memory expansion pak.
Nintendo 64 Accessories
The Nintendo N64 Transfer Pak was used to transfer data between Game Boy or Game Boy Color games and N64 games. The Transfer Pak has a Game Boy Color slot and a part that fits onto the expansion port of the N64 controller. It is considered the successor to the Super Game Boy, and the predecessor of the GameCube-Game Boy Advance cable. It was included with the game Pokémon Stadium, as the game's main feature was importing Pokemon teams from Game Boy titles.
Nintendo 64DD (Disk Drive) attached to the console. This accessory plugged into the N64 through the EXTension Port on the bottom of the console and allowed the N64 to use proprietary 64 MB magneto-optical disks for additional data storage. To be released in North American in 2000, it's dismal sales of ~15,000 units deemed it a failure and was never released outside Japan. Only 9 games supported it's architecture.
Nintendo 64DD showing the connection port to the N64 console. The 64DD has a 32-bit coprocessor to help it read magneto-optical discs, and to transfer data to the console. The new media for the 64DD were rewritable and had a 64 MB storage capacity. The games on normal N64 cartridges could also hook up with DD expansions, for additional levels, minigames, or saving game data.
Nintendo 64 RF box.
Nintendo 64 RF box and cables.
Nintendo 64 Promotional Ads
Promotional ad for Tetrisphere on the Nintendo N64.