The 64DD: Nintendo's Disk Drive

Everything you ever wanted to know about the N64's first major add-on

What is the 64DD?

More than two years ago, Nintendo announced that it was working on a custom-made disk-drive add-on for its upcoming Project Reality, the code name for Nintendo 64. The 64DD (64-megabyte disk drive) is a hardware unit that fits snugly under the Nintendo 64. If you check the bottom of your Nintendo 64, there's a removable slot called "Ext." This is where the 64DD attaches to the N64.

Basically, the 64DD is a magnetic drive-based device that uses media units very similar to Zip Drive disks. A simplified comparison is to see them as gigantic floppy disks, holding 64 megabytes of data each. These disks are not CD-ROMs (Compact Disks -- Read Only Memory), and won't play CDs, like the Saturn and PlayStation.

What Will It Do?

A really cool thing about 64DD is that it enables developers to make games that can utilize both cartridge and disk. For instance, if Acclaim created a football game on cartridge, it would later be able to produce updates for it on disk. These disks could feature such things as new graphics data, new teams, arenas and presentation screens, and new information such as player's names, team colors, team stats, new players and so on. This update disk would obviously be much cheaper than a cartridge, and would allow players to get much more out of their games and not have to buy a new cartridge every year.

The same holds true for other games, like RPGs: new adventures or worlds, or even new characters, for instance, could be created to add extra life to a game. But developers also have the option of making 64DD disk only games, and skip the cartridge version altogether. So they have three choices for development: straight carts, disk and cart, or straight disk.

The other big advantage of the 64DD disk is that it is readable and writeable. CD-ROMs (remember that ROM means Read Only Memory) can't perform this function and need an additional memory pak to record data (and then only in small quantities). So, for example, in a 64DD RPG your character could be walking through a forest and drop a few cookie crumbs to mark the way. Any change is instantly recorded, and even when you turn off the game and later come back to it the crumbs will still be there. Maybe your footprints will still be there, too. Monsters you killed could be there and their rotting corpses could still be decaying. In essence, your game, once you start playing it, will be completely unique. With the flexibility of the 64DD, and more importantly, the rewritability of disks, your 64DD-compatible cart games will really become far more valuable then ever before.

When Will It Arrive?

Nintendo officially announced last spring that the 64DD will appear first in Japan in March 1998. Since then, the release date has slipped to June '98.
Nintendo's official word on the 64DD in the US is so vague, people's faces usually crinkle up in frustration and despair: "The official word is that Nintendo's 64DD is coming out in 1998. No games have been announced yet, and no firm date has been disclosed." We here at think that the 64DD will not come out in 1998 -- but we would love to be wrong on this.

At Shoshinkai 96, Perrin Kaplan (Nintendo's Director of Corporate Communications) told IGN reporters that the 64DD will arrive by the end of 1997. The launch date for the 64DD in Japan has already been moved back at least twice. Now Nintendo of America says the 64DD will be out in North America in fall 1998, and might possibly be revealed at the June Electronic Entertainment Expo in Atlanta, Georgia. But will it really? Only time will tell.

How much will it cost?

Nintendo has not yet revealed the DD's exact price. Early estimates put the price for the unit alone at around $99 in Japan. But industry insiders told that Nintendo is trying to keep the cost as low as possible (hence the rather limited storage) and that we might even see the drive for a mere $79 in the US.

Why Not CD-ROM?
Nintendo has always said that cartridges are the best way to bring a game to life on videogame consoles. Third-party developers, however, almost unanimously disagree, especially after experiencing the inexpensive production costs and higher profit margins of making games for CD-ROM-based systems. Some were even reluctant to make Nintendo 64 games, period. Electronic Arts was one of these companies until Nintendo worked a deal to bring all of EA's biggest sports titles to Nintendo 64. That was a major coup for Nintendo, especially since EA had previously said it wouldn't make any Nintendo 64 games at all (with the exception of FIFA).

Many developers, however, are interested in making games for the 64DD (and are confused why Nintendo doesn't actively push for more DD development). 64DD disks are much cheaper for developers/publishers and offer higher profit margins than carts. On top of that, disks allow for far bigger and better games to be created -- the extra storage space afforded by a disk (the largest cartridge so far has 32 megabytes of storage space compared to 64 MB on a 64DD disk) and a RAM expansion that ships with the unit pave the way for better music, speech and graphics. But this still doesn't answer the "why not CD-ROM" question.

The fact of the matter is that Nintendo turned sour on CD-ROM after a deal with Sony to produce a CD-ROM drive for the Super NES blew up (the remains of which became known as the PlayStation). This, coupled with the fact that Nintendo wants games for its machine to be delivered exclusively on Nintendo-manufactured media (CD-ROMs can be made by anyone with access to a CD pressing plant) has ensured that Nintendo has bucked the CD trend so far.

Nintendo has only ever really said that cartridges have benefits that CD-ROMs don't, and while many gamers somehow believed this (qualities like fast loading games and durability), most developers, executives, and knowledgeable tech heads simply chuckled. The simple fact is that CD-ROMs have much more storage space, are easier to mass produce and provide a far more forgiving business model (they allow for a far bigger profit margin) than cartridges will ever. Even the size of Zelda 64, which holds 32 megabytes on one single cartridge, simply doesn't compare to a standard 650 megabyte CD-ROM. Size, of course, says nothing about the quality of the gameplay...

Will it sell?

What's so special about Nintendo's infamous 64DD? What separates this add-on device from the 32Xs and Sega CDs of yore?

Unlike so many failed peripherals and add-ons, the 64DD doesn't merely offer more of the same. It takes a step into a new direction -- one virtually unexplored in the home videogaming community: writability. And that at a low price.

The ability to store mass amounts of data on the writable drive opens new doors for developers and players alike. We're not talking about simple save-game features here -- that is merely the tip of the iceberg. No, imagine add-on missions to games, extra levels, new weapons, virtual pets, characters and storylines and worlds that unfold differently every time the game is played. Theoretically, with the use of the 64DD, it is possible for Nintendo to distribute monthly add-ons or updates to existing games. Replay value would jump to new heights.

Together with another peripheral, the Capture Cartridge, it will actually be possible to bring your own face into a game. Simply grab a frame from video, edit it in one of Nintendo s Mario Artist games, and you re ready to use it in other games supporting this 64DD feature. Imagine a fighting game with a character that has your face -- you get the picture. But that's not all. Nintendo is also planning to sell the 64 GB pak, a device that allows you to import data from a GameBoy game to the 64DD -- and you will even be able to directly connect GameBoys to your N64 to use them as data sheets for games like horse-racing or baseball (where the other player isn't supposed to see what you enter). The question remains if Nintendo can pull it off and sell the 64DD at high quantities to attract enough third party developers.

Additional Features

Built-in ROM

The 64DD includes a 36-megabit-chip that contains integrated fonts and audio data files. No longer will programmers have to put ALL their sounds into a cart as is currently the case (the N64 lacks a dedicated sound chip). This will eliminate the need for developers to store many sounds and fonts on the disk and free up even more space.

Real-Time Clock

An interesting feature of the 64DD is that it has an internal real-time clock that is always ticking. Play a game at night, switch it off, and upon returning in the morning, eight hours will have passed in the game. Enough time for a village to be burned down, or for characters to regain health while resting, or an enemy to sneak up behind players for a surprise attack. Welcome to the real virtual world. This feature is likely to be used a lot with virtual pet sims and to unlock special time-bound features, like a winter-time level at X-Mas time, and more.

Memory Expansion

The 64DD comes with a 4 MB expansion RAM (random access memory) pack, which players install into the memory expansion slot of the Nintendo 64 (top). It will replace the current jumper pak and raise the N64 s overall RAM to a total of 8 MB (four times as much as the PSX). Among other things, the added RAM will help pave the way for more hi-res games.

Modem, Network or Satellite?

The other, more mysterious part of the 64DD is that it is supposed to feature modem or network capability. A modem could open the ways to multiplayer gaming or network downloads, but it does throw up a myriad of questions -- will the 64DD have a modem built in? Will the 64DD use the Internet or a specific Nintendo gaming network (perhaps satellite based)? And the big question -- will this ultimately allow gamers to play other gamers around the world?

Sega has released its share of modems for its consoles, but all have lacked the benefit of writability. 64DD owners, presumably, will possibly be able to connect to a network and play against other players, or even be able to download add-ons, upgrades, cheats and tweaks.

So what will it be, modem, modem connection, a software modem, or some alternate network? Our guess is that the Japanese version will ultimately hook up to Nintendo's new Satellite joint venture (for data downloading and TV/Videotext-type programming) and that the US version will possibly offer a "software modem" for downloading data from dedicated servers.

Unfortunately, Nintendo continues to give conflicting reports. Some NCL employees say there will definitely not be a modem in either the Japanese and the international version of the 64DD, NOA says there will be. We will just have to wait on this one.

64DD Specs

Physical Dimensions/Weight:
10.2" x 7.5" x 3.1"
3.53 lbs

Magnetic Disk Storage Medium
Error Correction Support

Utilizes N64 console for data processing
Battery-backed real-time Clock
Built-in 36 megabit ROM (contains data files to assist developers, such as sounds and fonts)
4" front loading disk feed
4 megabyte RAM expansion (installed in console Memory Expansion slot)
Disks are hot-swappable (multiple disk support)

Under 75 ms seek time
1 MB/sec data transfer rate
"Burst Access" Streams

Disk Physical Dimensions:
3.98" x 4.06" x .4"
260mm x 190mm x 78.7mm
weight: 1.6 kg

High Density, Double-Sided
64.45 MB total capacity (eight times the size of Mario 64)
Read/Write capable
Dynamic writable space<
1-38 MB writable
Shielded against data-loss

Games to Look Forward to

Many of the upcoming games for 64DD will arrive on disk format only (don t worry, Nintendo will continue to make cartridge games, too), while others are cartridge games that will have add-on disks. The first add-on disk will be available for F-Zero X -- and includes new tracks and even a track editor.

64DD: The Games

Part II: The Games
Please refer to Part I for information about the 64DD Disk Drive.

Once the 64DD hits the streets, developers have the choice of three formats for their games:

1.) Cartridge game (like Mario 64)
2.) Standalone Disk Game (like Mother 3)
3.) Expansion/Add-on Disk (F-Zero X Expansion Set)

Here is a complete list of all known 64DD titles. For release dates, please refer to the release lists in the N-Data section. Note that although some of these games haven t been announced for the international market yet, they may still come out

Cabbage (Nintendo)

Codenamed Cabbage, NCL s virtual creature sim stretches the boundaries of console games, in both time and space. With the help of the 64DD s clock function, the game s title creature lives on, even when you switch off the N64. Worried to leave the creature alone for too long? Transfer the creature over to your GameBoy (supposedly using a GameBoy version of the same game) and take it with you. Nintendo says that you can also buy additional equipment data (for a very low price) that will alter the game and cause your creature to develop differently.

Derby Stallion 64 (Parity Bit/Marigul)

The incredibly popular horse racing sim is coming to the 64DD. Although exact details are still unknown, you can expect a full-fledge polygonal horse racing game that could revitalize Nintendo s system sales in Japan. Like all the other 64DD titles, Derby Stallion 64 offers a special feature: A GameBoy link. Plug up to four GameBoys into the N64 s controller ports (via GB Link cable) and you can enter your bets looking at the GameBoy s screen. This way, the other player cannot see what you re doing.

Donkey Kong 64 (Nintendo/Rare)

While most known 64DD titles are obviously made with the Japanese market in mind, there are without doubt numerous secret US and European 64DD projects in the works. If Nintendo wants the drive to be a success in the US it needs a big launch title. A Donkey Kong game from Rare would do the job nicely. Although it may still see the light as a cart title, expect it to have hooks for 64DD expansion.

Doubutsu Banchou (Saru Burunei/Marigul)

What do you get when you put the creator of Jungle Park (PC) and the game designer of Parappa the Rapper (PSX) together in one room? Doubutsu Banchou, which means something like Animal Thugs -- probably the weirdest game to come out on the N64. What is it about? Well, nobody really knows. Not even the programmers are sure exactly what genre Doubutsu falls under, but the words evolution, life, and love are key factors. Weird.

DT (Game Studio/Marigul)

DT is probably the most mysterious game out of the 64DD lineup. Apart from the fact that Game Studio, seasoned RPG developers, are working on the title, nothing is known. Even the title DT is only temporary.

Fire Emblem 64 (Nintendo/Intelligent Systems)

The 64-bit sequel to Nintendo s fantastic strategy game series (in Japan) is likely to cause a splash when it finally hits stores. In the role of a young hero or heroine, you command a growing army of knights out to defend the land against hostile forces. The game is likely to be turn-based and units can be moved one by one. The game series has spawned many clones, among them the Final Fantasy, Front Mission, and Ogre Battle Tactics games. Unfortunately, Nintendo is keeping a tight lid on development and is not letting out any info.

F-Zero X-Pansion Disk (Nintendo)

In addition to the N64 version of the super-fast racer F-Zero X (cartridge), Nintendo is already hard at work on an expansion disk that works in tandem with the cartridge. It s quite simple: Plug in F-Zero X, switch on your DD and N64 and you can choose a special option from the game s main menu. After being prompted for the expansion disk, you can access new tracks, new cars, and even an awesome 3D track editor. Create your own tracks, trade them with friends, and save them directly to disk.

Hybrid Heaven (Konami)

Although Konami is still swaying between a cart and a 64DD release, the designers are currently developing this sci-fi RPG with large data storage in mind. The game takes place in a futuristic world of corruption and violence. The main character of Hybrid Heaven, a tough, acrobatic fighter of sorts, ventures through the dark industrial back-drops fighting, shooting and destroying anything in his path. The similarities to Metal Gear Solid are only superficial -- the gameplay is more in the line of Final Fantasy, with RPG combat scenes on but polygonal sets.

Kyojin no Doshin (Param/Marigul)

From the creators of Tail of the Sun and Aquanaut s Holiday (both PSX) comes another off-beat title that deals with a giant s life on an island. Kyojin no Doshin (loosely translated: Giant s Step) is supposedly in the line of Tail of the Sun, with lots of exploration.

Legend of Zelda DD (Nintendo)

A separate team is already working on a sequel to the upcoming Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Tentatively called Zelda DD, this will either be an add-on disk that adds more quests and characters to the original cart game, or a completely separate, self-contained adventure. In an interview with Shigeru Miyamoto, the game designer told that although it will be less action-based than Zelda 64, Zelda DD won t be a turn-based RPG like Final Fantasy.

Mario Artist: Picture Maker (Nintendo)

Just like the original Mario Paint, Picture Maker will let you paint and edit pictures on screen. You can use the upcoming N64 Mouse for better control, making Picture Maker look almost like a miniature Photoshop. There are filters that you can use to alter images, a fly-swatting game, a polygon painting feature (formerly known as: Creator), and even four-player simultaneous painting. Together with another peripheral, the N64 Capture Cartridge, you can capture and edit photos and video from your VCR or video camera. Images from Picture Maker can be stored on disk and even used in other applications and games (such as SimCity and Nintendo s fighter).

Mario Artist: Polygon Maker (Nintendo)

Developed by Nichimen Graphics, Polygon Maker brings the complex art of polygon modeling to its simplest form. You can shape and modify objects in realtime, build your own space-ships, make creatures or landscapes, and even animate them. You can also import images from Picture Maker and use them as textures. For example, you could create a car and use your face on the hood.

Mario Artist: Sound Maker (Nintendo)

Shigeru Miyamoto confirmed this fourth Mario Artist app in an interview with last year. Sound Maker lets you create music and sounds, compose melodies and record everything to disk. It is likely that you will be able to export the data later and use it in other applications or games, but so far no details are known.

Mario Artist: Talent Maker (Nintendo)

This whacky little application gives you control over a virtual modeling studio. Create your own character, determine his or her appearance (hair, face, body, height, clothes, and more) and watch little realtime rendered clips where your creation comes to life. You can also import images from Picture Maker and even use your own face as a face texture for one of the characters. It s really eerie to watch yourself conduct an orchestra or practice karate.

Mother 3 / EarthBound (Nintendo)

Known as EarthBound in the US, the sequel to Mother 2 (Super NES), looks like it will become a break-through RPG unlike any other. Making use of the 64DD s writability feature, Mother 3 presents an ever-changing quest with multiple paths and interactive environments. Sure, many games claim to be interactive, but Mother promises that every action you take will have lasting effects. Unlike Mother 2, this hot-looking sequel will be set in 3D environments with smooth visuals and varied battles.

Mysterious Dungeon (Chunsoft)

Known as Fushigi no Dungeon in Japan. Chunsoft told that the content, title and storyline of its first N64 RPG are still secret, but that it is definitely bringing the series to the N64. If the game is at all like its predecessors, then Fushigi no Dungeon 64 will be a traditional, turn-based RPG with randomly generated dungeons.

Namco RPG (Namco)

When Namco signed on as an N64 developer, it agreed to a contract to develop one sports game (Famista) and one RPG for the console. Rumored to be another installment in Namco s Tales of Destiny series, the game is definitely in development and should be released for the 64DD in Japan.

Ogre Battle 64 (Quest)

The sequel to the cool Super NES strategy-RPG is N64 bound -- but Quest is still debating whether it will appear on cart, on 64DD, or on both. In Ogre Battle, you control an army of fighters, magicians, witches, monsters, and dragons in real-time and send the units into battle against a dark enemy. But sometimes it s hard to tell who is friend or foe, as you can win over misguided grunts or convince high-ranking generals to defect. If the Super NES version was any indication, the battle scenes are going to be spectacular.

Pocket Monster DD (Nintendo)

In addition to Pikachu Genki Dechu (a virtual pet sim on cartridge), Pocket Monsters Snap, and Pocket Monster Stadium, NCL is developing yet another Pokemon game for Japan. Although nothing is known about the game as of yet, it is believed that it will be in the line of the original GameBoy Pocket Monster games.

Pocket Monster Stadium (Nintendo)

One of the best-selling games of all times, Pocket Monster for the GameBoy, is coming to the N64. Whereas the original was an original mixture of RPG and monster-collection game, the series first 64DD incarnation travels down a different road. Much like in Monster Rancher (PSX), players pit 3D polygonal creatures against each other in Final Fantasy-style RPG battles and have them fight for survival. But that s not all: By using an additional peripheral called the 64 GB Pak, you can import monster data from GameBoy Pocket Monster games and turn those puny, monochrome 2D monsterettes into full-grown 3D polygonal monsters. All changes are directly saved on disk.

Pocket Monsters Snap (Nintendo)

Another odd entry into the what genre is this? genre. Pocket Monsters Snap (or Pokemon Snap) puts you on a safari through different nature parks. Your mission: Snap pictures of free-roaming Pocket Monsters. Just like in PilotWings, you are supposed to make the best possible picture, and you often have to use items to coax the monsters out of their hiding places. All pictures can be saved directly to the disk. Why? You tell us.

Project Cairo (Crave Entertainment)

Codenamed "Project Cairo," Crave's first RPG offering for Nintendo 64 promises a fresh look for the genre with interesting, Americanized characters. The game is said to be in negotiations to use a major comic book for both characters and background story. Crave Entertainment is headed by Ex President of Square USA., Rich Silveira and Ted Woolsey, who was the US producer for many of Square's previous titles.

SimCity 64

What would a Nintendo console be without a custom version of SimCity? Developed by Nintendo (and not Maxis), this 64DD city-building sim lets you micromanage anything from a small hamlet to a giant metropolis populated by millions of people. The difference between the Nintendo version and previous SimCity games? You can actually go down to the street level and look at life in your city in polygonal form. The game will also be compatible with SimCopter 64 -- you can export your city and fly through it in that game. Also, using the 64DD s writability, load images created with Mario Artist and use them as billboards in your city. Neat.

SimCopter 64

Although this may also come out on cartridge, SimCopter 64 uses the 64DD swap feature and lets you load cities created in SimCity 64 and fly through it with a helicopter. The object of the game is to keep the city safe, put out fires, and regulate traffic.

Super Mario 64 2

The eagerly anticipated sequel is with all likelihood 64DD-bound. Giving you control over different characters (including Luigi), Mario 64 2 will provide the same awesome 3D platform action as its predecessor.

Super Mario RPG 2

This surprisingly odd follow-up to the charming Super NES adventure continues the Yoshi s Story picture book concept, but in RPG form. Aimed squarely at RPG beginners and children, Mario RPG 2 takes the original 2D Mario and casts him into a 3D polygonal world. So far, no details are available on story or characters.

Teo (Fujitsu/Marigul)

The first non-Nintendo developed virtual pet to grace the 64DD will be Fujitsu s FinFin, a flying dolphin who speaks his own musical language. Much like Nintendo s own Pikachu Genki Dechu, Teo makes use of the upcoming Microphone Headset and lets you give voice commands to the creature.


3D Fighter

Nintendo has hinted at the development of a 3D fighting game that utilizes downloadable data and custom-created texture maps. Your face in a fighter? It could become reality thanks to the 64DD.

3D Adventure (Capcom)

Sources close to Capcom told that the company is indeed going ahead on a 3D adventure/action game that uses the Resident Evil perspective. Only time will tell what the theme of this game will be, but it will probably not be horror.

Other developers of 64DD titles: Konami, Culture Brain, Seta, Japan System Supply, and more. Expect all major 98 titles to have at least hooks for further 64DD compatibility.