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The Nintendo 64DD: History, Launch, and Failure

Greetings fellow tech enthusiast! Today I want to take you on an in-depth exploration of an obscure yet important part of Nintendo history – the Nintendo 64DD. What was this peripheral exactly and why did it fail so badly? Read on for a comprehensive look.

Introducing the Nintendo 64DD

The Nintendo 64DD (Dynamic Drive) was a disk drive peripheral released exclusively for the Nintendo 64 in 1999. It used proprietary rewritable magnetic disks called "Disks" that could hold up to 64MB of data, vastly more than the standard N64 cartridges. The 64DD plugged into the underside of the N64 console and allowed games to load faster and access more storage than cartridges.

In many ways, the 64DD was Nintendo‘s attempt to catch up to the CD-ROM revolution led by Sony‘s PlayStation and Sega‘s Saturn in the mid-90s. Nintendo wanted to give N64 developers access to the storage and capabilities of disks while still sticking to cartridges for the main system.

The Promise: CD-Quality Games for N64

First unveiled in 1995, the 64DD was highly anticipated by N64 owners excited for disk-quality games. Nintendo touted features like enhanced 3D graphics, CD-quality sound and music, massive game worlds, and real-time game saving.

The 64DD was slated to launch alongside the N64 in 1996. In the years leading up to its release, Nintendo announced many planned blockbuster games like Super Mario RPG 2, Mother 3, and a new Legend of Zelda game. There was a lot of hype around the 64DD‘s potential.

This table shows some key specs for the 64DD:

Release Date December 1, 1999
Price ¥9,800 (~$100 USD)
Disk Capacity 64 MB
Data Transfer Rate 5 MB/sec
Included Accessories 4MB Expansion Pak, Randnet Modem

As you can see, while disk capacity was low by CD standards, it massively outpaced N64 cartridges. The 64DD seemed poised to expand the N64‘s horizons.

Constant Delays

Despite the hype and anticipation, the 64DD ended up being delayed repeatedly over the next few years. Nintendo struggled to manufacture the proprietary disks reliably and cost-effectively. They also ran into continued difficulties getting games to take full advantage of the new technology.

These constant delays proved extremely costly. Many developers lost confidence and abandoned their 64DD projects, releasing games on standard cartridge or jumping ship to the PlayStation altogether.

A full 60% of the initially planned 64DD games were cancelled or converted to cartridge releases, including highly anticipated titles like Zelda and Super Mario RPG 2. Each delay eroded third-party support and momentum for the 64DD.

Too Little Too Late

The 64DD finally launched in Japan in December 1999, a full three years after the N64. By this point the N64 was nearing the end of its lifespan as Sega‘s Dreamcast and Sony‘s PlayStation 2 loomed.

To justify the fairly steep retail price of ¥9,800 (~$100), Nintendo packed in extras like a 4MB memory expansion pak and Randnet modem. But even these perks failed to generate much launch buzz – only 10,000 units sold in the first month.

It was far too late to capture developer and gamer interest. The N64 already had an established library of great games on cartridge alone. The 64DD felt outdated on arrival.

Underwhelming Game Library

In total just 10 games were ever released for the 64DD, with 4 of those being iterations of Mario Artist, a multimedia creation suite. Of the major franchises announced, only a singular SimCity game made it to market.

Here‘s a quick glance at the full 64DD game lineup:

  • Mario Artist: Paint Studio
  • Mario Artist: Talent Studio
  • Mario Artist: Polygon Studio
  • Mario Artist: Communication Kit
  • SimCity 64
  • F-Zero X Expansion Kit
  • Doshin the Giant
  • Randnet Disk
  • Japan Pro Golf Tour 64
  • Kyojin no Doshin

While many of these games had enhanced audiovisuals and expanded features compared to cartridge N64 games, they failed to justify the high price of the 64DD for most gamers. It was hard to get excited by Mario painting apps and expansion packs when spectacular new franchises like Metal Gear Solid were emerging on PlayStation.

The Failure Unfolds

By 2000, it was abundantly clear that the 64DD was doomed. Nintendo terminated the Randnet online service after only 16 months of operation. They delivered the final nail to the coffin in February 2001 when they officially ceased production on both the disks and the drive itself.

Just 15,000 64DD units were sold in total – a pitiful number compared to the N64‘s 32+ million units. No localized version was ever released outside Japan due to the abysmal reception.

So what led to the 64DD failing so hard? There are a few key factors:

  • The constant delays resulted in lost third-party support. Developers didn‘t want to wait years investing in a vaporware peripheral.

  • The high retail cost created a barrier to mainstream adoption. ¥9,800 was lot to ask in addition to the base N64.

  • The small library of just 10 games massively limited appeal and value. A lack of killer exclusive apps sunk the system.

  • Competing consoles like PlayStation rapidly outmatched the N64‘s graphics and sound. Nintendo no longer led the pack.

  • Poor marketing and limited release. The 64DD never saw a western launch and had minimal hype.

Ultimately, the 64DD will go down as one of Nintendo‘s biggest flops. But that failure would prove to be an important learning experience.

Lasting Impact and Legacy

While the 64DD was a commercial disaster, it did leave some lasting impacts on Nintendo:

  • Several planned 64DD games were converted to cartridge format, including Donkey Kong 64, Paper Mario, and Mario Party.

  • The Randnet modem and online service laid the groundwork for future online Nintendo consoles.

  • Mario Artist pioneered user-generated content features that presaged titles like Mario Paint DS and Super Mario Maker.

  • The 4MB memory expansion pak became required by many later N64 games like Perfect Dark and Donkey Kong 64.

  • Nintendo gained crucial experience with optical media storage and technology.

  • The high-profile failure motivated Nintendo to rethink their strategy going forward. They couldn‘t afford to make such large mistakes again if they wanted to compete in the next generation.

While the 64DD was quickly forgotten by the gaming mainstream, it remains an intriguing footnote in Nintendo history. It offers a glimpse into an alternate timeline where the N64 fully embraced optical media. And it acts as an important lesson that even the greatest companies make big missteps on occasion.

In closing, I hope you enjoyed this deep dive into the 64DD – a peripheral that promised so much, yet delivered so little. Let me know if you have any other pieces of obscure tech history you‘d like explored in-depth!