Hard-core gamers await launch of 64-bit console

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 May, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 May, 1996, 12:00am

Nintendo seems to be having problems launching its 64-bit game console.

The N64 has already suffered two delays and will now not be available until June 23. This has angered many gamers who have been waiting the for the N64 for the past two years.

So, what excuses does Nintendo have? The first is a supply shortage of the unit's state-of-the-art microchips, manufactured by NEC.

Demand for the N64 has more than doubled since it was unveiled at the Shoshinkai trade show in Japan.

Since Nintendo was unable to match demand for a worldwide release, they have opted to launch in one market at a time.

The second reason is that Nintendo's creative team leader Shigeru Miyamoto (creator of Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros) requested a few weeks extension to 'fine tune' his software.

People who are wondering why NEC cannot provide the necessary quantity of chips for the sudden demand is because the CPU (central processing unit) is a custom 64-bit R4200 RISC chip operating at 93.75 megahertz. This is twice as fast as the PlayStation running at 34Mhz and the Saturn at 28Mhz. These chips are being especially made for the N64. As for Miyamoto-san asking for a few weeks extension, this is probably to debug the two games that he has designed, Super Mario 64 and Pilot Wings 64.

The N64 will be using semiconductor read-only memory cartridges keeping to the same system as their previous consoles. The reason for staying with cartridges rather than using the CD-Rom format is speed. Even the fastest CD-Rom drives are slow. Loading games on the PlayStation can take from 30 to 50 seconds. Although this is not a lot of time, it does get frustrating at times.

So why then are there so many games available on CD-Rom? This is because the cost of manufacturing them is far lower and they are quicker to produce, and software companies want to ship as much merchandise as possible.

Also a CD's storage capabilities is far greater than the new Nintendo cartridges. The standard size of the new cartridge is about 64 megabytes, double the Donkey Kong Country cartridge. An uncompressed CD can store more than 80 times the data as Nintendo's cartridges.

The N64 is also to include a mass storage device that will allow game players to 'write to' or customise the games they are playing. This writable disk drive unit will be attached to the bottom of the N64 console, with magnetic disks front-loaded into the unit. As an expansion of the N64 system, the writable disk drive unit will be bundled with a 1Mb or 2Mb expansion Ram pack, which the game player can install into the N64's unique memory expansion slot. This expansion pack will further enhance N64's main system memory, which is beneficial to the magnetic disks and cartridges.

The magnetic disks will measure 3 3/4 inches and will hold 64Mb of data, or about 16 times the amount of data in the SNES Donkey Kong Country cartridge. The performance standards for this type of product are measured as Average Seek Time (AST), the amount of time it takes the device to find the particular data, and Data Transfer Rate (DTR), the rate at which data is transfered from source medium to internal memory.

The AST for the N64 disk drive unit will be 150 milliseconds or almost twice as fast as existing standards for either PlayStation or Saturn. The DTR is 1Mb per second, more than triple the speed of the PlayStation and Saturn.

At present there is no set retail price for the expansion system, although Nintendo has said that it would be less expensive than the console. The expansion unit will not be shown until late this year in Japan. Nintendo hopes this will give them another edge over the other game platforms.

Before the Shoshinkai show, Japanese software licensees were polled by a Japanese computer magazine on their sales expectations for the N64 within the first 12 months of its release. Sixty-three per cent answered unit sales would not make three million; and 37 per cent predicted sales of three million or more. After the show, having seen the N64 in action, an identical questionnaire was put to the same licensees by a different publication. Predictions for three million-plus units the first year suddenly jumped to 65 per cent.

In the first year analysts were predicting sales greater than that of the Sony PlayStation.

Nintendo has also secured a number of leading software developers to produce exclusive games for the N64.

Angel Studios, a pioneer in the development of three-dimensional interactive software, is creating a video game exclusively for the N64.

Angel Studios has already begun working with a Nintendo creative team led by Shigeru Miyamoto, on the yet untitled, real-time interactive 3-D game for the new 64-bit home video game system now being developed by Nintendo and Silicon Graphics Inc.

Later that month, GameTek was the next member to join the elite team gathered for the N64, recognised for their development of numerous titles for all age groups for the 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System (Super NES).

Robotech will be GameTek's first 64-bit game for N64. Robotech is based on a popular animated series from Japan, and will allow players to play in a world of real-time 3D character animation.

The biggest addition is perhaps LucasArts Entertainment company. LucasArts plan to design a never-been-told Star Wars story exclusively for the N64, and will be available this summer.

The story takes place between The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi. The game will go into the criminal underground and the player will confront a new powerful enemy. The player will battle Darth Vader and the Emperor.

Cheat Sheet Super Nintendo: Mortal Kombat 3 On the title screen, when Start Game/Options appears, press Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, A, B, A. If you've entered the code correctly a new option will appear called 'Kool Stuff'.

Sega: Sunset Riders For 99 continues, go to the option screen and play BMG OE for ten seconds. Then select a character and press A, B, and C at the same time until the game starts.