Nintendo's Expansion Ports

Nintendo 64 Disk Drive

by Danny Bivens - October 29, 2011, 11:49 am PDT

Want a sequel to Mario Paint? This disk drive add-on is your answer.

The Nintendo 64 did not have an overabundance of proprietary ports on the console. The one that most gamers are familiar with, the memory expansion port, would go on to be a portal for developers to improve resolution, textures, and other technical elements. However, the bottom of the console housed a port labeled EXT, which went nearly unused by Nintendo for the duration of the console's life cycle. In Japan, however, this port was utilized by none other than Nintendo's infamous Nintendo 64 Disk Drive.

The Nintendo 64 Disk Drive, or 64DD for short, was conceived during a time when cartridge sizes were thought to be at their technical limits. Though other console manufacturers had transitioned to CD media, the fallout over the SNES CD led Nintendo to develop another magnetic media disk drive. After years of delays, the 64DD was finally made available to the Japanese public on December 1, 1999. While Nintendo did offer the drive in limited quantities at retail, the system was sold mainly through a subscription service. Originally, the subscription service would have gamers paying off the 64DD and other services at 2,500 to 3,000 yen per month. This was later changed to to a yearly plan priced at 30,000 to 39,600 yen per year. The starter kit included the 64DD unit, modem, modular cable (for connecting to the internet), 4 MB Expansion Pak (which was required to use the 64DD), and member disk. 64DD software was also included and delivered to subscribers on a monthly/bimonthly basis.

The Mario Artist Series was the spiritual successor to Mario Paint

Many of the features that Nintendo's ill-fated add on touted may not seem like much by today's standards, however the possibilities that the machine had were far beyond what most believed would be possible at the time. Once attached to the N64, the system will automatically check whether there is a cartridge in the console or a disk in the drive. The disks themselves were akin to Zip disks (which were more or less extremely beefed up floppy disks) and held 64 MB of data. Unlike the CD-ROM based PlayStation and Sega Saturn, these disks also offered up to 38 MB of writable space, which gave developers enough room for in-game changes, game saves, and more. The 64DD unit also contained a 36 megabit chip with integrated fonts and audio data files, giving programmers less stress as they wouldn't have to worry about cramming all of this information onto the already limited N64 cartridge.

The 64DD also had network capabilities through a service called Randnet. Players could compete with others online (complete with stats, ranks, and win-loss records), observe other players' game sessions, play pre-release games, send messages, surf the web, listen to music, view sports info and results, check weather and news, utilize a print mail service (after creating something in Mario Artist, for example), and even receive up to five email addresses. The online features were robust and provided unique content for 64DD owners.

N64DD Cases and Disk.

One of the main benefits of the 64DD platform was that it could potentially lower costs in a similar manner to the Famicom Disk Drive. With the Disk Drive in the picture, developers and publishers had a few different options when it came to creating games for the N64: cartridge only, disk and cart combination, or disk only. With the disk and cart combo, if developers, for example, were making an American football game, they could release the main version of the game on cartridge. After one year goes by, they could release a disk containing updated rosters, player data, and even slightly updated visuals. If games were released solely on disks, this would be an even cheaper way to output games.

Despite the lower costs all around for 64DD development, the system was poorly received by the development community as well as gamers in Japan as a whole. Even though some developers may have been interested in developing for the platform, Nintendo did not actively push for more 64DD development. When it was all said and done, roughly 15,000 units were sold and a total of nine games were released for the system, many of them published and developed by Nintendo and/or their affiliates.

Here are all the games that were released for the system:

F-Zero X had an expansion in Japan.

Kyojin no Doshin 1(Doshin the Giant)
Mario Artist: Paint Studio
Mario Artist: Talent Studio
Mario Artist: Communication Kit
Mario Artist: Polygon Studio
Sim City 64
F-Zero X Expansion Kit
Nippon Pro Golf Tour (Japan Pro Golf Tour)
Kyojin no Doshin: Kaihou Sensen Chibikko Chikko Daishugou (Doshin the Giant sequel)

The Randnet service was active for less than two years (from December 1999 to February 2001) before being discontinued.

The potential of the 64DD was wasted by the inability to get the product out of the door and reluctance on Nintendo's part to draw in developers and publishers. Many former 64DD projects, including the likes of Mother 3, Fire Emblem 64, Dobustu Banchou (Animal Leader, aka Cubivore on GCN), Ogre Battle, Paper Mario, Zelda Gaiden (later became Majora's Mask), and Ura Zelda (Master Quest) would be either scrapped, moved to N64 cartridge, or  ported/recreated for another platform entirely. As time progressed, the capacity of the Nintendo 64 cartridges grew and the need for the device waned as each year passed. By 1999, developers and publishers were getting more out of the N64 than they had originally thought was possible

Many of the concepts behind the 64DD harken back to the Famicom Modem and even the Satellaview for the Super Famicom. The EXT port was not used officially by Nintendo outside of Japan (although pirated machines in Hong Kong for the N64 made use of it) and the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive would be Nintendo's last aggressive move into the world of online connectivity. Although the system was a commercial failure, many of the features would go on to be included in the gaming machines that we use today. Its legacy is not limited to hardware, but also its experimental software. In particular, the Mario Artist series served as a basis for many modern Nintendo features and game such as the Mii system and WarioWare series.

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Talkback

DanielMDaniel Mousseau, Staff AlumnusOctober 26, 2011

I believe it was so Nintendo could change/add any extra code to the motherboard/processor. That's probably why they were never needed after launch of the console. It was just easier for development and all that.


That's just my thought.

BlackNMild2k1October 26, 2011

Quote from: DanielM

I believe it was so Nintendo could change/add any extra code to the motherboard/processor. That's probably why they were never needed after launch of the console. It was just easier for development and all that.


That's just my thought.

Then why would they include it in the production model and not just the dev kits?

CericOctober 26, 2011

Quote from: BlackNMild2k1

Quote from: DanielM

I believe it was so Nintendo could change/add any extra code to the motherboard/processor. That's probably why they were never needed after launch of the console. It was just easier for development and all that.


That's just my thought.

Then why would they include it in the production model and not just the dev kits?

I'm not a game dev but wouldn't it make sense to have the production model also be the Dev Kit with just an addon that plugged into the special slot?

That's not really how it worked back then.

ShayminOctober 26, 2011

Shame that the test model SNES apparently hung out with a couple of smokers.

It's not caused by smoking. There's an interesting article about the science of the yellowing here and how to fix it here.

Strangely my Super Famicom is fine but my Famicom is a disgusting yellow colour! (as you can see from my photos above)


More on topic though, I would have loved to have been in Japan during the disk system days, getting to use the disk writer in a shop etc!
I'm too afraid to get a Disk System now though, knowing how unreliable they are.


The next part of the feature, SNES/SFC, is a really interesting part of history.

AVOctober 27, 2011

This is a wonderful article, I really think a podcast would serve it justice . Most of the expansions should have been built in to begin with, and nintendo KNEW they should have but didn't. 

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorOctober 27, 2011

The NES Top Loader and SNES-mini both removed the expansion ports...  Oddly, though, the redesigned N64 (i.e.: The Pikachu edition) actually included the expansion port... but there was no removable cover - the port is inaccessible without actually removing the bottom half of the casing.

I've heard there are revised GameCubes floating around out there that are missing the second serial port, but I've never seen one (never really spent a lot of time looking though).

BlackNMild2k1October 27, 2011

Quote from: UncleBob

I've heard there are revised GameCubes floating around out there that are missing the second serial port, but I've never seen one (never really spent a lot of time looking though).

But you must add one to your collection. How does it not bother you that you do not own one of these mythical revised Gamecubes? It's like I don't know you anymore.


...

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorOctober 27, 2011

Quote from: BlackNMild2k1

But you must add one to your collection. How does it not bother you that you do not own one of these mythical revised Gamecubes? It's like I don't know you anymore.

You'd think that - but, out of the 7 Game Cubes I own, 6 are original -001 units and one's the Panasonic Q.  I don't even own a -101 unit. ;)

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorOctober 27, 2011

Found a neat site that shows all three hardware revisions of the GameCube...

http://www.classiccmp.org/dunfield/vg/nintendo.htm

The GCN went through three revisions, although only one really changed the bottom ports.  A semi-educated guess would be that the second revision is limited to the "Limited Edition" Platinum consoles.  As I don't have any Platinum GCNs (not counting the Q, of course) or any -101 units, that would explain why I haven't come across one.  I'll have to be on the look-out now. :D

Kytim89October 27, 2011

There should be a similar thread made for all of Nintendo's controlles and peripherals.

ejamerOctober 27, 2011

Quote from: UncleBob

Found a neat site that shows all three hardware revisions of the GameCube...

http://www.classiccmp.org/dunfield/vg/nintendo.htm

The GCN went through three revisions, although only one really changed the bottom ports.  A semi-educated guess would be that the second revision is limited to the "Limited Edition" Platinum consoles.  As I don't have any Platinum GCNs (not counting the Q, of course) or any -101 units, that would explain why I haven't come across one.  I'll have to be on the look-out now. :D

Nice link.


I have a platinum console with the digital outs - apparently pretty rare. A friend was convinced they didn't even exist until seeing mine. Pretty lucky I guess, since it was picked up second-hand from EB Games as a backup system for the GameCube titles that I purchased after owning a Wii.


Oddly, tracking down an official component cable for the system was MUCH more expensive than the console itself.

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorOctober 27, 2011

Quote from: ejamer

Oddly, tracking down an official component cable for the system was MUCH more expensive than the console itself.

Don't look at my five sets then. :D  Four of which I scored from GameStop for under $5. :D

But to your other point, I think the only Platinum systems with the Digital Out are the original releases that were marked "Limited Edition" - it's my guess (without any hardcore evidence) that when the Platinum system became standard was when they removed the Digital Port (and revised the base).  Could likely be wrong though.

CericOctober 27, 2011

My Component cable for the GCN was ordered directly from Nintendo and I probably posted about it here somewhere.  It was Night and day.  When the component cables for Wii became first available through Nintendo I ordered a set of those because I didn't want a repeat of the GCN.  Though I have adapter to connect my GCN to everything in US but DVI and HDMI (VGA, Coax, Component, RCA, S-Video, etc.)

ejamerOctober 27, 2011

Quote from: UncleBob

Quote from: ejamer

Oddly, tracking down an official component cable for the system was MUCH more expensive than the console itself.

Don't look at my five sets then. :D  Four of which I scored from GameStop for under $5. :D

...

I'm not disappointed. Mine were well under the going price - it's only when you compare them to paying $10 for the entire console that it feels expensive.


If you are lucky, you can still score GameCube component cables at GameStop for cheap. Where you live plays a huge part in that though.


http://www.gamestop.com/accessories/gamecube-n64-component-cable-used/32149?utm_source=linkshare&utm_medium=affiliate&utm_campaign=deeplink&cid=afl_10000087&affID=77777&sourceID=FKSJxY2VJAk-YdQjxU0sI4sci3bux6kWNg


Of course, some hits are false-positives and sometimes you get lucky finding mislabeled cables where there aren't supposed to be any. A great deal if you stumble into any though!

yoshi1001October 28, 2011

I've thought about getting component cables for my GC to cut out the input lag when I do recordings of Game Boy Player for my YouTube channel (I actually own a component video capture device). Generally, I've seen these things sell for $60-$100 on eBay. By the way, did you notice the component port is labeled "Digital Out" even though component is analog?

I do own an official Nintendo SNES S-Video connector (bought for my N64 after we got a new TV with said inputs).

Chozo GhostOctober 28, 2011

Its a shame the port on the NES was never used. Does anyone know if it would be possible for some hobbyist or whatever to create peripherals for that port somehow? It was supposed to be used for a modem but Nintendo never created that modem, but could someone else make it happen? All the patents regarding the NES have expired since 2005 so there is no legal obstacles to people doing stuff like that, but are there technical obstacles?

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorOctober 28, 2011

Quote from: yoshi1001

By the way, did you notice the component port is labeled "Digital Out" even though component is analog?

Actually... the port is 100% correctly labeled.  The port actually does send out a digital signal.

*Most* electronics convert that digital signal to analog inside the system, before it gets to the port.

With the GameCube, it actually sent the digital signal to the port - the Digital-to-Analog conversion was done in the Component Cables themselves - this is why the cables were so expensive new and why you've never seen an off-brand/third party set of GameCube cables that output component signal.

It's also what let people mod them into awesome VGA cables. The Wii was truly a downgrade in that sense.

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorOctober 29, 2011

Quote from: UncleBob

I think the only Platinum systems with the Digital Out are the original releases that were marked "Limited Edition" - it's my guess (without any hardcore evidence) that when the Platinum system became standard was when they removed the Digital Port (and revised the base).  Could likely be wrong though.

Well, I don't really have anything for/against the "Limited Edition" Platinum 'Cubes all being with the Digital Out port while the non-Limited Edition 'Cubes are without, but...

I stopped into a Goodwill today - they had a Platinum -001 GameCube...  No cords and $10 price tag (I passed) - but I did take a second to look it over.  it was a -001, but it did have the third port on the bottom.

TheBlackCatNovember 01, 2011

You didn't mention any of the problems with the N64 RAM expansion pack.  For instance it pretty much broke Space Station Silicon Valley.

KikoriMinoru Yamaizumi, Japan CorrespondentNovember 01, 2011

I've read many times that Game Boy Player is kinda laggy. Is this true?

TJ SpykeNovember 01, 2011

I never experienced any lag with my Game Boy Player.

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorNovember 01, 2011

Quote from: Kikori

I've read many times that Game Boy Player is kinda laggy. Is this true?

I've only had one such experience... kinda.

Back in the day, when I was running a solo-GameCube, a friend brought his over along with his Game Boy Player.  We hooked them up and played some Four Swords (GBA) on the big screen.  It was awesome.

Anyway, during one round, we came "desynched" - the Links on both screens would still respond to their respective controls, but they weren't in the same spot... so I could be walking up a path on my screen and be walking into a wall on his screen.  Likewise, he could pick me up on his screen and I'd be running around like nothing was wrong on mine.

The /official/ word from Nintendo is that you're not supposed to link Game Boy Players together...  but I've done it many times and this is the *only* time I've ever had a problem with the Game Boy Player - in any fashion.

StrawHousePigNovember 01, 2011

Oh wow, Warp Pipe and the LAN adapter. Never got a version of Warp Pipe to work right... something about the lappy I was using at the time... so long ago.

Never could get into PSO. Played it a few times but it seemed to mostly be people standing around chatting. No thanks. Plus it was a SEGA game and SEGA games *suck*!  ;D

Now that internet speeds are faster, we should try to get a Double Dash Warp Pipe tournament going.

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorNovember 01, 2011

Quote from: MegaByte

Now that internet speeds are faster, we should try to get a Double Dash Warp Pipe tournament going.

Totally up for trying that sometime.  Lord knows it went... poorly the last time I tried.

I don't know about a "tournament" though - we'll be lucky to get two people connected. ;)

It'd be cool if someone had come up with a Homebrew Channel hack that lets GameCube games see the Wii's Wi-Fi as a broadband adaptor. I'd imagine that would up the numbers we could pull in for such an event.

If by "come up with a hack," you mean "write an operating system..."

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorNovember 01, 2011

Quote from: MegaByte

If by "come up with a hack," you mean "write an operating system..."

For those who dabble in such things, does anyone know if the GameCube emulator for the PC does LAN Modes on compatible games?  And not Online where the second player is the second controller - but actually supportive of the LAN modes built into the games?

Would it be possible to write a GCN emulator for the Wii?  Is the Wii actually powerful enough for such a thing?

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorNovember 01, 2011

Fun Fact: Since we're kind of on the subject.

For those who have never seen it, in Mario Kart: Double Dash, the LAN Mode is a selection on the main menu screen - it only appears of you have a LAN Adapter in your GameCube.

What's really fun though - the Demo Disc (the ones for the in-store demo units) that contains a Mario Kart: Double Dash preview... the LAN Option shows up on that menu - again, only if you have a LAN Adapter installed... but you can't select it at all.  Just kinda neat.

Quote from: UncleBob

Would it be possible to write a GCN emulator for the Wii?  Is the Wii actually powerful enough for such a thing?

No, at 1.5x specs of the GC, the Wii is far too weak to emulate the GC (a rule of thumb used to be that you'd need at least 10x power, and that would be with speed hacks). Instead, you'd need to rewrite the GC BIOS to take into account the additional hardware and emulate the LAN adapter. However, that additional hardware part is non-trivial because you'd have to write drivers for the Wii security and I/O systems, which the GC BIOS doesn't know exist. Going in the other direction, you might be able to run the GC game as Wii software, with hooks patched in memory to deal with the network and any Wii-isms. In either case, it would involve massive architecting that would be hard even if all of the technical information was publicly available.

Chozo GhostNovember 01, 2011

Quote from: MegaByte

No, at 1.5x specs of the GC,

Didn't Iwata or someone else at Nintendo say the Wii was 2 to 3 times more powerful than the GC?

It doesn't matter what they said. The Wii CPU and GPUs are clocked at 1.5x the GC, and the memory was roughly doubled (it's more complicated than that).

Kytim89November 01, 2011

wonder hiw many times more powerful the Wii U will be over the Wii?

ThePermNovember 01, 2011

well considering I think someone said next E3 you'll see the more final design of the Wii U, I hope it has an expansion port, so it is future proofed. I had forgot about the GameCube's port, and that I actually used it for the GBA player. The Wii was future proofed as well in the controllers, but not the system itself.

The Wii U has USB ports, which is the modern version of expansion ports (unfortunately, Nintendo didn't do much with them on the Wii).

I learnt a lot from this feature, very interesting stuff here!
I'm especially into the SNES and N64 stuff, gotta love those add-ons!


Big thanks to Danny for digging up all this info and putting all in an easy to read manner, makes life easy for lazy people like me!  ;D

UncleBobRichard Cook, Guest ContributorNovember 02, 2011

We should really try a Warp Pipe Mario Kart match up.  Who's in?

CericNovember 02, 2011

Quote from: UncleBob

We should really try a Warp Pipe Mario Kart match up.  Who's in?

Maybe if I can find all my stuff.

Quote from: StrawHousePig

Oh wow, Warp Pipe and the LAN adapter. Never got a version of Warp Pipe to work right... something about the lappy I was using at the time... so long ago.

Never could get into PSO. Played it a few times but it seemed to mostly be people standing around chatting. No thanks. Plus it was a SEGA game and SEGA games *suck*!  ;D

That annoyed me about PSO.  When you found a group that wanted to play the game then it was great.  I'm glad the Monster Hunter Community isn't super chatty like the PSO one was.

Chozo GhostNovember 03, 2011

Quote from: MegaByte

The Wii U has USB ports, which is the modern version of expansion ports (unfortunately, Nintendo didn't do much with them on the Wii).

But you can't add more RAM to a system via a USB port, can you? Yet the N64 had an expansion port which allowed just that, and Nintendo released the RAM pack so it actually happened. It might not be a bad idea for Nintendo to include a port in the Wii U to allow the RAM to be expanded at some future point so that it can remain competitive against the PS4/420.

If that can be done via a USB port, then fine, but everything I know or think I know about USB leads me to believe it isn't really capable of that so some other sort of port is required.

Kytim89November 03, 2011

If the Wii U had a a spot for an internal HDD then it it would be the modern day equivalnet of the N64 memory expansion pack and port.

BlackNMild2k1November 03, 2011

Quote from: Kytim89

If the Wii U had a a spot for an internal HDD then it it would be the modern day equivalnet of the N64 memory expansion pack and port.

Wrong kind of memory expansion.

Chozo GhostNovember 03, 2011

What BnM said.

But I would also like to see a port or slot or drive bay or whatever you call it for an internal HDD to be added if the user so desires. I understand if Nintendo doesn't want to bundle a $50 HDD in the system by default in order to cut costs, but it would be nice if the option existed for users to add one in themselves. The PS2 was that way, so its not like that is unprecedented.

But yes, that is separate from the RAM which would be nice if that could also be upgraded later on.

CericNovember 03, 2011

Ram can't be added vi any cost effective standard connector, I think Infiniband and like is fast enough.

I have mixed feelings about RAM upgrades in consoles.  Harddrive style space is sort of a non-issue but, RAM starts diversifying the spec and makes moving targets for developers.

Chozo GhostNovember 03, 2011

Any game which would require a RAM upgrade could come bundled with the RAM upgrade. That's how it was with the N64 games which required the RAM Pak. I'm not sure how much a RAM module would cost, but hopefully it could be manageable.

CericNovember 03, 2011

Quote from: Chozo

Any game which would require a RAM upgrade could come bundled with the RAM upgrade. That's how it was with the N64 games which required the RAM Pak. I'm not sure how much a RAM module would cost, but hopefully it could be manageable.

That's partially it.  I mean Capcom is citing a slightly bigger cart for RE:Rev as the $10 premium reason.  Which is bull but, think if you had to pack in something else.  Not to mention if its popular we as gamers have 10 or so of them.  Not good for the environment.

In theory that's great but in Practice its Wii Motion+.

Chozo GhostNovember 03, 2011

Nothing wrong with Wii Motion+. Even if Zelda Skyward Sword alone were the only game to support it that would make it a success in and of itself. Wasn't Zelda one of the games on the N64 which required the RAM Pak? Considering the N64 Zelda games were top notch and regularly top the lists of the greatest games of all time, I'd say that makes the N64 RAM Pak a success even if absolutely no other game ever supported it.

Mop it upNovember 03, 2011

Didn't Sega teach us that add-ons are a bad idea, partly because they split the userbase? Adding anything significant to a system halfway through its market cycle just isn't a good idea. The N64 Expansion Pak and Wii Motion Plus are essentially just accessories, since only a handful of games actually require them. The Kinect and PSMove are a little more successful, but still aren't the new standard for those systems and haven't really gotten out of accessory status.

The only exception I can think of is the PlayStation's Dual Analogue and then Dual Shock controllers, but they were added before the system gained significant market share. There were also still few games that required them, so for people who bought one of the first systems they were not a necessity. This is also why the 3DS slide pad add-on may also work out, since it's happening early on and likely won't be required for just about everything.

Chozo GhostNovember 04, 2011

Quote from: Mop

Didn't Sega teach us that add-ons are a bad idea,

The way Sega did it was bad. The problem wasn't the addon itself or the idea, it was that it conflicted with the Saturn and competed with it which split Sega's resources and pissed off fans and developers alike. It should have either been the Neptune or the Saturn, but Sega released both and that was the problem. If it was just one or the other I think things would have turned out very differently.

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