Nintendo 64 games were ROM cartridge based. Cartridge size varied[30] from 4 MB (32 Mbit) (e.g. Automobili Lamborghini and Dr. Mario 64) to 64 MB (512 Mbit) for Resident Evil 2 and Conker's Bad Fur Day. Some of the cartridges included internal EEPROM, flash memory, or battery-backed-up RAM for saved game storage. Otherwise, game saves were put onto a separate memory card, marketed by Nintendo as a Controller Pak.[1]

The Cartridge problem[edit | edit source]

The Nintendo 64 cartridge.

The selection of the cartridge for the Nintendo 64 was a controversial decision and a key factor in Nintendo's being unable to retain its dominant position in the gaming market. Most of the cartridge's advantages did not manifest themselves prominently and they were nullified by the cartridge's shortcomings, which disappointed customers and developers alike. Especially for the latter, it was costly and difficult to develop for ROM cartridges, as their limited storage capacity (64 MB or a mere 9% of a Compact Disc 700 MB capacity) constrained the game's content.[2] Most third-party developers switched to the PlayStation, such as Square and Enix, whose Final Fantasy VII and Dragon Quest VII were initially pre-planned for the N64,[3] while some who remained released fewer games to the Nintendo 64. Konami was the biggest example of this, releasing only thirteen N64 games but over fifty on the PlayStation. New Nintendo 64 game releases were infrequent while new games were coming out rapidly for the PlayStation.[4] Most of the N64's biggest successes were developed by either Nintendo itself or by second-parties of Nintendo, such as Rare.[5] Despite the difficulties with third-parties, the N64 still managed to support popular games such as GoldenEye 007, giving it a long shelf-life. Much of this success was credited to Nintendo's strong first-party franchises,[6] such as Mario, which had strong name brand appeal.

Advantages[edit | edit source]

Nintendo cited several advantages for making the N64 cartridge-based.[7] Primarily cited was the ROM cartridges' very fast load times in comparison to disc-based games, as contemporary CD-ROM drives rarely had speeds above 4×. This can be observed from the loading screens that appear in many PlayStation games but are typically non-existent in N64 versions. ROM carts were much faster than the 2× CD-ROM drives in other consoles that developers could stream data in real-time from them. This was done in Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine, for example, to make the most of the limited RAM in the N64.[8] Also, ROM cartridges are difficult and expensive to duplicate, thus resisting piracy, albeit at the expense of lowered profit margin for Nintendo. While unauthorized interface devices for the PC were later developed, these devices are rare when compared to a regular CD drive and popular mod chips used on the PlayStation. Compared to the N64, piracy was rampant on the PlayStation. The cartridges are also far more durable than compact discs, the latter which must be carefully used and stored in protective cases. It also prevents accidental scratches and subsequent read errors.[9] It is possible to add specialized I/O hardware and support chips (such as co-processors) to ROM cartridges, as was done on some SNES games (including Star Fox, using the Super FX chip).[10]

Disadvantages[edit | edit source]

ROM cartridges also have disadvantages associated with them. While game cartridges are more resistant than CDs to physical damage, they are sometimes less resistant to long-term environmental damage, particularly oxidation (although this can be simply cleaned off) or wear of their electrical contacts causing a blank or frozen screen, or static electricity. They also have a more complex manufacturing processes; cartridge-based games were usually more expensive to manufacture than their optical counterparts. The cartridges can have a maximum of 64 MB of data,[11] whereas CDs held over 650 MB.[12] As fifth generation games became more complex in content, sound and graphics, it pushed cartridges to the limits of their storage capacity. Games ported from other media had to use data compression or reduced content to be released on the N64. Extremely large games could be made to span across multiple discs on CD-based systems, while cartridge games had to be contained within one unit as using an additional cartridge was prohibitively expensive (and was never tried). Due to the cartridge's space limitations, full motion video was not usually feasible for use in cut scenes, with the exception of Resident Evil 2. The cut scenes of some games used graphics generated by the CPU in real-time.[13]

References[edit | edit source]

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