Round Table: Remembering the Nintendo 64

Check out the polygons!

This week we have been celebrating the 15th Anniversary of the Nintendo 64, looking at memorable games, the revolutionary aspects of the system, the let-downs and disappointments, as well as the possible 3D future for N64 titles. Now it’s time to relax and get into some good old retro reminiscences, scouring our aging memory banks to recall our experiences of the console in the mid to late Nineties.

Posing questions and serving drinks is Features Editor Thomas Whitehead, joined by Downloads Editor Corbie Dillard, Editor at Large Jonathan Wahlgren, Social Media Manager Patrick Elliot, and writers/reviewers Zach Kaplan, Jamie O’Neill, Christopher Ingram and Marcel van Duyn.

Thomas Whitehead: To get us started, perhaps you should all introduce yourselves to our lovely readers?

Corbie Dillard: I'm Corbie Dillard, Downloads Editor here at Nintendo Life. I take care of all things digital download, which gives me the opportunity to work with many of the great indie developers out there. Did I mention I'm also quite good looking?

Jamie O’Neill: I'm JamieO on Nlife, I have contributed a few reviews, and I am especially fond of retro gaming. Possibly a bit obsessive about retro.

Patrick Elliot: My name's Patrick Elliot. I reviewed Dr. Franken here last Halloween and it still remains my only Game Boy review on the site. I hope the upcoming Halloween celebrations can amend this.

Marcel van Duyn: I'm Drake on the site, been there for a few years, and I've pretty much been a Nintendo fanboy ever since I first laid hands on a Game Boy around the age of two.

Jonathan Wahlgren: My name's Jon and I've been a Nintendo gamer since the day someone gave me an NES as a wee lad. It wasn't until the N64 where I actually cared enough to become more aware of the world of video games, so in that sense the console will forever have a special place in my heart.

Christopher Ingram: Hi, my name is Christopher Ingram and I write news and reviews mainly for our sister sites Movemodo and VitaGamr, but I also contribute a few reviews here at Nintendo Life when the great hand of time allows me to do so. I’ve been gaming since I was around three years old and that was a long time ago.

Zach Kaplan: I’m Zach, and I’ve been writing here since April 2010. The Nintendo 64 was an important console for me as, like Jon, it represents the first time I really got into gaming. I also really got into reading gaming magazines, and thus began my desire to write about video games myself.

Thomas Whitehead: Thanks guys. The first question for all of you — what was your first experience of the N64?

Patrick Elliot: The first time I played N64 was at my friend Jeff's house. Jeff and his uncle were playing the multiplayer of GoldenEye and gave me a controller with a burnt out analogue stick, so I was doomed to lose. It was a pretty smart idea.

Jonathan Wahlgren: Back when the Virtual Boy came out was around the time we got dial-up Internet in our home and I would spend at least 10 minutes of my online hour each week browsing Nintendo.com, which is where I first learned of the Ultra 64. Eventually it came out and I saw the amazing demo kiosks playing Super Mario 64. Once I stretched Mario's fat nose around the screen there was no going back.

Marcel van Duyn: I was a huge SNES fan around the time the N64 was announced (who wasn't?), and my hype for it was so big that I ended up importing one from North America as soon as it was released there with Super Mario 64, which of course was and still is one of the most revolutionary games ever.

Jonathan Wahlgren: Actually, I wasn't much of a SNES guy. Its processing didn't ‘blast’ enough for me. Gotta go fast!

Christopher Ingram: My cousin had acquired a N64 console with Mario 64 and as soon as I was able to I raced over for a weekend stay. We watched the sun come up twice that weekend as sleep was definitely not top priority.

Corbie Dillard: I took time off work to go pick up my Nintendo 64 and Super Mario 64 the day it was released. I had just gotten my first apartment all to myself, so I spent that entire week glued to Super Mario 64 every night. I even ordered pizzas every night so I wouldn't have to cook and could spend more time with the system.

Jamie O’Neill: I first heard of Ultra 64 in Super Play mag, during early ’95 they championed arcade Killer Instinct. PAL took ages to reach UK in spring ‘97, a year after Japan and US. Mario Kart 64 blew me away, shortly after the PAL launch.

Zach Kaplan: Even before the system came out I started reading about it, but I didn’t have one until maybe six months after it released. I played it for the first time at my friend Chris’s house, and he had most of the launch titles. Changed my life.

Thomas Whitehead: Some of you have already alluded to it, but would you say that, at the time, N64 graphics had a 'wow' factor?

Jonathan Wahlgren: Absolutely. The 16-bit era had some really great pixel art, but the jump to 3D was like staring into the future. The foggy, blurry future.

Jamie O’Neill: Take into account SNES Super Mario Kart is one of my favourite games, so I was massively excited to experience the N64’s polygon powers, particularly the way Mario Kart 64's tracks dipped and included humongous boost jumps (Royal Raceway), as well as a slippery ice cave (Sherbet Land). The flat SNES Mode 7 tracks could never handle that. Four player split-screen was also technically gobsmacking back then.

Patrick Elliot: Mario 64 literally had me daydreaming in class. The fact that you could explore a 3D Nintendo world seemed magical.

Zach Kaplan: Oh yes, very much so. It was so incredible to see Mario and pals in 3D. I missed out on PlayStation as well, so it was a huge leap for me.

Corbie Dillard: I think having played so much PlayStation, I wasn't quite as wowed with the 3D visuals at the time, although seeing many of the classic Nintendo characters like Mario and Link in 3D was far more impressive than anything else to me. Banjo Kazooie was probably the first N64 game that really wowed me.

Christopher Ingram: Even when we compared the PlayStation and the N64 together (Wave Race 64 vs Jet Moto) the PlayStation didn’t have the ‘wow’ factor that the N64 did. Wave Race 64 just looked amazing!

Marcel van Duyn: The PS1 was pretty much technically superior, but the N64 had much smoother textures and less jaggy edges, which made me prefer it a bit. Also, one of the last consoles to use cartridges, which mean less of those awful loading times!

The 16-bit era had some really great pixel art, but the jump to 3D was like staring into the future. The foggy, blurry future

Thomas Whitehead: Jon referred to the ‘foggy’ and ‘blurry’ graphics. At the time, did you guys think much of the blurring, or did you just accept it as a part of 3D polygon gaming?

Corbie Dillard: It just didn't really bother me too much. I know one of my buddies at the time didn't like it, but considering what the 3D visuals brought to the table, it seemed like a rather small price to pay in the overall scheme of things.

Marcel van Duyn: I didn't think much of it, I just thought of it as a necessary evil that would be gotten rid of as games continued to evolve.

Zach Kaplan: Just accepted it. Blurry or not, it was still very impressive to me.

Patrick Elliot: I don't think I had the frame of reference to call it out. It just seemed so cool nonetheless.

Jonathan Wahlgren: The only times I really was aware of the fog was when playing Turok. Incredibly obvious, and N64 Magazine kept poking fun at its pea-soup nature. The way I saw it, 3D went in one of two ways: sharp but with very schizophrenic textures, or foggy and blurry but reasonable. I much preferred the latter — the crawling textures makes it very difficult for me to play PS1 games (both then and now), but I can go back to any N64 game as long as it's played on a CRT set.

Christopher Ingram: Back then when the N64 first released, the blurry graphics were barely noticeable, but today it's a whole different story!

Thomas Whitehead: The general consensus seems to be that the graphics impressed at the time. Was there one game in the N64’s lifespan that truly, in your view, pushed the console fully?

Patrick Elliot: Well Perfect Dark seemed impressive at the time, but perhaps that's what I had to think to justify purchasing that add-on RAM you needed to play it.

Jamie O’Neill: First party N64 was still strong visually, regardless of blurry graphics. They often kept with a colourful cartoony style, Rare would match Nintendo for that, and character models often had a chunky endearing quality. As long as the art style is vivid, I don't mind the fuzziness as much. It's hard to choose one title for 'most impressive graphics'.

Zach Kaplan: At the time, Ocarina looked amazing, what with those waterfalls and everything. After that, Banjo-Kazooie, as it let you view great distances without the fog effect.

Corbie Dillard: As I mentioned before, Banjo-Kazooie was the game that blew me away from a visual standpoint. There was just so much detail and even with the limited draw distance, the game was still insanely impressive for its time. Nobody did it better than Rare during the N64 era, in my opinion.

Marcel van Duyn: Probably any expansion pak game was the best graphically, really, but if you ask me the winner would be Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. Really hope they make a 3D version of that as well!

Jamie O’Neill: I had the Expansion Pak for Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, it doubled the screen resolution, although I think it took its toll on the frame rate if I remember correctly. Rogue Squadron was a fine looking game though, it’s harder to appreciate the detail it provided 12 years on.

Jonathan Wahlgren: Rogue Squadron, Zelda and Turok 2 were all fantastic, but to me it comes down to two Rare gems: Conker's Bad Fur Day and Perfect Dark. Neither had particularly smooth frame rates, but their respective worlds were so engrossing and lively for the time that they captured my eyes like crazy. I'd have to give it to Perfect Dark though: the amount of content and boldness of it is still dizzying.

Christopher Ingram: Wave Race 64! I still remember the first time I saw the commercial for the game on TV and remember thinking, "Those can't be real in-game graphics!" They were, and still to this day the wave animations hold up nicely. What's really interesting about the great visuals in Wave Race 64 is the fact that it's an early release game, and it didn't use the Expansion Pack either.

Jamie O’Neill: Amazing 'wave physics' there. Good point!

Zach Kaplan: Yeah, I was never a huge fan of Wave Race but its visuals did blow me away now that you mention it.

Thomas Whitehead: Wave Race and Rogue Squadron stood out for me, definitely.

Jonathan Wahlgren: Yeah, the waves are still impressive today.

Christopher Ingram: And, back when the N64 first came around and the game was released, wave physics and animations were considered to be nearly impossible to recreate accurately, but nonetheless it was pulled off with fantastic results.