The N64 was, for the time, a formidable piece of kit. Its chipset was developed in conjunction with Silicon Graphics and provided the console with power that put rivals like the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation in the shade. However, the complex nature of the chips involved resulted in a significant delay and the N64 arrived on the market after both of its competitors.
It turns out that this delay could have been much greater had SGI decided to act on evidence unearthed by none other than GoldenEye 007 director Martin Hollis. Speaking exclusively to Nintendo Life, Hollis recounts the situation surrounding the console prior to its launch:
I got to travel to SGI in Mountain View to write test code that would run on some of the few 'golden chips' - this is the terminology for the first chips which come off the production line. From the initial run there were very few working chips, and SGI kept them in-house, so a few developers would fly out to use them for a week. I think I might have been the only 'worker' from Rare, although Chris Stamper travelled.
Martin used this exclusive access to the system to test its limitations, and discovered a weakness which annoyed the SGI project leader:
I wrote a piece of code which displayed spinning icosahedrons; as many as possible until the framerate dropped below 60Hz. The head of the project at SGI was not too pleased to discover what the performance of the machine was in terms of triangles per second. He asked to see my code in the hope it was inefficient. It wasn't. He later told me that SGI very nearly did another spin of the hardware to fix the issue, which was with the memory interface.
I don't know exact figures but a second spin of the hardware (equivalent to a second edition of a book) is sometimes said to cost a million dollars, and there is the additional cost of a delay in reaching the market which might be enormously larger.
Despite finding a chink in the N64's armour, Hollis maintains that the console was still an incredibly potent piece of kit:
Today I can't tell you if the Nintendo 64 could have been faster. From my perspective it was an extremely fast machine and without the many visual artefacts that made the Ridge Racer coin-op or PlayStation a little distracting.
Hollis' talent didn't go unnoticed - upon leaving Rare in 1998 he joined Nintendo of America as a consultant, working on the GameCube. He returned to the UK to establish Bonsai Barber studio Zoonami in 2000, and is currently working on experimental games.