The Ingenious Design of the Nintendo 64
Hello all. Here I am again with yet another weird spinoff entry.
Take a look at this console, the Nintendo 64. Released in 1996, this system helped pave the way for modern 3D gaming with revolutionary titles such as Super Mario 64. It also has an ingenious bit of engineering in it that I have yet to see in any other console. However, on the surface, the thing may not look too terribly well designed, and for the most part that is correct.
To start, let's look at what is by far the most obvious flaw of the system, the cartridge port. In the mid 1990s, cartridges were going out of style. Disc-based games were becoming popular on systems like the PlayStation as they could hold much more data and were cheaper to make. CD games could house things like full motion video (FMV) and high-fidelity audio that cartridges simply didn't have the space for. With disc drives, systems could expand outside the limits of video games. For example, the PlayStation could not only use its drive to read video game data, but could also be used to play audio CDs; effectively a multimedia device. Additionally, discs were not only cheaper to produce on the manufacturer's side of things, but on the consumer's as well. The average PS1 game at the time the system was on store shelves cost $40 USD. A Nintendo 64 cartridge would cost in the wheelhouse of $60, '90s money. Discs are part of the reason that even though Nintendo's system had twice the bits behind it, the PS1 could have much bigger games and ended up being much more flexible. The N64 ultimately saw a short-lived disc drive in Japan exclusively, but as that thing failed miserably and ultimately nothing limit-pushing was produced for it, it's barely worth a mention.
Let's move on to the controller. Indeed, this controller was a game-changer in its own time, but in practice it sets itself up for failure. It would only work well with certain types of games as we humans only have two hands at our disposal. The controller works well with certain games like Super Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64, but at the end of the day the games it could play (and play well, might I add) were quite limited. Let's say we want to make a first person shooter game. A fast, action-packed, all-out FPS. Our character will shoot with the Z trigger and move with the analog stick. Okay, simple enough. To look around, we'll need to use the four C buttons. Not as elegant as if we were using the PS DualShock (which to be fair was released afterward), but fine enough. A will be used to preform actions like opening doors, B will be used for using pickups like healing items, and the R trigger will be used to aim our weapons more precisely. Now, how do we change our weapons? This game is going to be blisteringly fast, so we'll need to be able to change weapons and items on-the-fly and easily. All of our available buttons are used up. Do we make the player move their hand to use the D-Pad to switch items? Now do you guys see what I mean that this controller was limiting? You can't easily access all the buttons at once, in turn making it so that designers have to redesign their game from its original vision a bit.
Well, this console sure isn't looking great so far design-wise. What's the ingenious part?
For that, we have to look at the back of the system.
Now, it may not look like much. It's just a simple power cord, albeit bulky. What makes it so special?
Nintendo has a horrible track record with bulky AC adapters. They really hate me, I guess. My setup consists of mostly Nintendo consoles, and for a time exclusively them. Sure, I have an XBOX here, but I never use it. When I need to unplug something it's always the first to go. Nowadays I have my 7800 hooked up as well, which also has a big power supply, so it really doesn't help anything. All these bulky plugs fill up all the available outlets quickly, not only by using them but by covering up their neighbors, making them inaccessible for anything else. The NES, SNES, Ataris 2600 and 7800, and Nintendo Switch all have these problem (just to name a few that I own).
Now the GameCube, Wii, and Wii U have a different solution. Rather than putting the bulky tumor of the AC adapter box on the plug itself, it divides the cord going into the system and the cord going into the wall or power strip. This is an improvement, I guess, but for my setup exclusively it presents a problem. My Wii U sits on a dresser a few feet above the ground. Because of the way that I have this configured, the bulky box ends up being more harm than good. There isn't enough cord so that I can put the box on the floor and still have the rest of the cord reach the Wii U, and if I let it hang its weight will tear down my setup. So I have to let the box sit on the dresser as well, which means I have to use an extension cord to make it have power. This wouldn't effect my regular Wii setup in a vacuum, but as many of you know my Wii has been softmodded and is constantly hooked up to an external hard drive. Said drive has one of those God-forsaken plugs, so it ends up being just as bad.
So what about the 64 is so clever? Simple. The bulky adapter plug is implemented so that it simply plugs into the back of the system. No suffocated outlets and no dangling boxes threatening to pull down your Wii U. This is just like a regular two-pronged cord until the last few inches as it enters the system. It's genius. Shame that more retro systems didn't do this. Sure, the XBOX and even main competitor PlayStation had even less bulky power solutions, but I really don't care much for those games at all. As far as Nintendo PSU solutions go, this is the best of the best. Though it can't really work on their modern consoles because of not only size limitations but for needing room for various USB and SD ports as well. It's a shame the N64 isn't a particularly strong console in my opinion. Perhaps this AC adatption method would have been possible to an extent on the NES or the SNES.
Nintendo, get your act together! Stop making consoles that are major outlet hogs!
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