Nintendo 64 (Project Reality)

Edit on Github | Updated: 5th February 2024

Introduction to Hacking the Nintendo 64

Interested in learning more about the the N64? Excellent! This section will guide you through the basics, starting from basic MIPS assembly language all the way to an introduction to reverse engineering your first game!

N64 Reversing Introduction

For an introduction on reverse engineering N64 games check out this post.

Nintendo 64 Emulation

We recommend using the Reversers Edition of the Mupen64+ emulator as it provides useful features for reverse engineering such as auto detection of functions.

N64 Reversing Emulator - Mupen64+ RE

Check out the N64 Reversing Emulator to help create full game reversals for your favourite game.

Nintendo 64 Assembly Language (MIPS)

Although most Nintendo 64 games are written in C or C++, they all get compiled down to MIPS assembly code, so this is what you will mainly be working with when reverse engineering, so it is good to at least have a basic knowledge before getting started.

N64 MIPS Assembly Video Tutorials

For an introduction to N64 MIPS assembly check out this set of video tutorials.

Nintendo 64 Boot Code

Every game produced for the N64 required a little piece of code known as the “bootloader” or boot code to initialise the state of the console. You don’t have to know anything about this, apart from that it exists and tends to execute in the address space 0xa4000000 to 0xa4000b64.

N64 Boot Code Analysis

For more information on the boot code check out this post.


N64 Games

Prototypes & Demos

Although Nintendo 64 didn’t have a massive library of games compared to its rival the Playstation, there has been a huge interest in finding and preserving early prototypes of the games, which are notmally found on Development (Flash) cartridges.

List of Nintendo 64 Prototypes - Hidden Palace

Hidden Palace has the most complete list of released Nintendo 64 Prototypes and Demos, check it out here.

Nintendo 64 Exclusives

When it comes to finding a game to reverse engineer it can be helpful to look at games that are cross-platform to compare builds. But the most valuable reverse engineering projects tend to be the platform exclusives as these are games people can no longer play on modern consoles.

List of Nintendo 64 Exclusive Games - N64 Squid

The website N64 Squid has compiled an excellent list of games that have never been re-released and thus need N64 hardware to be able to play

N64 Limit Pushers

The Youtuber Sharopolis has an excellent video talking about the games that really pushed the limits of the Nintendo 64 Hardware.

While the N64 is good at rendering 3D graphics, it struggles with textures due to its 4KB texture cache limitation. This results in the console being unable to display high-resolution detailed textures. However, the N64 can filter low-resolution textures, creating a smoother appearance. Beetle Adventure Racing exploits this feature to create realistic environments.

One of the standout visual features of the game is the reflection effect on the cars, achieved through a technique likely involving a frame buffer as a texture. The game also showcases other graphical effects such as particle effects, motion blur, fog, and real-time shadows. Beetle Adventure Racing maintains a solid framerate, though it doesn’t reach 60 FPS.

F-Zero

F-Zero is a standout N64 game with a consistent 60 frames per second, which was rare for games in that era. Smooth action was important for this fast-paced game, and it achieved this by keeping the graphics simple, focusing on essential elements like the track and cars. Nintendo’s expertise made the simplicity feel like a stylistic choice.

Factor 5 games

Factor 5 developed three visually impressive N64 games: Rogue Squadron, Star Wars Episode 1: The Battle for Naboo, and Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine. These games featured high polygon environments, excellent lighting and shadow effects, great character animations, and higher resolutions. Factor 5 achieved these improvements through custom micro code for the N64’s reality signal processor, allowing for better performance and more complex scenes.

Resident Evil 2

The most impressive console port of all time is Resident Evil 2 on the N64. It was a surprise to see on the N64 due to storage space limitations, as N64 cartridges maxed out at 64 megabytes, while CD ROMs on PlayStation and Sega Saturn had capacities over 600 megabytes. The two-disc game was compressed to fit in a 64-megabyte cartridge through data compression techniques. Comparing the two versions, the PlayStation’s cutscenes look slightly better, but the N64 version has higher quality music. The N64 managed to achieve full motion video through its powerful CPU and Graphics co-processor.

Rare games

Rare games, particularly Perfect Dark, pushed the N64 to its limits, making brilliant use of limited textures, layering, and variety. Perfect Dark showcased a range of impressive effects like volumetric lighting, corona effect, and a reflective floor in the main hub. Despite its lower resolution and frame rate compared to Factor 5 games


Making of Goldeneye 007

The Youtuber OnaRetroTip has an excellent documentary about the making of Goldeneye 007 which goes into incredible detail about the development of the game.

It mentions a few interesting things:

  • The working ZX Spectrum emulator added to the game by Steve Ellis
  • They hired a number of the developers through adverts in the EDGE magazine.
  • They used Alias Wavefront Version 4 (later became Maya) which Brett Jones needed to learn from scratch from Video Tapes and a Book (I wonder which book it was?!)
  • They used the ONYX 2 Reality Engine which had a N64 simulator on it, it also had a networked flight simulator on it with a dog fighting game mode!
  • They created a Virtual Memory system for the N64 for swapping memory in and out of the cartridge
  • They created a scripting system for the enemy AIs which were a list of instructions (byte data) which was simpler than writing it in C.
  • Mark Edmonds had to create a pipeline for converting the graphics/animations so they could be played on the console
  • They used NinGen (Multigen) to place all the objects in the level

N64 Game Reverse Engineering

Recently there has been a growing interest in reversing Nintendo 64 games back to source code that when compiled is binary-compatible with the original ROM.

These projects take a very long time but in the end are hugely rewarding, they result in full source code that can be compiled and even ported to other hardware.

N64 Decompiling with Ghidra

If you are interested in Decompiling a Nintendo 64 game with Ghidra check out this post.

With the source code available it is trivial to understand how the game works and can be the basis for future game mods that are many times more complex.

This can be beneficial for game developers and anyone who is interested in how games are made, they can also be beneficial for speed runners due to the better understanding of how to exploit the game.

Super Mario 64

Super Mario 64

For an example of a decompilation project for Super Mario 64 check out this post.

Mario Kart 64

Mario Kart 64

For an example of a partial reversal of Mario Kart 64 check out this post.

Legend of Zelda Ocarina Of Time

Legend of Zelda Ocarina Of Time Decompilation

Check out the Legend of Zelda Ocarina Of Time decompilation project on Github!

Legend of Zelda Majora’s Mask

Legend of Zelda Majora's Mask Decompilation

Check out the Legend of Zelda Majora's Mask decompilation project on Github!


Game Modding

Unlike a full game reversal project a Mod goes in the opposite direction by changing the original game to add new levels, textures, music and even alter the games code and physics engine.

The Game Modding category also includes translation patches to convert the game’s text to another language, which can bring many region-exclusive games to a world-wide audience.

HD Texture Packs

Nintendo 64 games can look a bit dated due to their low resolution textures, but it is possible to replace these textures with High Definition versions using an emulator!

HD Texture pack showcase

In this HD Texture pack showcase by **Gaming Revived** you can see some of the awesome work that can be achieved using **Esrgan** which is software that uses machine learning algorithms to upscale images. </div>

N64 Cheats, Secrets & Glitches

Whether you just want to get further in your favourite game, unlock hidden content or even completely corrupt/glitch the game, you can use a cheat cartridge such as Action Replay or emulator memory editing to change games in real-time.

Emulator Game Memory corruption

For details about corrupting ROMs and memory at runtime to create check out this post.


N64 Anti-piracy

The main Nintendo 64 anti-piracy measure was the enhanced CIC chip based on the Super Nintendos CIC chip design but far more secure. This was a mechanism to prevent cartridges being produced without Nintendo’s licensing fee.

3rd Party tricks for unlicensed Carts

During the N64’s lifetime there were various unlicensed devices that ignored the CIC chip such as game backup devices (e.g Bung’s Dr V64), game cheat cartridges (e.g Equalizer/Action Replay) and region unlockers (Passport Plus). Most required a legitimate cartridge to be inserted into the back and used that for the CIC chip communication.

Datel Action Replay Professional (N64)

For more information on the Action Replay Cheat Code Cartridge check out this post.

Piracy Devices

During its lifetime the Nintendo 64 had its share of piracy problems, although no where near the extend of its competitor the Sony Playstation it was still possible to backup and run backup games via hardware such as the Doctor V64.

Bung Doctor v64 (N64)

For more information on Bung Doctor V64 check out this post.


Development Kits (Hardware)

Development kits are released to game developers before the launch of the system to allow games to be developed for the system’s launch. These systems would evolve over the systems lifespan and contained useful features for debugging and optimising games for the platform. These systems were not just limited to the official offerings by Nintendo as a few other publishers had their own versions of development hardware.

Official Development Kits

The official development kit for the N64 was a partnership between SGI and Intelligent Systems and the hardware evolved over time. The first development kit released was a modified SGI ONYX provided by SGI and contained similar hardware to the final N64.

Official Nintendo 64 (Ultra 64) Development Kit Hardware

For more information on the original N64 Devkit check out this post.

3rd Party Development Kits

There were a few third party developers who created their own custom development kits for the Nintendo 64. One of the main developers for 3rd party devkits was SN Systems with their Maestro64 aimed at 3D and Sound artists and with a much cheaper price tag than an official N64 devkit.

Maestro64

For more information on the SN Systems Maestro 64 check out this post.


Software Development Kits

Official Software development kit

A version of the Nintendo 64 SDK was released on the internet allowing you to use the same tools that your favourite developer used back-in-the-day. This can be useful if you are aiming for a 100% accurate decompilation of a game that can be compiled to the byte-identical ROM.

Official Nintendo 64 SDK

For more information on the released n64 SDK check out this post.

Official SDK Setup Instructions

Official N64 SDK Setup (MacOSX/Linux/Win)

For more information on how to setup the released n64 SDK check out this post.

3D Modelling tools

During the Nintendo 64s lifetime 3D modelling tools evolved at an incredible pace. 3D games were the new trend which pushed developers into creating new 3D games in order to get published.

N64 3D Modelling Software

If you are interested in how 3D models were created for the N64 check out this post

Nintendo 64 Sound and Music

The Nintendo 64 has some of the most beloved video game soundtracks with classics such as Banjo-Kazooie, Buck Bumble, Super Mario 64 and many more.

N64 Sound and Music

If you are interested in how sound and music was implemented into your favourite games check out this post


Retail N64 hardware

When the N64 was launched it was the most powerful game console on the market and brought incredible processing power into the home. The hardware was state of the art and exploring how it was developed is a fascinating topic.

Console

The Console itself was built by a partnership between Nintendo and SGI and contained a 64-bit MIPS CPU along with a custom chip known as the Reality Co-Processor which handled graphics and vector calculations along with a few other functions.

Nintendo 64 Hardware Architecture

For more information on the N64 hardware architecture check out this post.

Controller

The N64 controller was a very distinctive shape, some people loved it and others hated it, but we can all agree it was a unique experience. If you are interested in how the controller hardware works then check out this excellent article by HowStuffWorks Controller - How N64 Works | HowStuffWorks

Cartridge

Nintendo made the controversial decision to continue using cartridges for its next-gen console after the Super Nintendo, this has the b of excellent loading times compared to CDs but came at the cost of a smaller capacity and higher cost to produce.


Source Code

Official Source Code

Up until very recently there has been little official N64 source code released, just a few examples that come with the released SDKs. This changed very suddenly when 2 retail games had their source code leaked at roughly the same time, these games were Turok - Dinosaur Hunter and Mortal Kombat 64.

Studying the source code for these games can give vital insight into what it was like developing games back in the mid to late 90s when the Nintendo 64 was at the cutting-edge. The information gained from this can be very useful to help you reverse engineer the games back into retail-like source code.

Turok 64 Official Source Code Analysis

For more information on the released turok64 source code check out this post.

Homebrew Source Code

There are some fantastic open source projects in the Nintendo 64 homebrew community, these range from tech demos to full games and everything in between. One excellent example of source code provided by the homebrew community is Peter Lemon’s N64 Bare Metal Mips programming examples: PeterLemon/N64: N64 Bare Metal Mips Assembly Programming

Emulator Source Code

One of the best ways to learn how the Nintendo 64 worked is to take a look inside the source code of an emulator, by modifying it and seeing the results on your favourite games you can start to understand why it worked the way it did.

Mupen64+ Emulator Source Code Analysis

For a walkthrough of the Mupen64+ source code check out this post.

Writing a N64 Emulator in Rust

The Youtuber Ferris (ferrisstreamsstuff) has an excellent playlist taking you right from the start to a working N64 emulator:


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