Official Nintendo 64 (Ultra 64) Development Kit Hardware

Edit on Github | Updated: 11th January 2020

The website N64Squid has a page dedicated to Nintendo 64 development hardware that is well worth a look: Nintendo 64 development hardware - N64 Squid. This page aims to compliment that page and give additional details about the hardware, so it is recommended you read that page first 1.

Official Development Kit

SGI started work on what it called the Reality Engine in 1992, this technology cost $100,000 but produced some of the most beautiful 3D demos that the world had ever seen. An SGI employee called Tim Van Hook then took this technology and produced a functionally similar engine at a much cheaper price point and called it the Multimedia Engine 2.

It was this technology that SGI wanted to bring into the home, but they decided that they would need the help of a major player in the video game industry, Nintendo. Thus in August 1993 the Ultra64 project began its life as a partnership between Nintendo and SGI.

Early Development Hardware - SGI Onyx

In the very early days of the Ultra64 project the retail hardware was still under active development, but games would need to start development as soon as possible so that the system could have launch titles.

As there was no ready hardware to use early developers such as Shigeru Miyamoto for the platform used the SGI Onyx and it’s Multimedia Engine along with a software emulation layer to model how they envisioned the Ultra64 project. This is where Super Mario 64 started its life in July of 1994 2.

All the launch titles had to be developed on the SGI workstations with the software emulation layer until working prototypes of the Nintendo 64 hardware was available and could be slotted in the same SGI workstations.

The earliest mention of the SGI Onyx being used as an early development kit for the Nintendo 64 was in the Edge UK magazine issue 20 from May 1995. 3.

Nintendo 64 Development Unit (SGI IRIX workstations)

As the N64 hardware matured so did the development hardware, the Nintendo 64 Development Unit was one of the first evolutions of the development kit and was sold directly by Nintendo from October 1996 onwards.

It consisted of a standard SGI workstation such as an Indy with an add-on board containing the retail Nintendo 64 hardware.

This has the benefit of not using any workstation hardware resources to run the games as it used the N64 hardware directly and just communicated with it for debugging 4.

N64 hardware add-on board (Nintendo 64 Development Board)

The add-on board slips into the SGI Indy workstations case and has pretty much all the hardware from a retail console, with a few changes to allow the communication between the IRIX operating system and the hardware.

N64 Hardware Connectivity

You can see the standard SNES/N64 A/V out socket in the back on the Indy, apart from this the connectivity was very sparse. The controllers connected via another bit of hardware and are not on the add-on board at all.

If you look closer you will notice that there is a number of ethernet ports which actually go to the add-on board. These are used to connect to multiple development hardware including an adapter for retail controllers which can be seen in a tweet from Shane Battye .


KMC Partner-N64

The Nintendo 64 Development Unit later evolved into the Partner-N64 series of hardware by KMC (Kyoto Microcomputer, Co. Ltd.) and consisted not only of hardware for the SGI workstations but also created a version that worked on standard Windows PCs!

KMC Partner-N64NW (Network SGI workstations)

Unlike the Nintendo 64 Development Unit this development kit didn’t contain an add-on board and instead connected directly to a modified retail N64. This was achieved using a custom cartridge known as a Debugger Pak slotted in the N64 with a network adapter that could be connected directly to an SGI workstation such as an Indy 5.

KMC Partner-N64PC (Windows PCs)

The Partner-N64PC was another full official development kit by KMC (Kyoto Microcomputer, Co. Ltd.) specifically for Windows PCs.

The SDK that comes with the Partner-N64PC was provided by Metrowerks (Codewarrior).

Partner-N64 Debugger Pak

The Debugger Pak was used by both Partner-N64PC and Partner-N64NW, it functioned similarly to the standard Game Pak but were longer and had the connection port at the top for connecting to the PC. This allowed full debugging support such as breakpoints and stack traces to be used.

ISA Card (Dedicated Interface board)

The ISA card was a small add-on card that could be slotted a the standard PC’s ISA bus slot and contained just enough hardware to allow communication over the port.

The ISA card comes as part of the Partner-N64PC pack but you could also buy a PCI version separately for $350 6.

Notice that there are DIP switches at the top of the board that need to be configured before installing to make sure that the I/O addresses for communication match the PC.

Modified N64 (Control Deck Assembly)

In order to use the Partner64 the retail N64 console hardware had to be modified, these normally came with the development kit when you bought the Partner64 or you could buy a separate one for about $200 6.

Ultra64.ca has an excellent tutorial which shows you how to create your own Partner N64 development kit for home-brew development, very cool! It is available here: Make your own Partner N64 console, for use with IS Viewer : Nintendo (Ultra) 64

Usage of Partner64

The official Partner64 development kit was quite popular and used both inside and outside of Nintendo.

Here is a list of games that still contain KMC Partner64 debug code thanks to a Pastebin by user ZOINKITY 7:

  1. 1080 TenEighty Snowboarding
  2. 64 Oozumou 2
  3. 64 Trump Collection - Alice no Wakuwaku Trump World
  4. AI Shougi 3
  5. Aidyn Chronicles - The First Mage
  6. Battlezone - Rise of the Black Dogs
  7. Blues Brothers 2000
  8. Brunswick Circuit Pro Bowling
  9. Buck Bumble
  10. Charlie Blast’s Territory
  11. Dragon Sword 64 (NTSC) (Proto)  [[NOT PAL!]]
  12. Earthworm Jim 3D
  13. Elmo’s Letter Adventure
  14. Elmo’s Number Journey
  15. Fighter Destiny 2
  16. Fighting Force 64
  17. GameShark Pro (v2.0)
  18. Ganbare Goemon - Neo Momoyama Bakufu no Odori / Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon
  19. Ganbare! Nippon! Olympics 2000
  20. Gex 3 - Deep Cover Gecko
  21. Gex 64 - Enter the Gecko
  22. Glover 2 (USA) (Proto)  [[internal crc B7F40BCF 553556A5]]
  23. Harvest Moon 64 / Bokujou Monogatari 2
  24. Hercules - The Legendary Journeys
  25. Hyper Olympics in Nagano 64 / Nagano Winter Olympics ‘98
  26. Ide Yosuke no Mahjong Juku
  27. International Superstar Soccer 2000
  28. International Track & Field - Summer Games / International Track & Field 2000
  29. Jikkyou J.League 1999 - Perfect Striker 2
  30. Kakutou Denshou - F-Cup Maniax
  31. Legend of Zelda, The - Majora’s Mask (Debug)
  32. Lylat Wars  [[PAL only, not NTSC!]]
  33. Mario Party (Europe)    [[not NTSC!]]
  34. Mario Party 3   [[USA, PAL, +not+ Japan]]
  35. Micro Machines 64 Turbo
  36. Midway’s Greatest Arcade Hits - Volume 1
  37. Mischief Makers (USA) (Rev A)   [[not in other versions]]
  38. MRC - Multi Racing Championship
  39. NFL Blitz - Special Edition
  40. NFL Blitz 2001
  41. Nightmare Creatures
  42. Parlor! Pro 64 - Pachinko Jikki Simulation Game
  43. Pokemon Puzzle League
  44. Pokemon Stadium 2 / Pocket Monster Stadium 3
  45. Polaris SnoCross
  46. Powerpuff Girls, The - Chemical X-Traction
  47. Premier Manager 64
  48. Ready 2 Rumble Boxing
  49. Ready 2 Rumble Boxing - Round 2
  50. Road Rash 64
  51. Rockman 64 (Japan) (Proto)
  52. Star Fox 64 (Rev A) [[Japan and USA; not in v1.0]]
  53. Superman (USA) (Proto)  [[not in retail]]
  54. Tom and Jerry in Fists of Furry
  55. Triple Play 2000
  56. WCW Nitro   [[both versions]]
  57. 4567 (64DD)
  58. Dezaemon DD (64DD)
  59. Doshin the Giant (retail and demo) (64DD)
  60. Doshin the Giant 2 (64DD)
  61. Mario Artist Communication Kit (64DD)

Monegi Smart Pack


IS-Viewer 64

The IS-Viewer64 or IS64 for short was the official way to create a N64 prototype cartridge than ran on a modified version of retail hardware. It is a flash cart created by Intelligent Systems (hence the IS prefix) and was released as part of the official N64 development kit. This did not have debug support such as breakpoints and stack traces and this was much cheaper than alternatives. Although It cost around 1800 USD on release so was still an expensive solution 8.

The main benefit of the IS-Viewer64 over alternative flash carts available to developers was the crazy fast transfer speed, allowing games to be written to the onboard RAM in as little as 30 seconds! 9.

Usage of IS-Viewer64

The IS-Viewer 64 was used to develop the two Zelda games (Oracle of Time, Majoras Mask) and still contains some code to write out debug messages to a connected PC on the retail ROM 10.

Here is a list of games that still contain IS64 debug code thanks to a Pastebin by user ZOINKITY 7:

  1. Castlevania / Akumajou Dracula Mokushiroku - Real Action Adventure
  2. Dance Dance Revolution - Disney Dancing Museum
  3. Ganbare Goemon - Neo Momoyama Bakufu no Odori / Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon
  4. Ganbare! Nippon! Olympics 2000
  5. Hyper Olympics in Nagano 64 / Nagano Winter Olympics ‘98
  6. J.League Tactics Soccer
  7. Mario Artist Paint Studio (64DD)
  8. Paper Mario
  9. Legend of Zelda, The - Ocarina of Time - Master Quest (Debug)
  10. Legend of Zelda, The - Ocarina of Time (Debug)
  11. International Superstar Soccer 2000
  12. International Track & Field - Summer Games / International Track & Field 2000
  13. Jikkyou J.League 1999 - Perfect Striker 2
  14. Legend of Zelda, The - Majora’s Mask (Debug)
  15. Mario Party 3   [[USA, PAL, +not+ Japan]]
  16. Midway’s Greatest Arcade Hits - Volume 1
  17. Pokemon Stadium 2 / Pocket Monster Stadium 3
  18. 4567 (64DD)
  19. Doshin the Giant 2 (64DD)
  20. Mario Artist Communication Kit (64DD)

Prototype Cartridges (NUS-8F16F/NUS-16F32SB/NUS-16F32S/NUS-16F32S)

Rewritable Prototype cartridges were available to buy and came in 128Mb, 256Mb and 512Mb configurations, with the largest capacity being the most expensive.

These were given out to journalists to preview/review the games in their magazines before the official launch of the game along with being used to demonstrate upcoming games at trade shows such as E3 11.

They are double the size of regular N64 games and they are actually re-writeable 7 at a time using a flashing device by Intelligent systems.


Unofficial N64 Development Kit

SN64 (SN Systems)

SN Systems released their own cheaper Nintendo 64 development kit aimed at smaller studios and it was used to create some classic games such as Resident Evil 2 12.

You can view a cached version of the official SN systems SN64 development kit thanks to Icequake SN64 Nintendo64 Development Tools

Maestro64

SN Systems also released an unofficial development kit created specifically for Musicians called the Maestro64, we have another post specifically for this piece of hardware.

Maestro64

For information about SN Systems's Maestro64 development cartridge check out this post.

Bung DoctorV64

There was also a device created by Bung which advertised itself as a development kit but many consumers used it for backing up game cartridges.

Bung Doctor v64 (N64)

For information about Bung's v64 development hardware check out this post.


Official Sound Development Tools

Nintendo released multiple hardware for Sound designers to test their creations on the real hardware without having to bug the developers to borrow a full development machine.

The SDK also came with the N64 Sound Tools and MusyX Audio Tools which contain software such as a sound sample editor which used a format similar to MIDI 13.

NUS-SUD (Sound development)

Gerry_MAN has taken some excellent photos of his NUS-SUD on Twitter along with photos of him actually managing to connect and send data from his PC to the hardware!

Full Devkit used by Sound designers

The full n64 development kit was used by Sound designer Grant Kirkhope at Rare to produce masterpieces such as Banjo-Kazooie and GoldenEye. This consisted of a Silicon Graphics Indy with the N64 hardware used as an extension inside it 13.

References