Nintendo’s 64DD: The Online Gaming Experiment That Never Left Japan – Complete in Box


– Nintendo has just
launched Switch Online, its first ever paid
online gaming service. Or is it? In fact, Nintendo actually got
into the paid online business back in 1999, and it all revolved around a little known Japan-only
game platform called the 64DD. That’s this right here. It’s a magnetic disk
drive for the Nintendo 64. It has some cool games and
hardly anyone bought it. (video game music) Hello, and welcome to Complete in Box. I’m Kotaku’s Features Editor Chris Kohler and today we’re doing
something very special. Instead of looking at
just a single video game we’re looking at a piece of game hardware as well as its entire library. But we’ll get to that later. First, let’s check out the machine itself. The Nintendo 64DD. Back in the mid-90s, Nintendo
didn’t want to use CD-ROMs like its competitors, Saga
Saturn, and Sony Playstation. – It may look like a
harmless bagel toaster, but inside is a deadly donut. – But it knew developers
wanted more space. So, in tandem with the
N64 it developed the 64DD which used these magnetic storage disks that can hold 64 megabytes of data. That’s only one tenth of a CD-ROM but it’s bigger than a cartridge. What’s more, all that
space is re-writable. That meant players
could create custom art, in-game worlds, or original characters, do not steal, and save
them all to the disks, enabling interesting creative play. Nintendo was hyping up
the possibilities of 64DD before it even released the N64. Maybe N64 games were originally
going to be on the 64DD. Donkey Kong 64, Pokemon Snap,
even Zelda Ocarina of Time. But the 64DD kept getting
delayed, and one by one, those games moved over to
standard cartridge format. When it was finally released
at the end of 1999, in Japan, the 64DD was the centerpiece
of a paid online service started by Nintendo called Randnet. Here’s a pamphlet passed out
in Japanese gaming stores showing how it worked. You pay Nintendo 25 hundred yen a month, or about 25 dollars. In return, you could browse the Internet, use email, and play games online. Randnet also had a members-only section where you created custom avatars and communicated with other users. But the most important thing is this: they’d actually send you the 64DD system and the first seven games as they were finished for no extra charge. Out of all the games released on the 64DD the killer app was Mario Artist, the sequel to Mario Paint
for the Super Nintendo. It actually shipped in
four separate parts. Paint Studio came with a mouse
and let you create 2D art. Polygon Studio let you create 3D art. Talent Studio was sort of the predecessor to later Nintendo character creation games like Miis or Tomodachi Life. You could create characters
by capturing pictures of your face using the
included capture card or even a Game Boy camera. Then, you could add them to a body and put them into dramatic scenes that you would write and direct. (dramatic game music) (screams) And finally, Communication
Kit let you go online and share your creations. Perhaps the most interesting
thing about Mario Artist was that it was secretly the origin of another popular Nintendo game series. After you created a 3D
masterpiece in Polygon Studio you could drop it into a
game called Sound Bomber. What was Sound Bomber? Check it out. (video game music) That’s right, it’s WarioWare. After Mario Artist came out,
they added Wario characters and a couple hundred
more of these microgames and turned Sound Bomber
into its own series. Other 64DD games also emphasize being able to create and save massive worlds. There was SimCity 64, an expansion disk for
the racing game F-Zero X that let you design your own tracks, and an original game
called Doshin the Giant. You play this big yellow deity and help these tiny islanders
by stomping down the terrain to make lake or pulling
it up to make mountains. The game saves the entire
state of your world, which was a big deal in 1999. Now, since this is complete in box, let’s take a second and
admire the wonderful packaging for Doshin the Giant. So, there’s this really cool paper sleeve. Here’s the 64DD case. Here is the game’s manual. We have a little promotional flyer for the soundtrack CD to the game. A reference card for the control scheme that you can have sitting there. And then here’s the 64DD disk, and Nintendo even gave
you two different labels for the end of the disk and you could pick which one you put on. Now, there were only two
more 64DD disks ever released and the only way to buy both
of them was to order them via online shopping through
the Randnet service. There was the expansion
pack to Doshin the Giant and Japan Pro Golf
Tour, the only 64DD game that offered online, competitive play. Today, these are both extremely rare, as is the official Nintendo 64 keyboard which you would also order
through the Randnet service. Very helpful if the N64 was your only way of writing an email. Nintendo sent lots of other goodies to Randnet subscribers
via the postal service. Regular newsletters
went out informing them of online events and upcoming games and they even sent Christmas cards. The 64DD and the paid Randnet
service did not last long. Only about 15,000 customers signed up and Nintendo shut it all
down in February 2001 after just 15 months. Many 64DD games were canceled including a disk version
of Super Mario 64. While other 64DD projects,
like Resident Evil Zero or Mother 3 moved to
other platforms entirely. The 64DD was going to be a big part of Nintendo’s plans for the future. Instead, it ended up as a small curiosity. The only Nintendo platform
where the hardware and all of its games stayed in Japan. It’s highly sought after by
collectors around the world and now you’ve seen it complete in box.

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