First announced in 1997, then released exclusively in Japan on December 15th 1999, the Nintendo 64 DD is an add-on for the Nintendo 64 that uses writable magnetic (not magneto-optical) disks, similar to Zip Disks, to store game data. The peripheral attaches to the base of the Nintendo 64 in the Expansion Bay, similar to how the Famicom Disk System attached to the Famicom.
Each game disk holds 64 megabytes of data with up to 38 megabytes writable space. These disks are cheaper to produce than cartridges and allow games to be saved to them - something that could previously only be done on cartridge games if they had (expensive) battery back-up or with the use of memory packs, and even these methods could not hold as much information as a 64 DD disk. While the disks don't hold as much data as CD-ROMs (650+ MB), they are still eight times the size of Mario 64. The disks also load faster than CD-ROMs (almost instantaneous). Games are "hot-swappable", thus one large game can be stretched across multiple disks.
The 64 DD uses Burst Access - allowing high-speed data transfer to the Nintendo 64 in quick bursts.The system was not meant for displaying prerendered FMV (Full Motion Video), but is capable of displaying realtime rendered cutscenes, like in Star Fox. Also featured in the system is a 36-megabit ROM chip containing integrated font and sound files, which means programmers won't have to save all of these items onto each game media, like with the Nintendo 64 itself.
64 DD Disks are bootable, meaning they can be used without the presence of a cartridge in the machine, however they can also be used in conjunction with a cartridge, as an add-on to an existing cartridge game (for example, the disk could contain new characters or levels and act as an expansion disk). Another interesting feature of the 64 DD is its ability to connect with the Nintendo GameBoy via a special cable and the use of a Transfer (or 64 GB) Pak. This allows you to send data from GameBoy games to the Nintendo 64 DD that can then be used in the 64 DD game. The GameBoy can also be plugged into a controller port to be used as additional screens for 64 DD games.
On November 11th 1999, registration for the Randnet (named after the 2 partners: Recruit and Nintendo) service officially started, due to begin December 1st. This service allowed Japanese 64 DD owners to connect to an online network with services including: the ability to play against other gamers over the network, watch others playing, test pre-release games, send messages to other gamers, surf the web, have access to an exclusive digital magazine and music, and send/receive emails as well as sending and receiving images made using Mario Artist. Randnet required a modem to work and was therefore available in package deals. For 30 000 yen per year (approx. $290 USD), you could get the Nintendo 64 DD, access to Randnet, the Modem Cartridge (with the required cable and software), Expansion Pak, and 6 game titles which were shipped to subscribers bi-monthly. They also offered plans for people who didn't already own a Nintendo 64 and wanted to rent one instead. This was at a cost of 39 600 yen for the first year (approx. $380 USD) and users of this plan received a limited edition translucent black Nintendo 64 console.
Unfortunately, due to almost 3 years of delays in releasing the system, many buyers and developers had lost interest in the Nintendo 64 DD before it was even released. During these delays, some titles that were announced for the 64 DD were, in the meantime, released onto cartridge. This is why very few unique games were madefor the system. By the time it was released, the market's focus had shifted to the Sega Dreamcast, and later the Sony PlayStation 2. The lack of interest in Japan meant it would never be released elsewhere in the world. Randnet was discontinued after only 11 months.
Platform: Nintendo 64 Dynamic Drive.