Nintendo 64 emulators
|Type||Home video game console|
The Nintendo 64 is a 64-bit fifth-generation console released by Nintendo on September 29, 1996 for $199.99.
Nintendo was the second company approached by Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI), who wanted to roll out their previously enterprise-only technology in the consumer space. They originally pitched their idea to Sega, but it's assumed that Nintendo's offer was more appealing. With the NEC VR4300 CPU clocked at 93.75 MHz, 4MB of RAM,[N 1] and an SGI RCP GPU, Nintendo had finalized much of the hardware at least a year before launch, preventing video games from needing drastic rewrites as a result of architectural changes. The development workstations were often Unix-based, something that would later help reverse engineers in some projects.
- 1 Emulators
- 2 Emulation issues
- 3 Virtual Console games in Dolphin
- 4 Notes
- 5 References
|Name||Platform(s)||Latest Version||Active||Controller Pak||Rumble Pak||Transfer Pak||64DD||Libretro Core||Recommended|
|PC / x86|
1.2 r146 (Unofficial SVN)
|Mobile / ARM|
|Mupen64Plus FZ||3.0.222 (beta)||✓||✓||✓||✓||✗||✗||✓|
|Mupen64Plus-pandora||Build 20 (v2.2)||✓||✓||?||?||✗||✗||✓|
Although many Nintendo 64 emulators have been made and many games can be run between them, complete compatibility and/or accuracy still leaves a bit to be desired. For half a decade, Mupen64Plus and Project64 have vied for the most playable emulator, and which has been more compatible has depended on when and in what configuration each emulator has been tested. Both emulators default to lackluster plugins, but, as of August 2017, both emulators have roughly equal graphical accuracy when running with GLideN64.
- Mupen64Plus is an open-source, multi-platform, plugin-based emulator based on Hacktarux's Mupen64. As of July 2017, the codebase has reached compatibility parity with Project64, when both emulators are run with GLideN64. Mupen64Plus lacks a native GUI, instead of being run either from the command line or by dragging and dropping ROMs onto the executable and editing the config with a text editor such as Notepad++. Mupen64Plus has also been ported to a number of different platforms. BizHawk and OpenEmu use shallow forks of Mupen64Plus and its plugins for their N64 emulation.
- Wii64 and Not64 are both based on Mupen64, with Not64 being a fork of Wii64. Not64 claims to be better optimized as well as having higher compatibility and more frequent updates. N64 emulation on Wii is not very good, and it is recommended to stick with the Virtual Console N64 releases whenever possible.
- Project64 is an open-source emulator for Windows. Its official release builds are more up-to-date than Mupen64Plus', and the current version, 2.3.2, is roughly as accurate as the development versions of Mupen64Plus when both are played with recommended plugins. It has a more user-friendly interface than the Mupen64Plus attempts and supports more features such as overclocking and Transfer Pak emulation. However, it doesn't come with GLideN64 out-of-the-box, and the default video and audio plugins aren't even the best in the box. It presently remains confined to Windows, though work is underway to port it to Android and Linux. For the most part, it works well in Wine, but, if you're on a different platform, use Mupen64Plus instead.
- RetroArch's Nintendo 64 libretro core is based on Mupen64Plus and its plugins but with heavy modifications. It introduces many features and optimizations not present in mainline alongside RetroArch's general features, including Project64-style overclocking for faster framerates, 3-point texture filtering, superior A/V sync and latency, and even an exclusive LLE Vulkan renderer based on Angrylion's pixel-perfect plugin, making it a better alternative to the standalone version in some cases. Its developers have expressed intentions to eventually rewrite the core and brand it as its own emulator, called paraLLEl. That new paraLLEl core has a special "Super VI Mode" option which, if used, can make the visuals of N64 games look less blurry with fairly mitigated jaggies even at their native resolutions. Although, it may need a powerful GPU.
- CEN64 is an up-and-coming emulator that aims for cycle accuracy while, at the same time, aiming to eventually be usable on modern PC hardware. It currently lacks many features and has spotty compatibility, but it's gradually improving. It can already emulate some well-known edge cases such as the picture recognition in Pokemon Snap.
- 1964, along with its various versions and forks, was once a decent, speedy open-source alternative to Project64 and Mupen64, though it usually lagged behind the two compatibilities wise. Nowadays it has completely fallen off the radar, as development has stopped, is Windows-only, and there is no longer a central code repo to speak of. There is little reason to use it nowadays outside of historical purposes, very specific edge cases, or if your device is too slow to run Mupen64Plus or Project64.
- Daedalus is an Nintendo 64 emulator for the PSP, which has been ported to Windows, but results are even more hit-and-miss than on other emulators due to being made for PSP first and foremost. On PSP, most games are playable, with some minor sound issues.
- Sixtyforce is macOS-only, closed-source, and asks you to pay for full access to its features. It was once one of the only choices for Mac users, particularly those with older Macs, since it's the only emulator with a PPC dynarec), but, with the switch to x86 and Mupen64Plus being ported to macOS, it has now become irrelevant.
- UltraHLE marked a milestone in Nintendo 64 emulation, in that it was the first to play some popular N64 titles at full speed on hardware made at the time of its release through high-level emulation; it isn't without its drawbacks though - pressure from users, combined with legal threats from Nintendo, forced them to discontinue development. Besides being for historical value, there's not much to expect from this emulator anyway due to compatibility issues.
- Ryu64 is a Nintendo 64 emulator made in C#. The 'Ryu' word is named after the "RyuJIT" used in both Visual Basic & C#. But it might have been inspired by the lead author's sole (so far) commit at Switch emulator, Ryujinx's Git repository and his depreciated Ryujinx Auto Updater tool. "86RYU", a x86 JIT compiler, is being developed alongside this emulator too.
- Main article: Recommended N64 plugins
The Nintendo 64 emulation scene can be described as a hot mess. It got to that point because of the overall emulation scene's climate in the early days, which was to stub off certain components of the emulated hardware as plugins. (Other consoles weren't immune to this phenomenon; it also happened to the first PlayStation.) Developers underestimated the complexity of the system, and with little demand for improvements beyond getting the popular titles working from beginning to end, most emulator developers stuck with the codebases they knew for as long as possible and never integrated any of the plugins that were needed to make up a full project, or merge their codebases into one project. And because almost no documentation is available for clean-room reverse engineers, figuring out how the hardware actually functioned had to be done manually, which took longer. The unfortunate result of this is that many games require specific plugin arrangements and specific emulators in order to run well, and there is no viable alternative that isn't just an iteration on the existing plugin-based emulators.
High-level vs. low-level graphics
One of the biggest hurdles to emulating the Nintendo 64 is the Reality Display Processor (RDP), one of two components in the Reality Coprocessor made by SGI. The Reality Display Processor was the most powerful consumer-grade GPU at the time of the console's release; this was a selling point that Nintendo wanted to emphasize as a result of working with SGI. However, reverse engineering efforts for popular Nintendo 64 games showed that Nintendo's software development kit included a common microcode for the RDP. It's possible Nintendo didn't want to give developers access at a lower level out of fears that doing so would damage consumer units, but that meant most of the effort spent emulating the RDP would go towards figuring out how to handle the microcode.
- Most developers in 1999 and the early 2000s opted to approximate functions through various APIs such as Direct3D, OpenGL, and even Glide. While this resulted in much more reasonable system requirements for emulation, along with prettier, higher resolution graphics, this method proved to be hit and miss, often requiring per-game tweaks and settings to prevent graphical glitches on many games. Some games flat out didn't work, because it wasn't clear what the microcode did or why, and required extensive hardware testing.
- On the low level side, developers would either completely emulate the RDP or autodetect the microcode and use an appropriate implementation for the game. The former would mean a software renderer accurate to the hardware but major performance bottlenecks unless optimizations like vectorization and multi-threading were implemented. The latter would mean faster performance but developers would still have to figure out how to account for edge cases.
gonetz and one or two assistants have spent a large portion of development improving GlideN64's handling of microcode throughout 2016-2018. This means that Factor 5's games are now working in the high-level graphics mode. Other games may still have issues with RDP quirks like frame buffer/depth buffer access (issues with how the frame buffer is used as well as performance issues), VI emulation, and how combine/blending modes are emulated (such as noise issues and combiner accuracy).
It should be noted that most games technically work through the HLE method, but it's not an accurate representation of what the video output actually looked like, but rather a rough approximation by your graphics card. Whether this is an improvement or not is subjective.
The Nintendo 64 was the first consumer device to be able to filter textures when rendering 3D objects. However, unlike every console and PC graphics card made after the N64, its implementation of bilinear was primitive in that, in order to reduce strain on the system, it only used three samples as opposed to four, resulting in slightly jagged textures. Instead of faithfully applying this "imperfect" version of bilinear filtering, HLE plugins instead apply conventional filtering, interpolating straight from the source texture up to the output resolution the same way a PC game would. While that method is technically superior, it can result in textures that look even blurrier than on real hardware.
Another issue lies with the appliance of texture filtering per quad on static images, text, and sprites. Because each quad is filtered separately, this can cause some visual inconsistencies. Text and UI elements often look as though their edges cut off abruptly, and static images, such as pre-rendered backgrounds or menu screens, may look as though they are separated into squares. Some plugins allow the user to turn off texture filtering to remedy this, but, unfortunately, this also applies to textures in the game world, exposing their oftentimes low resolutions.
RetroArch's Mupen64Plus core has taken some steps which help remedy these problems. It is the only emulator that implements N64-style three-point texture filtering, which results in a more faithful look. It is also capable of rendering at 320x240, which sidesteps the issues with filtered text, UI elements, and menu screens, while still retaining texture filtering. Pixel-accurate plugins do not have these problems at all.
Voice Recognition Unit emulation
The Voice Recognition Unit (VRU) is an accessory used primarily by Hey You, Pikachu. No emulator or input plugin supports this, although there is an on-going effort to get it working.
Densha De Go! Controller
Also available for the PlayStation, Densha De Go! 64 is a Japan-only train simulator released by Taito that is compatible with an optional special controller that plugs into the player 3 port. No emulator supports it.
Pokémon Snap Station
There was a special kiosk designed to promote Pokémon Snap called the Pokémon Snap Station, which is also compatible with the North American Pokémon Stadium with its gallery mode. It is just a Nintendo 64 with special hardware designed for the station. Although the special cartridge boots in emulators compatible with the regular version, the printing functions are inaccessible due to no emulation of the printer for the player 4 slot, credit system, or the special board to switch between the regular and special cartridges.
Transfer Pak emulation
A few games use the Transfer Pak such as Mario Golf, Mario Tennis, Mario Artist: Paint Studio, and the Pokémon Stadium games. Mostly, this can be done with N-Gage's input plugin, but a couple of things aren't emulated:
- Taking pictures with the Japanese Game Boy Camera (called Pocket Camera) while in Transfer Pak mode playing Mario Artist: Paint Studio displays static.
The 64DD (an abbreviation for "64 Disk Drive") was a peripheral which allowed a proprietary disk format to be used with the N64. These disks had more space at a cheaper manufacturing cost. The peripheral was a commercial failure and was never released outside of Japan. Internal evidence suggests that, much like the GBA e-Reader, it wasn't even intended for a European release.
Expansion disks are region-coded to either Japan or US (obviously unused) and won't work with N64 games from the wrong region. Only F-Zero X has full support for this feature, but dummied-out expansion data in Ocarina of Time and Mario Party 2 (JP/PAL) exist as well.
The special AV-In cartridge (NUS-028) that Mario Artist: Talent Studio can use doesn't work because it requires an RCA cable signal.
Recently, there has been an effort to emulate the 64DD, and now Project64 and MAME can run several commercial 64DD games as part of its N64 emulator. This is being ported to CEN64 with the help of LuigiBlood.
|Name||Platform(s)||Latest Version||Active||64DD Emulation||N64 Mouse||Recommended|
|PC / x86|
- Project64's latest versions emulate the N64 mouse and can load Zoinkity's hacked 64DD cartridge conversions at playable speeds. You'll need to set every game to have 8MB of Memory by default manually. Games do not save, some need "32-bit engine" to be unchecked (like Talent Studio), and some (like Polygon Studio to fix models and Paint Studio to fix stamps) need the Angrylion GFX plugin rather than GlideN64, which does the job for the rest.
- The 64DD hardware started to be emulated around 2.3's release with the help of LuigiBlood. Saving works but in the form of NDR files. NDR files are copied versions of NDD images with save data included as to not write to the clean unaltered images. In order to play 64DD games in their original forms, 8MB of memory is still needed because the real hardware needed the Expansion Pak upgrade. The IPL is also needed.
- MAME includes early basic 64DD emulation as well but is much slower. Disk images need to be in head/track format. See here for more information. It does not currently support disk swapping or saving disk to files. Writes only update the copy in memory, and, once the MAME process ends, the changes are lost. Current usage:
mame n64dd -quickload disk -cart cart -nodrc(both disk and cart are optional)
- CEN64, like Project64, had 64DD emulation ported to it from MAME. However, it focuses on accuracy and plays much slower than other emulators, aside for the 64DD emulation itself is imperfect.
iQue Player emulation
Before the GBA, DS, and 3DS, Nintendo released a modified version of their Nintendo 64 system for the Chinese market, which was called the iQue Player, through their not-quite-subsidiary iQue. Fourteen games were translated into Simplified Chinese, including Sin and Punishment, Ocarina of Time (the Majora's Mask port was canceled), Super Mario 64, and others.
Unlike the Chinese releases of their more recent systems and their games, iQue Player releases are regular N64 roms wrapped with several layers of encryption, as well as a ticket and signature system like that on Wii, DSi, 3DS, Wii U and Switch. The Chinese ROM-hacking scene is very active though and has translated the Japanese regular N64 releases for many of these to their language already, which explain some of the Chinese ROMs floating for those. However, recently, almost all pieces of iQue Player software were decrypted to regular .z64 ROM format.
Several of the Chinese game localizations already run on N64 emulators, but as some hardware features of the iQue Player are not yet supported, some games, as well as the system menu and features in games such as saving, do not work yet.
Aleck 64 arcade emulation
Nintendo collaborated with SETA to release an arcade system based on their Nintendo 64 system (kind of like their PlayChoice-10 for the NES, Super System arcade hardware for SNES, and later Triforce for GCN and Wii U). The Nintendo 64-variant with more RAM, the Aleck 64, failed to catch on and bombed. It was never released outside Japan, even though one N64 port made it.
The Aleck 64 ROMs were dumped, and Zoinkity is working on converting them to regular N64 ROMs (with controls remapped to N64 controller buttons). They generally require an 8MB Expansion Pak to run at all and 4K EEPROM to save settings and scores. The ones covered by these patches are:
- Donchan Puzzle Hanabi de Doon!
- Eleven Beat: World Tournament
- Hi Pai Paradise
- Kuru Kuru Fever
- Magical Tetris Challenge
- Mayjinsen 3 / Meijin-Sen
- Star Soldier: Vanishing Earth (also ported to N64)
- Super Real Mahjong VS
- Tower & Shaft
- Vivid Dolls (official eroge game on a Nintendo console)
The remaining ones from the system's library not yet covered are:
- Hi Pai Paradise 2
- Rev Limit
- Variant Schwanzer
Virtual Console games in Dolphin
Some N64 games are emulated well on a Virtual Console game through Dolphin. The system requirements are much higher, but it's doable for many games. The following games are on the N64 Virtual Console for Wii:
- Though a separate add-on was later released called the "Expansion Pak" that added an additional 4MB of RAM, totaling 8MB.
- Public Release 3.0. Blogspot (2017-12-29)
- Initial implementation of BOSS ZSort ucode (WDC, Stunt Racer). GitHub (2018-02-10)
- "Indiana J. & Infernal Machine" HLE. Indiegogo (2018-05-17)
- HLE implementation of microcodes for "Indiana Jones" and "Battle for Naboo" completed.. Blogspot (2018-05-26)
- Hey You! Pikachu - Possible HLE Implementation. emutalk (2014-10-27, Last edit: 2016-04-04)
- Densha De Go! Nintendo 64 Controller!. YouTube (2017-01-20)
- The Pokemon Snap Station. YouTube (2016-05-21)
- VIDEO GAME KIOSKS - Extreme Game Collecting!. YouTube (2016-05-25)