Former SGI (Silicon Graphics International) employee Steve Shepard shared an online story he wrote in 1996 that talks about the design of the Nintendo 64. The story begins in 1993, when Nintendo and SGI announced that they were teaming up for Project Reality, destined to be groundbreaking. hardware that would be so much more powerful than anything anyone saw on PC. The hype was apparently effective enough that, according to Shepard, 3DO shares fell $4 that day (not that 3DO needed much help to fail). Of course, then came the hard work of designing the incredibly complex thing that would become the Nintendo 64, which involved many tight deadlines, difficult situations, and an epic water balloon battle at the end.
Amusingly, Shepard found it difficult at first to hire for the project because they were told to “only hire superstars”, but the Nintendo 64 was considered so technically extraordinary. (for its expected price) at the time of the announcement that even internal SGI employees thought the project was implausible. As a result, the original Project Reality team that designed the Nintendo 64 included many outsiders to the company.
To be completely honest, Shepard’s story about designing the Nintendo 64 gets so technical that I don’t understand many parts of it (except for the water balloon fight). But if you’re technically inclined and want to learn the heartbreaking story of how they got the R4300i and Reality Coprocessor (RCP) to play, it’s here. In fact, the RCP team worked most of Christmas week in order to meet a design deadline, and when the “strip” was finally finished on February 24, 1995, Shepard said he organized the “celebration wettest room in SGI history”. “Enjoy the part of the story that simpletons like me can understand:
And what a party! After the obligatory toast and executive speech, two engineers summarily christened the director with the pot of ice water, beginning what might just be the wettest indoor celebration in SGI history. By a happy coincidence, one of the nearby conference rooms contained a bunch of balloons, which were quickly brought into use for the mother of all water balloon fights. After soaking the team members and quite a few innocent bystanders, the team decided to share their celebration with others. Packing tubs of water balloons, the team stormed Building 10, where in a blaze of glory, they ambushed an unsuspecting Wei Yen.
A second festive water fight took place on July 23, 1995, but this time with Super Soakers. (Even their water guns got a tech upgrade.) Anyway, you know the rest of the story with the design of the Nintendo 64 – it was a technical marvel just as SGI intended. . There were also a lot of, well, other problems to solve, but that is beyond the scope of this feel-good story. We are grateful to Steve Shepard for sharing it again.
For a more bizarre history lesson on the Nintendo 64, find out how it almost got two major Sega games.