1996 story of designing Nintendo 64 is reshared online, includes epic water balloon fight

designing Nintendo 64 former SGI employee water balloon fight Steve Shepard Project Reality: Making the Nintendo 64 Ultra 64

Former SGI (Silicon Graphics International) employee Steve Shepard has reshared a story online he wrote way back in 1996 that talks about designing Nintendo 64. The story begins in 1993, when Nintendo and SGI announced they were partnering for Project Reality, intended to be revolutionary hardware that would be so much more powerful than anything anyone was seeing on PC. The PR hype was apparently effective enough that, according to Shepard, 3DO stock dropped by $4 that day (not that 3DO needed much help in failing). Of course, then came the hard work of actually designing the incredibly complex thing that would become Nintendo 64, which involved a lot of tight deadlines, nail-biting situations, and an epic water balloon fight at the end.

Amusingly, Shepard found it was difficult at first to hire for the project because they were told to “only hire superstars,” but Nintendo 64 was considered so extraordinary on a technical level (for its intended price) at the time of announcement that even internal SGI employees thought the project was implausible. As a result, the original Project Reality team designing Nintendo 64 included a lot of company outsiders.

To be completely honest, Shepard’s story of designing Nintendo 64 becomes so technical that I don’t understand several parts of it (except the water balloon fight). But if you’re technically inclined and want to learn the harrowing story of how they got the R4300i and the Reality Coprocessor (RCP) to play nice, it’s here. In fact, the RCP team worked over most of the week of Christmas in order to meet a design deadline, and when the “tape” was finally complete on February 24, 1995, Shepard said they threw the “wettest indoor celebration in SGI history.” Enjoy the part of the story that the simpletons like me can understand:

And what a party! After the toast and the obligatory management speech, two engineers summarily christened the director with the tub of ice water, starting what might well go down as the wettest indoor celebration in SGI history. By some fortunate coincidence, one of the nearby conference rooms contained a bunch of balloons, which were quickly pressed into service for the mother of all water balloon fights. After thoroughly soaking team members and not a few innocent bystanders, the team decided to share its celebration with others. Packing tubs of water balloons, the team stormed building 10, where in a blaze of glory, it ambushed an unsuspecting Wei Yen.

A second celebratory water battle occurred on July 23, 1995, but this time fought with Super Soakers. (Even their water weapons got a technical upgrade.) Anyway, you know the rest of the story with designing Nintendo 64 — it was a technical marvel as SGI had intended. It also had a lot of, well, other issues to tackle, but that’s beyond the scope of this feel-good story. We’re grateful to Steve Shepard for sharing it again.

For a more bizarre Nintendo 64 history lesson, check out how it almost got two major Sega games.


John Friscia
Head Copy Editor for Enthusiast Gaming, Managing Editor at The Escapist. I'm a writer who loves Super Nintendo and Japanese role-playing games to an impractical degree. I really miss living in South Korea. And I'm developing the game Boss Saga!