Yet there was significant risk involved in the venture. Silicon Graphics is a successful high-end technology company that has built its reputation by developing high-performance workstations, servers, and supercomputers - beginning an alliance with Nintendo would take it into uncharted consumer waters.
Today, the companies' vision has become a reality - make that "Reality Immersion Technology." This breakthrough technology combines Silicon Graphics powerful digital media and visual computing technologies with MIPS world-leading RISC processor technology to power Nintendo64, the first immersive, highly realistic home video game system.
The aggressive decision to move MIPS and Silicon Graphics into the consumer marketplace is already widely considered a huge success. Observers in the video game industry have hailed Nintendo64 for opening the door to a new age of video game entertainment, one that allows players to enter into real-time, unconstrained 3D worlds and become part of the game itself.
Less than four weeks after the July debut of Nintendo64 in Japan, Nintendo announced that more than 800,000 units had been shipped to meet unprecedented consumer demand. Nintendo says it expects to sell a total of 3.6 million systems in the first nine months of availability.
Nintendo64 - which will sell for less than $200 - was released in the United States on Sept. 30, 1996. Industry analysts say the video game is poised to be one of the hottest-selling Christmas items in U.S. stores, and that the company could sell more than three million units in America by early next year.
Nintendo will also introduce a high-profile lineup of launch titles in the United States, including the flagship product, "Super Mario 64," created by renowned game developer Shigeru Miyamoto. Additional titles will be available from the world's leading game developers.
When the first Nintendo64 system was demonstrated for the media at the recent Electronics Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, Edge, a respected interactive game industry publication, reported, "Super Mario 64...is possibly the single greatest video game ever created. The Nintendo64 is also, indisputably, the most powerful video game hardware ever released for the home."
"Nintendo64 not only represents an entirely new class of video game system, it represents a redeployment of Silicon Graphics and MIPS technology into new markets," says Derek Meyer, Director of Worldwide Sales and Marketing for MIPS Technologies.
"What this means is that we have taken the powerful capabilities of Silicon Graphics and MIPS technology - the same technology that is standard for creating the amazing visual effects seen in today's movies - and scaled that down so that it can power a consumer video game that sells for less than two hundred dollars."
"Nintendo64 completely redefines the video game experience," says Meyer. "All you have to do is sit down and experience it to understand the difference between the Nintendo64 approach and everything else that is out there. The difference is in the interactive 3D graphics. This is the first true 3D consumer product in the industry. The programmable content is 3D in nature, not simply 2D with height added to it. The environment and characters have height, depth, and location in 3D space. You can view the content from different perspectives and do many of the same things you can do with Silicon Graphics workstations."
For MIPS and Silicon Graphics, the Nintendo64 represents a high point in the companies' drive into leading the consumer marketplace. The Silicon Graphics/MIPS technology - a MIPS core CPU - is also at the heart of the Sony PlayStation video game, set-top boxes for high-profile satellite television ventures, and Web television devices. However, the success of Silicon Graphics and MIPS in the consumer markets does not signal a move away from its traditional market segments, according to Meyer.
"The consumer market for our products is huge," Meyer says. "The home video game market is expected to eventually be larger than the home PC market. So there is enormous potential for our technology. But MIPS and Silicon Graphics are certainly not going to go off and focus only on consumer products."
"We have traditionally focused on high-end technologies. That's where we develop the core technology, and from that starting point we migrate the technology down to consumer and embedded markets. That's the business model that both MIPS and Silicon Graphics were founded on, and it will not change. We're now beginning to see that philosophy go from the vision stage to reality, and it's exciting to see how well it can work and be accepted in the marketplace."
Silicon Graphics Reality Immersion Technology consists of a custom version of MIPS 64-bit R4300i RISC microprocessor, a MIPS Reality Co-Processor, and an embedded software layer, all optimized for powering a new class of interactive consumer applications. The Reality Co-Processor, designed specifically by Silicon Graphics for Nintendo, combines the most advanced features necessary to create the Nintendo64 real-time game environment.
Nintendo of America has announced a $54 million launch campaign for the Nintendo64. Twenty million dollars will be spent on media alone by the end of 1996.
"Nintendo64 may very well sell itself, but we're not taking any chances," says Peter Main, Nintendo of America's Executive Vice President, Sales and Marketing. "This is a marketers dream - a product that is so anticipated and has such megahit potential. The Nintendo64 system and games are of such high quality, it's going to live up to everything we promised it would be."