As amazing and groundbreaking as the Nintendo 64 was, over the years it has also become synonymous with blurry textures and liberal use of Gouraud shading as its most strongly defining visual features. In a recent video, [James Lambert] covers how the system’s minuscule 4 kB texture memory (TMEM) can be circumvented using mipmapping. By loading progressively more detailed textures (each in 4 kB chunks) in a level-of-detail (LoD), the visual fidelity can be maximized while keeping rendering speeds relatively zippy, as the real-time demo proves.
This project was made for the N64brew 2023, with the source code available on [James]’s GitHub account. Although impressive, it bears noting that mipmapping was not an unknown approach in 1996, and many approaches were used to work around the N64’s physical limitations.
In the case of mipmapping, [James]’s demo perfectly demonstrates the problematic nature of mipmapping, as it dramatically increases the storage requirements for the textures, hitting 40 MB just for this one single room, for a system that supports up to 64 MB cartridges.
Ultimately, this shows that the 4 kB TMEM was not the only issue with the N64, with the limited (and expensive) mask ROMs for the cartridges proving to be an insurmountable obstacle that systems like Sony’s PlayStation largely did not have to contend with. With roomy 650 MB+ optical storage, the PS1 got instead tripped up by the glacial access and loading speeds of optical media and its soggy-potato-powered GPU.
Seeing demonstrations like these manage to wonderfully highlight the bottlenecks in these old consoles, and makes one wonder about what could have been, even in an era before 1 TB solid-state drives and direct resource streaming between GPU and said storage.