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Filed under: Eiji Aonuma, Industry People, Shigeru Miyamoto

The History of Zelda 64DD

I wanted to contribute something amazing for Zelda week, but every topic that I could think of felt uninspired or redundant. It was at this point when I started thinking about unreleased Zelda games that I decided to look at the holy grail — Zelda 64DD. Before we begin discussing Zelda 64DD’s development, we need to take a quick look at the failed add-on, and its history.

The Add-On:


The Hard4Games channel is perhaps the best source for 64DD information.

The Nintendo 64 Disk Drive (64DD) was an add-on for, you guessed it, the Nintendo 64. It was announced and shown off at SpaceWorld ‘96. Many games were planned for it, including The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Mother 3.

The add-on was available through two ways: the Randnet Online Service and through retail stores in Japan. Randnet was run by a Japanese company called Recruit, which Nintendo partnered with. The Randnet Online Service was 2,500 yen/month for the N64DD, the Modem Cartridge, the Randnet Online disk, an Expansion Pak, and six 64DD games. There was a second plan for 3,300 yen/month that included everything the first tier had, in addition to a special “smokey” N64. Hard4Games has stated that somewhere between 10k-20k units were actually sold through the retail store. Randnet had only about 15,000 subscriptions to the service, and it was shut down within a year. This is perhaps because the add-on was released in 1999, almost three years after the console’s launch and shortly before the GameCube.



The N64DD featured an internal clock, a function which originally made Animal Crossing possible. (Later, when it was eventually released on the N64, a clock was built into the cartridge.) The internal clock only supported 1996 to 2095. The DD also required the Expansion Pak. Without one inserted into the N64, an error would appear on the screen.  

The main appeal of the N64DD was the zip disks (Dynamic Data Disks). The zip disks were cheaper to manufacture than the N64 carts, had bigger storage capability, and could read and write entire games. Doshin 1 would use this feature the best, allowing players to modify the entire world of the game. The F-Zero X: Expansion Pak showed how the disk system could add new content onto existing carts. However, due to how late the add-on debuted and the lack of enthusiasm from consumers, Nintendo quickly ended support for the N64DD, with the add-on only being released in Japan. Recently, MetalJesusRocks found the first and perhaps only American N64DD to ever have existed.

With the brief history of the N64DD out of the way, it’s time to look at the development of Zelda 64DD.

The Legend Reborn:


The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time originally started its development on the N64 DD. The first instance of it being shown (above) was at Space World ‘95. Reportedly, it was developed using the engine from Super Mario 64 with heavy modifications. The team felt that Mario used 60% of the N64’s capabilities, so they were aiming for 80%. Miyamoto stated that Zelda was half finished when Nintendo was working on Mario.

Almost famously, Ocarina of Time wanted to recreate chambara, a type of Japanese film which focuses on sword fighting. In a way, it would be a second attempt at The Adventure of Link, which also focused on sword fighting. With all of these promises and numerous delays, the game would not be released until 1998.

The team behind Ocarina of Time was the biggest team Nintendo ever had up to that point. Around 200 people contributed to the game someway or another, which led to some management issues. Looking at a mixture of pre-release screenshots and videos reveals numerous changes from the beginning of development to its final release.



Ocarina of Time originally featured a much simpler item system. Instead of being able to map to the three C-buttons, Ocarina of Time used an A/B item mapping system like older Zelda titles. That was later dropped, presumably to for ease of use. Furthermore, Link could equip different kinds of swords. Below is a video of Link using a long sword. Link could also jump (it was also shown on the official N64 website), a feature that would later be removed. For more screenshots of this phase, GlitterBerri has rounded up the pre-release screenshots. It is well worth the look as it shows the countless changes made within Zelda’s development (which warrants a fuller investigation later).

On March 7th, 1997, IGN reported that Ocarina of Time moved off the Nintendo 64 DD and onto a normal cartridge. The main reason the game was moved off the 64DD was because of motion data.


Iwata: ROM cartridges don’t have any moving mechanical parts, so they can read motion data in an instant, no matter where it’s stored. However, with a magnetic disk, it takes time for the mechanical parts to move around meaning you have loading time while it’s locating the data. As a result, we couldn’t get Link’s motions to work. If there hadn’t been as many motions, we could’ve gotten the game to read them to memory from the disk in advance, but we had around 500 motion patterns.

Ozawa: That’s right. That’s the reason that Koizumi was saying “My Link won’t work on the 64DD,” at the time.

Koizumi: Right. Consequently, when it was decided that OoT would be released on a ROM cartridge instead of the 64DD, there might’ve been a few people who were disappointed, but I think the happiest guy in the world was probably… me. *laughing*

Nintendo decided to press forward with Ocarina of Time. Eventually, it would be released on November 21st, 1998 for 6,8000 yen. However, they decided they would release Ura Zelda (64) on the N64DD. Inside Ocarina of Time’s files exist some references to Ura Zelda — content that would’ve been used if a disk was present.

Glitterberri consolidated information from two sources to create this summary on Ura Zelda:

Miyamoto: Ura Zelda is based on Ocarina of Time for 64DD. It has the same construction of gameplay. It’s very much a parody game based on Ocarina of Time, but with new dungeons to explore. It even features the same storyline. Ura Zelda uses the same system as Ocarina of Time but uses the 64DD to add game data. The story in Ura Zelda will be similar to Ocarina of Time but with new maps and scenarios.

Note: “Ura” (裏) in this case can probably be best translated as, “other side”. Imagine the other side of a coin.

However, due to Aonuma’s refusal to simply remix dungeons (he felt it wasn’t progressive), his team worked on Zelda: Gaiden, which eventually became Majora’s Mask. Miyamoto himself has confirmed that Ura Zelda and Zelda: Gaiden were two, separate projects. Some work on Ura Zelda was completed, and eventually became Master Quest (a limited edition pre-order bonus for The Wind Waker, released on the GameCube). I wrote became in italics as this is what Nintendo has claimed. Upon inspection of the files within Master Quest, it was revealed that the original internal name was Ocarina of Time X. There are some files from Ura Zelda, so it’s very likely Master Quest was built off some assets of the earlier version. However, whether or not Master Quest was truly the team’s vision for Ura Zelda is unknown.

On February 1st, 1999, Zelda Gaiden began programming on the N64DD. In about a year, Aonuma and his team delivered Majora’s Mask on the N64 (with the expansion pack being required). Even though the development was quite short, Majora’s Mask also had a number of changes made to it, some because it moved to a regular cartridge. After the N64:DD failed to deliver, Ura Zelda was quietly dropped.

Note: “Gaiden” (外伝) can be translated as “side story” or “spinoff”

Here’s a quick guide I made in case you are still confused:

So that’s the history of Zelda 64:DD! Let me know what you think in the comments below. Of course, corrections or things I might have missed are more than welcomed!