To wrap up “Jurassic June”, we’re still continuing our look at the members of the Nintendo Ultra 64 Dream Team, but slightly out of the intended order. This week, we’re taking a brief look at one of the pivotal partners in pioneering Project Reality, Silicon Graphics, Inc.
Founded in 1982 by James H. Clark and a team of research staff and graduate students from Stanford University, SGI entered the computer market with a variety of products. Starting from Motorola processors, they began developing graphics workstations that would soon attract attention in the entertainment industry.Their workstations seemed to become particularly renowned in the early 90’s, often attributed to the creation of the liquid-metal effects used by the T-1000 as seen in Terminator 2: Judgment Day and many of the dinosaur effects in Jurassic Park. In fact, it seemed as though you couldn’t read an article about their partnership with Nintendo without these two particular instances being recited, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves.
Silicon Graphics would soon set its eyes on getting into the video game business, but rather than going it alone, they were interested in forging a partnership with a more experienced hand. To that end, they approached SEGA. As former SEGA of America President Tom Kalinske told IGN, his side of the company was on board with what SGI was selling, especially when faced with the difficult-to-use hardware of SEGA of Japan’s Saturn as an alternative. However, they weren’t having any of it.
“Well, what should I do now?” asked Clark after being delivered the bad news. “Well,” Kalinske told him, “there’s this other game company up in the Seattle area. I think their name starts with an N.”
It might not have been a particularly difficult sell. While the timeline is a little fuzzy, Clark would meet with Nintendo CEO Hiroshi Yamauchi in “early” 1993 to begin discussions, and Project Reality would be announced to the world on August 23, 1993. Over the course of that summer, however, Nintendo of America’s Product Acquisitions and Development Manager Tony Harman had visited Rare, who had already begun experimenting with Silicon Graphics’ workstations to create a boxing demo that was impressive enough to get Nintendo to invest in the company and led to the creation of Donkey Kong Country.
The announcement of Project Reality promised a home release by late 1995 at a price under $250 USD — and for hardware that was purportedly twice as powerful as the competition’s 32-bit consoles. Unfortunately, that promise was not to be kept in full, as the console was repeatedly delayed. Various reasons were given, from the chips underperforming in testing and requiring redesigning to adjusting their original worldwide release strategy in order to better keep up with demand.
But, it did come in at under $250 USD — $50 under, it so happens, in order to remain competitive against price drops from SEGA and Sony. This was beneficial to some degree, in that those who had saved up the originally declared amount could now afford one of the two launch titles available, seeing as this would be the first console Nintendo launched in North America without a pack-in game included.
The Nintendo 64, as it was ultimately called, proved to be something of a success for Nintendo. While it ultimately ceded ground to the Sony PlayStation in the market, they were at least able to still best their old rival from the 16-bit generation, SEGA, whose Saturn brought up a distant third among the the three chief platform holders.
Unfortunately, while the Nintendo 64 did well enough, Silicon Graphics would go on to have its own problems. Newer advancements in PC technology ate away at SGI’s corner of the market, particularly their lower-end products. Shares were falling, and new initiatives brought on by new management would do little to stem the bleeding. In 1995, their market capitalization had peaked at over seven billion dollars, but had fallen to $120 million when it was delisted from the New York Stock Exchange in November 2005, just four years after the release of the Nintendo 64’s successor, the GameCube.
Come May 2006, the company would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but manage to pull itself out only five months later, with new stock issued on the NASDAQ exchange that was issued to creditors. It wasn’t to last, though, as December 2008 would see them delisted from NASDAQ, filing for Chapter 11 once again come April the following year. Ultimately, most of their assets were sold off to Rackable Systems for $25 million, with the whole company ultimately going for $42.5 million.