Randnet Disk Overview (64DD) - TheFamicast.com: Japan-based Nintendo Podcasts, Videos & Reviews!


Thursday, April 4, 2019

Randnet Disk Overview (64DD)

by Danny Bivens

An all in one portal to the world wide web.
As many of you out there know, the Nintendo 64DD was a pretty ambitious add-on. There were numerous functions for the device, most of which had to do with enhancing games or providing new kinds of experiences. Of the ten disks released for the failed add-on, there was one “game” that did something completely different than the rest of the bunch. Of course, I’m talking about the Randnet Disk.

The Randnet Disk came out on February 23, 2000 and made good on a lot of promises that Nintendo had originally intended to do with the system. In order to make use of the disk fully, you had to have a Nintendo 64 modem as well as a subscription to the Randnet service. Subscriptions had several different tiers and configurations (which I talked about in my previous Nintendo 64DD Overview article/video), but basically from ¥1,500 per month, interested gamers could have access to all that Randnet had to offer. Believe it or not, this was surprisingly robust at the time.
After setting up your modem, inserting the disk and then powering on your system, gamers were greeted with a user-select screen. The copy I have still has the previous owners credentials saved onto the disk, so it allowed me to go into the next menu page. If this wasn’t there, I would have to input my login information and probably wouldn’t be able to access anything else on the disk. Just to note, there is room for up to five users per disk/account.

Although the N64DD did have a special mouse that came bundled with Mario Artist: Paint Studio, you were not able to use this to navigated any of the menus (manual p. 40, Q&A section) - you would handle all of this with the standard N64 controller. For typing, there was a software keyboard where players could choose characters at different positions on a dial using the analog stick and buttons. It’s a little weird at first, but totally doable. There is no menu music here, too, and all we get is just a couple of beeps and boops when you go to the opening page. A few other things to note have to do with the bottom of the screen. There’s a place for a timer that would show how long you’ve been connected to the net and a bar next to it that would show the website that you’re on.
There were a lot of different things that the users could do with the Randnet Disk. From the top right of the menu are options for News, Help and Mail. Underneath that is that option to change users. With the servers down, there’s really nothing that can be done with News at the moment, however you are able to go into the help menu and go through various bits of information. The mail is also still accessible. The inbox on my disk still has some emails that were left from the previous user - some email between a friends and some promotional messages from Randnet. You can compose email, but obviously you aren’t able to send it.  It does give you a good idea what text entry was like with the controller, however. Special shout out to Kenichiro Aoki and his daughter Shigemi, who apparently used the service more than dad.

The bottom of the screen consists of three pretty large buttons. From left to right, let’s break down what each of these would actually take you to:
DD Fan
Let’s get together, DD game fans! “This is a page made for everyone that’s enjoying the 64DD software. Share your game impressions, exchange information and just have fun together.” There was a lot of stuff that you could do here. Users could participate in surveys, get access to exclusive character stamps (Star Characters/Collection) that they could use in their email (one day, three times chance with a gatcha mechanic), check out a Mario Artist Tip series, access a “Net Studio Service” for Mario Artist content (the Communication Kit also took care of this), participate in a national “test” competing with others, access an exclusive message board, check out the upcoming 64DD lineup and more.

Get Mall
Get the games and goods that you want. “64DD software and goods are all right here. Collect a lot and show off to your friends!” According to Nintendo’s information page about the 64DD about some of the features, here you would be able to do the following: “Shop online for N64DD software, N64 peripherals and original goods. By the way, a keyboard for the 64DD is going to be released [exclusively] here. That’ll make emailing easier, right?” According to one of my sources (64DD Laboratory), you could even order extra copies of 64DD games if you wanted. There was even a picture postcard service that you could use. With this service, you select a pre-made pattern, attach a message and can then send it wherever you want inside of Japan.

Net Zabun
Let’s play around on the Internet. “Randnet original services and a whole lot of recommended webpages [to check out].” This was basically a way that you could search and surf the internet using Randnet’s partner Excite. Most of the promised content that was talked about in promotional materials (such as a horse racing, F1 and baseball magazine) never saw the light of day. There was a page of links that users can access based on topics (i.e. anime, games, news, sports, etc), however, it’s unclear whether or not Randnet users actually used these.
Using the R button, you are able to quick jump to various actions in a dial that you navigate with the joystick. From the top moving clockwise - Internet, reload, cut the phone connection, access Rand-Ginko (Bank), access the main menu, mail, saved bookmarks and add a bookmark.

Rand-Bank was a service that gave Randnet users an avenue to pay for extra services such as special websites and mail magazines. In order to access this special paid content, users would have to add money either from a credit card or bank transfer to get “tickets.” Rand-cash (the 64DD equivalent of digital cash where one “Rand” = one yen) would be used to get these. While most of the planned content never really saw the light of day, the Rand-cash could be used on the Get Mall for purchases.

Of course, if you check out any of the tabs that require an internet connection, you won’t be able to connect. When you do that, an accessing message will pop up on the screen and at the same time, the modem that you have plugged into Nintendo 64 cartridge slot has a green light that turns on. Without any active servers, this will sit for roughly a minute before it times out.
The instruction manual is full of a lot of useful information as well as a few oddities. One that I found particularly “of the time” was a section about “manners on the net.” Three points are laid out here, with the first one telling people to not share their personal information with other people and to avoid meeting any new “online friends” in real life. The other two are a little bit more basic, with the second basically saying to refrain from using name calling and being a jerk. The third and final point simply says to act the same on Randnet as you would in real life. Even looking at Nintendo now, this isn’t really surprising. For some, even these days in Japan, the internet can be viewed as a potentially scary place full of weirdos and people looking to rip you off. To be fair, it was very possible that for Randnet users back in the day, the N64DD could have been their first experience with the internet - for kids and adults. What we might consider common sense probably wouldn’t have been like that for people that were newbies to the world wide web. At any rate, I thought it was cute to see that even back then, Nintendo was still trying to look out for gamers in their own way.

Of course as we all know now, the Randnet Disk and all of its features and the 64DD was not long for the world. Due to a myriad of reasons including the later than expected release of the system and general disinterest in the device and service, the announcement came in November 2000 that the Randnet services would be coming to a close on February 28, 2001. The Randnet Disk would be more or less unusable after that.
The Randnet Disk is pretty much as good as a paper weight these days - you can’t access any of the data like you could when the system was in service. Still, it was interesting see all of the different things that you could do with the disk. While I wouldn’t say that the this disk is something that you should actively seek out, it is an interesting piece of history and is a great window into Nintendo’s online past.

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