This article titled “After the prototype PlayStation: six more obscure games consoles” was written by Keith Stuart, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 7th July 2015 09.19 UTC
For gamers, it was like discovering the Ark of the Covenant – but made of plastic and less likely to contain the power of God. In early July, one Dan Diebold posted a YouTube video showing an apparently functional prototype of the SNES CD, an aborted update of the famed Super Nintendo Entertainment System built in partnership between Nintendo and Sony.
Developed in the late 1980s, the machine was intended to run games on both cartridges and CD-rom discs, but then Nintendo and Sony fell out and things went wrong. Sony proudly showed off its console – now called the Play Station – at the 1991 Consumer Electronics Show, but Nintendo switched its allegiance to Philips a day later. Enraged, Sony decided to release a new PlayStation console on its own, and many of the SNES-CD prototype units were destroyed. Which is why this new footage has caused much excitement in the gaming community.
However, the SNES CD is far from the only obscure games machine that either died at the prototype stage or collapsed shortly after release. Here are six more to look out for at your next car boot sale.
Say what you like about Apple, the company is famed for its impeccable industrial design and market sense – which makes the Pippin one of its most inexplicable mis-steps. Intended as a multimedia machine with gaming and internet browsing functions, Apple licensed the platform out to other manufacturers, including Bandai and Katz Media, which produced units from 1995. Unfortunately, it was expensive, poorly marketed and less powerful than competitors like the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation. It was also called the Pippin, the least cool console title ever (though Bandai did try to beat that four years later with its Japan-only handheld, the WonderSwan).
Value today: You’re looking at around £150 for a basic Bandai model, but prices can go up to £400 for limited-edition versions.
Originally designed as a followup to the innovative but expensive 3DO console, the M2 technology was instead sold to Japanese electronics company Matsushita in 1995 for a reported 0m. A powerful 64-bit machine was promised, complete with a graphics engine that could push one million polygons per second – unprecedented at the time. But by 1997, the manufacturer was having second thoughts about the games market and pulled out of production, leaving only a handful of prototypes.
Value today: They rarely materialise, though an offshoot of the tech, the Panasonic M2 FZ 35S, did make it to market and has turned up on eBay for between ,000 (£644) and ,000 (£1,933).
This legendary table-top virtual reality system was designed by GameBoy creator Gunpei Yokoi and used oscillating mirrors to create a monochromatic 3D-style display. Nintendo promised that the 32-bit device would immerse players “into their own private universe” – it just happened to be a private universe of really bad headaches. The weird red LED visuals were far from the vision of virtual reality that consumers had been sold by the movies of the era, and the expensive toy vanished without a trace within a year, taking a vast catalogue of, erm, about 20 games with it.
Value today: This one’s easier to get hold of as it was actually released to the public, though you’ll pay between £180 and £400 for a boxed unit in good condition.
Marketed as a kind of advanced living room entertainment computer, the Halycon was like a cross between a PlayStation and Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey, capable of talking to owners and receiving voice commands. Developed by RDI Systems, the company behind 1983 arcade classic Dragon’s Lair, the machine ran games on laser discs and had an initial retail price of ,800 (,100 if you wanted the voice control capability). Production was meant to begin in 1985, but strangely, the company had difficulty drumming up consumer interest for a games console that cost more than a car. It was never released and the handful of custom-built prototypes are with the product’s original investors and a few lucky private collectors.
Value now: Erm, substantially more than ,100?
Between 1990 and 1999, Sega was a veritable production line of abortive hardware ideas, with the likes of the Neptune (combined Mega Drive and 32X) and the Jupiter (a Saturn with a cartridge port) failing to make it beyond the planning stages. The Sega Mega Jet was different though, a handheld version of the Mega Drive originally only sold to Japanese airlines, where it was used for inflight entertainment. It wasn’t strictly a portable console as it needed an external screen and power source, but that didn’t stop Sega giving it a limited consumer sales run in Japan, before employing the tech in its more widely available Sega Nomad handheld.
Value now: Well, there’s one on eBay right now for 0 (£484), complete with a copy of Sonic 3.
Originally known as Project X, the Nuon was a powerful, 128-bit chipset complete with a state-of-the-art audio/video decoder. The idea was to market the tech to DVD manufacturers, allowing them to turn their players into games consoles. Co-founded by Richard Miller, who helped design one of the world’s first laptops (the Z88 from Cambridge Computers) and later the Atari Jaguar, VM Labs thought it could disrupt the entire consumer electronics industry, and managed to convince a few companies, as well as garnering plenty of press excitement. However, by the time the tech was available in 1999, Sony was preparing its PlayStation 2 console – complete with a DVD player. That pretty much killed it. Just under 20 games were produced for the Nuon, including Jeff Minter’s excellent Tempest 3000.
Value now: Several Nuon-equipped DVD machines were released in or shortly after 1999, including the Samsung DVD-N range. They’ve come up on eBay for around £400 boxed.
Do you have a favourite obscure games console? Let us know all about it in the comments section!
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Tags: Article, Culture, Features, Game culture, Games, Games consoles, Keith Stuart, Nintendo, Retro games, Sony, Technology
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