[RetroConsole] 3DO


It looks like early autumn is the perfect season to release unsuccessful consoles, especially if you’re in 1993. After last month post about the Amiga CD32, today we “celebrate” another unlucky console that turns 25. It was another attempt to ride the wave of the new CD technology and this time the responsible of the flop was 3DO when it started to commercialize its brand new console licensing it to different companies.

The story in a nutshell

The early 90s are the years of the boom of the CD-ROM based consoles. However before the rise of PlayStation as a market leader, a lot of companies tried to take advantage of this new technology and launched new machines hoping to impress the consumers. After the attempt of Sega CD, Amiga CD32, CD-i and FM Towns Marty another company tried to impose itself in the CD-based home entertainment field.

The 3DO Company was founded by Trip Hawkins, former EA employee who conceived a next-gen console to be released not by a single company but from all of the brands willling to buy the license. On the software side, he decided to put a very low royalty to pay to developers (only 3$) in order to have a big amount of games to release that should have boosted the sales of the console itself.

The original idea of a 3DO console was born on a napkin in 1989 thanks to Dave Needle and A.J Mical who designed Amiga and the Lynx. Hawkins idea was to contact the biggest hardware manufactories, like Sony and Panasonic to sell them its console; Sony was already working on the PlayStation so they refused to sing with 3DO and talks with Sega became serious but eventually they decided to focus on the Sega CD so the only viable company left was Panasonic which presented the FZ-1 in 1993. Short after even GoldStar and Sanyo produced their machines, while other companies got the license but never released any console, like Samsung, Toshiba and AT&T.

The heart

When it came out, the 3DO was the state of the art of the hardware: it featured  32-bit RISC CPU (for comparison, the SNES was launched just one year before and it was still a 16-bit console) with two coprocessors. It also had 2MB of DRAM, 1MB of VRAM and double speed CD-ROM.

The hands

The original Panasonic 3DO controller was a Genesis-like one with a left D-pad and three action buttons on the right but it also featured two shoulder buttons as in the SNES. The console only had one joystick port but additional controllers could be plugged to the first thank to a port set on the back of the controller itself. In this fashion up to eight controllers could be hooked up together. Even the GoldStar joypad was similar to the Panasonic one, while Logitech produced third-party controllers slightly differnet than the original ones.

The eyes

Even the visuals were the state of the art since the 3DO consoles had two video co-processors capable of producing 9–16 million pixels per second (36–64 megapix/s interpolated), distorted, scaled, rotated and texture mapped. These capabilities helped the console to stream quite detailed FMV sequences, probably the best available in 1993.

The games

3DO most successful game (its “killer app”) was Gex, a game later released for PlayStation, Saturn and PC Windows which sold 1 million copies, but one of the first games bundled with the console was Crash ‘n Burn.

Gex

A total of 286 games have been produced and most of them made use of the powerful hardware to include FMV sequences; some of the best games released are Alone in the Dark, Star Control II and Myst.

Samurai Showdown

Since the release of the 3DO consoles came at the same time when FPS were popular, some of the games were port of already existing games, like Doom or Wolfenstein.

 

Wolfenstein

But the first CD-based consoles are remembered for having popularized the Interactive Fiction genre, so even the 3DO as the CD-i and the Sega-CD hosted some of the most famous games of the time such as Mad Dog McCree and the infamous Night Trap.

Night Trap

The legacy

Giving the 3DO license model, a lot of different consoles were release, each one in theory compatible with the others; here are the main ones:

Panasonic FZ-1 R·E·A·L 3DO Interactive Multiplayer

Released in Japan, Asia, North America and Europe, it was the first console released in 1993. It is also the more successful and that’s why people refer to the whole family of consoles as “Panasonic 3DO”. The initial price of 699,99$ was cut the year after to 399,99$.

Panasonic FZ-10 R·E·A·L 3DO Interactive Multiplayer (Japan, North America and Europe)

This is the first restyle of the console, released in 1994 in Japan, North America and Europe. It’s a “slim” one with top loading CD-tray, a lighter controller and a less expensive tag price.

Panasonic N-1005 3DO CD Changer “ROBO”

It’s a custom FZ-1 console with five disc CD-drive. Released only in Japan.

Sanyo IMP-21J TRY 3DO Interactive Multiplayer

Another Japanese exclusive, released in small quantity and soon discontinued.

GoldStar GDO-101 Alive 3DO Interactive Multiplayer

[sorry, no pics]

Released only in South Korea and with a design similar to that of the original Panasonic model.

GoldStar GDO-101M 3DO Interactive Multiplayer

Released in North America and Europe, this is the most famous GoldStar model and it’s similar in the appearence to the FZ-1.

GoldStar GDO-203P 3DO Alive II (South Korea only)

This is the rarest of the 3DO systems and it has been released only in South Korea. It has a more rounded shape in PlayStation fashion and is the Holy Grail of the 3DO collectors.

Creative 3DO Blaster

This is a PC expansion card produced by Creative Labs to play 3DO games on PC which came also with a specific controller.

The 3DO was doomed from the beginning. And this not just for the high retail price which was around 600$, but it was the 3DO license concept that was wrong. Usually a company sells the hardware with no margin or at loss to make profit selling the software (following the razor and blades model) but licensig the 3DO to a company meant that that specific company which only produced the harware and not the software (or just a small number of games) had to pump up the price to avoid losses and that’s the reason why the console was so expensive. Plus, licensing a concept to different brands disoriented the buyers who saw on shelves different products (all of them very expensive) with the same technology inside and it was unclear for them which was the best one to buy (and this was a problem especially for the different compnaies that released the console that had to share an already small cake). It has to be noted also that the 3DO games didn’t have any region lock or copy protection system so the CD can be illegal copied.

The two main supporters of the 3DO model were Panasonic and GoldStar. But even thought the former developed also some software, the latter initially didn’t have a software department so they started immediately to lose money. Their decision to cut the price first to 299$ and then to 199$ wasn’t a great idea: with the retail price of 199$ they were losing 100$ per unit. They tried to set up a software development branch but they were too late to the party and they decided not to support the console anymore by 1996. That very year, even the 3DO company stopped the support and stated they would have not released games anymore, leaving Panasonic the only company to still produce hardware and software. Short after, at the end of 1996 the console was discontinued having sold only 2 million units.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Gary Heneghan says:

    Good read, never realised there were so many types of 3DO!

    Like

  2. I had one back in the day. No idea how I talked my dad into that, though now that I think of it it was the last console I had that I didn’t have to buy myself. It was pretty awesome though. It was just like PlayStation, before there was a PlayStation. It probably would have been a big hit if not for that starting price. Spent many hours on Star Control 2, Shockwave, Total Eclipse, Samurai Shodown, Escape From Monster Manor…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. benez256 says:

      Great to hear someone who owned one! Do you still have it?

      Like

      1. Nah I turned around and sold it a year later so I could buy my first PC CD-ROM, cuz I was terrible like that back then.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. thedeviot says:

    Nice overview. I think ever since James Rolfe talked about it as the AVGN people seem to want to track one down to experience Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties.

    Like

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