Console of the Month (January 2018) – 3DO Interactive Multiplayer

The early 90s were a bit of a second coming of the wild, wild west of home video game console manufacturing. The early 80s saw a number of console manufacturers trying to make a go of it after the success of the Atari VCS paved the way. Then there was the crash of ’83 and companies shied away from developing new gaming hardware. Nintendo would eventually re-pave that same broken and beat up road while also making it a tollway to try and discourage competition. Then Sega knocked the tollways down and re-opened the road for any number of upstarts that believed they had the tech and the talent to grab a portion of that sweet, sweet video game money. Enter the 3DO Company.

Founded by Electronic Arts very own Trip Hawkins, the 3DO Company had the technology they believed would be a game changer in the early 90s. They just needed someone to manufacture it for them. Enter Panasonic, Sanyo and Goldstar. Reputable companies in their own right and fully capable of taking the specs from 3DO Co and making a disc based video game console that would offer high resolution 3D graphics, interactive video games including the trend of the time, full motion video. Unfortunately, while the 3DO did offer impressive 3D graphics, CD quality sound and forward thinking games, the initial price point of the machine, $700 in 1993 money (about the equivalent of $1200 today) meant that a number of gamers would automatically be priced out of owning the machine. The cost of the console would eventually drop in price but the glut of other available options at the time, including the Sega Genesis with near equivalent Sega CD add-on, the Atari Jaguar, the Super Nintendo, the CDi along word about Sony’s PlayStation and Sega’s Saturn all on the horizon, really hindered the sales numbers of the 3DO throughout the middle of the 90s. Eventually, the 3DO console was discontinued around 1996 once it became clear it wasn’t going to win the disc based 32-bit console wars against Sony and Sega.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts about consoles from the 90s, I was a high school and college student throughout the majority of that decade and I wasn’t exactly flush with disposable income to spend on video game consoles. I owned a used Super Nintendo that I bought around 1993 and then a PlayStation once I graduated college and started making money in 1998. So the 3DO was completely off my radar during it’s short life span. As I did my research on consoles I missed out on while going through my buying sprees of the early 2000s, the 3DO was one I hadn’t really heard of. It’s possible I was aware of it tangentially but it never resonated like the dominant companies of the era did.

The 3DO machine I ended up buying back then is the original front loader model manufactured by Panasonic. Also dubbed the FZ-1 model, the full name was R.E.A.L 3DO Interactive Multiplayer. You can see why everyone ended up shortening this to 3DO. The name of the console implies that there were lofty goals for these machines as not just a video game console, but a CD player and interactive learning machine with a boundless future including add-ons and expansions. The system came with a demo disc and one controller but Panasonic made the curious decision to include only one controller port on the console. In order to play two player games, the second player would need to plug their controller into player one’s controller, which would be plugged into the console. Player 3 would have to plug into player 2 and so on and so forth for as many players and controllers as the games would allow. What a weird design decision.

I honestly haven’t spent much time with my 3DO or my game collection so this is a good time to pop in the discs and see how the early 90s 3D polygons mixed with FMV, synthetic virtual actors and CD quality sounds and music stand up in 2018. It’s time to get R.E.A.L.

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