Some game machines are killed long before they enter production. Others at least make it to market before dying, whether of old age or lack of demand. And then there's the Konix Multisystem.
The history of console video gaming is one dominated by American (Atari, Microsoft) and Japanese (Sony, Nintendo, Sega) companies. When you think consoles, you don't think Britain. Yet that's where the Konix Multisystem hailed from, and for a few glorious years around the turn of the 1990s, it seemed poised to be Europe's first successful home-grown console.
Konix, a company that had made a name for itself building quality joysticks in the 1980s, was by the end of the decade intent on branching out and making a console of its own. Using an "all-in-one" controller design the company had been working on (pictured above), Konix partnered with a group of ex-Sinclair developers known as Flare Technology, who were tasked with putting a working video game console inside the controller's shell.
Also onboard was Jeff Minter, the infamous British developer behind games like Attack of the Mutant Camels and Space "The Face of J Allard" Giraffe.
Designed to compete with the game-centric personal computers popular in Britain at the time, like the Atari, and boasting performance similar to those of 16-bit consoles like the Genesis, it was intended that through some shortcuts on the Multisystem's components that it could sell for around half the price of its competitors.
First shown off in February 1989, the Multisystem by and large wowed the press and consumer alike, who were eagerly anticipating the machine's retail release six months later, in August.
But then August came and went, and there was no Multisystem.
So it's release date was pushed back to October. Then October came and went, and there was still no Multisystem.
This was no phantom machine or piece of vapourware; the Multisystem had been exhibited in playable form at trade shows, and there were several developers hard at work completing games for the console's launch (some of which you can see in the promo clip to the left). So something had clearly gone wrong.
By the time the Multsystem's release date was pushed back again, this time to early 1990, alarm bells were ringing. As they well should have been: Konix was on the verge of financial collapse.
A simple peripheral business, the company simply did not have the means nor the expertise to get the machine from the test-kit stage into full retail production, and attempts at doing so had sent Konix broke. In a last-ditch attempt to get the Multisystem over the finish line, Konix sold off its lucrative and well-respected peripheral business, but it was no use.
With the console's developers having stopped work on games in October 1989 due to the lack of retail hardware, and with Konix unable to get the cash together to get the Multisystem onto shelves, the entire venture went bust in 1990. Britain's video game console would never make it to market.
The Multisystem was certainly a strange machine, and had it ever actually been completed, would have been unique among video game consoles of the time. Instead of being a machine with separate controllers, the Multisystem was the controller. It would have been the first console in the world to offer force feedback. It eschewed cartridges in favour of 3.5-inch floppy disks, a format synonymous with PCs and the Amiga. There were even plans for the Multisystem's own torture chair.
And despite dying a death before it could even go on sale, the Multisystem still played its part in the great story of video game history, as Flare Technology, the company brought in to develop the Multisystem's hardware, would go on to design what would later become the Atari Jaguar (on which Jeff Minter would also release probably his best game, Tempest 2000).
[promo pic courtesy of Zogging Hell]
Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.