Creating the 3DO – 1994 Developer Interview

Creating the 3DO – 1994 Developer Interview

These 3DO interviews from the GSLA represent a kind of time capsule, taking you back to the eve of the next-gen hardware wars in 1994. I don’t usually translate material that is this “promotional” in nature, but in between the shilling and (now amusing) bravado are some interesting thoughts about where gaming was headed. I’ve also added a short passage from a Nippon Ichi interview with some 3DO comments.

Origins and Features

Hawkins: Development of the 3DO took about 3 years. The first two years were spent on hardware, with the following year on software development. For the last six months we’ve been nailing down the application software. The 3DO will be about 50 times faster in rendering and calculation speed, compared with the current 16-bit systems on the market. That’s why games on the 3DO will have smoother animation than anything out today, and feel more realistic. That’s also one of the reasons Matsushita is calling their 3DO system “R.E.A.L.”

Kodama: In addition to supporting smooth animation, the hardware can also display over a million colors. That’s a big feature too. The sound is excellent too. It features high-quality digital sound and surround sound. And since it uses CD-ROMs, there’s no worries over memory space, and interactive movies and digital video will be possible.

The 3DO also excels in polygon rendering and texture mapping, so things like flight simulators will be easy to produce. It can quickly render 3D objects from any angle, allowing players to enjoy more realistic 3D worlds.

Hawkins: Actually, we’ve already got hardware licensing agreements with three companies: Matsushita, Sanyo, and AT&T. We’re also currently in negotiations with other companies who want to make 3DO hardware. However, we want to keep the quality of the hardware high. That’s why we’re only signing contracts with companies who have superior technical and manufacturing expertise.

Trip Hawkins, 3DO President. Text “The 3DO is a next-gen machine!”

Kodama: We don’t know for sure yet, but I think AT&T will mostly focus on the American market.

Matsushita will definitely be selling our consoles in Japan, though. Their hardware is planned to go on-sale next spring, but there’s a chance that another brand (Sanyo) may also be available then, too.

Multimedia vs. Console Gaming

Hawkins: This is very important to us, but we think of multimedia, consoles, and computers as three separate businesses. Each has a different media format: computers use floppy disks, console games use cartridges, and multimedia uses CD-ROMs.

These differences have implications for the way the machine is used: for instance, take your average American family. If that family buys a game console, the boy will probably use it a lot; if they buy a computer, the Father will inevitably end up using it very frequently. However, when that family buys a multimedia machine, it’s something they can all enjoy together, similar to the experience of buying a TV.

CD-ROMs are very cheap and can store a lot of data. They allow us to produce software that the whole family will be interested in: games, music cds, video cds, photo cds… a variety of genres are possible. The ability to use all this different software is yet another selling point for the 3DO.

Kodama: In other words, even if the 3DO’s main selling point is still video games, we would like to establish multimedia as a whole new field.

Hawkins: The fact that the 3DO uses CD-ROMs is also key. Cartridges are way too expensive, and they can’t have a lot of memory. With those two limitations, it would be very difficult to expand the market demographic for multimedia software. That’s why we absolutely needed CD-ROMs. However, CD-ROMs mean the system will need a CD player, and lots of memory, meaning the cost of the system goes way up. To get consumers to spend such a large amount on the hardware itself, there’s got to be some good incentive; that’s why our concept for “multimedia” had to include a diversity of software—games, music, educational software and videos.

Diverse Software

Kodama: Next year, when the 3DO goes on sale in Japan, we’re going to need Japanese software developers who understand what we’re aiming for with the 3DO, and understand the userbase we’re trying to reach. Of course the software made in Europe and America also holds an attraction for Japanese consumers, I think. Nevertheless, we know we’ve got to think about software development that matches the needs of the Japanese market, too.

Akifumi Kodama, who now works for Dolby.

Hawkins: Additionally, software development related to American cable television, and interactive television generally, is very important for the 3DO. The markets are very different though, for the Japanese cable system and American cable system. That will probably be one area in which the 3DO develops along slightly different lines, in America and Japan.

In America, the 3DO is launching with 10 titles. By Christmas, there should be about 20 titles for sale.

Kodama: That second round of software will also come out in Japan, so I think there will be a lot of titles available. Furthermore, we’ve currently signed licensing agreements for Japanese-developed software with 52 companies. Over half of those companies are already in the middle of development, so by next July there should be 20-30 titles on sale in Japan.

Education and Entertainment

Hawkins: Perhaps the most famous philosopher in America, when studying television, once said that “those who would separate learning and pleasure understand nothing about either.” In his view, education and entertainment were linked concepts. Really effective education only happens when you have a desire to learn, and desire itself only happens when you’re enjoying yourself. So high-quality fun is very useful when you’re trying to learn something. We’re trying to put the two concepts together: we call that software “edutainment.”

Unlike reading a book or watching television, with media like 3DO, you actually can get feedback from the screen, so it’s easier to get people excited about whatever they’re trying to learn. Whatever it is you’re trying to study… whether that be history, famous stories, or anything—it will now have a greater sense of reality and be easier to understand. That’s really what so-called “multimedia” is all about, I think: combining the visual presentation of television with the “random-access” capabilities and depth of books and traditional print media.

For example, we have a world map software currently under development, and it sort of combines the experience of a flight simulator with that of reading/navigating a map. We’re also making an animal encyclopedia now too. It comes with various pre-recorded video clips of different animals. So yeah, the 3DO is sort of like watching tv, but also sort of like reading a book.

Future Predictions

Hawkins: We think of the console game business and the multimedia business as two entirely different spheres. For instance, if I was in Sega or Nintendo’s shoes, my goal right now would be to develop a 32-bit cartridge system. The reason why is that for Sega to beat Nintendo, or Nintendo to beat Sega, they need to develop a next-gen, cartridge-based game console as soon as possible. Then the next thing I would do is develop a 16-bit Gameboy. That’s how Sega and Nintendo have to compete with each other—but we see multimedia as a completely different market.

I predict that five years from now, entertainment software will primarily be CD-ROM based. And to for a family to enjoy that entertainment, I believe they will need a multimedia system. However, the current CD-ROM offerings from Sega and Nintendo aren’t really versatile enough to be called “multimedia.” As you know, the 3DO aims to be the global standard for home multimedia. Only several years after it has gained that recognition will the challenge with console makers like Sega and Nintendo really begin.

They’ll have to remember that they’re not competing on the level of a cartridge-based, “toy” game console; this is the arena of multimedia, which requires different technology and the support from many third-party developers. That’s why I say multimedia is a totally different beast. In the future I think it’s going to be Nintendo and Sega who are on the run. (laughs)

3DO Japanese Commercial.

1994 Forecast (from a “1994 Game CEO” Feature in Famicon Tsuushin)

Kodama: Originally, it was mainly the 8-10 age group that enjoyed video games. But its been 10 years since home console video games made their debut, so that age group has splintered, and naturally, with this splintering has come a diversification of the market’s interests. It’s no longer enough to design software that’s only targeted at children. We’ve sold 100,000 units of Matsushita’s 3DO R.E.A.L, which debuted in March of this year, and looking at the age range of the buyers, there are many people in their late teens and early 20s. It’s time now to rethink the very concept of games—a paradigm shift is needed.

The 3DO was originally conceived of as a multimedia machine more than a game console per se. When you look at its hardware capabilities too, it’s closer to a TV than a game console. We’re putting a lot of effort into improving the quality, and in the near future, we plan to create a modem that will allow users to connect via video and phone. As for increased 3D capabilities, adding the more dedicated chips would make it too expensive, so we aren’t thinking about that right now. Also, more than the problem of cost, with today’s 3D technology, if you try to push it to the max, it will actually end up looking less realistic.

The CD-ROM format allows for better visuals, of course, but it also solved the problems of cost and memory for us. We can also produce CDs in minimum increments of 1000, which allows us to take risks on more experimental software. It hasn’t been long since the 3DO console was released: its hardware still has much untapped potential. But at the end of this year, two or three titles with great production values are scheduled to come out. They aren’t STG-style games which test the reflexes, but games that anyone can enjoy, children and adults.

Other than games, we’re also thinking about music software, interactive cinema, and for a very leftfield idea, digital catalogues. For example, a home catalogue. When you’re thinking of buying a house, this software would allow you to visualize the size and the interior design. You could place different items inside, and just by manipulating the controller, see a real image of your dream house.

We know that there will inevitably be adult games that take advantage of the features of the CD-ROM, too. CD-ROMs have the ability to display real pictures, so in order to keep the situation from getting out of hand, we’ll need to have some regulations there. There will be a lot of variety to the software released on the 3DO, as you can see. Price-wise, cheap games will be around 3000 yen, and high-quality games may be over 10000; it’s just like books, where the price depends on the quality of the publication.

As for our future developments, in August, Sanyo is set to release another 3DO console with the same specs as the R.E.A.L. It will be distributed through toy distributors, so you’ll be able to purchase it in general toy stores. The modem I mentioned is also slated to come out at the end of the year. For sales, our goal is to pass 1 million units, which should be possible by September if sales stay vigorous. We want to avoid fierce competition, but we also feel that if a competitor arises, it could present good opportunities for us.

Nippon Ichi and the 3DO

from a 2011 interview with President Sohei Niikawa

—On July 12, 2012, Nippon Ichi will celebrated 20th year anniversary. Congratulations. Can you start off by telling me about how Nippon Ichi software got started?

Niikawa: I personally joined Nippon Ichi in 1996, so most of what I have to tell you is what I’ve heard from the founder and former President, Koichi Kitazumi. The original predecessor of Nippon Ichi was a company called Prism. It was established by Kitazumi and other Sunsoft members in 1991. They mostly did subcontracting work for Super Famicom titles. This was over 20 years ago.

—Why did that company change their name to Nippon Ichi?

Niikawa: From what I’ve heard, Prism was formed as a joint venture. While this meant there was a lot of equality in the company, but it turned out that the lack of any fixed hierarchy ended up holding the company back. Because everyone had the right to speak, nothing could ever get decided on, and work proceeded in a very irregular, halting fashion. There was a president at Prism, of course, but he didn’t have the authority to get everyone in line.

Sohei Niikawa, NIS President.

Kitazumi saw this situation, reflected on it, and decided that the joint venture was preventing the company from operating smoothly. In 1993 he restructured the company into “Prism Kikaku”, which later became Nippon Ichi Software.

—You originally did subcontracted development. How did you end up getting into publishing your own titles?

Niikawa: Even after establishing Prism Kikaku, our subcontracting work continued. But Kitazumi felt the limitations of running a company that only did subcontracted work, and began searching for a good hardware platform for us to develop our own games on. At that time, the next-gen hardware rush with the Playstation and the Sega Saturn had begun, and Kitazumi decided we’d ride that wave.

—Yeah, there was a lot of new hardware releaed in 1994, for sure. On March 20th the 3DO was released, then November 22nd the Sega Saturn, and Devcember 3rd, the Playstation. In the midst of this “next-gen rush”, why did you end up choosing the Playstation?

Niikawa: The choice of hardware was truly a difficult one. It was still the golden age of the Super Famicom, and no matter which of the new consoles you chose to back, there were risks—but it was also a time of great opportunity as a business. Of the different choices, the 3DO’s contract terms were so attractive that we very nearly ended up going with them.

But finally, because of their distribution network and the ease with which they accepted small developers, we ultimately chose the Playstation. In hindsight you can say we made that right choice! This was around the time we changed our name from Prism Kikaku to Nippon Ichi Software, by the way. I think if we had chosen the 3DO then, Nippon Ichi might not be around today. (laughs)

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