Posted on June 5, 2016
1978 – Atari Game Brain
The Atari Game Brain is was a first generation console designed for the second generation of video game consoles. Sounds confusing, but let me explain. The generally agreed upon dividing line between first and second generation consoles is when ROM cartridges came into use. Literally the console could be reprogrammed instead of playing built-in games only. The second generation in the U.S. got underway in 1976 when Fairchild Semiconductor released their “Video Entertainment System.” The following year Atari released its own “Video Computer System.” The former was renamed immediately to Channel F, and the latter was officially renamed to 2600 in 1982.
The thing is that the first generation was winding down by 1978. And by “winding down” I mean coming to a complete crash. A lot is made of the “great crash” in 1983, but there was a first crash in 1978. Literally dozens of companies were making dedicated “pong” consoles. After the second gen consoles emerged no one wanted a system that could play five versions of pong. Only four home video game companies would survive this crash. (If you’re keeping score, those four are Atari, Magnavox, Coleco, and APF. Everyone forgets about APF.)
For Atari the first crash was a problem because while VCS was selling pretty good, they still had a ton of unsold chips for their various pong consoles. Enter the Game Brain. The idea was that they’d release a console where the chips came on the carts, therefore creating a way to sell all of these unsold pong-on-a-chip things that they had. stored up. Smartly, Atari decided to not do this because it was still under competent management and realized that such a move might create consumer confusion, and not the good kind like they tried to pull on Fairchild. The system was canceled, but not before getting pretty far along in R&D. Coleco actually did go this route and released the Telestar Arcade since they were many years away from ColecoVision. It went on to become arguably the greatest console in history to be shaped like a triangle.
1981 – Atari Remote Control VCS (CX2700)
Wireless in the 80s didn’t mean infrared like it did in the 90s, or whatever magic powers video game controllers today. Back then it meant RC, as in Radio Control. Reports are that these were bad ass and worked super well. I have it on good authority that the released was stopped because Atari couldn’t get FCC approval. The controllers were too powerful and would interfere with the neighbor’s garage door. Eventually a peripheral was released for 2600.
1981 – Atari Cosmos
I put 1981 as the date because that’s the last time it was shown to the public. Atari had a rocky history with entering the early handheld / tabletop market, and never penetrated it. Coleco, Entex, and Mattel mostly rocked it. Oh, and some Japanese company called Nintendo. (I guess Milton Bradley too.)
This was basically going to be a dedicated handheld that created LED graphics where the games were changed by switching out carts that contained holograms, like on a sheet of plastic. Like all Atari bullshit, it was way over hyped. It was canceled, probably smartly, because it was just a gimmick. A few of these actually do exist.
1982 – Ultravision Video Arcade System
It’s a COLOR TV. It’s an arcade. It’s a console. It’s portable. It’s a video game system. It’s all in one, y’all. It’s fucking ultra!!! (<– Three exclamation marks!) Obviously, this is on the list so it was never released. The company did manage to make a few 2600 games, like Condor Attack, a Demon Attack rip off. The Ultravision versions were supposed to be superior, but it was likely a 2600 clone. If there were some more advanced games the ROMs have never, ever surfaced.
1982 – Atari CX2500
This is just a prototype of a cheap Atari 2600 with built-in controllers. There were a few such protos made, and that’s boring, so I am not going to list them all. I think like three years ago I did an album of them, so look for that maybe. But like I said, it’s pretty boring. This is a bad idea on its face for every obvious reason that you’ve already thought of, thereby sparing me the need to write them out.
1983 – Mattel Intellivision III
When people talk about the game crash they like to latch onto shitty games or shitty consoles on the market. There are several causes. One of the biggest ones is that console makers didn’t refresh their hardware. In 1982 both Atari and Mattel got blindsided by ColecoVision, which was basically an MSX in a console shell. Which came first? Probably MSX inspired ColecoVision.
Anyways, ColecoVision generally gets lumped in with second generation consoles because 90s historians didn’t really know what they were talking about. It was truly next-gen. It would be like going from NES to SNES. Instead of matching ColecoVision, Mattel released the Intellivision II. That would be like Sega coming out with the model 2 Genesis and calling it the follow-up to the original Genesis. It was the same damn thing in a new case. Consumers saw through Mattel’s bullshit, and that spelled the end for Mattel as a console manufacturer. (And no, let’s not count HyperScan as a real console.)
Here’s a fun historywhatif. What if Mattel released Intellivision III in 1982? It might have spurred Coleco to keep ColecoVision competitive, and the crash may have been avoided. Intellivision III was Mattel’s “next gen” console, called “third wave consoles” in the media at the time.
1984 – Magnavox Odyssey 3
I believe there are three of these known to exist. Just thought I’d throw that out there first. It was going to be a new push for Magnavox in the U.S. market. And when I say “Magnavox” I really mean “N.A.P.” or “North American Phillips” because they owned Magnavox and are the ones who did Odyssey 2. The system could not compete with ColecoVision. It did backgrounds well, just not sprites or anything. It’d be like playing SMB with better backgrounds but with Mario as the original resolution. Rightly canned. It really was released in Europe where it was known as the Phillips Videopac+ G7400.
1985 – RDI Halcyon
This pretty often gets cited as a console that was really released. I call bullshit on that. Most collectors do not believe that this is a thing that ever went into production. To state that more clearly, most collectors agree that Halcyon did not go to market.
RDI was founded by Rick Dyer and was famous for making arcade games such as Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace that were based on futuristic LaserDisc technology. They weren’t the first company to do this (it was Sega) but they were the first to make it into a big thing.
Halcyon would’ve played LaserDisc, games would all come on LaserDisc, it had some primitive speech recognizing AI, and it would’ve cost like $2500. That’s an insane amount of money. I’m in my 30’s and don’t really understand how money magically becomes worth more over time (or less?) despite having had it explained to me several time and taking a macro economics class in college, but adjusted for inflation that would be almost $5600 in today’s dollars.
There are, if I recall correctly, nine units known to exist. They can all be traced to where it was manufactured or directly to an employee or investor. No packaging has ever been discovered. We have some Cosmos packaging, on the other hand. Entex AdventureVision is probably the most rare console in history and there are complete in box examples of that. It’s for sure that this thing never went to full production. I doubt it went to retail or that even one single consumer order was ever filled. If only Rick Dyer would return my requests for an interview.
1990 – Konix Multisystem
Seriously, this is one of the greatest untold stories in gaming history. Google it. Also Google “Flair One,” which is the tech this was built off of. For those who won’t google, but are still reading this for some reason, here’s a brief overview.
Konix was a British company that made peripherals, like flight sticks, for computers. The U.K. had quite a big computer scene… Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, BBC Micro, and so on. A bunch of Sinclair guys defected to Konix around 1988 to build basically a super console. What in the 90s we would’ve called an uberconsole. I mean, just look at it, and that optional, probably extremely expensive, chair thing. Long story short, even shorter, actually, Konix was like “WTF, we can’t do this.” So they sold their tech to Atari Corp., and it would become the basis of the Panther, and later the Jaguar.
198? – Atari MIRAI
No one knows what the fuck this is. All that has ever been found is this shell. Some people think this was some partnership with SNK based on the size of the cart slot and that fact that the companies were in close proximity. I doubt it. Personally, I think this was an Atari 7800/XE in one. That explains the number of buttons (for 2600 compatibility) and the cart slot width, which is really just two (one for 2600/7800 games, one for Atari 8-bit software) next to each other. Plus it looks a lot like the XEGS. Am I right? Probably not. But no one can prove it, not even the hacker known as 4chan.
1991 – Atari Panther
Panther was a 16-bit console worked on at Atari Corp alongside the Jaguar. Jaguar progressed faster than expected, and Panther was ditched. This was actually based on the tech from the Konix Multisystem for those keeping up on the reading. Panther games, like Trevor McFur were moved over to Jaguar. No production models were ever made, at least not that have surfaced, so enjoy this sketch. There are pics of dev kits out there. So google away.
1992 – Taito Wowow
A console from the guys that brought us Space Invaders?! Okay, Taito is pretty cool. This was a neat idea. It would’ve been a 4th gen console that had a CD-ROM and would download media via satellite. Something similar was done on SNES in Japan as well, to not a lot of success. It would’ve had a pay-to-play model, billing gamers by the minute. The tech wasn’t really there, and neither was public interest.
1993 – SNES CD
The story of the SNES CD gets talked about so much that I decline to go into great detail. Nintendo was getting into optical disc. They said Sony could do their add-on. Then they were all like, “nope, dude. We’re going with Phillips, lol.” But they were going to let Sony create a stand alone SNES that also played CDs called “Play Station.” Meanwhile they licensed Zelda and Mario to Phillips. No SNES CD project saw the light of day. Sony partnered with Sega on Sega CD while they were working on PSX. The rest is history.
1993 – Bandai Home Entertainment Terminal
This grainy photo comes to you from stock footage from the 1993 Tokyo Game Show. Bandai has a very long history of making consoles, a fact that they hid well for many years while making consoles. People call it a SNES laptop, but it was more like a portable SNES with some PC features, like CD-ROM and a stylus, and stuff. I don’t speak Japanese, so I didn’t get a lot from the video.
1994 – Action Gamemaster
This is total and utter vaporware. No way was there ever even a proto of this ever produced. Not only would it have a color LCD, but it would be portable and play all NES, SNES, Genesis games. Why not Game Boy and Game Gear too? It would get TV and even somehow be a CD player. What the fuck, Active Enterprises? Some of you may be old enough to actually remember this being an ad in EGM or Gamepro, or whatever mag. If not as an ad, an article. I remember. Twelve-year-old me didn’t even believe it. Oh, and if you’re wondering why the name of the system rings a bell, say ACTION fifty-two times and it’ll come to you.
1994 – Sega VR
The Sega VR went through some phases, but it was planned to be a video game console with its own media. The console part would be worn like a Walkman. Not that I’d recommending walking around with this thing strapped to your head. It was based on Genesis hardware. There was also some talk of using the tech later on as a Saturn add-on. Tom Kalinske told me the real reason it was canceled is that the motion tracking literally made people sick. Oh well. I would love to have one. No known prototypes exist.
1995 – “Nintendo PlayStation”
It’s a SNES with a built in optical drive. Sony would’ve sold it under license from Nintendo and made their own CD software. They had been training for this by partnering with Sega on Sega CD. Of course, we all know the project evolved into the PSX.
1995 – Atari Jaguar Duo
With Jaguar sales so low that Sam Tramiel said something to the effect that if they sold them for $50 they still couldn’t clear their stock, Atari Corp. threw everything that they had left at trying to get the thing to go. This was just a Jaguar/Jaguar CD in one unit. No one wanted either, so this was never made.
I am going to take this moment to say I am not including the Jaguar II on this list, except for mentioning it here, because it barely got through the R&D stage and was more of a Jaguar+ than a Jaguar II, and I am not about to include every alternate model of every system that didn’t make it. That’s too big of a list. Jag II would’ve had an upgraded graphics chip. It’s unknown if any software was even made for it. Atari Museum has a working proto.
1995 – Sega Neptune
Neptune was a Sega Genesis with a built-in 32X. Sega was fond of codenaming their hardware projects after planets. Mercury was Game Gear, Venus was Nomad, Mars was 32X, Jupiter was a canceled cart based Genesis sequel that went nowhere (and is not listed), and Pluto was something else that we’ll get to later.
The plan was for Sega to just release a model 3 Genesis that had a 32X built-in and then to release an adapter for existing users. Tim Miller convinced Sega to do it the other way around, then Saturn was announced to be coming early, and Neptune was never produced. Pictured is someone’s homebrew version of what could’ve been. Sometime in the late 90s EGM did an April Fools announcing that a warehouse of Neptunes was found and they were being sold for $50. Cruel, cruel world.
1995 – AT&T 3DO
Once upon a time there were these things called landlines. AT&T was the biggest that controlled them. It was like having a wired cellphone in your house where you had to pay to call your out of state relatives. Or to listen to porn (audio only). Oh yeah, and there was this sweet ass video game console called the 3DO Multiplayer that was made by Trip Hawkins and the boys at The 3DO Company. (Not Panasonic! Not 3DO spelled with a “0” either!) The 3DO Company didn’t make their console. They licensed it to Panasonic, Sound Blaster, Sanyo, and GoldStar. They were in talks with Sega to release it as early as 1991 (the talks, not the release date). One of their licensees was AT&T which had designed their own version. But by the time it was ready in 1994 PSX and Saturn were here, 3DO was hyping the M2 (also not released), and AT&T got out.
1996 – Panasonic
This would have been the most powerful console of the 5th generation had it been released. Reportedly, there were even plans for a version to include a DVD drive. The problem was that The 3DO Company could not do this one with just licensing deals, so they sold it off to Matsushita, now known as the Panasonic corporation. Sadly, all Matsushita did with their multi-million dollar investment was make some kiosks, like informational booths, and let Konami use the tech for some arcade boards. Rumor has it that it also powered some ATMs. Something like 10-12 video games were fully developed and ready to go. None were ever officially released, and only one, IMSA Racing, ever leaked out.
One of the completed but unreleased games was D2, the sequel to D. No, not the version we got for Dreamcast, a whole other adventure starring Laura Harris dealing with Dracula. It’s known as M2D2. The game was designed by WARP founder Kenji Eno, who was a genius. Plain and simple. This man once made a game that didn’t even have graphics, only sound. He died in 2013 at the age of only 42. Whatever adventures his brilliant mind had left for us to explore, we won’t ever see it. So if you’re reading this, tell Panasonic to just give us this game. It’s on a shelf, or in a hard drive somewhere. Kenji Eno deserves its posthumous release.
1997 – Sega Pluto
I am guessing at the projected launch date since the first proto wasn’t discovered until just a few years ago. It’s a Sega Saturn with a built-in Net Link. If you had a Net Link back in the day you were a NetLinker, and thus cool, because you could play Virtual On online over a (no joke) blazing fast 28.8 modem. It was the best of times.
1997 – Sega “Black Belt”
Sega of Japan had some egg on their face after the Saturn. Sega of America’s CEO Tom Kalinske insisted it wasn’t ready and resigned over it. He had a deal for Sega to jointly release the PlayStation (would’ve been called “Sega PlayStation”) and it had a deal with SGi, which ended up making the chip for N64. Saturn got its ass kicked. So, even though pretty much everyone at Sega of America who made Sega great in the 90s had left, Sega of Japan had second thoughts about listening to their formerly more successful American counterparts and allowed Sega of America to design a follow up to Saturn. Sega contracted 3Dfx, which used to be a leader in graphics cards. Ultimately, Sega went with NEC and we got Dreamcast, which was actually probably the smart move. All reports are that Dreamcast outperformed Black Belt. That didn’t stop 3Dfx from suing. Whatever they made together was ordered to be destroyed. So nothing at all of this venture exists. Worth noting that 3Dfx also no longer exists. It was bought by Nvidia in 2002 after filing bankruptcy.
2001 – Indrema L600
This was the year that Linux was gonna make it. For real you guys! Unlike Xbox which was oft-accused of just being a PC in a box, this would’ve literally been just a Linux box with existing Linux games optimized for it. It would’ve gone nowhere against Dreamcast, PS2, GameCube, and Xbox. Fun fact: Some high school kids launched a console project based on this idea called TuxBox.
2001 – Ericsson Red Jade
I felt like the early 2000s needed more competition in the handheld space. It’s a shame this didn’t come out. It looked pretty great from what little media was released. Ericsson reportedly spent over $10 million on R&D. In 2000s style, this would’ve been an all-in-one device. Not just a console, but a PDA and media player, and the whole nine.
2003 – NanoGear
Not sure if this is a PDA with a focus on games (like Zodiac Tapwave [no relation]) or a real handheld console. But it was seemingly positioned as a console, so here it is on my list. I barely remember this when it was supposed to be in development. I had forgotten about it completely. Basically, it said it’d be a handheld PC that you can use to make your own games. Neat, I guess. But 2003 was not a good time to release a handheld unless your name was Nintendo… or Sony.
2004 – Infinium Phantom
This is the biggest joke on this list. What is amazing is that some dude named Tim Roberts got people to give him millions to make a console that just downloaded games. Amazing (I know I said that already, but for real). Dude got rich, other people got broke (probably). It’s the biggest debacle outside of Gizmondo, and that was made by legit mobsters and it actually came out! I saw this at E3 2004 tucked away in a hall, as if it were hiding. Infinium Labs eventually released a keyboard thing and then was never heard from again.
2006 – GamePark XGP
Game Park was a Korean company that made a pretty cool handheld that were really popular with importers because it could play ROMs and stuff. I am talking about the GP32. The company went bankrupt, a new company with almost the exact same name formed, and we got the GP2X and GP2X Wiz.
2006 – Gizmondo Widescreen
So, some Swedish straight gangstas were like, let’s buy a Florida company to get people to track their kids via GPS. But oh snap, GPS is expensive. So they were like, we’ll build it into a game console. Video games are cool, kids will want it, and we’re in! We can set up some shell companies to make games. I have this, and as much as I like Sticky Balls, it was a bad idea. I never even knew there was hype for it. I first discovered it at E3 when a wondering booth babe handed it to me when I was between the two main halls. I thought it felt cheap, and besides, PSP. Right before the U.S. launch the Gizmodo peeps were like, “oh fuck, PSP.” And announced the widescreen version. Ars Technica called it “spitting in the face of two people,” like the only two that pre-ordered a Gizmondo. Wired has a great article on the advent and fall of this system, and principle gangsta Carl Freer. It’s the best video game story ever told (except for Console Wars) and demands to be made into a movie.