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Craig Vaughan's Konix adventure

Craig Vaughan is a Freelance games journalist who has spent the last decade cutting his teeth on magazines such as PC Zone, PC Gaming World, Total Control, PC Gameplay, 360 magazine and others. Despite his dalliances with the latest gaming technology, his true love has always been for all things retro. Several years ago, it was his association with Live Publishing's (now defunct) Retro Gamer magazine that was to lead him to unearth the truth behind the demise of an iconic piece of British hardware, the Konix Multi-system - a story that would eventually unearth hidden retro gold.

Here is Craig's personal account of his motivations for writing the article and how he hunted down the story:

Every British gamer of a certain age remembers the mythical Konix Multi-system - the last eccentric home-grown attempt at creating a games machine before big business consumed the industry. The machine promised so many 'firsts' that its demise was a tragedy on so many different levels.

Its ingenious 'morphing design' was literally years ahead of its time, with only Nintendo's Wii, some 17 years on, showing any inkling toward similar innovation. During the build up to its launch we saw the first shoots of growth in what would go on to be the industry's massive PR arm - with an unprecedented publicity drive pushing the Multi-system in every newsstand publication and trade event across the country.

The best British programming talent found themselves roped in too, converting games from their back catalogues and scribing tech demos to show off the machine's potential to the more reticent foreign behemoths who favoured bottom line hardware sales over enthusiasm before they would commit to coding for such an unproved platform.

The main draw, of course, was that incredible chair. With 'sit-in' arcade cabinets all the rage at the time, it seemed only sensible that in order to push the Multi-system as the authentic 'arcade in a home' experience an attempt should be made to make gameplay more immersive. What better way to do that than have the player experience all the jolts and unexpected movements that a motor powered chair could bring to the experience?

Looking back with the benefit of hindsight it's all too easy now to see how the dream turned into such a nightmare. Delay begat delay, the chair refused to behave and gave testers motion sickness, costs spiraled, the units in-built memory had to be doubled at the behest of industry bigwigs and before long 'Ace' magazine, for so long at the forefront of pushing the 'next big thing' was forced to run a brief but devastating piece announcing the demise of a console that would go on to become legend.

With the Multi-system stillborn, the industry moved on and before long Sony, Nintendo and Sega had turned gaming into a three horse race. But it didn't stop the 'what ifs?' and 'could it be that?' conversations that were spreading around Britain and that I found myself involved in.

I'd had a longstanding fascination with games and the demise of the Multi-system simply fuelled it. As I left school I found myself with job offers at Newsfield and Europress, but took neither, instead preferring to earn a real living whilst taking my hobby to another level by working freelance for numerous gaming publications. As the internet phenomenon grew over the years I began to see the possibility that a little detective work might be able to hook me and a whole generation of disappointed gamers up with the real story behind the collapse of the Multi-system. Of course, this personal crusade would have to remain just that - because there wasn't a magazine publisher in Britain that would print such a story, until of course Live Publishing released Retro Gamer several years ago. Thus I finally had the motivation required to start the ball rolling…..

Checking the internet now reveals hundreds of pages about the console and these missives make researching the machine and its history a simple matter of time and energy. Three years ago, of course, the story was quite different with little useful information being available.

And so began the best bit of detective work I've ever been involved in. Over a six month period I loitered, lounged, posted, chased, queried, pestered and generally put it about in gaming chat rooms that I was after any and all Mulitsystem related info that was out there. At first, of course, the response was muted, but eventually the trickle of email responses really picked up pace and an anonymous poster, who has my undying gratitude, pointed me towards Jon Dean. The name won't be familiar to many gamers, but suffice to say he is the 'Guvner' as far as I am concerned. He's also now something of a bigwig in the industry, though he remains firmly grounded and an absolute gent. Suffice to say he's passionate about gaming and has a track record second to none. His association with the Multi-system is detailed in issue 8 of Retro Gamer (which given the content of its cover CD is now something of a collector's item!) and elsewhere on this site - the shortened version of the story sees him essentially as the number two at Konix and acting as trouble-shooter as the machine lurches towards launch. The whole saga is a fascinating read and provides a real insight into the murkier depths of the industry at the time.

Jon's website can be found at:-

http://www.guv1.com/jd-res02/intro.htm

Though readers should be aware it's far too easy to lose a day or two reviewing his fascinating career.

Back to that anonymous email…My benefactor told me a secret - it was a whopper too! Back in the day, Jon Dean fancied himself as something of a British Steven Spielberg and whenever he did anything Multi-system related he took a camcorder with him (which must have been the size of a house, technology being what it was then!) That's right - chats with tech demo writers: taped. Game demos: taped. Jeff Minter: taped. The infamous Konix Advertorial: taped. Software engineers: taped. Hardware folk: taped.

The chances of tracking Dean down were slim, or so I thought, with there being little or no chance of him still being in the industry. The chances that the footage had survived the ravages of time, possible house moves, garage sales etc also weighed heavily against me. Despite this and very much with a nothing ventured, nothing gained attitude (and with a feeling that somehow destiny was playing a part) I soldiered on regardless.

Finding Dean was a simple as a Google search and contacting him a natural progression from there. At this point I did begin to think that fate had decided this story was finally about to be told. Dean, rather than wanting to forget the past, was modestly proud of his involvement in this great piece of British innovation and some email exchanges later the info began to flow. After some weeks, and having been hooked up by Dean with Minter, Pollock, the guys behind the hardware and anyone who was anyone in respect of the system, I was quite happy that I'd got the story pegged - though Holloway (Konix Head) proved too elusive against my deadline (and the requests from my Ed - who must surely have been thinking that my Konix story was as mythical as the console itself. His last request was for 'something/anything to fill the 8 page gap in next issue'.

I'd bagged the story. There was no sex, but there was plenty of intrigue, mystery and brown paper envelopes stuffed with cash associated with the Multi-system story. But alas, no video footage. In the best traditions of journalism, I knew I couldn't bring up the videos for fear of revealing the existence of a source and breaking a confidence, and in any case, the videos might not even exist….

With the story sent to Dean for approval I was satisfied that I'd finally filled a gap in the history of British gaming and that some childhood memories had been put in perspective. Dean sent the draft back in double quick time, praising my efforts and stating: "I think I might have some footage lying about somewhere". An email that when I read it now, still gives me Goosebumps!

Several tense weeks later, a transatlantic package arrived complete with a DVD with over 300 meg of video footage detailing everything known about the Multi-system console, accessories and games - all of which was lovingly plastered across the cover CD or Retro Gamer's issue 8. There's the original Konix Advertorial, loads of tech demos, Jeff Minter, tons of game footage and even 'gaffe reels' of software engineers trying to promote the system! As far as I'm aware, this is the only known remaining footage of the system and its games on planet earth and it is proof positive that nothing is ever really lost for ever. I'm certainly proud to have been involved in some small way in allowing tens of thousands of people to finally: "Experience The Reality" that was the Multi-system. In my opinion it was the best British invention that never was….and its great to think that my story has sparked a whole new era of interest in the machine and that as a result of this 'stroke of luck' story being told someone somewhere might be motivated to take a trip into their loft in search of what is presumed to be a piece of 'forever lost' gaming gold.

For my next assignments I'm searching for Mire Mare and am going to finally try and prove once and for all that the moon landings were faked. I'm not sure which of these tasks will give me the most trouble!