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Jon Dean hired the company Attention to Detail to write the SDK and a
number of demos for the Multi-system. ATD also produced games for the Atari
Jaguar. It was Jon who was responsible for
knocking down the doors of developers to ensure games were produced for the
Jon Dean contributed a great deal to the Multi-system, and despite the stigma of its failure to get to market, he is happy to be associated with the machine and his work speaks for it's self. Jon Dean has had a long (for a young guy!) career in the games industry and has helped keep the memory of the Multi-system alive by contributing to the excellent Retrogamer Konix article written by Craig Vaughn. It's Jon's personal videos that are hosted on this website that give us a real tangible insight into the Multi-system.
Was there any acrimony involved between any of the parties involved in the failure to bring the product to market?
At the time, I believe that many of us were upset - some, freelance contractors like me, were owed money; others like publishers had invested in dev equipment and salaries of teams making games for the system. Seemingly overnight no-one knew anything and Wyn had became invisible - the lack of communication was the hardest thing to deal with. Many people had put a lot of trust and faith in Wyn and his team, and it was sad to see that turn.
Having talked to Wyn Holloway there seemed to be a frenzy of activity and excitement - at times it seemed like the hysteria that accompanies pop stars.
What did it feel like at the time during both the boom and the bust?
There was excitement generally around the project, but I didn't receive any of the frenzy that Wyn recalls: I was dealing with sceptical publishers and developers, and they needed more than words to convince them this was real. As contractors, we delivered some World class development tools for Konix which went a long way to helping the credibility of the venture. I know that my reputation would be enhanced if the Multi-System delivered, and hurt if it did not. For years afterwards, the Multi-System was a joke in the business, and it felt like it had been at my expense for the longest time.
The Slipstream was a very clever design for a multi-function game controller - a typically eccentric British design. The Flare one was a great piece of hardware design. Do you think the two would have fared better separately as a home computer and a game controller?
I have always believed that the genius was the combination. As stand alone components, they just weren't as exciting in my mind. Earlier this year I gave a talk at an IGDA function in Orlando, Florida; I was talking about 'transition' from current to next gen, and how this had happened before. I showed a video of the Konix Multi-System and prefaced it by saying that back in 1989, this would be the equivalent of me showing a preview of PS3 today. The audience laughed at the "next generation graphics" and "CD quality sound" described on the voice-over and exampled in the video, but by the time they had seen the wheel change configuration, the foot pedals, the light gun and the icing on the cake - the chair -everyone wanted one! The spontaneous applause that followed tells me it has to be the concept, not the technology that hits the mark.
How do you think the Konix multi-system would have competed against its contemporaries?
I don't think any of us believed it would have been easy, nor that we would have been market leader. However we were such a different proposition from the others, we would have made an impact and I believe we could have had a 25% market share without too much trouble. In many ways Konix's edge would be similar to where Nintendo is carving a niche now - by not being the same. I think the biggest challenge (other than actually launching!!) would have been what came next - what was the next big idea to leverage the KMS foothold.
In many ways Konix's edge would be similar to where Nintendo is carving a niche now - by not being the same.
That period was not the best for launching a games machine - in the time between 1989 and 1991 we saw the Gameboy, the Super Famicom (Super Nintendo) and the Sega Megadrive (Genesis) - all these machines were guaranteed to have first party conversions of the popular arcade games of the time with exclusive access for the programmers to the audio visual assets of the games. Any developer wanting to port these games would surely have had to fight for the right to the license which no doubt would have cost a lot, and if the machine was considered a threat to the Japanese manufacturers, I'm sure they wouldn't have given up the licenses too easily.
I don't think there is ever an easy time to launch a new hardware platform -- ask Sony about the PSP. I love the PSP, but I play DS because the software engages me more. The Konix would have sold in its first year because of the hardware differentiation, and the challenge thereafter would have been a higher range of quality software than we would have been able to deliver in year one. I had a launch strategy of 25% licensed titles (e.g. coin-op conversions) 50% 'ports' (also available on other platforms) and 25% original (only on Multi-System, showing off its unique features). If you look at what we had in development, we would have fallen short on the coin-ops, but as a new platform relying on 3rd party support the volume of software was more important in year one, given that the hardware was the initial selling point.
I looked back at my notes from the time, and here are some related points that you might find interesting.
KMS was aimed at two distinct consumers - the 8 to 14 year old male, market data at the time suggested they preferred playing arcade style games (traditionally a purchaser of a console or 8 bit home computer such as a C64), and the 14 to 36 year old male, who we believed had more disposable income, and who preferred a strategy based product, such as a flight / car simulator or fantasy role playing game (traditionally a purchaser of an ST, Amiga or PC).
To address the needs of both consumers, a range of good, quality software was required, which I had estimated would require a minimum of twenty four titles across a range of categories/genres in year 1 (side topic: compare to launch strategies today of MS, Nintendo or Sony). Also, to ensure maximum sales potential in the long term, titles selected for the KMS would be subject to Konix approval (very controversial at the time, but commonplace today), hence only quality titles would be available. I had calculated that the number of titles needed for KMS year 1 based upon the proposed installed base and the proposed consumer split.
Assuming that the hardware to software sales ratio was 1:3, and given Konix's original projection of an installed base of 180,000 KMS in year 1,this meant that a potential software market of 540,000.
With hindsight, this was very conservative and based on PC and home computer estimates, not consoles: the software sales would have been much larger. Also the small number of KMS available would have meant they sold out everywhere and Konix would not have been able to meet the demand created.
How do you think it would have faired world wide, would the rest of the world have warmed to its eccentric design? Had you planned for any specific American or Japanese software manufacturers to produce games for the machine?
We had many grandiose schemes, but we knew that we had to launch well in Europe first. I believe the system would have appealed Worldwide because of its differences, the issue would have been how quickly we could create additional relevant software for those markets. We didn't have the budget until we successfully launched in one territory. We had a handful of American publishers pledging support, most wanting to jump on board after we had launched and proven we could "walk the talk". Tremendous interest from Japanese publishers but no commitment at the time.
Do you think the Slipstream would have been no more than a novelty and the underlying technology of the flare one board have been what sold the machine? Or do you think the Slipstream design was more like the catchy hook of a pop song that attracted you to the product and that the Flare designed technology would have bought the bacon home?
I think the physical design and configuration possibilities were the system's selling points. Video game history has rarely rewarded the most technologically advanced system with the best-seller status, so the technology just had to deliver enough to satisfy consumers that it was truly your home arcade / home flight sim / home racing kit / all of the above. The chipset of the KMS helped us to be considered "next-gen" at the time and ultimately would have been our success once launched, as it would have allowed us to create some incredible software in the following years. I'm still a big fan :-)
Do you know how many dev kits were issued to developers? How much did they cost? Reading between the lines (which is always prone to fail !) in an article attributed to Jeff Minter he mentions £5000, would this have been the price of the dev kit?
I don't know for sure how many dev kits we had, but my notes suggest we had issued kits to more than 20 companies; in addition to developers and publishers, we also had kit for the individuals and companies that created the software tools that made writing for the game much easier. Every kit was hand built and took time to make - the cost was probably in the 5K range. I know that Konix never sold any kit to anyone, instead developers put down £2000 as a deposit for every kit received under license, the kit always being owned by Konix. Again controversial at the time, but standard practice on consoles today.
I'd like to talk about quality control, Who was to vet the titles? Would they have needed your or Wyn's stamp of approval - or maybe the board of directors of Konix?
I did the selection of which titles we should have, or which we should seek. I presented these to Wyn and his team, and we would discuss them. I had established the criteria before ever selecting a title, so the review of titles was always easy - they fit the agreed criteria and I recall Wyn used to sit with a huge Cheshire grin on his face every time he learned of a new title for his system. The final quality control of the games once written, was a published process against which all titles would be measured, they were not dissimilar to the TRC/TCRs that console developers are familiar with these days.
How did you pick which developers to work with?
With third-party publishers, I usually went after specific titles and we would negotiate - often others got added into the mix as part of those conversations. So developers of those titles were chosen by those publishers. For the Konix label titles, I used my own contacts -- I was a co-founder of the Society Of Software Authors, and was well connected within the European development community. I also had my own consultancy business working with publishers and developers, so in some cases it was a connecting of the dots. The criteria to work on the platform was based on prior experience: had the developer worked on a similar technology? Had they used PDS (which had been adapted as part of the KMS dev kit)? What was the quality of that prior work?
How did they choose which titles to develop? How much importance was given to the use of the Slipstreams unique controls and peripherals?
See the press release below, from September 1989 to see the logic as to the range of titles. The selection was based on getting at least one title in each of the target categories. We didn't want a glut of titles in the same category shipping at the same time. I had planned on Konix publishing 30% of the software so that it could protect the market and ensure that a range of software was shipped - filling in the gaps that 3rd parties didn't provide. Thus if no-one came forward to support (say) the foot pedal, then we would create a title that made use of it as a core gameplay device. In most cases, in order to get approved for publishing on the system, I would ask publishers to support the most appropriate peripherals as a condition of getting a license.
PRESS RELEASE - SEP 1989
KONIX ANNOUNCE SOFTWARE PUBLISHING DIVISION
Leading joystick manufacturer KONIX have announced the establishment of a new software development division which will publish titles under the 'KONIX SOFTWARE' brand label. The new organisation is Creative Design Software, a sister company to Konix's R&D division, Creative Devices Research.
Creative Design Software have already begun to commission original software product to support Konix's latest technological innovation, the Konix Multi System; a 16-bit computer game console due for release in October 1989. Titles to be marketed and published under the 'KONIX SOFTWARE' brand label include "KONIX CHESS" (by Digital Ink), "REVENGE OF STARGLIDER" (by Argonaut Software), "TUNNELS OF DOOM" (by Attention to Detail), "ROTOX" (by Binary Design) and "BIKERS" (written by Argonaut Software - an original motorbike race and stunts game being included free with every Multi-System).
Additional titles are due to be announced shortly, and will include a TANK SIMULATOR, FLIGHT SIMULATOR, SPORTS SIMULATION and an ART&MUSIC 'TOY'.
"Konix Multi-System players need a range of quality software, and the Konix Software label will fill any gaps in the range not filled by suitable third-party titles", announced Konix Chairman Wyn Holloway, "and additionally Konix Software will 'push' the use of KMS technology to create new products on KMS; thereby setting standards for all publishers on KMS to follow, and hopefully match".
Additionally, Creative Design Software will continue to work
hand in hand with and co-ordinate technical support for the third-party software publishers who are developing the majority of the titles for Konix's revolutionary Multi-System console.
"The Konix Multi-System is extremely exciting technology to
be working with", said Jon Dean, "It's a great design inside and outside - we can create an entirely new generation of realistic computer games using its capabilities".
Dean has coordinated Konix's software development to date through The Project Management Consultancy; he is a co-founder of the Society of Software Authors, was previously responsible for setting-up and running Activision's Software Studios development operation, and spent four years with Atari. "The KMS is a game player's dream machine", he continued, "and it's a challenge to produce software that matches its innovation and excitement. But I know that the third-party publishers and Konix Software can deliver the goods. It's a hot European console with red-hot European software. Look out world, here we come!"
KONIX MULTI-SYSTEM - MULTI SOFTWARE ARRIVES
Creative Design Software, the software development division of Konix, today announced details of the software products currently in development for the Konix Multi-System (KMS) console.
A good, hand-picked, quality range of software is planned to offer the KMS user a challenge, whether they prefer using their KMS as a true simulator or as an arcade machine. The range, to be published by independent third-party publishers and Konix's own 'KONIX SOFTWARE' label, contains a selection of 'known' titles - firm favourites already hits on other formats - and also a significant number of original titles never before released, which are designed to show the KMS at it's best. The intention is to release one or more new titles every month, with the various categories being updated over a period of time, thereby offering new titles whatever your game preferences.
The categories to be established and built-up over the first year include:
Arcade/adventure - Arcade/coin-op
Arcade/race game - Arcade/shoot-em-up
Adventure/FRP - Creativity/Music
Creativity/Art - Flight Simulation
Sports events - Strategy/classic
Strategy / war-game
There are approx. twenty hand-picked titles in development for the KMS with a total of twenty-four releases planned by September 1990. All of the first twenty titles are developed by European publishers. The titles represent a range of software categories and the intention is to provide something for everyone -the 'arcade' game player, and the more traditional 16-bit strategy/simulator enthusiast.
Increasingly, KMS titles will make more and more usage of the KMS features, allowing new control and play options never before available. Examples include using the foot pedals for running or kicking, using the KMS in 'flight-mode' to move space-craft up and down, backwards and forwards etc. Virtually all titles will support the KMS Power Chair so that whatever titles you have when you buy your chair, you can be sure that you're in for a new experience - you could spend all day in the chair if you wished!
Software prices are likely to be £19.99 for most titles with some at £14.99. Publishers are being encouraged to use one standard packaging type, CD-style cases.
Titles to be released by KONIX SOFTWARE include:
BIKERS (included free with every Konix Multi-System)
A fast arcade motorbike racing game written by the award winning Argonaut Software. This title has never been available before and was written specifically to show the Multi-System at its best. Many different play options including the ability to practice motorbike stunts (such as jumping over buses), 256 colours on screen, CD quality music and sound effects. Works as a 1 or 2 player game, and will work with the Konix Power Chair if attached.
KONIX CHESS (Expected availability OCTOBER '89) Classic Chess game based upon the 1988 World Amateur Computer Chess Champion software 'PANDIX', with special 2D or 3D play options and selectable pieces. Many levels of play to suit beginner or expert plus unique option which allows 2 players to battle it out on two separate Konix Multi-Systems! Also works with Konix Power Chair. Written by Digital Ink.
REVENGE of STARGLIDER! (development title) (Expected availability FEBRUARY
New and original flight simulator and arcade game in one, taking advantage of all of the features offered by the Multi-System. Written by Argonaut Software. Also works with Konix Power Chair.
ROTOX (development title) (Expected availability MARCH '90) Original 3D space game based upon floating agricultural platforms in space which have been overrun by some kind of alien... it is your job to get to the bottom of it! Fast shoot-'em-up with high speed rotating graphics. Also works with Konix Power Chair. Written by Binary Design.
TUNNELS OF DOOM (development title) (Expected APRIL '90) Original, futuristic race game that marks a major step forward in computer game technology...and fun. Further details to be announced closer to product launch. Hook two Multi-System together for the ultimate race! Also works with Konix Power Chair. Written by Attention To Detail.
Additionally, there are several titles in development which are due to be announced shortly, including a TANK SIMULATOR (can be played as an arcade game or true sim), full combat FLIGHT SIMULATOR, award-winning 'SHOOT-'EM-UP' a SPORTS SIMULATION and a MUSIC & GRAPHICS 'toy' (allows the user to easily create CD quality multi-channel music in stereo without the need to read or write music, whilst at the same time creating a dazzling kaleidoscope on screen with 4096 colours, shapes, starfields etc.)
Titles to be released by INDEPENDENT KONIX DEVELOPERS include:
STAR RAY Logotron (Expected OCT '89)
LAST NINJA 2 System 3 (Expected OCT '89)
SAILING SIMULATOR Empire/ODE (Expected NOV '89)
RUN THE GAUNTLET Ocean (Expected NOV '89)
MUTANT CAMELS 89 Llamasoft (Expected NOV '89)
SUPER SKI SIMULATOR Microids (Expected NOV '89)
MR DO's WILD RIDE Electrocoin (Expected DEC '89)
CRAZY CARS 2 Titus (Expected DEC '89)
MANCHESTER UTD FC Krisalis (Expected JAN '90)
HAMMERFIST Vivid Image (Expected FEB '90)
VENDETTA System 3 (Expected MAR '90)
* REVENGE OF STARGLIDER evolved into StarFox.
* The MUSIC & GRAPHICS TOY was a KMS project I was talking to Jeff Minter about - using the KMS to create a 'next-gen' Trip-A-Tron' - like experience, which could create wildly different effects through different use of all the KMS input devices.
* The TANK SIM was a project I was hoping to get Jonathan Griffiths to write - he was working on CONQUEROR at the time
* Many of the 3rd party titles ended up being published on other platforms, including HAMMERFIST and VENDETTA. LAST NINJA 2 was, actually, going to be the first release of LAST NINJA 3 - a surprise for the launch that never was.
*If the KMS had launched, I would have been responsible for running Creative Design Software - a separate company owned by Konix that would have handled all of the software development and publishing activities.
*CTW followed up on this press release with a 3 page interview with me, very similar questions to the ones you are asking. You can see it at http://guv1.com/jd-res02/pmc.htm - see the side bar on the right hand side. The quality isn't great, I haven't updated these pages in years; I scanned it years ago to make the image good for dial-up, but I hope you can make out the gist.
Were there any killer apps? Did it really need any? Do you think the machine would have sold its self to some extent and therefore not needed triple A titles, or do you believe the titles in development were of sufficient quality?
BIKERS would have been the most played game, because it would have been free. It would have been a fun little game, very playable and felt different because you play using the handlebar configuration (although we did all our testing using a Navigator joystick because it was all that was available!!). I think that MUTANT CAMELS would have been a killer app, because it was so fast, so colourful and so loud - again, I can show video of the game even today and people want to play it. Jeff could always write very playable and great looking games. TUNNELS OF DOOM would have been a killer app too; fast, very colourful, could have been controlled differently using any of the system configs and would have been a dream in the chair; in game style it would most closely resemble WIPEOUT that came many years later.
I subsequently sold the idea [for Tunnels of Doom] to Mirrorsoft and we were creating it for a bunch of systems - but when Robert Maxwell went swimming, that was the end of Mirrorsoft, and we eventually gave up on Tunnels.
As well as writing the SDK, Did ATD produce a game for the KMS or just the tech demos? Did you see the tunnel of doom demo turn into anything like a game; was it the inspiration for another game?
They finished LAST NINJA 3 for System 3, which played and looked great. They had work in progress on TUNNELS OF DOOM but it was in its early stages. I subsequently sold the idea to MIRRORSOFT and we were creating it for a bunch of systems - but when Robert Maxwell went swimming, that was the end of Mirrorsoft, and we eventually gave up on TUNNELS.
In your opinion seeing the performance first hand, did you think the machine offered better or worse performance than its contemporaries e.g., the Amiga, ST and SNES, Megadrive and PC Engine...?
Tough call - those systems all shipped so in that sense they all outperformed KMS :-) I think we had better technology all around, but its usefulness, like so many consoles, was limited by the lack of a hard drive and enough on-board RAM. I would say we beat the consoles in just about every area, and with the unique controller design, would have been a much better gaming system than ST or Amiga.
I heard someone mention Shadow of the Beast as a game for KMS, but no one else has anywhere else.
I had some great conversations with Psygnosis, and we were in discussion with them for a handful of titles. Ian Heatherington and Jonathan Ellis liked the idea of a European console but like so many publishers at the time, they wanted to see how the launch went before jumping on board. I think if KMS had launched, they would have been a premier publisher for the system, because they liked the technology.
The ravages of time have left the Konix Multi-system coming off as a bit of a joke, but after talking with Wyn, I got the impression that this thing was going to rule the world. It's sad that some people remember it with disdain and are happy to cite examples of the Power Chair blowing up and assume such things as a lack of original games as reasons for its failure. Any comments?
The difference between success and failure is paper thin. Konix came remarkably close to shipping KMS, and if it had, Wyn would be a folk hero (along the lines of Sir Clive Sinclair),and the video games business would have been changed forever. It would have slowed the Sega and Nintendo assault on Europe in the early 90s, and I believe would have been snapped up very fast by one of the many companies that were offering Wyn money to sell-out prior to launch. I remember asking him why he wouldn't sell, and I think it came down to him believing that he didn't need to - he could have it all. Launch this thing and the value goes even higher. The Power Chair never blew up (although the prototypes often stopped with an impressive bang, which I thought we should add as a feature and make programmable!).
As for the software, Konix running out of funds to launch the system had nothing to do with the games we were making. It's not like if we had different titles they would have had those funds. The fact we had so many titles you haven't heard of points to the opposite of a lack of original software, doesn't it? You can call Nintendo all the names you like, but their commitment to original software is proving to be the winning strategy for hardware sales. No, poor software options would only have been a factor if the system had launched and then no-one bought it. More relevant would be the lack of more third-party publisher support, which would have brought us credibility. As I mentioned earlier, there were many publishers wanting us to launch before they agreed to support, and KMS had its own quality bar set to ensure quality and range were maintained.
It's an "If I were King" question, but how could anything have been done differently to get the Multi-system to market. You were fevering away ensuring software was developed for it. Could you see area's of obvious deficiency or chinks in the armour that caused its premature demise?
When I stopped getting paid, sometime in July 1989 from memory, I started to take an interest in how to keep the system on track for launch. So I continued to work (for free, as it turned out), as without that there was no software support. I also put forward two proposals to Konix that would have freed up funds, by inviting third-parties to participate (fund certain elements directly); this included some of the major distributors in Europe, most of whom were very interested. But as I mentioned earlier, Wyn had some very big names knocking on his door and as it turned out, his belief that independence was still his greatest strength probably stopped any other possibilities from occurring. I don't even know if he would have done things differently now, with the benefit of hindsight.
There is a current trend in the gaming press to talk of failed machines (slow news days maybe?) this normally comprises a list of machines such as the Sega Saturn, Sega Dreamcast, Atari Lynx, Jaguar and the Turbo Grafx. All of these machines made it to market, and all had at least 100 games released for the unit. Let's suppose the KMS made it to market, do you think it would be a similar story in that even if it had limited success it may not have been the runaway triumph of the PS1/2 and SNES/Megadrive that these machines are obviously being measured against?
I don't think KMS would be viewed as a failure if it had launched. A novelty, perhaps, but in the days where the Wii is attracting attention because of its focus on peripheral devices and their impact on game design, the KMS was there 16 years ago.
Was the chair really that shabby? Would it have blown up if anyone bigger than a 5 year old sat on it? Do you think the design could have been safely and successfully built? Was it a bit slow?
It never made it past prototype. It was solid enough, but I only ever saw protos that used two up turned power drills as their engines. Hence they sounded like - er - power drills any time they moved. The plan was to use smaller, quieter custom built engines once it got closer to manufacturing time. The chair never blew up, sometimes the drills over heated by the constant start/stop and would bring the chair to a sudden halt with an impressive 'bang'! A few people in the World ever got to play any games in the chair, and I count myself as one of the lucky few. The power drill allowed an awesome proof of concept, it really was the arcade come home. And totally changed the game experience by making it more immersive. There wasn't any rocket science involved, and I believe it would be more than possible to build and manufacture these safely. I don't think we ever tried it with a 5-year old, only grown men (some very hairy like Jeff) - and it was just fine. The biggest problem was getting people out - no-one wanted to stop playing in it.
Do you think the Konix was a complete wasted effort, did anything good come of it. Do you think it influenced anything in the games industry? Has it in your opinion left any sort of lasting testament, memorial or benefit from its existence?
With the passing of time, I am honoured to have been part of it. It showed me that a good idea is a good idea and that is all it takes to revolutionize an industry that likes the status quo. The growth is only ever going to come from innovation. I respected Wyn's 'David' to the World's 'Goliath'. We will see equipment like the KMS again, this is still a good idea, to better immerse players in the game Worlds in which we place them. I don't think KMS changed the industry, but I think it is richer because it was attempted. I hope there are more innovations like this - we're supposed to be about fun.
Finally, You were in some way involved in the Bell fruit DLT treble top interactive quiz machine. Does your association with this have anything to do with the Slipstream technology being used as the basis of this machine?
The connection is actually ATD, I worked with them a lot. I got them involved with Konix, and in turn they met Flare. Post Konix, Flare worked with Bell Fruit, and Flare had liked the work ATD had delivered for Konix - plus they knew that hardware better than probably anyone. As part of my work with ATD, they asked for help with the DLT Treble Top project.
Here's Jon's resume, I can't think of anything more to say as it speaks for itself!