What is it?
The Konix Multi-system is an unreleased, British designed, games machine (console) from circa 1989-1991.
Of course by today's standards, it's dated, in fact it's scary just how
dated it is!
Put it alongside Gears of War for example and you might as well be comparing Chalk with Cheese. But the concept none-the-less was unique back then and it's only just now that a mainstream manufacturer - Nintendo has chosen to try to create a whole games machine concept around the way that you interact with the games in a move to try to make the games playing experience more involved, dynamic and immersive.
Nintendo, and to be fair, several other manufacturers have had quite a long history of trying to introduce new concepts to achieve this goal, using devices like gloves with controls mounted on them, simulated vehicular controls, light guns, 3D goggles and some even more weird and wacky devices that never really caught on.
And possibly the biggest stick in the mud of all, these add-ons always
sold in very low numbers, were generally unsupported - usually having only a
handful of games at most taking advantage of the novel controls or methods of
playing that were afforded by the add-ons.
Software publishers although very excited by the possibilities of creating games to use these controls were generally scared of putting a lot of effort into developing titles which ultimately were only going to sell in comparatively small amounts and would therefore be a waste of time.
So where does the Multi-system fit into this picture? Well, like the Nintendo Wii - one manufacturer of the era was brave enough to come up with a concept for a games machine that recognised the potential of offering more interactive ways of playing games. Unusually though, it was a Joystick manufacturer from Wales in the UK with no experience of making games machines that decided to offer it's take on what it thought the games playing public wanted.
Evolving from a quite cute design for a steering wheel controller (nothing new there) came a design that easily morphed between a steering wheel, a motorbike handle bar and a flight yoke for an airplane. This design in it's own right would have been quite impressive, but the designer (Wynford Peter Holloway - more commonly Wyn Holloway) saw the potential this machine could have if it were the basis of a complete games machine. Luckily the designer read an article in Ace magazine - the same magazine that you or I were probably reading at the time about a prototype system for a very impressive games machine which was looking for a manufacturer and, putting two and two together he had the start of a potentially great machine.
Letting his imagination run wild Wyn came up with all manner of add-ons such as a home version of a hydraulic chair (popular at the time in the arcades for games like Outrun and Afterburner) he identified a way of providing a very similar effect but for a fraction of the cost. He also came up with a light gun that had a recoil feature. Constantly adding ideas into the melting pot and letting everyone know ALL about these ideas, he managed to generate a frenzy of enthusiasm surrounding his product.
The controller design called "Slipstream" could be modified by the user
with simple and quick twisting actions to form the handle bars of a
motorbike, the yoke of an airplane and with the addition of a slip on cover -
a steering wheel.
The controller integrated controls that mimicked gear selection, and it could be locked into several positions that were appropriate for the operating mode. For example when in airplane yoke mode the shaft the control was mounted on could pivot through an axis to simulate pitch controls. It's said that the controller also had rumble features. This can't be confirmed until a prototype machine turns up.
Jeff Minter with what's presumably a mock-up of
a Multi-system box
The earliest, most common name internally at Konix for the Machine before it was called the Konix Multi-system was "The Arcade System" (some references exist where that was abbreviated to Konix Arcade System - KAS). Not particularly catchy (however nor is Multi-system!), but it does fully describe what Wyn was intending.
The electronics for the Multi-system were based on the (at the time) revolutionary Flare One computer system. It was adapted over the development life of the machine to suit programmers requests for more memory and some other features that made programmers lives easier and made the machine more capable. Technical demos showed the power of the machine, although the games in development didn't really seem to create such an impact as they were mostly ports of successful games already released for other platforms.
Because the machine was such an unknown quantity - after all Konix had never built a computer or console before, most major developers were very interested, but held back from investing any time or effort into producing games for the machine. Of the handful of developers that did take an interest, some of the games they produced were quite run of the mill, but others such as AMC'89 did show the potential that the machine had.
Originally intended to use cartridges, the system was redesigned to use cheaper to produce floppy disks with propriety copy protection.
It was only going to cost around £200 with games at around £14 so it was fairly affordable. This was a good price to pitch a new machine at.
Such was the coverage in the press - born both through general interest and enthusiasm at the novelty of it all and Wyn's charisma and ability to sell anything to anyone, there was such great enthusiasm and anticipation for the release of the machine that it felt like a devastating blow to anyone who had been collected in the swell of the tide of hype and expectations that existed at the time.
So why didn't it make it? Was it vaporware? Well, it's definitely wasn't vaporware, the dev kits for the machines existed and were what developers were using to create the games. A few hand built prototypes of the complete machine as it may have been sold to us were used for promotional purposes at trade shows and in magazine articles etc. Some software houses also had "Finished" consoles to test with.
The reason why it didn't make it? It's always been said that Konix just ran out of money, and as disappointing an end to a product's potential sounds, this is probably the most accurate description. It's not that the product wasn't generating A LOT of interest from the press and public and the rest of the games industry of the time, it seems to be a case that there was too much riding on it, the investment wasn't there to fund the production and there may have been an element of pride, selfishness or greed on Wyns part that meant that he wasn't going to sell the idea off to anyone else if he wasn't going to get top dollar - and there were interested parties: Lucasfilm being the most famous of the Multi-system's potential suitors.
After the Konix project fell through a lot of people had a bad time of it all, but Wyn rose Pheonix like from the ashes and launched MSU - a company which made use of the engineering contact Wyn had previously in his experience putting together the Konix project. MSU tried to create a Multi-system 2, but that failed and we didn't see any more of the Multi-system.
It's commonly written that the Atari Jaguar is the Multi-system 2 - this isn't true. The Jaguar is essentially the Flare Two and was sold to Atari where Atari further developed the idea into what became the Atari Jaguar. It's more a spiritual successor to the KMS and no doubt shares some similar but further developed ideas. So the essence of the Jaguar was developed by two of the people that developed the KMS, but they were only part of a bigger team that developed the Jaguar into what Atari wanted.