Science and Tech
5 Video Game Consoles That Almost Hit The Market

John Markley | 8 Dec 2015 18:00
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4. Control-Vision

The different systems in this article vary widely in their legacy. The SNES-CD accidentally spawned the Sony PlayStation and its successors, radically altering the course of gaming history, while the M2 and Panther vanished almost without a trace.

And then there's the Control-Vision, which managed to cause a nationwide moral panic and congressional hearings about violence in video games without ever being released.

In 1985, the company Axlon and developer Tom Zito began developing a videogame console, originally designated NEMO, that used VHS tapes rather than cartridges. These were not your typical VHS tapes - they contained computer data for the game, and multiple audio and video tracks the NEMO could switch between at will so that the game could respond to the player's input. The audio and video from the tape could then be combined with more interactive images generated by the console.

The potential was obvious. In an era where the Super Mario Brothers had mustaches because their sprites were too small and crude to depict a mouth, NEMO could provide full motion video of live actors! Hasbro wanted a piece of the action and invested several million dollars. In 1986, Tom Zito and company made three short demo games to demonstrate the potential of the technology before following up with the first full-length game, the interactive movie Night Trap.

Yes, that Night Trap. The 1992 Sega CD game that helped launch a national uproar about video games that still echoes to this day. Zito followed Night Trap up with another future refugee to the Sega CD, Sewer Shark.

By 1988, however, Hasbro had lost confidence in the project and backed out just months before the NEMO - now dubbed the Control-Vision - was supposed to release. High manufacturing costs would meant a planned retail price of $299, unlikely to be an attractive prospect to consumers when the NES was better-known and $100 cheaper. The failure of other VHS-based consoles like the Action Max may have sapped enthusiasm for the project as well. Or maybe some far-sighted soul at Hasbro simply realized that barely-interactive quasigames starring the girl from Diff'rent Strokes were not the future of gaming.

But while Hasbro may have lost faith in the idea of interactive movies, Tom Zito had not. He purchased the rights to the Control-Vision games and waited for gaming technology to catch up with his vision. It did just a few years later, with the advent of CD-ROM based gaming peripherals and the vastly increased storage space they provided - enough space to contain large quantities of full-motion video. Hideously low-res video, perhaps, but video nonetheless.

His company Digital Pictures released a whole series of FMV-based games for the Sega CD, 3DO, and home computers, including such immortal classics as Prize Fighter, Slam City With Scottie Pippen, Ground Zero: Texas, and Marky Mark: Make My Video, as well as ports of the two games he'd made prior to the cancellation of the Control-Vision: Sewer Shark and Night Trap. The latter shocked moralists with its frank full-motion video depiction of benightgowned young women being menaced by vampires, bringing a new era of political scaremongering about video games, and the rest is history.

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