Odds are pretty good that you’ve never heard of the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer, let alone seen one in real life. No matter what yardstick you’d care to use, the 3DO was not a success. Launched in 1993 for the sky-high price of $699, the “Interactive Multiplayer” was meant to revolutionize your living room by letting you play games, listen to CDs, view photo CDs, and – maybe some day – let you watch movies all from one console, but neither technophiles nor gamers latched onto it. By the time the Sony PlayStation was launched in 1995, the 3DO was estimated to have sold a mere 300,000 units in the U.S.; by comparison, 100,000 PlayStations were sold in its first month of release. The 3DO was a failure, and I absolutely adored the damn thing.
My original interest in the 3DO boiled down to a single game: The 11th Hour. I’d seen coverage of it in magazines and its mix of puzzles and spooky atmosphere made me salivate. It was already out for the PC, but that didn’t help me any. Between college and work, my entire computer experience was Mac-based, and even if I could afford a PC (which I couldn’t – even a basic PC capable of running games would set you back a few thousand dollars at the time), I wouldn’t have known how to use the darn thing. Yes, this was all taking place at the dawn of time, back when having a home computer was a relative luxury that few could afford, long before PC prices had dropped enough for them to become household staples. I spent many hours at Stop and Save Software, Babbage’s, and Electronics Boutique, staring longingly at the shelves of PC games, yearning for entrance to their digital playlands.
It wasn’t as though I had no access to videogames at all, of course. The Genesis and Super Nintendo were the hot consoles of the day, and I owned both of them. There were loads of fantastic games for each of them, but their 16-bit offerings felt unsophisticated when compared with the photo-realism that PC games could provide. I even had a Sega CD, but playing full-motion video games like Corpse Killer, Ground Zero Texas, and Sewer Shark often felt like trying to watch HBO through a scrambled cable signal. PC games, on the other hand, were more visually stunning, more crisp, more – dare I say it – grownup.
I saw PC gaming as the pinnacle of videogame brilliance; that I couldn’t participate in it was slowly driving me insane. The ads for The 11th Hour taunted me. The box on the shelf mocked me. And then … salvation! I read that The 11th Hour would be coming to the 3DO, the disc-based gaming console that was so high-tech it practically came from the future. Its price tag was a wallop on my wallet, to be sure, but if shelling out a fat wad of cash let me play computer-quality games, I was willing to make the sacrifice.
Looking back, I’m somewhat aghast by what a complete idiot I was about the whole thing. I’m tempted to build a time machine if only so I can nip back, slap myself in the head and say “First of all, wait for the price drop, and secondly, just get a damn computer!” At the time, however, my decision made all the sense in the world, and I was happily mesmerized by the 3DO. It was hilariously simple in design, just an ugly square with rounded corners and two chunky buttons on the front, but nevertheless I cooed with glee every time the Cylon-esque power indicator on the 3DO’s front lit up.
The 11th Hour actually wasn’t due out for some time, so I began to investigate the long, narrow boxes that made 3DO games easy to spot on store shelves (though the weight problems caused by having a game disc in one end and nothing in the other made it tricky to keep them there). Here, surely, was the future of gaming! Real-life actors starring as game characters! Amazing sound quality! Mature themes that couldn’t possibly be explored on kiddie machines like a Genesis or SNES! My possession of a 3DO had guaranteed my place among the gaming elite.
Starring Tia Carrere as your fellow space marine, The Daedelus Encounter was little more than a collection of logic puzzles connected by the thin premise of exploring a derelict alien spaceship. You played as Casey, who’s a particularly mobile brain in a jar after surviving a horrible accident, and interact with the world around you via probes and other such robo-extensions. I saw it as a clever way to explain the user interface, but then again, I also saw all the disc-swapping the game required as a testament to its vast and epic nature, as opposed to an immersion-killing pain in the ass.
Though it featured Kirk Cameron (yes, that Kirk Cameron), flesh and blood actors weren’t the main draw of The Horde, another 3DO game I came to love as I waited for The 11th Hour. After saving the king from choking, you are rewarded with your very own town, which is overrun by bright red monsters every single night. During the day, you rebuild your defenses with whatever resources you have, setting traps, chopping down trees, and constructing buildings. You can also just plain attack the Hordelings yourself, but you only know how to fight by swinging your sword in a huge circle, and if you do it too much you get dizzy. I never made it very far – years later, with far more experience, I’m still terrible at strategy games – but took unreasonable delight in playing through the first few stages over and over again, hoping that this time, I’d find the answer. Plus, there were cows, and I like cows.
Guest appearances from Dennis Hopper and Grace Jones couldn’t prevent Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller from being anything other than a complete disaster. Then again, I’m not sure what made me think that particular duo guaranteed a good time. The game’s plot, which took place in a dystopian future (what else?) where the United States was under a religious dictatorship that could actually send people to Hell, was edgy and provocative, but the game just wasn’t any fun. I felt like I’d been promised a brain-challenging noir adventure only to receive a kick in the shins and a cocktail made from bong water. I hated Hell, and returned it to the store … after I’d beaten it, of course. It wasn’t any good, but it was still a Highly Advanced Gaming Experience, and therefore worthy of my time, if only so that I might speak more intelligently about the benefits of casting celebrities in videogames.
I still anxiously awaited the release of The 11th Hour, which I was certain would blow my mind, but the game that forever reserved a special place in my heart for the 3DO was Killing Time, a first-person shooter. You played as an Egyptology student who becomes trapped on a haunted island while looking for a lost artifact, the Water Clock of Thoth. The island was home to a wealthy heiress who transformed everyone on the island one night in 1932 when she was experimenting with the clock. With crazed chefs hurling cleavers at you from across the kitchen, frustrated ghosts trapped in time through no fault of their own, and odd, slithering things lurking in the basement, Killing Time never let you get comfortable or feel safe. It also took advantage of the technical capabilities of the 3DO with an incredible soundtrack that included several original songs. It was the most remarkable game I’d ever played, even if it did lock up an awful lot.
Alas, my love affair with the 3DO was short-lived. The success of the PlayStation reduced the flow of 3DO games to a trickle, and even those few that were released failed to hold the same allure for me. The 11th Hour, the whole reason I’d purchased a 3DO in the first place, never actually made it to the system. Eventually, I put my 3DO away so that I could focus my attention on the PlayStation and games like Resident Evil.
I know the 3DO was a colossal failure, but I’ll always be fond of it anyway. It was big, ugly, and not nearly as amazing as I thought, but it got me thinking about games as more than just childish amusements, and for that it will always be special to me. Of all the mistakes I’ve made in my life, the 3DO will always be my favorite.
Susan Arendt was really creeped out by the ducks in Killing Time. They were just not right.