3DO Interactive Multiplayer 101: A Beginner’s Guide

3do-101-header

Presented by Ack

Note from racketboy: The RetroGaming 101 series is aimed at gamers who are just starting out in the classic gaming scene or are curious about an older console that they don’t know much about yet.

When console gamers and collectors think back to 1993, most likely think of the glory days of the battle between Nintendo and Sega.  Memories of handling gray controllers with purple buttons or shouting the Sega scream come to mind.  But 1993 was an important year for the next generation of gaming, the era of the Sega Saturn, Sony PlayStation, and Nintendo 64.  Because in 1993, the 32-bit era officially began with the release of the 3DO.  Unfortunately it wasn’t much of a start, and the 3DO was quickly overshadowed by the industry juggernauts.  Yet, while mainstream gaming has left it behind, the 3DO has found a home amongst retro gaming collections.

Background Information

  • The official title of this console is the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer, but 3DO is the accepted abbreviation that the console is most commonly called.  3DO is also the title the 3DO Company is most often referred by.
  • The original release date for the 3DO was October 4, 1993 in North America.  It priced at $699.95 USD.  The original version was produced by Matsushita(known as Panasonic outside of Japan).  Later versions were produced by Sanyo and Goldstar, though even more companies had rights to produce their own variants.
  • The 3DO developed by the 3DO Company is actually a set of specifications for the console, which was then licensed to various electronics manufacturers, hence its development by several corporations.  The 3DO Company would then retain a small royalty percentage whenever a console or game was sold.
  • The 3DO featured a limited game collection, with fewer than 250 titles appearing on the console.
  • The 3DO was officially discontinued in 1996, after selling only about 2 million units.  The 3DO Company eventually went defunct in 2003.
  • The 3DO was partially the brain-child of Trip Hawkins, one of the founders of Electronic Arts.

3do-1

Historical Impact

  • The 3DO was the first 32-bit console to reach the market.
  • The family of consoles was one of the few real attempts to have a “universal” platform/format for games (like we have with audio and video formats).  However, the competition at the time was too strong for it to catch on.
  • Was named “Product of the Year” by Time Magazine in 1994.  It also received the “Worst Console Launch” award from Electronic Gaming Monthly in 1993.
  • Was only one of many consoles on the market in the mid-1990s, which helped to contribute to its failure and general obscurity to the mass market.
  • The 3DO featured the first CD music visualizer of any game console on the market.  It was marketed heavily as an Audio Visual device instead of simply another game console, a strategy that such companies as Sony and Microsoft would later adopt.
  • The 3DO Company developed its own optional ratings system for use by publishers.  This ratings system predated the ESRB.

3do-3

Strengths

  • Though the console featured only a single controller port, controllers also had ports built in so they could be daisy-chained together, with up to eight controllers being supported.  All controllers were compatible with all controller ports.
  • Was the first 32-bit gaming console on the market, and was entirely CD-ROM-based.  Models range from top-loaders to front-loaders, and could hold varying amounts of CDs, up to five at once.
  • Featured an extremely liberal licensing policy, so developers could make far more money on successful game sales than on any competitor’s machine.
  • Was compatible with audio and photo CDs, and could handle video CDs via the use of certain expansion modules.
  • Supported stereo sound, as well as RF, Composite, and S-Video.
  • Featured no region locking, meaning almost any game from any region could be played on any 3DO, regardless of that machine’s region.
  • Capable of playing CD-Rs.
  • Used its own OS for standardization across its products.
  • Featured an internal saving system for games.
  • Featured a wide array of first and third-party peripheral controllers.

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Weaknesses

  • The launch price was prohibitively expensive, and despite later variants featuring lower prices, the machine kept a reputation for costing too much.
  • Limited third-party support.  Despite the licensing policy, relatively few developers created games for the console, and these vary vastly in quality.
  • Because it was released earlier, the 3DO’s CD technology is not up to par with later consoles like the Sega Saturn or Sony PS1.
  • Despite being called an “audio visual device,” the 3DO lacks quality non-gaming material.
  • Certain 3DO units have issues with ribbon cables becoming loose, which can lead to the CD tray not opening properly.
  • A bug in the 3DO OS caused clicking noises while audio tracks were playing in several early games.  Despite the problem being resolved, some playback problems still occurred, so game audio can sometimes be accompanied by popping sounds.
  • Internal saves can only be erased by using a disk that features a memory management system. Many 3DO games and demo discs included this feature, though not all.
  • Early 3DO controllers have difficulty performing a roll command on the D-pad, making it difficult to play certain games that require the command.
  • Not all games are compatible across regions, since non-Japanese games lack the required kanji characters.  While many games featured these programmed onto the disc, not all do.
  • Because consoles were put out by different companies, certain specialty controllers and a handful of games are not compatible with certain consoles, particularly the Goldstar 3DO models.

Hardware Specifications

  • 640×480 pixel resolution, with either 16-bit color drawn from 24 bits, or true 24-bit color.
  • Two accelerated video co-processors with 25 MHz clock rate, able to produce 9-16 million pixels per second.
  • CPU: 32-bit 12.5 MHz RISC CPU, the ARM60, manufactured by ARM Holdings.
  • 2 MB DRAM, 1 MB VRAM, 1 MB ROM.  32 KB battery backed SRAM.
  • 16-bit Stereo Sound, with 44.1 kHz Sound Sampling Rate.  Fully supports Dolby Surround Sound.
  • CD-ROM drive with 320ms access time, 300 KBps data transfer, and 32 KB RAM buffer
  • 32-bit OS specially designed for the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer.
  • Two expansion ports built into the console.

Accessories

  • Standard peripherals for the 3DO include a light gun, controllers, and even wireless controllers from Logitech and Nakitek.
  • Other controllers included a steering wheel, the 3DO mouse from Panasonic, a six-button controller made by Capcom, and various joysticks.
  • An MPEG add-on that added an extra 256 KB of storage space received an extremely limited release for the console, mainly in Japan.
  • Though Sega Genesis controllers do not work with the console and may damage it, the Genesis extension cables are compatible with the 3DO and its controllers. (you have to cut them down a little) FM Towns extension cables work as well.
  • A Super Nintendo controller adapter was released for the 3DO.
  • A digital video cartridge was released by various manufacturers for use with their 3DO models, allowing the 3DO to play Video CDs.  Only the Goldstar version was released in the United States.
  • Other accessories that never made it beyond the prototype stage include a modem designed by AT&T.

Hardware Variations

Panasonic-FZ-1 Panasonic FZ-1
Price Range: $50 – $80
The Panasonic FZ-1 was the first 3DO released to the public.  It featured a front-loading CD tray, and controllers included headphone jacks and volume controls.
Find the Panasonic FZ-1 on eBay
Panasonic-FZ-10 Panasonic FZ-10
Price Range: $30 – $60
The Panasonic FZ-10 is an updated top-loading version of the FZ-1.  The controllers were made smaller and lighter, though the headphone jack was removed.
Find the Panasonic FZ-10 on eBay
Panasonic-ROBO-3DO Panasonic ROBO 3DO
Price Range: ???
The Panasonic ROBO 3DO was a Japan-only variant of the FZ-1, with a five disc CD drive.  It was apparently meant for installation in hotels.
Find the Panasonic ROBO 3DO on eBay
Goldstar-3DO-Interactive-Mu Goldstar 3DO Interactive Multiplayer
Price Ranger: $30 – $80
The Goldstar 3DO looks similar to the Panasonic FZ-1 and featured a similar front-loading try.  It even included a certificate to send in with a roll of film for custom-made photo CDs from Goldstar. The Goldstar 3DO Alive II is apparently a South Korean variant of this.
Find the Goldstar 3DO on eBay
Sanyo-TRY-3DO-Interactive-M Sanyo TRY 3DO Interactive Multiplayer
Price Range: $300 – $400
The Sanyo TRY 3DO was a Japan-only release by Sanyo.  This is the rarest 3DO model.
Find the Sanyo TRY 3DO on eBay
Creative-Labs-3DO-Blaster Creative Labs 3DO Blaster
Price Range: ???
The 3DO Blaster, from Creative Labs, was a PC compatible ISA compatibility card for use with the Windows 3.1 OS, which allowed users to play 3DO games on their PCs. Instead of simply emulating them, it included everything down to the controller ports
Find the Creative Labs 3DO Blaster on eBay
  • Other consoles from AT&T and Samsung were canceled.  A portable version for use as a car navigation device by Toshiba was also canceled.  And though Scientific-Atlanta were a 3DO licensee, they produced though hardware though there were some plans to.
  • The 3DO’s successor, the M2, was supposedly completed(or was close to completion) by Panasonic when it was canceled in 1997 due to the 3DO’s poor sales.  Some promotional material was released, and a few prototypes have made their way into collectors hands.  The M2 technology would find its way into other machines, ranging from an arcade board by Konami to coffee vending machines.

Hardware Shopping Considerations

  • The top loading models due have a tendency towards higher reliability than the front loaders, though the Japan-only Sanyo model is the rarest, and it apparently featured faster CD-ROM speeds.
  • The Goldstar 3DO was another front loader and the cheapest in terms of price, and it was made available through toy stores and the like.  Goldstars tend to have problems with a  handful of games, and I saw at least one mention of issues with ribbon cables coming loose, though again front loaders were typically less reliable anyway.  (According to GameSpy, Cyberia, PO’ed, and The Horde have a tendency to lock up when being played on a Goldstar.)

Importing

  • As mentioned above, there was not region-locking on the games.  However there are a few issues involving importing 3DO games.
  • There seems to be just a few titles and a demo that don’t run properly when imported from Japan: Blue Forest Story, Twinkle Knights, Sword and Sorcery, and the Alone in the Dark demo.  However, Alone in the Dark was released as a full game in the west, and there is an English version of Sword and Sorcery, called Lucienne’s Quest, so those two can be gotten around.  And Twinkle Knights is apparently a adult video game, so…yeah.
  • Also, certain non-PAL titles have trouble on PAL consoles, such as Twisted, Crash N Burn, and Way of the Warrior.  PAL games will appear in a letterbox format on NTSC consoles apparently.

Emulation

  • FreeDO is pretty much it for a 3DO emulator.  Though updates stopped for a while in 2007, it was recently updated to version 2.1 in January, 2010.  FreeDO is compatible with Windows.
  • While versions are not currently publicly available, versions of FreeDO are supposedly being developed for the GP32X, Dreamcast, Lynux, and even the Wii Virtual Console.  However, as it’s been several years since some of these announcements, it is unknown if any of these will appear for public use.

36 Comments

puke_face says:

Very good review Ack. One of my favorite consoles.

Jose says:

I was able to pick one up at a trade store for $30 with seven. I still think this version of Street fighter is one of the best home version.

killmickey says:

I acquired mine in a craigslist trade for an HDTV, for this system and a lot of older systems. My question is… What are the killer apps (games)? I’m gonna keep it for my collection but I don’t know what to play on it.

Wow, not one, but TWO of my 3DO photos used. Glad to see taking those hi-res photos of my 3DO collection didn’t go to waste. 🙂

racketboy says:

Many thanks to you — I love nice up-close shots of old hardware 🙂 Sometimes I’m tempted to buy old machines just to photograph them — lol

opt2not says:

“controllers included headphone jacks and volume controls” — This was one of the best features of the 3DO. I wish modern consoles included this as well.

pepharytheworm says:

Nice read, all it needs is a Game Library section like most of these 101s have.

dsheinem says:

Awesome article Ack!

samsonlonghair says:

Good article Ack. I learned a few things about the 3DO I didn’t know before. Did the 3DO have any good exclusives?

samuraigoroh says:

Dug the article. I was curious though, from the little research I’ve done, it seems harder to find a ROBO, than a TRY, has anyone ever seen the price a ROBO commands? I’d be curious how it compares. And I agree, a game list would be sweet!

bonefish says:

http://cdinteractive.co.uk/3do/forum/

You can learn everything you would ever want to know about the 3do here. Some of the guys here have some wild stuff, M2, Robo, preproduction games.

Lokkenjawnz says:

Wow Ack, it’s like you read my mind! I just picked up an FZ-1 no more than two days ago, and I was dying for an article like this. Now all we need is an article on the games so I know what to look for!

Ivo says:

I thought the Amiga CD32 was released before the 3D0 and was the first 32-bit system released. The wiki page says September 1993, so I am right if that date is correct and the 3D0 was indeed in October.

Quagmire says:

Great system, and I’m honoured you used one of my photos 🙂

joel says:

I have two systems and I own a developers(?) 3D0, It has a special switch that says “encrypted”! Ive asked around and it seems to be one of those. I have a some games that Ive found but they seem to be hard to find without going on-line. It’s kinda hard to find them out in the “wild” so to say, because sometimes the games look like old pc-cdrom disks. Games from this system are ports from Sega CD and some have been ported to newer systems. Its an interesting system to own, just for its postition in video game history.

Alienjesus says:

this is a nice article, but don’t these 101’s normally have some game suggestions? Actually, I’d just like a 3DO hidden gems/defining games/cheapest games article anyhow, I’ve been interested in purchasing a few games other than road rash and wing commander!

Ack says:

While we usually link other articles that have been written concerning Games that Define or Hidden Gems of a console, we don’t actually have any of those articles written for the 3DO, hence why none are linked. But considering the number of responses asking about it, it’s definitely something we’ll be looking into in the near future.

mattyg says:

after pulling apart a number of 3DOs for repair I can assure you that there is nothing different or special about the TRY – in fact the entire CD drive assembly is identical to the Goldstar who bought Sanyo parts off the shelf for manufacturing.The myth that they play VCD’s without an adapter is also untrue , however , a Panasonic adapter can be used but looks unweildly.

Sturat says:

Unfortunately, I can’t think of any 3D0 games worth recommending. I’ve only played a few dozen, but most of the games were early 3D games that have aged terribly or fmv games on a system that doesn’t do fmv very well.

I liked Micro Cabin’s strategy RPG Guardian War. Pretty much everything else halfway decent was ported to Saturn and/or Playstation: Battlesport was pretty good, and there’s always Policenauts, and the Crystal Dynamix games like Gex, Offworld Interceptor, and Total Eclipse weren’t worth playing per se, but they were good by 3D0 standards. Super Street Fighter II Turbo was good at the time, but better ports have made it obsolete, and the port of Samurai Shodown was pretty terrible.

Naughty Dog’s fighting game Way of the Warrior would be enjoyable if you like 90’s American Kusoge. There’s an exclusive Sailor Moon S fighting game that’s alright.

A lot of people swear by Star Control II, which I haven’t played.

Eddie says:

Very cool. I know about this console now, but can’t remember bugging my parents for one when it was new. Makes me think there were no commercials for it. It sounds interesting.

scrotumwound says:

now if only i could find a controller on the cheap

gszx1337 says:

“Lynux”? Don’t you mean Linux?

crux says:

If they ever make a Lynx emulator for Linux, I think we now know its name.

jp1 says:

Nice article. The 3DO is a criminally underrated system. It gets a lot of hate from people who don’t spend any real time with it. There are some great games available.

Star Control II
Samurai Showdown
Gex
Need for Speed
Slayer
Cannon Fodder
Street Fighter II
Road Rash
Dragon’s Lair (If you like the game)
Hell
Myst (Again if you like it)
Return Fire (Great with friends)
Crash N Burn
Alone in the Dark 1&2
Total Eclipse
Wing Commander
Flashback
Escape from Monster Manor
The Horde
Guardian War
Out of This World
Quarantine
Wolfenstein
Doom
Lucienne’s Quest
D

There are more but you get the point. I had my 3DO at launch and it saw plenty of play time. My friends with playstations all loved it. Sure, some of the games can be played on other systems but that doesn’t make them any less fun when played on the 3DO.

Sturat says:

JP1, I’ve only played a fraction of the 3DO versions of the games you listed, but being able to play Samurai Shodown and FMV games like Dragon’s Lair on other systems makes the 3DO versions a helluva lot less fun. Samurai Shodown looks alright in still shots, but the framerate is terrible, which is totally unacceptable in a fighting game port. FMV games are barely worth playing under ideal circumstances; why would you recommend playing them on a system with video compression substantially worse than MPEG-1?

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