M2: The $100M Console That Never Happened
It seems ludicrous in this day and age to think that a company would make a $100 million push to join the console market, only to get cold feet and withdraw from the competition at the last minute. Yet that’s exactly what Panasonic did in the late Nineties – the M2 was finalised and ready for manufacturing, but just before its scheduled launch in 1997 the company pulled the plug. However, the M2 endures as one of gaming’s most fascinating “what if?” possibilities.
So what was the M2 anyway?
Of the many companies that had entered the console market throughout the Nineties, 3DO was amongst the most ambitious. The company envisaged a future in which your console was more like your video recorder – it conformed to a standard, but manufacturing wasn’t locked to one company. Instead, the technology was licensed to a range of manufacturers including GoldStar (better known as LG today), Sanyo and Panasonic. However, this model caused the 3DO console to struggle – unlike other console manufacturers, 3DO licensees couldn’t sell hardware at a loss and recoup their costs with software licensing fees, so hardware prices were high. More worryingly, the arrival of the PlayStation and Saturn in 1994 meant that the 3DO was no longer the most impressive console on the market.
Fortunately, 3DO had a great hardware team in RJ Mical and the late Dave Needle, who had previously designed the Amiga and the Atari Lynx. They went back and designed an add-on board for the 3DO called the M2, a highly capable bit of kit that outperformed both Sony and Sega’s machines, and even Nintendo’s upcoming N64. The only problem was that 3DO was struggling financially. Panasonic, sensing the opportunity to get into the market, paid $100 million for the technology in late 1995 with the aim to launch it as a standalone machine in late 1996.
How far did it go?
Development kits were sent out, games were worked on and hardware designs were finalised, but delays pushed the machine into 1997. By that point, Sony had secured global dominance of the console market, and the established players in Sega and Nintendo were struggling. Panasonic got cold feet pretty late on and withdrew the machine prior to mass production, after years of trade show appearances and hype. You can see a development unit with its control pad below, pictured by Digitpress forum member bitrate:
But that wasn’t quite the end, as the M2 technology found its way into a variety of products. The most interesting to gamers is Konami’s set of arcade releases which used the M2. They’re relatively rare, as CD-ROM based games weren’t as reliable as ROM chips or even hard disks in an arcade environment. Panasonic also used the M2 tech in the FZ-35S Interactive Media Player, used in car dealerships and other such places. Other than that, there are tales of the technology finding its way into ATMs and coffee machines – essentially anything to justify the huge sum paid for the technology.
Now, let’s take a look at the few games that actually ended up running on the M2 technology.
The only game that owners of the non-arcade M2 hardware can play is this impressive-looking racer, as a relatively complete prototype was leaked online a few years back. While the frame rate is on the low side, the high resolution visuals and overall level of detail surpasses the standard of PlayStation and N64 racers.