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Video Game Connection - Museum : Bandai Pippin ATMARK

Review Submitted by Terry Herman (marriott_guy)

During the early 1990s, many developers flooded the video game console market with attempts at being home multimedia centers - all-in-one units capable of performing supplementary functions in addition to their primary gaming platform purpose. The consumer was treated, but at most times disappointed, with releases like the Philips CD-i, Memorex VIS, Pioneer LaserActive and the Panasonic 3DO.  In 1995, Apple Computer Inc. joined the foray by finishing the development of a system based on a scaled down version of their System 7 OS. Named the Pippin, Apple followed the 3DO Company's lead by licensing this technology to an outside manufacturer - Bandai. The Bandai Pippin ATMARK was released in Japan in 1995 and was marketed as the first modern hybrid console merging the power of a computer with the ease of a gaming station - as well as integrated network capabilities (hence the connotation in the name). Too bad that by the time of it's release, the technological world had passed them by.

The Bandai Pippin was released to the public in three different models:

  o 1995 - Bandai Pippin ATMARK - Japan (white model)
  o 1995 - Bandai Pippin ATMARK - Japan (black model)
  o 1996 - Bandai Pippin @WORLD - USA release (black model)

Technologically, there are basically no differences between the three systems that I am aware of (I don't have the Japanese Black model version). All come equipped with the same features and user interface (buttons/ports/etc.). Since all three are the same machine, the console(s) will be referred to as the Bandai Pippin in the following paragraphs.

An attractive piece of hardware, the Bandai Pippin weighs in at a hefty 8 lbs and is sturdily built. The user-friendly control panel is featured on the top of this slightly curved console. One keyboard and two ADB (Apple Desktop Bus) controller ports are easily accessible on the front of the system. Being a gaming system that was trying to encompass characteristics of a MAC computer, network connectivity was supported right out of the box with the included 14.4k external modem. Further supporting this all-in-one theme, two serial ports (modem/printer), a PCI compatible expansion slot and a keyboard/writing tablet were standard on all units. The surprising fast 4x CD-ROM drive performed far better than the its competitors (the Sony Playstation, released the same year, only had a 2x Max drive).

The hard plastic chassis encompasses a mini-MAC under its hood. The PowerPC 603 RISC microprocessor ran at 66MHz and was supported by 6 MB of RAM memory (shared between the system and video output) and 128 KB of internal NVRAM. Both 8 bit and 16 bit video is supported and graphics are displayed 16.7M colors. Audio is delivered in full 16-bit stereo (44 kHz sampled output). At the time, the Bandai Pippin was technically a very powerful machine compared to the main competition at the time - 3DO, Philips CD-i and the Sony Playstation. The important question - How was all of this muscle and power put to use in game development? The answer - not very well.

The Bandai Pippin ran games using an abbreviated MAC System 7 OS (operating system), which was actually included on every compatible CD. Small updates to the core system files (stored in the NVRAM) were delivered and included on respective new title releases. Like the Sony Playstation, there is a boot sequence that performs an authentication process to validate CDs. Small, but efficient banana-styled wired game controllers feature an analog D-pad, 4 color-coded action buttons and a centrally located mouse-like roller. The Bandai Pippin combined Japan/USA library consists of approximately 22 titles - mostly games with a sprinkling of edutainment offerings. A couple of forgettable games were packaged with the hardware, along with a web browser application to allow internet website viewing on your television. This was a first for a video game console - WebTV type access and the possibility of online gaming. Having very few titles available at the time of its release coupled with the failed delivery of supporting existing MAC software was just one of many nails in the coffin for this console.

The Bandai Pippin, though technologically superior at the time, failed miserably on many levels. The first error was the positioning of this console within the market - a multimedia, mini-MAC, internet ready, gaming machine. Though the ambitious nature of their goals should be commended, the Apple R&D team on a whole should not. The general population was not yet ready to embrace this type of all-in-one unit. The internet, at that time, was not considered a 'utility' as it is today. As detailed earlier, lack of firstthird party software support and compatibility was also an issue. Then there was the initial price tag - $599 USD (roughly $830 USD in 2007 dollars). This put the Bandai Pippin out of reach of the majority of the buying public. With the price of computers dropping due to rapid advances in technology, this all-in-one unit was quickly an out-dated piece of hardware when it was released. Going against the Sony Playstation (amongst others) did not help either. Only around 5,000 units were sold in the USA, though the system did fare just a bit better in Japan. In fact, more peripheral devices were manufactured (and since sold off for parts) than actual consoles produced.

Overall, the Bandai Pippin was a more powerful and technically capable machine in 1995 compared to the eventual juggernaut Sony Playstation - if it had competed as a pure gaming console. Poor market strategy and positioning, coupled with an attempt to drive an internetcomputer hybrid console to a still technologically adolescent market was the primary downfall. The foundation and inspiration of online gaming and the networkinternet realities we now see from the current generation of consoles (Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony Playstation 3 and the Nintendo Wii) can be attributed in part to the Bandai Pippin.

This console is recommended for console collectors only. Though produced in limited quantities, the Bandai Pippin is available through auction sites and private sellers. The original Japanese version (white) is not hard to locate but will still cost you about $200 USD CIB (complete in box) plus around $85 USD shipping from Japan. The same rates, surprising, apply for the Japanese Black versions of the ATMARK (some say that these are the unsold units from the USA that have been modified with Japanese labels). The US version, the Bandai @WORLD, will run you quite a few dollars and is the rarest. Expect to spend $300+ USD for a CIB unit, anywhere from $200+ USD for a bare system.

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