Friday, July 2, 2010

Lost to the Ages: Hasbro's Sliced Bread

I've recently been reading G. Wayne Miller's 2001 book Toy Wars, a history of the long rivalry between the world's largest toy companies, Mattel and Hasbro.  It's an entertaining, well-researched book, and in passing it sheds some light on videogame history from a different perspective.  Toys and games have always been intertwined, but it's been difficult for traditional toy companies to get into the videogame industry -- and has in many cases cost them dearly.

I had heard about NEMO, Hasbro's ill-fated VCR-based videogame system that supported 4 switchable, simultaneous streams of video.  It was cancelled, and its considerable footage assets were sold off cheap, providing the raw material for several Sega CD titles including Sewer Shark and Night Trap

But I hadn't really been aware that:
  • Milton Bradley was put into play by the failure of the Vectrex console, plunging the company into debt and enabling its rescue/acquisition by Hasbro.  I had always associated the Vectrex with GCE, its creator and primary game developer, but Milton Bradley put up (and lost) much of the money for distribution.  (The book doesn't say anything about whether MB's pioneering Microvision handheld was a winner or loser.)

  • Mattel was unable to take advantage of the MB situation due to its own heavy losses on the Intellivision console.
And this was really a surprise:
  • Hasbro sank $45 million into development of a head-mounted Virtual Reality system with the working title of Sliced Bread, of "the greatest thing since..." fame.  It was slated for release in the mid-90's but was dropped, due in part to its projected $499 price tag.  It was in development so long that cartridges were replaced with CD's, but its complicated core microchip was still too expensive to make it cost-effective for retail.
The whole Sliced Bread story is really intriguing -- a little Google research seems to indicate that almost nothing is known about this system, as there seem to be no photos or prototypes floating around.  Game development was supposedly proceeding apace when the system was cancelled, so it must have existed in some physical form.

What's become of those lost artifacts, I wonder?

1 comment:

  1. I worked on a game for this system as producer/designer. It was called various names including Mind Games; it was an arena style vehicle combat competition based on MIDIMAZE / Faceball 2000 the latter I also produced. I recently found an image of some stock 3D construction equipment; I vaguely remember requesting all materials related to the project be turned over to them.