SNES-CD: The Unholy Nintendo/Sony Monster Was Real and It Works
Some years ago on my tech podcast, Sovryn Tech, I did a story during the “Game Talk” segment where I theorized what the present gaming landscape would look like if history played out a little bit differently. What if Sony never created the PlayStation console, and instead stuck with their original plan to make the PlayStation an add-on to the Super Nintendo?
A lot of people don’t even know that this was close to being a reality. It would have worked out much like how the Sega CD hardware add-on connected to the main Sega Genesis console (or Mega CD and Mega Drive, more familiarly for my global readers). Sony would developed the “SNES-CD” (later to be codenamed “Play Station”) and have it connect to the main SNES console. Stick with me here, because something magical has recently been uncovered about all this.
But first, two points of interest. While it wasn’t uncommon for Sega to have multiple game “input types” (the earlier Sega Master System had a cartridge and Sega Card-based games), for most North American Nintendo gamers, this would have been a very new thing (floppy disk systems that Nintendo developed earlier never made those shores). And when American gamers usually hear about the SNES-CD, they usually think that it was Nintendo merely copying Sega’s success with their extensible consoles. But this is not so. The idea of a CD-ROM gaming add-on for a Nintendo console–with Sony in particular–had been devised back in 1986. So CD-ROM–or disc-based, in general–gaming, something that would haunt Nintendo for years after the release of the first Sony Playstation in 1994, was very much a Nintendo creation. Both Sega and Sony (and even PC gaming) were merely hot on their heels in finally bringing to life on home consoles.
And that’s the second point of interest: The irony of it all. Nintendo was such a stalwart with cartridge-based gaming when it knew the capability of CD-ROM’s, and even planned on implementing it way before anyone else, but they never did so. The very technology that ended up putting an end to Nintendo’s domination of gaming overall (at least partially)…Nintendo could have owned it. But instead, Nintendo’s concern over losing some bottom line profits because of leaving their proprietary cartridge technologies behind, and their tyrannical treatment of third party game developers–which also were incentivized by developing games that used the much less expensively produced CD-ROM’s–led to them losing their absolute dominance (and it was pretty absolute at the time).
Suffice it to say, the Nintendo-Sony SNES-CD partnership fell apart in 1992, with Nintendo being the one to hurt from it in the end (not that I think any of Nintendo’s systems after the fact were bad, I love all of them, and consider the New 3DS to be the best console on the planet as of this writing). And as far as anyone knew, the SNES-CD (or “Play Station”) never left the drawing board or the boardroom. That is until 2015…and someone found one.
Dan and Terry Diebold happened upon a SNES-CD, and initially it was thought to be a hoax. But then they took it to an expo, powered it up, and actually played some games on it (SNES games, of course, since no SNES-CD games were ever made). It’s an incredible story. And now video has been released of the “Super Disc (SNES-CD) Boot Software”. This is what this–in hindsight–unholy beast of a console’s diagnostics systems and original bootup screen looked like. Have a look, and have a spare pair of pants ready…
With so many of these stories we hear about dream business deals and cooperative efforts that never came through, we’re usually left with just the dream. And while it’s still fun to dream about the SNES-CD, it’s amazing to see that in some ways…it’s very real.
DISCLAIMER: The ZOG Blog is the part of this site where Dr. Brian Sovryn can talk about anything. From pop culture, to philosophy, to just sharing updates with what’s going on at Zomia Offline Games and with other projects.