A grab-bag of misc CD-i rarities & oddities arrived in the mail yesterday for preservation via Blazers.
A grab-bag of misc CD-i rarities & oddities arrived in the mail yesterday for preservation via Blazers.
"Ah, you got a white label version. I may have pressed that personally, way back in the day. We were sending them pre-release versions for feedback. That title as the unique distinction of having the first ever filmed flight; it was a film of the Wright Bros in their original airplane. Back then copyright was only granted to still images, not film. So the Wright Bros printed the film of their flight to paper and had that copyrighted. Their paper print of the film is the only surviving version. At ArtSpace we individually printed enlarged versions, scanned them, re-registered their positioning so they played back correctly."
"The general culture was Classic Corporate, where new hires were not expected to know the technology and at least 6 months were spent in training. There was a 4 level hierarchy in the Santa Monica studio. At the lowest level were the application and platform engineers - I was one of those. Then there were the studio producers and managers, they managed the software projects that became CD-I titles. Then there was a separate building called 'the tower' where two floors were executives above the studio that formed the joint venture between Phillips and Sony that was CD-I. The 4th hierarchy were external consultants, typically friends of the tower executives, that got paid obscene amounts of money for support libraries used by the application engineers.
The tower executives had tension with Phillips in the Netherlands due to CD-I expense over runs and the fact that the hardware was very under powered for rich media. I was part of a production group, ArtSpace, headed by J.P. Isbouts - an executive from the Netherlands send to Santa Monica to "show the Americans how to produce CD-I titles". At the time I was assigned to J.P, I was a new hire and the tower executives wanted J.P. to fail. We did not fail; J.P. demonstrated the idea of an "engine" - similar to a game engine - where the same software is used to produce different titles by making the software moderately generalized. Up to that time, every CD-I title had been 100% custom written software. In reaction to J.P and ArtSpace demonstrating a cost effective production method, the tower executives hired all their friends and created that 4th hierarchical tier where common libraries were written and then forced on the platform and title developers. After about 3 years, J.P. returned to the Netherlands where I believe he spent time as the global CEO of Phillips."
"That Gardening by Choice [referring to the unreleased sequel], as well as the previous Gardening title were written by the same production group that wrote Hotel Mario. They were writing custom software for each title, and that Gardening by Choice second title was one of the first to have the 4th tier consultant libraries forced on the production. The early version of the libraries simply did not work, and the titles never completed due to cost over runs. That specific production group were all pretty good programmers, one could tell you the various chips' assembly language op code timings from memory. I seem to remember it was during that Gardening by Choice production, it was put on hold for the outside consultants to fix things, and the entire in-house production group quit to work at Electronic Arts on the then-new and unreleased 3D0 game console. I eventually went to EA too, where I wrote the video streaming subsystem for the 3D0 OS, as well as worked on 'Road Rash 3D0' as the video streaming guy."
Interesting (but not surprising) to hear the 3DO team came from Philips as the systems both have a lot of games with FMV! How different was developing for 3DO (a dedicated gaming console) compared to developing for CDi (a "multimedia" system)?
"I need to write an entire book abut this period of time. Philips and CD-I was the last of a breed: a large corporation that expected it had to train it's people for them to know what to make. Whereas 3D0 was one of the very early incarnations of the now common "work fast and break things, because we're bu8ilding the future!!!!" Yeah, at 3D0 it was an incredible mess, at E.A. it was also a mess, with 3D0 being spun out in an attempt to halt the cancer-spread of out of control miscommunications, bravado, and failure.
Now, I'm going to cuss here. I hope this does not offend you. The best description I've come up with about that 3D0/EA situation: it was the cluster fuck to end all cascading cluster fucks. Literally nothing worked - all the fancy graphics chips were so buggy they were unusable. Nobody was being methodical, everyone was rapidly making tech show off demos, and then expected to convert those off-the-cuff demos into shipping titles. Plus, the middle management thought they were rock stars, literally dressing like rock stars on stage, acting temperamental and doing bad things, such as scamming the bonuses and expense reimbursements of their employees. I had tens of thousands of moving reimbursement taken from me for no reason other than my immediate manager (unnamed on purpose, still powerful in the industry) blew too much money on partying and needed it to make his bills. He admitted as much and said "quit of you want, I could care less". That is what working at 3D0/EA was like. That type of behavior was not everyday, but was not uncommon."
"We do have Easter eggs, but they are nothing all that cool. There are things like multiple clicks on some pages in a given location in a given order, and then a slide show plays of the ArtSpace team that worked on the disc. We had some nice dinners over the years, celebrating the shipping of titles, and the slideshows are from those dinners. I don't remember how to find them."
"I still have the CD-R's with the CD-I operating system and development environments on a shelf behind me." "I just had a look at my old stack of Cd-I titles; not looked at them in years. They are the production test and gold masters of some of the titles, plus one that I think is a backup of the production pipeline I wrote."
"At the time I joined (around June 1992), PIMA occupied 3 buildings on Santa Monica Blvd in west Los Angeles. I started at the "Tower" (officially called the Palm Garden or Palm Court) at 11111 Santa Monica Blvd. I was a member of the InfoVision production unit, which produced informational titles for adults & children. I joined during the early stages of production of the "Gardening by Choice: Flowers & Foliage" (AKA "Gardening I") disc."
"My office was in the center of the north side of the building on the 6th (?) floor -- I overlooked the adjoining parking garage rooftop. Our producer at the time, Merrily Weiss, had the northwest corner office, which offered a great view of the 405 freeway (from which we watched OJ Simpson's slow speed car chase in 1994). The PIMA executive staff were located within our building.The other 2 buildings were known as the "Hair Cafe" (a former hair salon) at 11050 (?) Santa Monica Blvd., which housed the FunHouse production unit and the "Studio" next door at 11040 (?) Santa Monica Blvd., which housed the remaining production units, such as Sidewalk, ArtSpace and MusicSpace."
"After the release of Gardening I, there was a reshuffling of InfoVision personnel -- Merrily and a couple of other people were let go from our group and Donna Cohen took over as producer. The name of the group was changed to InSight Entertainment -- we were still doing informational discs, but there was more emphasis on entertainment content.Around 1986, the company moved and consolidated into a single building at 10960 Wilshire Blvd, known as the “Saban Building” (after Saban Entertainment) at the time. Philips paid to have the Philips logo displayed on the exterior of the top floor of the building, visible from the 405. I was located on the 7th floor. I think all of the production units were on my floor. I believe that the executives were on the 10th floor."
Can you describe the culture of the PIMA office?
"Tough question: office culture largely depended on which production group you were in. I was lucky to be in InfoVision/InSight: we were mostly a group of single people in our 20s and 30s, who liked to socialize together. As a group, we probably got along better than folks in the other units did. In general, within production units, there tended to be tension between engineers on one side versus the "creative" team of producers, assistants and artists on the other side. And everyone had a problem with the executive/business staff.When I first joined, there was pressure to get titles out no matter what. The powers-that-be thought that it was most important to have a large quantity of CD-i titles available, no matter how poor the quality. The CD-i hardware itself had been delayed for a long time (years) before release, resulting in a system that lagged behind other multimedia systems in terms of processing power. We were initially accepting of this handicap, but as time went on, it became quite a sore point for us.Around 1994, there was a shift in focus to put out fewer, higher quality titles. Many titles that were in planning stages or in production at that time were cut.PhotoCD was initially seen as a “leading edge” technology, but didn't really catch on with consumers.The introduction of the FMV cartridge gave some new life to CD-i, since it added some memory and state-of-the-art video."
You worked for PIMA for most of the console's existence, can you describe how the office transformed during your time there? I'd love to get a feel for the US branch headquarters of Philip's CD-i division.
"When I joined PIMA, every production unit did its own thing: each one had their own set of tools and their own production workflow. In fact, every disc was programmed uniquely -- so Gardening I and Gardening II were entirely different from a programming standpoint, even though they were basically the same disc with different content. There was no re-use of programming from one disc to another and production units did not share anything, except for a handful of utilities for working on assets (audio/graphic files).One of the reasons that I was brought into PIMA was that I had done quite a bit of development on the Commodore Amiga platform and had created a number of tools for production, including a re-usable multimedia engine. While working on the Gardening II disc, I developed a new set of CD-i tools and a flexible engine specifically for CD-i, which we hoped could be re-used for many titles. Gardening II got cut while in FPD (final production delivery) status and, with another change in focus, we never got a chance to use my engine for other titles."
"The Kathy Smith disc was the last disc that InSight released for CD-i. The Kathy Smith disc was the pinnacle of CD-i: we had to develop a whole new set of tools and techniques and pushed the player to its absolute limits, as well as overcoming numerous technical issues with the FMV cartridge and the CD build software. I could write an entire article about the experience of developing the Kathy Smith disc!After that, I was asked to create a new cross-platform engine that could support CD-i as well as OS/2 (Warp) for the PC. I was working on porting a handful of older CD-i titles, such as Wacky Golf & The Jetsons to the PC.Around 1996, PIMA decided to concentrate solely on new, original titles for the PC. The InSight unit was closed, along with a few others, such as Funhouse. I was re-assigned to the Sidewalk production unit, where I worked on the PC title "Baby Sitter's Club Friendship Kit"."
David fills us in on his CD-i credits.
- Baby Sitter's Club Friendship Kit (PC/Mac) 
- Flowers of Robert Mapplethorpe (PhotoCD) 
- Gardening I: Flowers & Foliage 
- Golf My Way (Digital Video) 
- How to Photograph Nature (PhotoCD) 
- Kathy Smith's Personal Trainer (Interactive FMV) 
- National Parks: Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone (PhotoCD) 
- Playboy Art of Massage (Digital Video) 
- Tennis Our Way (Digital Video) 
Prototypes/demo discs that I did (again, alphabetically) included:
- Baby Album (Photo CD) [unknown]
- Bon Apetit (similar to Gardening series, but for recipes)
- Burn Cycle ("Infect") Ad (FMV) [Demo]
- CD-i Improv (AKA "Don't Quit Your Day Job") (FMV) 
- Gardening II: Fruits & Vegetables 
- Home & Family Demo (FMV) [Demo]
- Infant Care: Dr. Art Ulene's Guide for New Parents (Interactive FMV) 
- Make Over (PhotoCD)
- Marketing Demo (FMV) [Demo]
- Phil Hartman Ad (FMV) [Demo]
- Playboy Interactive (Playboy Anniversary)
- Self Discovery with Dr. David Viscott (Interactive FMV) 
- Steven Spielberg’s Movie Maker (Interactive FMV)
- Wacky Golf CDROM (PC/Mac)
"The prototypes without catalog numbers typically never made it past the approval stage. The Demo discs were for internal demo purposes or for exhibit at various trade shows and were usually produced with Media Mogul."
More on the unreleased titles -- were they far along in development?:
"Unfortunately, quite a few of the titles in the list not labelled "Demo" were titles that got killed at various stages of production. Gardening II was the one that was furthest along: it was complete, tested, and ready for market, but PIMA didn't want to spend the money to release it, since they (probably correctly) thought that it wouldn't make back production costs. Next furthest along was the David Viscott title. We had spent quite a bit of money having a movie set made & several days of filming with Dr. Viscott. We had developed a nearly fully functional prototype. The prototype was completed at about the same time that PIMA decided to go PC-only. I still have an MPEG (about 88 MB) trailer for the Viscott disc that I made for one of the trade shows (E3?), if you are interested."
YES WE ARE INTERESTED!
"InfoVision's titles tended to have a lot of content and we usually ended up having to cut some content at the last minute in order to fit it on the disc, so we couldn't afford to put in any extras. For Kathy Smith, after carefully hand-optimizing everything, we had about 16 bytes of player RAM free, and ended up overburning the disc slightly in order to fit all of the content."
Was there a cultural disconnect between Philips headquarters in the Netherlands vs PIMA?
"That's putting it mildly We also had clashes with the Philips Research Lab (PRL) team in Eindhoven, which produced the FMV cartridge and several key production tools. I had a number of heated "discussions" with their team over their interpretation of the MPEG standard and how their tools (especially "sink" which was used to create MPEG system streams from elementary MPEG audios & videos) failed to work correctly."
"Shortly after the release of the Kathy Smith disc, I fielded a customer complaint that the title would occasionally freeze during playback. After carefully examining my code, I came to the conclusion that the FMV cartridge firmware probably had a bug and it would sometimes fail to send a signal that the decoder was ready for more data. I needed to use a hardware debugger for CD-i, of which there were only 2 in the world. I had one of them shipped to me from Eindhoven (quite the ordeal) and, after having the PRL team remotely train me how to use it, I was able to prove that the problem originated with the firmware. Unfortunately, quite a number of FMV cartridges had been sold to customers by that point, so nothing could be done to correct it. As far as the title was concerned, hitting play on the remote would unfreeze the title and get it to continue where it left off."
"Merlin's Apprentice and Labyrinth of Crete were the only two CD-i titles I worked on. By the time Labyrinth was wrapping up Philips was seeing the writing on the wall with regards to the future of CD-i as a platform."
"There was about a year after CD-i development was halted when there was an attempt to shift to PC CD-ROM development. Cliff Johnson, the director of Funhouse Studio had left the company that this point, and our group was renamed to Pandemonium Labs. We developed two titles under this new name. Unfortunately, neither was ever published."
"The first [unreleased title] was a simple puzzle game call "Tiler". It was just a bouncing ball that you moved across a maze like tiled path. This was our attempt to knock out something quick and cheap to keep the studio operating during the shift in focus.
The other title was a game called "Vinnie the Penguin". This one was much more interesting. It was the brainchild of Brian Allgeier, who was our Art Director. He wanted to make an over the shoulder shooter with a vintage cartoon aesthetic. We made a few mock up videos and Brian had a fully fleshed out design document. It was a great idea and we were really excited about it, but technology wasn't up to the task at that point. Also, Philips wasn't prepared to drop the kind of money that would have been required to even attempt it."
"Shortly after Vinnie was officially rejected, Philips Media shut down operations entirely and we were all let go. Interestingly, Brian later worked for Insomniac where he worked on the Ratchet & Clank series. I was not surprised to see a lot of his original ideas for Vinnie show up in R&C."
"When I first started there our studio was on the top floor of the office on Santa Monica Blvd. As our team grew we were moved to a larger space one floor down. My last year at the company was at their new space on Wilshire Blvd.
PIMA as a whole was great. The Santa Monica office was exclusively for the development studios. Marketing and administrative were in a separate location. Funhouse, the studio I worked for was amazing. Cliff Johnson, my boss, was a total character who went above and beyond to inspire creativity from his team. The office was plastered with all manor of toys, posters, lava lamps, art books, inflatable dinosaurs, disco balls. I mean, it was absolutely insane. Spontaneous Nerf gun fights were not al all uncommon. Our team meetings were half serious work and half cracking each other up. Honestly, I've never enjoyed working anywhere as much as I enjoyed working there."
I asked Ross his opinion of the CD-i console from an artist's perspective. On the one hand it could handle gorgeous FMV, but the console also came with technical limitations.
"That's kind of a tough one to answer. Philips was my first "real" job. When I interviewed, my portfolio was just projects I'd done in high school and sketches and doodles I'd done while working in a movie theater box office. I was only 20 and had no formal art training and had almost no experience with computers. My first day I was literally sat down at an Amiga 3000 and being told, "This is a computer. Here's how you turn it on. Here's how to open Deluxe Paint." etc...
That being said, this was when games were shifting from cartridges to CD's. We were able to pack more art into the game, but the processing power was still pretty limited. Initially, my job was to color in the effects animations for the spells in Merlin's Apprentice. I could only use 32 colors for the entire animation so I was pretty limited as far as how much detail I could add. We also had to limit each frame to no more than 1.5 kilobytes or we'd kill the frame rate. So, it was challenging, but I also loved every minute of it."
"Eventually, yes. Ironically, I couldn't afford to buy one when I first started working there. Luckily, Philips would occasionally do sales of excess of obsolete equipment. I was able to pick up a CD-i 220 for cheap. Mainly, I just wanted to be able to play the games I worked on, but I also picked up a few other titles. Burn:Cycle was a personal favorite. I still have that machine, but it doesn't get a lot of use these days."
"We primarily did interactive training discs for the beauty industry, for clients including Lancaster, Monteil and Cadbury Schweppes. (p.s. I just looked at the old site—omg, takes me back, I designed and wrote that whole thing. Our client list is there) I don't have any of the discs since I never had a player of my own."
Was Muffinhead all-in on CD-i?
"We also transitioned to website design and deployment in its early days of being called New Media. The CD-i titles were always for internal use for the clients' training usage. We did have a kiosk application that I designed both the interface as well as the actual brick and mortar kiosk. It was called The Beauty Shoppe and it was designed to be interactive help with shopping for beauty products and designed to be deployed in drug stores. It didn't really take off. I might have some of the discs and photos of the kiosks, but not sure if the disc is a working one or if it's just a dummy. It would take a while to dig up, as I'm not sure where they are."
Can you tell us about the Nickelodeon Children's TV Programming guide? Was this ever released? If not, do you recall how far along in development it got?
"The Nickelodeon thing was done and received by the client. I don't know if they deployed it at retail. I suspect these were in-store if ever but I can't really confirm."
I'll keep it short and sweet. The unreleased edutainment CD-i prototype is now available online courtesy of Blazers. During the dumping process, there were a handful of errors, but we've confirmed the disc boots fine in CDi Emulator.
The dump is available via our archive.org account. Enjoy!
To be added to No-Intro Non-Redump dat.
As with every Blazers loan, it's a bag of fun.
The Interactive Education series adds a handful of titles to the preserved list and takes an interesting twist with the discovery that "Interactive Education: Learning to Read: Action 1" was released both on CD-R (manilla label) and pressed (graphical label) - both discs match.
花ずきんちゃんの フラワーランド takes us on a tour of an Osaka flower garden park, and what little I've seen of this title in CDi Emulator, it looks gorgeous! I'm hope to see a YouTube video pop up in due time..?
The other titles are a mixed bag of random, among which are: VCDs, another Japanese disc (B to D), a previously undumped build of Caesars World of Gambling, a couple common USA titles previously undumped, CD AD pr0n0, the final seasonal USA CDi sampler, and a smattering of misc professional discs.
It's a beautiful sight isn't it? You know where to find 'em!
Thanks Blazers <3
World of Games Publishing is one of the more interesting projects to emerge from the CD-i revival era, and I'll let you read why here.
If you did your readin' then you'll know that WOGP has released their first CD-i product, a handsomely packaged release of the final build of edutainment title Felix the Cat:
WOGP was kind enough to send scans of the source disc to Preserve CD-i for documentation:
The scans can be found on archive.org here.
Iconic game studios push the envelope of what can be accomplished with given hardware. Through unique artistic flavor, they develop their own cult followings. While the worldwide headquarters of Philip's CD-i push was undoubtably in The Netherlands, PIMA - Philips Interactive Media of America - was based out of Santa Monica, California.
About a year ago or so I made an effort to find out more about PIMA - the culture of the Santa Monica office, the working relationship with the Dutch branches, and to find out the hopes and aspirations of the console. My goal was (and is again) to paint a picture of the culture of PIMA - since little to none can be found for this iconic studio (and Philips CD-i development in culture).
I'd love to hear from PIMA developers (or more broadly CD-i developers worldwide in general) to get a feel for the culture of developing for Philips. Please contact me if you're interested in participating. Thank you!
Another package arrived from CD-i's greatest collector, Blazers - and isn't that always the treat! Undumped discs from the USA retail set are fast dwindling, but more on that to come...
At the top - two 'Triple Pack's from UK. All the discs were individually released, but it's nice to verify these uncommon editions. Box scans can be found on our archive.org account.
In the center - the rest of the AIMS set! Or is it... "Learning About Ecology" didn't match the Non-Redump rom, which normally wouldn't be too suspicious, but we know that the AIMS "set" is actually a set-of-twins.
At the bottom - many basic-ass retail USA discs that were sorely missing from the USA Redump set! A handful of them verify alternate editions (such as pre-existing redump.org Demonstration Disc entries). But to be sure, we are chopping that CD-i USA Retail miss list down to the height of a midget.
Brava to Blazers for coming through once again. If only there were more collectors out there in the world that were as cool as him...<3