Halcyon by RDI Video Systems

Console Name: Halcyon
Release Date: January 1985
Original Price: $2195.00
Country of Origin: United States of America
Manufacturer: RDI Video Systems
Staff(s): Rick Dyer
Tim D'Andrea, Director of Engineering
Ron Cagle, Software Engineer
Number of Games: 2

History
The story of the Halcyon begins in 1983 as it is tightly coupled with the history of the game Dragon’s Lair. Rick Dyer, president of Advanced Microcomputer Systems (AMS),  had a concept for an interactive adventure game called Shadoan. AMS just had released in 1982 their first arcade game titled Zzyzzyxx and was ready for its next endavour. The game was heavily inspired by text adventure game, but where the player would have to make a decision base on a visual story instead of a text one. Rick decided to have a prototype made of his concept. His first attempt was a game called ‘Secrets of the Lost Woods’ which was only a small part of his Shadoan game. The art department at AMS started working on the storyboard, while the engineer worked on a new machine to play this game.

Dubbed the ‘The Fantasy Machine’, the console started as roll of printing calculator tape controlled by microprocessors . The tape would have illustrations and text and would wind forward and backward to find the correct ‘video’ sequence depending on when your choice. The idea was quickly discarded and a new prototype was created based on a filmstrip projector. In a later version, ‘The Fantasy Machine’ combined all the video an audio in the console itself. With this latest iteration, AMS was finally ready to sell its concept.

AMS approached toy company to sell the concept, but failed to attract any interest. Rick realized he needed a game with more action and decided to make a game on a location from the ‘Secrets of the Lost Woods’ that was not yet developed : The Dragon’s Lair.  AMS partner up with Cinematronics, the same partner used for the Zzyzzyxx game.  The game was developed in less than 7 months and cost 1.3 million to produce.

Dragon’s Lair was a huge it, and with the success of AMS change its name for RDI Video Systems (Rick Dyer Industries). From there the created Space Ace, another Full Motion Video (FMV) game. With both games enjoying a solid reputation. RDI decided to go back to the drawing board and redesign the ‘The Fantasy Machine’.

RDI wanted this machine to be unique and decided to make it fully controllable by voice.  Based on the name  of the computer in 2001: a space odyssey, Hal 9000, the system was named Halcyon. The Halcyon knew up to 200 words and could hold rudimentary conversations with the player.

Having just released two hits using the LaserDisc technology, it is easy to assume that RDI would want to use the same technology for its home console. But the LaserDisc technology was quite expensive at the time and RDI wanted to keep the production cost as low as possible, especially since the speech synthesizer and recognition feature would be quite expensive. RDI decided to partnered with RCA to use one of the their Capacitance Electronic Disc (CED) player. RCA was working to release a new model called the SKT425 which would be part of their high end Dimensia system, but with LaserDisc becoming the norm of high-end systems and VHS for the lower end, the CED technology was getting less and less popular. At the end of 1984, RCA announce that they would stop developing the SKT425 and the discontinuation of all other CED player. At this point, RDI had no choice but to switch to the LaserDisc format for their upcoming console. They decided to use the Pioneer LaserDisc model LD-700 as the media player (with the only difference being a new faceplate). With the high cost of LaserDisc Player,  the price of the system jump to the roof. To help alleviate the cost, RDI made the system compatible with existing Pioneer models LD-700, VP-1000 and LD-1100. This way, someone already having one of these LaserDisc player could save a lot of money by only purchasing the other components needed to make the Halcyon works.

Release
The Halcyon was released in two test markets in late 1984, one on each coast (one being in San Diego). Each stores only have 1 or 2 units in demonstration mode and were taking preorder. Marketed as a multimedia center and bundled with the game Thayer’s Quest, the system was sold for $2195.00. The only other available game was NFL Football: LA Raiders vs SD Chargers. With such a high price point, the system sold only a few units.

An optional infrared controller would allow the Halcyon to control other infrared controlled devices in your home such as your HIFI system. This feature would allow for example the user to say : “Volume Up” and the Halcyon would increase the volume of your HIFI system or TV.

 

Demise
Even if the system was a great technological wonder for the time,  in the end, the system was just too pricey. After taking the pulse of the market, and demoed the system on various tech-related shows and video game magazine, it was clear that this 2,000$+ systems were going nowhere.  The investors decided to cut their losses and RDI had to file for bankruptcy. The few console prototypes and retail ready consoles were sold off to a former investor.

Aside from the price tag, the LaserDisc other problem was its capacity. As the disc could only contain 30-minute-per-side, multiple discs would need to be used for certain games. The CED format, although having a lesser quality, could hold up to 1 hour of video per side.

 

Unreleased Games
Aside then Thayer’s Quest and NFL Football: LA Raiders vs SD Chargers, 4 other games were in development for the systems:

  • Shadow of the Stars
  • The Spirit of the Whittier Mansion
  • Orpheus
  • Voyage to the new world

 

Technical Specification

  • CPU: Z80B, running at 6 MHz
  • RAM: 64kb of combined RAM/ROM
  • Video: 560×480 @ 16.7 million colors
  • Audio: 16bit, 44 kHz
  • Pioneer LD-700 player as a LaserDisc Reader
  • Cartridge: 16kb that paired with each laserdisc and contained game vocabulary and logic.
  • Device Inputs: Headset, keyboard, radio antenna, 8pin DIN I\O port
  • Speech Synthesizer: Votrax chip
  • Speech Recognition processor

 

Collector Notes
Theses systems were never mass produced and aside the 10-12 systems that were given as a gift to the initial investors, only a few other systems were made.  It’s speculated than between 12-25 of these devices were produced before the bankruptcy.

As for the RDI Video Player (a rebranded Pioneer LD-700 unit), footage shows that at least 31 of them were made and ready to be shipped. A rumor said that as much as 700 of them were manufactured, complete with the retail packaging. After the  bankruptcy, these would have been sold off to various institutions, including colleges. No information has been found to substantiate this rumor, but as the only modification to the LD-700 was only a custom faceplate, it is possible that a few hundred were ordered.

 

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