Obscure consoles: RDI Halcyon

By Mike on 12:08 pm

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Most of us think the Sega CD was the first disc based console. Sure, it was the first moderately successful one, but optical discs were around long before that. One of the earliest formats was LaserDisc. These 12 inch discs were the precursor to DVDs. They stored analogue video like a VHS but also contained digital soundtracks. Blending the two for gaming was a brilliant idea, which eventually gave us the not so brilliant RDI Halcyon.

When Dragon's Lair hit arcades in 1983, gamers were blown away. It was one of the first games to use LaserDisc as a storage medium. The high resolution, hand drawn graphics were years ahead of their time. Understandably, the game quickly became a legend of weekend arcades. I shutter to think of the millions of quarters dumped into this notoriously difficult game.

In the 1980s, the big goal for console manufacturers was to bring the arcade home. Like Dragon's Lair, the RDI Halcyon was ahead of its time. Perhaps too far ahead.

It too tapped into LaserDisc to bring the Dragon's Lair experience home. The Halcyon had numerous firsts for a home console. First to use optical discs, first to support voice recognition, and the first to render full motion video. Like today's systems, it could also playback video LaserDiscs. The system was entirely voice controlled and could even speak to you. RDI claimed it had an AI on par with HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The Halcyon was ambitious, but the computer technology hadn't caught up with it. Tech specs were the same as the Sega Master System. It has a Zilog Z80 processor and 64k of RAM. Despite that, the system worked as advertised. It brought the Dragon's Lair experience home. However, the speech recognition was seriously flawed, as the above video demonstrates. The system would fail to understand commands, especially if you spoke too slow. The games were also simplistic. Most of them were movie driven and limited to quick-time action. The format wasn't well suited to NES style gaming.

Part of a Flyer for the Halcyon tout's its advanced features.
Click for larger image.

As with any first generation technology, price is what ultimately killed it. The Halcyon sold for $2,500 when it first launched. To put that into perspective, that's roughly $4,800 today. For the same price, you could buy the brand new Apple Macintosh 128k. Coming fresh out of the video game crash of 1983, the Halcyon never stood a chance at that price.

Only two games were released for the system: Thayer's Quest, which was similar to Dragon's Lair, and Raiders vs. Chargers, a football game. RDI went bankrupt shortly after its release and the Halcyon was doomed to obscurity.

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