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How Zelda Ended Up on the Philips CD-i

Written by Bas ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) of The Black Moon Project

To understand how Zelda ended up on the Philips CD-i system, it is necessary to know some of the history behind the machine. I have researched this topic thoroughly, and my retelling of the story is taken from many sources. I tried to make this account as complete and accurate as possible, since there are many interesting events involved.

Our story begins in 1988. Nintendo began to sense that the CD-ROM format could be the way of the future for video games. They entered into a partnership with electronics/multimedia powerhouse Sony, to collaborate on what became known as the PlayStation Experimental (PSX) project. This new gaming machine would offer support for the proprietary "Super Disc" CD-ROM format, to allow for multimedia playback and enhanced gaming. The technology behind this was the CD-ROM/XA format, a propriety extension of the CD-ROM format which had originally been designed by Sony and Philips when CD-ROM standards were still being developed. The PlayStation would be compatible with Nintendo's upcoming Super Famicom (Super Nintendo) console, which was to be released in eighteen months. The idea was to broaden the intended target audience, creating a machine that would appeal to children (letting them play Super Nintendo games with the cartridge slot) and to older people who wanted to watch movies, listen to music, and run programs (via the CD drive).

It became apparent to Nintendo that CD-ROMs promised to be a major player in the video game arena. Nintendo Co. Ltd. president Hiroshi Yamauchi began to have misgivings over the decision to work with Sony. Working with Sony meant sacrificing an important aspect of their business: absolute control over licensing and manufacturing. According to their agreement, Sony would be the exclusive worldwide licensor of the "Super Disc" format. Third-party publishers had no obligation to pay Nintendo to create games, unless they wanted to use the cartridge format. And who would possibly want to to use the more expensive and restrictive carts? Nor could Yamauchi ignore Sony's monstrous entertainment resources within their music and picture division. As the PlayStation project progressed, Nintendo felt increasingly sidelined and less relevant to Sony's plans. They could be overshadowed by Sony, which threatened to loose Nintendo's iron grip on the video game market and threaten the survival of their business. Nintendo secretly makes plans to work with Philips, Sony's biggest competitor at the time.

Nintendo of America's Howard Lincoln and Minoru Arakawa secretly fly to Eindhoven in the Netherlands to sign an agreement with Europe's biggest electronics manufacturer, Philips. Under this new agreement, future Nintendo games would be playable on Philips' new CD-i (Compact Disc Interactive) system. Philips, in turn, would develop a CD-ROM add-on for the Super Famicom. Nintendo would control all licensing for software made for the CD drive. This may have been a move to force Sony to give in to Nintendo's demands.
As the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) show approached in June 2001, Sony caught wind of Nintendo's elicit affair. Since both companies are Japanese, they had ways of solving their disagreements, outside of legal action. Hours away from Sony's official announcement of their partnership with Nintendo at CES, Sony was in talks with Nintendo, trying to dissuade them from working with Philips. Both companies could still profit from the partnership. But Nintendo maintained that the Philips deal did not compete with the Sony agreement. Sony had no choice but to announce its system and partnership despite Nintendo's perceived breech.
On the first day of CES, Sony announced the SNES-compatible PlayStation project. Nintendo's announcement on the second day was expected to elaborate on this partnership. NOA's Howard Lincoln talked about Nintendo's new CD-compatible console, which would allow people to play both cartridges and CDs. It was to come out by Christmas. He calmly announced that it would be developed in conjunction with... Philips. Sony was furious. They finally realized that they had been backstabbed by Nintendo and Philips, two companies they had originally trusted with their PlayStation project. It didn't help that Nintendo, a major Japanese entertainment company, had "screwed" a Japanese partner and allied itself with a foreign competitor. Sony commented on the incident by claiming that they had agreed on an exclusive contract, which Nintendo had violated. Nintendo and Philips continue working on a SNES CD add on.

Because of the vagueness and ambiguity of Japanese contracts, Nintendo was able to worm its way out of the previous agreement it had reached with Sony, and continued to work with Philips. At the January 1992 CES show, Nintendo announced that they were abandoning their partnership with Sony. The joint Philips-Nintendo SNES add on would be released by Christmas. But with the advent of the Super FX chip for the Super Nintendo, they decided to delay the add on so they could upgrade it. The release date of the CD add on was changed to 1993. Sony began to help Sega produce games for its Mega CD drive. Around this time, Nintendo gave permission to Philips to use some of their franchise characters in some games on their CD-i platform. The CD-i format was a standard developed by Sony and Philips in the mid-80s. Many models of CD-i players were released by various companies, but Philips ended up being the major backer of the system. This "imagination machine" cost a whopping $1000, and sold pretty slowly. Since Philips's CD-i platform was not selling well, Nintendo decided to downplay their software partnership with Philips. Instead of creating CD-i compatible games themselves, they gave Philips the license to create a set number of CD-i games starring Nintendo franchise characters: Mario and Zelda.
Certain companies began to grow tired of the lack of a unified CD-ROM standard. As part of an attempt to create an industry-wide standard, Nintendo consented to work out its disagreements with Sony in October 1992. This way, Sony, Nintendo, and Philips would all be using the same standard. Nintendo's negotiations with Sony resulted in an altered licensing agreement that would be more favorable to Nintendo. Nintendo got the rights to control and license all game software (on both consoles), and Sony would control all non-game software. (This agreement was made while Nintendo was still cooperating with Philips.)
It seems that Nintendo's strategy with Sony had worked. Sony itself commented that: "We concluded that we had to ally ourselves with Nintendo when we saw that it was going to be the 16-bit winner. We wanted access to all those Nintendo players." Philips joined the project, so now Nintendo, Philips, and Sony were all cooperating to develop a NEW add on, the SNES Nintendo Disk, also known as the Philips CD-ROM XA. Nintendo, however, began to notice that other CD-ROM based consoles were not doing very well. Since Nintendo was poised to profit more from the cartridge model, they began to shrink away from the CD-ROM format.

In early 1993, Nintendo announced more details on their SNES CD add on. It was to be called the Super Nintendo ND (Nintendo Disk), and would have a 32-bit CPU to aid the SNES's original CPU. Its CDs would contain up to 540 MB of data, and games released for the format would probably be compatible with one of Philips' machines, probably the CD-i. The price was still $200, and the release date was set to Autumn 1993. Nintendo promised to show the CD addon at the CES show later the same year. Later, the release date was changed to early 1994. When the CES show came around, Nintendo didn't show the CD system at all, only new SNES games. Later that year, Nintendo announced that they were not going to release the CD system at all. The market was not ready for a CD-ROM system, and there were piracy concerns. Nintendo's abandonment of the project, of course, led Sony to develop the PlayStation on their own, and release it with great success in 1994.
But Philips had been developing Mario and Zelda games, and still intended to release them. "Link: The Faces of Evil" and "Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon" were released simultaneously for the CD-i platform in 1993. Most who played the games hated them. The third Zelda game, "Zelda's Adventure," was finally released two years later. Though a little better, it did not sell well, since its reputation was tainted by the previous two games.