Last minute console name changes – a very brief history

What happened to Project Natal? Now there’s a name, makes you think of, er, babies. Now it’s been scrapped for the bastard-English Kinect, reminding us simultaneously of Connect 4 and the Legion of Super-Heroes’ red haired superheroine in the 30th century Kinetix, who had telekinetic powers and so could play Connect 4 using her thoughts alone. ‘Kin ‘ell. 

Consoles have a habit of last-minute name changes. Here are a few more that we like:

Ultra 64: Before the Nintendo 64, and after the name Project Reality, was the concept of the Ultra 64. Early pre-pre-release screenshots showing off what the new console was capable of include a Final Fantasy that never saw the light of day as Square sidled up to Sony instead.

The gaming world was going positively mental for the leaked shots as the quality of graphics had never been seen before. Watch this video below from children’s afternoon slot CITV back in 1995 to see a girl with a speech impediment wax lyrical about how cool the Ultra 64 will be.

It’s not dissimilar to the Wii hype, and now the Natal, er, Kinect hype that’s going on now: something completely new for its time, one of the first ever fully rendered and fully 3D games in Mario 64, something we totally take for granted now. Note how the presenter gushes about Nintendo delivering the best, most powerful hardware.

Before it was called the Ultra64, it was called Project Reality because the brains behind the console were so confident with it matching levels of hyper-realness that could only be achieved by supercomputers at the time. When the Nintendo 64 eventually came out it broke boundaries with Super Mario 64, the two then-next-gen Zelda games and, um, Conker’s Bad Fur Day

Project Black Belt / Katana / Dural: Once upon a time the geekiest youth didn’t fight about Macs vs PCs, or iPhones vs Androids. It was all about Sega vs Nintendo. Remember Sega? Sega is still developing games across platforms, including for previous rival Nintendo, but once upon a time it was a real major player and the Black Belt project had every pro-Sega gaming geek in the land speculating, salivating, and salivating while speculating.

The Black Belt, then called the Katana and Dural – sounding like a brand of knock-off condoms – was what was to become an excellent piece of hardware that unfortunately, and unreasonably, sounded the death knell for the company’s hardware projects.

The Sega Saturn was good, but for sales it didn’t fare so well against newcomer Sony’s PlayStation. When rumours started flying about chipsets and a collaboration with 3DFX for the secret next-gen console everyone was curious. Details were leaked and eventually Sega had to pay out a cool $10 million to 3DFX over intellectual property and all other sorts of legal gubbins. In an attempt to get rid of Sega’s failing public image as a doomed contender, it ditched all of its codenames and settled on Dreamcast, which got a cool swirly red logo in Japan and a cool swirly blue logo in the UK.

It was based on a customised Windows CE OS and was one of the first consoles – along with the Nintendo 64DD – that could boast about going online.It had some great games such as Chu Chu Rocket which shipped for free and graphically stunning RPG Skies of Arcadia. Notable releases and perhaps the most memorable for the Dreamcast were  Shenmue and Shenmue II, which got ported for the Xbox.

When the Xbox, PlayStation 2 and GameCube came out though, Sega couldn’t keep up and the Dreamcast, along with Sega as a once-proud hardware manufacturer, died a death. It still has something of a cult following and there are even new games being released for the system.

SNES-CD: Not so much a codename as a project that was long in the making and doomed itself by the end.

Sony was in talks with Nintendo to work on a CD platform for games instead of Nintendo’s bulky catridges. However, squabbling and greed got in the way – Nintendo wanted all the profits and so did Sony.

It was going to be an attachment for the Nintendo SNES but never saw the light of day. Eventually it was decided that the two companies could work on this “PlayStation” – a name allegedly coined by Nintendo – with a port for SNES games. Sony thought nuts to this and decided to enter the games market on its own, and has done very, very well for itself. 

Of course, Sony’s got plans to compete with Microsoft’s Kinect as well. The PlayStation Move, formerly rumoured to be called the PlayStation Arc, should see the light of day to the general consumer by the end of the year. Whether Sony will U-Turn and last-minute call it something else remains to be seen.

An honourable mention goes to the Xbox which was almost called the DirectX Box – thankfully Microsoft saw sense and ditched  the Direct in a bid to get away from the spoddy PC geek and reach out to the new, young, “cool” casual gamer market. It’s all marketing, marketing, marketing. Remember the Nintendo Revolution? That’s the Wii now. And while naming its console after doing a “number one” raised eyebrows at first, it’s just a case in point of how important names and branding are.