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Yes, I just got another console. A bad console, most would say.  And expensive, too.  See, I saw some games for this system in a local store mid last year, which is the fist time I think I've seen games for this thing since I started collecting.  For some time I ignored them, but as months passed and they didn't sell, eventually I was convinced to buy some of them in November.  After that I had to find a system, which is easier said than done.  After looking on ebay daily for a week or two I finally found something good, but it didn't come with a controller and controllers for this thing are quite overpriced, if you want a gamepad anyway; mice are cheaper.  Last week I finally decided to give up on waiting for an affordably-priced controller, and I bought one for what was being asked.  As for games, I have six I got there.  They have a few more I'll get whenever I'm there next, including one quite infamous one, but anything else will have to come from ebay.

Yes... as the title says, I bought a CD-I.  Yes, really.  The Phillips CD-I released in 1991, and was meant as a CD platform for educational software, corporate training and demo-station programs, games, movies, audio CDs with CD-I enhancements, encyclopedias, picture CDs, digital childrens' storybooks, and more.  It failed in the market, and apparently lost Phillips a billion dollars overall, though it did see some success as a corporate display platform.  I am interested to some extent in most of the types of software on the CD-I, though of course the games are what I mostly got it for... which is kind of an issue when they definitely aren't what it is best at. Ah well. I will get some of the other stuff too, the encyclopedias, informative and educational discs, storybooks, movies, and such, because some of them are sure to be pretty amusing. However, other, newer platforms do all of those other things much better than the CD-I, while a bunch of its games are exclusives you can't play elsewhere. And anyway, games are what I am the most interested in.

As a games console, the CD-I struggled. It apparently did alright for a while in Phillips' home country of the Netherlands, but here it's obscure, and I sure have never known anyone who had one.  I've watched CD-I videos sometimes on the internet for a long time now though, and it has some interesting stuff on it; sure, it's mostly infamous for its four Nintendo-licensed titles and I will get some of those games for sure, but there are some interesting games on the platform, often exclusive.  It's a flawed gaming platform since it wasn't really designed with gaming in mind, but some things are interesting anyway.

There are a lot of models of CD-I's though, mostly from Phillips-Magnavox but also from other companies.  I looked at the Phillips ones, the 450/550 and 490 particularly, but I ended up getting one of the third party ones for a few reasons.  The one I got is called the DVS VE-200, and it's pretty interesting for a few reasons.  Phillips supported the CD-I (aka CD-i) in the US from 1991 to 1996 as a consumer system, but this DVS system released in 1998, and was on sale for several years after that.  Who was it for then?  Well, it was for companies running CD-I based store demo or video stations, training applications, and such.  Apparently lots of companies used the CD-I for such purposes, helped by the fact that the system has no licensing fees so they could make software for it without paying Phillips anything, and this last CD-I sold in the US was aimed at that market.  So, unsurprisignly, it looks a lot like a '90s VCR, just with a disc drive in it.  Interestingly it has a dpad and two buttons on the face, so you can control it without a controller, probably for a demo station or something where it's just playing some video loop and doesn't need a controller.  It also has an integrated, built-in digital video cartridge, which is great because a lot of the better CD-I games require one.

So, the DVS is the newest CD-I released, and from a mechanical standpoint that's very good for the disc drive and such.  The DVS has one other major advantage, too.  Now, from a hardware design level, one of the most infamous things about the CD-I is that almost all Phillips CD-I systems have a battery-backed save chip that has a battery buried INSIDE the save chip.  So, when the battery dies, and it's not all that large a battery so lots of them are dead now, the only way to save again on your CD-I is to carefully cut that chip apart, cut it down just enough to get the battery out but not to damage the terminals or the other side of the chip, and connect a new battery to the thing.  That sounds pretty hard.  The CD-I does not have any kind of save backup systems either, it has no memory card, no save backup units, nothing.  All you can do is save to the 8KB or 32KB of internal memory in your console, an amount that varies depending on which model you have.

The DVS system, and thus also the Goldstar/LG CD-I system which DVS used boards from in the VE-200, doesn't have that problem.  Instead, the LG board has a regular, and larger, welded-tabs battery and separate save chip.  So it still has a battery on the board that will die, but the battery is larger and newer, and it'd be MUCH easier to replace when it dies because it's just a regular battery, not Phillips' insane battery-in-chip design.  For saving the LG and DVS systems are better than Phillips' and that's a big deal.

The DVS also has one unique feature: it's got a 50 or 60 hz switch on the back, for full compatibility with either American or European (SD)TVs.  CD-I discs are all supposed to work in either format, so I'm sure I'll leave this in 60hz at all times, but it's still nice.

However, they come with one significant downside: some games have compatibility issues on the LG motherboard this system uses.  CD-Is use several different motherboards, and apparently some Phillips boards have more issues than others, and this one is apparently on the worse side of that, at best.  This isn't too surprising, since Goldstar (LG)'s 3DO system is also well known for having compatibility issues with some games, but it is too bad.  I haven't seen a list of games anywhere which has compatibility issues on the LG/DVS systems, or even on the various different Phillips motherboard revisions really, just 'some games have issues on these models', but yeah, it's a problem.  The 7th Guest is the one games I've heard of having issues on some Phillips models, so maybe it'll have problems on this one too.  That would be too bad, because The 7th Guest is one of the CD-I's more prominent console exclusives (it was only released on PC and CD-I). 

The DVS's other downside is that its only video output option is composite, something which annoys some people.  I don't really mind this myself though.  It's just got red white and yellow jacks on the back, that's it.

So yeah, I may well get a second CD-I at some point.  I've heard that the best Phillips model is the 490, so if I see that reasonably priced I'll probably buy one eventually... though like almost all the Phillips systems it has that stupid chip-in-battery thing, but oh well.

Despite that though, for games it does work with, this is a very good CD-I.  I really like that it doesn't have that integrated save chip, and that it isn't quite as old is nice too.

Anyway, that's enough background on the system I got.  Here's what I got, with prices.

Console: DVS VE-200 CD-I, $215 (including shipping), for just the console with no controller.  That's not cheap, but it's a totally reasonable price for this model.

Controller: Phillips CD-i Game Pad, $107 (including shipping).  Yeah, this stupid thing was crazy expensive, but for controllers on ebay in the last few weeks, it was either this or something from Europe that would take longer to arrive for sure.  Well, the other option is a mouse (you can get these complete in box for $50), trackball (sorry, trackerball, Phillips called it) for ~$75, or various remotes for $30 or so, but if you want to play videogames you need a gamepad, and for the CD-I there are only two: this Gamepad, by Logitech, or the Touchpad, which is the CD-I version of the classic Gravis Gamepad for PC.  I like the Gravis Gamepad, but none of those are available now so I got this.  This one's probably more comfortable anyway, that thing's a little weird (why are the face buttons sunk into the pad? I've always found that odd...).  Most CD-I systems came with a remote, so that's what most people used.  Only dedicated gamers would have bought a gamepad, which is why they cost more now.

Backing up a bit, oddly, apparently the CD-I was designed around the controller being a mouse, so all CD-I controllers are emulating a mouse.  Yeah, the gamepads, remotes, and such are all emulating an (analog!) mouse.  So, CD-I gamepads have a speed switch on them, allowing you to change the cursor speed.  The Touchpad seems to have two speed settings, while this one has three.  There are homebrew adapters to use SNES and Genesis controllers on the system which have even more speeds.  I'm sure I will have to get a mouse or trackball as well, because some games are going to play a lot better with those controllers and just using that speed switch, while nice, isn't going to make a gamepad as good as a mouse for games or programs where you just use a cursor, but I wanted the gamepad first since I'm mostly going to be using this as a games machine.

Games: Note: all six of the games I have are jewelcase-only releases.  CD-I games released in several formats, including larger cases with slipcovers and jewelcases with slipcovers, but these are just jewelcases.

Laser Lords - $15.  This is a fairly odd adventure game.  You walk around, talk to people in lengthy conversations, collect items, choose which words to remember during conversations, and more.  Watch gameplay, it's strange stuff... and yes, CD-i exclusive.  The side-scrolling exploration has not-very-good graphics, but the conversations are weirdly amusing and the puzzles could get interesting so I will be playing more of this game.

Inca - $7.  This is a really weird game that also released on PC.  Seriously, it's weird, look it up.  This kind of thing, which is part space sim/shooter and part puzzle game, could only have come from the early days of CDs.  This thing is pretty charming, from its concept on up; it's too crazy to easily explain, but involves the Incan Empire, Conquistadores, space combat, a somewhat bizarre vocal song in the intro, and more.  The gameplay has several modes, with a few in the ship, one combat on land, and puzzles, so it's a bit like other CD experience titles like Rebel Assault or Cyberia or such (or, later on on CD-I, Kether, a game I'll have to eventually get), but released before those other games.

Space Ace - $7 (Digital Video cartridge required).  I've never actually liked the gameplay in Dragon's Lair or this one bit in practice, and this version is no exception.  Sure it looks quite nice, but I strongly dislike the gameplay.

Dark Castle - $13.  This game is infamously horrible on consoles, and indeed it lives down to expectations.  The original mac version probably was fine, since you moved with the keyboard and aimed with the mouse, but on a console, where you have to use up and down to aim and left and right to move?  It's a total mess!  You aim so slowly, while enemies and such don't seem to have been adjusted at all for your much worse control scheme here so you're kind of just going to die...

Lords of the Rising Sun - $10.  Another port, this one's a Cinemaware classic.  It's kind of like Defender of the Crown, but set in medieval Japan and maybe with a better strategy side.  It's slow paced but seems good.

Lucky Luke (E) - $25.  This CD-i exclusive game (which requires the Digital Video Cartridge) was only released in Europe, and the case is indeed clearly a European version, but all CD-i discs are supposed to work in both 50 or 60hz and there is no region locking, so it works just fine on American televisions.  Lucky Luke is a sidescrolling platform-action game from SPC Vision, a CD-i-exclusive developer who made perhaps the system's most highly regarded action game, The Apprentice, and some other good-looking CD-I games like this one as well.  I've gotten to level two and so far I think it's average.  This is a fine game, but it's nothing special gameplay-wise.  Your sprite is HUGE, so you can see almost nothing on the screen, and positioning on the screen to actually hit boxes and such can be tricky.  The smooth scrolling and nice animation are impressive for the CD-i for sure, as they aren't something you almost ever saw on the platform, and the game is kind of fun, so I don't regret getting it at all.  The massive sprite is awkward though and gameplay's average stuff.

As for those other games the store has?  One's Voyeur, and the other... Link: The Faces of Evil.   I'd rather get Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon, since a Zelda game where you actually play as Zelda is a great idea, but you kind of need both so yes, if/when it's still there next time I go to that place I'll definitely pick it up.  You can't have a CD-i and not get the Zelda games after all... :p though they definitely aren't the only draw, this thing has interestingly weird stuff on it.
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So as I said in the 'games I bought' thread, yes, I got one of the Zelda games, Link: The Faces of Evil. It's an expensive and mediocre game with plenty of issues, including iffy level design, a horribly annoying enemy respawn rate, and lots of grind... but it's not all bad, really! Sure, it's not a great game, but there is something interesting here and I'm playing it some and are interested in getting farther. The graphics and music are good, first. And while the gameplay and controls have issues, seeing this weird take on Zelda is somewhat fascinating. Sure, it's a pain to have to go to one stage to grind ice enemies to get ice shots to use on fire enemies in a different stage to get fire shots to use on other ice enemies back deeper in that first stage to get through to the next area, but I'm kind of having fun anyway... well, sometimes. That insanely high enemy respawn rate is probably the games' biggest problem, so far at least, and makes forward progress difficult, particularly when combined with this games' very stiff controls that make quickly turning around to hit an enemy behind you very difficult, and hitting enemies in the air (which there are a lot of) without taking damage hard as well. That respawn rate is probably there to mask that areas are tiny -- each is only a couple of screens long -- but it's frustrating. The game has items and puzzles to figure out and such though, so there are Zelda elements here.

And of course the also has some of those oh-so-infamous cutscenes, which are indeed pretty entertaining. CD-I Zelda cutscenes deserve their infamy. :)

Is it worth the $80 I paid plus the cost of the console? Quite possibly not, but it's a pretty interesting thing to have and play and I don't regret getting it.
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"On two occasions, I have been asked [by members of Parliament], 'Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?' I am not able to rightly apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question." ~ Charles Babbage (1791-1871)
Some of those were funny, yeah. And the games deserves it, the cutscenes are absolutely absurd...
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The thing you usually hear about the CD-I is that it can do good-quality video, but for both hardware and game design reasons doesn't have much in the way of good action-style games.

Well, so far I'd say that yes, this is true. The system can indeed play some quite nice-quality video, either animated or live action. This is particularly true with the Digital Video Cartridge (DVC), which is required for full-screen video and also some games that use the hardware in it for more animation and such, but even without it the CD-I can do colorful, sharp graphics. Compared to the Turbo CD, which released several years before it, or the Sega CD, which released in Japan around the same time that the CD-I was first releasing here in the West, the CD-I, even without the DVC, can do better-looking video with a LOT more color. Sure, without the DVC videos play in a window, often a small one, but they look pretty nice. Backgrounds are often colorful and detailed as well; see the Zelda sidescrollers for examples of that, the backgrounds look like paintings. And of course thanks to the CD format, CD-I software often has voice acting and quality CD music.

Of course, however, having good graphics doesn't mean you have good gameplay, and that is where CD-I games usually founder. It's a fine platform for early '90s edutainment and educational software. The PC is of course better since even back then it has so many more releases, but some of this stuff is pretty entertaining. It's also got music CDs with graphics and the first Video CD movies, but I don't have any of those things, yet at least.

But the games? Well... well, I got a lot of 19 CD-I software items recently. These are all earlier releases ('91 to '93), in these CD-I exclusive, DVD case-sized boxes that are kind of tricky to open. I have seen three kinds of cases for CD-I games already, and these look nice, in their slipcovers anyway, but the latches are a pain. The discs are a mixture of games, edutainment, and more. I've tried a few so far:


Jigsaw - This is a jigsaw puzzle game. It's well made and is good for the genre, with 64 pictures to choose, 12 different types of pieces to break those pictures up into, and four different piece sizes to use. With the more complicated types of pieces and small pieces, solving these puzzles might take a while, but you choose the difficulty. Of course, there is no progression here and nothing for the game to save, but while simple it's competently done.

International Tennis Open (1 player version) - This game has two revisions, this first one that's only for one player, and a later revision that adds a two player versus mode. I don't know if that revision makes any other changes, but going by this one, this game is a nice-looking tennis game with standard, average controls and gameplay for a tennis game of its time. So, expect timing your serves to be tricky, as hitting it out is very easy, aiming shots to be difficult, and for the AI to usually win. You do have a couple of different types of shot options, but the mediocre gameplay definitely doesn't match up to the digitized-actor character sprites and nice backgrounds. Also, you can only play as one character, creatively named Victor Player. V. Player, yeah... okay. There are eight digitized-actor guys in the game, but you can only play as one of them. There's plenty of voice acting here, from announcers and such, and again good visuals, but the gameplay's pretty 3rd-gen and average.

Video Speedway - This is an in-the-car style racing game. It's trying to be simmish, with a Formula One theme, but has a lot of problems. Visually, this game doesn't look as good as many CD-I games; either this hardware isn't good at this kind of fake-scaler-style racing game, or these developers aren't. I know it doesn't have hardware sprite scaling and rotation, and you can tell that in the game, but I'm sure you can do a lot better than this... not that anyone tried, as I think the only other couple of CD-I racing games are overhead, not in-the-car like this one. But the visuals aren't bad, just bland. The audio is worse, as it's really quite annoying; you reach maximum speed very quickly, and can stay at max speed through most of the race... if you stay awake that is, it's boring. Despite this you'll almost certainly lose badly, as the AI is almost impossibly good and finishes far ahead of you. There must be some trick to this game, but I don't know what it is and most people online don't either, as when I've heard about this game online the absurd challenge is almost always mentioned. Still, Video Speedway is a totally playable game, and it has an okay number of tracks and will save your best times and progress and such, which is nice. But with gameplay that is both boring and way too hard, unfortunately this one does seem to be not very good. I don't know that I can take much more of that incredibly annoying engine sound, but really overall my first impression here is that Video Speedway is below average and isn't really worth playing much, but perhaps not the horrible atrocity some people make it out to be; I've played worse for sure.

The Palm Springs Open is a golf game. As with the tennis game this game has pretty nice looking digitized actors for characters, and you've got photographs of the courses to play on, pretty much, but with constant slow load times and interface issues this game is slow, very slow... and I don't like golf games anyway. For 1991 hardware the still screenshots look good though.

Additionally I got Battleship and Connect Four, but haven't played them yet. They are conversions of the two board games of the same names and look like they play just about as you expect. So yeah, the early game library was like this stuff -- these five games, Dark Castle (which also was an early release), things like that... surely games worth paying $700-plus to get access to!

I haven't played the rest of the stuff in this bundle yet, but to list it all: Word/trivia games include Text Tiles (a word tile game, perhaps Scrabble inspired) and NFL Trivia Challenge (football trivia, circa the early '90s and before... yeah, I'd do just great at this... Rolleyes ); several kids' games/software toys: Tell Me Why Volume One, Tell Me Why Volume Two (discs answering questions about various things they think kids might want to know about), Richard Scarry's Busiest Neighborhood Disc Ever (based on the book, but with minigames and such), A Visit to Sesame Street: Numbers, Cartoon Jukebox (it's a music-first disc apparently), Mother Goose: Hidden Pictures (a find-the-differences game, see what's different between these two versions of an image), and Zombie Dinos from Planet Deltoid, an informative disc with dinosaur info and an adventure game where you have to save dinos from aliens, or something like that. It's apparently not as exciting as the name makes it sound, but I haven't tried it yet so you never know. And in the infomative-stuff-for-adults (or anyone) category: Time-Life 35mm Photography is a photography tutor game where you learn how to take good photos, National Parks Tour (look at photographs of places in national parks and read a bit about them.), Treasures of the Smithsonian is like that but for items in the Smithsonian museum's collection, and Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia is that popular early '90s CD encyclopedia, on CD-I. There are two versions of the disc, this original one and a later jewelcase release with Digital Video Cartridge support for full-screen video, but either way these things are quite silly from a modern perspective. We did have some things like this back in the mid '90s of course on PC, including Encarta and some other one, but the internet eventually rendered these irrelevant... and Compton's is no Encarta unfortunately.

But that's the CD-I -- the early library is stuff like this, and the later library is only kind of better -- Lucky Luke's a lot better than Dark Castle, but it's nothing above average in terms of gameplay, for instance. I still don't regret buying the system though, it's such a weird thing that it's fascinating to experience! And there are a few exclusives that I either like or see enough in to want to play more of, most notably Link: The Faces of Evil (flawed, yes, but interesting...) and Laser Lords, and I will definitely need to get Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon eventually. There are other games I'm interested in too, including Burn:Cycle, Accelerator, Zenith, Kether, and some more; the CD-I may not be some great action game format but it has enough weirdly interesting stuff to be kind of fascinating to use here and there.

Oh yeah, and the Game Pad controller is way more comfortable than I expected. It looks pretty average, but it actually works well and fits in the hand well. The rounded back parts are nice.
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