The story of a canceled prop, the Zip Drive for the Dreamcast
The Zip Drive was designed for Sega's latest console, the Dreamcast. It has never been marketed. The purpose of the Zip drive was to increase the Dreamcast's storage capacity for e-mail and Internet files. Sega was planning to release DLC for some games like Quake 3 Arena or those from Florigan Bros. recently discovered. The device would allow them to be saved.
IOMEGA , an American company specializing in data storage, was responsible for the design of this accessory. The system was conceived after a strong demand for more storage space than Sega servers could offer to save e-mail and web pages.
The 100 Mega Drive-Byte drives were almost the same as for PC with slight modifications made to make them DC compatible. Dreamcast memory cards, Visual Memory System (VMU), had capacities of 128 KB. A 100 MB zip disk would push back the console's backup capabilities and interactivity.
“ We chose a Zip drive for its durability and low cost. Durability is essential, ” a Sega spokesperson said.
Sega announced the product in March 1999, Iomega in April of the same year. The drive was scheduled to cost $ 199 and be released by the third quarter of 2000. The Utah- based company planned to sell the drive at a loss but to earn on the sale of blank floppy disks. The cost of manufacturing a zip was $ 1 for a sale price of around $ 8-10.
The reader was fully functional, ready for production. Only a handful of prototypes were produced without really know the exact number.
The floppy disks were made in-house for the Dreamcast project. There was a whole range of them. I had been able to recover some on loan from a former employee of Iomega . As they took up space in his house, he used them as a shotgun target.
His prototype Zip Drive was destroyed after leaving the company.
"I had a Dreamcast zip drive at one point but I think I threw it in a dumpster when I left Iomega "
The Zip Drive was presented during an OKAWA Foundation Ceremony (a non-profit organization that contributed to the growth and development of technology). The device was also shown at the Tokyo Game Show . Then we never heard of this accessory again.
The Zip Drive for sale:
The first appearance of a prototype of the Zip Drive on the Internet dates back to 2007. Its price of 10,000 dollars was scary. We do not know if the sale was successful.
In 2018, a second prototype appeared on Ebay Germany for the modest sum of 4000 E. In 1 day, it had been sold. A San Francisco museum would be its new buyer. The seller had given me the delivery address which corresponded to the head office of Twitter.
Would he have lied to me? I have doubts knowing that I had already bought him items in his virtual store.
Testimonials from people who saw Zip Drive:
Sega of America had a Zip Drive in their offices. Nothing had ever worked on theirs. According to a former SOA employee, the accessory was seen as a potential tool for creating homebrew games, like the Playstation Net Yaroze. The United States did not intend to release it at home.
Adam Pavlacka , journalist for Next Generation , had been able to attend a GDC (Game Developers Conference) during which the Zip Drive was on display. According to his testimony, the equipment was fully functional. It had been shown with read / write content on the floppy disk.
Two demos were presented. One of them consisted in demonstrating, with a video of a Saturn RPG ( Panzer Dragon Saga ?), That the drive could handle multimedia playback. The second allowed to see the operation of saving and loading on a zip.
Adam Pavlacka also confirms Sega's plans to offer the opportunity to fans to develop their own games. As it had been described to him, a retail console (I am thinking more of the Zip Drive) had to be connected to a PC by a SCSI cable. The SDK (Software Development Kit bringing together the tools to develop a game) had to be reduced. The programs would have been written on the PC and loaded directly into the memory of the DC to be executed. It was not intended for the mass market.
The development of the Dreamcast Zip Drive:
The first time software engineer " John M " had been involved in the project was at the request of his supervisor. He was to attend a meeting with a Japanese man who served as an intermediary between Iomega and Sega .
“We met him and he introduced us to the idea that Iomega could customize a zip drive for the Sega Dreamcast. This project gave me the opportunity to travel to Japan and meet Sega engineers there. "
After negotiations at the highest levels of the company, a project was launched and Iomega committed to developing the housing, electronics and software for the Dreamcast Zip reader.
“We weren't interested in making the case itself, only the reader. Iomega would supply ATAPI drives to Sega , and Sega would assemble the entire Dreamcast Zip Drive. ”
The partnership with Sega Japan was technical in nature. No discussion about marketing took place. The people involved in the project didn't care. Iomega was also working with Sega of America .
“At Iomega , I had been involved in several 'special' projects aimed at integrating Zip drives / disks into other devices.”
The electrical engineer had created a PCBA (Printed Circuit Board Assembly) to make the junction between the Dreamcast and the Zip drive then the developers of the American company had designed an ATAPI interface (ide standard for removable media drives).
The unit was to be connected to the Dreamcast in the same way as the "Dreamcast Karaoke Unit" through the modem expansion port. This would have helped promote DC as a multimedia station.
“As a Dreamcast aficionado, you are familiar with the 'expansion' connector located on the lower rear of the device. We were going to use it to establish the connection between the Dreamcast and the Zip drive. ”
They used two different software frameworks, one called Shinobi , the platform on which most of the games for Dreamcast were developed, the other was Windows CE .
“As a software engineer, I had to create software, a library, that game developers had to integrate into their applications so that they could access files stored on a removable disk.”
For Windows CE , there was little or no work to be done. The drivers / software already existed to support and organize the data on the zip. Practically everything was already included in CE .
For the Shinobi environment, the software engineer had to develop a library that provided file system capabilities: formatting disks, reading and writing disks including files and directories. Everything had to be created like a mini-os to support the creation and use of data on the zip.
"The catch was, this file system had to only run during the vertical blanking interval of video -- that's when the processor of the Dreamcast was available for running code."
Shinobi offered a lot of possibilities for game designers, but it was not an operating system.
"I wrote the file system to be able to pick back up where it left off, when I had initiated an action on the Zip drive (which would take much longer than even a single frame of video)."
Iomega had made two visits to Japan , the first to kick off the project and make some technical decisions and then the second to transfer the technology to Sega in a follow-up meeting.
The engineers of Sega Japan had decided to show the Zip Drive at a convention in Japan . During this event, the marketing branch of Sega Japan was also present. She was not aware of the development of the accessory. It turned out that Iomega had only worked with Japanese engineers and Sega of America but not with the Marketing Department of the Land of the Rising Sun.
Marketing did not see the need for a Zip drive and did not plan to use it extensively which could have benefited Sega Japan .
As the marketing group had more influence than the engineering group, the project was canceled.
"I don't know if any game designers were aware of the existence of the Zip drive."
Sega of America gave Iomega its full support. Not being at the head of the project and not having the necessary influence to continue marketing the zip drive, SOA could not do anything.
Thanks to John M for his testimony
I am actively looking for the prototype of the Dreamcast Zip Drive, if you have one please do not hesitate to contact me. I would like to analyze it, take it apart and take a picture of it from all angles.
If you have additional questions for John M, write me an email, I will forward them to him.
My article on three other unreleased accessories from the Dreamcast: Three canceled accessories / peripherals from the Dreamcast