The CD32 represented the last gasp of a dying company, a machine that the company hoped would take on the mighty Sega in America and Europe but ended up sinking without a trace, the CD32 often takes the blame for bringing down the once mighty Commodore, but like with most companies, they are not brought down by their last product, but by the years of mismanagement that proceed it.
It was not Commodore’s first foray into the console gaming world, having previously released the C64GS and the CDTV, one would have thougt that Commodore might have learnt a lesson about releasing their computer hardware in console form, but sadly for everyone Commodore was a horribly run company.
After Jack Tramiel was ousted from the company in 1984 the company ran through a number of CEO’s some like Marshall Smith brought with them new levels of incompetence that should have sunk the company there and then, others such as Thomas Rattigan were able to return the company to profitability, but by the time the 90’s rolled around the man at the top was Mehdi Ali.
In 1989 Ali was bought in from management consulting company Dillon-Read, he would ultimately be the man responsible for destroying the company, his strategy was simple, he gutted Commodore’s R&D, made a number of errors that cost the company millions and increased his own earnings, in 1990 Ali received a wage of $2 million not including bonuses, to put that into perspective, John Akers the much more successful CEO of market leader IBM was paid $713,000 for the same year.
In one of the biggest blunders, Sun Microsystems had approached Commodore with the idea to license a version of Commodore’s A3000UX system to release as a low to mid range alternative to their high end workstations, Ali personally stepped in to sink the deal, not once, but twice, the level of his ineptitude was nothing short of legendary.
With the resurgence of PC Hardware in the early 90’s the Amiga range was beginning to look tired, the new VGA graphics standard allowing for 256 colours in a 320 x 200 resolution, put it ahead of the Amiga which although capable of running 4096 colours, could only do it in HAM mode which was absolute rubbish for games, most of which ran in a 320 x 200 resolution displaying 32 colours.
To compensate a new range of the Amiga was designed around the AGA chipset, designed to reset the balance, it increased the available memory and allowed for 256 colours, unfortunately it was released a good five years after the VGA standard, then in 1993 the PC got just the boost it needed with the release of a little shareware title called DOOM, all of a sudden the Amiga looked horribly underpowered.
Rather than trying to compete Commodore did what it believed was the smart move, if you can’t beat IBM then surely the next best thing would be to repackage that Amiga hardware in a console box and instead try to fight a completely different enemy in a marketplace that had delivered them nothing but failure and so, the CD32 was born.
First demonstrated at the World of Commodore Amiga show in 1993, the CD32 had the exact same chipset as the A1200 based around the same Motorola 68020 that had been in production since 1984 and was growing tired, the CD32 had the same Lisa, Alice and Paula chipset as it’s PC sibling although now they were joined by Akiko replacing Budgie and Gayle, it came with 2mb of chip ram, a double speed CD-Rom and an S-Video out, the console also featured an expansion bay for the use of an FMV module.
The problem with designing console versions of home computers is simple and one Commodore should have already learnt, when designing games for a console with an installed user base of less than 100,000 there really isn’t much profit to be gained, when you have a computer with about a million users the most obvious thing would be to simply release the same game on both systems, so the CD32 had a games library of mostly A1200 games but now on more expensive CDs.
Despite this in the UK for the Christmas period following its launch the CD32 accounted for 38% of all CD-Rom sales, far outstripping sales of Software for the Sega Mega-CD, this was a somewhat minor victory as the Mega-CD had sold poorly in the United Kingdom and CD-Rom was yet to gain the mainstream appeal that wouldn’t become widespread until the release of the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation in 1995.
Although Commodore had intended and indeed announced that the CD32 would be released in America in the first quarter of 1994 it never was, a company called Cad Trak held a patent for technology that Commodore had used, Commodore was late with its payments and so were ordered to pay a $10 million penalty.
To make matters worse in the ensuing court case a US judge found in favour of Cad Trak, the result being Commodore were handed an injunction barring them from importing any products into the United States, all the machines that had already been built were stuck in their manufacturing facility in the Philippines and with Commodore unable to settle their debts with the facilities owners, they filed for bankruptcy.
Ali of course was still paid his $2 million salary for the year.