Main Content

Interviews


Click a photo to read one of the exclusive interviews

Chris Green


Chris Green

Wild ideas don't just end up on the shelves of shops without first being turned into a product that can actually be manufactured at a profit and that can, and do, live up to the promise of what they could offer.
Without someone taking these ideas and slaving away very hard to produce something that fulfils the initial vision, that can be made repeatedly and easily at a cost that means that you can be competitive and still make a profit and that enjoys the reliability that Konix was well know for then you need a team of Engineers that really know what they were doing. Chris Green was one of the Konix Engineers and he shares his insight and recollections about the machine and what possibly happened to it to help complete the Konix story.

Interview:


Slipstream
What was your position at Konix, what did your job entail?

Chris Green
I was an Electronic Design Engineer. My speciality is analogue circuit design; interface circuits, power supplies, solenoid drivers, things like that. But in a small company like Konix you had to do whatever was needed so I ended up doing things like debugging mechanical problems with joysticks and arranging plastic mould tool modifications.

Slipstream
How big was the team you worked in?

Chris Green
Me - Chris Green
Robert Kent - who had been with Konix since the early days in Tredegar with the Speedking
joystick and the Predator Sinclair Spectrum add on.
James Marshall – a graduate engineer
Chris Ensor – a student engineer
Jerry ?? - our draughtsman, who ran Cadkey on our CAD system.

Slipstream
Where did you go after Konix, did you stay in the games industry?

Chris Green
I had come from Mitel, a Telecoms company, and I went back there after I left Konix. I have stayed in Telecoms ever since and have not gone back to the games industry. Our son went into computer games after college and is now a freelance games programmer.

Chris's Konix Business Card
Chris's Konix Business Card

Slipstream
Do you have any notion of what happened to prototypes?

Chris Green
I left in March 1990. Konix kept going until September 1990. What happened to the prototypes and other hardware in those 6 months I have no idea. Robert Kent would be the person you need to ask.

Slipstream
Was anything actually manufactured in any quantity, was any stock (components etc.) purchased?

Chris Green
No, nothing was ever made in any quantity. Only small numbers of prototypes and dev. kits were ever made while I was there. We ran about 100 sets of plastic parts to test the tools and I doubt very much that any more were made by Konix as the toolmakers were owed a lot of money.

Slipstream
What other peripherals were being talked about? Were there working prototypes of the Light gun with recoil, the Ski accessory, the Helicopter stick, the Keypad or the Helmet with Head up Display?

Chris Green
The Light gun never existed as anything more than a full size wooden model. The Helicopter stick and Keypad existed only as drawings. The Ski accessory and Helmet with HUD were concepts only. I never saw a drawing of either.

Slipstream
If money wasn’t an object, would Creative devices and Konix have been capable of delivering this thing to market. Do you see it being any kind of rival to its opposition of the time?

Chris Green
A lot of money had been spent and the basic workings of the KMS were all there. £200k worth of plastic mould tools were finished and ready to make high quality console casings. The Flare ASIC had been through several revisions, also around £200k worth, and was a fully debugged high quality piece of hardware. So yes, with a bit more development of the console mechanics, the KMS was a manufacturable piece of consumer electronics that Konix could have brought to market.

The KMS was quite capable of taking on the Nintendo Famicom or Sega Master System and coming out ahead. The KMS was also capable of holding its own against the PC Engine and the Sega Megadrive, which launched about the same time, and the Nintendo SNES which came a little later. As the Wii showed much later a good, intuitive hardware user interface can make all the difference to a games console. The KMS had a really good one years before anyone else.

Slipstream
I'd imagine you had the opportunity to use the product - perhaps play with it. What do you feel the experience would have been like? Were the games impressive (for the time)?

Chris Green
The games (for the time) were quite impressive. There was a version of Last Ninja 2 which was the equal of the Amiga version (but sadly ran off a joystick and didn't use the unique KMS features). There was the Biker game from Argonaut, which used the chair so you could lean into the corners. The star had to be Mutant Camels, you could wipe out anything with some of the weapons (four fireballs rotating together for example) and the explosions were fantastic both to watch and listen to.

Slipstream
What about the practicality of actually using it? It seems that You HAD to have a desk or table in front of a TV to stick the Multi-system to. This just isn't the configuration of most peoples living rooms or kids bedrooms.

Chris Green
It ran quite well off your lap as long as you had a reasonably supportive chair to sit in. But yes it was more suited to a desk in front of the TV – or maybe a Power Chair!

Slipstream
Do you feel that Konix should have just stuck to peripherals? Maybe investing some effort into getting games developed to support their peripheral? Do you think it was just too much to try to take on the might of the Japanese and American companies?

Chris Green
With hindsight maybe sticking to what we knew would have been much safer but it was never going to grow Konix into a major company. For all of the hardware engineering team it was just the sort of thing we wanted to be doing. We were all for it 100%.

It wasn't the might of the competition that sank Konix – we didn't get that far. It was trying to develop a major games console without the finance in place up front. It's not the sort of thing you can do on a bank overdraft but we didn't find that out until too late.

Slipstream
What kind of reaction do you feel this system got at the trade shows, how was your mood working there while you were showing off this product?

Chris Green
We got a huge positive reaction from nearly everybody at the trade shows. It was good fun but tremendously hard work – especially the 24 hour days for about a week before getting all the demo hardware built and tested. And the working until midnight after the show closed to repair the broken systems before the doors opened next day.

Slipstream
Was it an exciting time because you felt you had something new, or did you feel you were bluffing your way through the show with a mock up of a product that may never have lived up to the hype?

Chris Green
It was a very exciting time and we never thought we were bluffing about the capabilities of the product. We all thought it was the dog's b****x, and it was. The only difficult bit was keeping a straight face about the launch date. We all knew (apart from those of us in denial) that the time scales were pure fantasy. A year from the PCW show in autumn 1989 would have been enough time to fully debug the whole thing and get it to a manufacturable product. Sadly it was spent fending off creditors and trying to raise enough cash to finish the job.

Slipstream
Finally, with Nintendo's Wii, we have now seen a manufacturer brave enough (and with enough money) to devise a radical concept that gives everyone, from day one, the ability to use their machine in a brand new way. Do you feel it took this long for a reason? Would Konix have had the same level of impact were their competitors would have bought out copycat products too?

Chris Green
I think Konix would have had a clear field for a few years after launching the Multi-system before the competition had any “me too” products. Sega had just launched the Megadrive and Nintendo were about to launch the SNES so neither was in a position to do a new generation for quite a while. Microsoft took 4 years to launch the Kinect in answer to the Wii remote and in the meantime Nintendo sold 75 million consoles. We would have been well happy with a lot fewer than that!

Slipstream
What, if anything, was ready to go to production? Plastic Case, PCBs, Boxes, User Manuals etc.?
Was there anything that had been produced in preparation for launch in any kind of quantity?

Chris Green
The plastic moldings were all there but they needed debugging. The joint that rotated the handlebars into a flight yoke didn't work well at all and the foot pedals were difficult to use. But these were minor problems which could have been sorted without any major redesign. The PCB was ready to go. User manuals, packing boxes all that sort of stuff was never done at all because we needed to get the hardware right first.

Slipstream
Were any mock-ups of Konix box-art made for publicity purposes? Have you any idea what size and shape the software boxes would have been (were they small and practical to fit the disks or big cardboard boxes designed to make you feel you'd bought something of value)?

Chris Green
There were no dummies made of the packing boxes that I ever saw. It would not have taken a lot of work to do them and we had a good supply chain in place for these sort of things. It was just that the product never reached a finished state where it needed things like that to be ready.

If we had done them they would have been functional and no bigger than necessary to do their job. It would have been all about “Do they protect the product in transit” and “How many can we get in a container”. The printing on the box would have been smart and promoted the product well but practicality would have come first.

Slipstream
Who else that worked for Konix or MSU do you think is likely to have hoarded parts?

Chris Green
Very few people at this distance in time. Robert Kent has moved house at least twice so he is unlikely to have kept anything. I gave Robert all my work diaries from the time I worked on the Multi-system so he could use them to continue development work at MSU. I have stayed in the same house for 35 years which is the only reason my attic contents have not ended up in a skip.

Slipstream
Have you any idea where all the assets went? Can you remember the name of the liquidation firm?

Chris Green
Wynford would be the best person to tell you all this. I lost touch for the last 6 months of Konix's existence.

Slipstream
Can you think of anywhere, anybody or any company, storage facility or warehouse that may still have anything to do with the Multi-system?

Chris Green
Sorry can't help you there. I hear you have managed to catch up with Level 6, who designed the Power Chair. That was the only lead I could think of.

Slipstream
Would you have bought a Multi-system for your Child?

Chris Green
Yes I would have, our son was very much into computer games. But I wouldn't have needed to – I would have had a beta system on long term trial in my home. I might have had a little trouble wangling the long term “loan” of a Power Chair but I am sure it could have been arranged!

Slipstream
We have now reached a time in the evolution of computers and video games where an idea almost no matter how crazy or ambitious, can become a product and a successful one at that. You don't even need to fund it much further past the prototype stage for it's potential to get recognised and for it to be snapped up by a huge company. I don't really see a place for the Slipstream controller / Multi-system any more, do you think Wyn may be thinking of how the Power Chair or maybe the Helmet with HUD could be added to today’s home consoles? After all, expensive aspirational products now have a place and a relatively easy (for a demonstrably working device) path to production.

Chris Green
I am sure Wynford has had lots of “what if” product designs passing his magic desk blotter in the years since the KMS's demise. Whether they got any further than that is very doubtful.

I have had quite a few ideas myself for a Power Chair which have filled the backs of many an envelope.

Slipstream
Do you have any kind of anecdotes or entertaining stories or memories? Is there anyone you'd really like to get in touch with from your time at Konix?

Chris Green
A few moments from my KMS days stand out. The all-nighter preparing for the Toy Fair at Olympia stands out because we used so much super glue to fix things together that we managed to seize up the keyboard on our Amstrad PC1640 lab PC. Vick from the local Ebbw Vale computer shop made a good trade selling us replacement kit for stuff we managed to test to destruction.

We got on good terms with the local county court bailiff when he came chasing unpaid bills. Once the Inland Revenue impounded 25,000 joysticks in our warehouse in lieu of unpaid income tax. Dale Smart, the production manager, sold them all, even though they were no longer Konix's property, and shipped them out. We had to get an emergency overdraft pretty quick to cover his backside, although we all promised to come and visit him in prison if the bank didn't play ball.

Once, during periodic attempts to sell the company, we had to set up a demo for Adrian de Ferranti who was coming up from Cardiff airport. In the middle of our work the man from South Wales Electricity turned up to cut off our supply for not paying our bill. So out of the window we had a multi millionaire landing in his private helicopter for a meeting about buying the company while inside we were desperately pleading with someone not to cut off the electricity. This struck us at the time as particularly ironic and I have had many a chuckle about it since.

I would really like to get in touch with Robert Kent again and see how life has treated him his wife Lilya and his children Anne, Fay and Michael since I lost touch with him after he moved house when MSU folded.

Slipstream
Are there any kind of Gerber files for the PCBs, or circuit diagrams? Where were the PCBs being (or going to be) manufactured, was there a production run of the PCBs made?

Chris Green
I doubt very much that any of the PCB CAD files exist. I have a blank PCB and a Parts List so you
could reverse engineer it if you really wanted to. A lot of the parts no longer exist commercially so
even if you did this you wouldn't be able to build a complete working board.

Slipstream
Of the programmers and designers I've talked to, they were quite under whelmed by the machines custom chip - was it already too old a design when it got the to Multi-system? Or was it just not supported by enough requisite RAM? It was always said that the Jaguar (effectively the Multi-system 2 also designer by Flare) was a difficult machine to program for. However, this could equally be said for the Sega Saturn which was successful in it's home market but was under supported elsewhere - possibly for this very reason.

Chris Green
We did several revisions of the ASIC (at considerable expense) to incorporate improvements suggested by the programmers. They complained about the RAM size and we ended up with 256KByte for program and video. The limiting factor was cost. The 2 x 1Mbit RAM chips cost £12 each which was a huge chunk of the total manufacturing cost.

Slipstream
Who else might have circuit diagrams?

Chris Green
I think any circuit diagrams would have long disappeared.

Slipstream
Were any PCBs fully populated and working? Roughly how many (if you can remember).

Chris Green
We probably built a dozen of the latest rev. PCBs by the time I left. How many more were built after I left I have no idea..

Slipstream
Did you have anything to do with the design or building of the Dev-kits? What can you tell me about them that's of interest in relation to the intended production revision of the Multi-system.

Chris Green
Yes I was deeply involved with the Dev kits. The hardest thing to build was the metal work of the box and cutting the slot for the memory card. It also took a long time to debug the assembled PCBs since they were soldered by hand which is always difficult when you are dealing with 160 pin ASIC packages with 0.020” pin spacing... The dev kit PCB was different to the production PCB and had less RAM.

Slipstream
Were there any fully assembled and working multi-systems out there for demo purposes? If so, how many?

Chris Green
Some fully functional KMS consoles went to the software houses for games debug on final hardware. None were built for demo purposes apart from the machines for the PCW show at Earl's Court.

Slipstream
Do you believe that the machine could be updated in any way if it was discovered that there was a bug in the OS? Was the OS stored on mask ROM or EPROM/EEPROM?

Chris Green
It didn't have an OS. It was pedal-to-the-metal for the programmers as all the hardware was handled directly. No APIs in those days, there just was no space for bloat-ware.

Slipstream
Do you know if there was anything special about the floppy disks? Did they use a standard FAT, did they have an OS or any firmware files / bootstrap stored on them that could be loaded at power-on.

Chris Green
The floppy had copy protection on it which used the Vault Corp. method of sandblasting a hole in the magnetic coating. You then wrote a full track of data and read it back. If it came back complete then it was a copy. If it came back with a patch missing then it was genuine.

I don't think it had a FAT for organising the data, it was just track-at-a-time as far as I remember.

There was a small boot ROM which handled the data protection and loading from disk at start up.

Slipstream
The cartridge slot was dropped in favour of the floppy drive. Was there anything other than cost behind this? Were there any prototype cartridges produced that had game code on them (or at least demos). Was the ability to boot from cartridge left in the operating system / BIOS.

Chris Green
The floppy drive was purely for easy, low cost reproduction of the games. Mask ROM cartridges were expensive in 1MByte size in 1989 and getting them made in a reasonable time was a nightmare (as it still is today. Write a game for the Nintendo DS and you'll soon find out).

The cartridge port was still left on the production PCB so booting from cartridge ROM was still available if you wanted to do it.

Slipstream
Did the Multi-system have any kind of start-up animation or sound?

Chris Green
No, not while I was there.

Slipstream
Did you ever try the Power Chair with a game yourself? What were your impressions?
Was the chair actually comfortable for prolonged periods of play? Was it designed with any particular sizes or ages in mind?

Chris Green
Yes, we used to play the biker game while using the chair. The electric motors were quite fragile so you couldn't do it for long. People complained of the large lump between your legs. This was where the pivot was. We had to keep it up as high as possible to make the chair stable. If you put the pivot below the seat it made it top heavy and quite likely to tip over.

Slipstream
Photos show Jeff Minter in a Power Chair playing his game with the light gun. Did the light gun's recoil work as intended at that time? Also the Multi-system in that picture was black. What was the final production Multi-system intended to look like? The grey with blue accents model or the entirely black model?

Chris Green
The KMS I knew was always grey and blue. I think the black came later when they were trying to sell the console plastics as a dumb controller.

Slipstream
You've mentioned on the forum that the prototypes were manufactured at a cost of 2000 pounds. Do you think this could have been reduced enough to be affordable for the home user - lets say between 250 pounds and 500 pounds?

Chris Green
With a lot more development and production tooling the chair could have been manufactured to sell at £299 (equivalent to £500 today). Pressed steel is a lot cheaper than welded tube but it would have needed £500k in tooling to get the cost down that far.

Slipstream
Wyn said he was quite smart in patenting the Power Chair in another companies name. Have you any idea what that name might have been as it should be pretty easy to search for patents (I found the Slipstream patent this way).

Chris Green
That was news to me. The Swansea office of the patent agent we used has closed and the person we dealt with is no longer with the company so Wynford is probably the only one who knows. Or Bill Snowdon, Konix's solicitor.

Slipstream
How heavy do you estimate the chair was?

Chris Green
It took two people to carry one, mainly because it was big and ungainly. The prototypes probably weighed 100lbs or more.

Slipstream
Was it designed to be disassembled for storage or shipping?

Chris Green
The 2 sides of the base came off so you could get it through a doorway. Otherwise the prototype was all in one piece. The production version would have had to be assembled in sections e.g. seat, drive mechanism, monitor/console support etc. for ease of packing and shipping.

Slipstream
Thanks very much for your time Chris, it's been fascinating talking to you!