As Panasonic rev up for their UK 3DO launch, Edge has unearthed highly confidential details about a revolutionary new system from Trip Hawkins, first hinted at in Edge 10. As the current 3DO gradually loses disciples in the face of mounting competition from Sony et al, information has been leaked about a new 3DO-compatible 64bit machine, given the menacing codename Bulldog. Scheduled for a Christmas 1995 launch and boasting some hugely impressive specs, the system is set to appear in two main guises: a $100 upgrade cartridge, designed to placate current 3DO owners; and a $250-400 standalone system as the entry point for those wishing to start afresh on the next level of of 3DO performance.

As predicted by Trip Hawkins in Edge 10, the new system will be down- wardly compatible with the existing 3DO platform. That means it will be possible to run all current software on Bulldog, and the addition of an upgrade cartridge will also enable Bulldog software to be played on the original machine. An insider told Edge: `What 3DO's hardware guys have done is squeeze the entire 3DO circuitry onto two little chips - the existing 3DO system is just a part of it.

Having been unable to decide between upgrading the original hardware and starting anew (Edge 10), 3DO now seem to have embarked on a two-tier stricture for Trip Hawkins' `global platform'. 3DO are encountering an obstacle historically faced by hardware manufacturers how to provide increased performance without dumping on those who've already brought in. The danger is that 3DO could end up being haunted by the same jerky evolution curve as the PC, in that users are theoretically able to run all their new software on a standard machine, but in reality their old boxes are about as useful as gardening stools.

Judging by the specs that have already been uncovered, 3DO's new vision extends beyond the games-only arena. With MPEG1 built-in as standard and MPEG2 as a possible option, it appears that The 3DO Company is still vigorously defending its multimedia corner.

Based on a 64bit RISC processor Bulldog is being touted to a handful of developers - all gagged by NDAs - as a `66Mhz single cell SDRAM system', in contrast to the dual cell 25Mhz DRAM architecture of the standard 3DO. Boasting a rendering performance of 250,000 texture mapped polygons per-second and an unbelievable 400Mb per second bus bandwidth (three times greater than the PlayStation or even a top of the range Pentium), the 3D abilities of Bulldog are rumoured to be more than a match for anything else in development. And unlike Sony's PlayStation, there's full hardware support for Z-buffering.

Trip Hawkins' recent decision to resign from his position as chairman of Electronic Arts is one of the most crucial episodes in the Bulldog story. Since 3DO's US launch last year, the EA connection has been a lucrative one for 3DO, providing them with some exceptional software. But the benefits weren't reciprocated - EA's recent decision to extend its format coverage to Sony exposed a significant conflict of interests between the two companies. Now, with all his eggs firmly in one basket, Trip is building a huge inhouse development department - on the foundations of existing inhouse team Studio 3DO - with a planned seven or eight seperate teams working on Bulldog games in time for the launch in late 1995. Thirdparty development systems won't be shipping until February or March of next year, though.

`They've basically screwed themselves into the ground with the first machine,' explains Edge's source, `but they're actually making a lot of money on it, and their philosophy right now is keep selling it while they can. They're also realising that they're making good money on the software and it can actually fund the costs of the new hardware.'

But actually taking such an ambitious slab of new hardware to market at its proposed price could prove an unsurmountable hurdle. `The problem Trip has is that he's backed by Japanese guys who aren't Sony,' adds Edge's informant. `They want to make money from the hardware because they don't make a penny from the software. I think they'll have a lot of trouble pricing Bulldog.'

Being first to the market has resulted in mixed fortunes for 3DO, but if all goes according to plan, Bulldog could be the trump card Trip has been waiting to play all along. What is certain is that, although the PlayStation and Ultra 64 are noew regarded as the benchmarks in 3D performance, 3DO can no longer be consigned to the also-rans. Maybe Trip's `quantum leap' will happen after all.

BullDog Tech Specs:

27TH JULY 1994 -2TUFF