British video game developer Rare is undoubtedly best known for its close relationship with Nintendo back in the ’90s and early ’00s, before Microsoft outright acquired it in 2002. Indeed, games like GoldenEye 007, Banjo-Kazooie, and Perfect Dark have all cemented themselves as icons in the industry; games that have not only stood the test of time in their own right, but also directly influenced a good deal of the titles you play to this day.
In the late ’80s, however, Rare embarked on a decidedly different venture; one that ultimately never came to fruition. As reported by our friends over at Time Extension, before Nintendo’s Game Boy system was announced and released, Rare’s co-founder Chris Stamper worked on a hardware project known as the RAZZ arcade board which used a Zilog Z80 processor and could apparently display thousands of on-screen colours – certainly more than Nintendo’s own Game Boy could manage. This board would then be utilised in a handheld device that Rare christened the ‘Playboy’, with much of the exterior design handled by the company’s other co-founder, Tim Stamper.
The Stamper brothers were understandably serious about potentially turning the Playboy into a viable and successful handheld device, going so far as to demonstrate the handheld at the Consumer Electronics Show in 1989 to prospective companies. As this was before the internet and emailing, however, Rare had no idea that Nintendo was working on its own handheld device at the time, and the Playboy was ultimately shelved.
Paul Machacek – a Rare veteran – described the experience rather eloquently in a tweet:
“Tim [Stamper] took The Playboy to CES show 1989 to show it to major manufacturers. When he returned (understand this: we had no internet, no email, comms were fax or awkward-to-arrange international phone calls) he disappointedly said that Nintendo had unveiled a “little handheld thing”.”
For a good while, it was feared that the Playboy prototype had been lost, as no photos or evidence of the machine could be found online. However, as exclusively revealed by Time Extension, the machine is now currently in the hands of the Retro Computer Museum located in Leicester, having been loaned by Rare alonside other bits and bobs from its history. RCM Founder, Andy Spencer, said the following to Time Extension regarding the loan:
“We are absolutely honoured that Pete has let us borrow this piece of awesome history. He told us the story about creating it and it not working properly until the very last minute, only to be turned down by Nintendo.”
If you want to view the Playboy system in the flesh, you can head over to the Retro Computer Museum and check it out for yourself. Opening times can be viewed on RCM’s official website. For more anecdotes from Rare on the development of the project, be sure to also check out Time Extension’s original article.