Amstrad GX4000

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GX4000
Amstrad GX4000 games console
Manufacturer Amstrad
Type Video game console
Generation Third generation[citation needed]
Retail availability
Discontinued 1991
Media ROM Cartridge
CPU 8-Bit Zilog Z80 4mhz
Best-selling game Burnin' Rubber (Pack-in)

The GX4000 was Amstrad's short-lived attempt to enter the games console market.[2] The console was released in Europe in 1990 and was an upgraded design based on the then still-popular CPC technology.[2] The GX4000 shared hardware architecture with Amstrad's CPC Plus computer line, which was released concurrently. This allowed the system to be compatible with the majority of CPC Plus software.

The GX4000 was both Amstrad's first and only attempt at entering the console market. Although offering enhanced graphics capabilities, it failed to gain popularity in the market, and was quickly discontinued, selling 15,000 units in total.[3]

James Harding of The Times said that the console was "promptly outgunned by the 16-bit Sega Mega Drive and Super Nintendo – it failed the cardinal test of entrepreneurship: stamina."[4]

Launch[edit]

After months of speculation, the GX4000 was officially announced along with the 464 plus and 6128 plus computers at the CNIT Centre in Paris in August 1990.[5] The system was launched a month later in four countries, Britain, France, Spain, and Italy,[6] priced at £99.99 in Britain and 990f in France; software was priced at £25 for most games.[3] The racing game Burnin' Rubber, a power pack, and two controllers were bundled with the machine.

Initial reviews of the console were favourable, with CVG calling it a "neat looking and technically impressive console that has an awful lot of potential at the very low price of £99",[7] but while impressed by the graphical capabilities, they criticised the audio and controllers. ACE magazine came to a similar conclusion, stating that the system "puts the other 8-bit offerings to shame bar the PC-Engine".[8]

A marketing budget of £20 million was set aside for Europe,[3] with the advertising focused on selling the GX4000 as a home alternative to playing arcade games. The tagline for the machine was "Bring the whole arcade into your home!"[9]

Market performance[edit]

The GX4000 was not successful commercially. During its lifespan, software for the system was short in number and slow to arrive, consumer interest was low, and coverage from popular magazines of the time was slight, with some readers complaining about a lack of information regarding the machine (Amstrad Action was one of the few magazines to support the machine). Within a few weeks of the initial launch, the system could be bought at discounted prices, and by July 1991 some stores were selling it for as little as £29.99[10]

There were many reasons for the system's lack of success. At this stage the 16 bit Commodore Amiga, and Atari ST, along with earlier 8-bit consoles and computers were already dominating the European video game market, and hype for new 16-bit consoles such as the Mega Drive was starting to rapidly grow. Amstrad also lacked the marketing power to compete with the producers of the Sega Mega Drive (released in November 1990 in Europe) and eventually the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.[2] On top of this there were also problems with software manufacturing, with many companies complaining that the duplication process was taking months instead of weeks,[11] leading to little software available at launch, and some games being released late or cancelled entirely. Lastly, many GX4000 games were simply CPC games released onto cartridge with minor, or no improvements,[3] which lead to generally unimpressive looking games, and consumer apathy, with many users not prepared to pay £25 for a cartridge game that they could buy for £3.99 on cassette instead.

When discussing the market failure of the system, the designer, Cliff Lawson, claimed that The GX4000 was technically "at least as good" as the SNES,[12] and that the machine faltered due to a lack of games and Amstrad not having the money to compete with Nintendo, and Sega.[12] When asked whether anything could have been done to make the machine a success he replied that more money would have been required to give software houses more incentive to support Amstrad, and that the games and software needed to be delivered sooner, he also remarked that making the machine 16-bit would also have helped.[12]

Technical specifications[edit]

Amstrad GX4000 PCB.
  • CPU: 8/16-bit Zilog Z80A at 4 MHz[2]
  • ASIC: Support for sprites, soft scrolling, programmable interrupts, DMA Sound[13]

Resolution[13]

  • Mode 0: 160x200 pixels with 16 colours
  • Mode 1: 320x200 pixels with 4 colours
  • Mode 2: 640x200 pixels with 2 colours

Colour[2]

  • Depth: 12-bit RGB
  • Colours available: 4096
  • Maximum colours onscreen: 32 (16 for background, 15 for sprites, 1 for border)

Maximum onscreen colour counts can be increased in all Modes through the use of interrupts.

Sprites [13]

  • Number: 16 high resolution sprites per line
  • Sizes: 16x16 (each sprite can be magnified 2x or 4x in X and Y)
  • Colours: Each sprite can use up to 15 colours

Memory [13]

  • RAM: 64 kB
  • VRam: 16 kB
  • ROM: 32 kB

Audio

IO[2]

Audio output, 2x Digital controller connectors, Analog controller port (IBM standard), Lightgun connector (RJ11), Audio and RGB Video output (8-pin DIN), Power supply socket from external PSU, Power supply socket from monitor.

Peripherals[edit]

Standard controllers

GX4000 Controller

The GX4000 controller is similar to popular 8-bit gamepads of the time such as those for the Sega Master System, and NES. It contains only two buttons on the actual pad with the pause button located on the console itself, and uses the prevailing de facto standard Atari-style 9-pin connector.

Analog Joysticks

The GX4000 supports the use of analog controllers through its specific IBM standard analog controller port. The controller was not widely supported by software.

Lightguns

The GX4000 supports the use of a lightgun through its dedicated RJ11 lightgun connector. Multiple 3rd party Lightguns were available, and official releases supported this peripheral. There were two games supporting the use of a lightgun on the GX4000 - Skeet Shoot and The Enforcer which were both distributed with a 3rd party gun.[14]

Games[edit]

In all, 27 games were produced and distributed for the GX4000.[15][16] The majority of games were made by UK- and French-based companies such as Ocean, Titus, and Loriciels.

Notable games were the pack-in game: Burnin' Rubber as well as RoboCop 2, Pang, Plotting, Navy Seals and Switchblade.

Many more games were initially announced, such as Toki, Kick Off 2, and Outrun, but later cancelled when the system failed to sell.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "ACE Magazine." ACE Magazine Issue 31 1990
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "GX4000 at Old Computers". Old-Computers.com. Retrieved 2008-05-06. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Retroinspection: GX4000". Retrogamer Magazine Issue 52 Pg64. 
  4. ^ Harding, James. "Show business." The Times. June 13, 2007. Retrieved on November 3, 2011.
  5. ^ "Mr Sugar, Its Triplets" The Games Machine September 1990 Pg14.
  6. ^ "GX-4000 : Sugar casse le morceau " Tilt September 1990.
  7. ^ "Am 'N' Chips" CVG September 1990.
  8. ^ "CPChoice" ACE October 1990 Pg120.
  9. ^ "GX4000 Advert" CVG November 1990 Pg25.
  10. ^ "Bitesize Amstrad" CVG July 1991 Pg78.
  11. ^ "The French Connection" Amstrad Action February 1992.
  12. ^ a b c "Cliff Lawson Interview". Retrogamer Magazine Issue 11 Pg29. 
  13. ^ a b c d "Arnold V Specifications". CPCTech.org. Retrieved 2012-01-29. 
  14. ^ "Trojan Light Phazer - Skeet Shoot & The Enforcer" http://gx4000.co.uk/gamebase/games.php?game=trojanlightphazer
  15. ^ Amstrad GX4000 on videogameconsolelibrary.com
  16. ^ Complete list of GX 4000 games

External links[edit]