What's in a name? Everything
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Products live and die by their catchy or unique titles, and children, oh man are they in for a tough life if they're hastily named Richard Long or Nancy Weiner. Obviously the same goes for game consoles, which go through several stages of mock ups and codenames before they ever earn the right to sit next to Big Mouth Billy Bass on a Wal-Mart shelf.
Some of these you may know, others you may not. Just be glad the R&D department doesn't have final say.
You know it as: Atari 2600 / Atari VCS
The withered granddad of all consoles began life with a proper human name, even though "Stella" referred to one of the employees' bicycles and not an actual woman. Today, Stella is one of the more popular 2600 emulators.
You know it as: Atari 5200
Armed with 2,600 more Atari-bits, this failed follow-up started out as Pam. Depending on who you ask/believe, Pam was an employee at Atari and/or an acronym for Personal Arcade Machine. If you're under 18 and don't remember arcades, shame on your parents for conceiving so late.
You know it as: Nintendo 64
The system touted as a "quantum leap" above all other consoles began with a similarly arrogant codename of "Project Reality." Nintendo teamed up with CG-experts Silicon Graphics to, ideally, create a machine so effing badass that you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between it and real life... if real life were made of blurry triangles.
It was also called Ultra 64, even verbally in Killer Instinct's arcade attract mode. "Nintendo 64" won out, making it the first Nintendo console to have the same name in the US, Europe and Japan. Here's an actual clipping from USA Today, pulled from the GamesRadar Paper Tomb, that announces the system for an April 1996 launch:
You know it as: Dreamcast
The ill-fated and endlessly remembered Dreamcast was supposed to rescue Sega from the brink of disaster. For one halcyon year, 1999 to 2000, that seemed an attainable goal. Once PS2 hit, however, it was all over, and the Dreamcast (along with its many uncertain codenames) slipped into the abyss.
You know it as: Game Boy Advance
Rumors began as early as 1996 about a new, more powerful Game Boy that would allow for portable SNES-quality games. Like a lost city beneath the waves, the GBA sank to the bottom of the sales charts and became nothing more than mythological curiosity. Oh wait. That's incredibly wrong. Maybe they just thought Atlantis sounded cool?
You know it as: GameCube
Teased way back in 1999, the "N2000" morphed into Project Dolphin and ultimately became GameCube. The N64 had cost Nintendo its substantial market lead, so the idea of a new console based on a lively, energetic, personable animal got a lot of people's hopes up. The aquatic theme started with Atlantis and Dolphin carried on to the system's GPU, which was named Flipper.
You know it as: Xbox
Microsoft's hardware debut went through several codenames: MARZ, VERV, TAC, DirectX-box. The latter is quite literal and perhaps too obvious to the mainstream market. It's a black box based on Direct-X. Hm. How about the recently revealed pet names of MARZ (Microsoft Active Reality Zone), VERV (Virtual Entertainment and Reality Venture), TAC (Total Action Center) and CPG (Cyber Playground)? All awful, eh?
One name, also admitted by Xbox brainchild Seamus Blackley, stuck around for Microsoft's second machine...
You know it as: Xbox 360
NextBox, while popular among the press, was never the official codename - Xenon has that honor. Still, one of the proposed names for the original Xbox - TS0 - ended up being this machine's actual name. Turns out TS0 stood for "Three Six Zero."
You know it as: Nintendo DS
The DS' first name, Nitro, gave no indication that we'd be playing a machine with two screens, one of which would be touch sensitive. It did ignite a period of explosive growth for Nintendo though, so the name has become entirely appropriate.
Nitro now exists as the capture system Nintendo provides entities like GamesRadar. Armed with audio and video outputs, it allows us to record footage of both DS and GBA titles. Not sure what the shark fin is all about, or why we still don't have a DS Lite Nitro, but hey, we're happy to have one at all.
You know it as: Wii
After two sound defeats at retail (sorry N64/GC fans), Nintendo needed something big to get gamers excited again. More and more were flocking to Xbox while PS2 continued its uninterrupted dominion over all of Gameland. The first hint Nintendo gave about its next system, that it was codenamed "Revolution," almost became an instant legend. Could this be Nintendo's big comeback? Will the past 10 years of staunch loyalty be rewarded?
Whether or not you consider Wii a reward, it's kicking everyone's ass up into their collective necks. It was first dubbed "Wii" on April 27, 2006. - we covered it here. Nintendo had this to say about the change:
"Wii has a distinctive 'ii' spelling that symbolizes both the unique controllers and the image of people gathering to play. And Wii, as a name and a console, brings something revolutionary to the world of video games that sets it apart from the crowd. So thats Wii. But now Nintendo needs you. Because, its really not about you or me. Its about Wii. And together, Wii will change everything"
Color Game Boy
Before we head off, let's take a second to point out how Nintendo's many codenames actually appear on the games you buy. Some of you probably already know about the codes that appear on the boxes, but if not, here's a little Easter egg session.
Game Boy Color was known as Color Game Boy before the adjective jumped to the end of the title. Here it is on a typical GBC game.
GameCube, formerly known as Dolphin, makes its presence known via a "DOL" stamp.
The DS, once Nitro, slaps NTR at the beginning.
And finally, Wii gives a microscopic shout-out to what was considered a revolution.