Ideas for video game accessories come and go, but sometimes the drama behind said ideas can seethe for years afterwards. A recent Twitter thread posts an EGM article—and subsequent eBay auction—outlining an idea for a second screen that would plug into the N64 controller's Rumble Pak port. That's intriguing on its own, but not as much as the auctioneer's claim that Sega stole their idea for the Dreamcast controller's second screen, the VMU.
Game preservationist Shane Battye posted the September 1997 EGM article outlining the "Secret Screen" prototype as well as some screenshots of the January 2018 auction that tried to sell it. The screen has a one-color dot matrix display, which does resemble a VMU's output. Secret Screen was intended primarily for cooking up plays and plans in sports and strategy games; it's much harder for an opponent to steal your moves when only you can see them.
THREAD: A #Nintendo64 ‘secret screen’ prototypeThis was a controller attachment with functions reminiscent of the Dreamcast VMU, although apparently created before the VMU went public... @GerryRobotics @Official64Mate pic.twitter.com/QWX6pJ88xF— Shane Battye (@shanebattye) January 13, 2020
Secret Screen's alleged creator (it's hard to verify the auctioneer is indeed its creator, especially since the auction was pulled down shortly after it went up) claims they tried to sell the accessory to Nintendo, and Nintendo directed them to EA. Ultimately nobody bought it, and the creator asked EGM to run a story about Secret Screen. EGM published a half-page story underneath a story about Sega's Dreamcast, which was in its earliest planning stages at that point.
"Sega saw the magazine article and did the VMU without contacting me," the creator rants in a screenshot of the eBay listing. "Later, Nintendo did Game Link cable between GameBoy and GameCube also without contacting me. And unfortunately, I got nothing out of it."
The creator says they shared more information about the Secret Screen and other projects they've worked on in a 2012 interview with Nintendo Age. Unfortunately, the link provided in the description is broken, and a Google search doesn't turn up much.
The Secret Screen is an interesting accessory for its day, and the resemblance to the VMU is undeniably there. It's unlikely Sega stole the idea, though: that would mean the VMU was "planned," designed, manufactured, tested, and integrated into the Dreamcast a mere year before its November 1998 launch in Japan. Nintendo is probably innocent of thievery as well, since it's been linking screens in various ways since the dawn of the Game Boy.
The Secret Screen is a cool idea, and at its planned price of $20, it had a chance to take off with sports game fans. Needless to say, it's obsolete in a modern world where screens are everywhere and connect to one another like Legos. What a neat little bit of lost N64 history, though.