1979 (US test market)
The Intellivision was a video game home console released by Mattel in 1979. Development of the console began in 1978, less than a year after the introduction of its main competitor, the Atari 2600. The word intellivision is a portmanteau of "intelligent television". Over 3 million Intellivision units were sold and a total of 125 games were released for the console.
In 2009, video game website IGN named the Intellivision the No. 14 greatest video game console of all time.
History and development
The Intellivision was developed by Mattel Electronics, a subsidiary of Mattel formed expressly for the development of electronic games. The console was test marketed in Fresno, California, in 1979 with a total of four games available, and was released nationwide in 1980 with a price tag of US$299 and a pack-in game: Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack. Though not the first system to challenge Atari, it was the first to pose a serious threat to Atari's dominance. A series of advertisements featuring George Plimpton was produced that demonstrated the superiority of the Intellivision's graphics and sound to those of the Atari 2600 using side-by-side game comparisons.
One of the slogans of the television advertisements stated that Intellivision was "the closest thing to the real thing"; one example in an advertisement compared golf games. The other console's games had a blip sound and cruder graphics, while the Intellivision featured a realistic swing sound and striking of the ball, and graphics that suggested a more 3D look. There was also an advertisement comparing the Atari 2600 to it, featuring the slogan "I didn't know".
Like Atari, Mattel marketed their console to a number of retailers as a rebadged unit. These models include the Radio Shack TandyVision, the GTE-Sylvania Intellivision, and the Sears Super Video Arcade. The Sears model was a specific coup for Mattel, as Sears was already selling a rebadged Atari 2600 unit, and in doing so made a big contribution to Atari's success.
In its first year, Mattel sold 175,000 Intellivision consoles, and the library grew to 35 games. At this time, all Intellivision games were developed by an outside firm, APh Technological Consulting. The company recognized that what had been seen as a secondary product line might be a big business. Realizing that potential profits are much greater with first party software, Mattel formed its own in-house software development group.
The original five members of that Intellivision team were manager Gabriel Baum, Don Daglow, Rick Levine, Mike Minkoff and John Sohl. Levine and Minkoff, a long-time Mattel Toys veteran, both came over from the hand-held Mattel games engineering team. To keep these programmers from being hired away by rival Atari, their identity and work location was kept a closely guarded secret. In public, the programmers were referred to collectively as the Blue Sky Rangers.
By 1982, sales were soaring. Over two million Intellivision consoles had been sold by the end of the year, earning Mattel a $100,000,000 profit. Third-party Atari developers Activision, and Imagic began releasing games for the Intellivision, as did hardware rivals Atari and Coleco. Mattel created M Network branded games for Atari and Coleco's systems. The most popular titles sold over a million units each. The Intellivision was also introduced in Japan by Bandai.
The original 5-person Mattel game development team had grown to 110 people under now-Vice President Baum, while Daglow led Intellivision development and top engineer Minkoff directed all work on all other platforms.
Competition and market crash
- See also: North American video game crash of 1983
Amid the flurry of new hardware, there was trouble for the Intellivision. New game systems (ColecoVision, Arcadia 2001, Atari 5200, and Vectrex, all in 1982) were further subdividing the market, and the video game crash began to put pressure on the entire industry. The Intellivision team rushed to finish a major new round of games, including BurgerTime and the ultra-secret 3D glasses game Hover Force. Although BurgerTime was a popular game on the Intellivision and was programmed by Blue Sky Ranger Ray Kaestner in record time, the five-month manufacturing cycle meant that the game did not appear until the late spring of 1983, after the video game crash had severely damaged game sales.
In the spring of 1983, Mattel went from aggressively hiring game programmers to laying them off within a two-week period. By August, there were massive layoffs, and the price of the Intellivision II (which launched at $150 earlier that year) was lowered to $69. Mattel Electronics posted a $300 million loss. Early in 1984, the division was closed — the first high-profile victim of the crash.
Intellivision game sales continued when a liquidator purchased all rights to the Intellivision and its software from Mattel, as well as all remaining inventory. After much of the existing software inventory had been sold, former Mattel Marketing executive Terry Valeski bought all rights to Intellivision and started a new venture. The new company, INTV Corp., continued to sell old stock via retail and mail order. When the old stock of Intellivision II consoles ran out, they introduced a new console dubbed INTV III. This unit was actually a cosmetic rebadge of the original Intellivision console (this unit was later renamed the Super Pro System.) In addition to manufacturing new consoles, INTV Corp. also continued to develop new games, releasing a few new titles each year. Eventually, the system was discontinued in 1991.
Intellivision games became readily available again when Keith Robinson, an early Intellivision programmer responsible for the game Tron: Solar Sailer purchased the software rights and founded a new company, Intellivision Productions. As a result, games originally designed for the Intellivision are available on PCs and modern-day consoles including the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube in the Intellivision Lives! package, though all are now out of print at retail. However, the Xbox version is available for purchase as a downloadable game through Xbox Live Game Marketplace's Xbox Originals service for the Xbox 360. VH1 Classic and MTV Networks released 6 Intellivision games to iOS. A few licensed Intellivision games are available through the GameTap subscription gaming service. Also, several LCD handheld and direct-to-TV games have been released in recent years.
On March 24, 2010, Microsoft launched the Game Room service for Xbox Live and Games for Windows Live. This service includes support for Intellivision titles and allows players to compete against one another for high scores via online leaderboards. At the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show, Microsoft announced a version of Game Room for Windows Phone 7, promising a catalogue of 44 Intellivision titles.
A newer version of the Intellivision Lives! game is in development for the Nintendo DS.
Reviews and game guides
Ken Uston published Ken Uston's Guide to Buying and Beating the Home Video Games in 1982 as a guide to potential buyers of console systems/cartridges, as well as a brief strategy guide to numerous cartridge games then in existence. He described Intellivision as "the most mechanically reliable of the systems… The controller (used during "many hours of experimentation") worked with perfect consistency. The unit never had overheating problems, nor were loose wires or other connections encountered." However, Uston rated the controls and control system as "below average" and the worst of the consoles he tested (including Atari 2600, Magnavox Odyssey², Astrovision, and Fairchild Channel F).
Jeff Rovin lists Intellivision as one of the seven major suppliers of videogames in 1982, and mentions it as "the unchallenged king of graphics", however stating that the controllers can be "difficult to operate", the fact that if a controller breaks the entire unit must be shipped off for repairs (since they did not detach at first), and that the overlays "are sometimes so stubborn as to tempt one's patience".
- Intellivision can be considered the first 16-bit game console, as the registers in the microprocessor, where the mathematical logic is processed, are 16 bits wide.
- The Intellivision was also the first system to feature downloadable games. Although, without a storage device the games vanished once the machine was turned off. In 1981, General Instrument teamed up with Mattel to roll out the PlayCable, a device that allowed the downloading of Intellivision games via cable TV.
- Intellivision was the first game console to provide real-time human and robot voices in the middle of gameplay, courtesy of the IntelliVoice module. The voice chip used, the SPO256 Orator, was developed jointly by Mattel and General Instrument.
- Intellivision was the first console to feature a controller with a directional pad that allowed 16 directions. The disc-shaped pad allowed players to control action without lifting the thumb and was considered by many Intellivision users to be a useful innovation. However, the ergonomics of the "action" buttons on the side of the controller were poor, and the disc-pad was perceived by potential buyers as unfamiliar. Along with cost, this was one of the factors in making the Intellivision less popular than the Atari 2600. However, it is interesting to note that the method of controlling movement on the Intellivision, with the thumb, is emulated in many subsequent video game controllers. The joystick-style controller, as seen on the VCS, has not been widely emulated on later consoles. A third-party joystick attachment was available by around 1984, that was installed by opening the controller and fitting the paddle over the disc. A flange around the hollow plastic conical joystick held it in securely when the controller's upper cover was replaced; and a much easier joystick control was the result. The Joystick was about three inches in height; it could not be gripped by the entire hand.
- The Intellivision was also the first game console or home computer to offer a musical synthesizer keyboard. The Music Synthesizer keyboard was designed as a secondary add-on for the ECS, and was intended to lead to a series of music-oriented software titles for both educational and entertainment purposes, but only one title, Melody Blaster, was ever released.
- Intellivision was also the first console to have a complete built-in character font. While Odyssey 2 had a limited character font (uppercase alphabet, numerals, and some other characters), Intellivision's system font had complete upper- and lowercase alphabets, numerals, and almost all of the punctuation and symbols found on standard computer keyboards.
- General Instrument CP1610 16-bit microprocessor CPU running at 894.886 kHz (i.e., slightly less than 1 MHz)
- 1456 bytes of RAM:
- 240 × 8-bit Scratchpad Memory
- 352 × 16-bit (704 bytes) System Memory
- 512 × 8-bit Graphics RAM
- 7168 bytes of ROM:
- 4096 × 10-bit (5120 bytes) Executive ROM
- 2048 × 8-bit Graphics ROM
- 159 pixels wide by 96 pixels high (159x192 display on a TV screen, scanlines being doubled)
- 16 color palette, all of which can be on the screen at once
- 8 sprites. Hardware supports the following features per-sprite:
- Size selection: 8×8 or 8×16
- Stretching: Horizontal (1× or 2×) and vertical (1×, 2×, 4× or 8×)
- Mirroring: Horizontal and vertical
- Collision detection: Sprite to sprite, sprite to background, and sprite to screen border
- Priority: Selects whether sprite appears in front of or behind background.
- three channel sound, with one noise generator (audio chip: General Instrument AY-3-8910)
The Intellivision controller featured:
- 12-button numeric keypad (0-9, Clear, and Enter)
- Four side-located action buttons (where the top two are actually electronically the same, giving three distinct buttons)
- A directional disk, capable of detecting 16 directions of movement
- Laminated overlays that would slide into place as an extra layer on the keypad to show game-specific key functions
The controller was ranked the fourth worst video game controller by IGN editor Craig Harris.
- List of Intellivision games
- TV POWWW (interactive TV game show that used Intellivision)
- Intellivision at GameFAQs