The Intellivision began its development under the Mattel Corporation during 1978 as a console to compete against the Atari 2600 and was released the following year during 1979. The Intellivison had about a 125 games which were released for it, the console sold roughly three million units, and during 2009 IGN named the Intellivision the 14th best game system of all time.
History and Development of the Console:
The Intellivision was developed by the Mattel Electronics division of Mattel and test marketed in Fresno California in 1979 with the release of four different games with a following release in 1980 across the nation. The Intellivision was priced at $300 dollars at its release with a game pack called Las Vegas Poker and Blackjack. This was not the first console developed to compete with the Atari however it was the first serious competition that the Atari had come across in part due to a series of advertisements featuring George Pimpton and displaying side by side graphics comparisons of the Intellivision and the Atari in order to display the Intellivision’s superior graphics and sound capabilities. Two successful slogans used in Intellivision advertisements included “the closest thing to the real thing,” and an ad featuring the Atari with the comment “I didn’t know.” Mattel followed Atari’s example and allowed other companies to sell their own versions of the console including a model from Radio Shack called TandyVision, a GTE-Sylvania model of the Intellivision, and a Sears model called the Sears Super Video Arcade due to Atari’s enormous success with the Sears model of the Atari 2600. Within the first year of production the Intellivision sold over 175,000 units and boasted a game library consisting of 35 different games which were produced by APh Technological Consulting until Mattel realized the profit potential for creating their own games and formed its own software development division.
The original Intellivision development team consisted of five members including Gabriel Baum, Don Daglow, Rick Levine, Mike Minkoff, and John Sohl. Mike Minkoff and Rick Levine had previous experience working for Mattel on their handheld video game systems making them valuable members of the development team. This team of programmers were referred to as the Blue Sky Rangers and their identities and work places were kept secret from the public in order to prevent them from being approached by their rival Atari with employment opportunities. By the time that 1982 rolled around the teams Intellivision had become a major competitor in the video game market selling over two million units and earning their parent company roughly $100,000,000. In response to the systems incredible success other companies including Activision, Imagic, and Coleco began to develop third party games for the console. After other companies began to produce games for the Intellivision Mattel began to do the same for the Atari and Coleco releasing games under the brand name M Network games. During 1982 the Intellivision was also released by Bandai in Japan and games continued to sell wildly with some of the more popular titles reaching over one million copies sold. By this time Mattel’s original team of five developers had multiplied to an astonishing 110 with Gabriel Baum acting as Vice-President, Don Daglow leading the continuing development of the Intellivision, and Mike Minkoff taking the lead of the development of games for all the other consoles.
The original Intellivision information from the commercials run on television, to the box that the console was packaged in claimed that there would shortly a keyboard additional component which would be available allowing the Intellivision to become a fully functional home computer system. The claims about the keyboard component included boosting the systems available RAM up to 64K, the inclusion of cassette drive used for data storage, and the capability of being connected to another add on in the form of a 40 column thermal printer. The cassette drive component was expected to allow not only data storage but also allow audio playback and recording controlled by the system which would be controlled by an additional 6502 microprocessor that would be programmed to handle these functions without assistance from the consoles CP1610 CPU. The keyboard component was also expected to contain an extra cartridge slot which would allow the console to use the keyboard as a permanent dock but also allowing for the console to play game cartridges. This add-on was originally expected to be released in 1981, however this piece of technology was a lofty goal and the piece suffered from a number of setbacks with reliability and high cost expenses for production resulting in numerous delays. Eventually due to the delays Mattel would undergo investigation by the Federal Trade Commission for false advertising and fraud resulting in FTC instating a fine until the product was released. After receiving the fine Mattel ended up canceling the keyboard component altogether and offered the Entertainment Computer System or ECS for short as a replacement. Before the component was cancelled about four thousand units were manufactured however not many made it into customer hands and part of the penalty assigned by the FTC was a requirement that the company offer the customers who received a unit the option of selling it back to the company. The Intellivision keyboard disaster would later become the number 11 ranked item on Gamespy’s 25 Dumbest Moments in Gaming History.
Entertainment Computer System (ECS):
The development on the ECS began during 1981 when Mattel began to worry that the keyboard component might never be completed and the group was assigned to create an inexpensive BASIC Development System (BDS) which would introduce children to computer programming. This development group kept its actual purpose a secret in order to prevent the head of the keyboard project from cancelling the BDS project and they eventually developed a system they nicknamed Lucky which originates from Low User-Cost Keyboard Interface. The Lucky cancelled many of the cool features of the original project for instance it only used 2K RAM, a very marginal BASIC interface, and lower quality cassette deck and thermal printer. The Lucky did however allow the Intellivision to be used a computer, it allowed users to write programs and record them to cassettes, and it also allowed interface with a basic printer. In addition the Lucky included a AY-3-8910 sound chip and an optional 49 key Music Synthesizer keyboard which allowed the user to use the Intellivision as a multivoice synthesizer. In 1982 the Lucky was renamed the Entertainment Computer System and was released in time for the holiday gift season, however the system did not receive much success on the market and only a handful of games and software were released for the console addition.
During 1982 Mattel introduced an additional component for the Intellivision called the Intellivoice. This additional component allowed for voice synthesis allowing speech components for some games. This was groundbreaking for the video game industry for a couple reasons, the first was that the voice component was unique to the Intellivison although a similar piece of technology was released for the Odyssey 2, and second because it allowed games written for the Intellivision to use the voice component as a major component of the games. Despite the importance to the future of video games Mattel was disappointed with the device due to lower than expected sales leading to the release of only five games compatible with the component. The games developed for the Intellivoice included Space Spartans, Bomb Squad, B-17 Bomber, Tron: Solar Sailer, and Magic Carousel (children’s game.) Another title called Intellivision World Series Major League Baseball was released as compatible with the ECS as well as the Intellivoice however the voice component was not required.
The Entertainment Computer System was not the only Intellivision release from Mattel during 1982, the company also released a redesigned console entitled the Intellivision 2 which included detachable controllers, a sleeker appearing design, a system changer allowing the play of Atari 2600 games, and the music keyboard addition for the ECS. One modification found in the Intellivision 2 was the addition of a flat membrane keyboard which ultimately made it more difficult to play a number of the original Intellivision games due to the fact that users had to glance down at their controllers. Another change was the addition of an external AC power adapter which was not standard and ran on 16.2V causing the loss or damage of the adapter to render the console unusable without a replacement which were not readily available. Finally the new version of the console included a modification of internal ROM program called EXEC in order to stop unlicensed third parties from releasing software for the console although this would ultimately prove to be only temporarily successful when the third parties managed to get around Mattel’s lockout.
Market Competition and Crash:
The Intellivision came into the video game industry at a tough time when there were a large variety of available systems including the Odyssey 2, the Atari, and the Colecovision in addition to the video game market crash which would apply heavy pressure to all corners of the market. This led the Intellivision development team to rush to create additional games including BurgerTime and the secret 3D glasses game Hover Force. Despite BurgerTimes quick development the game was not released until 1983 during the crash which severely damaged game sales. Also during 1983 Mattel began aggressively laying off programmers in addition to dropping the price of the Intellivision 2 console which released early in the year at $150 to a measly $69. At this point in time Mattel Electronics posted a $300 million loss and would become the first big victim of the market crash early in 1984. Intellivision game sales continued after a liquidator purchased the rights for the console as well as the remaining Mattel company inventory. After the majority of the inventory was sold a former Mattel employee Terry Valeski purchased the rights to the console and began a new venture called INTV Corp which continued to sell old stock and retail via mail orders. Following the sales of the remaining inventory the company began to release a new console named INTV System 3 which was a reboot of the original Intellivision console and was later renamed Super Pro System while also continuing to develop new games until 1991 when the system was discontinued. Following the market crash games for the Intellivision once again became readily available following Keith Robinson’s purchase of the software rights and the establishment of a new company called Intellivision Productions. Due to Robinson many games from the Intellivision would become available on future systems including Playstation 2, Xbox, and Nintendo Gamecube in the Intellivision Lives game package. The most recent places these games can be seen include Microsoft’s Game Room service on Xbox Live, Games for Windows Live, and the Game Room for Windows phone which boast 44 Intellivision titles, as well as newer version of the Intellivision Lives package for the Nintendo DS.
Innovations Present in the Intellivision:
The Intellivision included a variety of innovations for the video game industry including the fact that it was the first entirely 16bit game console, it was the first system to allow downloadable games, it was the first system to incorporate real time human and robotic voices, it boasted the first game controller with 16 directions on its game pad, it was the first system to have a musical synthesizer keyboard, and it was the first console to have a complete built in character font including upper/lower case letters, numbers, punctuation, and symbols.
- Bump n’ Jump review for the Intellivision (imagamegeek.co.uk)
- APF M1000 Video Game System Review (neovideohunter.wordpress.com)
- Atari and Nintendo: Atari’s Missed Opportunity (30plusgamer.com)
- The origins of Home Game Console wars, by John Hancock (losthammer.wordpress.com)
- The status quo is doomed: Next-gen opportunities and challenges (gamasutra.com)
- The Evolution of Gaming Consoles [infographic] (debugdesign.com)
- NC: Interview With The Video Game History Museum (nintychronicle.wordpress.com)
- Keyboard Geniuses: 83 Skidoo (gameological.com)
- The Console History (supernaturalemo13.wordpress.com)