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June 13, 2024 45 mins

Back in the late 1970s, toy company Mattel waded into the video game console market with the launch of the Intellivision. This year, Atari SA purchased the rights to the Intellivision brand and IP. We look at the story behind this early video game console.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:04):
Welcome to tech Stuff, a production from iHeartRadio. Hey there,
and welcome to tech Stuff. I'm your host, Jonathan Strickland.
I'm an executive producer with iHeart Podcasts and how the
tech are You? So this past weekend and I'm recording

(00:24):
this June twelfth, twenty twenty four, But this past weekend
was the Summer Games Festival, which is kind of a
marketing extravaganza for the video game industry. The festival has
grown in importance, especially since the dissolution of E three
May at Rest in Peace, and while several of the
big companies in the space now tend to hold their

(00:47):
own events that are completely independent, the festival still remains
a really important tool for tons of developers who might
otherwise find it difficult to get their work showcased. But
one thing I did see during the festival was news
on the long awaited piece of retro hardware called the
Intellivision Amiko, and that reminded me that I've never really

(01:11):
done an episode dedicated to in television either. So we're
going to address that today. And before I get to
all of that, if you're really, really really into in television,
well chances are you already know about the Intellivisionaries podcast,
which I have no connection to, by the way, but

(01:31):
it's a show that has episodes that dive super duper deep, deep, deep,
deep down into all things in television. I listened to
about a third of one episode in which they interviewed
authors Braxton Soderman and Tom Belstorf. Those two wrote a
book that's titled in Television, How a Video Game System

(01:52):
Battled Atari and Almost Bankrupted Barbie. That book actually comes
out later this year, so sadly I wasn't able to
use it for this episode. Maybe I'll reach out to
them and we'll do an episode later in the year
when the book comes out. But I really did listen
to like a third of the episode they were on
because that interview is about an hour long, but the

(02:12):
whole episode is five and a half hours long. So
y'all thought my shows get lengthy, I got nothing on
The intellivision Areies. Turns out like the more I think
focused your podcast is, the longer the episodes tend to get. Anyway,
for those of us of a certain age, the brand

(02:33):
in television conjures up memories of very early console wars. Technically,
the second generation of video game consoles. So in television,
along with things like I would say Kalico and Atari
would compete in the burgeoning home video game system market
more than forty years ago at this point. So let's
talk about where in television came from, what happened to it,

(02:57):
and how recent efforts to resurrect it have in countered
new road bumps along the way, as well as the
tale of an old enemy coming back to pick over
the bones of its former competitor, which is foreshadowing. So
let us set the scene now, before home video game
consoles or video game arcades, there were nerdy computer science students,

(03:22):
and these students were some of the only folks to
have regular access to computers. Computers in those days were huge,
they were expensive, they were super complicated. You know, a
small computer might be the size of your typical refrigerator,
and many of them were much much bigger than that.
And while the computers were meant to do all sorts
of important number crunching things, creative students would naturally begin

(03:45):
to experiment with them in order to make them, you know,
do other stuff like games, for example. And so in
the early days, and we're talking like the nineteen sixties.
Here the only folks who even knew that video games
could be a thing where college students working in computer labs.
But eventually these ideas were able to creep their way

(04:07):
into the mainstream. Nolan Bushnell, who will mention a few
times in this episode because he did not work in
television at all, he would be a co founder of Atari,
the other really huge important video game console company in
the late seventies early eighties, and he took an idea

(04:28):
that began in computer labs. It was a game that
was called Space War, and he adapted this into a
coin operated arcade cabinet called Computer Space. This was back
in nineteen seventy one. However, this game failed to take
the world by storm. It was a complicated game. It

(04:49):
was very difficult. It did not get much traction, but
it was a start. The first home video game console,
and at least this is what the general agreement is on,
was the Magnavox Odyssey. This launched way back in September
nineteen seventy two, and it was Pong before there was
a Pong. Quick side note, the aforementioned Nolan Bushnell, who

(05:13):
again co founded Atari, would actually assign his brand new engineer,
Alan Alcorn, the job of building a table tennis arcade cabinet.
So essentially what Bushnell did was he described to Alcorn
all the elements of the table tennis game on the Odyssey,
like he knew of that version, the home video game

(05:35):
console version, but Alcorn had never seen it. He had
never played that, and this was a test of Alcorn's abilities.
He essentially said, hey, I need you to build this game,
and he was able to describe specifically what he wanted
because he was describing a game that already existed. It's
just that Alcorn didn't know about that. And Bushnell claimed
that this was all part of a contract job with
General Electric, which turned out to be a total fabrication.

(05:58):
So Alcorn took the assignment and eventually he made Pong.
Pong ended up going on to be a huge hit
arcade cabinet for the fledgling Atari company. In fact, you
could argue it was the first like mega hit as
far as arcade cabinets go. Anyway, my point is that
the home video game console market got its start in

(06:18):
the early nineteen seventies. The Magnavox Odyssey was a dedicated console.
Now that meant you could only play what had been
hard coded onto the console itself. The game was integrated
into the console, so there was no cartridge slot. There
certainly wasn't something like an optical drive or anything like that.

(06:40):
All of that would come on later. So in a way,
it was sort of like those retro consoles that you
sometimes find that have a limited library of games pre
programmed onto the device itself, right Like there's some of
those for the Atari twenty six hundred or Nintendo Entertainment
System or SNS, all of those old systems have like

(07:00):
these dedicated retro consoles that have a limited library available
on them. That's kind of what the first video game
consoles were like, except the library often was just one game,
and it was just some variation of Pong. In nineteen
seventy six, the Fairchild Channel F console would introduce an innovation.

(07:21):
It was a console that could accept ROM cartridges and
therefore it was not limited to games that had been
hard coded onto the console itself. BROM stands for read
only memory. That means the games were physically programmed on
circuit boards and there was no way to write new
information to the games themselves. The circuit boards had a

(07:42):
little electrical contacts on them, and those contexts would connect
to matching contexts in the console itself. When you plug
the cartridgeen, that's what would complete the circuit. It would
let you play whatever game had been programmed on the cartridge.
While the Channel F hit the market months before Atari
launched the twenty six hundred, initially called the Video Computer

(08:04):
System or VCS, Atari's library of games would have a
much broader appeal than the Channel f's selection. The Atari
twenty six hundred became a really popular video game console,
and there was a huge demand for the technology. Folks
who worked at Atari began to enjoy a sort of
rock and roll lifestyle as the money came flooding in. Seriously,

(08:26):
if you read the articles about Atari in its early days,
it comes across as a bit rock and roll. Probably
not as wild and crazy as some of the articles indicate,
but it certainly presages, i would say, the startup culture
that we would associate with companies in like the late
nineteen nineties before the dot com bubble burst. Of course,

(08:48):
lots of companies wanted to cash in on this growing trend,
whether it was considered a fad or an actual trend
at the time didn't matter. Companies saw that people were
interested in video games and they wanted to be able
to get in on that. So some of the consoles
that popped up in the mid to late seventies and

(09:09):
into the early eighties were pretty much garbage. In fact,
the number of consoles that essentially were just Pong clones
created an unstable market, and consumers grew disenchanted with the
limited offerings that these consoles made and that some of
them were just really poorly designed. Ultimately, this led to
the first video game crash of the home video game

(09:32):
console market. This happened in nineteen seventy seven. Now, when
you hear me talk about the video game crash, typically
what I'm referencing is a much larger market crash that
happened in the United States in nineteen eighty three. But
the first generation of consoles had its own crash six
years earlier. Again, these were for consoles that were mostly

(09:53):
dedicated consoles are Pong clones. Anyway, there's overlap between the
first generation of conso and the second generation. It's not
like we can just draw a line in years and
say everything before this is first generation and everything after
this is second generation. There was a lot more crossover

(10:14):
than that. Really, when we say first generation and second generation,
we're talking about a generation of consoles that were primarily
dedicated systems where you could not change out what game
you were playing. It was just limited to whatever was
on the console itself. And the second generation would have
more of the cartridge based approach where you could buy

(10:34):
different cartridges and thus you could accumulate a library of games,
and you know, playing a different game was as simple
as turning the system off, pulling a cartridge out, putting
a new one in, turning the system on again, and
they're your way to go. So there is overlap between
those two generations. Atari would become the dominant company in
this space, but there were quite a few other competitors

(10:55):
that also stood out with systems that sometimes had features
and function that made them a more serious threat to
Atari's dominance because the systems were more sophisticated and had
you know, a leg up in some technical aspect. But
Atari had a really big head start and that was
a huge help because they were able to establish a

(11:17):
pretty significant customer base early on, and that's invaluable. Well,
one company that saw opportunity in the video game space
was the giant toy company Mattel. So Mattel got started
as a little home business made out of a garage
way back in nineteen forty five, and originally Mattel made

(11:37):
stuff like you know, like dollhouse furniture and picture frames
and that kind of thing. But in nineteen forty seven
Mattel introduced a toy ukulele as a new product and
then began to make toys more regularly. Things really got
moving in nineteen fifty nine with the introduction of a
little toy called the Barbie Doll Hi Barbie. That Doll's

(11:59):
massive sitcess propelled Mattel into becoming a publicly traded company,
and it really took off, and flush with cash from
this IPO, Mattel started doing what a lot of other
companies do when they get tons of money. It started
to gobble up other toy companies left, right and center.
And not just toy companies. Mattel would also acquire everything

(12:19):
from the Wringling brothers in Barnum and Bailey Circus to
industrial companies specializing in everything from plastic production to die casting.
So by the nineteen seventies, Mattel was a really big deal,
despite some missteps along the way, Like there were some
times where Mattel was in some financial trouble, but the
company had managed to survive all of that. In the

(12:41):
early to mid nineteen seventies, Mattel leadership was reluctant to
get into the video game console space because remember, in
this time, the market's still very young, right, it's unproven.
This is also really still the era of the first
generation video game consoles, so tell executives weren't entirely sure

(13:02):
that this was going to be a sustainable business. So
it should come as no surprise that the company kind
of held back at first. And to be totally fair
to Mattel, the corporation had some rocky financial situations earlier
that decade, so you know they were a little gun
shy as well. But then enter Richard Chang, Mattel's head
of toy design and development. In the mid to late
nineteen seventies, he began considering the possibility of getting into

(13:26):
home video games. There were some competing ideas within Mattel
at the time. Some engineers wanted to focus on handheld games.
These would be similar to the dedicated consoles in that
they would have a game hard coded onto the circuitry
of the system itself. Others wanted to make an actual
video game console for hooking up to your television. Ultimately,

(13:47):
Mattel would do both, though at first the company would
produce and release the handheld systems while some within the
company worked on what would become the in television. Okay,
we've got a lot more to this story, but before
we get to that, let's take a quick break to
think our sponsors. We're back. So Chang, the head of

(14:14):
development over at Mattel's toy division, reached out to a
company called APH Technology Consultants to help with the various
video game projects within Mattel and Mittel would actually spin
up a kind of a subsidiary called Mattel Electronics to
oversee this stuff. So this consulting group would ultimately do

(14:34):
a lot of the programming for the handheld systems. Mattel
worked with a company called General Instruments to tweak the
design of a platform that General Instruments or GI had
created called the Jiminy sixty nine hundred. I guess it's Jimminy.
It's spelled Gimni, and I know that some astronauts referred

(14:55):
to the Gemini spacecraft as the jim and E spacecraft,
so I'm guessing it's the same here. Anyway. The whole
concept was to take this platform, this Jiminy sixty nine
hundred and tweak it so that it would be easier
for programmers to use the same basic foundation to program
different games that would speed things up and bring costs down.
And GI was eager to do this because they saw

(15:18):
this as an opportunity to really have a profitable business
working in chips meant for specific applications like this. Mattel
began to release the games these handheld systems, and they
did well, and this helped build some momentum toward pushing
out a fully fledged home video game console system. So
this was around nineteen seventy eight or so. Atari had

(15:42):
released the VCS in nineteen seventy seven. And the dates
get a little fuzzy when I talk about this kind
of stuff, because, as it turns out, no one was
really acting like an historian during the whole process. Like
that's true for a lot of the technologies that came
out in the seventies and eighties. The documentation is limited.
Sometimes it doesn't even exist, or no one knows about

(16:04):
where it might exist, because the company is responsible may
have gone out of business decades ago. So the book
I mentioned earlier in this episode, the one that was
featured in that interview of the epic podcast, that book
isn't out yet. It comes out later this year, the
fall of twenty twenty four, so I can't reference it,

(16:25):
so I can't look to see what the more heavily
researched bits actually say. Maybe again, I'll revisit this when
that book comes out to see if it clarifies things.
But within Mattel, there was a guy named Dave Chandler
who also got the nickname Papa in television, who led
a team to develop the actual physical hardware. The software

(16:46):
side went to the APH Technology Consultants Group, and the
operating system for it in television would receive the code
name the Executive or sometimes the exec. The team was
sticking with General Instruments for the chipset that would ultimately
be used within the intelevision console. Reportedly, Texas Instruments at

(17:06):
one point pushed to have Mattel jettison the GI chipset
in favor of a chipset from Texas Instruments, but ultimately
Mattel stuck with their previous partner for those handheld systems,
partly because changing course would have set the whole project
back by at least half a year, and the home
video game market was really getting red hot in the

(17:29):
late seventies, so a six month delay could have been
very costly because who knew how long this video game
fad would actually last. Well, the hardware was interesting, and
Mattel would introduce some add on components to make it
even more interesting and introduce or developed some that did
not get widespread adoption, but probably would have made the

(17:50):
system pretty incredible if Mattel had been able to get
a handle on some very tough problems. But first off,
the initial console bore at least some so samilarities to
the early Atari twenty six hundred console, complete with faux
wood paneling on the edges, because well, because it was
the nineteen seventies and we were all crazy for wood paneling.

(18:11):
I actually think it's pretty amazing that the Intellivision didn't
also have orange brown shag carpet on it, if I'm
being honest. The controllers for the Intellivision were a major
departure from the Atari twenty six hundred. So while the
faux paneling made it kind of look a little bit
like an Atari system, the controllers were their own thing.
Kalika Vision had its own controllers that were kind of similar,

(18:35):
but in television man so, the Atari controller was just
a basic joystick that had a single red button on it.
The Atari twenty six hundred joystick was digital, which meant
moving the stick in one of the four primary directions
would just complete a circuit and send a command to
the console. It's not like you could press harder or

(18:56):
softer to make your character move faster or slower. It
was either moving that way or it wasn't. Now, you
could also move the joystick on the diagonal and thus
complete two points of contact, and that would allow the
system to let you move characters on a diagonal path
if the game supported that, so which meant that ultimately

(19:17):
with an Atari joystick, you had up to eight directions
of movement possible. Now, the in television controller looked kind
of like a remote control with a direction pad disc
that was set either above or below a number pad.
Whether it was above or below dependent upon the generation
of controller. You had but yeah, think of like a

(19:39):
remote control with a number pad that's three numbers wide,
so you get the you know, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven,
eight nine, maybe some other little command buttons, and then
would have this disc either at the base or at
the top, and the disc was a direction pad where
you'd press on the edge of the disk and you
could make stuff move that way. This had sixteen different

(20:00):
points of directional control, and the number pad meant that
the Intellivision games could have a much more complicated interface
than your basic Guitari games. The pad itself, I would say,
was a real thumb killer. It was just the circular
disk and you would press along the edges to give
commands to the game. You could eventually buy little joystick

(20:21):
adapters that clipped on over that part of the controller.
The joystick would just manipulate the disc underneath. That's actually
how I played most of my intelevision games, because otherwise
my hands would really cramp up pretty fast just trying
to manipulate the disc. Just holding the controller could be
pretty uncomfortable. There were also, as I would call buttons

(20:42):
along one side of that gave you some more input options,
and it meant that you had to hold the controller
a specific way because the buttons would be inaccessible if
you held the base of the controller, say in your
left hand instead of your right hand, which could be frustrating,
you know, if you were you know, if you weren't
right handed, it could be a little difficult. I'm not

(21:05):
right handed, so I guess what I'm saying is, I've
personally found it very difficult. But interestingly, because of that
number pad, game developers could create little plastic overlays, and
these overlays would slide into a slot on the face
of your controller and would fit over the number pad,
and the overlays could indicate to gamers what each button did,

(21:26):
if they did anything at all within the game. So
rather than just having to remember that you would need
to push I'll give you hypothetical you needed to push
the number two button to pull up an inventory or
something like that, instead of that, you would have this
overlay and you would see like there'd be a little
marking that represents inventory, and it's over top the number two.

(21:46):
But it meant you didn't have to remember you needed
to press number two. You just pressed the picture that
made it look like a backpack or whatever it might be,
and so you could just look at the overlay to
see what you needed to push in order to do
a specific action within the game. Of course, each game
would have its own overlay, which meant you had twice
as many components you could misplace and thus make it

(22:07):
hard or impossible to play the game, because I mean, obviously,
if you misplace the cartridge, well then you don't have
a game to play. If you misplace the overlay, well
then you don't have the indicator for what the controller does,
and you would be down to trial and error, and
then you'd have to try and remember from that point forward.
But still, the overlay thing was a really cool idea.
It was a little challenging for folks like me because

(22:28):
I inherited my in television game system and all the
games for it and all the overlays, and it meant
that I had maybe overlays for about half the games
that came with the box that I got, So I
had overlays for games that were not in the box,
but sounded really cool, like I'm like, oh man, I
wish I had the game that went with this overlay.

(22:48):
And then I also had games where there was no
overlay whatsoever, or at least I didn't have the overlays,
so whether one was never made or it was lost
or whatever, I don't know. Still, I mean, I had
an intelevision, gosh darn' it, so I guess I shouldn't
look at a gift horse in the mouth or anything.
The cartridge slot on the original intelevision was on the

(23:11):
right side of the system, so it wasn't in the
top or the face of it. It was on the
right side, and the cartridges themselves were narrower than Atari
twenty six hundred games. They also didn't have any artwork
on the face of them, Like if you look at
an old Atari twenty six hundred game, a lot of
them have this cool artwork on one side as well
as the title typically along the top of the cartridge.

(23:32):
In television cartridges, you just had the title on the end. Really,
as I already mentioned, the APH consulting firm designed the
operating system that would run on top of the hardware.
They also would provide the platform for developers who wanted
to make games for the Intellivision, and the initial games
for the Intellivision almost exclusively came from APH Mattel did

(23:54):
a kind of a soft launch for the system in Fresno,
California in nineteen seventy nine in order to which how
receptive consumers would be to a new video game console,
because you know, the Atire twenty six hundred had been
out for two years at this point. The Intellivision would
initially retail for two hundred ninety nine dollars, which was
more than one hundred dollars more expensive than the initial

(24:17):
Attari twenty six hundred cost when it launched two years earlier.
So if we adjust for inflation, get ready for this one, y'all,
it would mean that if you bought a brand new
in television in nineteen seventy nine, that would set you
back the equivalent of around one thousand, two hundred dollars
in twenty twenty four. Like it's it's the equivalent amount

(24:38):
of buying power. So imagine going out and buying a
video game console for one thousand, two hundred bucks. That
really puts things in perspective, doesn't it. I mean, video
game consoles are an absolute steel these days if you
compare it to how much the old ones cost. By
taking buying power into consideration, in that initial launch, Mattel
offered just four games. Again, this is a test market

(25:01):
in Fresno, California, and those four games aren't exactly titles
that you would expect to be a huge success. They
were Math Fun, Armor Battle, Backcabin, and then Poker and Blackjack.
So you've got two video game versions of card or
board games, You've got one game that's desperately trying to

(25:21):
convince you that Math is in fact fun, and then
you have a more standard video game in the form
of Armor Battle. Now, remarkably, folks still found the system
to be intriguing, and the response was enough to convince
Mattel to push into mass production for a nationwide effort.
One thing that would set in television apart from Atari
was the chip set in the in television allowed for

(25:42):
higher resolution graphics. Now, keep in mind, the graphics of
Atari twenty six hundred games were really primitive, so in television,
when you get down to it was slightly less primitive.
It's not like they were super high resolution games or something,
but it was definitely an improvement over the Attari twenty
six hundred. Mattel would brag that the characters in their

(26:03):
games would actually have stuff like arms and legs, for example,
which is not exactly a high bar to clear. The
sound chip in the Intellivision was actually pretty limited to
beeps and buzzes, but Mattel would develop and release some
hardware that would improve things for specific titles. Again, the
actual chips would come from General Instrument GI had developed

(26:27):
a voice synthesizer chip in the late nineteen seventies. It
was called the SP zero two five six. The team
at Mattel responsible for taking that chip from GI and
then incorporating it into a module for the Intellivision would
include Ron Carlson who led the hardware team, Ron Sarrat
who was there to write software for this thing, and

(26:48):
Patrick us to help with the voice analyzation and voice
data for the games. The result was the Intella Voice Module.
This was an add on. It would plug into the
cartridge slot on the right side of the Intellivision. On
the right side of the module was another cartridge slot.
That's where you'd put the relevant game so that you

(27:09):
could get the synthesized voice action. And that module would
come out in nineteen eighty two, just a year before
things would get really hairy for the entire home video
game market in the US. Only a couple of games
ever came out that supported this feature. Just five titles,
in fact, came out that supported it. I owned one

(27:30):
of them because the Intellivision I inherited also had the
Intelli Voice module, and one of the games, notably B
seventeen Bomber, which I remember having a narrator with an
over the top Southern accent, came with it. That accent
it would sound I'll never forget this. I would boot
up the game and the game would just spout off

(27:50):
to me by seventeen Balmer like. It was way over
the top, very slow. I think it was slow so
that you could understand it more easily, because obviously it's
like listening to someone speak through a vocoder, Like it's
really digitized and odd. But I thought it was pretty
darn rad at the time. However, the Intelli Voice ultimately

(28:12):
didn't sell very well, despite early excitement for the add on.
Perhaps part of the issue was the industry as a
whole was rapidly approaching a precipice that ultimately it would
plummet off of, and it was just bad timing. But
it was also a really expensive add on, right, and
it was only working with a couple of games. It's
not like somehow it retroactively gave better sound effects to

(28:35):
all the games that were ever made for the Intellivision.
It didn't, So maybe those were other strikes against it. Anyway,
we're going to get back to the games. We got
more to talk about with them and the fate of
the Intellivision system and the brand. But before we get
to all that, let's take another quick break to thank
our sponsors. So in television games, let's talk about them

(29:06):
for a second, Like how much they cost, because of
a new cartridge would typically cost around thirty nine ninety
five or around forty dollars in the United States, So
that's less than what you would buy a Triple A
title for today, right Like you're talking about Triple A titles,
they're probably sixty or seventy dollars. However, that's before we
adjust for inflation, and when we do that, forty dollars

(29:30):
in nineteen eighty would be close to spending around one
hundred and forty seven dollars on a new game today. Again,
it puts things in perspective, and keep in mind the
in television games well really innovative at the time. I
don't want to take anything away from the people who
made these games, because they were the foundation for everything
that would follow. But those games would be considered almost

(29:51):
too primitive to play by today's standards for a lot
of gamers. And I say that as someone who actually
really loves these games and television would sell, but it
wouldn't topple the dominant Atari twenty six hundred. They wouldn't
come close. Also, Mattel executives realized that they could make
more money if they brought more video game development in
house rather than outsourcing it to a consulting firm like APH,

(30:15):
and to that end, Mattel assembled a team of programmers.
They poached some of them from competing companies. That group
included Don Daglow, John sol Rick Levine, and Keith Robinson.
Robinson would oversee the group as manager. He would also
become very important to the Intellivision brand later on. So
Mittel would try to keep those names and identities under wraps.

(30:39):
And the reason for it was because Atari was notorious
for luring away talent, and Mattel did not want Atari
to know who was developing games for the Intellivision, so
the group was only referenced as the Application Software Programmers
until TV Guide published a piece about the group in
nineteen eighty two. The writer of that piece found the

(31:00):
official terminology kind of stodgy and boring, so that writer
renamed the developer team the Blue Sky Rangers, which is
way more cool. I mean, it gives me kind of
Disney vibes, but way more cool than Application Software Programmers,
and that nickname stuck. They became known as the Blue
Sky Rangers. One thing Mattel planned and worked on but

(31:25):
it never got a nationwide release was a keyboard peripheral
for the Intellivision, and so the idea was that this
would help turn the video game system into a somewhat primitive,
but working personal computer system. The keyboard module itself had
an additional eight bit six ' five ZHO two processor
built into it, and that would boost the Intellivision's processing capability,

(31:48):
so it would technically become a dual processor computer. Way
back in the early nineteen eighties, but the development of
the keyboard was really difficult. It was it was hard
to make something that was going to work with the
base system and turn it into a computer. It was
very hard to do it in a way that was

(32:09):
going to be cost effective because it was so expensive
to produce that it would mean Mattel would have to
charge a lot of money for this keyboard peripheral. In fact,
ultimately the company would offer the keyboard in a very
very small, limited market for a whopping six hundred dollars.
Six hundred dollars is twice as expensive as the base

(32:32):
console when it first launched. And keep in mind Mattel
actually marked down the price of the in television, you know,
six months in a year after it came out. But
when it first launched it was three hundred dollars. This
keyboard peripheral was six hundred. And you could only find
it for sale in a couple of cities in the
United States, like I think one was, I want to say,

(32:53):
like New Orleans, and the other was Seattle or something. Otherwise,
the only way to get it was to purchase it
by mail order. You couldn't find it at your local
hobby store or whatever. This ambitious project, unsurprisingly turned out
to be a big failure. Like part of it is
that you know, it's so expensive, and the other part

(33:13):
is that it just was impossible to find, and it's
a shame that it failed, because who knows, maybe in
Television might have weathered the video game crash of nineteen
eighty three a little better if consumers had seen the
system as a viable personal computer. That's how Neees was
able to convince toy stores to carry the Nintendo Entertainment
System because Nees marketed it as a type of home

(33:37):
computer system, not just a video game console. Because after
the video game crash of nineteen eighty three, toy retailers
did not want to get back into video games because
it had been such a terrible experience. At the end
of the crash, when you had all this merchandise that
wasn't moving, you were marking it down to practically nothing,

(33:58):
and half the time you just had to throw it out.
You never get your money back, so retailers did not
want to deal with video games anymore. If in Television
had been able to position itself as a computer system
more than a video game system, then it might have
had an easier time of it. But as it turned out,
this keyboard peripheral was just too darn expensive, so it

(34:18):
was not really a viable option. Mattel did produce a
lot of games for the Intellivision. By the end of
the system's life cycle, which actually extended beyond Mattel's operation
of the brand in television would boast around one hundred
and twenty five titles. Now in Television didn't have the
same number of licensed games that Atari did. That was

(34:39):
a bit of a strike against the Intellivision system. Gamers
wanted to be able to play their favorite arcade titles
at home, and while that didn't always work out so
well see also the Atari twenty six hundred version of
Pac Man, one of the worst games I ever owned,
it still gave Atari a leg up on Intellivision because
Atari did have more licenses. That's not to say Mattel

(35:01):
didn't secure a few licenses itself. It did, but a
lot of the games that in Television produced were kind
of like these independent titles. These original ideas. Original ideas
are just harder to sell to gamers who were hoping
to bring the arcade experience to their home. Mattel also
produced a more compact, cheaper version of the Intellivision in
early nineteen eighty three, just as the whole market was

(35:23):
starting to crumble. This was called the Intellivision two, and
it wasn't like a huge improvement over the Intellivision. It
was really the same system, but with a few quality
of life improvements, right Like it had longer chords for
the controllers, so you didn't have to sit right next
to the console. The original Intellivision, those chords were super short,

(35:44):
so it's not like you could have the Intellivision saying
on a coffee table and you're kicking back on the couch.
You'd be like hunched right up over top the system
in order to play it well in television. Two improved
that a little bit. It was also more compact, smaller,
it's less expensive, but it also was not compatible with
every game that had been made for the original Intellivision,

(36:05):
and the reason for that turned out to be that
Mattel had made some tweaks to the operating system, allegedly
specifically so that they could prevent certain third party games
from operating on it, which is pretty darn sneaky Mattel.
The company had also started to id eate an engineer
around actual updated versions of the hardware, like real successors

(36:27):
to the original Intellivision, so and Intelevision three was in development,
and also plans were in place for yet another console.
It was code named Decade. It might have been the
Intelevision four, but the video game crash would sideline all
of those plans. Interestingly, the Intellivision would technically survive the
video game crash. In fact, it was the lone video

(36:50):
game console for sale in the holiday season and nineteen
eighty four here in the United States, it was the
only one still being produced and sold in store. All
the other competitors had either completely gone out of business
or they had changed their focus to some other technologies.
But at that point it wasn't Mattel calling the shots,

(37:11):
because in nineteen eighty four, Mattel actually shut down the
Mattel Electronics division of the company and started to sell
off assets, and one former marketing executive for Mattel, a
guy named Terence Veleski, formed a new company that was
ultimately called IINTV Corporation. He purchased the Intellivision IP from Mattel,

(37:33):
so he got the brand and the technology and all
the games and everything, and so I INTV Corporation would
take over the production and development of the Intellivision systems
and brands, and so the console stayed in production, although
now produced by ITV as opposed to Mattel, so it
was doing so with a new corporate overlord. This meant

(37:54):
the Intellivision would actually survive throughout the entire nineteen eighties,
but despite efforts to build out things that would allow
in television to continue beyond that, everything started to fizzle out.
Right around nineteen ninety, Intellivision secured a deal with the
World Book Encyclopedia to produce an educational system that was

(38:15):
based off the Intellivision console, but that all kind of
fell apart and in television or IONTV Corporation and Worldbook
would end up suing the pants off each other proverbially speaking,
and ultimately IONTV Corporation would go into bankruptcy toward the
end of nineteen ninety and folded in nineteen ninety one,

(38:36):
partly as a result of these lawsuits, but even then
the Intellivision was only mostly dead. Keith Robinson, you know,
who was the former manager of the Blue Sky Rangers,
actually obtained the rights to many of the Intellivision games
that were made by his group in the mid nineteen nineties,
and in nineteen ninety seven he started to make these

(38:57):
games freely available with an m yes DASS based emulator.
Just quick side note, and emulator is a device or
some software that copies or emulates some other system in
order for you to be able to access software for
that system on some other platform. Most of the time,

(39:19):
when I talk about video game emulators, I'm actually talking
about stuff that has no official rights to emulate the
other technologies. That's not the case here, which I think
is pretty cool because again, typically i'm talking about like
things that are related to piracy. This isn't so. Robinson
formed a company called Intelevision Productions to oversee these efforts,

(39:40):
and in fact, at one point in Television Productions even
took steps to go into production with brand new and
television cartridges, some of which were games that had been
through development but had never been released, and others that
were brand new, so these would be new cartridges that
would work on legacy and television systems. Unfortunately, those efforts

(40:02):
fizzled out, but it was cool that for a while
it looked like an obsolete system was going to get
a second retro life. In the late nineteen nineties, the
Intellivision brand faded a bit further from memory in subsequent years,
though occasionally titles would pop up in special deals or
compilations for other platforms, things like, you know, like mobile
devices or whatever. In twenty fourteen, a company called at

(40:25):
Games Digital Media Incorporated licensed the Intellivision brand and released
a dedicated console featuring around sixty titles. This console was
called the Intellivision Flashback, So that was something that people
could get again, one of those just little dedicated console
retro systems. Four years after that, in twenty eighteen, the

(40:46):
video game composer Tommy Tellerico, whom I always think of
back in the days of G four TV. Any of
y'all who remember that cable channel, that short lived cable
channel G four I'm talking about the original G four TV,
not reboot that also unfortunately had a fairly short life.
Tommy tall Rico was a personality on that channel, but

(41:07):
he also is a really prolific video game composer. Well.
He announced in twenty eighteen that he had purchased the
rights to the Intellivision brand. Now, at this stage, tall
Rico's plan was to develop a new video game console
that was inspired by the Intellivision. This new console would
be the Intellivision Amiko, which I mentioned at the very

(41:27):
top of this episode. The new company he created took
the name in Television Entertainment. So initially the hope was
to bring this console to market in twenty twenty, but
then a whole bunch of stuff happened. You know, you
had your typical delays and engineering challenges, but then you
also had I don't know, a global pandemic. Maybe you
remember that. Anyway, the Amiko would experience numerous delays until

(41:51):
yet another seismic shift would hit the brand because on
May twenty third of twenty twenty four, Atari s acquired
the rights to the Intellivision brand and library. Now, they
did not buy the rights to the Amiko console. That's
still staying with Intelevision Entertainment, which is going to rename itself.

(42:12):
It may have by the time I've recorded this episode.
I didn't look into that to see if they had
actually changed their name yet. But yeah, they're changing that
name and it won't be the Intellivision Amiko anymore. But
the plan is for the Amiko to still come out,
to still have games made for it. And also to
license games from Intellivision, so you would still be able
to get certain intelevision titles on the Amiko. But yeah,

(42:36):
now Atari Essay owns in television. This seems like one
of those kind of ironic ending type things where you know,
these former competitors are now part of the same company.
But that doesn't really work because neither Atari Essay is
the same as the original Atari company in the nineteen eighties,
nor is the new intelevision entertainment brand that was brought

(43:01):
over to Atari Essay that's not directly related to Intellivision either. Like, yeah,
it's the brand, it's the IP, but it's not all
the people who put it together, so it's not quite
the same thing. On paper, it seems like a delicious irony,
but in reality it's you know, corporate maneuvering and acquisitions

(43:21):
and divestments and all that mess. Nothing that's easy to
actually outline, but still interesting. Now that Atari technically not
technically Atari owns the Intellivision IP, So how that's going
to manifest I don't know, Like I don't know if
we're going to start seeing re releases of these classic

(43:42):
in television titles or another like attempt at creating a
dedicated console that features some of the more popular titles.
I would love to play the Intellivision Dungeons and Dragons title. Again.
I really had a lot of fun playing with that
when I was a kid, so I would love to
have that. I'm sure I could find it online. I
just I wouldn't mind having a little dedicade console so

(44:04):
I could try to relive my childhood and then within
like three or four minutes, turn it off and put
it in the corner and never touch it again because
the games are hard and I'm old. But anyway, that's
an overview of the story of in television. As I said, like,
there's this full length book that's coming out later this year.
It's really expensive too. When I looked on Amazon like
pre ordering, it was like sixty dollars. So I'm guessing

(44:26):
it's going to be used like a textbook or something
because at that price, that's that's a hefty price tag
for a book. But maybe I'll reach out to the
authors and see about having them on to talk about
in more detail some of the stories about the development,
because I'm sure there's lots of twists and turns and
interesting decisions like I didn't really touch on the corporate

(44:47):
level of MATEL on what was going on there, because
it didn't really look too deeply into that, but surely
that played a part in these decisions as well. Anyway,
I hope you enjoyed this episode, and I hope all
of you are well, and I'll talk to you again
really soon. Tech Stuff is an iHeartRadio production. For more

(45:12):
podcasts from iHeartRadio, visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or
wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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