I never owned an Intellivision as a kid, whenn they originally came to market. I was all about Atari and couldn't afford the system or buying games for the 2600 as well. A friend of mine got one for Christmas, but I saw most of the games a s knock-offs of my Atari favorites. They did excel at sports titles, but that may have been a conclusion based on how truly awful Atari sports games were.
Intellivision - Technical Specifications
The Intellivision is a video game 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.
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 were 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 in 1982.
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.
Intellivision's packaging and promotional materials, as well as television commercials, promised that with the addition of a soon-to-be-available accessory called the "Keyboard Component", originally portrayed in TV ads as a larger box with an opening in the top that the Intellivision fit into. This would turn the Intellivision into a fully functional home computer system.
The unit would bring the system's available RAM up to a full 64K, a large amount for the time, and would have provided both a built-in cassette drive for data storage and a connection for an optional 40-column thermal printer. The cassette drive would be able to provide both data storage and an audio track simultaneously, allowing for interactive audio recording and playback under computer control, and a secondary 6502 microprocessor inside the Keyboard Component would be programmed to handle all of these extra capabilities independently of the Intellivision's CP1610 CPU. The unit would even provide an extra cartridge slot, allowing the original Intellivision to remain permanently docked with the Keyboard Component while still being able to play standard game cartridges.
Unfortunately, while the Keyboard Component was an ambitious piece of engineering for its time, it suffered from reliability problems and proved to be expensive to produce. Originally slated to be available in 1981, the Keyboard Component was repeatedly delayed as the engineers tried to find ways to overcome the reliability issues and reduce manufacturing costs.
The Keyboard Component's repeated delays became so notorious around Mattel headquarters that comedian Jay Leno, when performing at Mattel's 1981 Christmas party, got his biggest titter of the evening with the line: "You know what the three big lies are, don't you? 'The check is in the mail,' 'I'll still respect you in the morning,' and 'The Keyboard will be out in spring.'"
Complaints from consumers who had chosen to buy the Intellivision specifically on the promise of a "Coming Soon!" personal-computer upgrade that seemed as if it would never materialize eventually caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), who started investigating Mattel Electronics for fraud and false advertising. Mattel said that the Keyboard Component was a real product still being test-marketed and even released a small number of Keyboard Components to a handful of retail stores, along with a handful of software titles in order to support this claim. The FTC eventually ordered Mattel to pay a $10,000/day fine until the promised computer upgrade was in full retail distribution. To protect themselves from the ongoing fines, the Keyboard Component was officially canceled in the fall of 1982 and the Entertainment Computer System (ECS) module offered up in its place.
While approximately four thousand Keyboard Components were manufactured before the module was canceled and recalled, it is not clear how many of them actually found their way into the hands of Intellivision customers. Today, very few of them still exist; when the Keyboard Component was officially canceled, part of Mattel's settlement with the FTC involved offering to buy back all of the existing Keyboard Components from dissatisfied customers. Any customer who opted to keep theirs was required to sign a waiver indicating their understanding that no more software would be written for the system and which absolved Intellivision of any future responsibility for technical support. Several of the units were later used by Mattel Electronics engineers when it was discovered that, with a few minor modifications, a Keyboard Component could be used as an Intellivision software-development system in place of the original hand-built development boards.
Entertainment Computer System (ECS)
In mid-1981, Mattel's upper management was becoming concerned that the Keyboard Component division would never be able to produce a sellable product. As a result, Mattel Electronics set up a competing internal engineering team whose stated mission was to produce an inexpensive add-on called the BASIC Development System, or BDS, to be sold as an educational device to introduce kids to the concepts of computer programming.
The rival BDS engineering group, who had to keep the project's real purpose a secret among themselves, fearing that if David Chandler, the head of the Keyboard Component team, found out about it he would use his influence to get the project killed, eventually came up with a much less expensive alternative. Originally dubbed the Lucky, from LUCKI: Low User-Cost Keyboard Interface, it lacked many of the sophisticated features envisioned for the original Keyboard Component. Gone, for example, was the full 64K of RAM and the secondary 6502 CPU; instead, the ECS offered a mere 2K RAM expansion, a built-in BASIC that was marginally functional, plus a much-simplified cassette and thermal-printer interface.
Ultimately, this fulfilled the original promises of turning the Intellivision into a computer, making it possible to write programs and store them to tape, and interfacing with a printer well enough to allow Mattel to claim that they had delivered the promised computer upgrade and stop the FTC's mounting fines. It even offered, via an additional AY-3-8910 sound chip inside the ECS module and an optional 49-key Music Synthesizer keyboard, the possibility of turning the Intellivision into a multi-voice synthesizer which could be used to play or learn music.
In the fall of 1982, the LUCKI, now renamed the Entertainment Computer System (ECS), was presented at the annual sales meeting, officially ending the ill-fated Keyboard Component project. A new advertising campaign was aired in time for the 1982 Christmas season, and the ECS itself was shown to the public at the January 1983 Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas at the Las Vegas Convention Center. A few months later, the ECS hit the market, and the FTC agreed to drop the $10K/day fines.
Unfortunately, by the time the ECS made its retail debut, an internal shake-up at the top levels of Mattel Electronics' management had caused the company's focus to shift away from hardware add-ons in favor of software, and the ECS received very little further marketing push. Further hardware developments, including a planned Program Expander that would have added another 16K of RAM and a more intricate, fully featured Extended-BASIC to the system, were halted, and in the end less than a dozen software titles were released for the ECS.
In 1982, Mattel introduced a new peripheral for the Intellivision: The Intellivoice, a voice synthesis device which produces speech when used with certain games. The Intellivoice was original in two respects: not only was this capability unique to the Intellivision system at the time (although a similar device was available for the Odyssey2), but the speech-supporting games written for Intellivoice actually made the speech an integral part of the gameplay.
Unfortunately, the amount of speech that could be compressed into a 4K or 8K ROM cartridge was limited, and the system did not sell as well as Mattel had hoped; while the initial orders were as high as 300,000 units for the Intellivoice module and its initial game-cartridge offerings, interest in future titles dropped rapidly until the fourth and last Intellivoice title, Tron: Solar Sailer, sold a mere 90,000 units. A fifth game, a children's title called Magic Carousel, was shelved, and in August 1983 the Intellivoice system was quietly phased out.
The four titles available for the Intellivoice system, in order of their release, were:
Tron: Solar Sailer
A fifth title, Intellivision World Series Major League Baseball, developed as part of the Entertainment Computer System series, also supports the Intellivoice if both the ECS and Intellivoice are connected concurrently. Unlike the Intellivoice-specific games, however, World Series Major League Baseball is also playable without the Intellivoice module (but not without the ECS.)
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