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September 2012 Retro Gaming Article

September 23, 2012 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Think game downloads are too slow? Then don't try a CVC GameLine RJ-11 modem on your Atari 2600

Do you ever stop and marvel at iTunes? Were you previously amazed to get a Van Halen vinyl LP in the mail from the Columbia House Record Club? Or are you one of the hipsters that jumped on the Mtv bandwagon as the Martha Quinn era rolled out?
Compuserve and Prodigy logos
William Von Meister had a modem and a great idea. As cable TV became prominent in many households, he figured there must be other things that can be pumped down that cable. Music seemed like a winner since the cable companies had physical conduits (the actual cables) into many homes. However, just like today, legal issue crept in and left Von Meister with a slick delivery system and no deliverable content.

In the early 80s, he switched gears and took to the phone lines. Compuserve had been operating since 1979 via a command line interface in the 2400 baud range (Yikes!). Five years later Prodigy would deliver similar speed with a pseudo-GUI.

Removing the mailman from the delivery scenario was in it's infancy, but was beginning to take off.

CVC Gameline ad Von Meister merged the fledgeling modem market-penetration with the popularity of the Atari 2600 game console. By developing a 2600 cartridge that functioned as a modem - complete with a phone-jack on the sie - he was able to connect individual households with a central repository of downloadable games for the Atari 2600. Control Video Corporation was the hub of the operation to which 2600s would connect.
CVC Gameline packaging box
A yearly membership fee and pin number allowed connection to then select and pay for individual games. As we know the 2600 had no storage, so games could be played a limited number of times (I've heard anywhere from 5 o 10 plays before another download was necessary. Of course turning off the game console was also quick end to further play. It seems to me that this scenario was an early version of the try-before-you-buy notion. I'm not sure how much merit this sort of system has. You may recall a similar attempt by DIVX (Digital Video Express) to create an alternate DVD rental system in 1998 by Circuit City and a law firm. CVC turned the 2600 into a rental mechanism just as DIVX tried to do the same to DVD players (proprietary models). Say, didn't Circuit City go under in 2009? Hmmm.

The GameLine really had a bold vision vision as a download service, because nothing like that really existed and modems were few and far between in many homes. They also offered an interesting selection of games despite not being able to sign any of the big heavy-weights of the game industry. They even had an exclusive GameLine title called, Save The Whales, which was to contribute proceeds to Green Peace.

The strategy behind GameLine was to penetrate households, then offer additional services like email, stock quotes and news. The Crash of 1983 brought on the demise of turning the Atari 2600 into an early download device. Don't fret over the folks at CVC... they went on to become America Online.
CVC Gameline Masterfile
Next time you're watching a YouTube video and it stalls a bit due to bandwidth, just be glad you're not trying to download "Save The Whales" from CVC's GameLine.

Games offered by CVC GameLine

  • Airlock
  • Alien
  • Atlantis
  • Bank Heist
  • Bermuda Triangle
  • Boing
  • Bugs
  • Cakewalk
  • China Syndrome
  • Coconuts
  • Commando Raid
  • Cosmic Ark
  • Cosmic Creeps
  • Cosmic Swarm
  • Cross Force
  • Crypts of Chaos
  • Deadly Duck
  • Demolition Herby
  • Demon Attack
  • Dragonfire
  • The Earth Dies Screaming
  • Eggomania
  • Encounter At L-5
  • Entombed
  • Fantastic Voyage
  • Fast Food
  • Fire Fighter
  • Flash Gordon
  • Frankenstein's Monster
  • Gangster Alley
  • Gopher
  • Guardian
  • Infiltrate
  • Jawbreaker
  • King Kong
  • Lost Luggage
  • M. A. D.
  • Marauder
  • M*A*S*H
  • Megaforce
  • Mines of Minos
  • Moonsweeper
  • Name This Game
  • Nexar
  • Nightmare
  • No Escape
  • Picnic
  • Piece O' Cake
  • Planet Patrol
  • Polaris
  • Porky's
  • Raft Rider
  • Ram It
  • Revenge of the Beefsteak Tomatoes
  • Riddle of the Sphinx
  • Room Of Doom
  • Save The Whales
  • Shark Attack
  • Shootin' Gallery
  • Sneak & Peek
  • Solar Storm
  • Space Cavern
  • Space Jockey
  • Spacemaster X-7
  • Squeeze Box
  • Sssnake
  • Stargunner
  • Star Voyager
  • Tape Worm
  • Threshold
  • Towering Inferno
  • Trick Shot
  • Turmoil
  • Warplock
  • Word Zapper
  • Worm War I

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