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October 2013 Retro Gaming Article


October 1, 2013 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Xonox's gimmick, the 2-in-1 double-ender game cart, was manufactured for Atari & Coleco consoles by K-Tel

Xonox was an US video game developer in the early 1980s who met their demise as a result of the gaming crash of 1983. Headquartered in Minnesota, they created games for the Atari 2600, ColecoVision and Commodore 64 & VIC-20. They did so with a fairly unique twist.

Xonox logo They offered 2-in-1 game carts for the Atari 2600 and Colecovision. As I understand it, These 2 games on one cartridge were sold at nearly the same price as standard single-game carts. The drawback was that 2 mediocre games don't add up to one good game. Everyone had their share of awful titles, but Xonox had a higher percentage of bad games than most devs at the time. Only producing a handfull of titles for each platform, very few were well received as good games.

Popularity of Multi-Game Titles

Ever since Namco Museum arrived for the PlayStation as a 5-disc series, I've loved multi-game discs. From arcade compilations to The Sly Cooper collection, the ability to play a bunch of similar games all from one disc really appeals to me. I don't think I'm lazy and don't want to swap discs, I think I buy them for one or two games and wind up finding several I really enjoy and may not have considered otherwise.

Popularity of these multi-game discs really began, much later in gaming history, with the PlayStation which was one of the first consoles to have enough storage capacity to make compilations possible. Older games are typically smaller in size and multiple games will fit on a single game disc. This concept was much tougher to achieve for the Atari 2600 that typically had room for about 4K of code.

That 4k barely accommodated one game let alone multiple games. Asteroids was one of the more popular arcade games ported to 2600. This doesn't seem like a great feat - your ship flies around and shoots big rocks into smaller ones. Simple, right? Not at all. The memory needed to achieve this feat came from a concept called bank-switching. Defined in simple terms, this technique allowed larger games to be played on existing consoles by swapping out code no longer needed during game play.

Xonox's Double Ender Cartridge

Breaking the status quo is always a good way to become noticed. The black rectangular boxes were very common in the hay day of the 2600. Imagic differentiated themselves on retail shelves with the silver boxes. Even heavy-hitter Atari began standardizing their packaging to stand out from the 3rd party games. Ultravision made a cartridge with a handle.

Xonox killed 2 birds with one stone by creating the double ender cartridge. One hunk of plastic with two PCBs. It looked like an elongated 2600 cart with edge-connectors on both ends. It could be inserted into the console from either end, which determined which game would play.

Xonox double ender cartridge for Atari 2600 Xonox may have been better off licensing older titles for their unique 2-in-1 treatment. They created very few games, but made their library appear larger by altering the combinations of games on these carts. Artillery Duel, for example, appeared on several double ender carts, on both 2600 and Colecovision!

Xonox Ghost Mannor cartridge for Atari 2600 They also made a few single-game carts for the 2600. One of their few decent games was Ghost Manor - which also appeared on a double ender cart. Of the double ender releases, the Ghost Manor/Spike's Peak combo is probably the best. Spikes' Peak was a very difficult game and was also released as a standard cart. This Xonox Double Ender slideshow features some interesting ads for several of their games.

The novelty of the double ender carts was a brief success for Xonox. At the time, 2600 titles were slowing and fans were rabid for new titles. Finding new titles in a 2-for-1 format seemed like a godsend... until gamers realized how bad most of the Xonox library was. Some argue that enticing marketing tactics combined with terrible games was simply another reason for the crash of 83. Many factors were involved, but bad games souring the opinion of consumers was certainly one of them.

Xonox slide 2 Xonox slide 3 Double ender carts were created for the Atari 2600 and Colecovision along with standard carts for these systems and Commodore 64. In a similar sort of way, I remember when DVDs often had Pan & Scan on one side and Widescreen on the other - no fancy labels. So when will those shiny game discs be encoded on both sides, giving gamers an insane dose of gaming goodness? (The answer is - Never. No one makes profit from bargains).

The K-tel Connection

K-tel logo K-tel and Columbia House evoke memories of music from days gone by. K-tel evokes memories of disco compilation albums from my childhood. Their TV ads were incessant. Did you know they were behind Xonox? Me either until I was looking through some advertising that listed US and Canadian offices of K-tel as Xonxox Sales offices.

I associate K-tel with music and all those disco compilation LPs from the 70s, but as the company grew, music was only one facet that stuck. K-tel didn't get it's start in music, it simply did well for them. They were actually so diversified they were into everything from cookware to oil exploration. Of course this diversity that enabled a 3 for 1 stock split also was their demise when the stock plunged to pennies.

I'm not sure if Xonox was founded by K-tel or if the game developer was an acquisition. Xonox put out a catalog of video games in 1983, but there's not a lot of chronological info out there about them.

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