Game Trivia

  • The Intellivision is the first video game console to ever allow downloadable games. However, due to a lack of internal storage, the games disappeared once the console was turned off.

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  • The Intellivision is the first home video game console to feature a 16-bit processor.

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  • In light of Mattel's keyboard component for the Intellivision being delayed numerous times and with customer complaints on the rise, the Federal Trace Commission (FTC) opened an investigation against Mattel on the possibility of fraud or false advertising. Mattel responded to the FTC that the keyboard component was a genuine product that was suffering delays due to manufacturing costs. In mid-1982, the FTC fined Mattel $10,000 US dollars a day until the peripheral was in full retail distribution. Ultimately, Mattel cancelled the keyboard component in August, 1982 to avoid fines by the FTC. Mattel agreed to buy back in full all sold keyboard components and software from customers to compensate for the cancellation. Customers who wanted to keep the keyboard component had to sign a waiver, with the understanding that Mattel would not support the peripheral with new software or offer technical help of any kind. They were also compensated with $1000 worth of Mattel Electronics products.

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  • Release of the keyboard component was delayed numerous times due to the engineers trying to reduce manufacturing costs for the unit. The peripheral was at first only released in Seattle and New Orleans in late 1981 at a price of $600 US dollars, unadjusted for inflation. The repeated delays became so notorious for Mattel that comedian Jay Leno joked about the delay at Mattel's 1981 Christmas party, receiving a huge applause for saying "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.'"

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  • During the formation of third party companies developing video games, some of these games were made for the Intellivision, but the programmers had to work around the console's Exec. framework as they no longer had legal access to it. This circumventing allowed programmers to develop Intellivision games to run at 30 Hz and 60 Hz. ROM prices had also decreased and larger 8K, 12K and 16K cartridge games became more common.

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  • After the cancellation of Mattel's keyboard component, around 4,000 units were manufactured, but it is not known how many were actually sold to customers. Very few of them still exist today, with the rest being recycled for parts. The entire incident regarding the peripheral was ranked #11 on GameSpy's "25 Dumbest Moments in Gaming."

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  • One of the products advertised with the Intellivision was the Keyboard Component, an add-on peripheral that could turn the console into a home computer, code-named Blue Whale. The add-on featured an 8-bit 6502 processor making the Intellivision a dual processor computer. It had 16K 10-bit shared RAM that could load and execute both Intellivision CP1610 and 6502 program code from tape. The cassettes have two tracks of digital data and two tracks of analog audio completely controlled by the computer. Two tracks are read only for the software, and two tracks for user data. The tape-drive was block addressed with high speed indexing. A high resolution 40x24 monochrome text display could overlay regular Intellivision graphics. There was an input for a microphone and two additional expansion ports for peripherals and RAM expansion. The Microsoft BASIC programming cartridge used one of these ports. Expanded memory cartridges could support 1000 8KB pages. A third pass-through cartridge port was for regular Intellivision cartridges. It uses the Intellivision's power supply. A 40-column thermal printer was available, and a telephone modem was planned along with voice synthesis and voice recognition.

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  • One of the add-on peripherals for the Intellivision is the Intellivoice. This cartridge peripheral was equipped with a speech synthesizer that generated voices for certain Intellivision games. Games that supported this device have a gold-colored end label with their respective title. While this was very ambitious for the time, speech playback took up a lot of memory, leaving little room for game development, and the Intellivoice was originally priced at $79 US dollars, in addition to purchasing games that supported it. The device was quietly discontinued in August, 1983. A children's title called Magic Carousel, and foreign language versions of Space Spartans were completed but never released. Two titles, Woody Woodpecker and Space Shuttle were never completed with the voice recordings unused.

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  • When new systems such as the Atari 5200, ColecoVision and so forth were being introduced in 1982, Mattel wanted to bring a successor to the Intellivision to market. This system was to be called Intellivision III. This model did exist at Mattel laboratories and a new EXEC had but written for it, but the project was cancelled in mid-1983 following the video game market crash taking effect in the United States. One technical document from Mattel survives that lists the system's intended technical specifications.

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  • Although the Atari 2600 is frequently identified as the most successful game console of the second generation, the Intellivision had many first-time innovations. The most famous of these being it was the first 16-bit video game system and the first to feature downloadable games with PlayCable in 1981. It was the first to use a tile-based playfield, first to provide real-time human voices during gameplay, first game controller with a directional thumb pad, first to offer a musical synthesizer keyboard, and the first console to have a complete built-in character font.

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  • In 1981, Mattel began development of a next-generation system code-named Decade, which is now referred to as the Intellivision IV. It was based on the 32-bit MC68000 processor and a 16-bit custom designed advanced graphic interface chip. It would have supported dual display support, 240x192 bitmap resolution, 16 programmable 12-bit colors (4096 colors), antialiasing, 40x24 tiled graphics modes, four colors per tile (16 with shading), text layer and indepdendent scrolling, 16 multicolored 16x16 sprites per scan-line, 32 level hardware sprite scaling. Line interrupts for reprogramming sprite and color registers would've allowed more sprites and colors on-screen at the same time. This system was ultimately never produced as most of Mattel's electronic staff had been laid off by August 4, 1983.

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  • In the spring of 1983, Mattel released the Intellivision II, a smaller redesigned model of the original console that used an AC adapter. It was easier and cheaper to manufacture and the controllers were now detachable. With the use of the System Changer peripheral, Atari 2600 games and controllers were compatible with the Intellivision II.

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  • In the 1970s and early 1980s, game designers and programmers were not being compensated nor credited for their work in games. This led some Intellivision programmers to form the third party company Imagic who made games for various console and computer platforms. Other Mattel employees joined third party company Activision.

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  • In light of the original keyboard component being cancelled, Mattel Electronics introduced the Entertainment Computer System (ECS). It was much cheaper than the original keyboard peripheral and was able to perform additional multitasking like Mattel originally promised, but ran on far lower hardware specifications compared to the original model. First-dubbed "LUCKI" which stood for Low User-Cost Keyboard Interface, it was presented at an annual sales meeting in the fall of 1982, and was showcased at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January, 1983. When the ECS entered the market a few months later, the FTC agreed to drop the daily $10,000 dollar fines against Mattel.

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  • The first Intellivision game to run in native 60 Hz was "Masters of the Universe", released in 1983.

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  • The Intellivision was first test-marketed in Fresno, California in 1979 with four games available. It was released nationwide in 1980 at a prohibitive price tag of $299 US dollars, unadjusted for inflation.

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  • The Intellivision operates on a GI CP1610 CPU, with 524 bytes of RAM, 932 bytes of graphics RAM and 7,168 bytes of read-only memory (ROM). Sound is generated through a GI AY-3-8914 sound chip. The majority of this system's hardware was manufactured by General Instruments.

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  • The two best-selling Intellivision games are Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack with 1.939 million copies sold, and Major League Baseball with 1.085 million copies sold.

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  • The Intellivision is confirmed to have sold over 3 million units, with these sales occurring between 1980 and 1983.

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  • The Intellivision name is derived from the phrase "Intelligent Television."

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  • Although the Intellivision was not the first system to challenge the Atari 2600 in the video game market, it was the first to pose a serious threat to Atari. 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. The most well-known slogan in these television advertisements was "The closest thing to the real thing."

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  • Mattel sold out its initial 175,000 production run of Intellivision units in its first year, with over 1 million sold by 1981.

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  • All games produced by Mattel Electronics included two plastic controller "overlays" to indicate the functions of the keypad's 12 buttons, although not every game made use of the keypad.

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  • In early 1982 Mattel Electronics relocated from Mattel headquarters to an unused industrial building and office renovation work was taking place as the staff moved in to the building. To keep these programmers from being recruited 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.

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  • During early development, all Intellivision games were programmed by the outside firm, APh Technological Consulting, with 19 games produced before Christmas 1980. Once the Intellivision became successful, game development would be brought in-house, and Mattel formed its own software development group and began hiring programmers. The original five members of the Intellivision team were Mike Minkoff, Rick Levine, John Sohl, Don Daglow, and manager Gabriel Baum. Levine and Minkoff both came over from the hand-held Mattel games engineering team. During 1981 Mattel hired programmers at a very fast rate for these accommodations.

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  • The Intellivision's Exec software has two main advantages: reusable code that can effectively make a 4K cartridge into an 8K game, doubling the game's original size, and a software framework for new programmers to develop games more easily and quickly, while also allowing game designers and programmers to more easily review and continue other projects being developed in conjunction. Because of these advantages, software developers were able to quickly create the Intellivision launch title library using mostly summer students. The disadvantage is that to be flexible and handle many different types of games the Exec software runs less efficiently than a dedicated program. Intellivision games that use the Exec software extensively run at a 20 Hz frame rate instead of the 60 Hz frame rate for which the Intellivision was designed. Using the Exec software wasn't required to make games, but almost all Intellivision games released by Mattel Electronics are 20 Hz instead of the original 60 Hz. The limited ROM space also meant that computer artificial intelligence could not be programmed, resulting in many early games requiring two players to play.

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  • Many early Intellivision games had deeper rules than most arcade games and did not have a "pick-up-and-play" approach. Reading the instructions was nearly mandatory to understand how to play the games effectively. While this approach towards video games was ambitious and ahead of its time, it continues to garner a mixed reaction as nearly all games at the time were easy to play without reading instructions.

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