ClassicGaming.com's Museum"INTELLIVISION: Intelligent Television"
Mattel Intellivision - 1980-1984
(Also known as the INTV - 1985-1991)
Also marketed as the INTV Super Pro System, Sears Super Video Arcade, Sylvania Intellivision, Tandyvision I
After successful test marketing in 1979, Mattel Electronics released its Intellivision system nationwide in late 1980. Armed with twelve games, better graphics and sound than its competitors, and the promise to release a compatible keyboard that would turn the system into a home computer ("Play games and balance your checkbook!"), Mattel set its sights on taking down the "invincible" Atari 2600. They got off to a good start, selling out the first production run of 200,000 Intellivision units quickly.
Mattel also released the system under different names to expand its market. The Intellivision was released in Sears stores as the Super Video Arcade, at Radio Shack as the Tandyvision I, and as the GTE/Sylvania Intellivision.
Many people bought an Intellivision with plans to turn it into a home computer when the keyboard was released. There was a huge marketing campaign behind this (one-third of the back of the Intellivision box was dedicated to the "Under Development" keyboard), but months and then years passed without the keyboard being released. Actually, it was released in a few test markets in late '81, but the price was too high and the initial reaction poor. So in 1982, Mattel scrapped plans for the infamous keyboard, but later (due to government pressure), they had to make a computer add-on anyway (see below).
Mattel tried some new things in 1982, releasing a voice-synthesis module called Intellivoice that made sound and speech an integral part of gameplay when used with compatible cartridges. Intellivision also released the Intellivision II console which was described as "smaller and lighter than the original, yet with the same powerful 16-bit microprocessor." The Intellivision II was designed for a few reasons: to lower the production cost, make repairs easier (for example, it replaced the hard-wired controllers with removable ones), make expansion easier (for the upcoming 2600 adapter and other accessories), and to prevent Coleco's Intellivision games from working on the system. Yes, Mattel actually put in a subroutine to prevent the Intellivision II from playing its competitor's games. This subroutine also prevented one of Mattel's own games from working as well. When this was discovered, Mattel claimed it was the fault of the competitors' software. This change also led to a slight timing error in some games with sound effects. Competitors soon found a way to bypass this subroutine, to get their future games to work.
In 1983, Mattel introduced the Intellivision III at CES (Consumer Electronics Show). Heralding it as their "next generation" system, the Intellivision III was supposed to feature a built-in Intellivoice, higher resolution, unlimited colors, faster sprites and higher sprite capabilities, six channel sound, remote controlled joysticks, four controller ports, more ROM and RAM, and be compatible with all Intellivision and Aquarius titles (the Aquarius was an unsuccessful 1983 Mattel home computer later dubbed "a system for the '70s" due to its obsolescence). Later, Mattel announced they were killing the Intellivision III and including most of its features into their long-awaited computer expansion, now known as the Entertainment Computer System. Mattel didn't publicly mention their top secret Intellivision IV project, which was a totally incompatible console system with all new technology.
The Entertainment Computer System (ECS) promised a keyboard, 64K of RAM (with RAM expansion modules), a music synthesizer, a data recorder, a 40-column thermal printer, and an adapter which would allow you to play Atari 2600 games on your Intellivision. The RAM expansion modules, data recorder, and thermal printer were never released and the music synthesizer had only one software title. While the 2600 adapter was a nice feature, the ColecoVision already had one. It was too little, too late.
Despite Mattel's awful marketing, the Intellivision sold over 3 million units.
In January 1984, as the video game market crumbled, T.E. Valeski, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Sales at Mattel Electronics, along with a group of investors, purchased the assets, trademarks, patents, and all other rights to the Intellivision for $16.5 million. They formed a new company, Intellivision Inc., which was later renamed INTV Corp. In the fall of 1985, the INTV System III (so as not to be confused with the Intellivision III, the system was sometimes sold as the Super Pro System) appeared at Toys 'R Us, Kiddie City, and in a mail order catalog sent to owners of the original Intellivision directly from INTV. The new console was of the same general design as the original Intellivision, except that it was black with aluminum trim. Several new games accompanied the release of the new system, and in 1985 INTV registered over $6 million in sales worldwide. INTV had indeed revived the Intellivision, and continued to market games and repair services through the mail with great success. Between 1985 and 1990 over 35 new games were released, bringing the Intellivision's game library to a total of 125 titles.
In 1987, the INTV System IV was shown at the January CES. The new system sported detachable controllers and many other minor improvements. It was never released. In 1988, INTV reintroduced the computer keyboard adapter through their mail order catalog on a limited-quantity basis. Obviously this didn't suddenly cause NES owners to run to INTV. In 1990, INTV finally discontinued retail sales of their games and equipment and sold them only through mail order, partly due to agreements with Nintendo and Sega to become a software vendor for the NES, Game Boy, and Genesis (the company released only one NES title, Monster Truck Rally). In 1991, INTV sold out its stock of Intellivision games and consoles, and the company, along with the Intellivision, faded away. The company went bankrupt later that year, but had managed to sell three million systems during its run—no small accomplishment in the face of Nintendo's market dominance.
Even after 10 years of retail sales, the Intellivision refused to die. The rights to the system eventually found their way into the hands of the Blue Sky Rangers (a group of former Mattel programmers), who have erected a massive Web site to the system, its software, its history, and its programmers.
Inspired by the high degree of fan support, some Blue Sky Rangers formed Intellivision Productions, Inc. in 1995. Then, following a wait that had Intellivision fans forlornly staring at their PC monitors, the new company released Intellivision Lives!, a CD-ROM compilation of 75 emulated Intellivision games for PC or Mac. In addition to the games — some of which were prototypes never available before — the CD is filled with video clips, images, Easter eggs, and more. Then, through an agreement with Activision, Intellivision Productions came out with Intellivision Classics for the Playstation, which contained 30 games in addition to interviews with original Intellivision designers.
The Intellivision Lives! CD was a godsend to Intellivision fans and rekindled interest in the system. Division Software released the INTV2PC Hand Controller Interface, a hardware device which allows actual Intellivision controllers to operate on a PC. Chad Schell offers the Intellicart, "a device which connects to your computer's serial port to allow you to download Intellivision ROM images and play them on your actual Intellivision." Intvprog is a mailing list for people interested in Intellivision programming and the technical aspects of the console. The fan following of this system has a strong Internet presence and is well-linked; go to one Intellivision site and you'll easily spend hours checking out all the other sites you find.
The Intellivision had some popular games, like Major League Baseball, Astrosmash, and Night Stalker, but a large percentage of Intellivision's game library consisted of sports or traditional card and board games. While Intellivision excelled at graphics and sound, the Atari 2600 was more capable of handling action games due to its superior speed.
Many of the original Intellivision games were programmed by college students as part of their computer programming curriculum.
One problem with a lot of Intellivision games (especially sports games) is that they were for two players only. This was (and still is) pretty unusual.
Five Must See Intellivision Games
Don Daglow's Utopia is the father of all real-time strategy games. Often referred to as "Civilization .5," Utopia puts you in charge of an island civilization. Many games, from Civ to Sim City to Starcraft, are spawned from this groundbreaking simulation.
You and your opponent each have an island to rule. Points are accumulated based on the welfare of your island people. You can choose to be a benevolent ruler or an aggressive dictator. Your people need food, housing, and industry for clothing and other essentials. What you cannot manage are natural disasters. A single
hurricane could wipe out your crops, sink your fishing fleet, destroy all the homes and factories you've built. Rebels may automatically appear should the welfare of the people drop. They could attack. Classic dilemmas in a game that is sure to become an absorbing classic in its own right.
- Utopia Catalog Description
Critics claimed that the Intellivision couldn't handle action games. Astrosmash proved them wrong. This insanely popular space shooter was conceived when a game called Meteor!, an Asteroids clone, didn't fill up an entire cartridge. The extra room was used to create a variation of the game called Avalanche!. At the last minute, Mattel's lawyers killed Meteor!, because it was too similar to Asteroids and they didn't want a lawsuit. So programmer John Sohl simply put a branch around the opening screen menu straight into the Avalanche! variation. This was done to prevent introducing bugs, since Meteor! and Avalanche! shared the same graphics and sounds. The game was released under the name Astrosmash. It sold over a million copies, and eventually replaced Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack as the pack-in game.
In 1982, Mattel held the "$100,000 Astrosmash Shootoff," spawned from its 1981 "Intellivision VideoChallenge Tournaments" in Washington D.C., Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles. Since the publicity from the VideoChallenges was so good, Mattel's marketing department decided to go national with the idea.
From March to August, Intellivision owners were invited to send photographs of their TV screens showing their high score in Astrosmash. Just for entering, they would receive an Astrosmash Shootoff patch. It was announced that 16 regional high-scorers would be flown to Houston to compete for eight cash prizes. Over 13,000 people entered, and it quickly became obvious that there was a problem. First, because of a scoring bug, many of the pictures showed scores made up of seemingly random ASCII characters. Scores had to be deciphered with an ASCII table. Also, no one in marketing realized that Astrosmash, like many Intellivision games, can be played at slower speeds simply by starting the game by pressing 1, 2, or 3 instead of the disc. There was no way of telling who had legitimately obtained a high score and who had played at the easiest speed. There were reports of competitors who literally played for days at the slowest speed, pausing the game (pressing 1 and 9 simultaneously) to sleep or go to school. So to make things fair, Mattel Electronics wound up flying 73 entrants to Houston for an all-expenses-paid weekend, on September 11 & 12, 1982. There, the entrants competed in 1 hour of timed play. In the end, 18-year-old Manuel Rodriguez of Stockton, California won the $25,000 top prize with a score of 835,180.
Astrosmash also pioneered another concept: most games get harder and faster at higher levels, but in Astrosmash, as you start to lose lives, the game gets easier again. Then the game is never too easy or too hard, making it extremely addictive and possible for even a beginner to play a single game for over an hour. This concept was later used by Sega in many of their Genesis games (in a slightly different manner) and referred to as "Dynamic Play Adjustment."
3. Night Stalker
A great game in which you run around at night, shooting robots and avoiding bats and spiders. One of the Intellivision's best games and ported to the Aquarius, and to the Atari 2600 (as Dark Cavern).
Pretty much Intellivision's only big name, high-quality arcade port. Atari had locked up most arcade licenses, but Mattel got lucky and delivered a nearly perfect conversion. The game also has an interesting story behind it; see its listing on the BSR page.
5. Major League Baseball
The best selling Intellivision game of all time, MLB was used in ads to show how its graphics totally blew away Atari's. The Intellivision was well known for its great sports games, and MLB was one of its best.
Intellivision controllers were quite unusual: they were hardwired into the unit (at least, with the Intellivision I), had a 12-key numeric keypad, two fire buttons located on each side, and a control disc that detected 16 positions. While this control was revolutionary for its time (great for controlling sports games), many people didn't like them. Third parties tried releasing add-ons to help make control more joystick-like, but none of them caught on.
The aforementioned Intellivoice module attached to the cartridge port and played special voice-enhanced games. There were five Intellivoice games: Space Spartans, B-17 Bomber, Bomb Squad, Major League Baseball and Tron Solar Sailer. The ads promised "Video games that actually talk to you. Male and Female voices react to changing game situations immediately, are calm or excited, give you strategy tips, cheer you up or egg you on. (Regular Intellivision cartridges may be used in the Intellivoice unit and will give you game play without voice, as if they were plugged directly into the Master Component.) These are not fuzzy simulations, but voices complete with expression, produced by the ability of Intellivoice to duplicate realistic human speech electronically." Actually, the voices didn't sound that realistic at all, probably because each game cartridge could only hold 4 to 8K of voice data. Words
had to be digitized at the lowest possible sampling rate at which they could be understood, and even after doing that, they really couldn't fit many voices onto a cartridge. After the Intellivoice bombed, Mattel shelved a completed Intellivoice children's game (Magic Carousel), and gave up on it. Mattel did promise to integrate the Intellivoice with the Intellivision III, but it was never released. A restyled Intellivoice, designed to match the Intellivision II, appeared in the January 1983 Mattel Electronics catalog, but it's just a carved and painted block of wood. Prototypes of an International Intellivoice module that supported French, German, and Italian were built, but never released. Plans were made to produce voice versions of all Intellivoice games for the ColecoVision, but Mattel Electronics was shut down before anything happened.
The Music Synthesizer, an add-on for the ECS, was a full 49-key piano style keyboard. It had 6-note polyphony (meaning you could play 6 notes at once), and plugged into the controller ports of the Entertainment Computer System. The only software that supported it was its pack-in, Melody Blaster, a sort of musical Astrosmash.
In 1983, Mattel released the System Changer, its Atari 2600 adapter for use with the Intellivision II (Intellivision I owners had to get a ROM upgrade to use it). It supported both 2600 and Intellivision controllers. Many people wondered how the Intellivision's processor could emulate an Atari 2600. It didn't. The System Changer was basically a 2600 clone that used the Intellivision for its power supply and RF modulator.
Probably the most interesting accessory for the Intellivision was PlayCable, an adapter that plugged into the cartridge port. For $4.95, the cable company would transmit PlayCable subscribers 20 Intellivision games a month. All you did was select the game you wanted to play from a menu, and the game would download into the adapter's RAM where it could be played. Every month, the games would be rotated or changed, and users would receive new instruction books and overlays for each new game in the mail. It was discontinued in 1983 and the adapters were returned to Mattel, despite being pretty popular in the areas that offered it. Also, the adapter wasn't capable of playing some of the newer, larger games due to insufficient memory, so that was a factor as well. As an interesting sidenote, two guys figured out how to turn the PlayCable into an Intellivision development system by hooking up a personal computer to a PlayCable and messing around. These two guys eventually figured out how to write their own games and contacted Mattel. To prevent the pair from competing with Mattel (because Mattel was worried that they would expose secrets and make it too easy for small companies to get into the Intellivision-compatible business), Mattel hired them to program the Intellivision Bump 'N' Jump arcade port.
The Blue Sky Rangers own all rights to the Intellivision and their Intellivision Lives! CD is where to get INTVEM, the premiere Intellivision emulator. The BSR have also released a few games to the public domain. You can find them in our emulators section.
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