During the late 70s, the emergence of the microprocessor allowed computer engineers to create elaborate video games which seemed remarkable for their day and age. One of the most popular places to be at any local mall during this era was the arcade where you could blast asteroids, centipedes or gobble up dots with Pac-Man. The quarters were flowing and arcade owners must have thought they were destined to be on easy street for the rest of their lives.
However, as it always does, technology changed and soon the evolution of the microprocessor allowed the arcade games in rather large boxes to be placed in tiny games systems that you could buy for home use. Every video game scenario you could imagine could be purchased for these devices, although the graphics and quality were suspect.
The first success was the Atari 2600 video game console. It was simple in design with two controllers with a joystick and a red button to control all of the action. The Atari games were nothing more that blocks and dots. I remember when it first came out, we thought it was amazing simply because we could play anything like that at home on our television sets. It did not really matter that it was primitive or inferior to the arcade games like Donkey Kong and Gallaga.
In the late 70s, a competitor to Atari emerged with better quality.
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Intellivision first appeared in 1979 as a competitor to the popular Atari 2600 video game
The game console was a step up from the Atari 2600 featuring a numbered keypad as well as a round controller similar to today’s touchpads on notebook that was used to maneuver game play.
Each game came with a plastic overlay that you slid into the controller over the key pad enabling you to know how you were controlling each game. The game could be used without the overlay though, you just had to remember where everything was on the keypad.
Overall, the system featured 152 video games made by various manufacturers, some compatible with the Intellivision add-ons such as Intellivoice. The console was pricey for its day. I cannot remember how much my poor mother had to shell out for it but it was at least $200 which translates to a lot more in today’s terms. Then of course, the adds-ons like Intellivoice were another $100.
New consoles put these things to shame, but in 1981 the game system was cutting edge. It was remarkable to be playing a video game at home and have it interacting with you. By comparison, Atari games were designed with more primitive graphics that were less distinct because it was still using a less advance microprocessor.
The other major impediment to Atari’s success was their video game manufacturing process. They decided early on to open it up to other manufacturer’s which resulted in them losing control of quality control of games for the 2600 system. This would ultimately become a major reason for its ultimate failure and eventual loss to Nintendo. Too many kids purchased expensive games for their day, only to find them boring and unplayable once they got them
Some of the most popular games for the Intellivision video game system were B-17 bomber, Bump n Jump, Burger Time, Dungeons and Dragons and Sea Battle.
In the early 1980s, Intellivision came out with Intellivision II video system which looked completely different.
By the mid-80s however, a newer competitor had emerged and Nintendo systems would take over the market and put both Atari and Mattel’s Intellivision out of business.
It is amazing how far technology has advanced since computer engineers begin miniaturizing the microprocessor 40 years ago. The average PC gamer today does not know how good they have it. When you grow up playing on game systems with dots and primitive graphics, you appreciate the advanced gaming technology available today. Not only can you play with friends at home, but you can play with someone online all over the world. It is quite remarkable when
Intellivision game systems are still alive and can be found online and played via an Intellivision emulator on your computer.
Some of my favorite memories as a child are playing Intellivision Baseball or Intellivision Football with my friends. Football was unique for its time because you had to input a play using the keypad before each snap. It wasn’t perfect. We figured out that there was one particular formation and play code that you could get 3 or 4 yards on every time making scoring all by inevitable. There were no fancy player graphics or dancing celebrations, just basic stick men on a green screen.
I still own my Intellivision system and yes, it still works. From time to time I will hook it up, although it is becoming more and more difficult because it connects to tvs using a coaxial input cable or the old UHF/VHF wires you screw in, and newer TVs do not have this option. If you want to use this type of system, it is best to keep an older tv around, although there are plenty of adapters available to make retro technology work on newer televisions. However, the graphics will suffer as I found out when I tried to hook up an old VCR to my 60 in HD plasma. The new technology is simply not compatible with older stuff.
If you are looking for retro games for Intellivision or other old video game systems, you can find Intellivision games online at various places including individual sellers. I have a collection of about 25 and most play just as well as they did 30 years ago.
There is also a website called Intellivision Lives that is dedicated to the video console and cartridge system.