When Mattel decided to challenge Atari in the home video game market, it attacked on two fronts. The first was to make sure that its console, the Intellivision Master Component,
would be technologically superior to the Atari 2600. The other was to focus on the people who would write the games, this group of
(more or less) anonymous developers were collectively known as the "Blue Sky Rangers." By having an advantage in both areas, Mattel hoped it could compete in a market that until that point was dominated by a single company.
The Rangers were a group of young, creative, and talented programmers who fashioned many of the classic video games of the early eighties. Their identities were kept hidden by Mattel by the fear that
rival companies would attempt to hire them away. With the exception of a few easter eggs (Mission X, for example), the games produced by Mattel Electronics make no mention of the people behind them.
Initially there were about twenty developers, most hired straight out of college, all working at Mattel's headquarters in Hawthorne, California. As the video game industry grew, so did the number of rangers. At its peak in 1982, there were over one hundred in the United States, as well as
many others working in Mattel's overseas offices in France and Taiwan. Descriptions of the working environment bring up images similar to those of the dot com boom - long hours, toys in the office, and an unconventional working environment. It was an exciting time for this new industry, as many of titles produced sold upwards of one million copies.
The bubble burst late in 1983, and the situation deteriorated
quickly. On January 20, 1984 Mattel laid off all of the Blue Sky Rangers. When the new INTV corporation purchased the rights to the system, some of the former Blue Sky Rangers were hired to complete unfinished games, as well as create new titles for the system. In 1997 a new company founded by some of the original rangers purchased the rights to the platform. This company,
Intellivision Productions, currently produces two Intellivision emulators that are packaged with nearly all of the original games.
In days following the end of Mattel Electronics, several of the Blue Sky Rangers remained very active in the video game industry.
As mentioned above, some went to work to continue support on the Intellivision platform with INTV.
Others helped found new gaming companies, these include:
- Quicksilver Software: Founded by the authors of Space Hawk, Space Spartans and Buzz Bombers, this small gaming company was responsible for Castles,
Conquest of the New World, as well as upcoming Master of Orion III.
- Realtime Associates: Focused on producing games for the console market, this company started by the author of Tron Solar Sailor.
- Team Fat: Not all the Blue Sky Rangers were programmers, some were responsible for other aspects of game development. Team Fat was created by one of the musicians behind the games. Using this name, he wrote themes for a number of
successful games including Wing Commander and The 7th Guest.
- Stormfront Studios: Founded by the author of Utopia, arguably the most creative game produced for the
Intellivision Master System, this company has produced a number of highly successful titles - Blood Wake, Tiger Woods Golf 2001, as well as the
original Neverwinter Nights for America Online.
Mattel failed in its attempt to become a dominant player in the video game industry, and its recklessness almost drove the entire company into
bankruptcy. Despite the company's
business failure, the Blue Sky Rangers succeed at their goal. The games that they created in the early eighties were among the best of that era. Items such as the "running man" animation, used by so many Intellivision games, will forever be etched into the
heads of those who grew up playing with the console. The all important "fun" factor made so many of the games produced by the rangers into classics. They were impressive to look at, and enjoyable to play. There was nothing more that I could have asked for.
The information for the write up comes from the Blue Sky Rangers' page at www.intellivisionlives.com