In 1979 Mattel Electronics released their competitor to the popular Atari 2600 game system. Taking its name from "intelligent television", the Intellivision Master Component was the most
advanced gaming system at the time of its release. From the time of it's
debut until its demise in 1990, over 3 million units were sold, including licensed
versions sold by Sears and Radio Shack. The graphics were impressive for the era, shunning simple lines instead using characters that could more
closely mimic their real world counterparts. Based around the 16 bit (though most of the instructions were 10 bits wide), GI-1610 microprocessor, the system had a great deal of computational
might, and used it to its advantage.
One glance at the original system, and it was obvious that it was very different than the Atari. It was larger, and the controllers were much more complicated. Each one allowed players a greater deal of control than
with a simple joystick. They consisted of a 12 button key pad (with the same layout as a touch tone phone), a control disk that detected 16 directions, and 4 action buttons on the side of the controller. Each game came with a pair of overlays for the key pad that showed how to use the controller, as well as
provided flavor for the game.
The original games Mattel released were organized into themed groups called "networks". Each network had a distinctive colored box to
- Sports (blue): Intellivision had a great deal of sports games. Most with licenses
from their professional leagues (e.g. Major League Baseball, NBA Basketball, PBA
Bowling, etc). Almost all of these games required two players, but were among
the most popular produced for the console.
- Action (red): These were the arcade like games. They included war style battle games (such as Sub Hunt and Armor Battle), as well as more "fun" games (like the Tron games, Frog Bog and Shark! Shark!).
- Gaming (green): A series of gambling games. The game that was originally packaged with the system, Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack was part of this series.
- Space Action (dark blue): Science Fiction inspired games turned out to some of the best selling titles produced for the
Intellivision. The best selling game, Astrosmash, as well as the 3-D
looking and visually impressive Star Strike were sold as part of this network.
- Children's Learning (orange): There were only two educational games released
in this series. Both used PBS' Electric Company trademark for promotion.
- Arcade (burgundy): Arcade translations were not the Intellivision's strong point. Only one game was ever released
as part this network - a Tempest clone named Vectron. Later arcade adaptations
came after the "networks" were eliminated.
- Strategy (purple]: These were computer versions of well known board games including Chess, Checkers, and Backgammon. There was one exception to this though, an original simulation game named Utopia where the player served as the dictator of an island.
- The network concept was later disbanded, so the games released after 1982 (Burgertime, Kool-Aid Man were not categorized this way.
- Apart from Mattel Electronics, several other third parties released games for the system. These included Activision (Pitfall), Coleco
(Donkey Kong), and Imagic (some of the best games produced for the console - Microsurgeon, Atlantis, and Demon Attack,
Filled with great successes in technology and horrible mistakes in business,
the history of the Intellivision is interesting. Many of the games that the development team (nicknamed the Blue Sky Rangers) produced are still
among my favorites of all time. They were able to produce an affordable voice synthesis adaptor (named the Intellivoice), that brought an added an additional
dimension to many games (though I was never able to figure out what the accent in the title screen for B-17 Bomber was supposed to
be). The games for the system were often original, pretty to look at, and
a lot of fun to play.
Mattel Electronics was ultimately destroyed by the video game collapse that occurred
around 1984, but there were other issues that hastened the system's demise. Magnavox
patented the home video game system when they created their Odyssey system. Atari reportedly
licensed the patent for a low fee, however after the success of the Atari VCS, Maganvox wanted a higher per-unit fee from
Mattel. Mattel refused to pay, feeling that the patent was invalid and would
eventually be overturned. They went to court and lost, having to pay over $10
Million dollars. Future console makers learned from Mattel's mistake and reached
licensing deals with Magnavox.
At its introduction, Mattel marketed the Intellivision system as being more than just a game system, promising that, after adding a keyboard, it would be the heart of a
powerful personal computer. After a few years, the keyboard
addition never appeared. This angered many of the system's owners, and attracted the attention of the Federal Trade Commission. Mattel faced a monthly fee until they
fulfilled their promise. This did happen in 1983, but the system fell short of what many consumers were hoping for. Atari also tried a simliar strategy with their 7800, and "enjoyed" a similar level of success.
The electronics division was shut down in early 1984, and the scraps were sold to the INTV corporation.
Founded by several former employees of Mattel Electronics, INTV continued to sell the system (releasing a new model), and produce games (for the most part these were games that were either unreleased by Mattel, or updated versions of their popular sports games). INTV
finally ceased operations in 1990, ending the 11 year run for one of the original home gaming consoles.
Intellivision Related Products
- Intellivision Master Component - The base system launched in 1979.
- Intellivision Keyboard Component - The promised system that would turn the Master
Component into a fully functional home computer. This was never released to the public.
- Play Cable - A device made available in 1981 that would allow people to download games from a cable television
channel (which was also named Play Cable).
- Intellivoice - The 1982 voice synthesis module for the system. Mattel only released four games that made use of this add on.
It made use of external hardware to produce understandable voices that made
the few games that used it more immersive.
- Intellivision II - A smaller, sleeker, cheaper version of the master component. Made available in 1983, it had the advantage that the
controllers could be disconnected from the console, making them easy to replace. It had the disadvantage that several third party games wouldn't work on the 'updated' system.
- System Changer - A component that would allow an Intellivision II to play Atari 2600 games. Also released in 1983, this was basically an Atari 2600 in an Intellivision labeled box.
- Entertainment Computer System - This was keyboard component that Mattel did finally release to the public during 1983. Falling far short of the original claims, the attempt was a failure.
- Mattel never got a chance to finish the Intellivision III or IV, which were attempts to regain the technical
superiority that it had lost to the Colecovision.
The Blue Sky Rangers have released two commercial emulator packages named Intellivision Lives! and Intellivision Rocks!. The two cd-roms contain a total of 80 games (some unreleased by Mattel), and is available for Windows and
There is also a free emulator named Bliss (bliss.retrogames.com) available for most operating systems.
If you want to experience the Intellivision, it's probably useful to look at the
some of the better games produced for the console:
This information comes from the Intellivision Lives! pages, (http://www.intellivisionlives.com), as well as many hours spent playing with the system growing up.
- The Sports Titles: These were the most popular for a reason. Usually simple to play, they included games that even non-sports fans could enjoy. Major League Baseball, PBA Bowling, and US Ski Team Skiing were my personal favorites.
- Treasure of Tarmin: When this came out, I had just discovered role playing games. This was one of the oldest "three
dimensional" first person games, and is still the RPG that have the fondest memories of.
- Astrosmash: The first truly addicting video game I ever encountered. It differed from most other games in that it adapted its difficulty to how you were playing at the time. When you were doing well, it got harder. If it got too difficult, the game detected that and slowed down. My mother and I were both able to play the game for hours together, despite our actual skill levels being very different (She was good, I was not).
- Utopia was a game targeted at a slightly older audience, and in some ways was a precursor to Civilization style strategy games. Here the player had to balance resources and spending, as well as take into account what the other player might do.
- Microsurgeon taught me all about human anatomy and medicine growing up. At nine years old, I knew that people had spleens and that they were bright blue. It wasn't completely accurate, but it was still fun.