The ColecoVision

ColecoVision

ColecoVision - The Arcade In Your Home!

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Coleco 1982

Wishing Upon a Telstar

The Connecticut Leather Company is founded in West Hartford, Connecticut by Russian immigrant Maurice Greenberg in 1932, selling shoe repair supplies out of a shop on Market Street. Joining the family business after graduating from Hartford’s Trinity College with a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics in 1948, his son Leonard champions a move to leather craft kits featuring character licensing from the likes of Disney and Howdy Doody. He also moves the company into vacuum form plastic molding in 1957 and sells off the leather business as their plastic products like sandboxes and toboggans go soaring off store shelves. Shortening their name to Coleco in 1961, by the end of the decade they are the largest manufacturer of above-ground swimming pools. Lawyer Arnold Greenberg joins his father and brother in 1966, and Coleco makes its first move into games two years later by acquiring Eagle Toys, a Canadian maker of popular rod hockey tables that becomes Coleco Canada. The company becomes a publicly traded entity on the NYSE in 1971, and Maurice’s two sons Leonard and Arnold  take the helm in 1973, with Leonard handling the manufacturing and engineering side and Arnold covering the finances and marketing. In a quest for diversification, Coleco flirts with bankruptcy due to some shaky forays into snowmobile and dirt bike production. As the success of Atari’s PONG arcade game opens up a new genre of entertainment, however, the Greenbergs figure moving their tabletop hockey games onto the home TV would be a hit. The release of its million-seller $49.95 Telstar home PONG clone in 1976 gives Coleco a taste of the profits to be had in electronic video games, and it thirsts for more. The company produces nine more varieties of the Telstar unit, nearly bankrupting itself again in 1978 as the home videogame market moves over to programmable, cartridge based game units. With Pong-type game manufacturers slashing the price of their dedicated consoles up to 75%, Coleco is forced to dump over a million obsolete Telstar machines at a cost of 22.3 million dollars.

Image of Coleco's Telstar, a home video game console 1976

Box for Telstar, Coleco’s PONG clone, 1976

Head to Head Baseball, a hand-held electronic game by Coleco, 1980

1980 image of Head to Head Baseball

The Third Wave

Coleco’s line of electronic handheld sports games such as Electronic Quarterback and the Head-to-Head series help keep the company afloat in the late 70′s, with $200 million in sales for the devices posted in 1979. This leads the brothers to ignore the near disaster experienced with the Telstar PONG clones and fund a new R&D video game division to the tune of $1.5 million. The team is led by Eric Bromley, who has experience under his belt heading the R&D departments of coin-op companies such as Midway. Bromley’s team is charged to develop a new third-generation home videogame system, one that will set the standard in graphics quality, performance and expandability. Bromley himself had done preliminary work in designing and costing a system several years earlier, but the high cost of RAM kept an advanced console out of reach.

By 1981, however, RAM prices have dropped dramatically, so much so that the project is now within range of the target price-point set by Coleco. Bromley and Arnold Greenberg hash out the specs of the new system, giving it the placeholder moniker of ColecoVision until the marketing types can think up a better one. They never do, so the name sticks. The new system is based around an 8-bit 3.58 MHz Z80A CPU, with 1K of RAM and 8K ROM.  Also on-board is the powerful Texas Instruments TMS9918A video controller chip, giving the system 16K of video RAM and allowing a screen resolution of 256×192. It has the capability to display 32 sprites on-screen at the same time, along with a 16 colour on-screen palette out of a total of 32. Three channel sound via the TI SN76489 sound generator chip is also thrown into the mix for good measure. The console’s cartridges are 32K, the most memory of any system currently on the market.

Probably the greatest promise of longevity of the ColecoVision, however, comes from the large port in the front of the box covered by a sliding panel, called the Expansion Module Interface. Into this maw is where purchasers will plug in the many add-on modules planned to be released for the system.

 

The ColecoVision is a sturdy looking device, a large black box with two controllers that follow the Intellivision‘s lead by allowing overlays to be inserted over a 12 button membrane keypad. But the system splits the difference between the joysticks of the VCS and the control disk of the Intellivision by having a short, thumb-busting mushroom-shaped stick which proves to be too imprecise for most gamers. At one point in the prototype stage, there are fly-wheel spinners called “speed rollers” included on the controllers, for greater player precision or throttle control in some games. Due to mechanical issues these are dropped from the design, to resurface again in the later released Super Action Controllers by Coleco. Their omission might also be attributed to the fact that they make the ColecoVision controllers, already outrageously large in smaller hands, even bigger. The machine’s durable cartridges come with connecting boards that are designed to withstand 10,000 insertions into the console cartridge slot, the equivalent of inserting a cart three times a day, everyday, for ten years. Probably the greatest promise of longevity of the ColecoVision, however, comes from the large port in the front of the box covered by a sliding panel, called the Expansion Module Interface. Into this maw is where purchasers will plug in the many add-on modules planned to be released for the system. It is Coleco’s insatiable desire to fill this hole that will eventually lead it, and the ColecoVision system, to destruction.

 

Koming with Kong

The key to the success of this new machine is to be its pack-in cartridge, an adaptation of the smash arcade hit Donkey Kong. Coleco sends Bromley over to Japan to negotiate the rights, where imposing Nintendo chairman Hiroshi Yamauchi presents him with an ultimatum. Either agree to a pay Nintendo a $2 royalty per cartridge sold and wire a $200,000 advance by the end of the day, or risk losing the license to either Atari or Mattel, both of whom are scratching at the door looking to buy. Bromley makes the call to Greenberg and convinces him that the rights to the biggest hit since Pac-Man are within their grasp. A verbal agreement to the Donkey Kong license is made. Bromley later gets a scare when Nintendo informs him they have changed their minds and decided to give Atari the licence, but an impassioned plea to Yamauchi persuades the usually iron-willed Nintendo president to stick with the original Coleco deal and grant Atari only the home computer rights.

Coleco’s tight adaptation of Donkey Kong for the ColecoVision, of course, becomes one of the greatest system-sellers in video game history. There will not be a game bundled with a console more effective at showcasing the strengths of the system until 2006, when Nintendo includes Wii Sports with the Wii. Later on in 1982, lawsuits are filed against both Nintendo and Coleco by Universal Studios, claiming Donkey Kong infringes on their King Kong copyright. With the large sum of money already invested in the licence looming in their minds, Coleco cuts a deal with Universal, giving them 3 percent of Donkey Kong sales. Nintendo, however, fights the lawsuit, offering numerous in-court demonstrations of gameplay vs. movie plot. Manhattan District Court Judge D. J. Sweet eventually rules that Donkey Kong has “a totally different concept and feel from the drama” and that “no reasonable jury could find likelihood of confusion”. It is also discovered the fact that MCA Universal has let their copyright to King Kong lapse anyway. After appeals all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, in 1984 Universal loses the case and Nintendo is awarded $1.8 million in damages. This prompts Coleco to then file suit and receive a portion of their lost royalties. Donkey Kong is also released for the VCS/2600 by Coleco, in early 1983. Game design is contracted out to small engineering and development house Wickstead Design Associates, where Garry Kitchen programs the hotly anticipated title. His version of Nintendo’s arcade hit sells over 4 million copies on Atari’s ubiquitous game platform. Kitchen will eventually end up joining his brothers at Activision.

 

That Arcade Quality

Along with Donkey Kong, twelve additional cartridges are announced along with the ColecoVision. While Atari had pioneered the licensing of arcade games for home play with Space Invaders, Coleco makes this a key part of their strategy, aggressively seeking licenses for coin-op games instead of concentrating on creating original titles. Outside of the pack-in cartridge, the first batch of arcade conversions are Lady Bug, Mouse Trap, Venture, Carnival, Cosmic Avenger, TurboSpace Fury and Zaxxon. Three Exidy games are also announced as arcade conversions, but ultimately cancelled: Side Trak, Spectar and Rip Cord. The department inside Coleco developing these translations is staffed by around 30 artists, designers and programmers at start up. Once the rights to an arcade game is secured for the ColecoVision, the design team receives an arcade unit that joins its brethren in the “game room”. Lacking any technical source material, the game designers at Coleco must videotape gameplay from the coin-op version for reference while translating the game. The usual timeframe for development of a game at Coleco is three to four months. While the conversions are not flawless interpretations, they are one giant step towards capturing the graphics and game mechanics of the original coin-op for play at home. One fly in the ointment, however, is the seemingly interminable (at least for an anxious kid desperately waiting to play the game) ten-second or so delay between turning on the console with a cartridge inserted, and the game selection screen showing up. This can be chalked up to Coleco wanting to get as many arcade game hits out on their game machine as possible; the initial suite of games for the ColecoVision are programmed in PASCAL, an easier language to create in than the machine language the Z80 CPU natively deals in. While this allows for speedy development, the console must put the brakes on and parse the information from the cartridge at the start of each of each new play session.

Foldout for Zaxxon, a video game for the ColecoVision

Foldout for ColecoVision Zaxxon game

 

After its February debut at the Toy Industry Association’s Toy Fair in New York City, the ColecoVision is released in late-summer of 1982, at a retail cost of $199. Hitting the market in the midst of the public relations war Atari and Mattel are waging against each other, Coleco’s new system sells for around 50 dollars more than the 2600 but also 50 dollars less than Mattel’s Intellivision. Distribution of the powerhouse console outside of North America is handled by CBS Electronics. The ColecoVIsion is an instant success, with the first run of 550,000 machines selling out by Christmas 1982. In the first quarter of 1983, Coleco reports that one million of the devices have been sold in total, along with eight million cartridges. Coleco stock enjoys an amazing run, named the best performer on the NYSE for 1982, increasing from 6 7/8 to 36 3/4 over the year. Helping the balance sheet along is the incredible reception of Coleco’s electronic tabletop replicas of arcade games, including Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Galaxian. Even with over 200,000 units coming off the production line by 1982, early in the year Coleco must withdraw their TV ad campaign for these devices in the NYC area due to a lack of ability to keep up with demand. The company’s performance on the stock exchange leads the New York Times to name Coleco as one of its 10 Super Stocks of 1982. Sales revenue for the company has tripled from $178 million in 1981 to $510 million through 1982.

The company’s sprawling factory and warehouse complex in Amsterdam, NY is a hive of activity. Things get so intense, in fact, that safety concerns over the deteriorating conditions of freight elevators in Building 8 are ignored. In order to get around damaged doors and gates, safety interlocks are bypassed to allow the elevators to move while the doors are not fully closed.  On February 17, 1984, Coleco employee Blaine Lamson is on the third floor of Building 8, attempting to load pallets onto elevator #12 with a forklift truck.  Due to some jury-rigging with the elevator’s control lever, the elevator begins to rise with the forklift half inside, and Mr. Lamson is crushed to death.  A $10,000 civil penalty is eventually levied against Coleco in May of 1984 by the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, with the company found to have been willfully negligent in ensuring the safety of their employees.

 

“I must have this machine!”

coleco-button

In 1982 my Atari VCS is three years old, and while I’m enjoying the new games being produced for the system by Activision, the horrible Pac-Man translation from Atari really starts me thinking it might be time to put the old beast to pasture and move on to a better system. I look at the Intellivision as a possible upgrade, but the games really don’t appeal to me, along with that crazy control disc. That year my family and I take our annual trip to the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, and coming through the Dufferin street gates I notice a large crowd gathered around a big geoscopic dome, one I think they had installed fitness stuff in during previous Ex’s so I had never really paid much attention to it. But this time the sound of electronic boops and beeps drifts out of the entry way and plays its siren song in my young ears, and as I enter a girl hands me a button that says “Try ColecoVision”. “What the heck is a ColecoVision?” I wonder, and the answer is like a slap in the face when I look around inside. Amid smaller displays with Intellivision’s and VCSs crying to be heard looms a huge set-up with a line of people standing in front of a bank of monitors playing what looks from a distance like the arcade version of Donkey Kong. As I approach, I’m amazed to see that this game is being played on a home system! The ColecoVision! I stand in the large queue and wait my turn, inching up the line, anxiously shifting from foot to foot like I have a full bladder, eternities ticking away as I watch those other lucky bastards play the game. Finally I’m up against the rope separating me from the play area, and miracle! Someone who must have been playing for at least three hours is led away by an attendant and I fly to the monitor, a large popping sound echoing through the place as the air rushes in to fill the vacuum where I had been standing microseconds before. I look at the machine secured to its pedestal, large and black and imposing. I pick up the controller, surprised by the size and heft, and press the start key. There’s Mario! He looks like Mario! There’s the gorilla Kong! He looks like Kong! I don’t even notice deficiencies like the reverse positioning of Kong or the lack of detail on the barrels or the missing ‘mudpie’ level. For once, the pitch phrase “The Arcade in Your Home!” doesn’t come off like so much hyperbole. As my thumb strains against the stiff mushroom controller, guiding Mario over barrels and gaps and rivets, an epiphany washes over me like rain: I MUST HAVE THIS MACHINE! Then suddenly, Oh No! The screen goes blank! A hand on my shoulder! Reality snaps back as I find myself back in Toronto, Ontario, being led out of the play area to the popping sound of another vacuum being filled behind me. The 5 minute play interval, now seeming like 3 seconds instead of 3 hours, is over. I get in line three more times, and each session at the ColecoVision is as wondrous as the last. I then wander around the rest of the displays, check out Lost Luggage for the VCS, play Mattel’s Downhill Skiing, …but even the graphics of the Intellivision seem like images chiseled onto a stone tablet compared to the Coleco. And the VCS? Pfffft. What had been cutting edge a couple years ago was now hopelessly antiquated. That Christmas, I got my ColecoVision.

Demo kiosk for the ColecoVision, a home video game system by Coleco

Amazed kids experience the best that home consoles can offer, August 1982, Toronto

 

Filling the Hole

Expandability is what Coleco promised, and they keep to their word with the release of two hardware add-ons in 1982. Expansion Module #1 is the Atari 2600 converter, the first such hybridizing device for a home console, selling for about $60. It allows users to plug in the hundreds of cartridges available for Atari’s system and play the games on the ColecoVision. 150,000 converters are sold within the first three months, although it eventually becomes apparent that due to slight differences between the original cartridge slot on the 2600 and the one on the expansion module, some game cartridges for the Atari system to not make full contact when inserted. Starpath’s Supercharger cartridge adapter is also a victim of this discrepancy, although the company eventually includes an extender with their unit to make it fit Coleco’s adapter.

Courtroom Games

Expansion Module #1, along with Coleco’s stand-alone VCS clone Gemini, results in a flurry of litigation. It starts in late 1982, with a $350 million lawsuit from Atari charging infringement by Coleco of two of their patents: US 4112422A  was filed back in 1976 by Steve Mayer and Ron Milner, during the development of the VCS, titled Method and apparatus for generating moving objects on a video display screen. To keep things brief, it deals with the method of how the VCS uses a beam to draw images on a screen, controlled by a microprocessor, with the image data read from system ROM which receives it from the RAM of a game cartridge. The second patent, filed in 1982, deals with how the VCS produces sound effects. Atari also includes various accusations of deception in Coleco’s marketing of the expansion module, as well as describing Expansion Module #1 and the Gemini as mere repackaging of the VCS hardware. Or as Atari chairman Ray Kassar describes it, “…merely a thinly disguised copy of Atari’s VCS unit.” And to round out the litany of Atari complaints, they accuse Coleco of confusing the public with prominent referrals to trademarked Atari games in their advertising. Coleco counter-sues for $550 million, arguing that Atari had produced games based on circuitry referred to in the Mayer/Milner patent a full year before filing, proving in their mind that the company knew the technical obviousness of the design. They also claim that Atari is infringing on American anti-trust laws by using various strong-arm tactics to maintain a monopoly in the video game market. Accusations such as patent abuse and threats to game distributors who carry competing products to Atari, are mentioned. On March 23, 1983 the two companies propose a settlement dealing with all issues raised, with the case formally closes four days later. The settlement requires that Coleco pays royalties to Atari on every Converter and Gemini sold. Despite this legal rigamarole, there is also an adapter planned to allow the ColecoVision to play Intellivision cartridges, but it’s doubtful that Mattel would put up such a struggle at having a company produce another purchase path for their software. At any rate, the Intellivision adapter never makes it off the drawing board.

Gemini, a clone of the home video game system Atari VCS/2600, released by Coleco in 1982

Coleco Gemini, a VCS/2600 clone, released 1982

The second module is the Expansion Module #2 driving controller, consisting of a steering wheel and foot pedal, and is run off of C-Cell batteries or a separately purchased AC adapter. Packed in with the driving controller is a translation of Sega’s arcade driving game Turbo. The $60 hardware is also compatible with TV tie-in game Dukes of Hazard, as well as coin-op conversions of Bump ‘N Jump and Exidy’s Destruction Derby. The module plugs into joystick port #1, and a controller in the other port is used as a gear shift. Other additional control devices are also introduced, such as the complicated Super Action Controllers, with the Super Action Baseball cartridge included in the box. These enlarged joysticks, with four colour-coded trigger buttons, 12-key keypad and speed roller spinners are released in September of 1983. Also available is the Roller Controller, sold along with Coleco’s port of the 1982 shooting gallery arcade game Slither, by GDI.  Another interesting peripheral is the Kid Vid Voice Module, sold by Coleco in 1983, also known as the Sound 1 Voice Module in Canada. The technology behind the device is developed by none other than Ralph Baer, creator of the Odyssey for Magnavox, the first home video game. Coleco redesigns Baer’s invention into a device for their 2600 clone Gemini, moving from an original prototype into something resembling nothing more than a regular black tape recorder. The Kid Vid uses data on one track of a tape cassette to drive the audio on the other track, providing recorded speech, sound effects and music in synchronicity with a videogame played on either the Gemini or an actual Atari 2600. Released in 1983 during troubled times at Coleco, only two game packages are made available for the Kid Vid: Smurfs Save the Day (included with the unit), and Berenstain Bears.

 

In 1983 the ColecoVision takes its place at the top of the videogame heap. It has sold 1.5 million units since its release, moving 900,000 units in ’83 alone beating the mighty 2600, the Intellivision, and Atari’s new 5200 Supersystem. There are 29 game publishers producing cartridges for the system, and with the Atari converter it has the largest game library of any console on the market. Although Coleco forcefully pursues licenses for arcade games for their system, they are outmaneuvered on occasion. After they forge an agreement with coin-op game maker Centauri for several of their arcade hits including Vanguard and Phoenix, Atari swoops in and snaps up the rights with a higher bid. Parker Brothers takes a similar action by outbidding Coleco for the Popeye home licence. In 1983 Coleco announces a partnership with visual effects wizard John Dykstra, winner of the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for Star Wars. Dykstra and his Apogee effects company have produced the effects for several impactful TV spots for the ColecoVision, and the new venture is to have the company designing graphics and concepts for new games on the system. It’s not known if anything might have come to fruition through the partnership between Dykstra and Coleco, especially considering Dykstra’s reported desire to create “experimental” games for the company.

1983 ad for the ColecoVision system, a home video game console by Coleco

1983 ColecoVision ad featuring the Super Game Module

 

Creating ADAM

The success of their console is firmly established, so of course Coleco takes the next seemingly obligatory step and risks it all with a precarious reach for the Holy Grail of video game manufacturers…the Home Computer Conversion! First comes the announcement in 1983 of the ColecoVision Super Game Expansion Module #3, aka the Super Game Module, with a planned retail price of $125. This box, the width of the ColecoVision and slightly less thick in height, is inserted into the expansion slot and features 128K of extra memory, allowing room for souped-up versions of games that will be yet another step closer to flawless interpretations of the arcade originals, including enhanced graphics and added game elements such as intermissions and the ability to save players’ high scores and initials. These are facilitated by a high-speed storage drive in the Super Game Module that accepts what are originally referred to by Coleco as Super Game Wafers; small tape cartridges 3/16-inch thick that, with a 500K storage capacity, hold 125 times the information of a 4K Atari 2600 cartridge. About the size of a business card, inside is near 50ft. of 1/8″ magnetic tape. The media is otherwise known as the stringy floppy, made by a company called Exatron. The company also markets standalone versions of the technology for computers such as the Commodore VIC-20.

 

To be Included with the Super Game Module are two enhanced versions of current ColecoVision games: Super Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom, and Super Gorf.  “Super” versions of Donkey KongDonkey Kong JuniorZaxxon, Turbo, Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel’s Castle, Subroc and Time Pilot will be available for purchase. The arcade adaptations are intended not only to match their source games for gameplay, but would actually contain extra screens and gameplay features. The Super Game Module is previewed at the New York Toy Fair in February of 1983, and given a release date of July. Continued problems with the performance and mass production of the stringy floppy drive leads Coleco to shelve the Super Game Module mid-way through the year. It is also likely that another project coming to fruition in the company labs has captured most of the company’s attention and resources away from the SGM, a project developed via 34 million dollars of R&D cash: what is originally referred to as the Computer Expansion Module. Talk had been floating around from Coleco since the introduction of the ColecoVision of a keyboard-only computer expansion priced at a mere $100. Now dubbed the ADAM Family Computer System, the company is going all in: one version is an entire stand-alone home computer system with printer and tape storage, and the other a package that includes the same equipment but plugs into the ColecoVision game unit and takes on the Expansion Pack #3 label.

Super Game Module, for ColecoVision (unreleased)

Super Game Module

 

ADAM is introduced at the 1983 Summer CES in Chicago, in the 1000 square foot Coleco booth and heralded by flashing lasers and other elaborate fanfare. The unit itself, however, is ensconced under a rotating, tinted glass case and no show goers are allowed to touch it. Reporters eventually notice that the box on display is not driving the demonstration, but instead is being run by another device hidden under the table. The brains for ADAM is composed of an 8-bit, 3.58 MHz Zilog Z80A CPU with 80K of RAM (expandable to 144K), and 32K of ROM. A Texas Instruments graphics chip offers 16K of video RAM, as well as 16 colours and the ability to move 32 sprites around the screen. As for a pixel count, ADAM sports 256×192 screen resolution. There is a sound chip by TI as well, giving the system three-channel sound capability. These are also supported by three Motorola 6801 CPUs that each handle memory I/O, the tape drive and the keyboard. This allows the ADAM to offer users its flavour of multitasking. There are three internal slots in the main component, called the Memory Console, along with an expansion bus called AdamNet for various promised peripherals. The stand-alone system features an external cartridge slot into which ColecoVision cartridges can be inserted and played, as well as two game controllers. Both systems include a full-size, 75-key keyboard, with a stepped lay-out and fully-travelling keys. Several of these keys are labelled and dedicated to the built-in word processor SmartWRITER, such as MOVE/COPY, PRINT and UNDO. A move made just days before the computer’s debut at CES changes the previous wafertape drive system into a digital cassette tape drive. These accept was are now called Digital Data Packs, a storage medium developed in-house at Coleco that replaces the stringy floppy technology planned for the Super Game Module. The Data Packs ADAM is to use are high-speed 500K tape cassettes, of the same ferric oxide formulation found in high-end audio tapes. Their speed at retrieving data is not quite up to snuff compared to floppy drives, but still sport a data transfer rate of 1500 characters per second, or 20 times faster than ordinary tape cassettes. There is space provided in the Memory Console for an optional second data drive, which is planned to run customers about $150. By the time the ADAM is eventually released, the memory size of the data packs has been reduced to 240K.

 

Ad for the ADAM Family Computer System, a home computer by Coleco 1983

Ad for the ADAM Family Computer System

 

Also included is a humongous, letter-quality daisy-wheel printer rated at 120 words-per-minute, or about five minutes to print a page of text. Only 10 pitch type size is available, with pica fonts… but other daisywheel typesets can be purchased. Budding novelists are also stuck with 36 characters per line, but an optional circuit-board is promised that will bring with it a full 80-character line. Further, the platen only works in friction feed mode… optional tractor feed is promised to come later for around $150. An unusual configuration has the printer also serving as the entire system’s power supply, so the printer must always be turned on in order to operate the ADAM. This also means, in the event of a printer breakdown, the computer cannot be used until the device is fixed. In the ADAM expansion system, the box containing the CPU and expansion slots has a somewhat lower profile than the stand-alone system, since the components in the original ColecoVision game unit do not have to be included. The add-on has its own port for video output to a monitor, as well as two external joystick ports, but TV output to channels 3 or 4 is handled by the original game console, which the CPU box fits onto through the expansion slot at the front of the console. An included System Interlock Tray keeps the ColecoVision and ADAM module attached to each other.

A blank Data Pack is included with the computer, as well as SmartBASIC and Super Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom. As an added bonus, since the ADAM is running a Z80 CPU, it is compatible with the popular CP/M operating system.  It can also handle AppleSoft BASIC programs, albeit with some modifications to the program. Hardware peripherals promised for the ADAM after its release include a 64K memory expansion card for under $200, a 5 1/4 inch floppy drive for about $350, and a 300 baud modem for around $50. Documentation included inside the enormous ADAM box includes a reference guide for the SmartWRITER program, and a manual for the Buck Rogers game. Also nestled inside is a 64-page set-up manual, a programming guide for SmartBASIC, based in part on Russ Walters’ general purpose reference work The Secret Guide to Computers. As a well-known computer guru from the Boston area, Walters gained a certain amount of infamy by insisting that readers with computer issues call his phone number directly with queries, day or night. In fact, the ADAM manual gives the same advice, if their listed support number is busy (which it usually was).  Finding the info from Secret Guide, in their words, “inadequate”, Coleco eventually re-writes the BASIC manual, removing mention of Walters and his guide. Walters then threatens to sue, stating that his contract with the company stipulates that these mentions are required. Things are eventually settled out of court for $20,000, with the settlement requiring that Walters must stop criticizing the ADAM to callers.

Over a Barrel

The complete computer package, with an announced $600 price-tag for the stand-alone version that’s far below any other comparable system cost up to that point, attracts a lot of buzz at the Chicago CES. On the show floor, Coleco demonstrates the added storage capabilities of the Adam’s Data Pack cassettes by running its version of Super Donkey Kong on the demo machine. A much improved home version of Nintendo’s arcade game, featuring the intro with Kong climbing to the top of the structure as well as the 4th mud pie level previously missing in all other versions, the game quickly draws the ire of Atari execs attending the show. They are there to seal a deal with Nintendo to distribute the company’s hit Japanese game console, the Famicom, world-wide. Owning the home computer rights to Donkey Kong, Atari head Ray Kassar complains to Nintendo that they are in breach of contract over Coleco’s version for the Adam computer. Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi subsequently rakes Coleco over the coals, and no assertions about Adam being both a game console AND a computer assuages him.  Coleco eventually pulls the game from the Adam library, but the kerfuffle delays the Atari/Nintendo deal long enough to expose serious problems at Atari. In July of 1983, Ray Kassar suddenly steps down as Chairman and CEO, after his company posts a giant loss for the financial quarter, and with him embroiled in an insider trading scandal.  When John J. Morgan comes over from Philip Morris to replace him, the new CEO places a freeze on new projects and no deal is signed between the two companies. Nintendo eventually goes it alone, and the result is the famous NES console, released wide in North America in 1986.

To further complicate matters, a day after the ADAM release date announcement, the consumer division of AT&T announces a developing joint venture with Coleco; an online interactive game service using existing phone lines. Instead of aping the existing telegaming services like Gameline for the Atari VCS or Playcable for the Intellivision, the system would feature unique two-player games created by Coleco but outside of the ColecoVision milieu. Purchasing a 300 baud modem projected to cost under $100, subscribers would call a 900 flat-rate phone number and be matched with a fellow gamester, playing strategy, arcade and “entertainment software” on either a video game console or a computer. High scores would go on record, and national tournaments a distinct possibility. Scheduled to begin operation in a few U.S. cities in 1984, the system never gets a dial tone.

Promotioinal flyer for the ADAM, a home computer by Coleco

Promotional flyer for the ADAM intro at the Summer 1983 CES in Chicago

1984 catalog page of home computer system ADAM by Coleco, a home video game company

Stand-alone and add-on ADAM systems in the 1984 Montgomery Ward Christmas catalog

 

ADAM Falls From Grace

Enthusiasm shown by the press for such a cheap, complete computer package has Coleco stock riding on a high, rising 14 points surrounding the ADAM introduction at Summer CES and priced at $65 per share by June of 1983. However, slipping release dates start causing nervous rumbles. An August release turns into September, then October, but as that month progresses there is still no sign of the computer system on shelves. Not only has Coleco’s delays in submitting the printer software to the FCC for approval caused these sliding dates, but also a rash of problems discovered in the system’s design. The built-in SmartWriter word processor is severely lacking in standard editing functions, and is painfully slow to move around in. Coleco further incenses potential buyers by stating that a utility pack will be offered later to unlock the advanced functions of the word processor, estimating the price of such an upgrade at around $30. The data drive accesses its cassettes with agonizing slowness when working at all, and the speed of the printer had to be stepped down from 40 CPS to 10, because the innards of the device would fly apart at the higher speed. It is also supremely loud when printing. Further concerning the printer, probably its most dramatic problem is the enormous magnetic pulse it emits when powering up, erasing any tapes accidentally left in the data drive.

It’s reckoned by industry analysts that every month of delay could be costing Coleco sales of 100,000 units. In late 1983 Coleco finally receives approval from the FCC on the ADAM design. The company frantically begins mass production to meet the 500,000 units promised to retailers before the much-valued Christmas season. Units are air-shipped out to stores near the end of Oct. 1983, with a retail price $100 higher than the previously announced price tag: $699 for the stand-alone and $399 for the ColecoVision add-on package. To add stress to an already stressful launch, in October Coleco is served with three lawsuits, instigated by investors accusing company brass, CEO Arnold Greenberg included, of dumping eight million dollars of their stock at its peak price while publicly promising huge sales for the ADAM system. At the same time of this promotion of the machine, “Coleco had not yet solved serious engineering problems which remained before Adam could be sold as represented. Despite these difficulties, Coleco continued to deny or minimize these troubles publicly and to reaffirm the delivery deadlines”.

Coleco accompanies the ADAM  launch with a $15 million television ad campaign, but the company can only manage to get 95,000 ADAMs of their promised 400,000 out the door for the year. Soon after, complaints start pouring in, and ADAMS start piling  up at Honeywell service centres, under contract to Coleco to service the system.

Warning label on ADAM, a home computer system by Coleco 1982

An incredible warning awaits new ADAM owners

 

The Enormity of the Loss

Nearly 60 percent of all ADAMs sold end up returned to stores as defective. Mass retailer J.C. Penney, for example, decide to get out of home computers altogether after their experience with ADAM; while they had ordered 5000-6000 computer systems from Coleco, after receiving only 500 units they cancel the rest of the order, citing the multiple flunking of ADAM during the retailer’s quality checks. On March 7, 1984 Coleco delivers the bad news: it lost $35 million in its fourth quarter. Upon making the announcement a company spokesman admits that even Coleco brass were surprised by the “enormity of the loss” taken by the ADAM. In the first quarter of 1984, Coleco reports earnings of $4.4 million on net sales of $186.1 million. This is a drop in earnings of over 70 percent from the same period the year before. At the Winter 1984 CES in Vegas, Coleco puts on a brave face and attempts a relaunch of ADAM, assuring show attendees that the numerous bugs in the computer have been dealt with. The problem is that the basic design of the ADAM remains unchanged. The only solution for the problem of tapes being erased when left in the data drive during power-up comes in the included documentation for the computer, with Coleco now adding helpful notices inside the manual and on a label atop the Memory Console, reminding users of this potentially devastating design flaw. A six-month warranty program is also announced to demonstrate faith in the system, along with The ADAM Family Computer Scholarship Program. Qualifying buyers of the ADAM or ColecoVision are eligible, if the system is purchased between September 1 and December 31, 1984. They must have kids enrolling into an accredited U.S. college or university before their 19th birthday and will get $125 from Coleco over four successful academic years, for a total of $500.

Over 100 new hardware and software items are announced at the show. Productivity software such as the SimpleCalc spreadsheet program, SmartFiler database creator and SmartMoney Manager. Previously promised hardware peripherals are also trotted out, like the AdamLink 300-baud modem, the 64K Memory Expander, and an add-on digital data drive that can store 512K of data on two data packs. One jaw-dropping pronouncement is that the ADAM will be getting a module that will allow it to run IBM-PC compatible software, although the only timeline given is “during 1984″ for a release of this golden goose. Coleco also touts that there are 100 of their own software titles in the planning stages or available for the ADAM, and flout a laundry list of powerhouse third-party suppliers for their computer, including Broderbund, EA, Synapse, Epyx, Sierra On-Line and Sirius Software. A new medium is also introduced for the ADAM: a 5 1/4″ floppy drive accepting single-sided, double-density disks with a capacity of 160K.

A floppy drive for the ADAM home computer, by Coleco

Floppy drive for the ADAM, 1984

 

These incentives and peripherals do help pick up sales figures, but not enough to save the system or its reputation. The pipeline of new games for the ColecoVision dries up, with highly anticipated games such as Tunnels & Trolls, announced back at the launch of the console and based on a popular paper-and-dice game in the vein of Dungeons & Dragons, remaining MIA. By the end of 1984, with the home videogame market hemorrhaging badly, the consumer electronics division of Coleco loses over 258 million dollars. Additional promotions are rolled out to try and increase interest in the ADAM: the retail price is steadily slashed down to $475, inclusion of one of Coleco’s hot-selling Cabbage Patch Kid doll with every purchase of a ColecoVision and game cartridge, and the giveaway of 32 BASIC programs on four Data Packs. Despite these incentives, the computers stubbornly remain on store shelves and ColecoVision console inventory piles up. Despite vehement denials by Coleco issued previously, a few days before the January 1985 CES the company announces that, due to the “unusually volatile business environment” of home computers, the ADAM line has been discontinued by the company. Anyone needing a reason for the abandonment of the ADAM need only look to a fourth quarter loss of somewhere between $64 – $80 million for Coleco. All remaining inventory is sold off to the familiar dead-tech vultures at NYC-based Odd Lot Trading, Inc., while Coleco stock tanks at $13 dollars a share. The ADAMs are expected to be unloaded to buyers for somewhere south of $300. While the ColecoVision game console is not initially included in the ADAM announcement, it eventually succumbs to the evaporating video game market later in the year.

Image of Tunnels & Trolls, an unreleased video game for the ColecoVision

Tunnels & Trolls, unreleased

 

Last Life

The Cabbage Patch Kid craze comes and goes, and Coleco fails to catch lightning in a bottle with the Couch Potato doll, an equally ugly, spud-shaped plushie advertised as “the complete vegetable”, that refuses to move off toy store shelves in 1987. Their nine lives finally exhausted,  Coleco defaults on interest payments to its debt holders in 1988. With its share price approaching penny status at around $2.50, Coleco announces the layoff of 475 employees and the departure of its chairman. In July of the year, the company files for bankruptcy. Most of Coleco’s assets, licenses and rights wind up purchased by Hasbro in 1989, but at the time of the bankruptcy a company called Telegames almost immediately buys up the rights to the ColecoVision and remaining stock and starts selling the machines through mail-order, as well as working to finish games that were left hanging when Coleco went under. They begin selling the $40 Personal Arcade aka Dina through mail-order, a redesigned system using the ColecoVision hardware. The machine is small, featuring low-rent versions of Nintendo’s NES controllers. The original’s membrane keypads have been reduced in number to one, mounted on the cabinet and incompatible with game overlays. Space shooter Meteoric Shower is included as a built-in game for the system. Another interesting aspect of the machine is a second cartridge port, right behind the ColecoVision slot. This extra slot accepts Sega SG-1000 cartridges, a Japanese precursor to the Sega Master System. The Ultimate Critic eventually weighs in with His review of the Dina, when a tornado wipes out all remaining Personal Arcade stock in 1994. The Coleco brand itself eventually resurfaces in 2005 via a Chicago based company, releasing new lines of handheld games and virtual TV plug-and-play devices.

With over six million ColecoVision units sold in the space of just two years and approximately 190 cartridges released in total, it makes you wonder whether Coleco could have established itself as an enduring force in the video game market if the big crash, coming just one year after the ColecoVision’s introduction, hadn’t cut the legs out from under their system.logo_stop

Colortron, a home video game console by Coleco

Telstar Colortron, Coleco 1978

 

 


Sources (Click to view; inert links are kept for historical purposes)



Doctor, Game. Editorial. Q&A June 1983: 114. Electronic Games – Volume 01 Number 16 (1983-06)(Reese Communications)(US). Internet Archive. Web. 08 Feb. 2016. Using a full-time artist and musician to create audio-graphics, their programmers worked in the PASCAL computer language. PASCAL is famous as a quick-writing programming language, and allowed the company to get almost a dozen gaming titles into the stores by Christmas time.Softline, “Insomnia, Speaking of Which”, pgs. 46-47, Jan 1983. “We regard the Coleco adapter as merely a thinly disguised copy of Atari’s VCS unit…” Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Softline collection, Oct 30 2015. 
New York Times, “Coleco Loses $35 Million in Quarter” by David E. Sanger, March 8 1984. “Coleco Industries announced yesterday that it lost $35 million in the fourth quarter…” “A company spokesman said the ‘enormity of the loss’ on the Adam home computer surprised even Coleco’s top officials.” Retrieved from nytimes.com, Sep 19 2015.
Doctor, Game. “Q&A: The Doc Examines the ADAM.” Electronic Games July 1984: 86. Electronic Games – Volume 02 Number 13 (1984-07)(Reese Communications)(US). Internet Archive. Web. 09 Feb. 2016. ADAM prototype product shotTrinity College website, “Leonard E. Greenberg”, 2000. “…he decided to apply to Trinity College, where Dean Thurman Hood admitted him on a provisional basis. In just two-and-a-half-years, Mr. Greenberg earned his Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics…” “After graduation in 1948, Mr. Greenberg joined the family business, the Connecticut Leather Company, which remade itself into Coleco Industries in 1961.” Retrieved from the Trinity College website, Sep 18 2015.
1983 ColecoVision magazine ad, “The Best Game in Town Just Got Better”. “And [the Super Game Module] comes with two bonus Super Games: Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom and Gorf.”.
Electronic Fun With Computers and Games, “They’re Almost Here” by Michael Blanchet and Randi Hacker, pgs. 25-33, 91. “The Super Game, scheduled to appear in the stores around July, will cost about $125.”. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, EFWCG collection, Sep 9, 2015.
The New York Times, “The 10 Super Stocks of 1982″ by Fred R. Bleakley, Jan 2, 1983. “Coleco’s giant jump in sales last year to some $500 million from $176 million in 1981…”. Retrieved from the NYT archive, Sep 8, 2015.
ADAM Set-Up Manual, Coleco 1983-1984. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Sept 7, 2015
Electronic Games, “EG Videogame Preview ’83″ by the Editors of Electronic Games, pgs. 22-32, May 1983. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
OSHRC Docket No. 84-0546, “Secretary of Labor v. Coleco Industries, Inc.”, October 20, 1986, David J. Knight, Judge, Boston, Massachusetts
ColecoVision Zone, ColecoVision Experience magazine archive - www.colecovisionzone.com/page/collectible/magazine.html
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Radio-Electronics, “Looking Ahead – Fun and games”, by David Lachenbruch, pg. 4, May 1980
Image of the Super Game Pack being held, and other information from ColecoVision Experience, “Super Game Packs”, by Timothy Bay, pgs. 18 – 19, Summer 1983
“Reader Replay: Still Searching.” Electronic Games Dec. 1984: 20. Electronic Games – Volume 02 Number 17 (1984-12)(Reese Communications)(US). Internet Archive. Web. 09 Feb. 2016. As of this writing, Tunnels & Trolls is still not out, despite its having been announced about two years ago. Images of Coleco’s former plant complex in Amsterdam, NY taken from Google Maps, Street View, 2007 archive
1983 ColecoVision ad featuring the Super Game Module from Electronic Games, pgs. 58-59, May 1983. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
Archival photograph of Coleco building #7, Amsterdam, NY as carpet factory, late 1920′s, from UER, user Dotsebell
Computerworld, “Trade show demos served up fast; queasy feeling lingers”, by Paul Korzenowski, pgs. 81, 93, Jul 16 1984
ASCII by Jason Scott – digitize.textfiles.com/items/1980-coleco-catalog
UNotes Daily – www.hartford.edu/daily/news.asp?id=778
ColecoVision Experience, “John Dykstra: Wizard at Work”, by Timothy Bay, pgs. 14 – 16, Fall 1983
Electronic Games, “Electronic Games Hotline – New Names At Atari”, pg. 14, Nov 1983
Billboard, “News: Coleco Cuts Adam’s Price; Last Gasp?” by Fay Zuckerman, pg. 90, Nov 3 1984. “Coleco Industries has dropped the price on its ailing Adam home computer system to $475 from $650…” “Since its inception, Adam has been plagued by mishaps – a defective rate nearing 60%, massive returns and overly optimistic market projections.” Retrieved from Google Books, Sep 21 2015. 
The Computer Closet Collection | ColecoVision – www.computercloset.org/Colecovision.htm
Retromags – www.retromags.com
InfoWorld, “News, Adam to get disk drive, IBM PC-compatibility module” by Scott Mace, pg. 14, Feb 6 1984. “Executive vice-president of marketing Alfred Kahn said Coleco will sell a plug-in module during 1984 to make the Adam compatible with IBM PC software. Kahn declined to elaborate on the announcement.” “Coleco said it now has 100 of its own software programs planned or ready for the Adam…” “Coleco will sell a number of “best of” software packages, each containing several game from a leading independent software producer, such as Broderbund Software, Electronic Arts, Synapse Software, Sierra On-Line and Sirius Software. Other third-party software announced for the Adam will come from Spinnaker Software, Epyx, Datamost, Tronix and HES, Kahn said.” Retrieved from Google Books, Nov 2 2015.
Image of the ColecoVision prototype #1 from Electronic Games, pg. 20, Jan 1983
JoyStik, “Future Waves – Coleco’s ‘Super’ New Module”, pg. 7, Vol. 1 Num. 6, Jul 1983
ColecoVision.dk | ColecoVision SGM Super Game Module. – www.colecovision.dk/sgm.htm
Pictures of King Kong | Drawings and paintings of King Kong – www.logoi.com/pastimages/king_kong.html
Ahl, David H. “Industry Insider.” Creative Computing Apr. 1985: 6. Creative Computing Magazine (April 1985) Volume 11 Number 04. Internet Archive. Web. 06 Mar. 2016. Coleco posted a forth quarter loss estimated to be between $65 and $80 million which it largely blames on the ill-fated Adam. The Odd Lot subsidiary of Revco reportedly bought Coleco’s inventory of Adams; expected street price is below $300.
JoyStik, “Technocracy – Business and Pleasure”, Vol. 2 Num 2, Nov 1983
“Hotline: Hardware Beat.” Electronic Games Dec. 1984: 9. Electronic Games – Volume 02 Number 17 (1984-12)(Reese Communications)(US). Internet Archive. Web. 09 Feb. 2016. Coleco’s disk drive for the Adam takes single-sided, double-density 51/4″ floppy disks that can handle up to 160K bytes…; Image of ADAM floppy driveElectronic Fun With Computers and Games, “Atari, Mattel, Coleco…”, pgs. 33-38, 97, Sep 1983. “…the addition of a Super Game Module (which at presstime, had been discontinued due to problems in the mass manufacture of the wafer drive).” Retrieved from the Internet Archive, EFWCG collection, Sep 9, 2015.
Ahoy!, “Can the 64 Crack the Peanut?” by Steve Springer, pgs. 39-41, 90, Jan 1984
Atari Age, “Atari Reorganizes, Greets New CEO”, pg. 13, Vol. 2 Num. 3, Sept/Oct 1983
Dina 2 in one – SegaRetro – www.segaretro.org/Dina_2_in_one
ColecoBoxArt.com – www.colecoboxart.com
“Coleco: Climbing Towards Video Supremecy.” Videogaming Illustrated Aug. 1982: 19-23+. Coleco Box Art. Web. 16 Dec. 2016. The wallet-making and key case stitching kits designed by the younger Greenberg did so well that licenses were quickly obtained for Mickey Mouse Moccasin kits, Howdy Dooky Bee-Nee kits, and the like. Coleco grew steadily until 1956, when Leonard bought a small vacuum forming machine… but when Coleco turned to plastic…pools…sleds, and toboggans, the company’s fortunes skyrocketed. Arnold Greenbert joined the family business in 1966, leaving a successful law practice…the corporation went public in 1971. Five years later, Coleco entered the video filed with Telstar, a Pong game which sold nearly one million units that year. In January Coleco was forced to pull all their Pac-Man television from the New York area because, even with 100,000 games rolling off the production line – a figure which has more than doubled since then – they couldn’t fill orders fast enough. …Coleco committed $1.5 million into the starting of a videogame division. 
Computerworld, “Computer Industry: Nickels and Dimes”, pg. 132, May 14 1984
“Hotline: Donkey Kong Whips King Kong.” Electronic Games July 1984: 10. Electronic Games – Volume 02 Number 13 (1984-07)(Reese Communications)(US). Internet Archvie. Web. 09 Feb. 2016. Judge D.J. Sweet pointed to the differences between the comical Donkey Kong and sinister King Kong, saying that the game creates “a totally difference concept and feel from the drama”. He says that “No reasonable jury could find likelihood of confusion”… ColecoVision Experience, “Turbo! Road-Racing Action On Your TV Screen”, pgs. 9-10, Issue #1 Spring 1983
Image of original Kid Vid voice module prototype for the Gemini from Phoenix Video Game Classics, “Coleco Kid Vid Voice Module”, by Sly DC/Sylvain D.C. - www.ccjvq.com/slydc/kidvid/kidvid.htm
Electronic Games, “Switch-On: Cooler Heads Prevail” by Arnie Katz, pg. 6, Aug 1983. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games collection
New York Times, “Atari and Coleco”, Feb 8, 1983
Images of the Super Action Controller Set box, VCS/2600 Cartridge Adapter, “Try ColecoVision” button, ADAM box, ADAM Memory Module, ADAM keyboard, Roller Controller box and Gemini console taken at the Videogame History Museum display, CGE 2014 in Las Vegas
ColecoVision Experience, “Feedback – Videogame Lifespans”, pg. 13, Issue #1 Spring 1983
BLiP: The Video Game Magazine, May 1983, “Looking to the Future” Pg. 20-21
New York Times, “Coleco Strong in Marketing”, by Kirk Johnson, Aug 1 1983, referenced Oct 8 2014
Nintendo Life, Feature: How ColecoVision Became the King of Kong, by Damien McFarran (reprint of Retro Gamer article), Sept 18 2010 – www.nintendolife.com/news/2010/09/feature_how_colecovision_became_the_king_of_kong
New York Times, “Coleco Gives Up On The Adam”, Jan 3, 1985
Videogaming Illustrated, “Atari vs. Coleco” by Stephen Bent, pgs. 11-13, Jul 1983. “According to Atari, Coleco’s expansion module, which permits ColecoVision users to play game cartridges made for the Atari VCS system, is nothing more or less than a copy of Atari’s VCS unit.” “Expansion Module #1 and the Gemini unit racked the descriptions for making and using inventions contained in two U.S. patents issued in 1978 and 1982, respectively, to Steven Mayer and Ronald Milner…” “Atari also alleged violations by Coleco of both federal and Illinois state law in the deceptive use of certain Atari circuitry and trademarks…” “Atari asserted that Coleco had effectively misused Atari Trademarks like Asteroids and Pac-Man by giving them “undue prominence” in Coleco’s television commercials…” “…Atari’s nefarious schemes to (in Coleco’s words) ‘monopolize trade and commerce in the programmable home video game market’…” Coleco contended that the basic Atari patent describing the logic circuitry for generating manually controllable TV game graphics was, in essence, placed on sale more than a year prior to Atari’s filing for the patent (a legal no-no)…” “Atari, Coleco claimed, had taken illegal retaliatory measures against companies (Activision and Coleco were particularly identified) seeking to ‘introduce or expand the concept of interchangeability into the programmable home video game market’…” “…threats by Atari to terminate or reduce services to distributors and large retailers carrying competing products…” “Atari and Coleco filed a proposed settlement of all issues between them with the district court on March twenty-first and the case was formally terminated four days later.” Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Videogaming Illustrated collection, Sep 17 2015.
Fortune Magazine, “Coleco’s Comedown”, Feb 4, 1985
Expandable Computer News, “West Hartford Happenings” by Darrell R. Sage, pgs. 4-5, March/April 1984. “This module [SGM] contained expansion memory for the Colecovision game unit and a high speed drive which at that point consisted of the Exatron stringy floppy.” “The company, Exatron, had been marketing its devices for the Commodore Vic-20 and other compute systems” “Because of the problems that were developing with the stringy floppy, Coleco began to seek other solutions for its data storage device.” “At the 1984 Winter Consumer Electronics Show, Coleco officials indicated that the company was only able to produce 95,000 Adams in 1983″ Reproduction of newsletter retrieved from sacnews.net, Sep 21 2015.
ColecoVision Experience, “ColecoVision News – ‘ColecoVision Introduces Expansion Module #3 to Play Super Game Wafers’”, Issue #1, Spring 1983
Videogaming and Computergaming Illustrated,
Starlog, “Log Entries”, pg. 13, April 13 1983
Arcade Express, “John Dykstra Joins Coleco Design Team”, pg. 4, Vol. 1 Num. 15, Feb 27 1983
Electronic Fun With Computers and Games, “Game Workout: One Million A.C. *After ColecoVision” by  William Michael Brown, pgs. 39-43, 94, June 1983. “First shown to us at the New York Toy Fair in February…”. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, EFWCG collection, Sept 9, 2015.
New York Times (AP), “Coleco’s Net in Sharp Rise”, Oct 19, 1985
Image of Arnold Greenberg with the ColecoVision console, and other information from Video Games, “Coleco Has a Vision – Better Games for All”, by Steve Bloom, photo by Lanny Nagler, pgs. 52 – 55, 76 – 77, 80, Vol. 1 Num. 2, Oct 1982
Anderson, John. “Creative Computing Magazine (September 1983) Volume 09 Number 09.” Creative Computing Magazine (September 1983) Volume 09 Number 09. Internet Archive, n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2016. They were jammed into the 1000 square foot or so of the Coleco booth at McCormick West to get a look at the new creation.;There before me, rotating slowly in a tinted glass case…was Adam. Museum of Computing Magazine, Dave Johnson Interview, Spring/Summer 2006, pg. 13 – 17
Compute!, “Coleco’s Adam: A Hands-On Report” by Selby Bateman and Tom R. Halfhill, pgs. 54 – 59, Mar 1984
Image of Tunnels & Trolls from Electronic Games, “ColecoVision VS Atari 5200″, pg. 30, Mar 1984. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
Videogames: In the Beginning, by Ralph H. Baer, pgs. 146 – 148, Rolenta Press 2005
Garry Kitchen’s homepage – www.garrykitchen.com
Video gaming Illustrated, “Coleco: Climbing toward video supremacy”, 1982 New York Times, “Coleco Denies Soaring Debt”, Nov 1983
Expandable Computer News, “West Hartford Happenings: June CES-Chicago” by D. Sage, pgs. 3-5, July/Aug 1984. “Coleco has announced that persons buying ADAMs between May 8, 1984 and September 15, 1984 will be eligible to receive a package of 32 Basic programs for the ADAM.” “Coleco is also going to be giving away Cabbage Patch dolls to purchasers of the ColecoVision Video Game System.” Reproduction of article retrieved from sacnews.net, Sep 21 2015.
Hunter, David. “Newspeak.” Softalk Apr. 1984: 191-96. Softalk V4n08 Apr 1984. Internet Archive. Web. 27 Feb. 2016. Update: Coleco recently admitted to manufacturing only 95,000 Adam home computers in 1983. Last year, the company said it would ship at least 400,000 Adams before the new year. In December, J.C. Penny announced that the Adam did not meet the retailer’s “quality standards” and decided to cancel catalog orders for the machines… Videogaming and Computergaming Illustrated, “Behind the Scenes, Atari vs. Coleco”, by Stephen Bent, pgs. 11 – 13, Jul 1983
Image of ADAM systems in the 1984 Montgomery Ward catalog from “1984-xx-xx Montgomery Ward Christmas Catalog P521″ Flickr page, by Wishbook. Retrieved from Flickr, Sep 21 2015.
Electronic Games, “A Decade of Programmable Video Games”, pgs. 20 – 23, Mar 1982
Image of Super Game version of’Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom’ packaging with ‘Super Smurf Resue in Gargamel’s Castle’ wafer tape from ‘Electronic Fun with Computers & Games, Game Workout: One Million A.C.* *After ColecoVision’, June 1983, pgs. 40-43, 94
ColecoVision Experience, “Feedback – ‘ColecoVision’s Computer’”, pg. 13, Issue #1 Spring 1983
New York magazine, “The Bottom Line: Stalking the Walking Wounded” by John Crudele, pgs. 16-19, May 16 1988
Infoworld, “News Briefs, J.C. Penney cancels Coleco Adam, bows out of home computer biz”, pg. 27, Jan 23 1984. “J.C. Penney has cancelled scheduled deliveries of Coleco’s Adam home-computer system and has announced it will discontinue selling home computers as of February 1. After receiving an initial shipment of 500 Adams, Penney reportedly decided to stop further deliveries because the computers it received ‘repeatedly’ flukes quality tests.. The department-store chain had placed an order for somewhere between 5000 to 6000 Adam systems.” Retrieved from Google Books, Nov 2 2015. 
New York Times, “Advertising; At Coleco, The Adam is Reborn”, Aug 1984
Infoworld, “News: For Kids, IBM Changes Stripes” by Kathy Chin, pgs. 19-20, Dec 31 1984. “Industry analysts have been predicting that Coleco plans to leave the home computer business by dropping its Adam system after the Christmas season – a charge Coleco has repeatedly denied.” Retrieved from Google Books, Sep 21 2015.
Compute!, “Software Power!: The Summer Consumer Electronics Show” by Selby Bateman, pgs. 32-41, Aug 1984
Video Games, “Double Speak – Coleco Woes”, pg. 7, Vol. 1 Num. 5, Feb 1983
UPI, “Coleco Industries and American Telephone and Telegraph Corp. have…”, Sep 8, 1983. “The latest venture by Coleco was announced a day after the firm introduced its new Adam home computer in time for the Christmas shopping season.” Retrieved from the UPI archives, Nov 2 2015.
Ahl, David H. “1983 Summer Consumer Electronics Show.” Creative Computing Sept. 1983: 200-22. Creative Computing Magazine (September 1983) Volume 09 Number 09. Internet Archive. Web. 25 Feb. 2016. Apparently just a few days before the show, it was decided to replace wafertape drives with some sort of cassette termed by Coleco a “digital data pack drive”Softline, “Mart Bell Gets a Cabbage Patch Kid”, by Roe Adams, pg. 50, Mar/Apr 1984. “American Telephone and Telegraph…recently announced a joint venture between its AT&T Consumer Products division and Coleco Industries of Hartford, Connecticut. The new venture will provide interactive games and other forms of entertainment over existing phone lines. To facilitate computer owners’ use of this new service, low-cost (under $100) modems will be sold to subscribers.” “All the games will be for two players. A player in New York inserts a special cartridge of disk into his or her game machine or computer. The player can then call a 900 number (flat rate charge) and enter his/her name via joystick selection. The telephone’s computer will connect the player with another aspiring player on-line somewhere else in the United States. The two player fight it out for the top score, and the scores will be recorded.. Some type of nationwide competition may evolve from this, although that has not been formally announced.” Retrieved from Google Books, Nov 2 2015.
Electronic Games, “Q&A”, pg. 113, Jul 1983
1982 image of kids playing the ColecoVision kiosk courtesy of BooQC Publishing
Images of the Connecticut Leather Company storefront, Leonard and Arnold Greenberg sitting together as well as other information from Videogaming and Computergaming Illustrated, “Adam Bomb?” by the VCI editors, pgs. 19-21, 71. “…Coleco executives admitted that a ‘utility pack’ would be needed to make Adam’s word processor function perfectly, professionally. That utility pack with cost an additional thirty dollars or so…” Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Videogaming Illustrated collection, Sep 18 2015. 
“Hotline: ADAM Drops Out.” Electronic Games Apr. 1985: 18. Electronic Games – Volume 03 Number 04 (1985-04)(Reese Communications)(US). Internet Archive. Web. 10 Feb. 2016. …questions were finally answered just days before the start of January’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), when Coleco announced that it was selling off all Adam inventory to an unnamed retailer.Ross, Steven S. “Coleco ADAM: Everything You Need and More.” MicroKids Dec. 1983: 76-79. MicroKids – Issue 01 Volume 01 No 01 (1983-12)(Microkids Publishing)(US). Internet Archive. Web. 11 Feb. 2016. Image of Expansion Pack #3 prototype; The Coleco printer is a bit slower than more expensive units; it has a printing speed of only 10 characters per second.; The printer is available, however, in only one type size – 10 pitch… It should be noted, though, that you’ll have to buy an optional circuit board to print out a full 80-character line. Otherwise you’re stuck with 36 characters.; Conventional friction feed – like the feed on a normal typewriter – is standard, but Coleco promises an optional tractor feed soon. Price: about $150.; …the Coleco cartridge can transfer data into and out of the computer at a speed of about 1500 characters per second. That’s 20 times faster than a conventional tape drive…Computer Games (ne: Video Games Player), “The Hotline”, Feb 1985. “Coleco’s Adam computer seems to have recovered from its early problems and is starting to sell briskly, especially now that they are offering a $500 college scholarship to anyone that buys one.” Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Video Games Player collection, Sep 13, 2015.
   

External Links (Click to view)


Coleco – http://coleco.com
Uston, Ken. “Reflections on CES.” Creative Computng Sept. 1983: 224-31. Creative Computing Magazine (September 1983) Volume 09 Number 09. Internet Archive. Web. 25 Feb. 2016. On the Friday preceding the show, Coleco’s stock rose five points in anticipation of the introduction of Adam. On the following Monday, the first trading day during which CES was open, Coleco’s stock went up another nine points.Gray, Stephen B. “Coleco’s Adam.” Creative Computing Apr. 1984: 45-54. Creative Computing Magazine (April 1984) Volume 10 Number 04. Internet Archive. Web. 04 Mar. 2016. It [SmartBasic manual] informs the reader that, among other things, “This manual has been adapted from a book by a computer wizard named Russ Walter. His book, The Secret Guide to Computers…”; The last paragraph of the Forward says, “Or, if our line is busy, you can reach Russ Walter at (617) 266-8128 if you have programming questions.”;Walter, who has been described in print as Boston’s… computer guru…; Coleco began shipping the Adam on or about October 18, 1983.; Walter says he discovered Coleco had been removing the Forward from the SmartBasic manual. He threatened to sue, because his contract calls for his Secret Guide to be mentioned in the manual. Coleco later offered, he said, to settle out of court, by paying him for $20,000 for not saying anything derogatory about Adam anymore and for leaving his name out of the manual.; She [Barbara Wruck, director of corporate communications at Coleco] said that the manual has been rewritten and mention of Walter’s book dropped because “we found that the book (the original manual) was inadequate and not appropriate.” New York Times Article on Coleco/July 1985 – www.nytimes.com/1985/07/21/business/coleco-moves-out-of-the-cabbage-patch.html

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  1. avatarRalf

    Great article showing the spirit of these consoles. Today Coleco, Intellivison and Atari still have plenty of fans supporting these systems. As old tv’s fade away and people are surrounded by hightech gadgets these old consoles are still attractive if updated: Stereo/Surround sound, AV/Composite video output are state of the art creating new game experience even with old games. If you hear the stereo/surround sound from such an old console you are really surprised how great these games are.

    Specially as modern consoles sucks in gameplay and complexity (today you need about 15-30 minute to get warm or update your PS3/P4) quick and easy games are really a runner (for the masses on smartphones/tables). So we may see the dying of dedicated gaming consoles very soon, still living on tables and phones.

    Reply
    1. avatarWilliam

      I think the latest consoles that were just released as I am writing this, the Xbox One and PS4, really mitigate the issues with long start-up times and having to constantly update them. They have systems in place, such as background updating, that put an end to this kind of thing.

      Mobile gaming has certainly come to the fore recently, but I don’t think it will be replacing dedicated game consoles quite yet.

      Reply
  2. avatarRalf

    If you look around you will see people having less time today. So filling the limited spare time with a quick game is what happened (for example during public transport, in a break etc.). You do not have a full blown console with you but you still carry a smartphone or tablet with you… that’s the big difference. I have plenty of games at home for all kind of current consoles but there are a lot I never played and they are still in original cover due to time issues. Last time I want to play with my girlfriend on my PS3 the update of the console itself and the game took 45 minutes alone (!!!). Well not so tell we waited a while and then switching over to watch a movie ;-(

    Reply
  3. avatarW. J. Brookes

    What an excellent article. This in one of the few write-ups that really gives readers a sense of what it was like when the ColecoVision was released. You captured it really well. I know, because I got one of these amazing machines when it was first released (thanks Dad).

    Yeah, the ColecoVision was quite the machine. I seem to recall playing it so much that I wore out my tendons. The time away from the machine while healing was tough. Later I noticed Nintendo gamers coined the phrase “Nintendo thumb”. I totally understood what they were talking about.

    For those that have never tried a ColecoVision, your best bet is the stuff they ported over in-house (as opposed to a lot of the 3rd-party games — which usually sucked). So for a list of gooders, check out:

    - Donkey Kong Jr. (Super Donkey Kong Jr. includes all levels from the arcade version)
    - Frenzy
    - Time Pilot
    - Venture
    - Zaxxon
    - Cosmic Avenger
    - Q*Bert

    Note: This machine is the same spec as the SEGA SG-1000. So for a similar experience, try the following SG-1000 games:
    - Galaga
    - Golgo 13
    - Hustle Chummy
    - Star Force
    - Elevator Action
    - Exerion

    Reply
    1. avatarWilliam

      Thanks for the kind words about the article.

      As noted in the article, I had a ColecoVision myself, and it was nothing short of a spectacular games console. I know exactly what you mean about straining your hands with the stiff mushroom stick, I’m sure it put a lot of kids’ hands out of commission.

      Out of the games you list for CV, Venture and Zaxxon were probably my favourites. I remember really liking Mousetrap too, it was a nice strategic take on all the Pac-Man games that were out at the time. And of course, the Donkey Kong game that came packed with the system was a revelation.

      Thanks again for writing!

      Reply

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