These devices are also available along with the computer in a complete package called the COM/PAC for sale around $500. Mattel also promises that hit Intellivision games, such as Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Tron Deadly Discs, Football and Lock ‘n’ Chase, will get Aquarius versions. In all, thirty-two titles are planned for the first half of 1983, all in cartridge format, with more to follow by the end of the year. These carts are facilitated by a slot at the rear of the device, protected by a dust cover when not in use. Into this slot can also be inserted the Mini Expander, which can accept program cartridges, the memory expansion modules, or a combo of the two. It also offers two hand controllers (similar to the design of those of the Intellivision, but incompatible with the console) and two additional sound channels.
Since the computer has a Z80 CPU, it can also handle the vast library of CP/M software, via a promised Master Expansion Module that would add dual floppy drives to the Aquarius. This module would also allow 16K memory expansion boards to be added. Getting in on the 80’s home automation craze, a device called the Command Console will be sold for the Aquarius, allowing modules to be programmed to control aspects of the household such as a coffee maker and light fixtures.
At the Summer 1983 CES in Chicago, Mattel boldly announces that a “higher-end” version, the Aquarius II, is to be released later in the year. It is to sport 20K of RAM expandable to 64K, and a real keyboard with fully-travelling keys. Fully compatible with software for the first Aquarius, the later model is to offer 12K ROM and 20K RAM expandable to 64K. Its screen resolution is pegged at 320×192 and will sell somewhere between $130-$175.
Down the Drain
In April of 1983, the initial Aquarius is advertised and sold first in a four-city roll out: Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, and Atlanta. It is given a suggested retail price of around 150 dollars and is eventually offered nationwide. The system, however, tanks badly. While the official slogan for the Aquarius is “Smart Enough To Be Simple”, Mattel programmers loathingly suggest “System for the 70’s” as the advertising line, due to its extreme obsolescence. Heads start rolling at Mattel Electronics in early July, with 260 employees let go. This is followed by a further 400 axed a month later, along with a culling of top executives. This constitutes around 37% of the workforce. A price slashing in November down to around $59 fails to improve matters for the Aquarius, and early the next year Mattel bins plans for the Aquarius II and pays Radofin to release them from the Aquarius contract. Surplus computer hardware and software ends up being sold to Odd Lot Trading Inc., an outfit out of New York City that specializes in selling discontinued merchandise.
These expensive projects, along with the collapse of the videogame industry, are the beginning of the end of Mattel Electronics. Second quarter sales for 1983 have sagged to $3.5 million, compared to $24.9 for the same quarter the previous year. Marketing whiz Mack Morris, a man famous for putting the blue dot in the centre of Breath Savers mints, greatly increasing their sales, is named the head of the division in the summer of ’83. Soon, a particularly catchy hook in a game that sets it apart from the others becomes known as its “blue dot” to Mattel employees. Morris lacks the magic touch here, however, as the division reports a loss of $166.7 million for the first six months of 1983 and total losses of $229.3 million for the year. With Mattel saddled with almost 400 million dollars of short-term debt, Morris lays off practically all the staff in hardware development, and another round of layoffs in the fall decimate the Blue Sky Rangers. On January 20, 1984, Mattel Electronics closes its doors.
But the mighty Intellivision refuses to go down with the ship. In February of 1984, Mattel reports that it has signed a letter of intent to sell all existing stock and rights to the system to Terrence E. Valeski, former sr. vice president of marketing and sales at Mattel Electronics, for 16.5 million dollars. Bankrolling the purchase with Valeski is Tangible Industries, Inc., a division of the Revco drug store chain, the largest such franchise in the U.S.. While the team face stiff penalties from Mattel if they fail to continue the Intellivision line, they float such ideas as using the Intellivision brand on other appliances like hair dryers and VCRs. Valeski insists that he is committed to continuing the Intellivision line as a viable game console, going so far as announcing a 3-D games for the Intellivision, via a licence for technology developed by Richard Steenblik of the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. The first such game for the Inty is to be Hover Force 3-D. Valeski subsequently incorporates a new company called Intellivision, Inc (changed to INTV in November 1984, when he takes over Revco’s share of the company). They release the INTV System III (aka the Super Pro System) in the fall of 1985, priced around $60. The System III’s method of sale is partly retail, partly through mail-order, and it is nearly an exact replica of the original Intellivision, both inside and out, but with new game pack-ins. As a cost-saving measure, none of the licenses for the sports games are renewed, and a game like NFL Football is demoted to simply Football. INTV forms an agreement with Mattel to continue service of Intellivision equipment, as well as assemble new carts via a one-year contract. The “new” system brings in $6 million worldwide in sales over Christmas 1986, prompting INTV to hire back many of the original Blue Sky Rangers to finish unreleased games and create new ones. Between 1985 and 1990, when INTV closes its doors and the Intellivision is finally laid to rest for good, over 35 new games are released for the System III. This makes a total of 125 games released for the Intellivision system over 10 years. The Blue Sky Rangers currently have exclusive rights to publish Intellivision system and games, granted to them by Ultimatte Corporation, purchasers of the Intellivision rights from Valeski in 1997. Via Intellivision Productions, a company set up by former Mattel programmers Keith Robinson and Stephen Roney, they continue to keep the system alive today, with Intellivision emulation packs for the MAC, PC and various mobile platforms.
Its roller-coaster ride through the videogame industry nearly sinks Mattel itself. But through restructuring, the company eventually claws its way back to the top of the toy heap, and in 1996 re-enters the videogame industry with a vengeance under the Mattel Media label. They release the Barbie Fashion Designer CD-ROM for the PC that year, going on to sell 15.5 million dollars worth and breaking previous CD-ROM sales records. E.J., the 9-year-old daughter of Mattel Media’s Vice President of Design Andy Rifkin, is one of the designers. In the program, clothes are created and modeled by Barbie on-screen and then the designs can be printed out on special cloth-backed paper and assembled to be worn by real Barbie dolls. It retails at $44.99 USD and spawns a lucrative Barbie line of computer programs, such as Barbie Magic Hair Styler. It is hypothesized that Mattel has broken into the untapped female market for videogames, but others figure that the success has more to do with Mattel’s marketing and the fearsome Barbie brand-name.
Out of the ashes of the Intellivision system has come an amazing amount of quality product by spin-off companies, not the least of which is the continuing emulation work of the Blue Sky Rangers. In 1998 they release two emulation CD-ROMs, Intellivision Lives! for the PC and Mac, and A Collection of Intellivision Classic Games for the Sony PlayStation console. Both feature plenty of perfectly emulated original games, including some never seen outside of the development labs, along with historical information on their creation. Keeping the love alive for classic Intellivision games for continuing generations of video gamers, further Intellivision Lives! packages are released for the subsequent later generation consoles such as Sony’s PlayStation 2 and Microsoft’s XBox. Outside of emulation, some software companies created by former Intellivision programmers include Quicksilver Software – Castles I(1991) & II(1994), Conquest of the New World(1996), Starlet Command(1999); Realtime Associates – M:TG-Battlemage(1997), Crusader: No Remorse(console versions-1997); and Storefront Studios né Beyond Software, headed by Don Daglow of Utopia fame – Gateway to the Savage Frontier(1991), Tony LaRussa Ultimate Baseball(1991), Madden 97(1996), Byzantine: The Betrayal(1997), NASCAR Revolution(1999).
As pointed out previously, the Intellivision’s unique control disc could be seen as a precursor to the modern D-Pad control scheme, pioneered by Nintendo in their Game & Watch handhelds and Famicom home console. In 2013, the influence can also be seen when venerable video game developer, publisher, and distributer Valve Software introduce the Steam Controller, for use on PCs and presumably their Steam game console. With two flat, round touch surfaces, Valve’s product is met with about the same acrimony from gamers as Mattel’s original controllers.
Carving out 15% of the video game market during its heyday (compared to 80% for Atari’s 2600) and selling around 3 million units across its production life (and another 3 million as the System III), the Intellivision may have come up second-best against Atari in the heated battle for videogame supremacy during the early 1980’s. But the Master Component, its varied sequels and components, and its thoughtful and sophisticated library of games continue to be highly appreciated by videogame enthusiasts. With continued support through emulation, Intelligent Television lives on.
Sources (Click to view; inert links are kept for historical purposes)
“Mattel Announces Intellivision Will Be Released in Time for Christmas.” Intelligent Machines Journal 18 July 1979: 15. Print. The master component module of Mattel Electronics’ component-based Intellivision system…will be shipped to dealers nationwide in July. It will have a suggested retail price of $250. The six tapes, which wil be ready for distribution in the fall and are expected to retail in a range of $30 – $35…
“Mattel’s Intellivision: A new Computer-Based Entertainment System.” Intelligent Machines Journal 17 Jan. 1979: 1 . Print. It [Intellivision] will consist of a 64 key keyboard, a cassette drive, and a microphone for use with programs featuring audio input, according to Mattel. Preliminary information indicates that this expansion unit will be priced at $165 and should be available October 1, 1979. Mattel is expected to have the basic unit, as well as 14 games and education programs in ROM packs, available by June 1, 1979. The master component with a football simulation pack is expected to sell for $165. The company is said to be planning a four million dollar advertising campaign to promote the system, most of it to be in the form of television commercials.
“Electronic Games Hotline: Inside Mattel.” Editorial. Electronic Games Winter 1981: 15. Electronic Games – Volume 01 Number 01 (1981-12)(Reese Communications)(US). Internet Archive. Web. 07 Feb. 2016. …Mattel has gone straight to the role-playing game source, TSR Hobbies, and pulled off a hat trick. The company now has the rights to make electronic versions of Dungeons & Dragons in stand-alone, videogame and hand-held formats.“Mattel Strikes Back.” Editorial. K-Power Nov. 1983: 18+. Video Games Player – Vol 2 No 2 (1983-11)(Carnegie Publications)(US). Internet Archive. Web. 07 Feb. 2016. …the actual cost of the system, including rebates, is somewhere between $20 and $60, even lower than the Atari VCS. Image of The Jetsons: Ways With Words game Image of The Aquarius COM/PAC product shot In addition to a full-stroke typewriter keyboard, Aquarius II is more powerful than Aquarius – 12K ROM and 20K RAM expandable to 64K. Aquarius II has…320×192 resolution… The Aquarius Printer connects to the rear of the computer and can print 80 characters per second, and up to 40 columns wide The Aquarius Modem will connect you with Aquarius Home Services… …the Command Console, which will be able to turn appliances on and off in your home automatically. It [Intellivision III] would have a 16-bit microprocessor… Super Graphics (official name “Mattel Electronics Graphic Development System GDS-7809”)… …according to a source at the company, Mattel is busily at work, in another dark room somewhere, creating the next Intellivision, which will be available sometime in 1984.Creative Computing, “Dateline: Tomorrow, Mattel Keyboard Unit–Late and Expensive” by David H. Ahl, pg. 48, April 1981. “After much delay, Mattel has announced a $700 retail price tag for its Intellivision keyboard module.” “Two major retail chains of stores indicated that the price was excessive and they would not handle the unit.” “Both Intellivision units were originally scheduled for introduction in October 1979. The game component finally reached some stores in February 1980.” Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Creative Computing collection, Oct 22 2015.
Videogaming and Computergaming Illustrated, “Focus On: I/O Breakdown!” by Vincent Papa, pgs. 19-24, Nov 1983. “Cheaper, more diversified, shoot-em-up-orientated Atari held eighty percent of the videogame market, Intellivision fifteen percent, and Odyssey five.” “Charlene Margaritas says that morale is very good at Mattel’s electronics division, despite the layoff of hundreds of employees and the announcement of $100 million pre-tax losses for the first six months of the year.” Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Videogaming Illustrated collection, Sept 18 2015.
Image of World Series Baseball for Mattel’s ECS, as well as other information from Video Games Player, “Mattel Strikes Back”, pgs. 18-21, 36, Oct/Nov 1983. “Well, Intellivision III has been scrapped. Mattel claims they have come up with a new graphics system – Super-Graphics- that allows them to program games for the Intellivision II that are just as spectacular as anything Intellivision III would have been able to display.”. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Video Games Player collection, Sep 11, 2015.
Electronic Fun with Computers & Games, “Gamemakers: the Good Doctor”, pgs. 38-40, Dec 1982. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Fun with Computers & Games collection, Sep 8, 2015
Images of the Aquarius Data Recorder, Memory Cartridges, Printer, Master Expansion module, FileForm, Hints From Heloise, Tron Deadly Discs and Utopia, as well as other information, from the Aquarius Program Catalog, Mattel 1982. Retrieved from trailingedge.com, Sept 7, 2015.
InfoWorld, “Software for Defunct Machines” by Denise Caruso, pgs. 34-35, May 14, 1984. “Aquarius machines and software, however, have been shipped off to a company in New York City called Odd Lot.” Retrieved from Google Books, Sep 7, 2015.
Electronic Games, “Electronic Games Hotline: ACTV Rolls Intel Carts”, pg. 16, Mar 1983. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
www.intellivision.Us – intellivision.usJoyStik, “Future Waves – Aquarius Computer”, pg. 7, Vol. 1 Num. 6, July 1983
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. Mattel has apparently given up on the Intellivision III. The system was displayed in January in a private room to a select group of attendees. It was impressive with its remote controllers, stereo sound effects, and fabulous simulated 3-D graphics.Arcade Express: Mattel in the Chips – “Mattel Electronics accounted for 25% of the net sales…”, pg. 6, Aug 30, 1982. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Arcade Express newsletter collection
Cyberroach Magazine #6 – www.cyberroach.com/cyromag/six/cge991p.htm
“Space Cunt” images courtesy of CyberRoach
Video Games Player, “Video Game Wars”, by Dan Gutman, pgs. 38 – 40, 56 Vol. 1 Num. 1, Fall 1982
UNDERDOG of PERFECTION – John Hodgman in George Plimpton homage – blog.room34.com/archives/161
Radio-Electronics, “Buyers Guide to Home Computers” by Jules H. Gilder, pgs. 45-67, Oct 1980
Image of the Aquarius COM/PAC box from Electronic Games, “Readers Replay – Intellivision III Dropped”, pg. 26, Vol. 2 Num. 9, Nov 1983
Image of PlayCable executives, the PlayCable splash screen, and other information from Video Games, “Playing Games with Cable”, by David Smith, PlayCable splash screen photo by Rob Gray, pgs. 73 – 75, 89, Vol. 1 Num. 5, Feb 1983
Omni, “Games: The ten best games of the year”, by Scot Morris, pgs. 170 – 171 Dec 1981
Mattel Aquarius – commodore-gg.hobby.nl/mattel_aquarius.htm
Close-up image of the Intellivision controller from Wikimedia Commons, photo by user Evan-Amos
Legal, “IN Re Northern Specialty Sales, Inc.”, Jan 27, 1986. “…for defendants Intellivision, Inc., Tangible Industries, Inc., and Revco D.S. Inc.”
Electronic Games, “Electronic Games Hotline: Atari Attacks Demon Attack”, pg. 10, April 1983. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
Online Store Intellivisiongames.com – www.intellivisiongames.com/store/index.php?cPath=22
Compute!, “The Fall Computer Collection At The Summer Consumer Electronics Show” by Tom R. Halfhill, pgs. 22-42, Aug 1983
Omni, “Cyber Fun!”, pg. 97 – 99, Nov 1979
Intellivision Lives! Boxshot – www.gamespot.com/…/boxshot.php?pid=919290
Official Intellivision Website, “Intellivision III”
intellivisionlives.com, “Intellivision 1983 Releases, pg. 3 of 3, Masters of the Universe: The Power of He-Man”. Retrieved on May 17, 2015>
Electronic Games, “Electronic Games Hotline: Intellivision Debuts Hot Hardware”, pg. 14, Jun 1983. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
JoyStik, “Future Waves – Intellivision III”, pg. 6, Vol. 1 Num. 6, July 1983
Computer Closet Collection | INTV System III – www.computercloset.org/INTVSystem3.htm
Intellivision System Changer Support Modification – Intelliwiki – intelliwiki.kylesblog.com/index.php/Intellivision_System_Changer_Support_Modification
Hunter, David. “Newspeak.” Softalk Apr. 1984: 191-96. Softalk V4n08 Apr 1984. Internet Archive. Web. 27 Feb. 2016. Obit: Mattel, battered by losses in its video game and home computer businesses, is selling off all its divisions…Mattel Electronics, which lost $283.5 million in the first three months of fiscal 1983, was purchased by Mattel executive Terrence E. Valeski and two backers, Ike Perlmutter and Bernard Marden – who together own New York-based Odd Lot Trading, a firm specializing in closeout merchandise. The Collection V, Bill and Christina Loguidice – www.billandchristina.com/vgamecomp/collection5ar5.htm
“Electronic Games Hotline: Intellivision Debuts Hot Hardware.” Editorial. Electronic Games June 1983: 14. Electronic Games – Volume 01 Number 16 (1983-06)(Reese Communications)(US). Internet Archive. Web. 08 Feb. 2016. The big news, however, concerns the Intellivision III, expected to reach market with an initial selection of six to eight games, and a price tag of slightly under #300…Possible game releases include Air Ace, throwing gamers into the cockpit of a fighter plane, assigned to patrol a full-screen landscape seen from three-quarter perspective. Image of John Sohl taken at CGE 2014, Las Vegas
Video Games, “The Selling of Intellivision”, by Susan Prince, pgs. 32 – 34, 68 – 69, Vol. 1 Num. 3, Dec 1982
Image of PlayCable from Intellivision Brasil
Creative Computing Video&Arcade Games, Fall of 1983, Review of Intellivision II by Owen Linzmayer, page 82
Electronic Games, “The Summer Game Goes Electronic” by Arnie Katz, pgs. 46-52, Aug 1983. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
Images of Aquarius Box, Mini Expander Box, ECS box, Keyboard Component with box and motherboard, INTV System III box, Tandyvision Box, and Mattel Electronics’ Auto Race and Football boxes taken at the Videogame History Museum display, CGE 2014 in Las Vegas
Compute!, “New Home Computers At The Winter Consumer Electronics Show: Spectra Video and Mattel” by Tom R. Halfhill, pgs. 38-40, Mar 1983
The Orange County Register, “New owners of Intellivision to spend ‘substantial’ capital”, pgs. B8, B11, Feb. 8, 1984
Staples, Betsy. “What’s New for ’82, Video Games, Mattel.” Creative Computing May 1982: 70-72. “They [Mattel] also announced that the Intellivision keyboard unit is being test marketed in New Orleans and Seattle…” Creative Computing Magazine (May 1982) Volume 08 Number 05. Internet Archive. Web. 05 Nov. 2015.
The Daily Herald (AP), “Toymaker Mattel enters the home computer market”, pg. Section 2 – 5, April 24, 1983
Arcade Express, “M-Network Overcomes Launching Problems”, pg. 1, Sept 26, 1982. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Arcade Express newsletter collection
Compute!, “A 6502 Version Of The Winter Consumer Electronics Show: January, 1981” by David D. Thornburg, pg. 10, Mar 1981
Image of Intellivision console and computer add-on at CES , as well as other information, from Creative Computing, 1979 Winter CES coverage, pg. 17, April 1979. “They’ve [Mattel] also got math and spelling exercises along with speed reading and French… and financial planning and personal improvement.” Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Creative Computing collection, Sep 29 2015.
Syracuse Herald-Journal, “Beat the Video Games” by Michael Blanchet, pg. C-11, Mar. 3, 1983
Lawrence Journal World (N.Y. Times News Service), “Games turn serious in commercial ‘war'”, pg. 36, Dec. 20, 1981
Intellivision Game Club News, “Utopia Challenges You to Run Your Own Country!”, pg. 5, Winter 1983. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Intellivision Game Club News collection
Image of Intellivision sitting atop the Keyboard Component from Electronic Games, “Q & A” by The Game Doctor, pg. 16, Aug 1982. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
Electronic Games, “Reader Replay: M Not-Work?”, pg. 21, Jan 1983. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
Linzmayer, Owen, and David Ahl. “Barbie, Bits and Bytes: Mattel Aquarius Home Computer System.” Creative Computing Aug. 1983: 49-54. Creative Computing Magazine (August 1983) Volume 09 Number 08. Internet Archvie. Web. 25 Feb. 2016. The Aquarius comes with a version of Microsoft Basic residing in the 8K ROM…Mattel plans to offer an Extended Basic upgrade later this year.Ahl, David H. “Mattel Electronics.” Creative Computing Magazine (March 1984) Volume 10 Number 03. Internet Archive, n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2016. Aquarius was finally rolled out in April in four cities – Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles and Atlanta – at an average street price of $150.; By November the street price had propped to around $59…; In early July, 260 employees were laid off. A month later, 400 more employees were dropped, making the total reduction some 37% of the division. Moreover, the top management of the division was dismissed.; Sales in the second quarter of 1983 were $3.5 million compared to $24.9 million in the like period a year earlier. In early September, the company announced a loss from the electronics division of $166.7 million in the first six months of 1983. In December, the loss for the first nine months was reported as $229.3 million… Images of Melody Maker and World Series Baseball, as well as other information from Radio-Electronics, “Videogames ’83” by Danny Goodman, pgs. 56-58, Jun 1983
The Orange Country Register (Minneapolis Star and Tribune news service), “Remember video games? …”, pg. E10, Jan. 7, 1987
Compute!, “Mattel’s New Home Computer” by Tom R. Halfhill, pg. 43, Jan 1983
Hunter, David. “Newsboys: Intellivision 3-D – Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Play Video Games Again.” Softtalk Apr. 1984: 198. Softalk V4n08 Apr 1984. Internet Archive. Web. 27 Feb. 2016. A toned-down version of [Steenblik’s] process will be under veiled later this year when Intellivision Incorporated – the first licensee-begins marketing a 3-D video game for its Intellivision unit…the game Hover Force 3-D…Intellivision Lives, “Intellivision Keyboard Component #1149”, referenced Mar 26, 2015 – http://www.intellivisionlives.com/bluesky/hardware/keyboard_tech.html Lakeland Ledger (Knight News Service), “Solving the mystery maze of video games”, by Jonathan Takiff, pg. 2C, Dec. 10, 1982
Electronic Games, “Electronic Games Hotline, ‘Stealing a march on the other manufacturers, Mattel has gone straight to the role-playing source…’, pg. 15, Winter 1981. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
Winnipeg Free Press (LA Times wire service), “New owner says he will continue Intellivision line”, pg. 30, Feb. 8, 1984
Popular Science, “New add-ons turn video games into computers”, by Myron Berger, pgs. 114-155, 166, Oct 1983
Internal Intellivision dealer ECS memo and sales invoice, dated May 1, 1983, Intellivisionbrasil.com
Billboard, “Games, Computers Get Strong Push From Mattel”, pg.34, Mar 12 1983
Computer Games (ne: Video Games Player), “News”, pg. 8, Feb, 1985. “Intellivision is now owned by Revco, the largest drugstore chain in the U.S.”. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Video Games Player collection, Sep 13, 2015.
Williams, Tom. “Mattel and APF Competing for the Home Users Market.” Intelligent Machines Journal 04 Feb. 1980: 5. Print. Mattel’s Intellivision, which will cost approximately $800, according to the company… …the Mattel system is not user-programmable. The company expects to have user-programmability by 1981…