Odyssey², a home video game system by Magnavox 1978

Odyssey² and controllers

Odyssey² - The Keyboard Is the Key

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Magnavox 1978

This is The Voice

Magnavox is quick out of the gate with The Voice speech-synthesizer in 1982, a large $100 add-on that fits over the top panel and cartridge slot of the O2, with its own slot to accept game carts. Containing a General Instruments speech chip, It holds a vocabulary of over 100 word spoken with a male voice, along with various sound effects and musical cues.  Audio is produced through its own speaker and volume control, so users can adjust the loudness of voices independently of the game audio emitting from the TV. Outside of the canned expressions contained in The Voice, additional words can be formed by the device through the use of vocal sounds pieced together to produce human speech, although such assembled speech sounds much more mechanical.

The Great Wall Street Fortune Hunt, a video game for the Odyssey2 by Magnavox 1982

Screen from The Great Wall Street Fortune Hunt, 1982

 

Reaching for the Rings

The Odyssey² is named Official Video Game of the 1982 World’s Fair. No doubt this choice is facilitated by the fact that the 1982 World’s Fair is held in Knoxville, Tennessee… which also serves as the HQ for Magnavox. Fifteen Odyssey² displays, complete with Magnavox TV, console and a selection of around six games each, can be found at the America’s Electrical Energy exhibit. Events include the Pick Axe Pete Pick-Off tournament, which results in one pound of gold (then worth around $6,000, as of this writing currently $16,372) awarded to contest winner 10-year old Tony Scardigno, hailing from Weehawken, NJ..

Neither this hoopla, nor The Voice, nor the Computer Intro cartridge (a program designed to teach assembler and machine language) help to jump-start the Odyssey²’s dwindling market share. The Master Strategy series of games are a grand hope of redemption for the console, produced by Stephen Lehner and Ronald Bradford of Wilmette, Illinois. Operating a design firm called Lehner Bradford and Cout, they are pretty familiar with Magnavox video game systems; they had done graphic design work for the original Odyssey, including advertising material, all of the game box art, and even the infamous mylar TV screen overlays. The firm had also designed the “vanishing point” O2 logo and did nearly all of the package graphics work for the newer system. Programming for the Master series is done by the prolific Ed and Linda Averett. It is the opinion of Lehner and Bradford that Magnavox is underutilizing the key feature of the O2 that separates it from the competition, its keyboard. Little has been done with the keyboard innovation, aside from input in some educational games and the video game console first of being able to input your name with a high score, introduced in 1981′s UFO!. The Master Strategy games aim to correct that oversight.

A 1981 ad spread for The Quest for the Rings, a video game for the Odyssey 2

4-page ad for The Quest for the Rings, Electronic Games 1981

 

J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy Lord of the Rings books inspire the first entry, titled The Quest for the Rings. It goes on to win a 1982 Arcade Award for Most Innovative Game from Electronic Games, the premiere videogame magazine of the time. The other titles available in the game series are military strategy game Conquest of the World, and high-stakes financial simulation The Great Wall Street Fortune Hunt. Appearing between 1981 and 1982, each of the three games have extended memory, complex packaging and include plastic and metal game pieces used on a highly detailed game board packed with the game which players use as a supplement to the onscreen action. A lot of interaction with the keyboard is also required. Keeping in the spirit of the Wall Street game, it is debuted at the 1982 Winter CES in Las Vegas accompanied by a heavily guarded display featuring $1 million in silver dollars and poker chips. A fourth Master Strategy game, called The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, is planned but never completed. The popularity of the Master Strategy series is enough to entice Magnavox to commission a full-colour magazine dedicated to the console and its games. Odyssey Adventure is a quarterly magazine that runs from Winter 1982 to Winter 1983.

 

A New Path

By the end of 1981 the Odyssey² no longer falls under the Magnavox brand, having been given its own division under NAP. This move is a bid to expand distribution of the console outside of authorized Magnavox dealers, including a deal with Sears to stock the console and its games on their shelves. A new in-house development team titled the Game Group, headed by original O² game programmer Sam Overton, has also been set up to provide new games for the O². Through 1982 and into 1983, the system also starts getting some third-party software support, with two cartridges by game maker Imagic and four arcade translations from Parker Brothers. The next generation Odyssey 3 is previewed at the 1983 January CES, with 16K of RAM, Z80B CPU, a chiclet-style keyboard, new voice-synthesizer and optional 300 baud modem, along with a later announced laserdisc module to play games such as arcade sensation Dragon’s Lair. The new system has a hefty display resolution at 320×210 pixels, even better than Mattel’s planned next-gen console powerhouse Intellivision III. The O3 is subsequently re-tooled as the Odyssey Command Center, with an expected release in the 3rd quarter of 1983 and a listed price of $199. The most far-reaching aspect of the Command Center is probably the expansion port at the back of the device, which allows for a range of plug-ins for added features, such as voice synthesis, modem and computer programming modules.

By the time of the CES reveal, the Averetts have stepped off the video game merry-go-round, so a software development team for Command Center games led by Sam Overton is set up in the hills of Tennessee called The Odyssey Software Development Group, or Odyssey West. Larger games with advanced graphics are developed, such as an adaptation of Stern Electronics’ arcade game Turtles, by Jim Butler. The Command Center is fully backwards compatible with O2 games, although things get a tad complicated in this regard. Popular titles for the O2 are to be enhanced with colourful and detailed backgrounds for the newer unit, although the main forefront gameplay elements would still appear the same as the original game. These new enhanced versions can be played on the original O2 as well, although the backgrounds would revert back to as before, such as the black limbo of Pick Axe Pete. NAP announces that around twelve games will be available exclusively for the Command Center and which will take full advantage of its advanced capabilities. These include even more deluxe versions of the Master Strategy Series games. Turtles and Killer Bees, by Bob Harris, do make it to market for the O2. The Odyssey Command Center, however, is eventually canned by NAP towards the end of 1983, afraid that the console would be obsolete by the time it was released.  It does see some limited release in Europe, as the Phillips G7400.

The Odyssey Ends

With about one million units sold by 1983, the Odyssey² does beat out every other fringe system like the Channel F, Vectrex and the Bally Professional Arcade, but it only wins five percent of the home video game market, compared to the commanding eighty percent held by the Atari 2600. Talk of a new laser disc game system, marrying the  with Magnavox’s Laservision videodisc technology comes to naught, and work on a fourth Master Strategy game, announced in 1982 and called Sherlock Holmes, is begun by Lehner and Bradford but is not to be. In a strong signal that NAP has lost hope for a revival of their console, the company announces plans in 1982 to publish games for competing systems, under the Probe 2000 label. Titles such as The Adventure of Pink Panther and Power Lords are queued up, but only War Room for ColecoVision ends up getting released; NAP claims a chronic microchip shortage has put a kibosh on the whole endeavour. When the videogame market crashes in 1983 – 84, so does Probe 2000 and the O² itself. The old war horse reaches the end of the road in March of 1984 when NAP announces the dissolution of the Odyssey division. logo_stop

 

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


Videogaming Illustrated, “Eye On: The First Home Videogame Sequel!”, pg. 60, Oct 1982. “In October, Odyssey will release K.C.’s Krazy Chase…” Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Videogaming Illustrated collection, Sep 14 2015.
Leagle, “Atari, Inc. v. North American, Etc.”, by Wood and Eschibach, Circuit Judges, and Gordon, District Judge, Mar 2, 1982. “…North American [Philips] sought to obtain from Midway a license under the PAC-MAN copyright and trademark.” “Mr. Averett was told to make further changes in the game characters. As a result, the color of the gobbler was changed from yellow to its present bluish color.” “An independent retailer in the Chicago area nonetheless ran advertisements in the Chicago Sun-Time and the Chicago Tribune, describing K.C. Munchkin as “a Pac-Man type game.” “Based on an ocular comparison of the two works… K.C. Munchkin captures the “total concept and feel” of and is substantially similar to PAC-MAN.” Retrieved from Leagle, Sep 13, 2015.
Electronic Fun with Computers and Games, “E.F.G. Times: 10-year old Wins Pick Axe Pete Championship”, Feb 1983. “Tony Scardigno of Weehawken, New Jersey, was awarded one pound of gold…”. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, EFWCG collection, Sep 8, 2015.
Image of the Conquest of the World box cover from Encyclopedia Gamia - gaming.wikia.com/wiki/File:ConquestoftheWorldOdy2.jpg
“Electronic Games Hotline: Odyssey Outlook.” Editorial. Electronic Games Winter 1981: 16+. Electronic Games – Volume 01 Number 01 (1981-12)(Reese Communications)(US). Internet Archive. Web. 07 Feb. 2016. Odyssey, now out from under Magnavox and operating as a separate division of North American Phillips…“Can Asteroids Conquer Space Invaders?” Editorial. Electronic Games Winter 1981: 31-33. Electronic Games – Volume 01 Number 01 (1981-12)(Reese Communications)(US). Internet Archive. Web. 07 Feb. 2016. …the Bank of Japan had tripled production of 100-yen pieces… Electronic Games, “Inside Gaming”, by Bill Kunkel, pg. 8 -9, Vol. 1 Num. 2, Mar 1982. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
Halcyon Days – www.dadgum.com/halcyon.html
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.” Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Videogaming Illustrated collection, Sept 18 2015. Wikipedia – Munchkin – en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Munchkin_(video_game)
Electronic Games, “Q&A”, by The Game Doctor, pg. 93, Jan 1983. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
The Odyssey² Homepage, archived Illinois newspaper article, “Electronic Game Wizards”, by Herbert G. McCann, Nov 26 1981
Staples, Betsy. “What’s New for ’82, Video Games, Magnavox.” Creative Computing May 1982: 72. “Magnavox dramatized their slogan, ‘You can feel like a million bucks playing The Great Wall Street Fortune Hunt,’ with a heavily-guarded display of one million dollars in silver dollars and poker chips.” Creative Computing Magazine (May 1982) Volume 08 Number 05. Internet Archive. Web. 05 Nov. 2015.
The Odyssey² Homepage, “The Odyssey² Timeline!” by William Cassidy
Electronic Games, “Electronic Games Hotline: Pac-Man Bites K.C. Munchkin!”, pg. 9, Jul 1982. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
The Odyssey² Homepage! – Odyssey²/Videopac FAQ: The Essentials, by William Cassidy – www.the-nextlevel.com/odyssey2/faq/essentials/
The Voice installation diagram from Electronic Games, “Test Lab: Make Your Games Talk” by Henry B. Cohen, pgs. 110-111, Jul 1983. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection 
Creative Computing Video & Arcade Games, “Video Games Update”, by Danny Goodman, pg. 42, Vol. 1 No. 1, Spring 1983. Retrieved from Digital Press, Creative Computing Video & Arcade Games magazine collection 
Video Games, “Briefs: Atari v. Coleco & Imagic; This Means War!”, by Steve Bloom, pg. 80, Vol. 1 Num. 6, Mar 1983. Retrieved from Digital Press, Video Games magazine collection
Creative Computing, “Compleat Computer Catalogue, Miscellaneous, MPU Video Game”, pg. 28, Sep 1978. “Seven of the optional cartridges will have a suggested retail price of $19.95. The eighth cartridge, Computer Introduction, will carry a suggested list price of $24.95.” Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Creative Computing collection, Sep 28, 2015.
Images of Sam Overton, as well as Ed and Linda Averett, and other information come from Odyssey Adventure, “So You Want to Be a Video Games Inventor”, photographers Fred Leavitt and Terry Moore, pg. 8, Issue 1 Winter 1982
Electronic Games, “The 1982 Arcade Awards”, pgs. 46-49, Mar 1982. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
Arcade Express: Odyssey² Named Official Videogame of World’s Fair, “…located in the pavilion for America’s Electrical Energy Exhibit…”, pg. 2, Aug 15, 1982. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Arcade Express newsletter collection
Images of Ron Bradford & Steve Lehner, as well as the Averetts & kids, and other information come from Odyssey Adventure, “Behind the Workings of the Mind”, photographers Fred Leavitt and Terry Moore, pgs. 4 – 5, Issue 1 Winter 1982
Images of the Sherlock Holmes game board and box art courtesy of The Odyssey² Homepage! – Ron Bradford Photo Gallery – http://www.the-nextlevel.com/odyssey2/articles/bradford/gallery.php
Electronic Games, “Games on Disc” by Henry Cohen, pgs. 24-27, Aug 1982. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
Odyssey Adventure, “What’s New At ‘Odyssey West’?”, pg. 6, Issue 5 Winter 1983
Electronic Games, “Q & A” by the Game Doctor, pg. 53, Mar 1982. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
Kaos’ Odyssey^2 Page – www.iaw.on.ca/~kaos/systems/Odyssey2/index.html
Electronic Games, “Preview of the New Videogames” by Arnie Katz & Bill Kunkel, pgs. 32-37, 66, Oct 1982. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Electronic Games magazine collection
I.C. When -1978- – www.icwhen.com/book/the70s/1978.html
Radio-Electronics, “Video Electronics – Space Wars”, by David Lachenbruch, pg. 4, June 1982. Retrieved from the Internet Archive, Radio-Electronics magazine collection
Image of Odyssey Command Centre and other information from Radio-Electronics, “Videogames ’83″, by Danny Goodman, pgs. 56-58, Jun 1983
Electronic Games, “Players Guide to Programmable Videogames – Odyssey: The Flexible System”, pgs. 71 – 73, Vol. 2 Num. 9, Nov 1983
Odyssey2 Intro – Digital Press Online – www.digitpress.com/emu/o2_top.htm
Odyssey2 FAQ – http://www.austinvideogames.com/FAQs/FAQ_Odyssey2.htm
Thanks to William Cassidy at The Odyssey² Homepage!

External Links (Click to view)

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Comments >>

  1. avatarJim Loftus

    Great article! Some nice nuggets of info I have never read anywhere else. I have fond memories of the Dawn of Gaming, back when everything was pretty much “new to the world,” and most kids would pretty much shit themselves at the sight of each and every incremental advance of technology. Back in ’81-’82 I had a 2600 at the same time I owned an O2. The 2600 won out 90% of the time but certain games were pretty sick on the O2 (K.C. Munchkin, UFO). No exaggeration, this was an incredibly fascinating time for a kid growing up!

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