Some advice on romance for you from a retro video game historian: Find someone who looks at you the way this lady looks at the guy running the Aquarius Home Computer System, by Mattel Electronics.
On second thought, maybe don’t. She looks like she’s thinking about slitting his throat while he sleeps tonight, and whether she could completely bathe her naked body in the amount of blood that came out of him.
And another thing: this photo seems to prove just how unuseable the crap keyboard on the Aquarius was. Look at the man’s fingers, curled up like an old, arthritic witch in order to press on those tiny, rubbery chiclet-keys. The computer came with a built-in flavour of Microsoft BASIC, but can you imagine trying to program on that thing? 20 minutes and I’d be longing for release, as the pumping blood from my carotid artery splashed on my wife’s writhing body.
Also, the dude has a Mini Expander AND two memory packs, but hasn’t installed them into the computer? That means he’s stuck with the anemic 4K standard RAM in the Aquarius. Yes honey, you can bring the kitchen knife to bed tonight.
Today the Visual Cortex is sporting an Intellivision magazine ad, featuring the system’s well-heeled attack dog, author George Plimpton.
Plimpton featured prominently in a series of attack ads by Mattel that highlighted their system’s advanced graphics capability, especially when compared with the anemic visuals of their chief rival, Atari’s VCS/2600 unit. You might be excused for thinking, “Why Plimpton?”. Well, Plimpton came to national prominence as a kind of high-brow intellectual for the Budweiser set, a sportswriter who would poke fun at his high-falutin’ ways by attempting to play sports at the pro level and then write about his haplessness. So he was a pretty good fit for the Intellivision, which specialized in sports games like NFL Football and MLB Baseball that blew away the Atari versions in terms of both graphical quality and realistic gameplay. Here is the ad:
George lays into Atari
These hard hitting attack ads irked Atari president Ray Kassar so much that he complained about the “unfairness” of the comparisons to the TV networks airing them and threatened legal action. Eventually Atari would come out with their own version of the highly intellectual pitchman; a child dressed up in a suit and glasses who would point out the versions of popular arcade games that were absent on the Intellivision. Of course, Mattel then struck back with Plimpton schooling their own version of the pint-sized pitchman.
As a couple of bonuses, here is John Hodgman’s spoof on the Plimpton ad, used to shill his own book The Areas of My Expertise in 2006, as well as a link to Newground’s hilarious (and fun to play) fake web-based ColecoVision game George Plimpton’s Video Falconry, created in 2011.
A spoof of the Inty ad featuring John Hodgman, 2005
If you can think of anything less cool and hip and high technology than a television infomercial, please write in and let me know. But the ad gurus working for Atari in the mid-90’s thought this format would be a great way to move the Jaguar off shelves.
The Jag had already been on the market two years, and in 1995 had Sony’s PlayStation and the Sega Saturn breathing down its neck. Touted by Atari as the first 64-bit game machine, inside there were actually two 32-bit chips called Tom and Jerry connected to system memory by a 64-bit wide data path. This configuration made developing games for the machine difficult, hence third-party games were slow in coming. Meanwhile, the game libraries of its rivals swelled, and Atari discontinued the struggling Jaguar the next year.
Hard to see why, with hip and happening advertising like this. C’mon, Bob!
As part of a marketing push (an area where CEO Ray Kassar excelled at), Atari created a two-minute ad for arcade game Dig Dug. The funny thing about all this hoopla is that Atari hadn’t actually made the game: it was licensed by the company from Namco for release in North America.
Dig Dug gameplay
Taking five days to film, the full ad ran in theatres during the summer of 1982, while a shorter 30 second version ran on TV. Originally, 60’s singing and dancing sensation Chubby Checker (The Twist) was to sing the catchy theme song in the ad, but Atari ultimately went with a younger singer, perhaps for reasons of demographics. You can hear Chubby’s versionhere on the Atari Museum Public Group on Facebook. The song was posted by Matt Osborne, the son of Don Osborne, who was Atari’s VP of Marketing at the time. Upon listening to it, I’m sure you’ll agree that Atari made a huge mistake not going with Chubby.
As for the visuals, the various special effects in the ad were handled by production designer Jim Spencer and crew, who among other projects had the effects-laden movie Poltergeist under their belt. They would subsequently work on films like Innerspace and Gremlins.
Created by advertising agency Young & Rubicam and directed by Manny Perez, the spot would go on to snag a 1983 Clio award in the Cinema and Advertising category. It might not be high art, but at least it reflects the most important aspect of the video game it’s shilling: it’s a lot of fun. It also got the job done for Atari; by their estimations the theatrical ad and shortened TV spots had by August of 1982 increased public awareness of Dig Dug by a whopping 227% over markets without the ads. This converted into 30% higher coin drops for the arcade game in those same markets. I can Dig that!
The original 3rd-party video game maker for the Atari 2600, Activision apparently saw the writing on the wall in 1983. That was the year they made their move from consoles onto computer platforms, such as porting Kaboom! and River Raid to the Atari 8-bit XL line as seen in this ad. Moving to computer platforms helped the storied company survive the big video game crash of 1983-84, allowing them to become one of the biggest video game companies still around today.
The Apple II was a solid gaming platform in 1982, but Paul Stevenson’s graphically astounding and highly interactive action-adventure games for the computer really pushed the envelope of what was possible. Having slashed his way through the pirate genre with Swashbuckler earlier in the year, he moved onto his magnum opus. We feature a magazine ad for it today in the Cortex: Aztec.
As part of our celebration of the upcoming 30th anniversary of the Famicom, the Japanese video game system by Nintendo that was later adapted for the North American market as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), I’m posting my review of The Wizard. It’s a 1989 Fred Savage vehicle that many consider as simply a 100 minute commercial for Nintendo. I made this initially for Ten Point Review, where we rate a movie according to four criteria, and then add and/or subtract points as we see fit in order to come up with a numerical rating between 0 – 10. Time to watch people play games!
Vanguard was an arcade game developed by “shadow” developer TOSE, and released in Japan by SNK in late 1981 and licensed for North America by Centuri. It was an important intermediate step towards modern side-scrolling shoot-em-ups such as Gradius and R-Type, improving on a genre first formed by William’s seminal Defender.
Today in the Ad Game we feature a TV commercial for the Atari 2600 port of Vanguard:
Vanguard was definitely a great arcade game, and the 2600 version a spectacular port that demonstrates the amazing things Atari programmers were able to pull off with the platform as it matured. This ad, however, doesn’t do any of that justice. For instance, who trades off the joystick to their buddies in the middle of a game? Hard to keep your concentration and momentum going with some jerk begging for the joystick. Just wait until he crashes, it won’t be long. Try shouting “The wall, the wall!” into his ear, that oughta speed up his destruction. One of the big innovations touted in Vanguard was the ability to shoot in four directions, but in the ad the shooting looks pretty spastic. The key to any successful shooter is the precision of your shots, and here it looks like the gunner is having a seizure. Then, of course, we have the hulking Luthor, who’s sole responsibility is to defeat the Gond, the boss at the end of the round. A man of few words, it is rumoured that Luthor once, when a kid refused to give up the joystick to him, stuffed the poor bastard’s hand completely into the cartridge slot. We can only know his moods by his demented chuckling. Perhaps Luthor is related to Beavis?
Tandy’s TRS-80 computer, lovingly called the “Trash-80” by aficionados, was an early home computer released in 1977, that same magical year that established the idea of computers in the home with the Commodore Pet and a little number called the Apple II.
Nothing quite gets the nostalgic fires burning as a product catalog. So here we feature a link to a 1982 Radio Shack (owned by Tandy) catalog, profiling all the wonderful programs and games you could get for the system. Not only is the content great, but the whole thing is presented in such a tactile way that your can almost feel your grubby hands sliding across the slick paper, drooling over the new games rolling in for your machine:
Click to see catalog
I also recommend checking out the whole site, Radio Shack Catalogs. It is an astounding repository of promotional materials from Radio Shack’s history, and you can’t think of 70’s electronics without harkening back to the Shack.
Our ad today loads up a service that gave many people their first taste of electronic mass communication: CompuServe. Back in the “good” old days, you had a couple of options if you wanted to go online: a local dial-up BBS, or a nationwide equivalent like CompuServe, one of the larger players in the forming market. Here is the ad, from a 1985 issue of Compute’s Gazette:
The “videotex” mentioned in the copy was an early system to deliver interactive text to users. It’s funny to me how the base elements of the Internet were all understood and ready to be delivered to a potential user base: news, banking, online shopping, email, games… all the concepts of what we do on the Internet today. Of course, CompuServe has to couch things in a way people of the 80’s would understand, so they compare their chat service to a “multi-channel CB simulator”. 10-4 good buddy! I’m also impressed by the image of a Zardoz-type video warrior armed with not only a hand blaster, but a light-sabre as well. Guy’s ready for a fight!