Monthly Archives: June 2014

Images from the TDE databanks

The Visual Cortex: An Ad for Aztec

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.

Ad for Aztec, a computer video game by Paul Stevenson and Datamost, 1982

Indiana Jones eat your heart out

Nothing like it, indeed.

The Intellivision, a home video game console by Mattel 1980.

Intellivision Takes a Swing at Atari

Developed by Mattel and consulting firm APh, the Intellivision (Intelligent Television) provided the first serious competition against Atari’s popular VCS game console.

With its advanced graphic capabilities and versatile keypad/disc controllers,  the console was a success when released wide in the U.S. in 1980. Mattel’s aggressive advertising push for the Intellivision, which highlighted the superiority of its many sports games over Atari’s offerings, sparked a marketing war between the two companies. As Intellivision spokesperson George Plimpton was quick to point out, between Atari’s Home Run and Mattel’s Major League Baseball, there was simply no comparison. While Atari promoted their library of popular arcade game translations unavailable on other systems, hits like Night Stalker and Astrosmash help solidify the Intellivision’s success.

Magazine attack ad for the Intellivision, a home video console by Mattel

George lays into Atari

Speech synthesis via the Intellivoice module, as well as a game delivery system through Cable TV called Playcable, were eventually made available for the system. In 1983, Mattel redesigned the original Master Component console into the Intellivision II, simply a retooled box and controllers with the same capabilities at a reduced price.  The Intellivision III was announced early that year, with such features as a built-in voice synthesizer, colour LCD display on the case and wireless joystick controllers.  It and the top-secret Intellivision IV next-gen console project were cancelled by the end of the year as the home video game market collapsed.

The Intellivision II, a home video game system by Mattel 1983

Intellivision II and controller

After the company made a tenuous grasp for the home computer market with the ill-fated Aquarius computer, Mattel Electronics went out of business in 1984.  All rights and existing stock for the Intellivision were sold to T.E. Valeski, former VP of Sales and Marketing at Mattel. As Intellivision, Inc. (later changed to INTV), the company marketed a cosmetically altered version of the original Master Component called the INTV System III in the fall of 1985. They met with enough success to produce several new games for the console, until this new venture closed its doors in 1990.

For more information on the history of Intellivision, consult your local Dot Eaters article.

Marquee for Death Race, an arcade video game by Exidy 1976

Driving Controversy: Death Race

Death Race was an arcade game released by Exidy in 1976, amid a pack of other such driving games as Atari’s Grand Trak 10 (1974) and Le Mans (1976), as well as Indy 800 (1975), published under Atari’s secret Kee label. Racing games were pretty hot at the time, but Death Race threw in a little something special to the mix: instead of racing around a track, you drove your vehicle around an arena trying to run over little stick figures, who when hit would shriek and turn into a cross for you to avoid. It would become the first game to generate widespread concerns about video game violence.

Screen of Death Race, a violent arcade video game by Exidy 1976

Death Race, scourge of the arcades!

The blocky and abstract graphical representation of its obvious inspiration, Roger Corman’s low-budget exploitation flick Death Race 2000, seems positively quaint by today’s standards. Death Race, however, drove a storm of controversy as word got out about the game.  It was decried as “morbid” by trade publications of the time, and the National Safety Council branded it as “sick”. Newspapers ran stories gleefully outlining the premise of the game, and no reassurances from Exidy’s marketing man Paul Jacobs that players were actually dispatching “gremlins”, as noted in a label on the game’s dashboard, could quite quell the outrage.

Instructions for killing 'gremlins"

Instructions for killing ‘gremlins”

Despite (or perhaps because of) the controversy, Death Race was a hit for Exidy and helped establish them as a long-time player in the video game market.  The game also paved the way for more realistic video game violence, in the vein of the Mortal Kombat and the Grand Theft Auto games. All of which, of course, helped to turn kids into hardened killers, in the same way that video baseball games turned them into professional ball players.

For more information on Death Race, consult your local Dot Eaters article.