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

Atari Buys Intellivision: What Intellivision Used to Think of Its New Owners

If you’d like to see how the mighty Intellivision was developed and how it impacted the industry, you can check out our history of the console, a history you can read, listen, watch and even play, here at The Dot Eaters: https://thedoteaters.com/?bitstory=console/intellivision

Big game developer acquisitions like Sony buying Bungie, or Microsoft buying… everything (Activision Blizzard, Bethesda, etc. etc. etc.) understandably shake-up the video gaming landscape. The announcement of Atari buying up the Intellivision brand and game rights might not quite set off such big earthquake alerts in a monetary sense, but it certainly is a monumental event in the realm of retro video games.

The Mattel Intellivision console video game
More top-down view of the Intellivision Master Component, controller overlays and cartridges, 1980 Mattel Catalog

The Mattel Intellivision was released by Mattel Electronics in 1979 as a higher-tech challenger to what was by then, by far the most popular video game system available, the Atari VCS or Video Computer System, later renamed the 2600. The Intellivision was a bleeding-edge game console at the time, featuring a 16-bit CPU and dedicated GPU, and the games Mattel put out for it, especially sports games like Major League Baseball, NFL Football and NBA Basketball, were demonstrably better than similar sports on the Atari.

So demonstrably better, in fact, that Mattel put out a series of commercials comparing its video games to those on the Atari, featuring the gently condescending tones of author and actor George Plimpton, who had made a name for himself a few years earlier by trying out for professional sports teams and writing about his hapless attempts to play at the pro level. In these ads, Plimpton would display, say, Atari Home Run baseball next to Mattel’s Major League Baseball and politely ask which the viewers might find more realistic: Atari’s flickering four blocky players moving around a solid background with four white dots for bases, or the fully-teamed, animated ball-players running around a rendered ball diamond and pitching mound of MLB. The answer was obvious.

A collection of Intellivision attack ads aimed at Atari

So, to “commemorate” the biggest name in video game history finally buying up their strongest challenger, I’ve put my collection of attack ads Intellivision put out maligning the aging graphics capabilities of the Atari VCS into a YouTube video for you to i) enjoy if you were a smug Mattel Intellivision owner back in the day, or ii) fume about if you were an Atari VCS owner in 1980, like me. As a bonus I threw in a response commercial from Atari, as well. This is what, at the time, Intellivision thought of their new owners, and now you can’t say “I didn’t know!”.

Wipeout Blasts into your Browser with Fan-Made Port

Psygnosis was a vaunted British game developer and publisher, perhaps known mostly for their games for the Commodore Amiga, such as the smash hit Lemmings. The iconic futuristic racing game Wipeout was their second-biggest seller, getting a boost by being a launch title for the blockbuster PlayStation console.

Now, Wipeout is back, but this time you can play it in your browser. A fan-made port of the original 1995 game has been released, and it’s surprisingly good.

The port was created by Dominic Szablewski, who reverse-engineered the PC version of Wipeout and recompiled it to run in a web browser. The game features all of the original tracks and vehicles, as well as the iconic anti-gravity racing gameplay.

The port is not perfect. The graphics are a bit dated, and the controls can be a bit slippery. But overall, it’s a faithful recreation of the original game that’s sure to please fans of the series.

Here are some of the highlights of the browser version of Wipeout:

  • Full game experience: The port includes all of the original tracks, vehicles, and gameplay modes from the 1995 game.
  • Easy to play, hard to master: Wipeout is known for its challenging but rewarding gameplay. The browser port does a good job of capturing this, with tight controls and fast-paced racing.
  • Free to play: The browser port is completely free to play. You can download it and start racing right away.

If you’re a fan of Wipeout or futuristic racing games in general, I highly recommend checking out the browser port. It’s a great way to experience this classic game without having to dig out your old PlayStation.

Here are some tips for playing the browser version of Wipeout:

  • Use a keyboard and mouse to control the game. The controls are not as good with a controller.
  • Start with the easier difficulty settings until you get the hang of the game.
  • Be careful not to overheat your vehicle. Overheating will cause your vehicle to slow down and eventually explode.
  • Use the boost wisely. Boosting will give you a speed boost, but it will also overheat your vehicle.
  • Practice makes perfect. The more you play, the better you will become at racing.

I hope you enjoy blasting your way through the browser version of Wipeout! Click here to play it now.

Arcade1Up and Atari Team Up for the 50th Anniversary Arcade Cabinet

If you’ve ever yearned to play Atari arcade games like Missile Command, Crystal Castles, Major Havok and more in an affordable arcade cabinet format, Arcade1Up and Atari have teamed up to release a new arcade cabinet to celebrate Atari’s 50th anniversary. The Atari 50th Anniversary Deluxe Arcade Machine is a must-have for any retro gaming fan, with a curated selection of 14 arcade classics and 50 Atari 2600 games.

The cabinet features a 17-inch color screen, four control panels (one for each game type), and two speakers. It also has upgraded joysticks and on-off light-up buttons, a light-up marquee, and even a 3D molded light-up coin door, although you don’t actually have to insert quarters to play. All done in the iconic profile of the classic Atari Asteroids cabinet.

Speaking of which, here is a list of some of the games included in the cabinet:

  • Arcade classics: Asteroids, Centipede, Missile Command, Space Duel, Tempest and more!
  • Atari 2600 games: Adventure, Battlezone, Breakout, Canyon Bomber, Crystal Castles, Donkey Kong, Frogger, Gravitar, Haunted House, Millipede, Missile Command, Pac-Man, Pole Position, River Raid, Space Invaders, Sword Quest, Yars’ Revenge, the list goes on.

The cabinet also has built-in Wi-Fi, so you can connect to online leaderboards and compete with gamers from all over the world.

The Atari 50th Anniversary Deluxe Arcade Machine is available now for pre-order on the Atari website and other retailers for $499.99. It is scheduled to ship in October 2023.

To read about the rise and fall of Atari, and the many games they published, and even watch and play them, start with my article on The Dot Eaters, here: https://thedoteaters.com/?bitstory=bitstory-article-2/pong-and-atari

Atari and Artovision 3D artwork

3D Depth Artwork Released by Atari and Artovision

Atari and Wisconsin-based Artovision have collaborated to make shadowbox and desktop versions of 3D artwork based on the classic arcade game Asteroids, along with a piece based on their 2600 game Adventure and another one featuring the Atari logo splash screen that appears in front of games for the 2600 sequel, the 5200 SuperSystem. The Asteroids art has the original arcade bezel with an image of gameplay set back from it to create the 3D effect. The original arcade marquee design tops the artwork, with a representation of the arcade button controls below.

You can head on over to Atari.com and pick up your own three-dimensional classic game artwork. You can also read, watch, listen and play the history of Atari here at The Dot Eaters.

Atari Star Wars arcade game

Atari Star Wars Arcade Game 40th Anniversary

Trying to figure out what is the “best” of any genre is kind of a fool’s errand. What makes something the best is a highly subjective thing, and it’s very rare to find consensus. But the decision is pretty much in when it comes to arcade video games: Atari’s Star Wars, released 40 years ago on May 5, 1983, is a sure bet for the greatest arcade game ever made.

Atari Star Wars arcade game
Atari Star Wars gameplay. Use the… well, you know

Game designer Mike Hally worked on a lot of other classics at Atari, including producing the deviously difficult Gravitar (1982) and the raster graphics classic Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (the best thing associated with the movie). He also directed the Atari System 1 graphical extravaganza Road Runner in 1986, and designed the lightgun shooter Area 51 for Atari in 1995, among other works. It’s to the great credit of his Star Wars arcade game that it lives up to the original material. The project was based off an earlier unfinished game titled Warp Speed by Battlezone creator Ed Rotberg. With a working title like that, one thinks that maybe Rotberg was thinking Star Trek other than Star Wars. Utilizing Atari’s colour Quadrascan vector graphics hardware, Hally’s game totally immersed players in a galaxy far, far away… especially if they were playing the sit-down cockpit version. The game covered the action that takes place in the film’s final reel: Luke Skywalker as Red Five, joining the attack against the dreaded Imperial Death Star. Controlling Luke’s X-Wing fighter, gamers fended off a wave of enemy TIE fighters, then swooped down into the famous Star Wars trench scene in a race to deliver the final shot into the exhaust port, then out in time to watch the great conflagration as the deadly technological terror explodes. Then rinse and repeat, as the TIE fighters became more numerous and active, and the surface defenses of the Death Star increased in complexity and difficulty, all while digitized voices of R2-D2, Luke, Han Solo and Obi Wan urge on the gamer, accompanied by snippets of John Williams’ iconic score.

Just one interesting story about the game is when, on August 10, 1983 Atari unveiled the game for George Lucas at his Marin County, California HQ. The gathered designers and Atari and Warner Bros. (mother corp. of Atari) execs looked on as Lucas sat down in the cockpit version of the game and played it for the first time. With his trademark taciturn demeanor, the Atari people started to sweat as Lucas stayed stone-faced, showing little enthusiasm as he played. Lucas finally emerged from the cockpit saying “That was great!”, and everyone started breathing again. BTW, this special version of the cockpit Atari Star Wars cabinet had a plaque mounted on it, reading: “A special thanks for creating the Force behind so much fun.”

Onlookers watch George Lucas play Atari’s Star Wars arcade game, 1983.

If you’d like to find out more, you can read, watch, listen and play the history of Atari here at The Dot Eaters: https://thedoteaters.com/?bitstory=bitstory-article-2/pong-and-atari

Sega hologram arcade laserdisc game Time Traveler, Japanese version

Holograms Come to Video Games

In 1991, long after laserdisc games had come and gone in the arcades, Rick Dyer tried his hand again in the genre by releasing Time Traveler. Distributed by Sega, Time Traveler was similar in concept to Dyer’s previous huge hit, the arcade laserdisc blockbuster Dragon’s Lair, featuring lush animation by Don Bluth. In Time Traveler, however, the action directed by players was represented by live actors. The hook here was, they didn’t just appear on a screen, but on a stage in the cabinet, seeming to hover in the air as actual objects.

Playfield of Sega Time Traveler hologram laserdisc arcade game
Stage and actors in Sega’s Time Traveler hologram laserdisc arcade game, 1991

The trick was achieved by having an image from a monitor hidden in the cabinet bounced off a blacked-out semi-sphere mirror up onto the stage, giving the illusion of depth to the characters. Not really “holographic”, but a pretty nifty visual effect nonetheless.

Unfortunately, like Dragon’s Lair before it, Time Traveler was hindered by a lack of interaction. In the game players control old-west Marshal Gram (like Holo-gram….get it?) in his quest to rescue beautiful Princess Kyi-La of the Galactic Federation, and prevent the evil scientist Volcor from tearing time apart. To do so, gamers merely chose which direction Gram should move or whether to use his guns, with the results played out accordingly. And with Dragon’s Lair and the various laserdisc games that came in its sizeable wake, arcade patrons quickly tired of the effect of Time Traveler and moved on.

Time Traveler did pull in $18 million in sales upon release, and a fighting game called Holosseum utilized the same tech, although with sprites instead of actors, the next year. It also got a home DVD release from Digital Liesure in 2000, sans holographic effect but presented in 3D with included glasses. Holography in the arcades, at least according to Rick Dyer and Sega, might have been a pretty picture, but failed to leave a lasting image.

For more information on Time Traveler, Dragon’s Lair and the other games of the laserdisc craze of the early 80’s, you can check out my article here on The Dot Eaters: https://thedoteaters.com/?bitstory=bitstory-article-2/dragons-lair-and-the-laser-game-craze

PONG Announced 50 Years Ago

It’s hard to believe that PONG is a half-century old. But it was 50 years ago, on Nov. 29, 1972, when an upstart company in Santa Clara, California called Atari announced a crazy product: a ping-pong game played on a TV screen, mounted inside a wooden cabinet.

It was the second attempt by the company to carve out a new entertainment genre: the first was Computer Space, a video coin-op game the company had produced the previous year under the uncomfortable business name Syzygy. Sketched out by co-founder Nolan Bushnell and assembled by Al Alcorn, PONG would go on to massive success, creating an entire industry that, within a decade, would be worth $3.2 billion dollars.

For more information on Atari and its revolutionary PONG, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

Atari’s Epic Dig Dug Commercial of 1982

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, an arcade video game by Atari and Namco, 1982
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 version here 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!

For more information on the history of Atari, consult your local Dot Eaters Bitstory. 

Sources:

Atari Coin Connection, “Dig Dug Meets Clio”, pg. 2, Aug 1983
Atari Museum Public Group, Facebook
1982 Entertainment Tonight segment on the making of Dig Dug ad
Cash Box. Industry News – Atari ‘Customer Day’ Stresses Closer Ties With Distributors”, pgs. 38 – 39, Feb 19 1983, retrieved from Internet Archive Sept 15, 2019
Cash Box, Nov. 13 1982 article “Atari Launches National TV Push for ‘Dig Dug’

Company logo for Activision video game company

Down Goes Activision! Bought by Microsoft for nearly $70B

For an extensive look at the glorious early years of Activision, have a read of my article, here: https://thedoteaters.com/?bitstory=console/activision

Microsoft has a deal to buy long-time video game company Activision, to the tune of $68.7 billion. That’s a lot of CoD Points! Looking back at the history of Activision, there’s a certain amount of schadenfreude in them being finally snapped up themselves. Through the years, the company has done a fair bit of acquiring of their own. For example:

  • In 1997, they acquired Raven Software, makers of the Heretic FPS games. With Raven closely associated with Doom and Quake makers id Software, this eventually gave Activision an in with id itself. Raven was eventually eviscerated with targeted lay-offs, and as with many dev teams within Activision, is now part of the Call of Duty factory.
  • Neversoft, makers of the Tony Hawk skateboarding games, got picked up in 2000. It was shuttered by Activision in 2014, its remaining team members redirected to… you guessed it… cranking out Call of Duty games.
  • Speaking of Call of Duty (which you do a lot of when it comes to Activision), developer Treyarch was drafted into Activision in 2001. Which marches us to…
  • Infinity Ward had made Medal of Honor: Allied Assault in 2002, and was subsequently picked up by Activision in 2003. They would, of course, be the impetus Call of Duty developers. Activision switches between Infinity Ward and Treyarch as lead designers of each new version of CoD.
  • Grey Matter Interactive (ne: Xatrix Entertainment) had a deal with id to make Return to Castle Wolfenstein in 1999. With id’s close relationship with Activision, Grey Matter ended up gobbled up by them in 2002. Spoiler Alert! They ended up merged with Treyarch to make Call of Duty games! Surprise!
  • RedOctane made their name by pairing with Harmonix to make the Guitar Hero games. After being purchased by Activision in 2006, they were spared the ignominy of having to toil away on the Call of Duty rockpile by being closed down in 2010.
  • There’s few long-standing developers as creative-minded as Toys for Bob, started by Paul Reiche III (the Archon games with Freefall Associates, Mail Order Monsters) and Fred Ford in 1989. After making the first two successful Star Control games (we don’t talk about Star Control 3), they found huge success with the Skylander games, marrying real-life figurines with video games. Picked up by Activision in 2005…. do I really have to say this… they’re put to work on Call of Duty games in 2021.

And of course, there’s the big one, when Activision merged with Vivendi, owners of World of Warcraft makers Blizzard Entertainment, to form Activision Blizzard in 2008.

So, when it comes to Activision these days, to paraphrase The Dark Knight: You either get shut down as a developer, or live long enough to see yourself working on Call of Duty games. In the above list, there wasn’t one description of a developer acquired by Activision where I didn’t also have to include the title Call of Duty! That’s what Activision has become: a Call of Duty factory. Game developers are bought, their talent steadily stripped away, and often eventually shuttered or absorbed. It’s a long way away from the initial vision of Activision, that of under-appreciated game designers lifted out of the enforced anonymity of Atari and allowed to take wing as gaming superstars.

For an extensive look at the glorious early years of Activision, have a read of my article, here: https://thedoteaters.com/?bitstory=console/activision

Aztec, a computer game for the Apple II

A Quick Look Back: Aztec

[ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED FEB. 24, 2011]

It’s not an overstatement to describe Aztec as graphically dazzling, an action-adventure game released originally for the Apple II  and Atari 8-bit computers in 1982, and then a couple of years later for the C64Aztec is all the more remarkable when you consider that most adventure games of the era, such as those of Infocom, were limited to mere text to create the atmosphere, or the limited slide-show animations of Sierra On-line.

Aztec was designed by Paul Stephenson and distributed by Datamost, a company that produced a few other classic gaming gems, such as Mr. Robot and His Robot Factory in 1983.  Stephenson himself also designed Swashbuckler for the company, released the same year as Aztec… and you can definitely see familiarity in the combat modes between the two games.

The Title Screen Sets Us Up For Something Special

A colourful (if one had a colour monitor or TV set attached to their Apple) opening title screen greets you while the game loads.  Further pages of white text used to set up the story fool gamers into thinking that perhaps the graphics were a big come-on and that Aztec might be just another text adventure. The text explains that apparently the famed (but unstable)  Professor Von Forster found a lost Aztec temple, but disappeared without further contact.

The player is then presented with a few options, such as choosing either to start a new game or load up a previously saved one.  A difficulty setting is then requested, ranging from 1 if you want to take things easy, all the way up to 8 if one is feeling suicidal.  Charging you with following in the Prof’s footsteps, Aztec then puts the gamer in the scuffed shoes of a fearless adventurer, cutting through all that “red line representing travelling by the air from country to country” rigamarole by opening the gameplay with you standing right outside the Aztec tomb of real-life Mesoamerican deity Quetzalcoatl. With the tap of a key, you descend into the mysterious depths.

Indeed, I DO Dare

The game is essentially a platformer, with large sprites for the adventurer and the various creatures he must dispatch or avoid.  It’s quite a menagerie down there, with spiders, snakes, alligators, Aztec warriors and even dinosaurs calling Quetzalcoal’s tomb home.  While the animations are pretty limited, it’s the details of the artwork that really makes things pop.

There Be Dinosaurs Here

The layout of the tomb is randomized each time you play, and most of your time is spent searching for, opening and looking through boxes and piles of trash on the ground, which can contain weapons, health potions or just the scattered remains of poor Prof. Von Forster.  As you delve deeper the creatures get more dangerous, and the traps more cunning.  The end goal is to snatch a valuable jade idol that is hidden somewhere in the tomb, and then get out with your life.

Fresh Calamari For Dinner Tonight

Helping the creatures in their fight to finish you off is the game’s clunky control method.  Each action is assigned a specific key, so to walk you press “W” and then a direction key, and you’ll keep walking until you hit “S” for stop.  You can also crouch, crawl, plant dynamite, jump, run, climb… it gets to be a bit much fumbling around for each key on the keyboard, although once you get the hang on it you can navigate the tomb quickly while playing the keyboard like a virtuoso pianist. You also can enter a fight mode, where you wield either the machete or a pistol, but often it is unsure why you hit or miss something. The sound isn’t any great shakes either; just the bloops and bleeps from the Apple‘s internal speaker, but this somehow adds to the game’s spartan charms. And being able to blow your way out of a jam with a well placed stick of TNT is a play mechanic that is still fairly unmatched in adventure gaming, decades later.

My Own Remains Will Serve As a Warning To Others

I have a particularly fond memory of Aztec, because when I was going to high school the first computers we got were two Apple II‘s for the science class.  For some reason there was a copy of the game in the library of disks, so every chance I got I put that bad boy into the floppy drive and loaded it up.  After a few times of him catching me and telling me to stop playing games with the computers, the science teacher banned me from the keyboard for a week.  I learned my lesson well; when I regained computer privileges I was more careful he wasn’t around when I played.

Sure, it’s no Uncharted, but at the time, this was as close to living out the Indiana Jones dream as you could get on a computer, with Raiders of the Lost Ark having been released just the year before. Aztec, complete with all its bugs and quirks, makes for an unforgettable Apple II gaming treasure.