Monthly Archives: May 2024

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:

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!”.