This was our family’s first console. We actually had a Coleco Telstar before this, but I don’t think we really played it so I’m not counting it! When I started gaming it was on Intellivision. Telstar was already packed up in its box and shoved in a closet.
It may be old. It may be overpriced for its time. It had hardly any games. But Intellivision was awesome. I have three older brothers and we played the system endlessly trying to beat each others records. We wrote down our scores on paper. Also, every house in our neighbourhood with a game system had an Intellivision except for one house with an Atari 2600. Doing some math in my head, there were 7 homes within a 1 minute walk that had it. At the time, the area had lots of kids with almost every house with kids aged 5-20. We used to all get together and play street hockey, baseball in the park, share Intelly games and of course play marathon sessions until the system overheated and blacked out…. nothing a few hours of shut-off couldn’t fix! Most parents still live in the area, but pretty much all the people I knew have grown up and moved out. Just about every person is now aged 35-50 and unfortunately many parents I knew have passed away.
Since most games did not have a CPU AI to play against, sports games were all about playing each other. I am the youngest among my brothers so I got whipped, but when I got a little older it was pretty even.
I think my dad bought the system around 1980 and we bought games all the way to around 1987. Out of the approximately 120-130 games released for it, I remember one time counting the games we had and it was about 70. We played other games from friends or rentals, so I’d say we played about 90-100 of them. A great thing is after Intellivision went down the tubes in the mid-80s, you could buy any of their old games for $5-10. I remember my brothers going to some flea market and came back with 6-7 games at $5 each. When Intellivision switched up for INTV (white label boxes), you could buy any of the newer games for $30 at most. I think the last game we got was Decathlon, which was ok. We had just got a NES in 1987, but we still dabbled in Intellivision. The smarter move would have been to pony up an extra $30 and get Track & Field II.
I could write probably 20 pages on Intelly, but this post is about the innovations it introduced to gaming. No doubt, there may be other consoles, computers, arcade machines and games that may trump my list, but I’m trying to go by memory and what I knew at the time. I’m too lazy to download an emulator and upload vids, so I’m just going to link other people’s youtube.
Games for Adults
I was young, but I could tell the difference between Atari’s simple visuals and Intelly’s games, whose system was flooded with sports licenses and cool box art. While Atari came packaged with Combat and promoted endless movie license and arcade games, Intelly came bundled with Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack and stressed more realism in their game library. It had some complex strategy games too, which even my dad played (Chess). And it was a pretty smart program, too bad it took forever for it to move on the harder difficulties. When the first batch of games include Horse Racing and Roulette (with more betting), you know this system isn’t for kids.
Sports games had pro-league licenses and tried to replicate the sport best it can. Baseball looked like baseball with a full set of fielders, skiing had slopes and jumps and even bowling gave options like ball weight, lane slickness, hook, slicing and even choosing between left and right handedness.
The cover art was great. Most were realistically hand-drawn or painted. No cartoony or bland stuff an 8-year old could dome up with. The system was the first one I can remember that was geared to a specific demographic. While other consoles promoted arcade conversions and general kiddiness, Intelly was focused on older gamers.
You either loved it or hated it. The controller had 16 buttons (12 keypad, plus 4 side buttons) and a disc thing. It looked analog, but wasn’t. I think it was a 16 directional disc, but unlike a true analog stick you can’t partly nudge it and have a character move slow or anything like that. You could press buttons 1+9 or 3+7 to pause the game.
If you didn’t have an Intellivision, you probably would never get used to it, but it offered the most complex controls at the time aside from million button keyboards on C64 or Apple. Since it had so many buttons, you could just press one to do that function instead of weird button/joystick combos like Atari joysticks. I remember playing some Atari games and to do a certain function, you’d have to press down+button or up+button and other weird combos. Using the controller was simple, cradle it in your left hand for stability and buttons, right thumb presses the disc.
Games had plastic overlays (except for the games released near the end). They looked nice, but what a hassle. Putting them on the controller required you to slip them through a tiny thin slot. Seems easy to do, except if you had a crumpled overlay from wear and tear it needed lots of jamming to get it in, which made the plastic sheet more cracked. Unless you were the worst gamer who can’t memorize keypad functions they were totally useless. Even for games like Utopia or Treasure of Tarmin, which made use of almost all the buttons, it’s not hard to memorize 10 or so buttons. If people can memorize full keyboards without looking at it, surely someone can use an Intelly controller.
We actually never had it, but our next door neighbour did. There were only 4 dedicated beige-box games released for it and he had 3 of them – B-17 Bomber, Space Spartans and Tron Solar Sailer.
Looking back, the games did not look or play any better than a normal game, but it had voice. The voice-overs had both purpose and entertainment value. Some things said were simply for immersion, but certain voices from the computer were for telling you what to do. If you didn’t have an Intellivoice, you could still play the game, but you would have no idea what to do or what was happening. An example is B-17 Bomber. The co-pilot would tell you where enemy fighters were closing in… 12 ‘o clock, 6 ‘o clock etc…. so you had to press the keypad button to go to that turret view.
This might be the earliest form on voice-over interaction in gaming. I might be wrong here though.
Entertainment Computer System (ECS)
I remember my brother buying this sometime in 1986. It was on major clearance at a defunct game store selling for about $130. It included the add-on system itself with a keyboard, plus the musical keyboard and 6 games. Awesome! Hmmm…. maybe not.
Without knowing the specs, you could tell the games were more complex. The World Series Baseball game was much more complex than any console baseball I’d seen and Mindstrike was a cool strategy game. The other games I remember were either kiddie or simply crap (Scooby Doo and some programming game). The best game was probably Mindstrike, since baseball took way too long to play.
The reason I call it innovative is for a few key reasons:
World Series Baseball: I think Apple’s SSI Computer Baseball came out earlier and had tons of stats (my bro loved it). So this game is not innovative for that. But if I’m wrong, then this game is the first one. You could save stats if you had a tape recorder or something. What sets it apart is the batter/pitching view, play-by-play commentating (if you had Intellivoice hooked up to it), integrated base runner camera views. The game also had sprite adjusted graphics and the field was big so it was made up of many screens. Although we didn’t get this game till 1986, it actually was released sometime around 1983-84 I think.
Mindstrike: A turn-based or real-time strategy game where you can make your own levels and play against the computer.
Melody Blaster: With the keyboard, play tunes by yourself or practice playing pre-loaded tunes by copying what happens on screen. I think it had around 10 tunes, plus you could program your own song or just goof around.
I never even knew this existed. But the gadget (if offered by your cable company) allowed you to download games into an add-on system. Kind of like early form of DLC, since you had to pay a monthly fee. Reading about it, seems kind of pointless as it could not handle bigger sized games later on.
From what I remember playing console and Apple games, this game was the first game resembling real-time strategy games we know today. Most complex games back then were turn-based, but this game had two humans battling it out for gold and ultimately points. In Utopia, gamers control boats to fish and in turn make money. With the gold, you grow crops, build houses, factories, forts, hospitals, more boats and even aggressive PT boats to sink the enemy boats. Randomization was great, since the game throws random hurricanes and storm clouds to screw you up. And computer controlled fish and pirate boats scamper around the map.
This game is part Sim City and part RTS. It’s like Sim City as you have to strategically place buildings in the right fit, but also RTS for the resource gathering and hurting the opposing player.
Slam Dunk Super Pro Basketball
When we got this game, basketball games were few and far between in general for gaming systems. EA’s Lakers vs, Celtics was not out yet and playing their games didn’t come close to Slam Dunk’s stats. It had 10x better graphics and real teams and players, but lacked depth. There were other super arcadey basketball games and I don’t think any semi-realistic basketball game was even released for home computers. We’re talking around 1986 here. Probably our family’s most favourite game. The matches we had against one another were intense including a few game winning 3-pt shots; and we tracked who could rack up the most points by team or player. I still remember beating my bro on a 3-pt shot from “Kyle Stevens” who was a decent 33% 3-pt shooter from the top of the screen. Never mind basketball, most sports games at the time didn’t have these features:
- Team budget
- Player salaries
- Draft players
- Player ratings based on stats and the stats mattered how good they were (based on 1983-84 season)
- Players based on real life athletes. I emailed someone at BlueSky (Intelly’s official site) 10 years ago and he sent me a list of who the real life player was crafted after. Too bad I deleted it. Some were pretty obvious “Larry Hawk” was Larry Bird and “Houdini Watts” was Magic Johnson
- Free agents
- In-game stats tracked
- Free throws, 3-pt plays, technical fouls, foul out of game
- Fatigue based on minutes played
- Not an innovation, but you could play against the computer, which was a bonus
A few drawbacks though. There were no offensive fouls and automated steals (two players running into each other) weren’t too common, so a gamer with the ball could constantly bulldoze his way knowing he’d draw a foul more than lose it to a steal. Fouls result in 1 free throw shot, which is not real basketball. Players could foul out too on 6 fouls, so when a team is depleted they can dress fouled out gamers for sake of playing a 3-man team. Fouled out players who commit a non-shooting foul result in the other team getting a technical foul free throw and them keeping the ball. A cheap player on offence would purposely draw fouls as much as possible and rack up points by sinking balls from the charity stripe.
NFL Football or Super Pro Football
Unfortunately, a few great football games marred by a serious flaw. The games ran at real-time so a 60 minute game was literally 60 minutes plus stoppages. Their other games like hockey and basketball ran at double or triple time. I don’t think any of us actually completed a full game, but instead capped it at half games. These games are innovative, since you could program your own plays on the fly. Pretty innovative for a sports game released in 1979! For defence you selected a formation, but for offence, you selected a formation and also programmed receivers where to run for passing plays (you pressed the keypad buttons to tell them during the huddle screen). The Super Pro version came out later and had ball height and more complex playcalling.
Super Pro Football
Can’t find an embeddable vid, but Gamesdbase.com has one.