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[Gamasutra's A History of Gaming Platforms series continues with a look at the Intellivision, a classic video game console developed by toy company Mattel and continued as an independent business for years after being dropped by that company. Need to catch up? Check out the first four articles in the series, covering the Commodore 64, Vectrex, Apple II, and Atari 2600.]
When Mattel released its Intellivision video game system in 1980, Atari knew it finally had a serious contender for the console crown. The Intellivision was more advanced than Atari's VCS (later known as the 2600) and featured distinctive software, clever marketing campaigns and sophisticated (though quirky) controllers. Mattel cultivated a unique and long-lasting brand identity, and it's not hard to find loyal fans of the system even today.
TYPICAL SYSTEM SPECIFICATIONS
Release Year 1980
Resolution 160 x 196
On-Screen Colors 16
Sound 3 Channels, Mono
Media Format(s) Cartridge
Main Memory 2KB
The Mattel company was founded in 1945. It was then primarily a manufacturer of picture frames and dollhouse accessories. After the introduction of the Barbie doll line in 1959, the company shifted its focus entirely to toys.
Barbie's unbelievable success swelled Mattel's coffers, and it soon diversified its lineup by purchasing smaller toy companies with unrelated product lines. Today, with well-known brands such as Hot Wheels, Barbie, and an ongoing series of acquisitions that include Fisher-Price and Tyco, Mattel is one of the world's largest and most successful toy makers.
In 1977, Mattel, under its Mattel Electronics line, produced the seminal Auto Race, the first all-electronic handheld game. It was crude by today's standards -- the visuals were represented by red LED lights and the sound consisted of simple beeps.
But the novel product was a huge success, spawning several other handheld games such as Football and Battlestar Galactica. These games sold millions and gave Mattel the confidence to move into the fledgling video game console market with the Intellivision Master Component.
The inside of a 1981 Mattel Electronics Intellivision catalog, showing the original Master Component and various boxed games in their respective Network colors.
Mattel successfully test marketed the Intellivision in Fresno, California, in 1979, along with four games: Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack, Math Fun, Armor Battle, and Backgammon. The following year, Mattel went national, and quickly sold out the first year's production run of the popular systems.
Closeups of the infamous Intellivision controller. Despite allowing for an impressive 16 possible movement directions, the control disc was often criticized for its awkwardness with many games. Many add-ons of dubious value were created to purportedly enhance the control disc's functionality, like the Intellivision Attachable Joysticks shown to the far right.