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A History of Gaming Platforms: Mattel Intellivision
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A History of Gaming Platforms: Mattel Intellivision

May 8, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 9 Next

Following Atari's example with its VCS, Mattel sublicensed the rights to distribute the Intellivision Master Component under different brand names, including the Sears Tele-Games Super Video Arcade, Radio Shack Tandyvision One, and GTE Intellivision.

Except for cosmetic differences, most of these systems were identical to the original Master Component. However, the Sears version offered detachable controllers which were a welcome improvement over the original model, as well as a different default title screen. In addition, as it did with the Atari VCS, Sears rebranded Mattel games under its own label.

However, despite the success and sophistication of the Intellivision, Mattel didn't always deliver on its promises. Mattel promised consumers the Intellivision Keyboard Component by 1981, which was to expand the Intellivision into a full-function computer.

Unfortunately, Mattel was unable to deliver the promised product to consumers in a timely manner, so the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) became involved after a series of consumer complaints.

Although Mattel was able to release a few units to test market and to those consumers who complained the loudest, the Keyboard Component was too costly for Mattel to reproduce on a large scale.

The Keyboard Component added an 8-bit 6502 microprocessor, expandable RAM, full keyboard, digitally controlled cassette drive for both data and audio content, expansion ports, and a printer port.

All of its features, in addition to the Master Component's own capabilities, made it more than a match for nearly any other stand-alone computer of the day. The 4000 money-losing Keyboard Components that were produced were not enough to appease the FTC.

The FTC imposed daily fines, which prompted Mattel to move to an alternate plan with a much lower priced, but far less capable, computer expansion. It was not released until 1983.

"You know what the three big lies are, don't you? 'The check is in the mail,' 'I'll still respect you in the morning.' and 'The Keyboard will be out in the Spring." (Jay Leno at the 1981 Mattel Electronics Christmas Party, from the Intellivision Lives Website)

Modern gamers may be surprised that the ability to download and play games on demand was available for the Intellivision as early as 1981, when the innovative PlayCable adapter was introduced. Local cable companies could offer PlayCable: The All Game Channel to their subscribers who rented the hardware adapter and had a Master Component.

This setup allowed subscribers to quickly download individual games on demand. Although relatively popular in the areas in which it was offered, the idea was too ahead of its time for widespread acceptance and was discontinued by 1983.

With the Intellivision's growing success, Mattel Electronics was spun off as a separate company under the Mattel banner in 1982. In that same year, the company introduced the Intellivoice Speech Synthesis Module, which, after the Magnavox Odyssey 2's The Voice, was the second device of its kind for a video game console.

Through clever use of the built-in prerecorded sound samples and custom recordings loaded on demand for each game, every Intellivoice title had its own unique identity.

Although impressive even at the necessarily low sample rates, only five speech games were released. Poor sales of the Intellivoice spurred Mattel to provide a voucher for the module free by mail with the purchase of a Master Component.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 9 Next

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