What is an Intellivision?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

The Intellivision was a computer gaming console built to compete with the popular Atari 2600 system. Intellivision was released in 1980, at a price of $200 US Dollars (USD.) The console experienced enormous success until 1983, when a video game market crash and newer, more advanced systems did tremendous damage to sales.

Woman doing a handstand with a computer
Woman doing a handstand with a computer

Less than a year after the release of the groundbreaking Atari 2600, Mattel set to work developing a more advanced console gaming machine. Although originally the Intellivision was slated to have an add-on keyboard to make it rival a personal computer, the technology was never perfected and was eventually scrapped. The system was aggressively marketed as being better and more realistic than the Atari, adopting the ad slogan “the closest thing to the real thing.” In its first year, the system sold over 100,000 units with 19 available games.

Originally, all of the games for the system were made by an outside company called APh. The company produced popular games that would go on to become classics, including Sub Hunt and Advanced Dungeons and Dragons: Cloudy Mountain. Eventually, Mattel realized they could make more profit by producing games in house, and hired handheld game developers to take on the job.

Afraid that Atari would steal their development team, Mattel kept the identities of the developers secret, referring to them only as the “Blue Sky Rangers.” The Rangers produced dozens of games for the system, and many original members continued to have successful developing careers after the fall of the Intellivision. Some of their most famous titles include River Raid, Shark!Shark!, and Utopia, considered to be the first sim game.

The original Intellivision was a flat rectangular box, with two controllers and a cartridge port on one side. The controllers featured a number pad similar to a phone, a circular directional pad, and four side buttons that could be used for various game functions. A smaller, sleeker version called the Intellivision II was released, designed to be cheaper to produce.

One of the major innovations of the system was the release of Intellivoice, a revolutionary peripheral device that produced synthesized speech for certain games. Because of the limited amount of available space for speech-memory on a cartridge, games featuring Intellivoice were hard to make. Only four titles were ever released with this capability Space Spartans, Bomb Squad, B-17 Bomber, and Tron: Solar Sailor. The technology was a few years ahead of its time, but is recognized as a revolutionary invention.

In 1983, the video game market experienced a crash as new companies rushed to make consoles and personal computers gained popularity. Intellivision, unable to put out a technologically advanced system that kept pace with the market, eventually suffered the effects of the crash. The company closed in 1991.

In the 21st century, vintage gaming has become a sizeable fad, and Intellivisions are often to be found at the center of bidding wars on auction sites such as EBay. In the late 1990s, members of the original Blue Sky Rangers obtained rights to the games, and have produced compilations for Sony Playstation, Nintendo DS, and for use on personal computers. Despite the limited availability of the original system, the world of Intellivision is once again alive and well.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a EasyTechJunkie writer.

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