After the success of their handheld sports games in the late '70s, toy giant Mattel was preparing the release their first game console. The Intellivision was test marketed in California in 1979, and given a full North American release in 1980. After that, it saw release in Europe, South America, Japan, and Oceania. From what I gather, the InTV ended up in second place in the first major console war behind Atari but ahead of the Odyssey2/Videopac and Bally Professional Arcade/Astrocade.
- In terms of hardware, it can claim a few firsts: technically it was the first console to have a 16-bit processor.
As far as I can tell, it introduced the directional pad (Nintendo’s cross-shaped d-pad originated on Game & Watch and was later) and the numeric keypad/overlay type controller. It definitely isn’t the most comfortable controller but at the time I didn’t mind as much.
It was the first console to have downloadable games and a subscription service. Its PlayCable service started in 1981. Ralph Baer had thought of the idea many years earlier for the original Odyssey but the cable companies weren’t interested at the time.
On the marketing front, it began the trend of bashing the competition in ads, and it had celebrity endorsements. Commercials with George Plimpton made comparisons with similar games on the Atari VCS.
It introduced officially licensed sports video games in 1980. Major League Baseball came first (it also became the best selling game on the system). It was followed by NHL, NFL, NASL, PGA and NBA games.
Also, World Series Major League Baseball had a save function in 1983, if you had the Entertainment Computer System add on. For consoles, this predates the Famicom Disk System and the Epoch Super Cassette Vision’s battery backup.
It’s common practice today for movie licensed games to be in development at the same time as the movies themselves. I’m pretty sure 1982’s TRON Deadly Discs was the first game to do this. This also happens to be one of my favourite games of all time so I’m curious what happened to its main designer, Steve Sents. Anyone know?
Given the advantage over the 2600 of having a keypad for a standard controller, the Intellivision did a good job of having more than just fast-paced arcade style games with one or two play buttons. It also had a slower processor than the 2600 so that also steered it towards complex games over speedy games.
The strategy/simulation game Utopia in 1981 was an ancestor to games like Sim City.
It had the first 3d dungeon crawler console RPG: Tom Loughry’s Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: The Treasure of Tarmin in 1983. This was amazing at the time and still holds up well for a quick RPG fix.
For turn-based RPGs on console, it does seem to have been beaten to the market by Dragonstomper (another impressive game) on Supercharger but that didn’t have the same visual wow factor.
The Famicom/NES often hogs all the credit for moving home gaming past just arcade games and offering more “home experiences” but even two years after launch day in Japan it was lacking simulation, action-adventure, and roleplaying games. The Intellivision had these genres (although certainly not to the extent personal computers did) so it deserves to share some credit, especially in the console sphere.
- The Intellivision had a relatively large number of women development staff (usually on graphics but some on design). There isn’t enough information on every developer to say for sure but the percentage seems higher to me than any other first-party from the '80s. Connie Goldman, Julie Hoshizaki, Monique Lujan-Bakerink, Ji Wen Tsao, Peggi Decarli, Minchau Tran, Karen Nugent, Donna Fisher were all involved in making InTV games for Mattel.
Some other cool games:
Demon Attack (that epic boss fight!)
Beauty and the Beast
Lock 'n Chase
Tower of Doom
Duncan’s Thin Ice
AD&D: Cloudy Mountain
Please correct me if anything’s incorrect. And check out http://www.intellivisionlives.com/ for more info.