Friday, March 28, 2008

AVGN: Double Vision Part 1

The Angry Video Game Nerd

(Watch out, GameTrailers as a site bleeds bandwidth.)

I've been watching this guy's videos for a while, and his most recent instalment takes a look at two of the Atari 2600's competitors: the IntelliVision and the ColecoVision.

I was practically raised on video games. I have very clear memories of playing games on my Atari 2600 and mucking about on the NES. I also remember having an IntelliVision, but the memories of this particular console are patchy at best. You can imagine my excitement when I saw this video posted up.

Already I'm spotting a few familiar titles: Zaxxon appears in the intro (though to be fair, Zaxxon appeared on a lot of platforms.) Space Battle with the funny dots drifting towards the clouds in a green field.

This first part talks about the IntelliVision. The console I recognised immediately. Well, that's not quite true. Really, the most distinct part of the IntelliVision are the controllers. They had a grid of metal-like buttons that "pop" when you press them, and a huge round... "thing" beneath that. Nobody forgets a controller like that.

The Nerd points out the IntelliVision's wood texture. I never remembered that, though it was something that I was proud that my Atari 2600 had. The 2600 is a real man's console, wood finish and all. The IntelliVision was always "the console with the big disc button."

The Nerd has a few complaints about the system. One of them is that, without instructions, they're difficult to understand how to play. Apparently, that didn't deter me from playing the games anyway. My experience boiled down to pressing random buttons and seeing what would happen on the screen, if anything. It's a legitimate complaint, compared to, say, the Atari 2600, which had a joystick controller that only had one button, versus the cluster on the IntelliVision controller. I think the games were actually more complex; probably a result of the developers having more buttons to play around with.

Speaking of the controller, that's another of his complaints: they suck. That I didn't notice as a child either, but when you're at the stage where any kinds of blinking, moving lights will amuse you, I suppose it slips by the radar. I don't remember putting much effort into doing well in these games. Since, as I implied before, Atari 2600 games were simpler, it was a lot easier to figure out how to score points and do better, so I put most of my effort into that.

The controller doesn't consist solely of the numbered buttons and the big disc thing. There's another four buttons stationed on the sides. They were tiny and black, and I never remember them doing anything useful, so I mostly ignored them.

Since the numbered buttons don't mean much by themselves, each game would come with a slide-in plastic card thing. What you'd do is slot it over the buttons from the top, and then you'd at least be able to tell what the buttons actually meant while playing the game. I always thought these were really cool, for no practical reason. I just liked seeing the funny little pictures on the thing. I only remember one picture, from one card: "PT Cruiser", with a picture of a small ship above it. Watching the video, I vaguely remember seeing a few more cards, like the one from Space Battle, with the funny triangles, but they never made much sense to me. As a kid, sometimes I'd just play around with the cards, cartridges be damned, just so I could muck around with the pictures.

Then the Nerd reaches for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. I never had this game myself, but the limited visibility and exploration of dungeons immediately make me think of Neverwinter Nights, and Castle of the Winds.

I had a golf game. The Nerd doesn't cover it, which is just as well, because I remember not being able to hit anything. You wouldn't think that picking a club, hitting a stationary ball at some given strength would be that complicated, but I don't think I ever scored a single hole the entire time I had this game, and indeed the console itself.

Buzz Bombers. Didn't have this game myself, but it reminds me of Donkey Kong Jr. 3, where you're some guy with a spray can trying to get what I presume is Donkey Kong Jr. to the top by spraying him, but there are bugs all over the place trying to grab stuff from you. Now that I think about it, there's not that much resemblance.

And now the Nerd pulls out the "IntelliVoice voice synthesis module." What. The. Fuck. This box is totally new to me, I've never come across it in my life. This should be amusing. Only a handful of games supported it. This box, and indeed the whole console, was made by Mattel Electronics. If you were a kid like me, you remember having at least one speech-based toy made by these guys.

The first game that the Angry Video Game Nerd pops into this thing is B-17 Bomber. And the first thing that strikes me is the voice. Well, that'd be the first thing that strike anybody at that point, but I distinctly remember that exact same guy's voice in those Mattel speaking toys. Did they just hire the same old man for all of these things?

Another thing that sticks out is the terrible voice synthesis of everything after the "Mattel Electronics presents..." bit, which is to say the speech is horribly mauled, possibly "spoken" by another person. I use that word loosely, since it kinda sounds like the syllables were pulled from different parts of some recording. I wouldn't make a point of it, because the speech technology was fairly advanced for its time, but, like those Mattel speech-based toys, following the instructions are impossible because of the distortion.

My memories of the IntelliVision are vague at best. In fact, I don't even remember if I had this before, during or after I got my Atari 2600, which seems to dominate my memories. Probably just as well.

Good times.

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