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Thursday, November 03, 2011

Thursday Night At The Arcade: My Very First Game Console

Let me preface this blog entry by sharing a couple of facts about myself when I was younger.

One, I was a child who grew up in a family that had huge financial struggles, and more often than not, there wasn't a whole lot of disposable income readily available. I guess in some way, it's kind of reminiscent to the current struggles some families are having as this recession drones on.

Two, I was a child who was constantly picked on by his peers for not being able to wear the latest fashions, or own all the latest toys, or being able to afford family vacations. As much as I boast now that I happily don't follow the crowd for trends and the like, back then, I did care. An awful lot.

Now that we have all of this established, we can continue.

Christmas 1989 was one of those Christmases that was memorable, but not exactly for the reasons most people remember Christmas. Certainly we had gotten presents from our families, and of course we all got visited by Santa. But with my sister's wedding happening earlier in the year, and with her leaving the house to start her new life, this Christmas just didn't seem like it was quite the same as it had been in previous years.

I also remember the letter that I mailed off to Santa that particular Christmas. Back in 1989, we would send our letters to a special address, which lead to a P.O. Box number, and during the month of December, the letters would happen to be published in the local newspaper. I admit that it was neat to see my name in the newspaper in print, and it was actually a neat idea to have our want lists put in the newspapers so that our family members could get ideas as to what to buy us for Christmas presents.

Well, you case Santa didn't have enough room in the sleigh. ;)

That particular Christmas, I remember coming up with a list that I thought was a little bit ridiculous. If I remember correctly, I had asked for a computer, a Nintendo system, and about every board game ever made. It was quite an ambitious wish list, and when they printed it, it definitely stood out.

Now here's a part of the problem. There was no way that my parents could have afforded all of those things on the list. I mean, a personal computer back in 1989 cost a fortune alone. I ended up getting the Whiz-Kid toy computer as a consolation prize gift...but hey, I liked it all the same, so I didn't complain.

The main gift that I really wanted that Christmas was the Nintendo. By 1989, it seemed as if almost every boy and girl in my class...heck, almost every boy and girl in my SCHOOL ended up having a Nintendo to play with. They kept talking about all the cool games they had, and they would have birthday parties where they would play Nintendo games.

Basically, if you had a Nintendo, it seemed as though you were a popular kid. And while systems like Sega and Turbo Grafx 16 existed back in those days, nobody seemed to have one of those systems.

It was Nintendo or nothing back in those days.

And I wanted one so badly.

I had tried to ask for one for my 8th birthday in May of 1989, but unfortunately, it just wasn't to be. So, for the next seven months, I tried extra hard to be good, in hopes that Santa was watching me closely, and that he would bring me a Nintendo for Christmas.

December 25, 1989 had been just like any other Christmas. Lots of stocking stuffers, and lots of presents, and although I didn't get every board game ever made, I did get Yahtzee and Pictionary Junior, which was great.

But the main present that I was looking for was my Nintendo. Santa had to have brought it, right?

And when I saw a great big box wrapped in bright red paper, I was thinking that Santa had come through! Knowing that a Nintendo came in a big box (as I had seen them displayed in toy and department stores), I had a feeling that this was going to be a great Christmas present!

But as I tore apart that shiny red paper apart, what I found inside was not a Nintendo.

Instead, it was one of these.

The Intellivision video game console, put out by Mattel. A console that was celebrating its tenth anniversary in 1989.

And yet, here I was, an eight year old boy, wondering why I didn't get my Nintendo.

It wasn't until years later that I ended up discovering the truth about the gift. My parents knew how much that I wanted a Nintendo. Heck, it was all that I could talk about during the whole of 1989. But at a retail value of almost two hundred dollars, and money being tight that holiday season, my parents just couldn't afford to spend that much on a single present. Still, they knew how much I wanted one, and while they couldn't afford to buy a new Nintendo, they had attempted to look around for a used Nintendo so that I would still get what I asked for.

Unfortunately, 1989 was a time before eBay, Kijiji, and even advanced classified ads, and the odds of finding a used Nintendo were slim.

But then fate stepped in somewhat.

When my family moved into the home where I grew up in 1986, it had a whole bunch of treasures stashed away in the basement that the previous owners had left behind. As time passed, my parents went through the stuff thoroughly, checking to see if there was anything that they wanted for the home.

As it so happened, my parents ended up finding an Intellivision console in the depths of the basement in perfect working condition along with two dozen game cartridges to go along with it. As Christmas 1989 approached, and my parents had come up empty with trying to get my Nintendo. So, they came up with the alternative. Give me the Intellivision for Christmas, and then see if they could find a way to save up for a Nintendo for next year. I know they tried their best though, and when I ended up getting the Intellvision hooked up to the television, I have to admit that I liked playing it, even though it wasn't a Nintendo.

Of course, I couldn't very well let the kids at school know that I had gotten a video game system that was older than quite a few of them. So, I initially kept quiet. But then one nosy kid named Andrew, and his friends Joel and James kept asking me if I had a Nintendo, and they would not let up. I told them that yes, I did get a video game system, and that it was an Intellivision, and that I loved playing it.

First they ended up staring at me, as if I was talking a different language...and then they made fun of me for not getting a Nintendo, and then they went off on their separate ways, making me feel like a real tool in the process. Of course, back in those days, I couldn't understand why they acted this way, because I thought that if I had video games to play, it wouldn't have mattered. But because I didn't have a Nintendo, I was suddenly deemed unworthy to hang around.

Man, the saying was right. Kids could be cruel.

But here's the thing. I loved my second-hand Intellivision console. I had probably more Intellivision games to play than the other kids had Nintendo games (I mean, seriously, the games for the Nintendo cost up to and including $69.99 at the time). I mean, yeah, the graphics weren't as good on Astrosmash as they were for Nintendo's Super Mario Brothers, but it was still a fun game to play!

And at the time of its release, the Intellivision proved to be stiff competition for its only gaming rival at the time, which was Atari. Back in 1979, the Intellivision was test marketed in Fresno, California, and four game titles were available. The following year, the game system was released all across the United States and Canada. The game console cost a staggering $299, and included the game cartridge Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack (one of the many games I owned for the console).

By 1981, the game library grew to over 35 game titles, and the following year, Mattel reported that the Intellivision unit had sold upwards of two million consoles, netting the company a profit of over one hundred million dollars!

Alas, all good things eventually had to come to an end. In the case of the Intellivision, the end began with the video game crash of 1983.

The video game crash of 1983 was blamed on a variety of factors, but the main cause of it seemed to be the oversaturation of video game consoles and games.  Back in 1980, the Intellvision and Atari were the only game in town. By 1983, you had at least a dozen consoles, each with games that could be considered below standard.

I mean, do we really have to go into the Atari 2600 video game based on the 1982 movie E.T. The Extra Terrestrial? Not in this blog entry, but next week, stay tuned for an extended discussion on this.

The point is that the poor sales of these poorly developed games, as well as competition from home computer systems offering games to play caused the video game industry to suffer a devastating blow in 1983.

The Intellivision console was one of the first casualties of the crash of '83. In 1984, the Intellivision division was closed by Mattel. New games were released as recently as the early 1990s by individual liquidators who purchased the rights and inventory left over from before the crash, but by 1991, the Intellivision console ceased production.

Of course, we all know that by 1986, the video game industry rebounded with the introduction of the Nintendo console a year earlier, but the crash of 1983 ended the run of what was a powerhouse in the world of early 1980s electronic games.

The Intellivision though was a fun game system. It was quite different from some of the current systems being offered today. Yes, the game system worked like a lot of the other systems. You had a base where you inserted a game cartridge into the system. That was nothing new.

The controllers were something unique though. The bottom of the control had a disc at the bottom which worked as a control pad. Wherever you pressed the disc, the thing you were to control moved along with it. In addition, there were twelve individual keys, designed to look like a cordless phone keypad or a remote control for a television. Each game came with a set of plastic inlays that one would place over top of the keypad. Each number from 0-9 corresponded with an action. Like, say, suppose you were playing the boxing game. One number would correspond with a blocking move, the other would be a jab, another would be a punch, etc. It was a crafty way to play the game, because each game was designed with a different configuration of moves and actions.

And some of the games produced for the console don't have the graphics and realism that they have now, but at the time, they were considered cutting edge, and realistic as compared to the Atari console. As I said above, I owned about two dozen cartridges, and some of them were kind of unimpressive, but some of them were addicting as well.

Some of my favourites?

Astrosmash was probably my all-time favourite game. It was a simple space game where you had a laser gun shooting at asteroids and missiles, and UFO's. The whole point of the game was to destroy as much as possible so your score would get higher. A simple game that I found very addicting.

Night Stalker was another fun game. You had to run around a maze, defending yourself against giant spiders, bats, and robots eager to kill you.

Remember the fun of the Sims and Sim City? There was a game called Utopia that could easily be called one of the first simulation games created. You had an island nation that you had to develop by planting fields, building schools and hospitals, and catching fish all while dealing with pirate boats, acid rain, and hurricanes. It was a fun game, but boy was it tough.

You could even play BurgerTime, Mouse Trap, Carnival, Venture, and a couple of Sesame Street themed games for the Intellvision.

Really, if one could look past the graphical limitations and really allow themselves to get into the games themselves, they'd find them almost as fun as some of the new generation games.

Everything old becoming new again.

Now here's the kicker. Eventually, I did end up getting my Nintendo console. With help from my family, I saved up for it for nine whole months before buying it from the local Woolco (remember that name, Canadians?) store in September 1990. It came with the Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt cartridge, and I loved it. Eventually the Intellivision console got boxed up and put away in the closet. But, I still have it today. How could I get rid of it? It provided so many memories, and how much Christmas 1989 was made so much more special because of it.

In fact, I even picked up the Intellivision Lives game for the PlayStation 2 console a few years ago for kicks, and as it turned out, the game had several games on it that I had never played before the first time around. It was great, and it really took me back.

Oh, and those three boys who made fun of me? I don't talk to them anymore. They really didn't like me for me, so who needed them? My Intellivision had more character and heart than they did anyways, and ended up providing me with hours and hours of fun.

My parents tried their best to give me a wonderful Christmas present in 1989, and honestly thought that I would be disappointed and initially felt bad...but it turned out to be one of the nicest Christmas memories that I can ever recall.  

1 comment:

  1. Dude, if it makes you feel any better, my first system (that's I loved dearly) was the original Nintendo back in '84 when I was 20. My dad (God rest his soul) brought it home from a auction he used to buy antiques and appliances. Now he did bring home an Atari system when we were a bit younger, maybe late '79 or '80, but that was my mom's fave. My first real game...the Adventure of Link...ah the days I spent on that after graduating college in '84 and finding out no one wanted to hired a 19 year old girl in my field. Finished game, got job....then proceeded to collect electronics for the rest of my life....Xbox 360, PSP, Nintendo DS XL, iPad, iPhone, Nintendo wii....