William A. Higinbotham Game Studies, Special Collection (Collection 446)
Special Collections and University Archives at Stony Brook University acquire, organize, preserve, and provide access to primary and secondary source material in a variety of formats to support the educational, research, and entrepreneurial endeavors of Stony Brook University. Access to the collections and reference services are extended to neighboring communities, the wider geographic region, and remote users to advance the university's leadership role in scholarship, economic growth, technology, and culture.
The special collection features original game consoles, game cartridges and optical discs, controllers, rare books on videogames, and videogame magazines from the early 1980s to present.
Collections may be consulted on an appointment basis Monday through Friday between 10:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Advance notice is required. Please contact Kristen Nyitray to schedule an appointment. Prior to visiting, please read the department's guidelines for access. Special Collections is located on the second floor of the Melville Library, Room E-2320.
Name: Action Max
Manufacturer: World of Wonder
Speed: 1.79 MHz
RAM: 16 KB
Media: pre-recorded VHS videocassette
Original U.S. Retail Price: $99.00
The toy company, World of Wonder, was the primary distributor of Nintendo's Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the mid-1980s. Once the NES gained in popularity, Nintendo took over distribution and World of Wonder attempted to remain within the video game market with the 1987 launch of its own system, the Action Max. The system came with a small grey base unit, light-gun, television/target sensor, headphones, and one game, Sonic Fury. Four additional games were produced: 38 Ambush Alley, Blue Thunder, Hydrosub: 2021, and The Rescue of Pops Ghostly. All Action Max games were played with the light-gun, a controller also used with the NES and another video game console released in 1987, Atari’s XE. Players could vary game play by selecting from a range of game modes that included “Standard”, “Reflex”, and “Limited Ammunition”. Switches and dials on the console allowed players to decide the order of play (“First” and “Second”), adjust the volume of the unit’s internal speaker and the distance of play from the sensor. Rather than adopt ROM game cartridges, a standard of the period, games for the Action Max used pre-recorded VHS videocassettes as software. The base unit had to be connected to a standard VCR in order to run the videocassette-game. Players were required to place the target sensor directly on the television screen (attached via a suction cup). The target sensor would glow red when a player fired at the screen to indicate a “hit” within the context of the game being played (the score was displayed on the base unit). Game play was predetermined by the medium of the videocassette. All games were linear thus targets were predictable on account of appearing in the same place each time a game is played. Each videocassette-game also contained “trailers” for other Action Max titles at the end of the tape. These trailers were also playable.
Name: APF M1000
Manufacturer: APF Electronics Inc.
CPU: Motorola 6800
Speed: 3.5 MHz
RAM: 1 KB
Controllers: Two 8-directional joysticks with 12-key keypads.
Original U.S. Retail Price: $130.00
APF’s M1000 was a stand-alone ROM cartridge based video game console driven by the Motorola 6800 chip. The unit contained two hardwired controllers with a multi-directional self-centering joystick combined with a 12-key pocket calculator-like keypad. Each controller was neatly housed within the unit itself alongside the “power” and “reset” buttons and the opening for cartridge insertion. Twelve game cartridges (15 games total) were produced for the M1000. A few titles include: Space Destroyers, Boxing, Baseball, Blackjack and multi-title cartridges like Pinball/Dungeon Hunt/Blockout. The console also contained one hardwired game, Rocket Patrol. The M1000 could also be docked with an expansion module to form a fully functioning personal computer complete with a 53-key typewriter keyboard. Nested on top of the computer, the combined unit of game console and personal computer was sold under the moniker of APF’s Imagination Machine (for an additional $599.00). The unit was expandable and boasted an additional 9K-memory cartridge, a cassette tape drive, floppy disk storage, and most notably a telephone modem. The cassette drive, for example, could be used to write and store code with APF’s BASIC programming language as well as record audio. While the Imagination Machine was strong on the personal computing side, it left much to be desired on the gaming side on account of its limited cartridge catalog. With a strong competitor like Atari, APF’s M1000 needed to be a lot more dominant in the cartridge based gaming market to earn a good reputation as a competitive video game console for the home.
Name: APF TV Fun
Manufacturer: APF Electronics Inc.
CPU: General Instruments AY-3-8500
Original U.S. Retail Price: $125.00
TV Fun was the first venture into the video game market by APF Electronics in 1976. Like other pong-systems on the market in the mid-1970s, TV Fun came hard-wired with pong derivatives like Tennis, Hockey, Squash, and Handball. The unit appeared in a faux wood-grain finish with silver built-in knob controllers located on the left and right for two players and a series of switches and buttons located on the top of the unit. These consisted of “Start”, “On-Off”, a “Game Selection” dial for selecting the four games, “Professional” and “Amateur” options that allowed players to adjust “ball speed”, “angle”, and “bat size”. APF would follow-up the release of TV Fun with later models like the TV Fun (model 401A), TV Fun Sportsarama, and its hybrid video game console (the MP-1000) and add-on personal computer, released as the Imagination Machine in 1979.
Name: Atari Jaguar
Manufacturer: Atari Corporation and IBM
CPU: Motorola 68000, “Tom” and “Jerry” chips
Speed: 13.3 MHz (Motorola 68000); 26.6 MHz (Tom and Jerry each)
RAM: 2MB DRAM
Media: Cartridge and CD-ROM
Controllers: directional d-pad, A, B and C buttons, pause and option buttons and a numerical keypad
Original U.S. Retail Price: $ 249.99
Marketed as the first 64-bit console, Atari’s Jaguar was initially designed by Martin Brennan and John Mathieson of the British company Flair Technology. With Atari's funding, they continued developing the Jaguar as well as another console, the 32-bit Panther which was eventually dropped in favor of its more powerful sibling. IBM was contracted by Atari to manufacture the Jaguar. Whether the Jaguar can be truly considered a 64-bit console is somewhat debatable. Of the system's five processors only two contained in the “Tom” chip, responsible for handling graphics, are actually 64-bit. The remaining processors in the “Jerry” chip (which handles sound) and the Motorola 68000 (a general control processor) are all less than 64-bit. At its debut, the Jaguar with its high-speed graphics rendering and CD quality sound was capable of outperforming the two most popular 16-bit consoles at time, the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis. It sold well at first but eventually failed because there were relatively few games (around 70 total) released despite interest from third-party software development. The same multiprocessor structure that gave the console its power also gave game developers a complex, laborious task. The games that were released included updated versions of arcade titles like Defender 2000, Missile Command 3D, Tempest 2000, and Gorf Classic, film tie-in titles like Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story and White Men Can’t Jump, and some highly praised and commercially successful titles such as, Doom and Alien Vs. Predator. However, many of the games did not make full use of the Jaguar's performance capacity. The Jaguar also abandoned Atari’s long-serving joystick controller. In its place, Atari released one of the largest game controllers in video game console history. The controller included a directional keypad (d-pad) located in the upper left corner (reminiscent of the Nintendo NES game pad) with three red buttons (A, B, and C) to control action and “pause” and “option” buttons were also located on the controller. The bulk of the controller was taken up by a numeric keypad for overlays (an uncommon attribute in early 1990s game controllers). In 1995, a year before the Jaguar would be discontinued, Atari released the Jaguar CD-ROM peripheral, allowing the console to play more graphically intense CD-ROM games. The CD-ROM plugs into the cartridge slot of the Jaguar’s base unit (it rests above the base unit) and even contained its own slot for cartridges so that it did not have to be removed for cartridge insertion. On account of the Jaguar CD appearing late in theconsole’s life-span not many games were released. The Jaguar was the last video game console produced by Atari.
Name: 5200 Super System (a.k.a Atari 5200)
Manufacturer: Atari Inc.
CPU: 6502C (8-bit) microprocessor
Speed: 1.79 MHz
RAM: 16 KB
Controllers: Analog joystick with 360 degree rotation; dual fire buttons; and numeric keys
Original U.S. Retail Price: $270.00
The 5200 Super System (code named, “Pam”) was Atari’s second programmable video game console. Following on the success of the Atari VCS, the 5200 was released in 1982 to compete with Intellivision, its closest revival on the market, and the highly anticipated Colecovision released in September of the same year. Atari’s new unit lost the veneer of its predecessor and featured a slick minimalist black exterior with polished silver band wrapped around the console. Inside the large machine was Atari’s 400/800 8-bit computer, one of the most powerful commercial computers of the early 1980s. Atari also decided to reinvent its controllers. Its new controllers featured a combination rubber numeric keypad and analog joystick. Like the controllers for Intellivision, the 5200 also utilized plastic overlays for game commands and selections. A design flaw in the joystick resulted in a non-centering game controller. Without a self-centering joystick (like Magnavox’s Odyssey 2), there is no way to bring a game sprite to a full stop. For example, if one is playing Pac-Man (the game that eventually shipped standard with the system) and pressing forward on the joystick, letting go of the joystick will not automatically stop movement. Instead, the joystick remains in the forward position. Atari re-released many of its arcade licensed game titles for the 5200. However, the likes of Space Invaders, Super Breakout, and Galaxian did not quite capture the player’s imagination in the way that Donkey Kong had for the ColecoVision. Atari would release over 70 titles for its 5200. Another design challenge faced the mass acceptance of the 5200. It was not capable with 2600 game cartridges. Game cartridges for the 5200 were almost double the size of 2600 cartridges and Atari quickly released a “VCS Cartridge Adaptor” so that those who purchased the 5200 could continue to play their 2600 cartridge library. Thus, consumers were asked to purchase a new system as well as an adaptor to access already owned games. While design flaws tend to mare the history of the 5200, it was the first video game console to introduce a “pause” button into game play. The 5200 was discontinued in 1984, only two years after its release.
Name: 7800 ProSystem (a.k.a. Atari 7800)
Manufacturer: Atari Inc./Atari Co.
Year: 1984/released in 1986
Speed: 1.79 MHz
Controllers: Joystick with two fire buttons
Original U.S. Retail Price: $140.00
Originally designed and announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in 1984, Atari’s 7800 ProSystem was intentionally shelved until the summer of 1986. The “great video game crash” of 1983 - 1984 proved far too disastrous for Atari to launch a new system onto a dwindling market. In 1985 Nintendo introduced its new Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and with the help of its enormously popular title, Super Mario Bros. (1986),helped revitalized the home console market and ushered in a new era of gaming in the mid-1980s. Atari Corporation, under the leadership of CEO Jack Tramiel, felt the time was right to capitalize on the renewed popularity of video games and decided to finally release its “new” system. A game console designed years earlier was meant to compete with the more advanced NES and another new system from Japan, the Sega Master System. Atari learned from the mistakes of the 5200 and made the 7800 backwards compatible with 2600 cartridges. Atari initially released only three games for the 7800: Joust, Ms Pac-Man, and Asteroids. Again, the company was relying primarily on its arcade licenses for older games and failed to release a large catalog of new titles for the 1986 Christmas shopping season. Over sixty games were eventually released for the 7800. Most of which had already appeared on Atari’s previous game consoles and computers. Production of the 7800 was discontinued in 1992.
Name: Super Pong
CPU: Atari chipset (C010073-01 pong-in-a-chip)
Games: Four Built-In Games (Pong, Super Pong, Catch, Solitare)
Controllers: Two Built-In Knob
Number of Players: Two
Super Pong followed the release of Atari’s Pong in the same year. This system resembled its predecessor in design: two built-in controllers and faux wood-like grain finish. The unit also maintained Atari’s color logo scheme. Model C-140 contained various shades of blue next to the system’s name on the unit itself as well as on its packaging. While Pong only played a single game, Super Pong offered players four different pong-based games.
Name: Atari Video Pinball
Manufacturer: Atari Inc.
Model: C-300 & C-380
Media: Hardwired games
Controllers: Built-In Knob, Buttons, Side Bumper Controllers
Original U.S. Retail Price: $70.00
Atari Video Pinball is a dedicated system released in 1977. The home console is a port from the arcade game of the same name and the Sear’s version was released in the same year as, Pinball Breakaway. The system came hardwired with three games: Pinball, Basketball, and the popular arcade title, Breakout. Atari Video Pinball was the first console to port Breakout to the home. Each game had variations that resulted in a total of seven games. The initial model was released with a wood-grain trim (C-300), a design common in pong systems, while the second edition appeared later that year in a redesign of all white plastic (C-380). The system’s interface consisted of a series of buttons ranging from “Reset”, “Select”, “Option”, “Power” and “Ball Serve”. A lone dial controlled the movement for Basketball and Breakout games while side bumper buttons allowed the player to mimic the physical play of pinball on a system connected to a television. For example, a player would sit in front of the system and press either side of the console to score points while playing pinball. Atari’s emphasis on the mimetic interface was also seen on another dedicated system released in 1977: Stunt Cycle equipped players with a controller that closely resembled motorcycle handlebars to control the hard-wired game’s on-screen motorcycle. Atari Video Pinball was one of the last dedicated systems released by the company. After the lease of Fairchild’s Channel F in 1976 and Atari’s Video Computer System in 1977, the home video game industry switched to programmable systems that used interchangeable ROM based cartridges.
Name: Atari XE Game System (a.k.a. XEGS)
Manufacturer: Atari Inc./Atari Corp.
CPU: MOS 6502
Controllers: joystick and light gun (XG-1)
Original U.S. Retail Price: $199.00
Following many predecessors in Atari’s video game console and computer series, the Atari XE, or XEGS was released in 1987, only a year after Atari Inc. brought out its long promised Atari 7800. It is not fair to say that the XEGS was in fact a “new” system on account of it being a member of Atari’s 8-bit computer family that extends back to the Atari 400 personal computer that debuted in 1979 (discontinued, along with the Atari 800, in 1982). This system was designed to compete with the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and came with a detachable keyboard, a joystick and light gun (XG-1) and 2 game cartridges, Bug Hunt and Flight Simulator II. In addition to cartridges, the Atari XE was preprogrammed with the game Missile Command in its internal memory (one drawback being that the hired-wired version was the same as the one released in 1981). Although other games such as the popular Donkey Kong were released, the Atari XE was essentially an older model Atari computer (the Atari 65XE) and was made to work with older games from past consoles. This, of course, gave Atari the advantage to work with its back library of arcade titles like Pac-Man and Asteroids, but hindered sales, as consumers wanted newer games. This sense of being out-of-date can also be witnessed in the selection of the standard joystick: the same model that debuted 10 years previously with the Atari VCS. The XEGS looked similar to the rest of the XE computer series but appeared odd when compared to Atari’s previous video game consoles. Rather than faux wood or the high gloss black plastic used for the Atari 5200 and 7800, the XEGS had a gray/beige exterior with a series of clumsy large pastel-colored buttons. It featured these buttons on the top of the console, along with the cartridge slot and vents for the system. In addition to video and audio input/output, in the back of the console there was an outlet to hook up any peripherals from older models in the computer series. Ports for controllers and the detachable keyboard are difficult to reach on account of their location on the side of the console. The keyboard itself came with a very short cord that restricted its placement to the front of the console. Atari ceased to support the XEGS and other 8-bit model computers in 1992.
Name: Bally Professional Arcade
Manufacturer: Bally Technologies
Year: Designed in 1977 released onto the market in1978
Model: BPA 1200
CPU: Zilog Z-80
Speed: 3.579 MHz
RAM: 4 KB
Media: ROM Cartridges and three built-in games
Controllers: Two pistol shaped controllers with one trigger and an eight directional joystick/analog spinner knob housed on top
Original U.S. Retail Price: $299.00
Chicago based Bally/Midway already had a history as a pinball manufacturer and released the hugely successful arcade games Galaxian (1979) and Pac-Man (1980), both developed by Namco of Japan. The Professional Arcade, or Bally Professional Arcade as the system was also known, was the company’s foray into the home videogame console market. The Professional Arcadewas meant to be on retail shelves for the 1977 Christmas shopping season. However, it was not released until February 1978. It debuted on a market with numerous cartridge based game systems like the Channel F, Atari Video Computer System (VCS), and the Odyssey 2 recently released in 1978. The home console had a number of distinct features. Like the Atari VCS and Fairchild Channel F, Bally’s home console encased its system in veneer, a design standard of the era. Aside from a “reset” and “eject” button, the unit’s interface contained a numeric keypad that resembled closely a pocket calculator. The keypad allowed for data input. When the game cartridge, Bally BASIC, was released it enabled users to enter instructions into the Professional Arcade, thus transforming it into a computer. Programs written by users could be stored onto audiocassette tapes (Bally’s “BASIC Expansion Kit” was required). Another innovative feature was the Professional Arcade’s controllers. Modeled on pistol grips, the controllers contained a finger trigger and incorporated a joystick/knob on top. This combination made Bally’s controllers both a joystick and paddle controller in one thus the console did not require additional controllers as did the Atari VCS. The console also housed four controller ports that expanded game play to four players. Due to tough competition from other game consoles on the market in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Bally sold the rights to its Professional Arcade in 1982. The system was briefly renamed the “Bally Computer System” until, later in the same year, it was changed again to “Astrocade” after the Astrocade company, a group of users who purchased the rights from Bally. The Astrocade was discontinued in 1985 as a result of the video game industry crash of 1983/1984.
Name: Emerson Arcadia 2001
CPU: Signetics 2650A
Speed: 3.58 MHz
Media: ROM cartridge
Controllers: Two detachable joystick/12 button keypad controllers
Original U.S. Retail Price: $100.00
The Emerson Arcadia 2001 runs on a hardware system that was licensed by Philips Electronics to Emerson, as well as other companies around the world. This led to multiple video game systems being made with compatible and often identical software. The console has two outputs headphone jacks on the back of the unit, on the far left side and far right side. It came with control pads similar to Intellivision: a combination detachable numeric membrane keypad and disc-joystick controller with side fire buttons clearly distinguished in red plastic. Each controller is docked neatly upon the unit. The disc pads came equipped with screw holes in the center. Screw-in parts transform the discs into working joysticks. The front of the console houses buttons for “Reset”, “Select”, “Option”, “Start”, and “Power”. A lone LED indicated “Power On” in the upper left corner of the console’s control panel. Compared to other video game consoles of the era, the Arcadia 2001 was small in size and ran on an external power supply (12 volt DC power supply). Emerson promoted its console as “portable” and tried to win the approval of campers and boaters (although the need for a portable television would make this feature less appealing). Emerson did not command the licensing power of Atari. When the Emerson attempted to port popular arcade titles to its console itwas sued for copyright infringement by Atari. Around fifty cartridges were produced for Emerson’s video game console. Most of these titles were altered in order not to resemble games licensed by Atari. For instance, Emerson’s version of Atari’s Berzerk was released as Robot Killer and its Missile War was close to Atari’s Missile Command. The genre of science fiction games dominated the Arcadia 2001 as witnessed with the large amount of games with the word “space” in the title: Space Attack, Space Chess, Space Mission, Space Raiders, Space Squadron, and Space Vultures. Moreover, the box-art graphics of Emerson’s game cartridges drew freely from popular television science fiction like Battlestar Galatica and the blockbuster film of 1982, The Empire Strikes Back. Without successful arcade ports, third-party software providers, and increased competition from Colecovision (also debuting in 1982), Emerson discontinued the Arcadia 2001 in 1984.
Name: Odyssey 2 (a.k.a. Magnavox Odyssey 2)
CPU: Intel 8048 Microprocessor
Speed: 1.79 MHz
RAM: 64 bytes (8048 internal RAM) + 128 bytes
Media: ROM Cartridges
Controllers: Alphanumeric membrane keyboard and two 8-directional self-centered joysticks with fire button
Original U.S. Retail Price: $199.00
Magnavox Odyssey 2 broke the design mold for game consoles of the 1970s. Like its 1972 predecessor, the Odyssey, Odyssey 2 rejected veneer and black molded ABS plastic. Here was a bold new programmable system (via game cartridges) for the home market outfitted in matte silver and with an alphanumeric membrane keyboard that resembled a computer more than a video game console. The pressure sensitive keys were mostly used for game selection. Users of the Odyssey 2 did not have to manually cycle through multiple games contained on a single game cartridge. Instead, users pressed the numbers of a specific game and it loaded automatically. The keyboard also had an appeal for parents as children could play Magnavox’s line of educational games (ex: Math-A-Magic!) by pressing correct answers on the keyboard. Moreover, games such as Keyboard Creations allowed users to write scrolling messages onto their television screens. And the cartridge Computer Intro was designed to teach basic programming. However, Magnavox’s keyboard, as innovative as it was for late 1970s home consoles, could only enable simple programming actions. A membrane keyboard is only good for selecting options on account of the pressure sensitive keys and not for supporting prolonged typing. Like Bally’s Professional Arcade, the Odyssey 2 came equipped with multipurpose joysticks that did not require users to purchase specialized controllers for certain games. The joysticks were also engineered to be self-centering which allowed for greater control over accurate movements. One draw back was that the controllers on later models were hardwired into the system. If a controller broke one would have to purchase a new Odyssey 2. Magnavox’s system had an impressive array of game titles in order to compete with other home consoles as well as port popular arcade titles to the system in slightly modified versions. One notable title is, Quest for the Rings! released in 1981. The game is based on Dungeon and Dragons role-playing fantasy and a hybrid videogame (reminiscent of Magnavox’s first system) that required the use of a game board, playing pieces, a large manual and an overlay for the Odyssey 2’s keyboard. Instructions were pressed on the keyboard and players battled the game’s adversaries on screen. In the same year, Atari sued Magnavox for copyright infringement for its Odyssey 2 game, K.C. Munchkin. Atari licensed Pac-Man for its 2600 (as the VCS had been dubbed) and the court felt that Magnavox’s title did violate Atari’s copyright. Magnavox was ordered to cease production of the game. Magnavox attempted to keep up with the competition by turning its attention to developing a next generation system like the Colecovision or Atari 5200. The intended Odyssey 3 – expected to be backwards compatible to play Odyssey 2 games, capable of high definition graphics, and outfitted with a computer keyboard – was never released.
Name: Odyssey 300
CPU: General Instruments AY-3-8500
Games: Built-in (Tennis, Smash, Hockey)
Controllers: Two Built-In Knobs
Number of Players: Two
Original U.S. Retail Price: $69.00
The Odyssey 300 is the third pong system released by Magnavox in 1976. In competition with Atari and later with Coleco after its release of its Telstar in 1976, Magnavox released an impressive line of dedicated pong-based systems between 1975 and 1977. This period witnessed consecutive releases of nine new systems – Odyssey 100 to Odyssey 4000 – with various enhancements over previous models. For example, Odyssey 200 offered on-screen scoring and included the new game “Smash”, Odyssey 300 featured the General Instruments AY-3-8500 chip also found in Coleco’s Telstar and offered players switchable skills-levels of game play, team-play was included on Odyssey 400 while Odyssey 500 introduced full-color graphics and replaced ubiquitous on-screen paddles with sprite figures resembling athletes. Odyssey 2000, 2001, 3000, 4000 were all released in 1977 and expanded the amount of games played on a dedicated system to eight games. A striking design feature of Magnavox’s pong-systems is their slender flat body (resting easily at home on a coffee table or floor space) and vivid plastic body colors. Magnavox followed the design imperative set by its original home console from 1972, the Magnavox Odyssey. Rather than maintain naturalizing elements like Atari’s pong systems, Magnavox rejected the use of veneer and bathed its systems in white, yellow (Odyssey 300), and red in stark contrast with black knobs, buttons, and switches. The Odyssey 100 debuted onto a market of brown and black plastic drabbed in robust orange.
Name: Pong Sports IV (a.k.a. Tele-Games Electronic Games Pong Sports IV)
Games: 16 Built-In (variations of Pong, Hockey, Tennis)
Controllers: 4 Removable Paddle Controllers
Number of Players: 2 – 4
The seventh pong system released for Sear’s Tele-Games line of electronic games for the television. Pong systems are hardwired (non-cartridge based) to play the game pong and variations of pong based games. Pong Sports IV expanded the type of pong games played to a total of sixteen different games available on a single system. Considering that previous systems played one or four games, the inclusion of sixteen games was a notable expansion of game options. This expansion was facilitated by the system’s capabilities to host four different players with its removal paddle controllers. As such, four player versions where introduced into the systems selection of pong, hockey, and tennis. The system’s interface was also one of the first to include a membrane command panel – as opposed to game select switches for games 1, 2, 3, 4, common on Super Pong models – that allowed players to select by pushing what game they wished to play. Atari’s Ultra Pong Doubles (Model C-402D) also released in 1977 was the four-player sister-system to Sear’s Pong Sports IV.
Name: Studio II (a.k.a. RCA Studio II Home TV Programmer)
Year: Designed in 1976. Released on the market in 1977
Model: 18 V 100
CPU: Cosmac 1802 microprocesser
Speed 1.78 MHz
RAM: 512 bytes (x8) total 4KB
Controllers: Two built-in numerical keypads
Media: ROM Cartridges (and built-in games)
Original U.S. Retail Price: $149.95
RCA’s Studio II was an early programmable home console that used interchangeable ROM game cartridges. Game software for the Studio II consisted of a hybrid of eight game cartridges and five built-in games (Addition, Bowling, Doodle, Freeway, and Patterns). RCA’s Studio II included neither paddle controllers common on pong systems in the mid to late 1970s, nor the new hardwired directional joystick controllers introduced with the Fairchild Channel F console in 1976. Instead, RCA’s foray into the home video market equipped its console with “A” (Left) and “B” (Right) built-in numeric keypad controllers. The Studio II interface had more in common with early knob-based pong systems than with the game consoles emergent in the late 1970s such as the Atari Video Computer System (1977) and the Bally Professional Arcade (1978). Aside from its already obsolete interface design, the Studio II faced two other major challenges. All game sound played through a lone speaker built into the unit and not through television speakers. And, perhaps the biggest drawback, the console could only generate its game graphics in black and white in an era when game systems had already introduced color graphics to the home. The Studio II was withdrawn from the market in 1979 only two years after its release.
Name: Sears Pong (a.k.a. Tele-Games Pong)
Games: 1 Built-In (Pong)
Controllers: Two built-in knobs
Number of Players: 2
The first Pong system for the home market. After the success of Atari’s arcade game, Pong (1972), designed by Al Alcorn, and Ralph H. Baer’s Magnavox Odyssey introducing video games to the television screen, the company aimed to produce a version of the popular game for the home. Atari’s Nolan Bushnell struck a deal with Sear’s sporting goods buyer, Tom Quinn, to produce 150,000 systems. Atari would manufacture the systems and Sears would finance production as well as control distribution through its vast network of department stores and mail-order catalogs. The Atari produced Pong system sold as an exclusive to Sears for the 1975 Christmas season under the company’s “Tele-Games” brand moniker for its new electronic games for the television. The brand-name, Tele-Games, appears towards the top of the unit and the word “pong” is located in the middle of the system between the paddle controllers. Various Tele-Games pong systems as well as offshoots like Motocross were sold at Sears from 1975 until 1977. In 1977 Sears distributed the Atari Video Computer System CX2600 as the Sears Cartridge Telegames System Video Arcade.
Name: Telstar Alpha
CPU: General Instruments AY-3-8500
Media: Built-in Games
Controllers: Built-in knobs
Original U.S. Retail Price:
Telstar Alpha was the fifth dedicated pong-based system released by Coleco. The system had four built-in games: Tennis, Hockey, Handball, and Jai-Alai. The inclusion of Jai-Alai was the main difference between Coleco’s Telstar Alpha and its original Telstar that only contained three games. The system had two build-in knops to control game play, a four-position switch for game selection and a three-position switch to choose between skill levels: “Beginner”, “Intermediate”, and “Pro”. An “On-Off” and “Reset” switch are also housed within the unit. The production of dedicated pong-systems began to wane with the introduction of interchangeable ROM based cartridges used by the Fairchild Channel F (1976) and Atari Video Computer System (1977).
Name: Telstar Combat
CPU: General Instrument AY-3-8700
Media: Built-in. 4 variants of Tank.
Controllers: Dual Throttle Controls with Firing Button
Original U.S. Retail Price: $90.00
Telstar Combat!, along with the Telstar Ranger, were Coleco’s first dedicated systems to play games other than pong. Previously, Coleco’s Telstar, Telstar Classic, Telstar Alpha, Telstar Colormatic, and Telstar Colortron all played versions of pong between 1975 – 1978. Operating on General Instrument’s AY-3-8700 game chip, and developed by Ralph Baer’s team at Sanders Associates, Coleco’s Telstar Combat! was a home version of Kee Games’ arcade title Tank, released in 1974. A central switch located on the unit allows players to select four different variants of Tank: Combat, Night Battle, Robot Battle, and Camouflage Tank. While Coleco’s dedicated pong systems housed knobs as built-in controllers, Combat! offered players two sets of fixed dual controllers for left and right movement with a fire button located on the top to launch projectiles at opposing tanks. Its unique controllers were designed to imitate the operations of a tank and would appear again on the interface for Atari’s arcade cabinet, Battlezone (1980). Like many of Coleco’s dedicated consoles, Telstar Combat! came only partially assembled. Consumers were required to attach the controllers and apply sets of decorative stickers to the console. The console’s plastic exterior was fashioned in military green and accompanying stickers consisted of camouflage and icons of “white” and “black” tanks to demarcate the two sets of controllers. Suction cups located on the bottom of the console ensured proper grip on a smooth surface like a living room coffeetable.
Name: Telstar Ranger
CPU: General Instrument, AY-3-8500
Controllers: Detachable Paddles & Light-Gun
Coleco introduced numerous dedicated game systems onto the home market from 1976 until 1978. The first of which was the Telstar (model #6040); a system that played numerous pong variants at different skill levels and hosted a two-player knob interface similar to Sears’ Tele-Games Pong. With the Telstar Ranger, Coleco improved upon the hardwired games of its original Telstar to include a light-gun revolver controller to play two shooting games “target” and “skeet” as well as pong-based games such as hockey, handball, tennis, and jai alai (a.k.a. squash). The console’s interface design contained detachable paddle controllers. Players could house the controllers in the unit itself to play or plug the controllers into the unit, hold the controller in hand and play at a distance from the console and television.
William B. Higinbotham Collection (Collection 447)
Donated by William B. Higinbotham, son of William A. Higinbotham, in October 2011 and May 2012.
- Ahl, David H., and Steve North. Basic Computer Games. Microcomputer ed. Morristown, N.J.: Creative Computing Press, 1978. (Spec GV1469.2 .O52 1978, v. 1)
- Masters, Dexter, and Katharine Way. One World or None: A Report to the Public on the Full Meaning of the Atomic Bomb. New York: New Press, 2007. (Spec UG1282 .A8 O54 2007)
Magazines and Correspondence
- American Heritage of Invention and Technology, v. 6 no. 2, Fall 1990 (plus four letters)
- Annals of the History of Computing, v. 12 no. 2, 1990 (plus one letter)
- Creative Computing, v. 8 no. 10, October 1982 (plus three letters)
- Creative Computing: Video and Arcade Games, v.1 no. 1, Spring 1983
- Science Digest, v. 91 no. 12, December 1983
- Wired, v. 9 no. 5, May 2001
William A. Higinbotham
After reading an instruction manual that accompanied a Systron-Donner analog computer, William Alfred Higinbotham was inspired to design Tennis for Two, the first computer game to utilize handheld controllers and to display motion. It was also the first game to be played by general public, in this instance, attendees of “visitors day” at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) in 1958. Learn More »