March 10, 2008

Retrotech: Magnavox Odyssey

The Odyssey home game system predated Atari's Pong by years: the first prototype was built in the late 60's (currently displayed at the Smithsonian) and it was on store shelves by 1972. It came with a storage box which included the colored plastic overlays (an idea pioneered way back in the 50's with Winky Dink) and a scotch tape dispenser for attaching them to your television screen. There were also playing cards, fake money, poker chips... they went as far as they could with the accessories, but it was still a primitive system: it made no sounds, and the removable cards didn't even contain components, only circuit jumper pins for the minor variations between games. And it needed six (!) batteries. After a year on the market, only half a million Odysseys were purchased. Part of the problem was that nothing like it existed before; people were confused by the concept of attaching something to their antenna terminals, and even some retailers told their customers that the unit would only work with Magnavox televisions. But a few years later, when home video games were ubiquitous, Odyssey inventor Ralph Baer helped develop the excellent Coleco Telstar, and scored a hit with Simon in 1978.

1 comment:

stexe said...

By the way, you can recreate the winky dink experience by clicking here, blowing up the video to full size, taping a piece of mylar or acetate to your computer screen, and drawing with a sharpie or erasable markers.