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Space Action Network


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INTELLIVISION SPACE ACTION NETWORK

By the end of 1981, Intellivision had the reputation for the best sports titles and Atari had the reputation for the best arcade games. In 1982 the battle was over who had the best space cartridges. The movie Star Wars in 1977 had sparked a science fiction resurgence, which hit a peak in 1982 with the release of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. Mattel Electronics turned to the same TV-commercial strategy they used to establish their sports titles: a side-by-side comparison of an Atari game with an Intellivision game, in this case Asteroids versus Star Strike. The strategy paid off; four of the five released Space Action Network games approached the 1,000,000 mark in sales, with the fifth, Space Hawk, reaching 500,000.

Atari fought back with its highly publicized multi-million dollar purchase of the videogame rights to E.T. Atari used the anticipation for this cartridge to sell their 2600 console. Cleverly, Mattel countered by hiring E.T. star Henry Thomas to join spokesperson George Plimpton in Intellivision commercials. Mattel's lawyers, however, to avoid a lawsuit, didn't allow Thomas's connection to the movie, or to science fiction, or even his name to be mentioned in the commercials. (While the anticipation of the E.T. cartridge may have succeeded in selling Atari consoles, its actual release was the greatest flop in the videogame industry.)

Surprisingly, given the success of the Space Action Network, Mattel put no space titles into production for the Intellivision during 1982 or 1983 with the exception of the never-finished Target: Andromeda.

All of the games on this page were released in Space Action Network dark blue boxes. A couple of these games were also released under the Sears brand name in different packaging.


Space Battle

INTELLIVISION CARTRIDGE [#2612]
Also released by Sears [#4975212]
Produced by APh Technological Consulting for Mattel Electronics
Program: Hal Finney
Instructions posted here | Overlay posted here
Play this game on Intellivision Lives! for Windows & Mac!
Play this game on Intellivision Classics for PlayStation!

CATALOG DESCRIPTION
The alien squadron is closing in on your Mother Ship. You're awesomely outnumbered, and they attack and attack...

Flick on the situation map and analyze your position. Dispatch a fighter squadron toward the closest alien cluster.

You're smarter, a little faster, and you're going to let these aliens know they've got a fight on their hands.

Flick back to a cockpit close-up view. Here they come! Aim lasers...fire!

PRODUCTION NOTE
An M Network version of the game, called Space Attack, was released for the Atari 2600.

PLAYING TIPS: From Intellivision Game Club News, Issue 2, Winter 1982 (credited to "Hal, one of our creative programmers"):

Strategy Mode (radar screen)

Battle Mode


Arcade

INTELLIVISION CARTRIDGE [UNFINISHED #3605]
Produced by APh Technological Consulting for Mattel Electronics

CATALOG DESCRIPTION
Galaxian strategy! Hordes of oncoming aliens swoop down on your star-ship! You defend your position -- parrying, blasting, avoiding the torpedoes! Wave after wave of them march down upon you...will you save the star-base? Only your command of strategy can help you!

PRODUCTION HISTORY
Although included in early Intellivision catalogs, a prototype of this game was never demonstrated; it's not clear how much work was actually ever done on it. Designed to be a Galaxian clone, it was probably abandoned for fear of a lawsuit. (Possibly it was in development with the hope of obtaining the license, and abandoned when Mattel failed to get it.) While called Arcade in the catalogs, this was most likely a working title. (Triple Action was developed under the working titles 5-in-1 Arcade and 3-in-1 Arcade.)


Space Armada

INTELLIVISION CARTRIDGE [#3759]
Produced by APh Technological Consulting for Mattel Electronics
Program: John Brooks &Chris Hawley
Instructions posted here | Overlay posted here
Play this game on Intellivision Lives! for Windows & Mac!
Play this game on Intellivision Classics for PlayStation!

CATALOG DESCRIPTION
You're defending Planet Earth against the unrelenting attack of alien warlords.

At first they throw their light brigades at you. If you're quick and careful, you should be able to elude their bombs, moving out of the way or taking refuge behind a bunker.

But when you wipe out the first couple of brigades, they'll launch a more deadly attack, dropping faster, more lethal bombs. Clear the battlefield once more, and they'll resort to guided missiles and even more fiendish devices.

You've got your hands full -- of excitement and aliens!

PRODUCTION HISTORY
Space Armada is a clone of the arcade game Space Invaders. According to Mattel lawyers, the copyright of the original game hadn't been properly protected. Any other company could make their own version as long as they changed the name ("Space Invaders" is a trademark).

Space Armada was the first Intellivision game to take advantage of sequencing GRAM to create the illusion of more than eight moving objects (sprites) on-screen at one time.

PLAYING TIPS: From Intellivision Game Club News, Issue 3, Summer 1982:


Astrosmash

INTELLIVISION CARTRIDGE [#3605]
Working titles: Rocks, Meteor! + Avalanche
Design & Program: John Sohl
Instructions posted here | Overlay posted here
Play this game on Intellivision Lives! for Windows & Mac!
Play this game on Intellivision Classics for PlayStation!
Play this game NOW! Download it FREE here!

CATALOG DESCRIPTION
Spin. Blast. And drop into hyperspace to avoid a killer asteroid shower. Power on. Attack computer engaged. Fire a quick burst at the alien antagonists. Got 'em!

Now take a deep breath and relax. But only for a fraction of a second, because more trouble is on the way.

You're all alone in a hostile universe of tumbling asteroids and homicidal aliens. You've got the wits and the speed, but you're awesomely outnumbered.

With a little practice, you may survive...

PRODUCTION HISTORY
Astrosmash started out as a clone of the arcade game Asteroids, called Meteor!. The game wasn't very big, so John Sohl used the extra room in the cartridge to come up with a variation called Avalanche using the same graphics and sound effects. At the last minute, afraid of a lawsuit from Atari, the Mattel lawyers killed the Asteroids-like Meteor!. Rather than risk introducing bugs by deleting code, John simply put a branch around the opening-screen menu straight into the Avalanche! variation, which was released under the name Astrosmash.

John admits he wasn't sorry to see Meteor! go -- he hadn't been happy with the game, much preferring the Avalanche! version.

Astrosmash quickly became one of the most popular Intellivision games thanks in large part to a very simple technique John programmed in: like most arcade-style games, Astrosmash gets faster and harder at higher levels, but unlike most arcade-style games, as you start to lose lives, the game gets easier again. The game then is never too easy or too hard, making it extremely addictive and making it possible for even a beginner to play a single game for over an hour.

The popularity of Astrosmash was such that late in 1982 it replaced Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack as the cartridge shipped with the Intellivision Master Component. By June 1983, the last date for which figures are available, 984,900 copies of Astrosmash had been shipped, making it the most widely distributed cartridge by any of the Blue Sky Rangers (trailing only the APh produced Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack and Major League Baseball cartridges). John Sohl was rewarded with a plaque from Mattel and a better offer from Activision, which he took (after finishing B-17 Bomber).

An Aquarius version was also released, as was an M Network version called Astroblast for the Atari 2600. A musical adaptation, Melody Blaster, was released for the ECS Music Synthesizer. An obscene version, called...well, we can't tell you what it was called, was developed for in-house use only. The story of this version can be found in a TRON Solar Sailer FUN FACT.

BUG: There's no check for the score overflowing -- beyond 9,999,999 points, the scoring routine starts displaying negative numbers, letters, and other ASCII characters. (Ironically, the catalog description promises "Unlimited scoring potential.")

BUG: John simply branched around the code for the Asteroids version of the game; the code is still in the cartridge. Verrrry rarely, when there's a glitch hitting RESET, the Asteroids version will show up on screen. (This would be a dandy Easter egg if it were intentional or reliably repeatable, but it's neither.)

PLAYING TIPS: From Intellivision Game Club News, Issue 1, Fall 1981:

Here is some extra ammunition from John P. Sohl, creator of Astrosmash. [Note: this issue was the only time that Intellivision programmers were publicly referred to by name until the inclusion of credits on cartridges late in 1983. The same issue mentions Mike Minkoff as the creator of Bowling.] Sohl says you'll be unbeatable if you follow three basic rules: don't get hit, shoot anything that moves and never take risks unless you have to.

Sound easy? It is if you practice Sohl's special techniques for hitting your targets.

Precision aiming is important. To get the highest scores, Sohl says to leave the anti-fire on and steer with the directional wheel using the firing button to get off extra shots as you need them. Keep on shooting!

FUN FACT: The unused Asteroids-version code was recycled in the game Space Hawk.

FUN FACT: Late in 1981, Mattel held a series of local "Intellivision VideoChallenge Tournaments" in Washington DC, Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles benefiting Variety Clubs International. Contestants competed for prizes (Grand Prize: an RCA projection TV) playing Major League Baseball, Auto Racing, and U.S. Ski Team Skiing. The publicity was so good, that Marketing took the idea national in 1982 with the "$100,000 Astrosmash Shootoff."

 From March until August 11, Intellivision owners were invited to send photographs of their TV screens showing their high score in Astrosmash. Just for entering, they would receive an Astrosmash Shootoff patch, and it was announced that 16 regional high-scorers would be flown to Houston to compete for eight cash prizes.

Over 13,000 people entered, and quickly it became obvious there was a problem. First, because of the scoring bug, many of the pictures showed scores made up of seemingly random ASCII characters. John Sohl had to review the photos and, with an ASCII table, decipher the actual scores. Second, it turned out that no one in Marketing realized that Astrosmash, like many Intellivision games, can be played at slower speeds simply by starting the game by pressing 1, 2, or 3 instead of the disc. (This is a feature programmed into the EXEC.) There was no way of telling who had legitimately obtained a high score and who had played at the easiest speed. There were reports of competitors who literally played for days at the slowest speed, pausing the game (pressing 1 and 9 simultaneously, also programmed into the EXEC) to sleep or go to school.

Unable to decide who was legit and who wasn't, instead of the announced 16, Mattel Electronics wound up flying 73 entrants to Houston for an all-expense paid weekend, September 11 & 12, 1982. There, the entrants competed in 1 hour of timed play. 18-year-old Manuel Rodriguez of Stockton, California won the $25,000 top prize with a score of 835,180.


Space Hawk

INTELLIVISION CARTRIDGE [#5161]
Also released by Sears
Design & Program: Bill Fisher, John Sohl
Graphics & Sound: Bill Fisher
Instructions posted here | Overlay posted here
Play this game on Intellivision Lives! for Windows & Mac!
Play this game on Intellivision Classics for PlayStation!

CATALOG DESCRIPTION
You're equipped with a jetpack for directional avoidance control, a blaster for protection and 5 force shields. If you get hit, you lose a shield. Not only that, you're sent into a space spin that could be disastrous. While you're regaining control, UFOs and comets scream past you. Of course, you can use hyperspace to get out of a super-tight spot. That'll put a few million light years between you and danger. But, watch out. You could wind up in an even hotter spot. If you want to find out how good you are, invite a friend over, compare scores.

PRODUCTION HISTORY
Most new programmers started their first day with a copy of a simple training game called Killer Tomatoes. They were expected to spend a few weeks playing with it and modifying it to get a feel for how the Intellivision system worked before being assigned to a real game.

Bill Fisher, however, had a different training game. On his first day in June 1981 he was given John Sohl's original Asteroids version of Astrosmash. He was told to modify it into a game that would still be like Asteroids, but different enough that the Mattel lawyers would allow it to be released. Space Hawk was the result. (And while he was at it, he fixed the bug in displaying the score.)

FUN FACT: While testing the game, Bill came across a bug: every now and then, the game would, seemingly at random, hyperspace you. He and his boss, Mike Minkoff, went over the code with a fine-tooth comb before realizing what the problem was: the Intellivision hand controllers encode button presses in such a way that an action (side) key pressed at the same time as particular directions on the disc will be interpreted instead as a numeric key being pressed. There was no software way around this; shooting while moving would occasionally be interpreted as pressing 9 -- the hyperspace button.

After several days of puzzling over a solution, the bug was ultimately "fixed" by including the following note in the instruction manual:

"Every once in a while, your space hunter will move near a 'black hole,' and the computer will automatically put him into HYPERSPACE. This will cost you the same number of points as if you had pressed the HYPERSPACE key yourself. On the other hand, it will save your hunter."

This led to an axiom frequently heard around Mattel: If you document it, it's not a bug -- it's a feature. Anytime a game in development crashed -- no matter how badly or bizarrely -- witnesses would invariably turn to the frustrated programmer, shrug, and calmly say "document it."


Star Strike

INTELLIVISION CARTRIDGE [#5136]
Produced by APh Technological Consulting for Mattel Electronics
Program: Hal Finney & Brett Stutz
Instructions posted here | Overlay posted here
Play this game on Intellivision Lives! for Windows & Mac!
Play this game on Intellivision Classics for PlayStation!

CATALOG DESCRIPTION
For action fast and furious, take command of a rocket-powered fighter-interceptor flying a few hundred feet off the deck. Your mission: attack and destroy alien silos defended by several squadrons of alien rocket-craft. You must react instantaneously. You are a few hundred feet above the terrain in a narrow canyon. That's where the aliens have dug in. Maneuvering room is severely limited. Meanwhile, earth is slowly coming into target position for the silos. Remember, you alone can save earth. Don't miss.

PRODUCTION HISTORY
Inspired by the Death Star trench sequence from the movie Star Wars, Star Strike is actually a very simple game; most players quickly learn the timing of it to consistently win. But visually it was stunning, with a 3-D effect (accomplished by sequencing GRAM) not seen before in a home videogame. Heavily promoted, it was the top-selling Intellivision game of 1982, with nearly 800,000 units shipped that year.

An M Network Atari 2600 Star Strike was also released.

BUG: Hold down the left controller disk in a single position while simultaneously pressing one of the top action keys. The fighter will soon remain in a fixed position on the screen. Release the disk to unfreeze the fighter.

PLAYING TIPS: From Intellivision Game Club News, Issue 3, Summer 1982:

FUN FACT: The Star Strike TV commercial became probably the most notorious of all videogame commercials of its era, with Mattel Electronics spokesperson George Plimpton bragging about "our most amazing visual effect ever: the total destruction of a planet!" while the earth is seen being blasted to pieces. Comedians, cartoonists and politicians all jumped on this as an example of the glorification of violence in videogames.


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