Some Obscure Gaming Systems Of The Early 1980s
In the early 1980s, game systems such as the Atari 2600 and 5200, the ColecoVision, the Intellivision, the Odyssey 2, and the Vectrex were perhaps the most dominant and well-known among gamers. Even though most of the really bad software that contributed to the market crash of 1984 was made for the Atari 2600, the system alone still brings back fond memories of all-nighter gaming sessions on the old black-and-white TV I used to play my games on, and of course searching for the next best title to add to my collection once the prices of games started coming down. Indeed, most gamers of that time period would attest to owning at least one of those six systems listed, and some might have owned two or more of those systems -- partly due to the Atari 5200, the ColecoVision, and the Intellivision each having an adapter for playing Atari 2600 games, but also partly due to game system prices also coming down to more affordable levels over time, and also due to the particular strengths each system had that made them attractive. If one wanted to play sports games, for example, the Intellivision was the best choice. For arcade action games, the Atari 5200, ColecoVision, and Vectrex were among the best. For a myriad of different games to play, the Atari 2600 had that area covered. And for games that probably don't measure up to the quality of even the least of the 2600's games, the Odyssey 2 offered some novelties like videogame/boardgame combinations.
However, there were also game systems of that time period that are barely even memories in the minds of those who have played videodgames back then -- for one reason or another, they became victims of the market rather than vanquishers. The three in particular that I will mention are:
1. The Fairchild/Zircon Channel F -- which came out in 1976, a little over a year before the Atari 2600. This system had the advantage of using interchangeable game cartridges and playing games in color in a time when hard-wired systems that played only a few games using black-and-white graphics were the rule. The controllers were a really odd sort; basically a stick-like handle with a knob on the top that can be pushed forward, backward, left, or right like a joystick, turned left or right like a paddle controller, or pushed in and out like an action button. The games that were published for the system included some sports games (baseball, hockey, football, and bowling); some action games like a tank battle, a racing game, and a space game; and some educational games. But overall, though, there was nothing that really appealled to gamers that the Atari 2600 couldn't also do and much better. Even with the changing of manufacturers (Zircon took over in 1980), which resulted in some changes to the system itself (detachable controllers and sound through the TV instead of through the mounted speaker in the system) and a Space Invaders-style game, the Channel F languished further into obscurity, hardly to be heard from again.
2. The Bally Professional Arcade (a.k.a. the Astrocade) -- which came out in 1980. Like the Atari 2600, this system had the powerful backing of an arcade game manufacturer (Bally, which owned Midway at the time), which resulted in games like Clowns (a Circus/Circus Atari copy), Zzzap! (a Night Driver copy), Checkmate (a Surround copy), Astro Battles (a Space Invaders copy), Galactic Invasion (a Galaxian copy), Space Fortress (a Space Zap copy), Muncher (a Pac-Man copy), The Incredible Wizard (a Wizard Of Wor copy), and perhaps several other titles based from existing arcade games. The controllers for this system were shaped like gun handles with triggers and a little knob on the top that can be pushed in eight directions like a joystick or turned left or right like paddles. This is probably one of the few systems that natively supported up to four controllers at a time for four players, with games that can even be played by four players. Interestingly, this system fared better than the Channel F, not just because of the games, but also because of the BASIC programming cartridge and optional keyboard accessory that allowed would-be programmers to develop their own games for the system. However, this system would find itself changing hands to the lowly Ohio-based Astrovision company, who gave the system its new name Astrocade, and would also fade into obscurity, though having a somewhat more dedicated fan base than the Channel F would have.
3. The Emerson Arcadia 2001 -- which came out in 1982. This system attempted to cater to both aspiring Atari 2600 and Intellivision fans with both the system's looks (its controllers nearly copied the design of the Intellivision keypads, though adding a detachable knob that could screw into the direction pad for action games) and in the type of games offered (in addition to sports games and strategy games that were similar to those found on the Intellivision, there were also action games that were similar to Space Invaders, Galaxian, Pac-Man, and Berzerk, in addition to some arcade game adaptations like Pleiades and Spiders). The problem with the system was that it was released in the same year that the Atari 5200 and the ColecoVision came out, and compared to those systems, the Arcadia 2001's graphics and sound capabilities were not impressive, to say the least. Also, Emerson found itself in legal trouble when it came to releasing the action games that copied existing arcade games that Atari had the license for releasing -- particularly since these games were going to use the original names of the arcade titles -- which in itself resulted in the company doing nothing more than mere name changes to the games to attempt disguising what games they're supposed to be. No sooner did this system come out, though, that its hardware and software instantly became bargain-bin material, already discounted and mostly unknown to the general public. Interestingly, the Arcadia 2001 was also released worldwide in a variety of different forms and names, including Hannimex, Leisure Vision, Leonardo, and Telefever. Not only that, but three of its games -- Pleiades, Funky Fish, and Cat Trax -- were ported over to the Atari 2600, though most people would be oblivious to their existences until the age of game emulation for the PC came along.
Of course, these were not the only systems released back then that were so under the public radar that they barely registered as a blip, as there were also game systems released worldwide that American audiences never heard about and probably fared worse than those that were American-made. However, these examples of closet game consoles do prove that not all companies can make a game system sell, let alone make them worth selling. Although had the Atari 2600 not appeared on the scene, who knows what might have been the case for the Channel F, the Astrovision, or even the Arcadia 2001?