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While the masses fondly remember the Nintendo Entertainment System as the first arcade-quality home console, retro admirers and hardcore gamers alike agree that there is one platform that beats the NES in critical acclaim, effects, and nostalgia, Colecovision.
In the span of two slot gacor short years, Colecovision broke both expectations and sales records. It was well on its way to becoming the most successful console in history, were it not for the collapse of the industry in 1983 and 1984 and the risky gamble of turning consoles into home computers.
In some ways, the title of this article could be Coleco: The Home Atari Built, because Coleco made every effort to clone and advance Atari technology.
By 1975, the Atari Pong was popular in arcades and standalone units, outperforming its sole competitor, the Magnavox Odyssey. With Pong’s overnight success, all types of corporations attempted to dive into video games, including the Connecticut Leather Company (Also called Coleco), which started a leather goods business and then moved into making plastic bathing pools.
A year after the release of Pong, Coleco entered the video game fray with the first Pong clone, Telstar. Not only does it contain Pong (here called Tennis), the chip was modified to include two variations of the game, Hockey and Handball. Having more than one game also makes Telstar the world’s first specific console.
Although Atari had the rights to Pong, legally, Atari was unable to fight the tidal wave of clones being introduced to the market. There has been a gray area around the game as Atari has borrowed concepts and designs from Tennis for Two, which some have acknowledged as the first video game, as well as the Magnavox Odyssey Tennis game which was released a year before Pong.
At first, Telstar was a big seller. Over the next two years, Coleco released several types, each with countless more Pong variations and upgrades. The microchip that Telstar uses is manufactured by General Electric. Since GE wasn’t bound by any particular agreement, any company that wanted to get into the video game business could get their own clone of Pong using the Ge chip. Later, Atari turned to GE because it was a cheaper solution than building the chip itself. Immediately the market was flooded with hundreds of Pong scams, and sales began to decline.
As people grew tired of Pong, Atari saw the potential in creating a platform with multiple games on replaceable cartridges. In 1977, Atari released the Atari 2600 (Also called Atari Vcs). The 2600 quickly became a success, dominating the market until 1982 when Coleco decided to return to Atari’s technology well for Colecovision.
Console Body, Computer Heart
In 1982, the domestic market was dominated by the Atari 2600 and Mattel Intellivision. Many tried to compete but failed until Colecovision stopped by.
In the early 1980s, computer technology became cheaper because of the Commodore 64 and because consumers wanted higher quality games. Coleco delivered by being the first to put a computer processor into a home video game console. While this adds up to 50 percent more costs than the competition, it does allow Coleco to add near-arcade quality.
While advanced technology is a selling point, it is not sufficient to attract customers from the already established and dominating Atari 2600 energy. Not only does it need a successful game, so Coleco steals customers from 2600, it has to steal Atari technology once again.
Colecovision/Nintendo Partnership and Atari Clone
In the early 1980s, Nintendo had just jumped into the home video game pool with its Pong clone, the Color TV Game Platform. Nintendo’s primary gaming venture originated in the arcade with its first big hit, Donkey Kong.
At that time, there was a bidding war between Atari and Mattel for the home video game rights to Donkey Kong. However, Coleco stopped by with an immediate offer and a promise to make this game more impactful than it could possibly be
provided by other platforms. Donkey Cong went to Coleco, who made a near-perfect recreation and packed it with Colecovision. The opportunity to play arcade hits at home propelled console sales to great success.
Another factor in breaking Colecovision’s sales record was its first Extended Module. Because Colecovision is made with computer technology, just like computers, Colecovision can be modified with hardware add-ons that extend its capabilities. Extended Module #1 was launched with Colecovision and includes an emulator enabling platform to play Atari 2600 cartridges.
Gamers now have a single platform across the system, adding Colecovision to the largest game library for any console. This propelled Colecovision to the top as it quickly sold Atari and Intellivision within a matter of months.
Atari tried to intervene by suing Coleco for violating their 2600 patent. At the time, video games were a new concept, and there was only one law in place to protect property rights.
Atari went to great lengths to protect its technology over the years, not only with its Pong clones but also with the courts allowing illegal games to be made for the 2600.
Coleco made it through the courts by proving that it had built its emulator with ready-to-use parts. Because Atari didn’t own any individual components, the court didn’t think it was a patent infringement. Under these terms, Coleco continued their sale and produced a separate 2600 clone called Coleco Gemini.
The Colecovision touts arcade-quality gaming on a home platform. While this isn’t an immediate port of the coin arcade title, the game is remade to match Colecovision’s capabilities, which are more sophisticated than anyone has seen before on a home platform.
The Donkey Kong game included with the platform is the closest Colecovision has come to re-igniting original arcade games. This is the most complete version of Donkey Kong released for residential platforms. Moreover, the Nintendo versions released for the Nintendo Entertainment System, and more recently the Nintendo Wii, do not contain all of the arcade levels.
While many could argue that launch titles, most notably Donkey Kong, were too close to arcade quality, the myriad of later gaming platforms didn’t offer much time or attention. In terms of visuals and gameplay, many Colecovision titles cannot attract the attention of their coin-op counterparts, such as Galaga and Popeye.
Relief and Expropriation Extension Module
While Extended Module #1 was part of the success of Colecovision, it was the other Modules that would ultimately bring about the demise of the platform.
Anticipation was high with the announcements of Expansion Modules #2 and #3, both of which did not meet the expectations of gamers. Expansion Type #2 goes on to become a sophisticated Steering Wheel control device. At the time, it was the most advanced peripheral of its kind, complete with a gas pedal and Turbo game in the box. However, it is not a big seller. Plus, only a handful of compatible games are designed for that.
Since the release of Colecovision, plans have been publicly underway for a third Expansion Type called Super Game Module. SGM is meant to expand the memory and energy of Colecovision, allowing more advanced games with better graphics, gameplay and extra levels.
Instead of cartridges, SGM will use Super Game Wafers like floppy disks, which store saves, stats and high scores on magnetic tape. Several games were developed for the Module, and demonstrated at the 1983 New York Toy Show, receiving countless acclaim and buzz.
Everyone believes SGM will be successful. So, Coleco began working with RCA and video game console maker Ralph Baer (Magnavox Odyssey) on a second Super Game Module, which could play games and movies on the same disc as the CED Rac VideoDisc Player, the predecessor to Laserdiscs and DVDs.
That June, Coleco unexpectedly delayed the release of Sgm. Two months ago, the project was cancelled. Instead, Coleco released a different Extension Module #3, Adam Computer.
Adam’s Computer Gambling
In the meantime, the Commodore 64 was the home computer of choice and was beginning to enter the video game market. Instead of creating a computer that plays video games, Coleco got the idea to make a game console that doubles as a computer. Therefore, Adam was born.
Borrowing many of its components from the canceled Super Game Module, Adam includes an additional keyboard, Digital Data Pack (the same cassette tape data storage platform used for the Commodore 64), a printer called the Smartwriter Electronic Typewriter, platform software, and games in the package.
Although Coleco owns the console rights to Donkey Kong, Nintendo concluded a deal with Atari to specifically produce Donkey Kong for the computer market. Instead, a game originally planned for Sgm, Buck Rodgers: Plant of Zoom, became Adam’s in-pack game.
Despite being a sophisticated platform, Adam is plagued with bugs and hardware malfunctions. The most prominent of which are:
- A large number of damaged Digital Data Packages will be damaged immediately during use.
- The magnetic waves emitted from the computer when it is first booted will damage or erase any data storage tapes that are nearby.
Adam’s technical problems and his $750 price tag, a higher cost than buying the Colecovision and Commodore 64 combined, sealed the fate of the platform. Coleco lost money on Adam during the Video Game Market Crash. Although Coleco had already sparked plans for a fourth Extended Module, which would have allowed Intellivision cartridges to play on the platform, all future projects were immediately canceled.
The Colecovision remained on the market until 1984, when Coleco left the electronics business to focus primarily on their line of toys, such as Cabbage Patch Kids.
One year after Colecovision left the market, its former licensing partner, Nintendo, came to North America and revived the video game industry with the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Despite the success that Coleco found in the toys, the financial burden caused by Adam Computer damaged the company beyond repair. Starting in 1988, the company started selling its assets and closed its doors a year after that.
Although the corporate as we know it no longer exists, its brand name is sold. In 2005, a new Coleco was formed, specializing in electronic toys and specific handheld games.
In a short two years, Colecovision sold more than six million units and made a permanent mark as one of the highest quality and most sophisticated home video game consoles of the 1980s.