Back from the dead?
I must admit that despite my ever growing collection of gaming machines, I’ve never owned or even tried an Intellivision console. Come to think of it, I’m not sure I’ve even seen one in the wild before. So when the company revealed their planned Amico system at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo 2018, it hardly registered on my radar. A mere “Huh, OK” response before being mentally filed away with all the other scraps of information I have no use for. After all, I have PlayStation’s. Xbox platforms. Nintendo devices of all shapes and sizes and numerous other gizmos. I’m good, thanks.
A brief history
As mentioned, my experience with Intellivision is a zero, so I took a look at who they are, what they did and where they went. I won’t go into too much detail, there’s lots of in depth information out there if you want it. But here’s a quick look –
Released by Mattel Electronics back in 1979, the Intellivison was a video game console that competed with the Atari 2600, which had hit the market less than a year prior. The Intellivision boasted superior visual and audio elements, and Mattel made that clear in advertising campaigns. By 1982 the machine had sold around 2 million units.
The in 1982, the Intellivision II was released as a smaller, lower cost version with a couple of hardware revisions along the way. By late 1983 however, Mattel Electronics division posted losses in the hundreds of millions. Fast forward a little in the interests of trying to keep this bit short, the rights to Intellivison changed hands over the coming years until Tommy Tallarico purchased a stake in the company and became President/CEO, relaunching as Intellivision Entertainment and announcing in May 2018 plans to bring a new console to market. That brings us to now.
You’ve gotta come back with me, to the Future
I kept seeing trickles of information coming out via Twitter and hearing whispers on the wind. Just the odd little Amico this, Intellivision that. So I decided to take a look at this thing and see what it was all about. That’s when I became even less interested. Selling point of around $200 or less? Well that’s never going to compete with a PS5 or Scarlett. 2D chip and architecture? That’s fine but, no GTA or DOOM games then? What’s with those weird little controllers?
Then, something happened. I saw an Interview with Tommy Tallarico, by YouTuber DreamcastGuy. A word from him later and be sure to check his channel, great content. That’s when I was totally sold on this strange Intellivision thing. That’s not to say that the interview ended up just being a platform for Tommy to sell the system, more so that hearing what he has to say, listening to his vision, provided that Eureka! Moment and the whole concept just starts to make sense and become clear.
Tommy Tallarico has worked on so much stuff it’s almost frightening, I think maybe he’s a machine. Aside from seeming to be a really cool guy, he has worked as a video game music composer, musician, sound designer, a television personality, director and producer. Having worked on over 300 game titles including the likes of Earthworm Jim, Messiah, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and also having been awarded not one, but two Guinness World Records (Most video game concerts performed and largest audience to view a video game music concert live). Needless to say, the man knows the industry.
Dammit Man, get back on topic
Listening to Mr. Tallarico talk in his interview with DreamcastGuy about the upcoming system, it’s hard not to get drawn in by his infectious enthusiasm but as with any pitch for a new idea, one must carefully read between the lines and attempt to filter out what may be possible, from what seems wishful thinking or over reaching.
The core values of Intellivision, or Company Pillars as they call them, are stated as “Simple, Affordable, Family, Fun”. Sounds straightforward enough right? Well, those first two should be pretty self-explanatory so let’s look at the Family, Fun part. When asked “What is the goal of the Amico”, Tommy talks about how these days, many games are being made with the hard core gamer in mind and how that may alienate casual or non-gamers, coupled with ever more complicated machines and controllers. Now you might be thinking “Come on, Tommy, it’s not that complicated”. But then, we are those hard core gamers he is speaking of.
And he has a point, you give my girlfriend a PlayStation 4 controller and load up Horizon Zero Dawn, a game I had a lot of fun with. She won’t know where to start. She’ll probably manage to run around for a few minutes, maybe have a giggle when she falls off a cliff before handing the controller back. Challenge her to a race in Forza? No Chance.
Tommy also goes on the talk about the old values, or mechanics of video games. The purity of those games you might say. Sure, older games were indeed less advanced. We didn’t really have crafting or many branched talent trees. All these things we consider the norm now.
Where are you going with this?
Think about it for a moment. Those old games played really well. Not all of them, sure. But those greats from years gone by, are usually really easy to pick up, to understand and still hold up today in many cases. Taking my partner as an example again, the PS4 is just not something she’ll even look at. My old Mega Drive (Genesis for our readers across the pond) hooked up to a CRT screen over in the corner, that thing she recognises and would absolutely sit and play a bit of Columns or Sonic. She even went through a Tetris addiction on Super NES a while ago.
This also loops around to the “Family” bit. I have not played local multi player in years, there may have been the odd time on the Wii. But I’d really have to say the last time I was gathered around a screen with friends, would have been back with the Original Xbox.
Yet some of my best memories of gaming come from those days when me and my best friend from school would grab a controller and play Micro Machines for hours. Or when a bunch of us would all crowd around a TV and play Halo multi player all night. Sure, online play is great and I’ve had good play sessions numerous times, but I can’t turn to my right and give my friend a dead arm when he gets a kill streak. Those days are largely behind us now. Tommy gets his point across really well, maybe better than I can. So be sure to watch the interview to get his take on this.
Who plays locally anymore?
When I have family visit for a few days, nobody is going to want to fire up a Call of Duty game. Would my partners Dad pick up a controller and play something like Pole Position? And compete on a serious level with more straight forward controls and mechanics? Absolutely. And that would be great for me as a gamer to have that interaction in my hobby with people who otherwise wouldn’t care for it at all.
I won’t dwell too much on the subject of everything released on the Intellivison Amico carrying an “E for Everyone” rating. I don’t really see the issue there, not everything needs to be full of blood and guts or gritty, serious subjects. We have numerous other places to find that anyway. Nor am I going to analyse those controllers in great detail. They look simple but somewhat ingenious at the same time. It seems they are still working on final designs and revisions. Essentially they look to provide a range of customisation while remaining very simple.
Player 4 has joined the game
The Amico (Italian for “Friend”) isn’t setting out to be a direct competitor to the likes of Sony and Microsoft. But does it need to? As we’ve seen with Nintendo and the success of the Switch and the Wii, these companies can occupy different corners of the same space without having to try and beat the others into submission. What Intellivision is proposing with the Amico, is to create a platform that strips back a lot of the bloat of modern games and get back to simple, focussed game play while giving a platform to the underdog developers.
About that, this is another great idea from Intellivision brought up in Tommy’s interview. Talking about how hard it can be for smaller, Indie type developers to be seen despite how good their project may be. They simply cannot always stand out when there’s so many trying to grab our attention. Could your team of 5 people really get a game marketing on the level of Activision or EA? No way.
What could they do for developers?
So, on the Amico, games will be funded by Intellivision, eliminating a lot of risk for those smaller studios. Promoted exclusively on the system with no competition for that spotlight for a week or more, given a chance to be seen. This would also give Intellivision a chance to cherry pick what they feel are worthwhile titles. Ones that can stand on their own merit and thus keep the systems online store populated only with titles that actually play well. Filtering out those that need to go back to the drawing board.
This can’t be a bad thing for anyone. Regardless of if you feel the Amico has a place in the market, and by extension, a place in your home. A place for smaller developers to shine can only help gaming as a wider market. More studios are a good idea, let the talent shine somewhere, get them out there. Maybe they will explode into the next big thing, maybe not. But they will certainly fail without a place to be seen. For every indie success story, there’s a slew of others who go unnoticed. Even if these developers only ever made simple card games, or advanced Pong clones. From small beginnings. Nintendo used to sell Trading Cards.
As for talent on board with the project, Tommy invites us to go and see who’s on the project. So I did. The man was right. Some good names on the team! Without stretching this article out any more, there are names there from all over the industry with experience spanning back for years. People that have worked on some big projects for some big companies, who clearly have skills to get things done.
Let’s wrap this up
Personally I’m aboard with the Amico. I sincerely hope it sees some measure of success. No, it won’t replace your PlayStation 4, no it won’t replace your Switch. But it doesn’t have to. We already have those. Any measure of competition to the other players is healthy. Imagine if Nintendo never faced Sega or later Sony. If they could have just plodded along unchallenged. How much innovation could we have missed out on? How many great games would never have existed? Intellivision isn’t going to knock any of the big names from their perch of course, but that’s not the aim.
The Amico looks to carve out a little space where we can play new games with old school values. Where we can bring in family and friends. If it can do that, it will have earned a place in my collection. We should give this thing a chance and be open to the idea and what it’s trying to do.
I thought I’d give the final word to DreamcastGuy. It was his video that got me looking at the Amico, after all. When I reached out to him, he was cool enough to give the following statement –
“I think the Amico is an interesting idea, with a ton of potential. That being said, it’s hard to guess what the gaming landscape is going to be like in 2020. A family friendly home console has the chance to make a name for itself. But in the World of PS5 and Xbox 2, there might not be enough room at the table for them to play”
You can check out his content right HERE