Tommy Tallarico grew up with the joy of playing the Intellivision video game console, a machine from Mattel that gave Atari a run for its money in the early 1980s. Now he has acquired the rights to the console and its original games, and he plans to relaunch Intellivision as a retro brand.
A wave of nostalgia has hit gamers, with Nintendo and Atari taking advantage with launches, both recent and pending, of older game consoles. Now they’ll have a new competitor with Intellivision Entertainment, Tallarico said in an exclusive interview with GamesBeat.
Tallarico is a veteran video game developer and musician who heads Video Games Live, a concert company that travels the world and plays orchestral music from video games before live audiences. He purchased a stake in Intellivision Productions from the estate of former owner and founder Keith Robinson, who passed away in 2017.
Tallarico has relaunched the Irvine, California-based company as Intellivision Entertainment, and he is serving as president alongside some of the original Intellivision team members.
Originally released in 1980, the Intellivision console and its successors sold millions of units over three decades. The new Intellivision system (name TBA) will carry on the company tradition of “firsts” with its new concept, design and approach to gaming, Tallarico said.
“I see a huge gaping hole in the market now with families in the home,” said Tallarico. “We will be focused. We will not try to compete with Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. That would be insane, and we would need $1 billion.”
Details of the new console will be released on October 1, and you can subscribe to updates at their website. Tallarico said the team is developing a new controller as well. But he said the console will not match the capabilities of modern consoles and it won’t be expensive. At launch, Tallarico said there will be 10 games ready, and he said the machine will run an emulator to play all the old games.
“We are in the middle,” he said. “We won’t run Netflix. We are not trying to do 3D.”
The system will connect to Wi-Fi and it will have a store that will allow you to download games onto an SD memory card.
I also played the original Intellivision when it debuted in 1979. It was my first game console, and I played it with my brother. We liked it because the games were more fully developed and engaging, compared to the original Atari 2600 titles, which we played at our friends’ houses.
The idea is to bring back the concept of simple, affordable, family, and fun into the homes of consumers with the introduction of a brand new home video game console, Tallarico said. He wants to target everyone, hardcore fans and non-gamers who might have played Intellivision years ago, with many of the original games that ran on the brand’s various consoles.
“Our target is the non-gamer, the family,” he said. “We want simplicity. There is no system where young and old and non-gamers can play together in the home. People play on mobile, but it is still a very solitary experience.”
The original Intellivision system generated many “firsts” in the video game industry including the first 16-bit gaming machine, the first gaming console to offer digital distribution, the first to bring speech/voice to games, the first to license professional sports leagues and organizations and the first to be a dedicated game console and home computer.
Wary of over promising (like, ahem, Atari with its new console), Tallarico said he won’t give a target date for the launch of the hardware yet.
Tallarico has been making games for 30 years, and he credits Intellivision for getting him into the business.
“I’d play it with mom and dad and brother,” Tallarico said. “We could all understand it. We didn’t have to read a manual or play 50 hours to finish a game.”
He added, “It was always my favorite system because the games were cutting-edge yet fun and simple to play, so our entire family could enjoy them together. I find those important elements to generally be lacking from our industry with the current modern gaming consoles. Our goal is to change that by focusing on bringing all age groups and levels of gamers and non-gamers together while introducing new generations of people to the legacy success of the Intellivision brand.”
Original Intellivision team members will also play important roles in the creation, development, software and design of the new platform. Intellivision Entertainment chairman Steve Roney and Intellivision Entertainment vice president of technology Bill Fisher have been involved with Intellivision since 1981.
Both Roney and Fisher were programmers and designers for some of the first home video games to ever have voice/speech (Space Spartans and B-17 Bomber). Other Intellivision members include original Game Design & Development Group Leader David Warhol, known for designing and producing over 25 Intellivision titles as well as designing, programming and composing for the first home console video game to ever have wall-to-wall continuous music (Thunder Castle).
Intellivision veteran and vice president Emily Reichbach Rosenthal will lead the licensing division, and longtime Intellivision contractor, tech guru, and historian Paul Nurminen is the vice president of product development.
The original Intellivision system was sold from 1980 to 1990. The Intellivision control disc was the predecessor to what later became the industry standard directional pad (D-pad). It was also the first game console to provide for 16 directions of movement while offering four action buttons and a 12-button keypad, which opened up greater game play options and control. But the controller could be uncomfortable during long sessions of playing.
The Intellivision was the first video game console that had a pause feature. And the very first game to have speech/voice was the 1979 Intellivision release of Major League Baseball. All told, there were 70 or 80 games.
Intellivision had the largest home console software library in the world with the release of the cross-platform “System Changer” device that allowed Atari 2600 games to be played on the Intellivision system. And 30 years ahead of its time, the Intellivision was the first to offer digital distribution of video games through the PlayCable service.
With the release of the Keyboard Component, Intellivision became the first video game system that was able to be used and turned into a home computer. The Intellivision game Utopia (created by Don Daglow) was the first “real time strategy” and city building/god game.
Intellivision was responsible for the first “console war” when it launched a national ad campaign against then rival Atari, by using side-by-side comparisons with journalist George Plimpton as its spokesman.
Mattel created the original machine and launched it in 1979. But the game industry crashed in 1982, and Mattel sold it off for pennies on the dollar in 1984. The new company was called INTV, and they came out with a new system dubbed INTV System. They stopped making those machines in 1990.
The company shut down, and then Robinson took over and started licensing. He and Roney created a controller with 20 games and they managed to sell 4 million units. They also did the Intellivision flashback console. Tallarico said it is easier to create hardware these days with advances in contract manufacturing. Over time, the new company will raise money and hire people to support he launch.
“I was a huge fan. When Keith passed away, I contacted the rest of the team and we worked on it. We wanted to remind people of all the incredible things it did back in the day.”
There are some challenges, as the brand isn’t what it used to be.
“Not many people under 30 that know what it was,” Tallarico said. “It doesn’t have as big a name as Atari. But the idea is to bring it into the 21st century for all those people who don’t know what Shark Shark is or Astrosmash.”
He said the Nintendo Wii grabbed that audience briefly, and his mother even bought one.
Tallarico said that Video Games Live provided some of the money he used to buy a stake in Intellivision Productions. He also has other backers. He said Video Games Live will continue to be run by people who work for him.
“I want to bring gaming back into the families and to nongamers,” he said. “If hardcore gamers think that is stupid, lame and dumb, that’s OK. I’m not going to trick them into something it’s not.”
He added, “When i think of Intellivision, I think of my family sitting around the TV, laughing, having fun, jabbing at each other. That is my earliest recollection of video games. Now I think of me in a dark room in my theater, enjoying these amazing awesome experiences by myself.”