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Intellivision Entertainment is winding up for a big launch of its retro video game console on October 10, 2020, or 10-10-20. That number is a little piece of flair that Tommy Tallarico, CEO of the reborn Intellivision Entertainment, is adding to his master plan.
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. He has acquired the rights to the console and its original games, and he plans to relaunch Intellivision as a retro brand. And at the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, he showed working machines off with some fun games. And I interviewed him about his plans. (He’s not ready to talk about the games just yet.)
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. The success of that venture enabled him to purchase 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. At E3, Tallarico showed off some of the games being made for the console. I played them and they were definitely focused on family entertainment on the couch.
Originally released in 1980, the Intellivision console and its successors sold millions of units over three decades. The new Intellivision Amico will carry on the company tradition of “firsts” with its new concept, design and approach to gaming, Tallarico said.
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.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: What are you publicly talking about so far?
Tommy Tallarico: The idea is, we’re showing the console here. It’s a real thing. It’s not hooked up to a PC. This is our board. The whole thing was designed and developed in-house at Intellivision, from the industrial design, the mechanical design, every single part of it. This is real stuff that we can play. We have 22 playable games.
The big thing we want to talk about and make people understand is that this is not a retro console. The Intellivision might be a retro name, but the Intellivision Amico is a brand-new stand-alone console. We have a four-pronged approach to software, which we’re showing today. It’s 25 percent retro, yes, reimagined classic, but that’s only 25 percent of what we’re doing. 25 percent is original IP. 25 percent is sports and recreation: not only baseball, soccer, and football, but also fun family sports, like bowling, darts, pool, shuffleboard. All the amazing things where we can use the gyroscope and accelerometer. We’re kind of picking up where the Wii left off 13 years ago, as you heard me say. The last 25 percent is puzzle games, board games, game shows, educational, that kind of stuff as well.
Everything is always based around getting to the core roots of gaming, getting people on a couch together, couch co-op. Every game has a single-player mode, but a must in every single–one of our 10 commandments of game design, every game must have couch co-op and multiplayer. We’re not doing multiplayer online. It’s just people in a room together, all playing together. Even some of the stuff like [bleep], for example–
Tallarico: [laughs] Even some of the old retro games that were just single-player experiences, we’re reimagining those and also adding in multiplayer. I can show you some of those in a bit. But that’s the thing, getting back to the roots of gaming, bringing people together in a room. That’s what we’re all about, what makes us different.
GamesBeat: This is a pretty hefty controller. Is that partly a historical homage, or is it because there’s a lot of stuff in there?
Tallarico: There’s a lot of stuff: gyroscope, accelerometer, tiltable disc, microphone, speaker. We wanted a nice battery in there as well. We could have made it thinner, but we also want big buttons for grandma. For non-gamers, having big buttons was a big deal. A lot of the buttons on a PlayStation or Xbox, they’re a little small. We’re twice the size of those buttons.
Keep in mind, we have the force feedback, but also, it’s self-charging. We have wireless self-charging, which is really cool. And again, as you know, having the ability to hook in up to eight mobile devices to the system as well — I’m going to show you some games where — every game that’s being developed for us can only be played on our system. Everyone in a room has their own screen. Similar to what they do with Jackbox, times a thousand. Think about the fun that Jackbox has.
GamesBeat: How do you get to something that might be cross-platform? Are there any games on other platforms that you’d want to have?
Tallarico: Not interested, no. Let the others fight over that. Every single game we have is exclusive. But that’s not to say licenses like Tetris and other titles — it’s just that the versions we do for our system can be played nowhere else. And we’re getting lots of interest. People are saying, “Oh, they’re crazy. No developer is going to want to do that.” We have 20 developers already, a lot of people you know.
GamesBeat: You have a lot of Germans.
Tallarico: Out of the 20 developers, five developers are German, yeah. They’re doing seven games out of the 22 right now. We have 20 hand-picked developers, and then we’re picking 20 more by October 1. We’re going to have 40 games at launch. Five games will be built into the system, so that’s a total of 45 games on October 2020. That’s the difference.
I read the interview you did with Fred Chesnais. He’s a buddy of mine. I love how you asked him about Intellivision. His response was, “We’re going to be able to play thousands of games on the Atari.” Totally cool. I don’t know where the industry thinks that quantity is better than quality. For us, it’s a closed platform. He’s absolutely correct. But we’re proud of that. That’s something that we’re going to herald, because we’re not going to put out garbage. We don’t want a thousand games on our system. Would you rather have 50 great games or a thousand crappy ones?
GamesBeat: Do you want to have a development environment that can easily take something from somewhere else and put it on your platform? Or do you actually not want that?
Tallarico: We don’t want that, no. We’re not interested in that.
GamesBeat: Something like Unity, where you can press a button and here’s the Intellivision version.
Tallarico: 90 percent of the games are being developed in Unity. We have a partnership with Unity. They’ll be able to save to Unity. But our OS is a hybrid, a Linux/Android hybrid that we’ve created in house. It’s very solid, but it’s very flexible, with Linux being the flexible part and Android being the solid part.
You and I have been talking for a year now. A year ago I had a sketch. Here we are with the hardware, working hardware, not hooked up to laptops. The real board, the real hardware, and 22 playable games. How many games did Fred show you yesterday?
GamesBeat: I talked with him on the phone, so I don’t know what he’s showing at the booth.
Tallarico: Exactly. You know the deal. That’s my point. Bill has been at Intellivision since 1981. Remember the game B-17 Bomber? It was a big hit. That’s one of the ones he worked on. He wore the logo shirt today. This is the thing. We have four people with the company who’ve been there since 1981. This is the same company. [Bill] still hates Atari, make no mistake. [laughs] Nah, we’re joking. It’s all tongue-in-cheek.
That’s the thing, though. We’re proud that we’re curating games. We’re staying in our own lane. Our whole thing is bringing families, bringing friends, gathering people around. Board games have gone up 40 percent each year for the last five years. Why is that? Because what video games are you going to play with a group of friends who aren’t hardcore gamers? We’re going to let Google and Microsoft and Sony and Nintendo and now Atari fight over the 200 million hardcore gamers in the world. We have 3 billion people who play casual and mobile games. That’s the thing that we’re most excited about. We’re different from all of those folks. We’re not going to stream Netflix.
GamesBeat: How did the industrial design come together? Did you look at the past and somehow modernize it?
Tallarico: I took what I thought was — we did a lot of market research. What the market research told us is that non-gamers are very intimidated by an analog stick. Even a D-pad is intimidating to somebody who doesn’t play video games. It’s a crosshair. You can’t really do diagonals. Even a directional joystick — again, you put that in a non-gamer’s hand and they say, “Oh, this is a twitch game. I don’t know what to do.”
Our original patented dial, the 360-degree tiltable dial — these are lights. They don’t have the full batteries in them, so they’ll be heavier. But that style — again, remember that you can play it like that. You can play it like this. You can play it like this. If you like Mario-style d-pad on this side and the buttons here, you can play that. If you have them upside like this, like the old Intellivision or like a phone — it’s interesting. Whenever we hand this controller to kids, the immediately go like this, because they’re used to their phones being that way. In a game like — well, one I can’t say, but a game I’m about to show that uses a roller ball, this becomes the reticle and you can fire with this. This becomes a button as well.
We wanted to take the design of the old things — if you look at the old Intellivision system, they fit into the cradle. We use that to our advantage. We brought that kind of controller in the cradle mode, but now we have the wireless charging. It’s going to have a little magnet so it sticks right in and charges itself.
We want to make this for moms, parents, grandparents, families. The idea was, we didn’t want to make it too aggressive. We wanted to make it something that would fit into a home, into a kitchen. I could have designed it like a steampunk Lamborghini if I wanted to, but that’s going to scare away — is a nursing home going to want that connected to their TV? That’s the thing. Families, friends.
You know the five different colors, right? The classic wood grain — again, a lot of market research went into this. A lot of folks my age and older, a lot of women, they love the classic vintage wood grain style. They like the white ones. A lot of younger women and even guys love the purple ones. The design was very important.
GamesBeat: How many more developers do you still want to add?
Tallarico: As I say, we have 20 now, and we’re going to add 20 more on October 1. That’s for this year. This year we have 40 developers.
GamesBeat: Do those 20 already have dev kits?
Tallarico: No. What we do is we give them our chipset. They design the games in Unity. Then we port them into our board and we optimize. We tell them where to optimize. But as you can see, we have a whole bunch of playable games already using that system. It’s not the best method, because they can’t push the hardware. But they’ll be able to do that come September 1.
GamesBeat: You have a bunch of milestones, then, whatever cadence to hit as you stay on schedule for launch?
Tallarico: Exactly. This is the beauty of our system, though. All the games we’re talking about, they’re not $20 million Call of Duty types of things. You’re talking about a programmer or two, two artists, maybe a sound guy, maybe a producer and designer. You’re talking about teams of five, six, seven people who are working six, nine, maybe 12 months. It’s not gazillions of dollars of budgets. It’s hundreds of thousands, as opposed to millions. That’s important. That’s why we’re able to do so much quality stuff.
Remember, we hand-picked the developers. We work with them to design all the games. We’re a true publisher partner and hardware manufacturer all in one. It’s as if every game is a Nintendo first-party game, that kind of mentality. Those are always the best games, right? That’s what we’re doing. We want every game on our system to have that Nintendo first-party quality, across our entire system.
GamesBeat: How people do you have working at Intellivision?
Tallarico: There are 30 employees in house and 300 contractors worldwide working on the system now.
GamesBeat: It’s interesting that you can do hardware with a relatively small number of people now.
Tallarico: That’s the thing. Because we’re not building an Xbox, not building a PlayStation 5, not building this crazy thing — we’re staying in our lane. We have three hardware engineers, where most have one or two. The Atari, for example, has one engineer. We have three for the main board. We have a separate engineer for the controller. We have software guys just for the screen.
Again, we don’t need to compete with Sony and Microsoft. We’re not trying to build a thousand-dollar mega-thing. We’re doing something simple. We want to keep the architecture simple as well, so people can make fun 2D, 2.5D games. But yeah, the answer is you don’t need a billion dollars to do this.
One thing I like to say, too — you have daughters. A lot of times it’s always about, get off the phone. Mobile devices are very solitary. Those 3 billion people a day who play games are just looking at their phones. Families consider technology in a negative manner sometimes. Why are you texting your brother? He’s right there on the couch. Put the phone down. Let’s talk. Let’s go outside and play.
We’re using technology to bring families back together, where mom and dad and friends come over, couples come over, and everyone — instead of playing board games, which everybody is doing now, let’s play video games again. Let’s make them fun and simple so that everyone can sit down and play at the same time. The whole system is based around that. But again, you can have single-player games as well.
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