Mattel Electronics (1945)


Photo taken while preparing for the TV Show

Harold Matson and Elliot Handler established Mattel in 1945. The company’s logo was formed by the names of the two founders, and their first products were sold out of a garage workshop. Mattel ventured into the world of toys and became a leader into this field.

Their first hit was the Barbie doll, which is still being sold today. After the success in the toys field Richard Chang seeing the success of video games such as Atari VCS console, decided to venture into this field. Mattel convinced, sought advice from Glen Hightower in order to explore the company’s possibilities. They found a suitable chip set for their new system with General Instruments and after some modifications to the CPU they built their first 16-bit Video Game system. The CPU was code named CP1610 with a running frequency of 3,6Mhz and 4Kbyte of Ram. In the meantime Atari had became a giant into this field and Mattel Electronics stopped the development of this console and instead started to produce LCD displays. When the sales figures increased far more than Mattel expected, Jeff Rochliss convinced the executive committee to give another try on their Video Game console.

In 1979 Mattel released Intellivision. The machine was first sold in California to see the consumer reactions on this machine. The code name Intellivision was taken from Intelligent Television. This code name had to reflect that the machine was upgradeable more than other machine with the best graphics and future peripherals on the market. The machine was a real success and by 1980 more than 175000 pieces are sold.

The Intellivision Console

The price of the machine was $250; higher than the Atari VCS, but the console was more reliable and had better graphic capabilities than the Atari VCS. In the meantime Magnavox the first Video Game producer that held the Patent for video games requested a sum of money from Mattel, for the license of their new products, but Mattel refused to pay this sum, because Atari’s license fee was much more less. Magnavox was aware that Atari made a lot of success with its console, and most probably Mattel would do even better and the company took this opportunity to make money. The two companies had to solve this problem at court, and decided that Mattel had to pay the money to Magnavox.

In 1982 and 1983 the Mattel console was dominating the market and a further one million devices were sold. Mattel to increase it’s sales decided to produce a TV spot where both machine were compared in graphics and sound. This spot managed to get more sales to Mattel, but Atari still had costumers using their VCS, so they focused more on games. In 1983 Mattel Electronics announced that they were launching two new machines code-named Intellivision III and Intellivision IV. Since Intellivision I and II had already beaten the Atari VCS machine, Mattel was designing the Intellivision III to compete with ColecoVision and the New Atari 5200. The Intellivision IV was a Top Secret project and it had to revolutionize the world of video games. All this had to be stopped after fraud investigations of the Federal Trade Commission started to investigate in 1982 for the Intellivision keyboard add on that never showed up.

The Keyboard add on

The FTC in 1983 decided to issue a fine of $10000 USD per month until the promised add on keyboard was available for customers. Finally the keyboard was released and the FTC suspended the fine, but the Add on keyboard was not what customers had expected. After Intellivision keyboard success was officially dead, Mattel Electronics decided that they needed a real computer in their product line. The new system had not to interface with the Intellivision, so that they were free to shop for an existing system, and they could simply market under the name of Mattel. Radofin Electronics was a Hong Kong company, which had done most of the manufacturing of the Intellivision system. Radofin Electronics had three new Z80 Based computers. Mattel took the opportunity to distribute the first two of these systems which eventually called them Aquarius and Aquarius II. Mattel planned to make Aquarius a stronger game computer. So the Mini-Expander was designed to boost up Aquarius capabilities.

The Aquarius with its expander

The Expander featured the Intellivision AY-3-8914 sound chip, and 16 position disk/6 action buttons hand controllers. Since Aquarius does not have the capability for programmable graphics, the expander has a new character set, which include animations and background pieces that would allow for building game screens. Programmers were consulted on what was needed to design screens for games that hadn’t even been discussed yet. Based on what the programmers felt was important, the Mattel Electronics graphic designers, Joe Ferreira, Monique Lujan-Bakerink, and Peggi Decarli, created a character set with a selection of alphabet numbers, sprites, like running men, robots, explosions, and a variety of geometric shapes. The on-line service that Mattel had promised never came. At that stage, Mattel decided to sell Aquarius back to Radofin, and let them out of their contract. On the 20 Th January 1984, Mattel pulled out of the computer market completely. According to Allan Meek, secretary for Fobel International, Radofin got the unsold stock, all marketing rights, plus a “reasonably substantial” amount of cash.

Radofin’s President, Lawrence M. Scott, Jr. confident in their system announced that they would continue to sell and produce Aquarius computers and peripherals through a new distributor, and would release Aquarius II in March of 1984 and Aquarius III in July, but none of this happened. On the Intellivision side the machine and projects were bought from T.E. Valeski, who was responsible at Mattel electronics of Marketing, and other investors for the sum of USD 16.5 Millions.

One of the Adverts for Intellivision III

They founded a company called INTV and in 1985 they released the Intellivision III. INTV released lots of games but in 1990 the company had to close down, due to heavy competition from other companies. In 1996 Mattel re-entered into the world of video games, this time under the name of Mattel Media. Mattel Media released all types of software and hardware. When Designer Bob Del Principe saw the machine and it’s, capabilities he proposed a slogan for the 1983 debut: “Aquarius¬† system for the Seventies!” The new character Set was a failure, the graphic limitations of the Aquarius showed so bad that programmers looked at it as a punishment, when assigned to work on an Aquarius game, and that the slogan was more than appropriate for this machine. The Aquarius II is capable of programmable graphics, but no game design was ever started at Mattel for this particular Machine.

There were also discussions for adding programmable graphics capability to Aquarius Ver1 and rename it “The Aquarius Ver1.5”, but nothing ever happened of this. The system was introduced in spring 1983 with the Mini-Expander, printer, Data Recorder, Memory-Cartridges, and some games. When the public saw this system, they also agreed with the slogan “System for the Seventies!” By summer, Mattel had canceled all plans to release The Aquarius II and additional peripherals.