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Intellivision in Hi-Fi
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1. Compare This! > Confusium
Intellivision was introduced to the American public with an aggressive advertising campaign featuring sportswriter George Plimpton. Plimpton invited TV viewers to compare Atari and Intellivision games side by side. The ads launched the videogame graphics war that continues today.
Using samples from those commercials over a driving beat, Electronica artist Confusium captures the frenzy of the early days of the videogame industry. Atari or Intellivision? A or B?
Intellivision Themes (played on the Intellivision console)
The Intellivision console could generate three musical notes simultaneously, plus white noise. While primitive by today's standards, it could produce sounds and music far more sophisticated than the Atari 2600 and even the later ColecoVision.
Early Intellivision programmers had little room to include more than a few notes in their games—maybe a short victory tune—but as cartridge memory grew larger, more space was available for music. A number of programmers with musical backgrounds were eager to see what the Intellivision could really do. Tracks 2 through 8 hold the answer.
2. Snafu > Russ Lieblich
Russ Lieblich created sound effects for several early games, including Night Stalker, Astrosmash, and Utopia. Even though he described working with the Intellivision’s limited sound capabilities as “Simonizing a garbage can,” he was able to get impressive results.
Snafu, designed and programmed by Mike Minkoff, began life as a handheld game, so the game code was extremely small. Even in the 4K Intellivision cartridge, there was room left over for music. Russ wrote two melodies that alternated during gameplay, creating what many consider to be the first true home videogame theme music.
3. Shark! Shark! > Andy Sells
Before becoming an Intellivision programmer in 1982, Andy Sells was playing piano bar at Tony Roma’s Ribs in Santa Monica. So it was natural that he would be asked to help out with the music on other programmers’ games.
When asked to provide an end theme for Ji Wen Tsao’s Shark! Shark!, Andy's original idea was to use the music from Bobby Darin’s swinging version of “Mack the Knife” ("Oh the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear, / and he shows them pearly white…"). But upon finding that publishing rights to the song were held by Warner Bros., owner of Atari, Mattel decided not to attempt negotiating a license. Instead, Andy created this original piece.
4. Buzz Bombers > Bill Goodrich
Another game designer who found himself regularly pulled away from his own projects to create sound effects and music for other games was Bill Goodrich. For Mike Breen’s Buzz Bombers, where the player battles bees, it was only natural for Bill to base the theme on “Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov.
5. Mind Strike > David Warhol
Dave Warhol came to Mattel Electronics from Pomona College, where he graduated with a degree in music composition. (He picked up programming working part time in the school’s computer lab.) Inspired by Prokofiev since childhood, Dave says he loves to write pieces that “go off into unexpected harmonies and riffs with wild key changes, then drop back to normalcy.” That's evident in this theme he wrote for his own game, Mind Strike.
Mind Strike started as a regular Intellivision game, but was ultimately released for the Entertainment Computer System (ECS) module. Even though the ECS, which contained a second sound chip, allowed six notes to be played at once, Dave kept the original three-note arrangement for the theme.
6. The Jetsons’ Ways with Words > Joshua Jeffe
Josh Jeffe wrote this original theme for his own game featuring the Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters, The Jetsons. No one quite remembers why the actual Jetsons theme music wasn't used; most likely the lawyers could never say whether the license with Hanna-Barbera included the music.
Since this game required the Entertainment Computer System module, Josh was able to arrange the theme using up to six notes at one time.
7. Melody Blaster (Blaster’s Blues) > Hal Cannon
The Entertainment Computer System, introduced in 1983, added extra memory and musical capability to the Intellivision. It also had an optional music keyboard; Melody Blaster, designed and programmed by Rick Sinatra with music by Hal Cannon, was the only cartridge released to use this keyboard.
One of the features of Melody Blaster was capturing a song as it was played on the keyboard and then playing it back. Hal used this feature to enter all of the music for the game “live,” rather than programming it in note by note.
8. Thin Ice (Carnival of the Penguins) > David Warhol
In 1983, George Sanger, an aspiring videogame music composer, asked his roommate’s brother, Intellivision programmer Dave Warhol, for advice on breaking into the business. Dave told George about a game in development, Julie Hoshizaki’s Thin Ice: a cute little penguin skates around a frozen lake dunking other penguins into the water. Would George like to take a stab at writing a theme for it?
George wrote "Carnival of the Penguins," which he offered to Mattel for $100. Mattel had a policy of not using freelancers, so the offer was refused. Despite this, Dave Warhol went ahead and programmed the melody into the game. Everyone loved the results, so an exception was made. George got paid, launching a music career which continues to this day.
9. Billiards Blues > Jimmy Martin
Shortly after Mattel sold the Intellivision rights to INTV Corp. in 1984, Dave Warhol became producer for all of INTV's new Intellivision releases. Budgets and schedules at INTV were much tighter than they'd been at Mattel, so Dave was always looking for ways to increase efficiency.
By the late 1980s, most music synthesizers could output files compatible with the MIDI standard. Dave wrote a translator to turn MIDI files directly into Intellivision music code. Its first use was on Steve Ettinger's game Deep Pockets: Super Pro Pool & Billiards. George Sanger, commissioned to provide music for the game, selected blues pianist Jimmy Martin to improvise this piece on a MIDI keyboard. Dave's translator turned the MIDI output into Intellivision code that perfectly captured Jimmy's live performance, and in a fraction of the time it would have taken to program by hand.
Unfortunately, INTV closed its doors in 1991 without releasing Deep Pockets. No other music was translated from MIDI to Intellivision.
10. Surfin’ on Thin Ice > The Fat Man
George “The Fat Man” Sanger started his career with the theme for Thin Ice. He went on to fame within the computer game industry, creating music for Wing Commander, The 7th Guest, and many others. He’s also become well known at the industry's annual Game Developers Conference for leading a live band each year that performs into the early morning hours.
Here, George updates his 1983 theme for Thin Ice with a rocking surf arrangement.
Classics on Intellivision
Arranging classical pieces for the Intellivision is a challenge. For an original theme, a composer can work with the limitation of the Intellivision, namely that it can only generate three square-wave notes at one time. But a classical piece can call for 90 instruments playing simultaneously—dozens of unique notes and timbres at every fraction of a second. The Intellivision arranger must find the three notes at any given moment that will capture not only the melody but the mood of the piece. As tracks 11 through 13 show, the Intellivision programmers moved in a few short years from accurate but lifeless translations to truly evocative interpretations.
11. Also Sprach Zarathustra
Richard Stauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” familiar as the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey, was used for the 1980 Intellivision in-store demo cartridge. As the music played, text on the TV screen extolled the virtues of the console and games.
There is some question as to who programmed this music for the cartridge; a likely candidate is Hal Finney, who contributed sounds to several early cartridges.
12. Toccata in D Minor > David Warhol
Dave Warhol arranged this Bach piece for the 1983 Entertainment Computer System release Scooby Doo’s Maze Chase, designed and programmed by Mark Kennedy.
Dave took advantage of the ECS module’s ability to play six notes at once to create a rich organ sound.
13. Purcell’s Rondeau from Abdelazar, Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, Moussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony > David Warhol
Dave Warhol used some of his favorite classical pieces in Thunder Castle, which he developed with Connie Goldman in 1983.
The Rondeau from Abdelazar plays over the title screen. Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony is heard over the “get ready” screen and during the main gameplay. Short excerpts from Night on Bald Mountain and Beethoven’s Ninth accompany grabbing a “power-up” treasure and losing a turn, respectively.
14. Lounge Shark! Lounge Shark! > The Tilton-Tate Orchestra
The theme from Shark! Shark! becomes an underwater romance in which a fair young mermaid is nibbled by the shark - and likes it.
15. Maple Leaf Rag > Steve Ettinger
Steve Ettinger arranged this ragtime classic for his unreleased 1982 Intellivoice game, Magic Carousel. Simplifying the chords for the three-note Intellivision was, he recalls, “a long, tedious, and laborious task.” He adds that “Dave Warhol helped a lot in evaluating which notes were the best choices...which helped the final cut of the song sound much better (so hats-off to DW!).” Ultimately, only an excerpt could be fit into the game. This track presents the complete version.
16. My Intellivision (1982 Mix) > Michael Schwartz
"My Intellivision" was written for the history section of the CD-ROM Intellivision Lives! It also plays over the CD-ROM’s exit credits. The song was inspired by the sounds of such 1980s groups as Pet Shop Boys, Spandau Ballet, and ABC.
On Intellivision Lives!, the song was limited to a 30-second instrumental excerpt looping in the background. Here, for the first time, is the complete version with vocals. Sound effects are from Snafu.
You were my love and my friend,
I thought the game would never end.
You tore out my heart without anesthesia,
Behavior that's hard to defend.
How could you put me in this position?
I really miss my Intellivision.
And now I'm bleeding from this incision,
I really want my Intellivision!
I miss your control and demands,
Nothing to do with my hands,
I won't leave my house - I'm in hibernation,
A loneliness I understand...
And so I sit here without ambition,
I really need my Intellivision.
I cannot stand it, this indecision,
Somebody find my Intellivision!
I want...I want my...I want my Intellivision!
And so I swear by my own volition,
I'm going to find my Intellivision.
I'm on a quest now, I'm on a mission,
I have to have my Intellivision!
Unreleased Intellivision Themes
The following seven tracks (17 through 23) feature never-heard Intellivision music: themes from games that, for one reason or another, were never released, music produced for demos that were never further developed, and some done just for fun.
17. James Bond Theme > David Warhol
Dave Warhol was in a bad mood one day, so he blew off what he was supposed to be working on and instead programmed this arrangement of the James Bond Theme - for no other reason than he thought it would be cool. It is.
18. You Deserve a Break Today > David Warhol
Mattel Electronics proposed a promotional tie-in with McDonald’s built around a McDonaldland Intellivision game. To sell McDonald’s on the idea, Connie Goldman developed a demo screen with an animated Ronald McDonald, Mayor McCheese, and Hamburglar. Dave Warhol added music: this arrangement of the McDonald’s theme. A deal was never made.
19. Linus & Lucy > David Warhol
Another license attempt was for the Peanuts comic strip. Connie Goldman put together a demo screen with an animated Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Lucy. Dave Warhol was asked to add music on short notice. He arranged the music loop heard here from memory (discovering later that he got part of the melody wrong). Again, no deal was made.
20. Blow Out > Andy Sells
In 1983, programmers Bill Fisher, Keith Robinson, and Andy Sells tried to combat the antisocial image of videogames with The Party Line, a collection of Intellivision games that could be played by large groups of people taking turns. In other words, videogames as party games. They would be simple, colorful, with nonstop music.
They put together a playable demo, Blow Out, to present the concept, Bill doing the program, Keith the graphics, and Andy the music. Mattel liked the idea and three Party Line games were developed, but none were released.
21. Yogi’s Frustration > Joshua Jeffe
Josh Jeffe wrote this original theme for Mark Buczek’s unpublished Yogi Bear game. As with The Jetsons’ Ways with Words, it isn't clear why the actual Yogi Bear theme wasn't used. Again, the Mattel lawyers probably weren't sure if it could be.
22. Rocky & His Friends > David Warhol
23. The Bullwinkle Show > David Warhol
The cartoon characters Rocky and Bullwinkle appeared in two primetime series, Rocky & His Friends (ABC 1959 - 61) and The Bullwinkle Show (NBC 1961 - 64), each with its own theme. Dave Warhol used both themes for Minhchau Tran’s never-released Rocky & Bullwinkle game.
24. Snafu City > The Buddy O Trio
The themes from Snafu, jazzed up by The Buddy O Trio.
25. The Closest Thing to the Real Thing > Confusium
Confusium returns with this epic piece that attempts nothing less that capturing the Intellivision experience. Four major sections reflect the power of videogames in general - seduction, addiction, competition, and just zoning out - while recalling memories of the classic Intellivision games.
The piece incorporates voice samples from Intellivision TV commercials, as well as from the Intellivoice games Space Spartans (designed and programmed by Bill Fisher & Stephen Roney), Bomb Squad (Gene Smith), B-17 Bomber (John Sohl, Bill Fisher & Stephen Roney), and TRON Solar Sailer (Keith Robinson). Unreleased German, French, and Italian versions of Space Spartans are also heard.
"The Closest Thing to the Real Thing" debuted in the Intellivision booth at the 2000 Classic Gaming Expo in Las Vegas.
26. TRON 1.1 > Tom Kahelin
There is a special connection between Intellivision and the Disney movie TRON. Mattel Electronics had the videogame rights to the movie, and during the peak years of Intellivision production, a TRON game was always in development. And after years of being forgotten by most people, TRON and Intellivision are today being recognized for their creative and technical innovations.
Mattel published three Intellivision TRON games, and several for other platforms. Of these, only Keith Robinson's Intellivoice game TRON Solar Sailer used music from the movie. “I asked our lawyers if I could use the film music,” says Keith. “They said they didn't know, which I took as a ‘Yes.’” Andy Sells arranged the Wendy Carlos compositions for the game.
Now, Tom Kahelin creates a new suite incorporating the major musical themes from the movie. In the instrumentation he captures an important emotional theme as well: the meeting of the real and the electronic simulation. That, after all, is what happens each time we pick up a hand controller.
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