In early 1977, Magnavox developed a non-programmable game console that they
called the Odyssey 2. It would not have the ability to add new games through
cartridges, but instead would have 24 "built-in" games, and allow up
to four people to play simultaneously. Soon afterward, however, the videogame
market became crowded with a number of other entries all of which had to compete
not only with each other, but also with the large number of inexpensive
hand-held electronic games. The resulting market difficulties convinced Magnavox
not to market this incarnation of the 24-game Odyssey 2. To date, I am not aware
of any classic videogame collectors who own a prototype of this unit.
Instead, in 1978 Magnavox released a new videogame system for the home market: The Odyssey2 (the title differing only in that this new incarnation has a superscripted "2"). This new unit bore no relation to the scrapped 24-game system. Instead, it was a fully programmable home video game system that was designed to use 2K ROM game cartridges. Like the Atari VCS, the CPU of the O2 was powerful enough such that each game could be a completely unique experience, with its own background graphics, foreground graphics, gameplay, scoring and music. The potential was enormous, as an unlimited number of games could be individually purchased. Like the Atari 2600, the Odyssey2 allowed any game player to purchase a library of videogames tailored to his or her own interest.
Unlike any other system at that time, the Odyssey2 also included a full alpha-numeric touchpad keyboard, which was to be used for educational games, selecting game options or programming. This was a major selling point of the system.
For hand held controllers, the Odyssey2 utilized the classic joystick design of the 1970s and 80s: A moderately sized, self -centering eight-way joystick. It was held in the left hand, and manipulated with the right hand. In the upper corner of the joystick was a single "action" button. A credit to the designers at Magnavox: three or four years later with Atari, Intellivision, and a number of third party companies producing hardware, many people STILL felt that the Odyssey2 joystick was one of the best designed.
By 1981, Atari and Intellivision sales had grown in leaps and bounds beyond the O2. Nevertheless, unlike some unnamed videogame companies (hint: their name rhymes with Vega), Philips kept on supporting the O2. Their programmer's slow but steady improvements in gameplay and graphics made sure that O2 owners could always count on more and better games being made available. Even without massive third party support, by 1983 over a million O2 units were sold in North America alone.
It is less well known that the Odyssey2 was even more popular in Europe, where it was marketed by Magnavox's parent company, Philips Electronics. In Europe (and in other parts of the world as well) the O2 was sold as the Philips G7000 Videopac console. In France, it was known as the Philips C52. In Brazil it was known as the Odyssey, as the original Odyssey was never released in Brazil.
At the time of their release, the original games available for the Odyssey2 were nothing short of remarkable. It's hard to estimate how many gamers with a love for racing spent their weekend with Speedway!/Spin-Out!/Crypto-Logic!. The roar of the motors, and high speed chases and tight turns! The explosive crashes! Yes sir, those were hours well spent. Beyond racing, friends could spend all night working against world peace by destroying each other's tanks, planes and subs with Sub Chase!/Armored Encounter!. And with Bowling/Basketball! all the O2 owners could...well, get bored. That one sucked.
The less said about most O2 sports games the better. I could give a review of Football!, Baseball!, Electronic Volleyball!, or Alpine Skiing!, but really, what's the point? The graphics and sound were not good, and neither was the gameplay. Sure, at the time that these games were released, they probably were pretty good, and I'm sure that many people enjoyed them for many hours. But the problem is that these games do not stand the test of time. I don't mean to imply that they aren't good compared to today's games. A REAL classic game player would never make such a comparison! What I mean is that even two years later, still in the middle of the O2's life cycle, these games already were outdated and dull, so anyone who wanted good sport games had to go to another system.
In later years, Mattel released some really outstanding sports games for the Atari 2600 under the "M-Network" label, which surpassed anything previously seen on the Atari 2600, the Odyssey2 or the Bally Astrocade. These games redefined the state of the art for 8-bit sports gaming. Unfortunately, Philips evidently didn't think that the O2 could handle games of this complexity, or at least didn't think that such games would be profitable; thus O2 owners never got to see improved versions of any sports games. That's too bad, because a large number of videogame buyers are also sports fans. When they saw that the Mattel's games for the Atari or Intellivision far surpassed those available on the O2, it gave the O2 a black eye. This probably was one of the main factors that caused the O2 to lose its market share.
When it came to making original games, few could forget the adorable animation of the monkeys climbing around the monkey-bars in Monkeyshines!. And when it came to making clones, no one came closer to the arcade's Pac-Man than the Odyssey2 classic K. C. Munchkin. Unlike the - let's face it - incredibly ugly version of Pac-Man that Atari foisted upon its gamers, K.C. Munchkin had huge, brightly colored monsters, with fine animation, and not a trace of that "Atari-flicker" that plagued Pac-Man. Unfortunately, Magnavox came a bit too close, and their game was ruled to be a patent infringement on Atari's rights; Magnavox was forced to withdraw K.C. from the shelves. Of course, soon after Magnavox released its first ever sequel game K.C.'s Krazy Chase, which had the original K.C. tumbling around in a similar maze, but with all new gameplay, as K.C. had to face off against the dreaded "Dratapillar". Its hard to explain the game if you have never seen it, but if you let Pac-Man loose in Centipede you come close to imagining it.
One of the strongest points of the system was its excellent speech synthesis unit, "The Voice of Odyssey2", which was released as a hardware add-on for speech synthesis, music, and sound-effects enhancement. Compared to the similar systems that were later released for the Atari 2600 and Mattel Intellivision, the "Voice of Odyssey2" was far and away the superior product.
The area that the Odyssey2 may well be best remembered for was its pioneering fusion of board and video-games: The Master Strategy Series. The first game released was the instant classic The Quest for the Rings!, with gameplay somewhat similar to Dungeons and Dragons, and a storyline reminiscent of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. In the eyes of many gamers, there was nothing that could hold a candle to this game. Another title in this series was Conquest of the World!. The gameplay and graphics were an improvement over the previous O2 war game, Sub Chase!/Armored Encounter! However where the game really shined was that it allowed the players to interject a certain amount of political and strategic realism into the battles. Finally, the last Master Strategy game released was The Great Wall Street Fortune Hunt, which allowed people to realistically learn about and simulate stock-trading.
For quite some time, Odyssey2 fans griped that the number of new games was very limited, due to there being no third party support in the USA. However, unbeknownst to American gamers, the success of the Philips G7000 Videopac overseas led to two other companies to produce games for it: Parker Brothers released Popeye, Frogger, Q*Bert and Super Cobra, while Imagic released outstanding versions of their hit games, Demon Attack and Atlantis. Finally, in 1983 the two Imagic games were brought to the United States; Demon Attack and Atlantis. These became strong sellers for the Odyssey2. Contrary to the skeptical expectations of some, the Odyssey2 versions of both Demon Attack and Atlantis managed to captured all of the gameplay and most of the graphics of the Atari 2600 version. Demon Attack's graphics are probably the best the system ever saw.
Around 1983, the videogame market began to contract, which would end in the infamous videogame "crash" of 1984. In this time period Philips saw the O2 lose its remaining market share. Many home videogame companies folded entirely, or went into serious debt. In order to compete, North American Philips/Magnavox developed their own next generation 8-bit system, code named the Odyssey3. Later press releases termed it the "Odyssey3 Command Center".
The Odyssey3 Command Center was to have 16k ROM, 16k RAM, and a capacity for detailed background and foreground graphics. The keyboard was redesigned to have more keys, and a real computer keyboard was added in place of the Odyssey2's flat plastic membrane. There was a built in joystick holder, so that one person could use both joysticks at once, for arcade style games. The unit also had a number of planned accessories: Prototypes of a voice synthesizer and a 300 baud modem were created. Further, Philips planned to develop an interface to connect the O3 to Philips laserdisc players, which would allow the machine to play extremely sophisticated games. The Odyssey3 Command Center was hyped to the US press, and previewed at the 1983 Consumer Electronics show. It was never released.
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