The Terrifically Triangular Coleco Telstar Arcade
By James Grahame
The home video game world was dominated by ball-and-paddle games in the mid 1970s. The runaway success of Atari's Pong led to the release of dozens of clones. Most of them were built around custom chips from General Instruments that took care of the game play. In fact, the home game industry of 1976 was much like the modern MP3 player market, which offers hundreds of cheap Chinese players built around standard chipsets.
The glut of Pong derivatives in 1976 made things extremely difficult for manufacturers such as Coleco and Atari - consumers were tiring of mindlessly simple paddle games. Atari's $100-million solution was the development of a fully programmable system, the 2600 Video Computer System. Coleco took a less risky route by introducing the unique 3-sided Telstar Arcade.
The Telstar Arcade was released in time for Christmas 1977. It featured distinctive triangular cartridges that plug into the top of the unit. Each cartridge contains a custom programmed MOS Technology MPS-7600 microcontroller with a mere 512 words of program ROM. Nevertheless, the company was able to offer three simple games in each pack, although only four carts were ever produced for the system:
1. Road Race, Tennis, Quick Draw (system pack-in)
2. Hockey, Tennis, Handball, Target
3. Pinball (2 versions), Shooting Gallery, Shoot the Bear
4. Naval Battle, Speed Ball, Blast-Away
Cartridges 2 through 4 were priced at $25 each. From a modern perspective, this seems like a remarkably limited lineup. However, Coleco's management seemed to share Atari's inability to visualize the potential of programmable home consoles - after all, only 9 titles (including Blackjack, Air-Sea Battle, Basic Math and other snoozers) were released for the Atari 2600 during its first year.
Ultimately, quirky consoles like the Telstar Arcade couldn't compete with the versatility of microprocessor-based machines such as the Mattel Intellivision, Atari VCS and Magnavox Odyssey 2. Coleco eventually recovered with the introduction of the highly capable ColecoVision console in 1982, which sold like wildfire for a few short years in the early 1980s. Still, nothing can diminish the excitement I remember from spotting the Telstar Arcade in the Christmas 1977 Sears Christmas Wish Book.
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