DOA: The Epoch Game Pocket Computer
By James Grahame
Being first out of the gate doesn't guarantee success. A case in point: The Epoch Game Pocket Computer, released in 1984. It featured a 6 MHz NEC microprocessor, 75 x 64 pixel monochrome display and supported up to 16K ROM cartridges. Amazingly, it ran for 70 hours on 4 x AA batteries.While not the first cartridge-based handheld (that title goes to 1979's Microvision, with its crude 16 x 16 pixel display and sluggish 4-bit TMS1100 processor), it was the first Japanese machine to offer a moderately high resolution display paired with a capable CPU. Unfortunately, Epoch made a couple of serious mistakes.
The industrial design was awkward, to say the least. The case was enormous and ugly (hardly pocketable, either). A peek inside suggests that the machine was designed in a hurry -- a bit of careful thinking and the use of surface-mount parts would have resulted in a much sleeker and more compact device. As it was, the beast was almost too large to be held comfortably by kids.
Epoch's second error was that they launched with a really weak selection of titles. There were five games in all, but only two -- Astro Bomber (based on Konami's Scramble) and Block Maze (a Pac-Man derivative) -- look even remotely interesting. The others are yawn-inducing -- Reversi, Sokoban and Mahjong. To add insult to injury, the machine didn't ship with a pack-in game; the package included a dummy cart to fill the space.
The lack of must-have titles was a fatal mistake, something Nintendo definitely kept in mind when they rolled out the Game Boy five years later with the highly addictive puzzle game Tetris in the box.
For more info, visit Chris Covell's Epoch Game Pocket Computer page