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M Network Atari 2600 Titles

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M NETWORK FOR ATARI 2600

After the introduction of the Atari 2600 video game console in 1977, Richard Chang in the Design & Development department of Mattel Toys thought that Mattel should have its own game system to compete.

Chang sought out experts in microprocessor programming and quickly linked up with Glenn Hightower. Hightower's company, APh Technology Consulting, helped design the system that eventually became the Intellivision console. APh was also contracted to program the first games for the system.

Within a year of Intellivision's 1980 national introduction, it became apparent to Hightower that he had made a bad deal with Mattel. While APh was contracted to sell each game to Mattel for less than $30,000, those games, retailing at over $30, had sold an average of 50,000 copies each. Sales for 1981 were projected to at least double. And APh received no royalties.

Hightower and his senior staff decided that they should try their hand at programming for the Atari 2600, either for Mattel or for a higher bidder. However, they were worried: Mattel's lawyers might try to claim any work they did on the 2600 was covered as part of their video game contract with Mattel.

To solve this, the senior programmers took a leave of absence from APh. As private contractors (paid directly by Hightower, not APh), they reverse engineered the Atari 2600, figured out how the games worked, and put together demos showing they could write their own.

Hightower was then able to go to Mattel and say, semi-truthfully, that he knew of an outside group that had expertise on the Atari 2600. If Mattel was interested, APh could purchase their development tools and start producing Atari 2600 games.

Mattel bit. Since Hightower would have to pay this "outside group" (represented at negotiations by a friend Hightower paid to front the group), he was able to get hefty fees for each game, plus royalties. The contract eventually was worth millions to APh - far more than Intellivision was.

The decision by Mattel to produce Atari cartridges was controversial within the company. One faction argued that it would help sell the competing game console. On a more aesthetic level, they also felt that it would add credibility to an inferior system.

At a meeting announcing the project (code named "Irata" - "Atari" spelled backwards) to the Intellivision programmers, Director Mike Minkoff nodded, saying, "That's errata, all right."

But the winning faction looked realistically at the numbers: there were then about 10 million Atari consoles in homes compared to about 2 million Intellivisions. It simply made sense to sell games for 12 million machines rather than just 2 million.

The games were introduced in 1982 under the tradename "M Network" (M for Mattel). All of the games were Atari 2600 versions of already released Intellivision cartridges. In recognition, though, of the concern that the simpler Atari versions might reflect badly on the Intellivision originals, the names of the games were changed.

Thus, for the original games (the 1982 releases except TRON Deadly Discs), Astrosmash became "Astroblast," Armor Battle became "Armor Ambush," NFL Football became "Super Challenge Football," etc. Only Lock 'N' Chase, an arcade title licensed from Data East USA, kept the same name.

The original APh games sold well, averaging around 200,000 cartridges each. As with Intellivision, programmers were hired by Mattel Electronics to start producing Atari games in-house. That group, headed by Manager Ron Surratt, included programmers David Akers, Steve Crandall, Eric Del Sesto, Jeff Ratcliff, Mike Sanders, Stephen Tatsumi, Jane Terjung, and Jossef Wagner. Sound effects for the games were produced by Patricia Lewis Du Long.

Ironically, after worries that the Atari versions would reflect badly on the Intellivision originals, at least one magazine reviewer wrote that the Atari versions of the games were usually better than the Intellivision ones.

The Design & Development department started working on enhancing the Atari console to allow for more complex games. They came up with a "Super Charger" module that plugged into the Atari 2600. The module added 2K of RAM to the console plus addressing circuitry that allowed game cartridges four times larger than previously released.

The first cartridge for the Super Charger was to be an Atari version of BurgerTime. While the game was still in development, however, sales results were coming in for the Intellivoice speech module. The figures were disappointing - there were now nearly 3 million Intellivisions in homes, but fewer than 350,000 Intellivoices had sold.

Marketing tests showed that the public just didn't like buying add-on modules. As a result, the Super Charger was cancelled. Instead, for BurgerTime and other "super" games, the extra RAM and addressing circuitry planned for the Charger would be stuffed into each cartridge. Although more expensive, it was calculated that far more cartridges could be sold.

People may not like buying add-on modules, but they like free stuff. So in March 1983 Mattel Electronics started offering a free TRON joystick to consumers who purchased both of the M Network Atari 2600 TRON cartridges: TRON Deadly Discs and Adventures of TRON. A special pack was available in stores with the joystick and two games, or people who had bought the games separately could send in proof-of-purchase to receive their joystick by mail. The Atari 2600 joystick was only available through the promotional offer. Molded in translucent blue plastic, it was modeled after the joystick on the Bally/Midway TRON arcade game. It had a red firing trigger, a suction cup base to anchor it to a tabletop, and a retractable cord that wound into the base. The promotion continued through May and was reportedly quite successful.

A major marketing change was made mid-1983. The new Mattel Electronics management team tried reshaping the company from a hardware manufacturer to a software provider. Rather than advertising the Intellivision system and the M Network product line, Mattel started pushing the individual games. For the first time, packaging for Intellivision and Atari versions of a game were to be nearly identical. The previous strategy of giving the Atari versions different names was dropped, as was the "M Network" designation. (Actually only two games - Bump 'N' Jump and Masters of the Universe - were released with the new packaging before Mattel Electronics closed.)

But the new focus of the company wasn't able to save Mattel Electronics from the industry-wide crash. Mattel closed its software division in January 1984, leaving a number of Atari games, in various stages of development, unreleased.

Following is a list of all M Network Atari 2600 titles. Those marked UNRELEASED were complete or at the final debugging stage; games canceled before a fully playable version was complete are marked UNFINISHED.

Unlike Intellivision games, Atari 2600 games need to have their programs modified to work on PAL (European) televisions. Many of the M Network games were also released in PAL versions. PAL versions carry the same four-digit product number as their NTSC (American) counterparts.


Armor Ambush

ATARI 2600 CARTRIDGE [#5661]
Produced by APh Technology Consultants for Mattel Electronics
Program: Hal Finney

CATALOG DESCRIPTION (June 1982, Consumer Electronics Show)
Battlefield action with maneuverable tanks! This two-player game provides hours of combat suspense as each player moves his tank around battlefield obstacles, aims, and fires on the opponent. A new battlefield every round!

DEVELOPMENT HISTORY
Armor Ambush is the Atari version of the Intellivision Armor Battle cartridge.



Astroblast

ATARI 2600 CARTRIDGE [#5666]
Produced by APh Technology Consultants for Mattel Electronics
Program: Hal Finney

CATALOG DESCRIPTION (June 1982, Consumer Electronics Show)
The excitement of defending your planet! Falling meteors, missiles, and enemy spacecraft all might knock out your position, but you have both automatic and semi-automatic firing sequences to defend against the onslaught. A one-player game with two levels of difficulty.

DEVELOPMENT HISTORY
Astroblast is the Atari version of the Intellivision Astrosmash cartridge.

BUG (original production run): If two joysticks are plugged in and both moved at the same time during the game, unexpected things can happen: the laser base will fly up into space or below the bottom border, the screen will turn red, the base count will cycle from 99 down to zero, and/or the joysticks will stop operating.

RUNNING CHANGE: Later production runs of Astroblast were reprogrammed to fix the above bug.



Dark Cavern

ATARI 2600 CARTRIDGE [#5667]
Produced by APh Technology Consultants for Mattel Electronics
Program: Hal Finney

CATALOG DESCRIPTION (June 1982, Consumer Electronics Show)
Relentless robots are the attackers in the Dark Cavern. Eliminate one robot and it is replaced by an even smarter one. People-sized spiders, spider webs, and bats also spell trouble. Use your laser gun to destroy the attackers and score points. One player game.

DEVELOPMENT HISTORY
Dark Cavern is the Atari version of the Intellivision Night Stalker cartridge. A PAL version was also produced by APh for international release.

BUG: The instructions state that the two-headed robot will appear when the score reaches 20,000 points. This actually happens after 16 robots are destroyed regardless of the score.



Frogs and Flies

ATARI CARTRIDGE [#5664]
Produced by APh Technology Consultants for Mattel Electronics
Program: David Rolfe

CATALOG DESCRIPTION (June 1982, Consumer Electronics Show)
An exciting and fun-filled fantasy for the younger set. Frogs and Flies gives one or two players complete control of their frogs jump and scoring action as they try to catch the elusive flies! Great game for the young - challenging for everyone.

DEVELOPMENT HISTORY
Frogs and Flies is the Atari version of the Intellivision Frog Bog cartridge. A PAL version was also produced by APh for international release.

FUN FACT: David Rolfe was the programmer who had created the Intellivision operating system (the Exec) and three of its first games: Major League Baseball, Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack, and Checkers. Upon completing this game for the Atari 2600 (then known as the Atari VCS for Video Computer System), Dave wrote up these "instructions":

Basically, VCS Frogs and Flies is a stupid game directed at stupid kids who come from stupid families which are headed by slothful parents who were too ignorant and cheap to buy the Intellivision Master Component, so they bought the indescribably bad Atari VCS unit instead. Most Atari games are so moronic that, as the Atari commercials delight in pointing out, they can be mastered in a number of minutes by the family pooch. The VCS unit itself is so worthless that it has been personally denounced by Richard Nixon and hailed by Carl Sagan as "the greatest boon to mankind since the scratch 'n' sniff bicycle seat."

The particulars of Frogs and Flies involve the player jumping up in the air to capture and swallow flies with his sticky and extended tongue. This game is recommended by psychologists for young children since it provides excellent educational benefits for a fertile young mind, particularly in the areas of personal hygiene and oral sex.



International Soccer

ATARI 2600 CARTRIDGE [#5687]
Produced by APh Technology Consultants for Mattel Electronics
Program: Kevin Miller

CATALOG DESCRIPTION (June 1982, Consumer Electronics Show)
A two-player game that adapts the fast-paced movement of soccer to your video system. Realistic scrolling field action - feint, pass,...and score! All accompanied by exciting sound effects.

PRODUCTION HISTORY
International Soccer is the Atari version of the Intellivision NASL Soccer cartridge. Both versions were programmed by Kevin Miller. A PAL version was also produced by APh for international release.

BUG: Sometimes the ball will pass right through a player if the player is too close to a boundary when the ball rebounds off it.

BUG: At kickoff, the top team's kicker can only get the ball while moving forward. The bottom team's kicker can get the ball moving in any direction.

BUG: The back of the box says there are two skill levels - amateur and pro. There is actually only one skill level; the difficulty switches have no effect on the game.



Lock 'N' Chase

INTELLIVISION CARTRIDGE [#5663]
Based on the Data East arcade game
Produced by APh Technology Consultants for Mattel Electronics
Program: Bruce Pedersen

CATALOG DESCRIPTION (June 1982, Consumer Electronics Show)
A super maze game for one or two players. Move your player through the maze, collecting gold bars and treasures. But beware of the police! You can slam doors to help in your escape as you maneuver your man to accumulate points.

PRODUCTION NOTE
Lock 'N' Chase is the Atari version of the Intellivision Lock 'N' Chase cartridge. A PAL version was also produced by APh for international release.

BUG: In a two-player game, when a player's later turn comes up all of the gold bars are back in the maze, instead of only those not picked up at the end of the player's previous turn (as in a one-player game).



Space Attack

INTELLIVISION CARTRIDGE [#5659]
Produced by APh Technology Consultants for Mattel Electronics
Program: Hal Finney, Bruce Pedersen

CATALOG DESCRIPTION (June 1982, Consumer Electronics Show)
It's you and your squadron against the attacking aliens. Control the strategy and the action for defending your Mother Ship. Pinpoint alien attackers, then go to a close-up pilot's view for battle! One player game with two difficulty levels.

PRODUCTION NOTE
Space Attack is the Atari version of the Intellivision Space Battle cartridge. A PAL version was also produced by APh for international release.



Super Challenge Baseball

INTELLIVISION CARTRIDGE [#5665]
Produced by APh Technology Consultants for Mattel Electronics
Program: David Rolfe

CATALOG DESCRIPTION (June 1982, Consumer Electronics Show)
Two players can capture the excitement of real baseball. Nine full innings of baseball - with extra innings if you need them. Pitch curve balls, hit, run, steal bases...even turn over double and triple plays.

PRODUCTION NOTE
Super Challenge Baseball is the Atari version of the Intellivision Major League Baseball cartridge. Both versions were programmed by David Rolfe.

BUG: If a player reaches base before a ball is called foul, the player stays on base.

BUG: If a player crosses home plate while the third out is being called, the run counts.



Super Challenge Football

INTELLIVISION CARTRIDGE [#5658]
Produced by APh Technology Consultants for Mattel Electronics
Program: Ken Smith

CATALOG DESCRIPTION (June 1982, Consumer Electronics Show)
Realistic gridiron action for two players! Choose your play option on both offense and defense. The scoreboard keeps you posted on quarter, downs, time remaining, and the score.

PRODUCTION NOTE
Super Challenge Football is the Atari version of the Intellivision NFL Football cartridge. Ken Smith, programmer of the Atari version, co-created the original Intellivision version.

BUG: The Q and D indicating Quarter and Down at the bottom of the screen are indistinguishable.

BUG: The yard markers on the field change size and position as the screen scrolls. Their size oscillates under certain play conditions.

BUG: Super Challenge Football player Mike Whalen writes: "I remember noting very early that once a receiver was in front of a pursuing defensive player, they both ran at the same speed. So, if you were in control of the defense, you could never catch up. But a very easy way to 'catch up' was to run the opposite direction. You would run off the screen and reappear in front of the offensive player. Heheh."



TRON Deadly Discs

ATARI 2600 CARTRIDGE [#5662]
Based on the motion picture TRON from Walt Disney Productions
Produced by APh Technology Consultants for Mattel Electronics
Program: Jeff Ronne, Brett Stutz

CATALOG DESCRIPTION (June 1982, Consumer Electronics Show)
An engrossing "Futures" game based on the incredible upcoming movie from Walt Disney - TRON. Intense strategy in action as you maneuver your men to avoid ricocheting discs. A game of science fiction thrills on your television screen!

DEVELOPMENT HISTORY
TRON Deadly Discs is the Atari version of the Intellivision TRON Deadly Discs cartridge. A PAL version was also produced by APh for international release.

BUG: If the disc is tossed straight up in a line above the right side of the bottom right door, it will split into two.

BUG: At the end of the game, if your disc hits an opponent after you are hit, you don't get the points for the opponent.

FUN FACT: Consumers who purchased both TRON Deadly Discs and Adventures of TRON could receive a free TRON joystick during a spring 1983 promotion.



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