Roulette (Magnavox Odyssey, 1972)

Overlay for Roulette: I'll admit that the overlay looks nice.Overlay for Roulette: I'll admit that the overlay looks nice.Just to clarify, this is the Odyssey's version of the casino favorite, Roulette, and it's not the relatively fun, Russian variety of Roulette, where you risk embedding bullets deep inside your head.

Like a few of the Odyssey's games, Roulette is supported by the use of "off-screen" technology: betting chips, a betting board and a huge wad of fake cash. Roulette also uses one of the nicest looking overlays for the system. It's clearly a roulette wheel and they don't dumb it down by doing anything so pedestrian as turning the numbers right-side up just to make it easier to read. The player is given the illusion that they could be looking at a genuine, roulette wheel, albeit, a non-spinning, vertical, silent roulette wheel . . .

The smart kid in the audience asks, "If the wheel doesn't spin, how is a random number generated?"

Okay, first, everyone places their bets by placing their chips on the betting board. Then the player currently known as the "BANKER" starts the "randomization" factor. Before I get into that, let me explain something about the video elements used in this game.

There's only one "spot" (two, if you count the background) used, and it's meant to represent the roulette ball. It has a "visible" state and a "non-visible" state. The analog controller controlling the spot will alter the location of this spot whether it is visible or not. That's where we get the randomization factor.

To randomize: the BANKER makes sure the spot is in its non-visible state and hands the controller to a blindfolded player who "flips" the knobs on the controller. The random act of "flipping" is supplemented by the BANKER presenting the controller in an unorthadox orientation, such as upside-down or sideways. The "flip" sets the knobs to a random position and hence, sets the spot/ball to a random position on the screen, and, hence-hence, to a random position which can be used to determine the winning number on the roulette wheel. The BANKER presses the reset button which causes the spot to enter the screen and settle in the "random" position somewhere on or around the wheel.

Innovative and creative? Yes. Practical? No.

If the position of the spot is set beyond the borders of the screen, the spot is a no-show and that constitutes a do-over. More often than not, our spot sails off the playfield and into oblivion. On the rare instance when it settles within the screen area of the Überlay, we have to consult a diagram indicating what the different off-wheel areas count as to figure out the winning number. Bottom line: it just doesn't work enough. Too often, we say: "Where's the damn spot? Crap, it's off-screen again."

Could Roulette be an example of "filling the box" so the marketing department can justify selling the system at a higher price point? To be fair, my wife and her family actually played Roulette back in the early 70s and she claims they had fun, so, go figure. Regardless of her experience, despite its pretty Überlay and slick, off-screen technology, Roulette is very hard for us to enjoy. Actually, my son and I are so annoyed and frustrated with it, that, rather than give the point to Ultraman, I'm going to take a point away from the Odyssey. Because I can.

Ultraman: 4, Odyssey: 3

Next entry, which will hopefully happen sooner than this one did, will be States, another early edutainment title!


Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
Joined: 12/31/1969
Ouch! Great review of a

Ouch! Great review of a very convoluted play mechanic. It's obvious they should have left this one alone on the Odyssey, though I bet this overlay and real world pieces concept would have translated nicely to some of the future early videogame and computer systems, as at least those could generate a random spot and maybe even some sound!

Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)


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