Casual Look at the Box for Mattel's Checkers, Intellivision Version

Bill Loguidice's picture

Today's casual iPhone photos are of 1979's Checkers by Mattel Electronics for the Mattel Intellivision. It was programmed by David Rolfe and produced by APh Technological Consulting. This game was also rebranded by Sears (as Super Video Arcade Checkers), as they were wont to do with Intellivision and Atari Video Computer System items at the time so they could pretend they were their own, and also renamed by Mattel as Draughts in Great Britain because they probably wouldn't have known what a "Checkers" was over there (Warning: They also like to incorrectly call soccer "football" and the Sega Genesis the Sega "Mega Drive" as well apparently, so it's probably best to avoid that region entirely). Not surprisingly for such a hot commodity, there was a fourth version of Checkers released on the platform through INTV Corporation in 1987, this time as part of Triple Challenge. Though it's unclear from the title, Checkers was actually one of three games included in the Triple Challenge cartridge, with the other two being previously released as well, Chess and Backgammon, which were originally in the form of the licensed USCF Chess (1983) and ABPA Backgammon (1979).

Mattel was among the first videogame companies to license sports and other associations as a way to make their products seem less generic and even more sophisticated than their primary competition, the aforementioned Atari 2600 Video Computer System, or VCS. Shockingly, Mattel chose to ignore the powerful American Checker Federation license or even try to license the game's most famous player, Marion Tinsley (but of course I don't need to tell you that). This oversight cost Mattel big-time in sales for Checkers/Super Video Arcade Checkers/Droughts and is seen today as one of the major contributing factors to The Great Videogame Crash.

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Assuming one of my daughters had a son in 20 or so years, I grew out and died my hair blond, picked out the keenest button down shirt I could find, and got the grooviest shaded prescription eye glasses available, I could really envision myself having the type of enjoyment this extended family unit is having playing their oversized game of non-virtual checkers (or maybe they're being unpatriotic and playing non-virtual draughts?). Of course I don't know if I'd want to play against a boy who is obviously made of magic and who refuses to respect my personal space and stay on his side of the table, but it seems this is apparently better than playing the game Mattel is trying to sell you. Certainly they have no apparent interest in an Intellivision, though it's unclear whether even color TV's, which are a strict stated-on-the-box requirement for Mattel's Checkers, are allowed in limbo. Oh, and if you're a king, is it really a good idea to stand in the middle of a target? That rarely leads to anything good.

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The back of the box for Mattel's Checkers, where you get to learn important checkers' terms like "King Row". Checkers is so awesome there aren't two, three, four, or even five bullet points, but six. You read that right, six. Can your lame-ass checkers game say that? I bet the fellows on the front of the box are reconsidering their decision to ignore technological progress as we speak. After all, who else is going to get all up in their faces with a BRONX CHEER? Certainly not little sister, who is probably off playing house with grandma while the boys are letting loose all that unfettered testosterone in their quest for VICTORY TUNE, which they naturally have to sing themselves since they have neither a color TV, Mattel Intellivision or Mattel's Checkers, which is of course a slap in Mr. Mattel's face, who was kind enough to feature them on the cover of said game in the first place.

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davyK
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This is a nice change of

This is a nice change of style Bill - and one that fits the subject. Developing these kinds of game must have been a drag even back in the day.

Box art in those days has a really strong sense of nostalgia for me - I love the artwork on the earlier 2600 boxes.

Bill Loguidice
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Cover art
davyK wrote:

This is a nice change of style Bill - and one that fits the subject. Developing these kinds of game must have been a drag even back in the day.

I had a bit of extra time on my hands at work for this one. Keith Robinson of the "Blue Sky Rangers", who is a Facebook friend even commented asking if I was making fun of them. ;-) I always got the sense from their public stories that they had a lot of fun with the developments actually, which is why a lot of them stayed involved over the years.

davyK wrote:

Box art in those days has a really strong sense of nostalgia for me - I love the artwork on the earlier 2600 boxes.

I couldn't agree more. We've discussed this a million times, but I truly love the hand drawn artwork that was really art on both the console and particularly the computer sides. Today's cover art is terribly sterile for the most part.

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yakumo9275
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the front cover of the box

the front cover of the box promises sooo much otherworld fun!

-- Stu --

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Rowdy Rob
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I don't know how I missed this before, but.....

I read through this and had a few good laughs over this article. I'm sure our European friends will be thrilled to know that they are wrong about the correct terms for "soccer," "Checkers," and "Sega Genesis," (which they are, of course). :-)

Contrary to the prevalent opinions here, though, I think this "Checkers" box looks.... sterile. In fact, that was my opinion of the Intellivision back in the day: sterile.

I couldn't tell you why the Atari VCS seemed more inviting to the casual gamer, but perhaps this "Checkers" box might be a clue. The cover artwork does not scream "videogame excitement." In fact, the cover art would look more at home on the cover of the "Saturday Evening Post" than on the cover of a videogame box. And I'm saying this as a big fan of Norman Rockwell. The Intellivision artwork looks generic. It looks early 80's, even 70-ish. (And it probably was.) Although I can't prove it, since I have never owned an Intellivision, I suspect that most Intellivision boxes looked similar (I assume you, Bill, can prove me wrong on this one).

In contrast, I think that today's videogame boxes have a much wider variety of cover art, and are certainly less generic-looking and sterile than Intellivision Checkers (or "Draughts," for you Europeans who don't know the correct term).

To be fair, most Atari VCS games had similar boxes. I think most VCS boxes were ORANGE, if I recall correctly. I don't know what was going on in the marketing department's heads, but I think they were going for an "encyclopedia" look on the bookshelf.

In twenty years, we'll all laugh at how quaint the videogame boxes of the 2000's looked.

qoj hpmoj o+ 6uo73q 3Jv 3svq jnoh 77V

Bill Loguidice
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Rowdy Rob wrote:

Contrary to the prevalent opinions here, though, I think this "Checkers" box looks.... sterile. In fact, that was my opinion of the Intellivision back in the day: sterile.

That's not a bad descriptor. We didn't necessarily say we liked it, just appreciated the art of it. I suppose that's a key difference.

Rowdy Rob wrote:

I couldn't tell you why the Atari VCS seemed more inviting to the casual gamer, but perhaps this "Checkers" box might be a clue. The cover artwork does not scream "videogame excitement." In fact, the cover art would look more at home on the cover of the "Saturday Evening Post" than on the cover of a videogame box. And I'm saying this as a big fan of Norman Rockwell. The Intellivision artwork looks generic. It looks early 80's, even 70-ish. (And it probably was.) Although I can't prove it, since I have never owned an Intellivision, I suspect that most Intellivision boxes looked similar (I assume you, Bill, can prove me wrong on this one).

This was the typical style for the late 70's to early 80's for Atari and Mattel videogames. They definitely got looser and more fun by the 80's.

These pictures are tiny, but you can see how things started to brighten up and energize a bit by the 80's, though the earlier style persisted: http://www.intellivisiongames.com/gamecatalog.php

Compare that to the Atari stuff: http://www.atariage.com/company_page.html?CompanyID=1&SystemID=2600&Syst...

You'll see not a huge difference, and third party was very consistent between platforms.

Honestly, I don't think it was necessarily the packaging, but the way the Intellivision was advertised and the way the games looked (often with drab color pallets) and played (often slower than an equivalent on the 2600). The Intellivision was incredibly powerful, but it did have some disadvantages in comparison to the 2600.

I'd say all things considered, the Atari 2600 and Intellivision had the best cover art for pre-crash systems. I always liked the Coleco stuff, but all they really did was slap arcade cabinets on the cover.

Rowdy Rob wrote:

In contrast, I think that today's videogame boxes have a much wider variety of cover art, and are certainly less generic-looking and sterile than Intellivision Checkers (or "Draughts," for you Europeans who don't know the correct term).

I suppose, but there just doesn't seem to be that "art" feel that a lot of the hand drawn stuff of the past did.

Rowdy Rob wrote:

To be fair, most Atari VCS games had similar boxes. I think most VCS boxes were ORANGE, if I recall correctly. I don't know what was going on in the marketing department's heads, but I think they were going for an "encyclopedia" look on the bookshelf.

That's actually one of the interesting things. Atari and Mattel both experimented with different colored boxes, sometimes to represent a theme ("sports") or sometimes to represent a mini era (a period of a few years). You wouldn't see that today. For instance, all of the Wii software is in predominantly white cases and the 360 and PS3 have similar consistent looks.

Rowdy Rob wrote:

In twenty years, we'll all laugh at how quaint the videogame boxes of the 2000's looked.

qoj hpmoj o+ 6uo73q 3Jv 3svq jnoh 77V

I would just love to see a return to hand drawn covers, but it's unlikely that will happen, particularly since in 20 years we may not even have boxes anymore!

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Matt Barton
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Bill, you're a natural

Bill, you're a natural comedian. I laughed so hard at the part about the chess champion and how the lack of his endorsement caused the crash. That's a riot!

I hope you'll do more of these. You've got a razour sharp wit. ;)

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Matt Barton
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You know, I was looking at

You know, I was looking at this box art and chuckling over everyone's comments when a weird thought occurred to me. Why didn't any of these American-based console manufacturers play the patriotic card like the car companies? It seems like a no-brainer; just make a big deal out of not buying Japanese consoles and videogames for the sake of the ol' stars and stripes.

I personally don't care where a game comes from, but it seems like a pretty reasonable marketing ploy. Do you know of any of them ever tried it? I guess it could be a moot point if they were importing components anyway.

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Bill Loguidice
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Nationalism
Matt Barton wrote:

You know, I was looking at this box art and chuckling over everyone's comments when a weird thought occurred to me. Why didn't any of these American-based console manufacturers play the patriotic card like the car companies? It seems like a no-brainer; just make a big deal out of not buying Japanese consoles and videogames for the sake of the ol' stars and stripes.

There was really no Japanese presence in the US pre-crash except through American companies. It was the "destruction" of the American industry that allowed the Japanese to come in and dominate. Post crash, once Nintendo and Super Mario fever took hold, patriotism wouldn't have mattered, as it then became all about having the hottest games.

Matt Barton wrote:

I personally don't care where a game comes from, but it seems like a pretty reasonable marketing ploy. Do you know of any of them ever tried it? I guess it could be a moot point if they were importing components anyway.

Yeah, that's a tough one. Even American cars are full of foreign components. It's doubtful there's a way to make something sophisticated like a videogame console all "American", and certainly not a cost competitive way. Even the Xbox series is manufactured overseas, though those can be considered "American" consoles...

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Matt Barton
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Speaking of the idea of no

Speaking of the idea of no boxes anymore--Bill, I know you're a huge fan of the professionally-produced homebrew stuff. I'm curious--are those guys going out of their way to make slick looking or highly artistic box art and the like? It would make sense if they're really trying to appeal to the snobbish "old school" types like us. ;)

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Bill Loguidice
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Homebrews
Matt Barton wrote:

Speaking of the idea of no boxes anymore--Bill, I know you're a huge fan of the professionally-produced homebrew stuff. I'm curious--are those guys going out of their way to make slick looking or highly artistic box art and the like? It would make sense if they're really trying to appeal to the snobbish "old school" types like us. ;)

AtariAge occasionally ran label art contests which became box art for Atari 2600 homebrews, but the vast majority of homebrews either use borrowed art, semi-pro art, or adapted art. There are few truly original high concept covers for obvious reasons. Finding a top flight artist to donate their work to a run of product in the 25 to 200 copy max range is tough, and paying an artist is impractical, since it's hard enough even to reach a break even point on the work/effort required for these things. They probably "earn" at best in the range of a rung or two below niche book authors. ;-)

By the way, most homebrew boxes are assembled by hand with old fashioned cutting and gluing. If done properly, you can't tell much difference between these and professional boxes of the past. The printing is usually where the vast majority of expense comes in, and most methods require a minimum run (an issue that the upcoming 25 copy run of "War" on the Bally Astrocade is running into).

Books!
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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