The Odyssey was the first Video game console with removable cartridges. It was developed by Sanders Associates and manufactured/introduced by Magnavox. The Odyssey went on sale some time between late August and mid-September 1972 in the US and in 1973 in Europe. While the term “video game” was not yet in use, the company described the console as “the new electronic game of the future” and “closed-circuit electronic playground”.
The Odyssey is, however, considered the first home video console ever produced. The console was based on the ‘Brow Box’, a prototype invented by the legendary developer Ralph Baer. The idea for a video game console was conceived by Baer in August 1966. Over the next three years he, along with Bill Harrison and Bill Rusch, created seven successive prototype consoles. The seventh, known as the Brown Box, was shown to several manufacturers before Magnavox agreed to produce it in January 1971.
Since the Odyssey had limited graphic capabilities and displayed only a few small white blocks and a vertical line on the screen, Magnavox included translucent color overlays to provide settings and layouts for the games. These overlays fitted on most color and black-and-white tv’s of the time.
The Odyssey was also kind of a hybrid between a video console and a board game because it came with dices, decks of cards, play money, and poker chips. These accessories were possibly included to make the Odyssey more like the physical games that existed at the time and people already knew and enjoyed. They also made the very limited graphic capabilities, consisting of only a few small white blocks and a vertical line on the screen, more entertaining and immersive.
With 350,000 units, the Odyssey did not sell badly. However, Magnavox had hoped for more. That the console didn’t meet the expectations was due to the fact Odyssey was sold only through Magnavox dealers, who handled their own advertising in their local markets; the company hoped that as the video game console was the first such product, consumers would visit its stores specifically for it. This greatly limited its store appearance. Furthermore, Magnavox employees added to the confusion by implying that the console would only work on Magnavox televisions, though advertisements and in-store promotional videos explicitly stated that the Odyssey worked with “any brand TV, black and white or color”. Customers unfamiliar with the new device, seeing it was only sold at Magnavox dealerships, may have misunderstood its interoperability. The culmination of factors prevented a real commercial success for the Odyssey.
Most console collectors consider the Odyssey an analog rather than a digital console because it features additional analog circuitry for output and game control and uses discrete components. There is no microprocessor in the Odyssey. This accomplishment was achieved by the Fairchild, which appeared a few years later, and was the first console with a real microprocessor.
In the Odyssey, forty transistors and forty diodes ensured that several dots and stripes could be seen on the television image, representing, for example, a ball and two rackets. This method of representation is also called diode-transistor logic (DTL).
The fact that the Odyssey is considered the first gaming console is because it is the first console with interchangeable cartridges. Although you inserted game cards into the console similar to a game cartridge or disc, the cards didn’t really have any games on them. All the game modes were built into the console, and the cards just let you select each mode, like a more cumbersome switch or dial.
The Odyssey is powered by batteries and cannot produce sounds.
A total of 28 games distributed on 11 different game cards were released for the Magnavox Odyssey. 13 games were included with the console – with others available for purchase either individually or in a bundle; the additional games primarily used the same game cards with different screen overlays and instructions. Another game, Percepts, was available for free to players that sent in a survey card. A light gun accessory, Shooting Gallery, was available for purchase, and included four games on two cards that used the rifle. A final four games were released for sale in 1973. The console does not enforce game rules or keep track of scores for the games; that is left up to the players.
The Odyssey was discontinued in 1975. After the takeover of Magnavox by Philips, the Odyssey was in 1979 succeeded by the Odyssey 2, released in Europe under the name ‘Videopac’.
Fun fact: in Japan, the Magnavox Odyssey was marketed by Nintendo and is considered Nintendo’s first foray into the gaming console market.
- Willaert, Kate (January 10, 2018), ‘In search of the First Video Game Commercial.’ Video Game History Foundation: Archived from the original on January 12, 2018. Retrieved 17 September 2023.
- Willaert, Kate (March 20, 2020). ‘Pixels in Print (part 2): Advertising Odyssey.’ Video Game History Foundation: Archived from the original on May 11, 2020. Retrieved 17 September 2023.
- DeMaria, Rusel; Wilson, Johnny L. (2003). High Score!: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games (2nd ed.).
|Price||$99 ($699 in today money)|
|Successor||Odyssey 2 / Videopac|
|Dimensions||95.25 cm x 41.91 cm x 41.91 cm|