Intellivision Lives! on your iPhone; interview with Keith Robinson

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Intellivision Lives

Retro gaming has been popular for quite some time, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Whether old games are surfacing on plug-and-play TV controllers, handheld devices, console downloads, retail compilations or remakes, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. And why should there? Although just because something’s old, that doesn’t mean it’s classic, fact is that many games from yesteryear are still tremendous fun today despite outdated graphics and gameplay.

Intellivision RocksMy favorite classic system is the Intellivison. It was, after all, the first console I ever owned, and I still own one today (two, in fact, in various states of disrepair). I’ve also tried the various repackaged versions on the Mac, GameCube, online, etc, but found them all to be a bit flat. Mostly, it’s been the lack of the infamously uncomfortable but incredibly functional Intellivision keypad that has hurt the gameplay. The developers over at Intellivision Lives keep looking at new distribution methods, however, and they now have their sites set on the iPhone.

I recently spoke with Keith Robinson at Intellivision Lives about this group of developers and what they have in store for the catalog of games.

Appletell: Let’s start with where Intellivision is amongst the modern consoles. Your blog indicates that you’d been working on Intellivision Lives! for the DS since 2005, and that it looked like you’d finally be getting it delivered as downloadable content to the DSi in spring 2009. Can you tell us what’s holding that up?

Keith Robinson: We have not submitted Intellivision Lives! to Nintendo for the DSi because they told us it violates one of their rules: No emulation on the DSi (or Wii Ware). Of course, that’s how Intellivision Lives! works; a software emulator of the Intellivision console running the actual game programs from the original cartridges. It’s the way to get the most authentic port of the original games onto a new platform. When we had to reprogram the games to run on the plug-and-plays, which wouldn’t support emulation, the core Intellivision fans got mad at us. They—and we—want the experience to be as close to the actual games on a real Intellivision console as possible.

Now, Apple has the same rule about the iPhone: no emulation—I think it’s technically no programs that run other programs because of security and copyright protection – but they listened to us about why we needed to have emulation and how we could address their concerns about security and rights. Tentatively, Apple has given us the green light and development is moving forward. VH1 should be releasing a collection of our games on iPhone early in 2010.

We believe we could answer Nintendo’s concerns about DSi the same way, but they haven’t responded to us about it yet. Our experience with Nintendo is that it takes at least six months to get an e-mail answered.

We would still prefer, though, to do Intellivision as an actual DS cartridge release rather than a download, so we are still working to find a publisher. Ideally, we’ll release the full collection on cartridge, with a few favorites available individually through DSi Ware. I still have hope.

Appletell: That’s fantastic news about the iPhone, so let’s focus on that for a bit. It seems the accelerometer could be the first control device that adequately emulates the Intellivsion keypad; tilt for disc control, tap the phone for the number pad (I’m thinking Star Strike would be awesome on the iPhone). Is that how you’re approaching it?

Star Strike

Robinson: I’m not allowed to go into details about which games will be included in the initial release and the features, but yes, the accelerometer will be used in at least some of the games as the “directional disc.”

Appletell: Initial release? Could this be the type of set-up then, where you get a certain number of games up front and could then purchase more within the app, or do you anticipate each game being its own app?

Robinson: I’m not allowed to say much until VH1 formally announces details, but the marketing plan is along the lines of the purchase-more-within-the-app.

Appletell: Fair enough, and I like that approach. I’d be happier buying exactly what I want instead of filling my iPhone with games I’m not likely to play. And speaking of that, what’s it like to still be working on these games nearly 30 years after their original creation? Is there ever a desire to create an all new Intellivision-faithful game (using the same coding tools from back then) to sneak onto these collections?

Robinson: I love being involved with Intellivision still, mostly because it’s a great excuse to work with friends I’ve known for 30 years, and also because of the interaction with the long-time Intellivision fans. A lot of them have wound up in the industry themselves; it’s fun hanging out at trade shows or Comic-Con or the Classic Gaming Expo to talk about video games then and now. It does make me feel old, though, when I meet a programmer today who tells me he first wanted to design video games when he got an Intellivision for Christmas when he was six.

A couple of the original programmers have talked to me about doing new Intellivision games, or more accurately old Intellivision games: ideas they had in 1983 but weren’t able to do before Mattel Electronics closed. I’m encouraging them to go for it—we’d be happy to introduce them to the world. The only holdup really is time; all of us are busy and it’s hard to carve out the time needed to create an Intellivision game and to do it right.

[To learn more about Intellivision’s history—and see what Grand Theft Auto would’ve looked like in 1983—head over to Gamertell.]

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