Retro-Gaming with Coleco
After our previous foray into some old-school arcade action with the X-Arcade Dual Joystick and MAME, we got to thinking about the early years of home-style gaming. We're talking about back in the late 70's, a time when the USSR was still our Cold War adversary, and the thought of a PC in every household was still a fantasy. While today's generation drools over the heavenly graphics and stellar gameplay that a Doom 3 or FarCry provide, back then we didn't have much more interaction than moving paddles up and down on the edge of the screen in Pong.
Mattel Electronics released some of the first handheld electronic games back in 1977, based on popular sports such as football and hockey. If you've never come across any of these games, you weren't missing much. Gameplay mostly consisted of a bunch of red lights placed in a small mock-up arena, and you hit on a few pads in order to make the plays. Graphically challenged, these games were still warmly received simply because the essence of the real game was there. You didn't need to "see" an actual running back to understand that you were running for a touchdown.
At the same time, more and more kids were pouring into the local arcade, the likes of which are mostly gone now. Back rooms in convenience stores, dimly lit corners at the laundromat, even legitimate locations devoted to nothing but gaming, coin-op arcade machines popped up everywhere. On of Marco's favorite coin-ops, Galaxian, was released in 1979, and has the distinction of being the first arcade game to actually use color; up until then all gameplay was in black and white. This was soon followed by Pac-man and Donkey Kong in 1980 and 1981, and the craze was on. You could find paraphernalia everywhere you looked - cards, stickers, watches. Nothing was sacred. The only issue was how could kids take the gameplay home with them. That's where Coleco came in.
While Coleco may be a well-known name (think Colecovision), it's probably not well known that they started out as a company making leather craft kits for kids back in the 1930 and 40's. In fact, the name COLECO comes from COnnecticut LEather COmpany. As interests have changed through the years so has Coleco's. They were a world leader in plastic above ground pool manufacturing in the 60's, and jumped on the video game bandwagon in the 1970s. Unfortunately their first entry, Telstar, was only a brief success, and Coleco nearly faced bankruptcy.