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Coleco gets a bad rap?


Lord Helmet
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I was playing some Coleco games this weekend, and was thinking about the common thought that Coleco purposly made their games crappy in order to sell more CV systems. Now, I know that Coleco did produce several turds for the 2600 (Donkey Kong, Zaxxon), but they released quite a few good games as well. IMHO Venture, Looping, Smufs: RIGC, Mouse Trap, and Mr Do! are all pretty good. Whaddaya think?

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I never bought in to the "made them bad intentionally" theory. Back in the day, we loved the Coleco 2600 games we had. Of course they were limited and not as pretty as their CV counterparts, but we had a great time with them. As with many of the companies, there were some rather bad games in the overall catalog (Zaxxon is pretty unplayable in my book).

 

My favorites were Venture, Carnival, and yes even Donkey Kong. :D

 

Mousetrap is pretty inventive in regards to how it uses the joystick and fire button to open/close doors.

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I never bought in to the "made them bad intentionally" theory.  Back in the day, we loved the Coleco 2600 games we had.  Of course they were limited and not as pretty as their CV counterparts, but we had a great time with them.  As with many of the companies, there were some rather bad games in the overall catalog (Zaxxon is pretty unplayable in my book). 

 

My favorites were Venture, Carnival, and yes even Donkey Kong.  :D

 

Mousetrap is pretty inventive in regards to how it uses the joystick and fire button to open/close doors.

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They can say whatever about Coleco I thought they where a really good 3rd party for the VCS. I really enjoyed Smurfs & Carnival. In fact Smurfs is the best game for the VCS (personal bigoted opinion of course).

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The "made them bad on purpose" theory is ridiculous. No one would do that. They just didn't care. It seems like Coleco hired guys out and hoped for the best. I maintain that Donkey Kong was impressive in the autumn of 82. It's just like the criticism of Defender. Unless you lived through it, you'll never fully understand that 2600 games were improving month-by-month. We didn't know that Defender wasn't as cool as Stargate because there was no Stargate when we first played Defender!

 

Intellivision Donkey Kong is a shocking abomination. However, Intellivision programmers were far rarer than 2600 guys at the time. Coleo was the very first third-party game to make an Intellivison release. Not even the Blue Sky rangers know who did it. Even Atari got their Inty start by hiring away the original programmers. And Activision had David Crane. Nuff said. So who was it that cracked the Exec for Coleco and did it before anyone else without any help? That was the achievement, no wonder he didn't have time to program much of a game into it. The amazing thing about Coleco's DK is that they were able to make it at the time period.

 

Overall, Coleco was a good developer. Their Intellivision releases were on the low-end, but if I were them I'd put my best people on the Colecovision and 2600 as well.

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I think coleco wouldn't do it on purpose with 2600. The amount of memory in the first games were an issue. I think Zaxxon was made for 2600 because the 2600 had a big base of owners and the possiblity of having a lot of carts of one game sold. It would make sense for coleco to make games that are good for making money instead of making them bad on purpose. Mouse trap is a good game and Donkey Kong was fun when I was a kid.

 

I never played any intellivision coleco games. The major problem with the intellivision was there was not as many games made for it as 2600 before 3rd parties were involved. The second issue with the intellivision is that it was not much of arcade game systen with its hardware and controllers. I saw the graphics of Donkey Kong for intellivision and I though that was ridiculous. I think that was colecos first game for intellivision and were trying to make arcade ports despite the weakness of intellivision.

Edited by 8th lutz
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Picture yourself in the programmer's position:

 

BOSS: Welcome to Coleco, ready for your first assignment?

PROG: Yes, sir!

BOSS: You're going to program Zaxxon for the Atari 2600.

PROG: (long pause) Haha, yeah that's funny. But really, what's the job?

BOSS: Really. Zaxxon on the 2600.

PROG: Excuse me, I'm going to see if Data Age is hiring.

BOSS: We don't care what the game really is as long as we can call it Zaxxon.

 

We would have liked 2600 Zaxxon if it wasn't called Zaxxon. That was an impressive 3D effect for 1982.

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I maintain that Donkey Kong was impressive in the autumn of 82. It's just like the criticism of Defender. Unless you lived through it, you'll never fully understand that 2600 games were improving month-by-month. We didn't know that Defender wasn't as cool as Stargate because there was no Stargate when we first played Defender!

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Exactly. If, before Coleco's Donkey Kong had come out, you had asked people what they thought it would look like, they would probably have expected ramps that looked more like the levels in Kangaroo with a really blocky-looking single-color guy running up those huge steps. Pauline too, of course, would be a single-color blob. There'd either be at most one or two barrels on screen at once, or else the game would flicker like Adventure.

 

Really, compared with what people would have been expecting, Donkey Kong was mind-blowingly good, at least from a technical standpoint. Sure we know the cart was limited to 4K, but from the perpective of players back then it must have seened that Coleco had stuck in a special high-resolution graphics chip or something to make those ramps so nice.

 

It's too bad in a way that people who weren't around back then can't really appreciate that even some games that seem feeble now were seen as amazing back in the day.

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I think that was colecos first game for intellivision and were trying to make arcade ports despite the weakness of intellivision.

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Both the Intellivision and the Odyssey2 are capable of showing a decent number of objects on screen without placement restrictions, in a manner that neither the 2600, nor the 5200, nor the Colecovision, nor even the NES, can really match.

 

Unfortunately, unlike those other systems which allow any object to be any shape (subject only to size restrictions), the Intellivision and Odyssey2 require most of the objects to be taken from a fixed library. The Odyssey's library of shapes is really quite feeble; the Intellivision's shapes are better looking, but still limited. For doing sports games (one of the Intellivision's strengths) the variety of human figures allows for some nice looking graphics. Unfortunately, many arcade games require lots of shapes that aren't in the Intellivision's repetoire. This requires making some pretty severe compromises, with generally poor results.

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Yeah, I'm tending to agree with the majority here. Sure, most of Coleco's 2600 games were not the best ever, but you've got to remember that Atari wasn't exactly handing out dev kits either. Most 3rd parties eith had to reverse engineer the system, or hire people with previous experience. Coleco was doing two things:

 

1. Slapping popular arcade titles on games, good or otherwise. At the time it made money, whether the game was good or not (and helped lead to the crash)

 

2. They were more than likely doing the best they could with people who probably did not have much expertise in 2600 programming. Lets face it, the guys at Activision had YEARS in which to perfect their technique. Just look at the difference between the first gen homebrews and more modern releases at AA. Pretty amazing stuff, but it takes practice and familiarity to pull it off.

 

That being said, I find I'm quite fond of Roc'n Rope, Front Line and Time Pilot. Dk isn't that bad, and neither is Carnival. Smurfs ranks up there with Pitfall as one of the best platformers on the system. All in all, not too shabby.

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Maybe the real problem here is one of priorities.

 

The ol' Conn. Leather Co. made 3rd-party games...then it came out with its own system...and then, instead of going back and revamping its system for a new generation...

...they came out with Cabbage Patch Kids. :x

Marketing genius at its finest nadir.

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Considering that Cabbage Patch Kids were making more money than Colecovisions at Xmas '82, it's not that silly a license. Think of it as the equivalent of today's Barbie games or whatever.

 

BTW, Coleco entered the 2600, Intellivision and their own Colecovision market at the exact same time.

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After reading the posts again I have come to realise that a lot of people are right about high expectations and the luxury of time. I can still remember the excitement and general buzz that was going around when the new game catalogue came through the door or going into a store to see a brand new game being displayed on a tv. I remember my friend getting Donkey Kong and at the time being incredibly jealous of him for owning it. Now I look at DK and wonder what all the fuss was about but I guess that I have been spoilt by newer systems with their mind blowing graphics.

At the time there was little choice in the market. Yes the Colecovision was absolutely amazing but in the UK it was not easy or cheap to get your hands on one. Unlike my friend who could afford one game a week and had every blockbuster going such as Pacman, Asteroids, Defender, Pitfall etc I had to make do with 2 a year and even then the games were not blockbusters but I appreciated them for what they were. I guess that what I am saying is that at the time it was an amazing feat just to get arcade conversions at all and despite the fact that most people believe that Coleco could have done better I have to admit that they did perform a fine job at the time ;)

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We would have liked 2600 Zaxxon if it wasn't called Zaxxon. That was an impressive 3D effect for 1982.

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I agree, in fact, back in the day, I liked 2600 Zaxxon quite a bit, because I could actually play it pretty well. I sucked at the arvade version, so when I got the home version and found I could actually get a level or 2 into the game, I was pumped! I had a similar experience with Venture. Sucked at the arcade game, rocked at the home version. Playing arcade games at home was the coolest thing you could do on an Atari at the time, at least for my freinds and I.

 

More thoughts on Coleco: I also remember wanting a colecovision when they came out, but my parents wouldn't let me get one, since I already had a 2600. The Coleco games were cool for me at the time because the boxes were cool, with the arcade games on them just like the ones for the CV. The carts were also similar to the CV cars, albeit white instead of black. As far as gameplay goes, I thought Mr. Do was perfect at the time :)

Edited by Lord Helmet
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Unfortunately, unlike those other systems which allow any object to be any shape (subject only to size restrictions), the Intellivision and Odyssey2 require most of the objects to be taken from a fixed library.

Umm, my impression was that the Intellivision came with a library of shapes, but only to save cartridge ROM space. Their use was not at all technically mandatory.

 

The O2 situation is more complex. I seem to recall there's a pretty good explanation of it in the 2600 Killer Bees thread.

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What really sucks is that none of the franchses that Coleco had were ported to the 5200. Probably because they were in direct competition with the 5200 with their own next gen platform.

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Someone else here was talking about an Atari computr version of Tarzan. were there any others??

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Okay, so Coleco came out with its own system and 3rd-party adaptations of other people's games at the same time.

 

My point still remains valid. Unlike Parker Bros., which made 3rd-party adaptations of other's people's games as a side business, Coleco invested not only in making cartridges for others, they made their own system--with its own fancy and colorful controllers! Coleco went the extra distance into the videogame market...only to abandon it for some ugly-ass dolls when the market corrected itself.

And even then it abandoned the dolls sooner than Mattel abandoned MotU when it switched from videogames to dolls--er, action figures.

 

My point is that every year at the Toy Fair in New York, there are dozens upon dozens of new toys that are supposed to be the next hot item for the kids. Most of them are gone before the year is out; many are DOA at the Toy Fair.

Coleco seemed to me at the time to be devoting itself to this philosophy of trying to go with what's hot instead of building a brand image and keep it going as long as you can.

As I said, its biggest problem...is one of priorities.

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Count me in as another person who actually likes 2600 Zaxxon. Mind you, I played it before I'd ever seen the arcade machine, so my reaction was "Whoa! Look how much cooler the arcade one is" rather than "This is supposed to be Zaxxon! It sucks!"

 

Coleco's INTV games, with the exception of Venture, are just straight-up awful. I don't care if they were basically homebrews, why release games that are that bad, especially when you have pretty good versions on 2 other platforms?

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Also when I was 5 when most of these games came out I didn't have a clue what "bad graphics" where. All I knew was that they where either:

 

A) a fun game to play

 

or

 

b) Not a fun game to play

 

I didn't even know what an intellivision was and I only knew one person who owned a colecovision as a kid. Everyone of my friends and parents friends all owned an ATARI. I don't think the topic of graphics came up once ever in a conversation untill about 1986 or so when I got a NES and that was like compairing apples and oranges at that point.

Edited by silver_surfer
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Okay, so Coleco came out with its own system and 3rd-party adaptations of other people's games at the same time.

 

My point still remains valid. Unlike Parker Bros., which made 3rd-party adaptations of other's people's games as a side business, Coleco invested not only in making cartridges for others, they made their own system--with its own fancy and colorful controllers! Coleco went the extra distance into the videogame market...only to abandon it for some ugly-ass dolls when the market corrected itself.

And even then it abandoned the dolls sooner than Mattel abandoned MotU when it switched from videogames to dolls--er, action figures.

 

My point is that every year at the Toy Fair in New York, there are dozens upon dozens of new toys that are supposed to be the next hot item for the kids. Most of them are gone before the year is out; many are DOA at the Toy Fair.

Coleco seemed to me at the time to be devoting itself to this philosophy of trying to go with what's hot instead of building a brand image and keep it going as long as you can.

As I said, its biggest problem...is one of priorities.

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If I recall, Coleco was FORCED out of the business not because of the Cabbage Patch Dolls (which temporarily saved the company) but because of the awful decision to put it all in the ADAM basket. Instead of putting dollars into a better, next gen console, they sunk it all into a computer that erased it's own tapes, put the power for the whole bloody thing in the printer-which had a nasty habit of breaking-and not getting a grip on quality control. Somewhere between 60 and 90 percent of the units, supposedly, were returned defective. Had Coleco not done this and concentrated solely on the console, who knows, maybe the 'crash' might not have been quite as disasterous for the American companies.

Also, I think, the Colecovision was the top selling console for '82-'83, but I might be wrong. It certainly outsold the others during it's initial release, mainly due to Donkey Kong.

It is also interesting to note that two of the top selling consoles had similar funky controls. The Cv's controllers were very similar to the Inty's, only they worked better. The Emerson Arcadia had them as well. What an nasty little trend, eh?

I'm not so sure about the whole 'they programmed it poorly' thing myself. Although, supposedly, the Inty programmers did their own version of DK that was 'better', they also knew the ins and outs of the Inty better. It takes time to good at something and since Coleco was really a start up in the gaming market, they had not had the time to get good.

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