Is it a Game? Or a Calculator?

If you are a certain age, you probably remember the Mattel Football game. No LCD screen or fancy cartridges. Just some LEDs and a way to play football when you should be in class. While these might seem primitive to today’s kids, they were marvels of technology in the 1970s when they came out. [Sean Riddle] looks, well, not exactly at the games, but more like in them. As it turns out, they used chips derived from those made for calculators.

[Sean’s] post is a glimpse into this world of over four decades past. Football was actually the second electronic game from Mattel. The first one was Auto Race. There were also games called Space Alert, Baseball, and Gravity. Inside each are quad in-line packages with 42 pins, a Rockwell logo, and a custom part number.

The analysis led [Sean] to buy several games along with Rockwell calculators and microcontrollers. By decapping the ICs in each, he was able to note the similarities and differences between the old processors. There were also patent filings that had key information, along with donated source and object code and an interview with the designer of several of the games.

In a classic case of a bad computer model, Mattel made 100,000 Football games which were sold by Sears and Roebuck. Sears sold a few and used a computer model to predict that Football and Auto Race would not be big sellers, so production stopped. However, the game was a runaway success, selling up to 500,000 units a week, according to the article in the Handheld Museum.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing a state-of-the-art 1977 Football game, check out the video from [The Retro Future] below. Mattel even made a personal computer back in the day. Milton Bradley was in the game, too, with their programmable Big Trak.

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