Wednesday, August 25, 2010

You have to be "Psycho" to make Intellivision Overlays

A History of the Orphan Overlay Development for the Intellivision

For any serious Intellivison collector, the Orphan Overlay series are a must have. While I do not consider them a "Homebrew", since it is not an actual game, it is probably one of the most professionally done "after market" collectible pieces for the system. The Series 2 and 3 sets have commanded some significant prices in Ebay as noted here. With the demand of the Overlay sets pulling numbers on Ebay on par, or better, than many homebrew games, it is without question one of the most sought after pieces of Intellivision memorabilia.

In this blog, I hope to answer some questions as to the history and evolution of the Orphan Overlay set. I have had the pleasure of corresponding with the creator on a number of occasions and he was very happy to give me some great information about all the series, which I hope to convey here.

A Brief History of Overlays

Intellivision Controller
For those who are not entirely familiar with the Intellivision system, when it was originally released, all games came in a great box (which opened like a book) with the Instructions, the game cartridge and 2 small pieces of plastic called Overlays. The unique style of controller for the Intellivision looked almost like a telephone with 12 buttons in a numeric keypad layout. It had numbers 0-9 as well as "Clear" and "Enter" buttons totaling 12 buttons on the face. It also had an additional 4 "Fire" buttons on the sides, not to mention the disc to control movement. It was, without question, much more advanced than the 1 button joystick of the competing 2600. Keep in mind, I said more advanced, not necessarily better ;).

Overlay for Baseball
The overlays were included in the early games to help people during play of some games, to let them know what certain buttons on the keypad did. For instance, for Major League Baseball, each button was tied to a different position player in the game. The Overlay would slide into the controller from the top, covering the keypad. The overlay would then show you where to press for certain actions in the game.

As the Intellivision grew in popularity, third party companies got involved and started creating games for the system. Companies such as Coleco decided not to produce Overlays for their games (with one exception) in an effort to save money. As the video game market started to crash in the late 80s, and the Intellivision rights were sold to another company (Intv Corporation), they also decided in an effort to save money, not make overlays for new games. While this allowed for newer games to continue coming out for the system, it also left some players feeling like the games were incomplete. The games which were originally released without Overlays later became know as Orphans.

The Inspiration and Evolution

One Intellivision fanatic decided to take things into his own hands and develop his own overlays. He did this in the form of pieces of paper that he slide into the controller so he knew which buttons to use for the Orphan games (initially he did this for one of his favorite games, Triple Challenge). From that he was inspired to develop his own overlays as close to the original style as possible. Roger Matthews, who went by the handle "Psycho Stormtrooper" began down a path which brought us the Orphan Overlay sets.

Series 3 Orphan Overlay Set
When people think of the Orphan Overlay set, those that know it, think of the beautiful yellow Intellivision inspired box with the pictures of all the games and characters of the games which never had overlays created, I know I do.

But this is not actually the original set.

The original set was created with loose overlays, no box, no manual, and the sets were not numbered like later sets. In all, approximately 50 original sets were created. I know this, because I was lucky enough to acquire one in a bulk lot I purchased from eBay. I asked Roger about it, and he was able to confirm who the seller was (he had original given/sold the set to the ebay seller), and that the set I received was one of the original 50. In an email I received from him after showing him the Ebay auction I had purchased, he said the following:

The original sets did not come with a box, or manual. They were just made one set at a time & were very low key. Mostly collectors got them because I did not really start selling to the public until series II sets. I believe that you have one of only 50 sets of the first series.

Seeing the demand for the quality work that he did, Roger decided to make his set feel more a part of the entire Intellivision world. The choice to add a box, and manual was made.

After some time in development Roger had boxes made, a small manual and numbered the sets. The process was not easy and not cheap. There was some going back and forth with the company that made the boxes (not getting into the nitty gritty here), he finally received what he had worked so hard on. He then assembled them and released them as the "Orphan Overlay - Series 2". This set included 78 overlays covering 37 games.

The Set of Overlays was deemed "Series 2" although there was no indication on the box that this was the case. The only way to know this was to read about the development of the set on Roger's website (currently not available). The Overlays available in the Series 2 were identical to the Overlays which were in the original, unreleased Series 1 set. The "Series 2" boxes were not numbered, but a custom Overlay with the set, inside the box, denoted the set number. A total of 150 sets were created and after some marketing and a lot of time posting them on Ebay, they completely sold out.

The Overlays which were included were:

Triple Challenge - Checkers
Triple Challenge - Chess (Left Controller)
Triple Challenge - Chess (Right Controller)
Triple Challenge - Backgammon
Stadium Mud Buggies
Learning Fun I
Learning Fun II
Congo Bongo
Super Cobra
Star Wars Empire Strike Back
Dig Dug
Lady Bug
Donkey Kong
Donkey Kong Jr
Thin Ice
Pole Position
Tower of Doom
Thunder Castle
Hover Force
Pac Man
Mountain Maddness Super Pro Skiing
Slap Shot Super Pro Hockey
Super Pro Football
Spiker Super Pro Volleyball
Slam Dunk Super Pro Basketball
Super Pro Decathalon
Body Slam Super Pro Wrestling
Chip Shot Super Pro Golf

Sometime later, with some additional revisions, a new Series was released appropriately called Series 3. It had a whopping 104 overlays covering 50 games. The additional 13 games added were a combination of home brew games which Roger made the overlays for, games only realeased as ROMS and games hidden on certain Intellivision cartridges. A total of 100 of these sets were released. This set also included a Security Hologram on the back of the box with the set number on it to ensure authenticity. “Series 3” stickers were added in many places to differentiate from the Series 2 sets.

In addition to all the games listed in the Series 2 set, Series 3 added:

Same Game & Robots
Deadly Dogs*
Robot Rubble
League of Light
Adventures of Tron
Space Shuttle
Deep Pockets
Space Patrol

The other difference to note on the Series 3 box was that the list of Overlays created for the set was a sticker which was stuck on the back of the box, covering the older list of Overlays from Series 2. While not optimum, it was still nicely done.

One thing to note is that Deadly Dogs and Meteor were released earlier by Roger as a "Hidden Game" Package. In this set Roger also created manuals for these games. The manuals are NOT included in the Series 3 set of Orphan Overlays.

End of an Era
Due to agreements Roger had made with interested parties, no more sets were to be made after Series 3 was sold out. It's arguable that no more sets are necessary because Roger was so thorough with the 2 officially released sets, that there's nothing else needed!

I would guess that as more homebrews are created, the creators will approach Roger for help in creating Overlays for their games. The quality and workmanship of his overlays are second to none and probably the reason no one else has tried making their own.

1 comment:

  1. Hey I was a poor video game starved child, but look what good denying me games did in my youth.

    I estimate I've spent $30,000 on games since on consoles and arcade games.

    Now I may need an Intellivision, yeah that weird box with that dially thingy some of my friends had....