The Game: A simple version of video ping-pong; players use three knobs, one to control horizontal movement, one to control vertical movement, and a third to control the “English” or spin of the ball. (Magnavox, 1975)
Memories: Caught flat-footed by the success of Atari‘s Pong home console, Magnavox found itself struggling to hang onto the very market that Ralph Baer‘s original Odyssey console had created in the first place. Perhaps not surprisingly, Magnavox turned back to the Odyssey, not just for inspiration but to – at least in a limited fashion – put the machine back on the market.
The Odyssey 100 was essentially the bare basic guts of the original Odyssey, simplified drastically. Where the Odyssey was at least able to present the illusion of programmability via its interchangeable circuit cards, Odyssey 100 was hard-wired to play card #1 – the basic Pong-like Tennis game. The functions of the three-knob hand controllers were duplicated with a cluster of three knobs for each player, though they were found on the console itself: players had to basically sit right at the console to play, and the funky “English” effect was still present. And like the original Odyssey, there was no on-screen scoring – players had to abide by the honor system and use plastic “sliders” on the console to keep count.
The only real innovation, in fact, was sound – simple, cricket-like chirps for the impact of the ball. This in itself was hardly an innovation; Odyssey designer Ralph Baer had made provisions for very simple sound effects on the Odyssey, but that part of the design had been omitted when Magnavox mass-produced the machine. Odyssey 100’s sound came from a simple speaker within the console itself. It’s also worth noting that, in its desperate grab for consumers’ attention (and dollars), the Odyssey 100 was – in case you’d somehow managed to miss it in the photo above – molded in bright orange plastic. So much for the relative austerity of the original Odyssey.
Intended to be a comeback for the Odyssey, Odyssey 100 was instead a mere also-ran in the race to get Pong or Pong-like consoles on the market. Just as the arcade Pong had succeeded in popularizing video games in a way that the first arcade game, Computer Space, didn’t manage to do, Atari’s Pong console superceded Odyssey as the major player in the first-generation home console wars. And despite the Johnny-come-lately effort to do what Ralph Baer had always envisioned – put the Odyssey in stores minus the extraneous playing cards, poker chips and odds and ends, at a lower price point – the Odyssey 100 wasn’t about to put Magnavox back on top.