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In 1979 Mattel launched the Intellivision, a Second Generation home video game console which would prove to be very popular, selling over 3 million units, and eventually featuring 125 games.
Like many home consoles, various peripherals were released, and an important one for today's video game first arrived in 1982 in the form of the Intellivoice Voice Synthesis Module, retailing at around $100. This large, brown cartridge that plugged into the Intellivision's side-mounted cartridge slot utilized a voice synthesizer to generate audible speech. Games that had been specifically designed for the device could then be inserted into a slot provided on the right-hand side of the module.
The first release for the Intellivoice was Space Spartans, which holds the honour of being the very first console game to feature 'human' voice.
Space Spartans is essentially a clone of Atari's 1979 release Star Raiders. The objective is to outlast an alien onslaught for as long as possible. Defeat is inevitable, so victory terms are defined as how long a player can last through any one game and how effective they are at destroying alien ships and starbases.
The words digitized in Space Spartans were done so at the lowest possible sampling
rate at which they could still be understood, and it wasn't unusual for
the sampling rate to be changed three or four times within the same word
(lower rates for vowels, higher for consonants) to save space. This
tended to give the voice a distinctly mechanical, unnatural sound.
Despite this low sampling rate the digitized voice data still required a great deal of ROM space; more than the game itself took. This require a larger ROM than a standard Intellivision release, which was
much more expensive to produce. This meant that Space Spartans, and the subsequent Intellivoice-supporting
titles ended up retailing higher than a standard Intellivision
game; while standard non-voice titles typically debuted at prices of
$39.95, then quickly dropped to around $20 – $25 as new titles were
released, Intellivoice titles retailed for as much as $45 apiece and
were much slower to drop in price.
Along with Space Spartans two other Intellivoice titles were released in 1982 - Bomb Squad, and B-17 Bomber. However, despite critical acclaim, the Intellivoice did not sell nearly as well as Mattel had hoped; while initial orders were as high as 300,000 units for the module and its associated games, most of them just sat on retailers' shelves. Even a promotional giveaway of a free Intellivoice by mail with the purchase of an Intellivision Master Component failed to kick-start sales of the Intellivoice game titles.
After one more release, Tron: Solar Sailer, the Intellivoice was discontinued and faded into obscurity.
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