The second generation of gaming consoles is a huge world. Maybe not as the first, which features hunderds and huindreds of PONG clones and clones of clones, but something really big to handle anyway. During the roaring days of the first consoles wars the american company Emerson Radio Corp, one of the biggest electronics retailer in the US, following the manner of other companies with no experience who decided anyway to enter the market (being eventually one of the causes of the video game crash of 1983), in 1982 developed its own cartidge console to challenge huge success of Atari 2600.
Well, it didn’t end up well…
The story in a nutshell
In 1977 the gaming world was shocked by the release of Atari 2600. Even if at first the console had some troubled times, in a couple of years became the reference point for all gamers and its games became the most popular in the world, especially for the lucrative business of the arcade ports, in which Atari had no rivals. As it always happens when something is a big success, in the years after other companies treid to take their slice of business entering the console market essentially following two paths.
The first was trying to emulate the 2600, creating “clones” or compatible consoles: an approach very short-sighted but in the end what a small company needed to be at least profitable for a couple of years. The second, risky business was trying to create something better hoping the success would fall from the sky. The history teach us that both of the approaches wer, eventually, wrong. The companies that tried to challenge the Atari failed miserably: Intellivision, Colecovision, Odyssey² just to cite the most important. The company that tries to ape Atari 2600, like Emerson faced an even worse destiny.
Born as a consumer electronic company, in 1982, during the year of the video gamnes console craze, decided to enter the marked, not knowing (as all the other companies back then) that the home gaming world was at the eve of catastrophe (the north american crash hit the year after). In order to do this, Emerson Radio, created towards a brand new Signetics chip, the 2650, a new console, named Arcadia 2001 which, at least technically speaking, was superior to the atari 2600, released 5 years before.
Despite this, the 2001 was an enormpous failure: first of all, Emerson Radio had to face the consequences of the battle with Atari, which sued them when they tried to port the most famous arcade games of the time on their console, ignoring that Atari was owning all the licenses. Even Emerson in turn sued Arcadia Corp. for copytight infringement when they released the Arcadia Supercharger, a peipheral for the Atari 2600, later renamed Starpath. Poor sales and almost no support from the company and from third parties doomed the fate of Arcadia 2001 that was discontinued in 1984, after 18 months of sales.
The CPU that was beating inside the Arcadia 2001 was the Signetics 2650, that can be found in other consoles of the period, like the 1292 Advanced Programmable Video System and a plethora of other “clones” of the Aracadia itself (I will discuss them later).
Even the controllers of the Arcadia 2001 lack of innovation: we have two Intellivision-like gamepad with two more buttons on the sides and the classic numeric keypad along with two “holes” in which was possible to hook a small stick converting it in a joystick. The pads were not detachable so in case of a malfunctioning or damage the substitution was quite complicated.
Along with the games were included some plastic overlays to put over the numeric pad to help handling the pad itself.
Albeit superior to the Atari 2600, the Arcadia 2001 never reached the success Emerson hoped. Graphically it was similar to the ColecoVision or the Odyssey² and was able to generate 8 colours images with a resolution of 208×128 pixels. It’s possible to notice it by the video below: the first game that appears, Cat Trax, sort of clone of Pacman, is waaaaay better than Atari’s Pacman, released in 1982.
Something like 50 games were released in total for the system and most of them were clones or imitations of the great arcade classics like Pacman, Galaxian and Defender. This was one of the reasons why the Arcadia sales were poor: releasing a port of an arcade game in the U.S. back then was like committing suicide, since all the patents were in the precious Atari’s vault. Atari itself sued more than once Emerson for copyright infringement and this, along with the lack of the emerging third party support meant that Arcadia 2001 had a poor range of titles, and just a few of them have a decent reputation among which I can indicate the aformentioned Cat Trax.
Another game I’d like to note, not for its design but for its brilliant name is Tanks a Lot. I shoul try it only to pay homage to the person who invented the name.
The games were released (at least) on three different kind of cartridges: the “Emerson” ones, in two different sizes (being the short very similar the that of Atari 2600) and the “MPT” ones, more similar to SNES cartridges.
There are a lot of reasons behind the failure of Arcadia 2001 but three of them can be considered the most importants: Atari’s lawsuits, lack of support and the confusion generated in the market of the home consoles by Arcadia 2001 “clones”.
When Emerson developed its console based on the Signeticss 2650 chip, a lot of other companies in the world created their own consoles based on the same chip. This made all of this machines virtually cross compatible, at least software-wise, even if actually there were only a few cases of cross compatibility. Back then people thought that Emerson licensed the console to other companies all over the world but it was actually Philips that licensed its chip so all the 30 or so conoles based on it are like sisters consoles of the Arcadia 2001, which is on the other side, maybe the most important of them.
Even though Arcadia 2001 was superior to the Atari 2600, it failed to win the battle against Atari 5200 and ColecoVision and after a small period during which it was retailed at 99$, Emerson retired from the market, leaving no mark in the console world.