[RetroConsole] 40 years of APF Imagination Machine


Do you remember the good old times of the consoles full of peripherals tot try to cacth up with the technology and with the competitors? The times of the consoles that looked like the Megazord from the Power Rangers with all those things attached to the real console? No? So refresh your memory with the Imagination Machine from APF that turns 40 this month since it has been released in November 1979.


Ricordate i bei vecchi tempi delle console piene di periferiche di tutti i tipi per cercare di stare al passo con i tempi e con la concorrenza? Delle console che sembravano il Megazord dei Power Rangers, tanti erano gli aggeggi che si attaccavano alla console vera e propria? No? Beh allora rinfrescatevi la memoria con l’Imagination Machine della APF che compie oggi 40 anni dal rilascio ufficiale nel Novembre 1979!

The story in a nutshell

The story of the Imagination Machine starts actually a copuple of yars before 1979. APF Electronics (the name is the acronym of the founders Al and Phil Friedman) is founded in the early 70s as an import company for japanese stereo and it officially enters the console market in April 1976 riding the wave of the Pong clones with its APF TV Fun, a line of different models (although all very similar and just slightly variation Pong, as it always happened with 1st generation consoles) in woodgrain style to hook up to the TV. APF next step was the MP-1000, their debut in the 2nd generation of consoles, that reminds a lot many other consoles of the same period, like “my” Interton VC4000. In parallel with the explosion of the console craze, a new fashion was emerging, that of the home computers that were becoming more powerful and less expensive and APF tried to gain its share even in this market, especially after the rumors about the “new” 2600 “home computer version” Atari was building. Instead of producing from scratch a computer (way more complicated that a console), they partenered with Fairchild Semiconductors (those behind the Channel F) and decided to pump their console with different peripherals. The Imagination Machine is nothing short that this Frankenstein of add-ons, where the MP-1000 has a marginal position, like it shouldn’t be part of the project and it was original retailed at a whopping price of 700$ (more than 2400$ today).

La storia della Imagination Machine inizia in realtà qualche anno prima. l’APF Electronics (acronimo dei fondatori Al e Phil Friedman) nasce nei primi anni ’70 come azienda di import di stereo giapponesi ed entra ufficialmente nel mondo delle console nell’aprile del 1976 cavalcando l’onda dei Pong clones con l’APF TV Fun, una linea di differenti modelli (che in realtà sono lievi variazioni del tema Pong, come era la norma nelle console della prima generazione) in pieno stile woodgrain che si collegavano alla TV. Il passo successivo della APF fu l’MP-1000, il loro debutto nella seconda generazione, che ricorda tantissimo molte altre console coeve, come il “mio” Interton VC4000. In parallelo con l’esplosione della moda delle console si stavano affermando sul mercato home computer sempre più potenti e sempre meno costosi e APF cercò di guadagnarsi la propria fetta anche di questo mercato, specie dopo i rumors che davano Atari sul punto di rilasciare un “nuovo” 2600 versione home computer. Invece di produrre ex-novo un computer (molto più complicato che una console) chiesero aiuto alla Fairchild Semiconductors (quelli dietro il Channel F) e decisero di appiccicare qualunque cosa possibile alla propria console. L’Imagination Machine non è altro che questo Frankenstein di periferiche dove l’MP-1000 ha una posizione decentrata, quasi non dovesse far parte del progetto e fu introdotta al prezzo di 700$ (più di 2400$ oggi)

The heart

The heart of the Imagination Machine is the MP-1000 whose heart is an 8-bit Motorola 6800 CPU clocked @0.89 MHz (3.579 MHz Oscillator divided by 4). What makes Imagination Machine stand out from the crowd is the sheer amount of add-ons. It was sold as an all-in-one product ofr 700$ but it could be bought as a standalone console and you could add pieces from time to time; of course doing this was tremendously expensive as these were the prices:

  • Building block: $200. It was a “board” to house all of the peripherals;
  • 8k RAM: $99.95
  • Floppy interface: $199.95
  • Mini Floppy: $349.95
  • Printer: $399.95
  • Modem: $199.95
  • Basic ROM Cartridge: $49.95

If you do the math you have something like 1500$ to spend PLUS the cost of the actual console.

The hands

Setting aside the numeric control à la Intellivision of the MP-1000, the Imagination Machine features a black and white keyboard with a slightly different design compared to modern ones: ESC key is placed the line under the numbers line, there are no cursor keys (AAAAAARGH!) and there’s a fantastic RUB OUT key instead of CANC (ok, this is supercool).

Accantonati i controller numerici à la Intellivision dell’MP-1000, l’Imagination Machine include una tastiera bicolor bianco-nera con un design un po’ diverso da quelle odierne: il tasto ESC è situato sotto la linea dei numeri, non ci sono frecce direzionali (AAAAAARGH!) ed è presente un fantastico tasto RUB OUT invece del CANC (ok, questo è fighissimo).

The eyes

 

The games

A total of 30 games exist (or at least are known to exist, since some of them have never been tracked down) for the Imagination Machine to which the 12 catridge-based games library of the MP-1000 (plus the built-in Rocket Patrol) have to be added; out of these 30ish only one has been released on cartridge (APF Basic) while all the other came on cassette tapes:

  • APF Basic
  • Audio Tapes
  • [MA-125] Music Composer/Player Piano
  • [MA-150] Typing Tutor
  • [MA-225] Perception 1
  • [MA-250] Space, Size and Surface Guide
  • [MA-275] Personal Business Machine
  • [MA-375] The Word Factory
  • [MA-400] Spelling Duel
  • [MA-425] Electronic Files
  • [MA-475] Billboard
  • [MA-550] Jumbled Up Things
  • [MA-575] Space Destroyers
  • [MA-???] Math Tutor
  • [MA-???] Lunar Lander
  • [MA-???] Diagnostic
  • [MA-???] Basic Tutor
  • [MA-???] Computer Lab
  • [MA-???] Artist and Easel
  • [MA-???] Adventure Castle
  • [MA-???] Checkbook/Financial Manager
  • [MA-???] Budget Manager II
  • [MA-???] Bar Charts
  • [MA-???] Demo8
Boxing

As you can imagine it’s almost impossible to find sales figures or lists of the highest grossing games. The software distributed specifically for the Imagination Machine features different edutainment titles or pseudo-business applications and I sincerely doubt they hit four figures sales.

APF-Man, a clone of…you guessed it, right?

Un totale di 30 giochi esistono (o meglio sarebbero dovuti esistere, alcuni non sono mai stati rintracciati) per l’Imagination Machine ai quali va aggiunta la libreria di giochi per l’MP-1000 (12 giochi su cartuccia più il built-in Rocket Patrol); di questi solo uno venne distribuito su cartuccia (APF Basic), mentre gli altri vennero rilasciati su cassetta:

  • APF Basic
  • Audio Tapes
  • [MA-125] Music Composer/Player Piano
  • [MA-150] Typing Tutor
  • [MA-225] Perception 1
  • [MA-250] Space, Size and Surface Guide
  • [MA-275] Personal Business Machine
  • [MA-375] The Word Factory
  • [MA-400] Spelling Duel
  • [MA-425] Electronic Files
  • [MA-475] Billboard
  • [MA-550] Jumbled Up Things
  • [MA-575] Space Destroyers
  • [MA-???] Math Tutor
  • [MA-???] Lunar Lander
  • [MA-???] Diagnostic
  • [MA-???] Basic Tutor
  • [MA-???] Computer Lab
  • [MA-???] Artist and Easel
  • [MA-???] Adventure Castle
  • [MA-???] Checkbook/Financial Manager
  • [MA-???] Budget Manager II
  • [MA-???] Bar Charts
  • [MA-???] Demo8
Space Destroyers, another clone of…you-know-what…

Come potrete ben immaginare è arduo se non impossibile reperire i dati di vendita o quale fosse il gioco più di successo. Il software distribuito specificatamente per l’Imagination Machine include diversi titoli di genere edutainment o applicazione pseudo-business ma sinceramente dubito che abbiano venduto a 4 cifre…

The legacy

No sales figures are known (or at least I haven’t found them anywhere) but several different reviews praised the Imagination Machine for its design and the performances and even for the fact that if you weren’t ready to eke out 700$ you could have bought just the console for 130$ and then upgrade it little by little.

APF had plans to release an all-in-one upgraded version of its console-computer hybrid, the IM-2 but the company folded before its release and no units has never been sold. However in 2016 a specimen of the computer popped up on eBay and it showed up that the IM-2 (at least cosmetically) was just a minor restyling of the Imagination Machine with the console built into the computer.

Non ci sono dati di vendita noti (o almeno non ne ho trovati da nessuna parte) ma diverse recensioni lodano l’Imagination Machine per il design e le performances e anche per il fatto che se non si era pronti a scucire 700$ per un computer si poteva comunque spendere 130$ per la console e poi aggiornarla poco per volta.

APF aveva piani per rilasciare una versione aggiornata all-in-one del computer, l’IM-2 ma l’azienda fallì prima di riuscirci e nessun esemplare fu mai commercializzato. Tuttavia nel 2016 un prototipo del computer saltò fuori su eBay e mostrò che l’IM-2 (almeno esteticamente) era solo un marginale restyling dell’Imagination Machine, con la console all’interno del computer.

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