8/16/13

Tech #28: 1979 Sears Electronic Entertainment


So, I was looking through the electronic toys/entertainment portion of the 1979 Sears Christmas catalog and was quite honestly amazed at how many items I actually owned.  My family was by no means rich, but my father was a technophile and so there was always money for the newest gizmo.

I've scanned a few of the pages and, as always, added my two cents.  Enjoy.





As you'd expect from an electronic toy from over thirty years ago, the graphics weren't very good - by comparison, woefully awful.  However, by what rule do you measure a video game when making a comparison.  I think that, before you laugh at these old games, you should ask yourself how much enjoyment was derived from them.

For instance, I played Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 last night and walked away frustrated and stressed.  Sure, I derived some enjoyment from making clean head shots and watching the realistic gore spray.  Overall, it was immersive and realistic, but not especially "fun".  Whereas, this game provided me with hours upon hours of unadulterated joy.  I was mercifully oblivious to the fact that the technology was in the Stone Age,


The Merlin was under every boy's Christmas tree in 1979.  My parents always dragged me to yard sales, and I have a distinct memory of always seeing Merlins for sale.  In other words, it just didn't provide long term enjoyment.  It had enticing commercials which made it seem like the answer to all your prayers, but the thrill was gone within a few hours..


I actually had this.  Seeing it in this catalog brought back a flood of memories.  It was my "big present" that year.  Maybe this is where I got my enthusiasm for trivia (or maybe it's just a natural genetic defect).  You plug the Quiz Wiz into the adapter and simply answer the questions in the book.  Categories included: books, music, sports, movies, TV, superheroes, and The Book of Lists.  Lots of fun, but once you answered all the questions, you may as well throw away the $5 "game" (about $15 today).


Everybody remembers Simon.  It was unleashed unto the world at Studio 54 in 1978, and it quickly became a symbol of the decade (akin to the lava lamp, pet rock, and disco ball).

It's interesting to note that there were imitators a plenty that followed close on Simon's heels, but no lawsuits for copyright infringement.  Perhaps, this is due tot he fact that Simon itself is an imitation of an early Atari game called Touch Me.  The Atari game was wildly unpopular and the sounds were like  a metal fork being scraped on ceramic.


Tiger Electronics, the gang that brought you the Furby, was among the first with the Simon imitation, called Copy Cat.   The Copy Cat was bought by Sears and renamed Follow Me. You'll notice it's much smaller and shittier looking than Simon.


Man, who knew the Speek n Spell was so pricey?  That's over $180 in today's dollars! It's more expensive than Mego's Talking Robot for chrissakes. My younger brother got it for Christmas as well as the Little Professor.


The level of interest in astrology and other occult practices in the 1970s truly astounds me.  We were a superstitious lot back then.


Despite the occult fanaticism in the 70s, I still doubt this little number was very successful.  It doesn't seem to provide much beyond your daily horoscope which can be found in the newspaper.  And there's no way it actually "told you" the horoscope either; you still would have to look it up in the manual.  No thanks.


I have no memory of a motorcycle styled game console.  Was this popular?  The idea of motorcross sounds like a cool alternative to Pong, and I would have totally dug the motorbike grip controller back in '79.


It's interesting to note that some of the most successful and well-loved games of today are not exactly high-tech in the graphics department.  I was pathologically obsessed with Candy Crush, Words with Friends, and Ruzzle for months (until my damn tablet broke). My children are big fans of Minecraft which has (intentionally?) lousy graphics.

In other words, we've almost come full circle.  Where it's not all about the graphics, and more about the actual gameplay.  Am I mistaken?




THE END
(10-4, good buddy.  Roger out.)


31 comments:

  1. I don't dig the current obsession some have with modern low-res graphics, a la Minecraft. I watched my niece "play" that for a while and it looked like the biggest piece of shit I've ever seen. Go get some Lincoln Logs or Legos if you wanna build stuff and then destroy it.

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    1. Me neither, which is why I don't play (or would ever buy) that kind of video game. But since not everybody's into Call Of Duty or Halo, well...

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    2. Although, I still love Lego and have bought some of those large city block sets recently, just imagine how many millions of dollars you would have to shell out and still never have as many blocks as in Minecraft. For the low, low price of $27 you receive an infinite, and I mean infinite, amount of blocks in Minecraft. I have Minecraft, but I tend to play Fallout and the like.

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  2. I had one of the Mattel hand-held auto racing games, and while it was primitive, it was not easy to beat, and I got a lot of fun out of it.

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    1. I enjoyed the Mattel Football Game. I think I wore the colors off the buttons if I recall. I actually bought another one at the Flea Market to try to re-capture the magic, but I enjoyed that for a short while - I still had the moves on the game. It was still fun nonetheless

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  3. The Sears Electronic Touchdown is a rebadged Coleco Electronic Quarterback. My Electronic Quarterback still works, as does the Entech Electronic Baseball. I got both for Christmas 1979. The baseball game only kept track of balls, strikes, outs, and only showed the half-inning score. It came with a pad of scorecards in which you can make your own teams and mark the progress of the game. I also have a Mattel Electronics Soccer game I've had since 1980. I had two Mattel basketball games, my original basketball game broke, and my Mattel Basketball II was stolen when I was in college. I bought the Mattel Basketball game that was reissued a few years ago and it doesn't work quite the same.

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    1. It sounds like you are are quite a jack-off.

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    2. It sounds like it takes one to know one.

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    3. Don't hate the player..... Hate the game. ;)

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    4. It sounds like Anonymous #1 needs to troll elsewhere. Pointless douche-baggery is not welcomed here.

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    5. From Anonymous #2 - my sentiments exactly.

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  4. Heh the Merlin was pretty good, the games were interesting... only problem was the unit used six AA batteries and ate through them pretty quickly... Anyone see the sequel, the Merlin 2? That one had some nice LCD display and a better sound chip.

    Mego's Talking Robot (aka 2XL) is an 8-track tape player. It had four semi-duplicate recordings, questions asked and you switched tracks based on your answer. Good scripting and audio work, was actually fun to listen to. The later model used all four tracks of a standard audio cassette to do the same thing more compactly.

    Speak and Spell was cutting edge back then had the new TI Speech chip in it, that was the first talking computer toy that just wasn't some recording.

    Telegames - I like how Sears insisted it have Sears Branded items (Radio Shack did the same thing back then too, I think Montgomery Wards as well). Anyway, this must have been before they got a deal with Atari to re-branded the 2600. Notice those were COLOR games as they had either a rainbow foreground or background (yeah, that was about it for color pong before the 2600).

    I guess that was before the invasion of the electronic chess challengers, that was big for quite a while. Probably because many brothers/sisters/husbands/wives can't stand to play chess over and over again. :-D

    The Big Track was Really cool, program actions and it played them out... for a bunch of dollars more you could buy the dump bed. Got to play a friends', he had all the cool toys (divorced parents - his GI-Joe collection was IMPRESSIVE), later bought one at a thrift... ahhh, Wanted the Star raiders thing, probably was a joke, but man, to have a cockpit like an x wing! (my though in how it looked) ROM apparently did lousy sales, for a long time you could buy the ROM circuit boards through electronic surplus catalogs.

    Every kid wanted a walkie talkie.

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    1. When I got tired of Merlin eating batteries is when I bought an AC adapter for it.

      Got a friend that made a 2XL simulator: http://www.donationcoder.com/Software/Mouser/2XL/

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    2. I still have my old 2XL somewhere at Mom's house. The simulator is my next stop. App, you may just be a benefactor of humanity!

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  5. RE: "The level of interest in astrology and other occult practices in the 1970s truly astounds me. We were a superstitious lot back then."

    I'm not sure it was so much superstition as a sort of searching for other realities or higher consciousness or just something different than what we had been handed. It started in the 60s and spilled over to full flowering in the 70s. One could hardly pass a magazine stand without seeing numerous publications on astrology, the occult, UFOs, ESP, etc. But a lot of other things too like mediation, positive thinking and the like. A lot of things that would be considered "new age" now and have become very mainstream. One of the things I liked so much about the 70s was this variety of unusual magazines, publications, etc. espousing these interesting philosophies. This topic might be worth a post or two here.

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  6. Still have the Stop Thief game and it still works very well. Gotta love some of the characters like Kent Ketchum and Hans Off. Ahhh the 70s!

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  7. I can totally relate to the Minecraft confusion...my twin daughters are obsessed with it for some unknown reason...I never had an Atari however I did have...ready for this...Vectrex. Remember the video game console that came built in to it's own portable TV? and it came with colored plastic screens to make the games "colorized'. What a huge piece of crap. My dad brought it home one day and he wound up playing all night and wouldn't let us touch it in case we might break it. Wish I would've kept it...the console and games go for a pretty penny on ebay now!

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  8. Not every boy received a Merlin under their Christmas tree in 1979. Mine wasn't there until 1980. My mom always waited for the prices of new toys to come down. I didn't get an Atari until 1982. On the contrary, Merlin kept me occupied for hours. I still have it. I also had the football and baseball Tandy (Radio Shack) knockoff versions.

    If the glut of paranormal shows on television these days is any indication, I don't think our obsession with the occult has lessened any.

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  9. Recently went on an attic recon mission and came up with 4 of these items:Follow Me(apparently fried),2XL(lights up and operates,but seems to have a blown speaker,ROM(Works perfectly,w/all weapons)and Big Trak(works, but sometimes doesn't do what I program it to do).

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  10. I used to have a version of that Digital Derby race car game. Loved it! Still have a pocket repeater/Simon game. I still see some of these toys at thrift stores in various states of workingness.

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  11. Wow! I realize I had quite a bit of this stuff too. Lil Professor, Speak and Spell, Quiz Wiz, Simon and Merlin. Quiz Wiz was my favorite and it may be the reason I like trivia. I had TV trivia, rock and roll and (my least favorite) Guiness Book of Records trivia.

    I recently found my Merlin and it still works!

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  12. hey blogmaster
    who0s that hot tennis chick on the banner?

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    1. Well, the banner should change every time you reload the page. But to answer your question: I have no idea.

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  13. I always wanted that Computer Perfection just because it looked like a prop from a sci-fi tv show.
    I loved my Rom and Big Trak though!

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  14. There are emulators out there for electronic football, and Merlin.
    That computer perfection was in a LOT of low budget sci-fi shows of that era.
    I saw a re-issued big trak somewhere recently, too. But it looked smaller.
    ROM rocked, and I would direct anyone interested in more info on him over to Plaid Stallions.

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    1. Yeah, a UK company put out a regular size Big Trak along with a Jr size.
      http://www.bigtrakxtr.co.uk/
      They also have accessories like a missile launcher and webcam.
      The new model due out next year will be able to be controlled from iOS/Android devices as well.

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  15. The interest in the occult and related subjects is probably still there, but just TRY to present a product with occult overtones into today's market, with all the uptight religious groups and such..

    Say you have a new soda idea, with a silly cartoon wizard or devil (who recalls Underwood Ham?) as your mascot...

    Then watch the fur fly!

    Al Bigley

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    1. There was talk of (as of 2015) a new movie featuring the character Hot Stuff The Little Devil from the Harvey Comics line (I say was, because Dreamworks, which owns the Harvey Comics characters, is having problems with its animation division) so I wouldn't give up on the idea of having devilish characters in popular culture just yet.

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  16. We only had three of these, two after I was too old to care: Stop Thief, Speak and Spell, and Little Professor which my mom still has and still works.

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  17. Cool memories. I did love a ton of non-electronic toys but my 10 year old tomboy self did not discriminate (as I do now). Bring on the batteries! I was lucky enough to have the Big Trak with the dump bed and it is stlll at my mom's house. Wonder if I could find the directions online? Hmmm. I totally remember the commercial reeling me in...

    OH! When I see the 2XL the memories come flooding back. I was over at cousin's house for Christmas Eve when she opened an early Christmas present from my aunt and uncle: 2XL! I was quite jealous but I knew that was a big ticket item.

    Loved Quiz Whiz (might still have). Loved Coleco football, baseball and basketball and they still work I believe.

    I definitely remember playing Merlin but it was probably a friend's. Was there any comparable game around the same time? One fun electronic game I remember enjoying was MANIAC which I believe was like SIMON.

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  18. Watchoo talkin about? Merlin was AAAA Triple FANTASTIC!!!!! So much so that I tried to buy one for my son this Christmas. No luck though. Why doesn't somebody re-make this prime bit of futuristic technology. Forget Call of Duty; Merlin is the dog's bollox!

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