In 1975, Atari and Magnavox started selling
improved systems using integrated circuits. Magnavox used several Texas Instruments (TI) chips, which replicated the design of the first Odyssey, itself based on 1967
transistor circuits. Atari, however, had the smart idea of designing the first "PONG in a chip"
device, but these Atari chips were not available to other manufacturers, thus
limitating the market considerably. Most Atari systems used a different chip
because of the different games and features. Of course, a few discrete
components interfaced the chip to the other parts of the system: the video modulator,
the player controls, etc. These
chips replaced most of the numerous components used in the early analog and digital
systems. Although Atari chips were a smart design, the idea of integrating
complex circuits into a single chip was a common idea at that time, and other
video game manufacturers soon released their own video game chips.
Texas Instruments (TI) had an important role in 1975
since Magnavox asked the manufacturer to design a special chip set for their
next models, the
Odyssey 100 and 200. Each chip had a special function:
character generator (paddle, ball), game logic (serve, ball rebounds, collision detection,
etc.), on-screen scoring, etc.
They are detailed in the summary table at the end of this page. These chips were
exclusively manufactured for Magnavox (at least, in the begining). Their original references were SN94xxxN, but Magnavox required
that they show only a 6-digit reference, probably to hide the manufacturer and
avoid potential competition.
While the first chips only allowed to design
simple Ball and Paddle games, TI soon released two important types of chips:
digital on-screen scoring and programmable (complex) characters. While the
former obviously added a catchy feature which almost no other system had without
the use of a more advanced, single chip device, the latter allowed designing his
own graphics and therefore, more advanced games for the time. The first Magnavox
systems to use these chips were the Odyssey 400 and
The most interesting advantage of these chips was their modular
design. Unlike every single-chip device which offered a limited number of games,
these chips allowed designing any game based on the ball, paddle and wall
graphics, and eventualy complex characters.
TI had a potential market
ahead and decided to release an entire chipset in 1976: the Universal Game
Circuits. Unlike the Magnavox chips, they were part of the Consumer Circuits
Catalog and could be purchased by any manufacturer and any hobbyist. They allowed building various games ranging from Ball
& Paddle variants to complex games like Tank Battle, Helicopter Battle,
Gunfight, and Space War. If some of the chips are rumored to be same as those originaly designed for the Magnavox Odyssey 100 and 200
(but sold under different
references), the additional ones allowed designing more challenging games. As
per modular design, the chips could only handle a small part of game logic, and
additional logic (TTL, CMOS) chips were required.
An interesting internal TI
Market Plan dated August
1976 shows not less than nine game kits envisioned. TI even considered selling a
basic chips kit for each game, which avoided the need of programming characters
(whether some chips were made available with specific characters like Tank,
Helicopter or similar is unknown). Still, the games clearly showed the potential
of those chips.
Although these chips were unsuccessfull despite the catchy battle games, TI released
their first all-in-one device in 1976: the TMS-1955 and TMS-1965. There was
nothing really new here: the chips were both pin compatible with the General
Instruments AY-3-8500 mentioned below,
hence a higher success.
In 1977, TI copied the Executive Games Television
Tennis circuits and integrated them into a new chip: the SN76410N. David
Winter asked Glen Dash (who designed the Television Tennis) how this came to his
attention. His reply was crystal clear: "The Tennis game was absolutely same, so much
that it had the same bugs as my original design". The chip added two
more games and additional ball english. But 1977 was already too late for
releasing a new Ball & Paddle chip except for a very successful company such as
General Instruments who could afford the risk and propose new devices to
existing clients. Moreover, two much more advanced microprocessor based systems
appeared in 1976 and clearly indicated how the home video game would rapidly change: Fairchild's Channel-F and RCA's Studio II. For all thease reasons, the
new SN76410N chip was so unsuccessfull that very few systems used it: Tele-Match
3300R, Ricochet Super Pro (model MT-4A), and Venture Electronics Video Sports
While the bell rang the end of video game chips for TI, the
company would soon become another leader of high integration devices: handheld
games. But this is another story.
The low-cost Ball & Paddle genius
Microelectronics, also known as General Instruments (GI), was well known for
designing Large Scale Integragion (LSI) chips. In 1975, GI had a
revolutionar idea: the design of a low-cost chip playing several Ball & Paddle
games, and available to
any manufacturer. This chip changed the video game industry within
a year and marked the end of discrete components systems like the Odyssey 100,
200, 400 and 500 (Magnavox used a GI chip in the Odyssey
300, but this particular system was just an answer to Coleco's
which we will detail later). Even the more advanced discrete components systems
digital on-screen scoring and graphic characters were prone to oblivion. Atari
continued designing its own chips,
playing more games (all in color with digital on-screen scoring).
GI's first video game chip was the AY-3-8500.
It played six games: four Ball & Paddle variants and two target shooting games, which all had
variable difficulty settings changed using switches. In addition, a seventh undocumented game could be played when none of the previous six was selected: Handicap, a football/hockey variant where the player on the right has a third paddle.
Very few systems
played this game. Interestingly, two versions of the AY-3-8500 exist: the early
one with dashed central line (about twice larger) and solid horizontal
boundaries. The later one is shown below. The following table shows the AY-3-8500 games:
|Hockey / Football
|Practice / Solo
General Instruments catalog contained interesting circuit diagrams, the most
interesting being the player multiplexer. By alternating two pairs of players at
every frame, a four player game could be played. Few commercial systems featured
the 4-player mode.
GI, a huge success:
The AY-3-8500 chip was extremely
successful: hundreds of different game systems used it worldwide. Some
manufacturers did not hesitate to create a line of systems equiped with this
chip. In many case, they differed by the picture (black and white or color) or
the games: only the four ball and paddle games, or the six games including the
two target shooting games. The line got eventualy extended with models using
more advanced GI chips produced later.
Magnavox and Radio Shack are typical examples of
manufacturers who sold a whole line of systems built around GI chips: Odyssey
300 played three games in black and white, Odyssey 2000 added the fourth
AY-3-8500 game but only Odyssey 3000 allowed setting the four difficulty levels
individualy. Of course, a technician could easily modify his system to add the
missing games or change the way the difficulty settings were limited.
Soon, GI released improved versions
of the AY-3-8500: the AY-3-8550, which added horizontal player motion and composite
video output, the AY-3-8510 (four games in color), the AY-3-8512 (same as
AY-3-8500 but in color) and the AY-3-8600 (eight Ball & Paddle variants and two shooting
games). GI also released special color encoders which allowed producing a color
picture: the AY-3-8515 for the
AY-3-8500 and the AY-3-8615 for the AY-3-8600 and
The worldwide success of the GI chips allowed hobbyists to
build their own system: almost every electronics magasine published at least one
construction project around this chip or another. Some
other hobbyist articles talked about modifications and accessories: how to convert
an existing black and white
system in color using the AY-3-8515 color encoder, how to convert to four
The story is far from finished. If
GI released the AY-3-8500 in 1976, the competition was already present.
National Semiconductor (NS) released their chip integrating three Ball &
Paddle games: the MM-57100N (also released as the MM-57105N in PAL format). NS advertised
the chip as playing games with true and realistic colors
(the background was green for Tennis, blue for Hockey, and magenta for Squash).
This major feature probably boosted the sales. As a matter of
fact, the basic configuration of the GI AY-3-8500, 8550 and 8600 chips delivered
a black and white picture, and another GI chip was required to produce color
pictures, hence a higher cost. The MM-57100N chip and its PAL equivalent only
required two interfacing chips: the MM-53104N clock driver and the LM1889N color
modulator. As the LM1889N was cheaper than GI's color encoders and widely available, every system designed with the NS chips played game
in colors, as opposed to many systems built with GI chips.
The NS games also differed from the GI games. For instance, each player
appeared alternatively in the Squash game when the ball was hit, and the Hockey
game showed six square opponents (organised in two groups of three) moving up
and down on the screen. The sound was directly sent to
the TV set instead of coming from a speaker in the system. The game selection
only required a push-button instead of a switch (rotary or linear) which could
fail after many game selections. The scores
appeared once a player lost the ball, the bats could have three different sizes,
and the ball accelerated once it bounced four times on the players.
Finally, the games could also be played in solo: the single player controlled
both sides of the games using the same controller.
For the release of this new chip, NS launched a small system called National
Adversary (model 370). Although not very nice, it played the three games of the chip and sold
pretty well. The same system was sold in semi-kit form by Heathkit as
Model GD-1999 (the circuit board was already
assembled). The only problem was the competitive price of the AY-3-8500 and also
its wide reputation as most manufacturers used it.
Although NS had a pretty smart idea by releasing the MM-57100N chip, the
increasing success of GI became too high for NS, and facing the situation
became more and more difficult. As an attempt to survive this situation, NS released another chip in 1978:
the MM-57106N (also known as MM-57186N in PAL format). This one played six different games: those of the
MM-57100N, plus Wipe-Out (Breakout clone), Flipper and Football. Each game was playable in several variants, giving a total of
This chip was not successful and the only systems known to use it are the
N30 (and its equivalents sold under the Radiola and Schneider brands) and the Philips Odyssey 2100, both released
in Europe. NS advertised an improved Adversary system (model 600) based on this chip, but
no specimen surfaced yet.
The National Adversary by NS, with the three games of the MM-57100N chip:
Tennis, Hockey,Squash (two players), Squash (solo), all during game play and
MOSTek, another manufacturer well known in
the micro computer market, released a quite advanced line of video game chips in
1977: the MCS-7600 series, quickly replaced with the MPS-7600 equivalents (the
only difference were their package: Ceramic at first, and Plastic just after). Rather than integrating the components of a complete
Ball & Paddle game,
the chips contained custom graphics and sound generators driven by a simple processor and a 512-word ROM (Read Only
versions of this chip are known to exist. Each of them contains customised circuits
adapted to the games played. For example, the Ball & Paddle version (MPS-7600-001) plays four games for two or four players and uses special paddle and ball
generators. This particular chip was also released in PAL format as MPS-7601. So
far, only Commodore is known to have used it in a system (model 3000H). Only one
manufacturer used all of the MOSTek chips: Coleco (see the
Telstar Arcade and Telstar Gemini systems). All
others used the MPS-7600-001 chip.
LABORATORIES, INC. and the Car Racing games:
In 1976, Universal Research Laboratories,
(URL) contracted Omnetics to design a quite advanced chip: the F4301. The chip was so complex
that it could
not fit on a single silicon dice. Therefore, two dice were mounted on a
thick film substrate and connected together. The F4301 chip played two Ball & Paddle
variants and two car racing games. The car games were a major addition which no other
Ball & Paddle
chip played. The F4301 games could be played by up
to four players ("human mode"), and the Ball & Paddle games could also be played against the system ("robot" mode) with
variable "intelligence" (paddle reaction time).
Interestingly, the F-4301 inherited the Ball & Paddle circuits used in the URL Video Action 3 system.
The VA-3 circuit board shows what got integrated in the
F-4301 chipset to play the Ball & Paddle games. URL used the F4301 chip in their Indy 500 system
(also known as Video Action 4, model S100) released in 1976. URL also had an
order from Sears, which released that game in limited amount under the same name
and model (see the
URL page for more information).
Sears also used the F4301 in the Speedway and Speedway IV systems. Ricochet
Electronic, already known for their very successful Ball & Paddle system
(model MT-1A), used it in Formula 500 (Model MT-5A). Some european systems also used this chip: Interton
Video 2800 (Germany), MBO Tele-Ball VIII (Germany), etc. MBO's Tele-Ball VIII had a
rare feature: it also included the AY-3-8500 chip. Thus, the F-4301 only
served for playing the two car racing games.
More advanced GI chips:
To face this competition, GI improved the AY-3-8500 and released two new chips
in 1977: the AY-3-8600 and the AY-3-8610. The AY-3-8600 played eight Ball &
(the four Ball & Paddle games of the AY-3-8500, plus four new ones, including basketball
and gridball games) and two shooting games. It added new features such as the possibility to change
the size of each player, the manual or automatic serve, and the horizontal
player motion. The AY-3-8610 was same, the differences between the two chips
As the AY-3-8500 could be coupled to the AY-3-8515 (color picture generator), the AY-3-8615 could be used with the AY-3-8600 and AY-3-8610 to produce a
color picture. Magnavox used the AY-3-8600 and 8615 in the Odyssey 4000 released in 1977.
As technology improved, video game systems became more and more advanced,
and also cheaper. However, another major fact started in 1976: the release
of microprocessor systems using plug-in game cartridges containing software
programmed games in ROM chips. Since these new systems
were expensive, Ball & Paddle systems were still successfull. But in 1977, Atari released
a revolutionar system: the Video Computer System (Atari 2600). Still expensive,
this system did not kill the Ball & Paddle games market until other advanced systems appeared in the late
1970s and early 1980s: Mattel Intellivision, Bally Astrocade, Magnavox Odyssey^2
(also known as Videopac in Europe), etc... But this is another story.
Ball & Paddle games to
Faced to all these facts, GI
designed new game chips in 1977. Still based on the
same idea (a single chip playing several variants of a same game, and available
to any manufacturer), they played more advanced games. These chips were not vastly sold in the USA (although
Coleco and Atari used some of them), but were very successfull in Europe and
had an important role in the release of early cartridge-based systems. The new
GI game chips were:
Roadrace (AY-3-8603): The games consist in a vertical road that scrolls down at an increasing
speed (since the driver is supposed to accelerate), and with some opponent cars
coming down. Obviously, the player has to stay as long as possible without touching
the opponent cars. The sound effects are pretty well done for such a chip. The
game could be played by one or two players. Foreign titles include "Race",
"Grand Prix" or "Course de Voitures".
Submarine (AY-3-8605): The game displays a boat moving on the sea which has to drop
torpedos to destroy submarines. The chip played three game variants. Foreign
titles include "Bataille Navale", "Warefare" or "Jeux de guerre".
Wipe-Off (AY-3-8606): These Breakout games
could be played by one or two players. Ten variations were available. Depending
on the game, the brick wall was either solid or made of spaced squares. When the game
was played by two people, each player had break the wall
of the opponent while protecting his own wall. Although the walls were vertical, the
ball would not bounce on the left and right sides of the screen once it had broken enough
bricks to cross the wall. In other words, the ball was lost when it crossed the wall, and
the opponent scored a point. It was nearly impossible to destroy a complete wall,
which made the games pretty hard to finish. Foreign titles include "Wipe-Off",
"Destruction Game", "Brix Game", or "Jeux de destruction".
Tank Battle (AY-3-8700): The game is similar to Atari Combat.
Unlike the previous three chips which were apparently never used in commercial
systems the USA (though they were advertised), this one was used by Coleco in the Telstar Combat system.
Atari supposedly released a Tank system too. In Europe, several manufacturers
like Occitane and Soundic used this chip in some of their systems. This chip
the most impressive games of the GI chips. It also existed as AY-3-8710, which
could be an improved version of the AY-3-8700.
Cycle (AY-3-8760): The chip played four motor cycle game variants, and was used by Atari and Sears
in the Stunt Cycle and Motocross systems. The player drives a motor-cycle on three levels.
Depending on the variant, the player has to jump over small obstacles, and finally jump
over an increasing number of buses as long as the player finishes each level. Some
variants are timed, which increases the difficulty. The chip also exists as AY-3-8765
in PAL format. Foreign titles include "Skill Cycles", "Stunt Cycles", "Cycle
Race", or "Course de motos".
Other games: In order to provide even higher quality games, GI released
a small number of ROM chips of the AY-3-8800 family, to be used with the then
new GI CP-1610 chip, a 8/10/16 bit microprocessor, later used by Mattel in the Intellivision system in 1979.
There are still a number of obscure video game chips made by various manufacturers. Some may not be
Ball & Paddle chips, but it is interesting to know their references.
The story of these devices is summarized in the following table.
It is not incomplete but contains most (if not all) Ball & Paddle game chips and derivates
released between 1975 and 1978.
The original GI "GIMINI" catalog (January 1977 and 1978 editions) covers most, if not all of the
GI chips mentioned here, including unreleased ones. Click here to view
the 1978 edition in
PDF. Most GI chips were available both in PAL (625-line, 50Hz) and NTSC
(525-line, 60Hz). NTSC versions have a -1 suffix. For example, the AY-3-8500
(PAL) was released in NTSC as AY-3-8500-1. Therefore, a GI reference followed by
(-1) indicates that both PAL and NTSC versions existed.
||1 PONG game (Atari PONG, 2 player version)
||1 PONG game (Atari PONG Doubles
and Sears PONG IV: 4 player version)
||4 PONG variants (Atari and Sears Super
||10 PONG variants (Atari Super PONG Ten)
||32 PONG variants (Atari Ultra PONG and Ultra PONG Doubles)
|C011500-11 / C011512-05
||7 Pinball/Breakout games (Atari Video
||4 Ball & Paddle games and 2 shooting games
||Improved version of the AY-3-8500: 4 Ball
& Paddle games in color
||Improved version of the AY-3-8510 with two
target shooting games
||Color picture encoder for the
||Improved AY-3-8500 with horizontal player
||8 Ball & Paddle games
||Square Off: Combat Squares, Racing Squares, Shooting Squares,
2 Jungle Games (supposedly unreleased)
||Volleyball Plus: Volleyball, Protection, Hazard (supposedly
||Roadrace: Two car racing games
||Barricade (2-player Snakes game)
||3 submarine war games
||10 breakout games
||Target shooting games
||Improved version of the 8600 with 2
target shooting games
||Colour picture encoder for the AY-3-8600
||Advanced controls and options when used
||Tank battle game
||Tank battle game
||4 motor-cycle games: Skill cycle, Cycle race...
||4 motor-cycle games: Skill cycle, Cycle race...
||4 games: Black Jack, Draw Poker,
Acey/Ducey and WAR
||2 Vegas games: Black Jack and Slot Machine
Tic-Tac-Toe and LEM (Lunar Landing Module)
4 Ball & Paddle games for 2/4 players (NTSC)
||4 Ball & Paddle games for 2/4 players
||6 Ball & Paddle games in color (also used
with M51342P, M58471L)
||3 color Ball & Paddle games: Hockey,
Tennis and Squash (NTSC)
||3 color Ball & Paddle games: Hockey,
Tennis and Squash (PAL)
||23 games (6 different types). NTSC
version. Possibly unreleased
||23 games (6 different types). PAL
version. Possibly unreleased
||Several Ball & Paddle games, one
or a few Tank and Helicopter games. Supposedly unreleased
INSTRUMENTS (only the first three are single chip game devices)
||4 Ball & Paddle variants
||6 Ball & Paddle variants
||6 Ball & Paddle variants
||Automatic random english, automatic serve, automatic
upper/lower rebounds for Ball & Paddle games
||System regulator and wall generator for color
||System regulator, wall generator, horizontal/vertical
sync generator (may be same as SN 94025N
used by Magnavox)
||Dual vharacter generator (may be same as SN
94026N used by Magnavox)
||Wall and ball generator for Ball & Paddle games
(may be same as SN 94027N used by Magnavox)
||Hockey, Tennis and Handball game logic, and video
summer (may be same as SN 94028N used
||Horizontal and vertical sync generated by
counting-down from 3.58MHz clock, color generator, video summer (combines
ball, paddle, wall, scores, etc.)
||Position generator for two complex
||Programmable ROM for three complex
characters (Hockey, Tennis, Handball)
||Space War game logic
||Complex characters for Race Car, Rocket Ship and
||Complex characters for Flying Bird and Universal Man
||Complex characters for Rocket Ship, Hockey and Tennis
||Complex characters for Gunfighter and Universal Man
||Complex characters for exploding rocket
||Complex characters for exploding helicopter
||Digital on-screen scoring generator
(scores 0-20 and 'W' for winner)
||Digital on-screen scoring generator (scores 0-18
||Programmable complex sound generator
||Space War obstacles generator
||Space War switching logic
||2.045MHz clock output generated from 3.58MHz crystal
input, color phase generator and video summer designed to interface with TMS
1955 or equivalent (GI AY-3-8500)
|SN 94025N (612086)
||Regulator, Sync and Wall Generator (Odyssey 100 and
|SN 94026N (612087)
||Player Generator (Odyssey 100 and 200)
|SN 94027N (612088)
||Ball and Wall Generator (Odyssey 100 and 200)
|SN 94028N (612089)
||Video Summer and Logic (Odyssey 100 and 200)
|SN 94029N (612090)
||Scoring Generator (Odyssey 200)
|SN 94069N (612109)
||Color Generator (Odyssey 500)
|SN 94092N (612108)
||Score Generator (Odyssey 500)
|SN 94093N (612101)
||Character Controller (Odyssey 500)
||Character Generator (Odyssey 500)
UNIVERSAL RESEARCH LABS (URL)
||2 Ball & Paddle games and 2 car racing
||3 Ball & Paddle games
Tennis (AY-3-8500 and following)
Tank Battle (AY-3-8710)
|Several games by GI.
Draw Poker (AY-3-8800)
manufacturers released some systems playing the different
games released by GI. These systems used cartridges containing a GI chip and a number of interfacing
components. Very few of these systems were released in the USA, mostly because the new systems like the Atari
2600 became affordable. However, they were very successfull in Europe, where
those new Atari 2600 systems (and others) were extremely expensive and not yet famous.
The most common systems date the late 1970s, and typical
manufacturers are HANIMEX, ITMC, RADOFIN, ROLLET, SOUNDIC, UNIMEX, SANWA,
MUSTANG, A10, etc... Some were even same and only differed by the manufacturer label. They
all used ten push-buttons to select the games, two detachable
controllers, three difficulty switches, and some others like
Reset and Power. Most cartridges could be played on different systems, though a
few formats existed. The most common formats are the PC-50x the 100x.
PC-501 cartridge for use with many European systems.
It contains an AY-3-8610 chip and plays the 10 games.