back to article The toy of tech: The Mattel Aquarius 30 years on

Once described by Creative Computing journalist David Ahl as “a machine so cheesy, they should have supplied rubber gloves to wear while using it”, the Mattel Aquarius was launched in the UK - and went on sale in the States - 30 years ago this month. Ahl, writing up a list in September 1985 of the worst computers to date, went …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.
Silver badge
IT Angle

Who are we kidding?

Ah, the golden age of gaming!

(Still have my ZX Spectrum in a box somewhere.)

1
0
Silver badge

Re: Who are we kidding?

Thumbs up for the video,the nostalgia is far more exciting that the reality..

0
0
Thumb Down

Re: Who are we kidding?

At least back then, the major games had something new to offer. With limited hardware, games design needed more attention.

Now we have vast hardware capability, and all it's used for is yet another 3rd person shooter.

3
0
Silver badge

Re: Who are we kidding?

>Now we have vast hardware capability, and all it's used for is yet another 3rd person shooter.

Fair enough. Though if you are looking for reasons to be optimistic, the recent Reg article with Ian Livingstone highlighted the originality that can be found in games for phones and tablets: a forced rethinking of control schemes, more limited hardware placing the emphasis on game play, a market model that can aid indy developers, connectivity as standard encouraging play amongst other people locally or remotely...)

Personally, last week I spend a great night with old friends playing an Amiga-era game, Worms, on their XBOX 360... a game works if it gets a friend to shout "You f%$ing bastard! I'll get you for that!" as you uppercut her last worm.

2
0
Happy

Re: Who are we kidding?

Couldn't agree more, we do the same on the PS3 with Worms. Great fun after a night on the ale :-)

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: Who are we kidding?

"At least back then, the major games had something new to offer."

I think you say that partially because you only remember the novel ones. Do you have any idea how many horrid clones there were of breakout, space invaders, etc? And the gameplay was usually horrifyingly shallow.

This isn't to say that things are wonderful now, but honestly, it's always been pretty bad - it's just that you don't remember the '80s equivalents of today's endless streams of FPSes.

I also don't get the people waxing eloquent about how wonderful the tablet / phone game market is now - as far as I can tell, it's shifted from actually at least making games to concocting various slightly-differentiated methods of frustrating people into making lots of micropayments in order to speed up 'gameplay' that's been carefully calibrated to be just too obnoxious to stand. To me, it has even less to do with gaming than the stream of shiny AAA FPS clones that have infected the console world.

1
0
K
Bronze badge
Thumb Up

Amazing..

My brother had one of these.. I used to be sneak into his room and play Burger Time.

0
0
Thumb Up

Re: Amazing..

My family had an Intellivison in the early 80's. I think my parents picked it up second hand somewhere. Most of the games were a bit meh. But, it did come with a game called 'B17 Bomber' that was actually really good. You got to select missions over allied Europe. You could switch between 'sears' in the plane so when you were flying in you had to swap between the different gunner positions to fend off enemy fighters, plot the waypoints and act as bombardier over the target. It was pretty well done for its time.

I can't see a picture of a WWII bomber these days without hearing 'B17 Bomaaa' in a cheesy digitised American accent in my head.

0
0

Re: Amazing..

Seats, not sears. They need to allow post editing for everyone.

0
0

This post has been deleted by its author

Bronze badge
Thumb Up

Intellivision "soccer"

It was worth having the console for this game alone.

0
0
Silver badge
Thumb Up

Re: Intellivision "soccer"

Being able to run off one side of the screen, and reappear on the other, was a killer feature, and is sadly absent for all subsequent football sims.

5
0

Re: Intellivision "soccer"

...and all live matches...

6
0
Silver badge

Portal Soccer?

I'd buy that (for the obligatory dollar).

1
0

This post has been deleted by a moderator

FAIL

whatever happens in the future

Being old enough to remember the launch of the Aquarius the adverts ran in PCW "Whatever happens in the future will fit into this slot".

it didn't.

1
0
Paris Hilton

Whatever happens in the future will fit into this slot

Where did they get that advertising slogan from, did they nick part of it from one of those tart cards you used to get phone boxes in Soho?

1
0

Lame.

fuckin' hell that's some seriously shit hardware.

1
0

Re: Lame.

Actually, the controllers were pretty good. Each game came with a plastic insert that went over the keypad with colourful symbols indicating which keys did what. The round doohickey was a reasonably responsive joystick thingy.

1
0
Anonymous Coward

ah!

the micro sales charts....

I actually remember caring whether the system I'd backed for my ticket to the future had gone up or down.

These days it's very difficult to get excited about computer hardware...

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: ah!

> These days it's very difficult to get excited about computer hardware...

Blimey, you should tell that to the Apple/Sammy brigades on here! ;-)

2
0
Silver badge
Happy

Re: ah!

>Blimey, you should tell that to the Apple/Sammy brigades on here! ;-)

Be fair.. He did day excited, not creepily obsessive.

0
0
Thumb Up

Ahhhhh, Intellivision

Such fond memories of B-17 Bomber with the voice synthesiser and, of course, Sea Battle. Waited in vain for the computer module, though. It never showed up at this end of the Hemisphere.

1
0
Happy

Useless

Useless brick of a machine. In fact, less use than a brick, since a brick can be used as a brick, whereas an Aquarius can neither be used as a computer nor a brick.

My neighbour had one. I used to lend him my Speccy, the poor sod.

1
0
M W
Coffee/keyboard

It got me started

Was my first computer, and very quickly I learnt Z80 machine code, initially by playing with the numbers to see what happened.

Of course, assembly was required if you wanted to drive the AY-3-8910 sound chip in the mini-expander (same flavour of chip that was in the ZX 128, Amstrad CPC and Atari ST- the ST version was the the Yamaha licenced version), and again you could could do some funky screen effects like on the speccy by using the screen vertical sync to change colours and get 192 colours in the Y res.

You could also extend the (Microsoft) basic quite easily once you had worked out the token parsing system.

I still have it, and it still works !! - Even if it does have a few extra chips hanging off the back of the Z80 !!

Oh and I replaced the keyboard with one from an acorn Atom ! (rewired it of course to fit into the membrain type that was used!)

4
0
Go

Re: It got me started

Up-vote for sheer nerd enthusiasm - something sadly lacking in today's comp-science graduates.

1
0
Silver badge

Re: It got me started

"You could also extend the (Microsoft) basic quite easily once you had worked out the token parsing system."

Or you could dump the roms to find the disabled commands (the first character was replaced with NULL), fix them and burn a new rom, plus enable a few other bits and pieces (Presumably MS sold them a stripped down license. It was all there in the image, just switched off)

Other soldering iron hackery involved putting a switch on the 3.83MHz colourburst oscillator to kill moire patterns when hooked to a mono monitor and piggybacking more ram inside the box (flying leads for the extra cas/ras lines

I remember the Intellivision as the Dick (head) Smith(*) Whizzard. Knowing it's a Mattel product explains why it looked so out of place in a serious computer shop in 1982 (DSE didn't trade in New Zealand until early 1983)

(*) http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/fc/Dick_Smith_Electronics.jpg/220px-Dick_Smith_Electronics.jpg. The Whizzard appears a little further down on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_Smith_Electronics

1
0
Silver badge

Re: It got me started

Other soldering iron hackery involved putting a switch on the 3.83MHz colourburst oscillator to kill moire patterns when hooked to a mono monitor

Ah, the days of easily-hackable PC hardware.1 This reminded me of one of my favorite hardware hacks from the '80s: soldering a couple resistors onto an IBM PC Color Graphics Array card so the composite output would be greyscale2 rather than NTSC color. Very useful with a monochrome monitor.

1Yes, yes, Arduino and Raspberry &c. Somehow a sold-for-hacking system just isn't the same.

2Or more likely greenscale, or perhaps amberscale for the really posh users.

1
0
Anonymous Coward

What?

Radofin’s machine, like most early 1980s home computers from Asia, was build out of off-the-shelf components

Huh? Wasn't that true of all early 80s home computers from everywhere? Which computer used non-off-the-shelf components?

0
0
DJV

Re: What?

Well, for a start, anything by Commodore from the Vic-20 onwards! They designed the VIC and VIC-II chips themselves. Initially, of course, they bought MOS Technology where Chuck Peddle had designed the 6502 from which all CBM's 8-bit CPUs (like the 6509 and 6510 descended).

4
0
Silver badge

Re: What?

The Sinclair ZX81 and Spectrum were amongst those using ULAs — a bit like write-once FPGAs you bought off the shelf, a custom step imprinted your logic and then they were delivered. So they were custom in all reasonable senses. Acorn used the same method to shrink the BBC into the Electron.

2
0
Silver badge

Re: What?

The Sinclair ZX81 and Spectrum used Ferranti ULAs. You can definitely replicate the ZX81 ULA out of a bucketload of TTL ICs, because it's based on the ZX80 which was built that way. Not sure about the Spectrum ULA; but presumably someone must have breadboarded a prototype.

1
0
Anonymous Coward

Thanks DJV and ThomH for clarification.

I was having trouble parsing the meaning of that phrase earlier, must have been insufficiently caffeinated. Thanks for spelling it out for me :)

1
0
Gold badge
Happy

Is there a macro?

At El Reg towers, where you write these articles about the good old 80s micros, do you have a bunch of macros set up, such as:

"The product launch was announced in 1982, but none were actually shipped until 1983"

"Due to production difficulties, initial orders were not filled for several months"

"Several expansion modules were promised, but never delivered as the project was cancelled due to cost-overruns"

Actually, thinking about it, are you just publishing the same article every month, but changing the names and product pictures, and seeing how long it takes us all to notice?

Ah, happy memories... Keep up the good work.

1
0
Anonymous Coward

I was unlucky enough to be saddled with one of these. My dad's mate down the pub had bought one for his son and wanted rid, so we ended up with it. Only one game cartridge, very poor. The cassette recorder that came with it was pretty good, though, and lasted many years after the actual computer had been consigned to landfill. Definitely interesting to read about these home computing also-rans.

0
0

"In the light of Sinclair’s recent Spectrum price cuts - the 16KB Spectrum, a machine with four times as much memory as the Aquarius, was now yours for £99.95 - Lunch cut the cost of the Aquarius to £89.95."

How much did it cost at breakfast?

1
0
Silver badge
Trollface

How far we've come!

"In short, little more than a videogames console - the Intellivision with a keyboard."

Does this remind anyone of certain hardware today?

Ah, progress!

0
0

My first computer

Never did get it to read from cassette though.

+1 for Burger Time!

0
0
Meh

Same mistake, over and over

They never seemed to learn back then..... or do they still do the same thing now?

Step 1 - make loads of promises of something 'coming very soon'

Step 2 - keep slipping the date but reminding us why it will be so great when it finally arrives.

Step 3 - keep changing the spec (in a retrograde way) as reality and practicality start to bite

Step 4 - release something badly cobbled together (but remind us how great it is) but AT THE SAME TIME (or a few days earlier) announce the follow-on product and tell us how much greater that will be when it comes out in a few months' time.

Step 5 go to 1

Sound familiar at all......................? I am now 54 years old. I've been a games/consoles/computers/gadgets geek since I was about fourteen but that same formula still keeps being churned out. How gullible we must be!

1
0

Clear screen command

IIRC, the Vic 20 didn't have one either, you had to PRINT CHR$(147)

0
0
Boffin

The Age of Aquarius

I have a soft spot for the Aquarius. Not because I ever owned one, but because I pined for one, back in the day...

My first ‘computer’ was a little Casio programmable calculator, with a qwerty keyboard, BASIC, and 1K of RAM. After I’d devoured that, around the time of my 13th birthday, I wanted a proper home computer. At school I saw the "Whatever happens in the future..." advert in a computer mag, pinched it, and fell in love with the little machine with the blue keys.

I wanted one. I really wanted one. I pined for one. Nothing else in my world mattered. I remember I would stand at the lounge window, waiting for my dad to come home from work, hoping against hope that he’d be carrying a box with ‘Aquarius Home Computer System’ emblazoned on the side.

Alas, he never did. He couldn’t find one. The little machine with the blue keys and I were destined never to meet.

In the end I got an Acorn Electron for my 13th birthday, and I quickly forgot all about my prior obsession.

Probably just as well - I didn’t know at the time that the Aquarius was a good-for-nothing piece of crap. And the Acorn Electron was a great computer that gave me years of enjoyment. Pity its keys weren’t blue, though...

0
0
JQW

Wretched machine.

This was a wretched machine in many ways. The standard machine had just 4K of RAM, and with half of that dedicated to its character mode display, there wasn't that much left to do anything useful. Furthermore it was saddled with a cut-down version of BASIC, lacking essential features such as FOR...NEXT loops.

So to get anything really useful out of the machine you needed to obtain both a memory expansion module and the Extended BASIC cartridge, and to use both simultaneously you also needed to acquire the expansion module. Once you'd shelled out the cash for all of those, it would have been far cheaper to have gone for something more featured in the first place.

Even the better quality games produced by Mattel were essentially conversions of existing Intellivison titles, the main aspect of the conversion process being to convert them to use the Aquarius's poorer graphics.

0
0

"Can be upgraded to a proper home computer..."

I'm pretty sure at the time journalists seemed to take such claims with large pinches of salt, and view them as, at best, bargaining chips for kids trying to persuade their parents to but them a games console on the pretence that it could end up as something less frivolous.

Did the manufacturers really take the claims more seriously?

0
0
This topic is closed for new posts.

Forums