Odyssey

The Electronic Game of the Future

With Odyssey, you participate in television, you're not just a spectator! The exciting casino action of Monte Carlo, the thrills of Wimbledon, the challenge of ski trails—can all be duplicated right in your own living room.


Overview

Devised by pioneering engineer Ralph Baer and developed at defense contractor Sanders Associates, the Magnavox Odyssey was the first dedicated videogame console to attach to a consumer television set. The Odyssey had no microprocessor; instead, it used several independent PCB modules, each governing a particular function, e.g., collision detection, horizontal syncing, player movement, etc. Swappable Game Cards re-routed connections between these modules to produce several gameplay variations. Since the Odyssey could only generate two player spots, a ball, and a center line, Magnavox included a host of accessories to supplement play, including colorful television overlays, dice, poker chips, cards, play money, and game boards.

Specifications
Manufacturer Magnavox
Type Console
CPU n/a
GPU n/a
RAM n/a
VRAM n/a
Resolution n/a
Palette n/a
Graphics Two player 'spots,' one ball spot, one center line
Sound n/a
Input Two detachable Player Control Units w/ Horizontal, Vertical, and English control knobs and a single Reset button
Media Game Cards
Variants
  • Magnavox Odisea (Mexico)
  • ITT Odyssee
  • Kanal 34
  • Telematch de Panoramic (unlicensed)
  • Overkal (unlicensed)
  • Wonder Wizard (unlicensed)

Where to Start

The Magnavox Odyssey section of David Winter's Pong Story site has a comprehensive overview of the Odyssey's history, development, and technical specifications, including direct input from Ralph Baer. For those interested in modifying the Odyssey, the site includes details about its internal modules and schematics for the twelve commercial Game Cards.

Development Difficulty

Since the Odyssey requires no programming knowledge, it has one of the lowest barriers to entry for homebrew design. The biggest constraint is price. Finding a complete, working Odyssey system with all overlays and accessories will require some luck, patience, or several hundred dollars. Obtaining the additional Game Cards (#7-12) is even more difficult.

However, once you acquire a console, there are two possible routes for homebrew design:

  • Design a game using one of the existing Game Cards' play parameters. Thanks to the Odyssey's open, modular design, you can create custom overlays, accessories, game boards, etc. that use the Odyssey as a primary component or peripheral.
  • Design a game using custom hardware. The twelve known Game Cards do not exhaust the hardware's internal routing possibilities, so it is possible to create custom Game Card PCBs that generate new game mechanics. Ralph Baer himself experimented with 'active cards,' augmenting Game Cards to produce sound and a moving center line. Theoretically, one could also fabricate new internal modules.

Without a console, there is one other design possibility:

  • Sly DC has created an excellent Odyssey simulator called OdySim which includes both commercial releases and homebrew games. OdySim is under active development, and you could contact Sly DC about adding your homebrew game to the project.
Language(s)

Since the Odyssey lacks a microprocessor, it has no programming language. Any 'programming' must be done at the hardware level, i.e., by fabricating or modifying Game Cards or modifying the Odyssey's internal circuits.

Programming Resources

Documentation