Mattel Electronics designed their Intellivision system to allow users expand the system with additional modules. The most successful of these was their Intellivoice module. It connected to the Master
Component like any cartridge, but provided a new port to insert games, and a dial to control the vocal volume. The idea was to give
their "graphically superior" games yet another advantage over their
Atari cousins - understandable, human sounding voice.
The Intellivoice was designed around the General Instruments SP-0256 chip. This was the same company that produced the
microprocessor that served as the heart of the Intellivision. This speech synthesis chip was remarkable for its time. It contained two digital filters, a ROM to hold speech data (simple words and phases spoken using a male voice that could be used in a wide variety of games. and a microcontroller that could assemble the base data into phrases
as the game was being played. The filters could be used to
simulate the actual way the human voice is produced, so that the simple phrases that were used could be made to sound differently in
The signal that was generate from the speech synthesizer was integrated with the standard
Intellivision data bus using other components of the Intellivoice - an interface
chip as well as an amplifier. The result was games designed for the Intellivoice
took advantage of the extra hardware, and those that didn't would simply ignore it. Plugging
a voice-enabled game directly into the master component (bypassing the speech
synthesis hardware), worked as well - however you lost and voice generated by the game.
In general, this rendered the games virtually unplayable.
Mattel only produced four games for the Intellivision that made use of the Intellivoice expansion.
- B-17 Bomber: In this game the player performed the duties of an entire B-17 bomber crew. Taking off from an airport in Great Britain, they would fly to a target somewhere over occupied Europe.
Deliver their payload and return (hopefully to base). The use of voice was very important in this game. Your copilot would alert you when
the bomber was being attacked ("Bandits at 9
O'clock"), when the you were approaching a target, and whether or not your bombs found their marks. The most memorable vocal part of this game
for me was the introductory screen, where a voice (using some sort of bad southern accent), announces the title of the game.
- Bomb Squad - Here the player took on the role of an elite police member of the bomb squad trying to save the city from the evil bomber "Boris" (Who even had a
German accent!). The player attempted to guess the secret disarming code (nice of Boris to provide one), by repairing circuits of the bomb, giving you clues of the how to discover the secret number. The voice is used as part of a memory game (telling you how to repair a circuit, making the game unplayable without the
Intellivoice module), and for flavor with both the evil Boris and your partner Frank (who sounds
genuinely concerned) making comments.
- Space Spartans - Another fun game that made great use of the voice synthesis. One small ship trying to save the
entire galaxy from evil invaders! The game had a strategic mode where you moved your ship to engage the enemy to protect the vital star bases, and a battle mode where you fought the oncoming hordes in your
This game had four voices, all very distinct.
- A male voice that gave updates about the status of the ship and how many enemies remained in your
- A female voice that gave updates about the individual parts of the ship.
- A robotic voice that let you know when your star bases were under attack.
- A menacing alien voice that announces the end of the game
- Tron Solar Sailor - The one Intellivoice game that I never played personally. This was another attempt for Mattel to capitalize on the "sure hit" film Tron. Your goal was to destroy the Master Control Program. The game made use of the voice
synthesis to relay information to the player on how to win. Playing the role of Flynn, the game would give you the access and override codes needed to defeat the MCP.
The Intellivoice was a fun addition to a good system. It gave the Intellivision
capabilities the helped immerse you into the world of its games. It's really unfortunate that more games didn't take advantage of the unit. All of the games that did make use of the Intellivoice required it to make the games playable. It would have able to enhance almost every game by just adding voice to a few places in the games.