MICROVISION (1979) - World’s First Handheld System - Review of System and All 12 Games

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djc
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Re: MICROVISION (1979) - World’s First Handheld System - Review of System and All 12 Games

Postby djc » February 10th, 2018, 9:55 pm

I own a few Microvision consoles and several games (dating back to the boxed one my father gave me - which was his own console). Unfortunately, all of mine have fallen victim to the LCD screen rot basically rendering them mostly unplayable.

There was a period of time when one of them worked well and I used to play a number of the games. My favorites on the system are Block Buster (great pack-in choice), Connect Four, and Vegas Slots. It is impressive the way the developers were able to work with such a limited display but it is playable and fun.

Here are some things I noted over the years about the various hardware versions.

1. It doesn't seem to matter whether you have the older two-battery version (which inexplicably worked with one battery) or the newer one-battery version (with the blank spot for storing the "extra" battery), the screen rot issue is the same. The European version seems less affected as I have seen many more of those models still functional today.

2. I always liked the EU game cartridges better as they have actual buttons on them vs. just a membrane pad which can get stretched, pulled, with fingernails, etc... The buttons are simply on top of the membrane but it's a better feel.

Considering it was made/sold in the late 70's it was a pretty impressive piece of technology so long as you didn't accidentally fry the system with a static shock (no shielding at all protecting the internals). I wish there was a way to replace the screen but there is just no market/demand for something like that.

Great review and thanks for the memories.

Alucard1191
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Re: MICROVISION (1979) - World’s First Handheld System - Review of System and All 12 Games

Postby Alucard1191 » February 10th, 2018, 10:33 pm

Just wanted to say excellent review, and you are one dedicated individual to collect such a time piece. Thanks for an added obscure trivia fact into the "in case I'm ever on jeopardy" part of my brain.

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Retro STrife
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Re: MICROVISION (1979) - World’s First Handheld System - Review of System and All 12 Games

Postby Retro STrife » February 11th, 2018, 4:18 am

Thanks everyone for the feedback. I’m a fan of obscure systems, but there’s so little info on them out there, so if I can give back by sharing reviews like this, then I’m happy to do it. I’ll try to post a few more here and there, as time permits.

But first, here’s a few extra Microvision tidbits that didn’t make it into the review:

- The Microvision is a movie star, and it will help you meet women. Back in 1981, the Microvision had a "supporting role" in Friday the 13th: Part II. In one scene, two of the teenagers are hanging out alone in a cabin -- one is a guy in a wheelchair and the other is a good looking girl. So they're hanging out and then they start flirting with each other by playing Microvision games together. I didn't keep watching to see if it worked out for the guy, but let’s just assume they hooked up and Jason didn’t murder them. Lesson: chicks dig guys with Microvisions.

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(Props to my dad, who is a big Friday the 13th fan, and instantly recalled this scene when I showed the Microvision system to him. He popped in the movie and showed it to me. He learned something too -- before that moment, he didn't know about the Microvision and thought they were just playing a prop system.)


- The Microvision has no built-in CPU. Instead, each cartridge has its own CPU built into it, which the system uses.

- Many of the Microvision games, like Connect Four (pictured below), use overlays on the cartridge to make up for the lack of graphical capabilities.
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- If you can, I recommend getting one of the later Microvision units, rather than the original 1979 model. They look identical, but the later models might be less prone to screen rot and other technical failures (it's open to debate whether that's true, but I say better safe than sorry). The easiest way to tell the difference? Look inside the battery compartment. The 1979 model has two terminals to connect two 9V batteries. In the later models, two 9V batteries can fit in the compartment, but there is only one set of terminals (the other side is said to be for “storage” of an extra battery, which they did so they didn’t have to redesign the mold). The unit only needs one battery to operate, so requiring two was overkill anyway.

- As I understand it, the U.S. and European systems are virtually identical, and they will play games from both regions without any issues. The games from the two regions, however, have a lot of differences… from their packaging, to the numbering system on the European boxes (you’ll see a #8 on my Super Blockbuster box), to the name variations, to the style of buttons they use. A lot of people prefer the European versions, particularly because of their button style, but I prefer the U.S. versions overall, especially aesthetically.

- I think my review scores overall are inline with the general consensus on these games, except that some people would rate Sea Duel higher (it's a common contender for best game), and some people have told me that I'm too harsh on Pinball. Also, I think most people like Alien Raiders (pictured below), but I could foresee some people thinking it's a bad game.
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- Rarity of each game, according to my trusty Digital Press Guide: Block Buster is most common (R1), followed by Baseball (R3), then Bowling, Pinball, and Star Trek Phaser Strike (R4), then Connect Four, Vegas Slots, and Mindbuster (R5), and then the rarest: Alien Raiders, Sea Duel, Cosmic Hunter, and Super Blockbuster (R7). I agree, as I acquired my games in about that order.


- NEXT UP: Prior to this review, I had already started on another one. Hopefully, I'll have it posted within the next month or so. The next system will be much more modern than the Microvision and RCA Studio II systems that I've recently reviewed, as it uses CD-based games... Stay tuned.

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Retro STrife
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Re: MICROVISION (1979) - World’s First Handheld System - Review of System and All 12 Games

Postby Retro STrife » February 11th, 2018, 4:33 am

VideoGameCritic wrote:This review is so thorough and well written I'm thinking about giving it its own page, with full credit to guest reviewer Retro Strife of course. It's doubtful I'd ever review this system and I'd hate to see all this useful info buried in the forums. Can we get some screen shots? I think that's the only thing missing.


Sure, absolutely, let's do it. I actually would have posted more photos in the review, but the forums here only allow a maximum of 3 photos per post.

In terms of screen shots.. it's tricky, but a few different possibilities. First, I could directly take a photo of each game in action on my system, though that might not look that good. Second, we could try to crop out a screenshot from the back of each game box (see below for an example of the back of the box). Or third, we could use screen shots found online from the emulator (as examples, see my post above, where I took a couple screenshots off the internet, found in a Google image search). That last option might be best, but not sure if there's any rules against using that.

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Either way, the primitive nature of this system means that screenshots of some games won't tell much. For example, if you check out the Alien Raiders screenshot in my prior post, you'll be wondering what the heck is going on... (Which btw, the long chain of dots is the "laser" shooting out from the left side of the screen, and the little dots are the enemies approaching toward you from the right side.)

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Retro STrife
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Re: MICROVISION (1979) - World’s First Handheld System - Review of System and All 12 Games

Postby Retro STrife » February 11th, 2018, 4:51 am

Sut wrote:Great post RetroSTrife, really enjoyed reading it.
Is this thing emulated or simulated ?
I’m not interested enough to buy one but would pass some time on an emulator.


Stalvern is right on. I never heard of that emulator until I was searching online for screenshots yesterday, and found screengrabs from it. If anyone plays it, let us know how it is! I'm curious how well they replicate the knob function.

goldenband wrote:Funny that this (very good) thread comes along just as Microvision screen replacement efforts have suddenly gathered steam:
....
Thanks to random good luck, I own two Microvisions and a complete set of US games CIB. I keep meaning to play it more, especially Sea Duel. I've found that the controls noticeably improve when the cartridges are cleaned well (!), but they're still a bit jittery, at least on my main system. IIRC the screens on both systems are rather dim too.


Wow, interesting project. I figured that would never be feasible! Very reasonable prices too. I'm lucky that my screen is fine, but I know it could die at any time, so it's good to know about this project.

Btw, if you (or anyone else here) get around to playing your Microvision games and want to add your thoughts/scores on them, please feel free! Especially if you disagree with any of mine -- for these obscure games, providing different points of view is a good thing IMO. The more info out there, the better.

djc wrote:I always liked the EU game cartridges better as they have actual buttons on them vs. just a membrane pad which can get stretched, pulled, with fingernails, etc... The buttons are simply on top of the membrane but it's a better feel.


I've heard a lot of people with Microvisions say this. Most people, actually. Personally, the only EU game I've played is Super Blockbuster and I find the buttons really hard to use. Very stiff and hard to make contact. Fortunately, that game only uses the buttons for the settings, and the knob is all you need for gameplay. But I wonder the reason that I dislike it... Is it just an issue with Super Blockbuster? Is it user error? Is it because I'm using a US system and the EU buttons don't work as well with it? Or is it just personal preference on my end? I'm not sure...

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VideoGameCritic
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Re: MICROVISION (1979) - World’s First Handheld System - Review of System and All 12 Games

Postby VideoGameCritic » February 11th, 2018, 10:21 am

Retro Strife -
Feel free to contact me via email (feedback link) so we can exchange info that way.
Thanks

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scotland
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Re: MICROVISION (1979) - World’s First Handheld System - Review of System and All 12 Games

Postby scotland » February 11th, 2018, 11:54 am

Question of the carts - do they really have a micrprocessor in the cart, or just a IC chip like the PC 50x machines?

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scotland
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Re: MICROVISION (1979) - World’s First Handheld System - Review of System and All 12 Games

Postby scotland » February 11th, 2018, 12:04 pm

goldenband wrote:Funny that this (very good) thread comes along just as Microvision screen replacement efforts have suddenly gathered steam:

http://atariage.com/forums/topic/275386 ... hase-here/

Thanks to random good luck, I own two Microvisions and a complete set of US games CIB. I keep meaning to play it more, especially Sea Duel. I've found that the controls noticeably improve when the cartridges are cleaned well (!), but they're still a bit jittery, at least on my main system. IIRC the screens on both systems are rather dim too.


That is really interesting the controls improve with clean contacts. That would be evidence this is not a ROM cart, but making part of a full circuit board.

I would lime to know the backstory on how this product came to be, and how MB got it.

I love the advances in screen tech applied to old systems. LCDs, even new back in 1980 were none too bright. I got a Gameboy unit with a modern LCD screen and its great.

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Retro STrife
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Re: MICROVISION (1979) - World’s First Handheld System - Review of System and All 12 Games

Postby Retro STrife » February 11th, 2018, 12:28 pm

scotland wrote:Question of the carts - do they really have a micrprocessor in the cart, or just a IC chip like the PC 50x machines?


Good question. They do, and I believe they are classified as microcontrollers. Consulting my trusty "Encyclopedia of Game Machines" for this one:

"The unit contained little technology, just a chip-driven LCD and a control paddle. The game cartridges, which contained the CPU and game program, were nearly as large as the base unit, fitting over the top of the main part of the machine. ... The first game chips were provided by Intel or Signetics, while later games used the 4-bit chip TMS1001 CPU (clocked at 0.1 MHz) by Texas Instruments."

According to Wikipedia, the Intel chip was the Intel 8021. Don't know much about these old CPUs, but I searched google and both the TI and Intel chips seem to be classified as microcontrollers rather than microprocessors.

scotland wrote:I would lime to know the backstory on how this product came to be, and how MB got it.


I haven't heard much info on that, but would be interested as well. The best I have is, again, from the "Encyclopedia of Game Machines":

"Three years before his Vectrex, Jay Smith invented the portable games console. His concept was weird: the CPU was not located in the machine, but inside each cartridge. ... This machine, by American chip laboratories Smith Engineering, was battery powered, contained a black and white display and played exchangeable games."

Not much info there, but my guess is Jay Smith's company came up with this idea, and needed a big company to help fund it, and then market and distribute it. Milton Bradley, being a big player in toys and electronic games at the time, must have been the partner chosen for the task.

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scotland
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Re: MICROVISION (1979) - World’s First Handheld System - Review of System and All 12 Games

Postby scotland » February 11th, 2018, 1:29 pm

Wow! That is amazing tech. How in the world was this profitable for MB?

Your thread has really taken off! Great stuff.


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