Only In The 80's Would They Put Video Games On A VHS Tape

Video games have made their home on any number of storage mediums over the years, from compact discs to cassette tapes to plastic cartridges. Someone even, in the 1980s, thought it was a good idea to put them on video tapes.

It wasn't.

In the mid-to-late-80's, three companies began working on consoles designed to use video tapes as a means of playing video games. All were failures, yet one of them left enough of a legacy that it's worth taking a look at.

The first console was code-named the NEMO (otherwise known as Control-Vision), and was a joint-venture between toy giants Hasbro (who supplied millions in cash) and Isix, a company established by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell.

Work had begun on the NEMO in 1985 with another Bushnell company, Axlon, building a prototype unit based on a modified Colecovision console. When Hasbro invested in 1986, work could begin in earnest, and three demo titles were cobbled together under the supervision of Bushnell's partner Tom Zito to show the console's potential.

One of those games was Bottom of the Ninth Inning, a baseball title. Another was an "interactive" music video for The Cars' You might Think I'm Crazy. The third was a short demo/proof of concept called Scene of the Crime. The video to the left actually shows Hasbro executives being shown Scene of the Crime by the game's developers.

Other games in the pipeline for the NEMO/Control-Vision included a John Madden football title and a Police Academy tie-in, both of which have sadly never seen the light of day. Zito also oversaw the production of Sewer Shark, a full-motion-video action game which reportedly cost over $3 million and took a month to film.

Hasbro obviously weren't that impressed with it, though, because in late 1988 - less than two months before the console's planned 1989 release - Hasbro pulled the plug, deciding that the NEMO/Control-Vision's projected price of $299 would simply be too uncompetitive with the much cheaper Nintendo Entertainment System. Because the public never got a look at the console, nobody knows how the thing was actually going to work. A few years later, though, we'd catch a glimpse, as Tom Zito subsequently bought the rights to the console's games and quite literally locked them all away in a warehouse until they could be revived.

A second VHS-based console of the 1980s was called the Action Max. It was a very crude device, which used the VHS tape as little more than a storage medium for some basic light gun games. Because these "games" ran on a loop, and had no means of altering the on-screen action past the pre-determined footage, there was no way to "win" or "lose" an Action Max game.

Not surprisingly, the Action Max tanked as a result. One thing it did have going for it, though, were some amazing commercials.

The third machine was called the View-Master Interactive Vision, and like the Action Max, was barely a video game console at all. Designed for small kids, it played footage from children's TV shows like The Muppets and Sesame Street, and gave players limited choices as to how a scene currently playing would conclude.

So of the three VHS-based consoles, one is canned before ever being released and the other two were a dismal failure. Making it a historical dead-end, right? Well, not quite.

Tom Zito's collection of NEMO games may never have appeared on the console they were originally designed for, but when Sega was looking for titles for its upcoming Sega CD add-on, the pair made an unlikely, if perfect match. Zito's new company, Digital Pictures, not only put out Sewer Shark - which still bears Hasbro's contribution in its opening credits - on the Sega CD, but also fleshed out the Scene of the Crime demo and turned it into Night Trap, one of the most infamous video games of the time.

So while the concept of the VHS-based console never took off, some of its game design quirks carried on to the age of the CD-ROM, helping inspire a generation of linear, barely interactive games that would plague the Sega CD, 3DO and PC for years to come!

Only In The 80's Would They Put Video Games On A VHS Tape
Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.