FIRST IS NOT ENOUGH

The assumption is that we mostly remember the people who did things first or the products that came out first. But that isn’t necessary true. There were several people who came up with the idea of the incandescent light bulb before Thomas Edison but how many of them could you name? And how many people believe that Henry Ford invented the automobile? We remember the person who built the best mousetrap, not the person who invented the first one.

     When we discuss the first videogame console that utilized motion-sensitive controllers we automatically think of Nintendo’s Wii. The system was praised in the press about how senior citizens, even those who had never played videogames before, embraced the new consoles. The Wii was revolutionary, so much so that Revolution was Nintendo’s codename for the console during its development. The Wii allowed, for the first time, players to be physically active in a game, rather than just sit and press buttons.

     The Wii Remote was an all-purpose controller. Its movements were registered by a sensor bar that was attached to the console. In baseball games it could be used like a bat that was swung by the player. In bowling games, it would be held as the player went through the motions of propelling it underhand as if it was a bowling ball. In tennis games it behaved like a racquet that was swung either backhand or forehand. Several third-party companies manufactured plastic pieces resembling sports accessories that attached to the Wii Remote, even though they weren’t actually needed for the gameplay.

Wii Remote Attachments

     But as students and fans of videogame history know the Nintendo Wii was not the first console that exclusively used interchangeable motion-sensitive controllers that sent information to the device. And while these students and fans of videogame history would be apt to quickly say with confidence which programmable console held that title, they would most likely be wrong.

PRELUDE

     Peripheral controllers that resembled sports accessories have been around since the dawn of videogames. In 1967 Ralph Baer, the father of the videogame console, invented a golf controller that attached to his Brown Box prototype. Actually it was a joystick controller that sat on the floor with a real golf ball mounted on its top. The player took an actual golf putter and hit the ball. This would cause the ‘ball’ on the screen to move towards the ‘hole’ and hopefully disappear.

Brown Box Golf Joystick

     The golf controller was never put into production when the Brown Box became the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972. It would be another 22 years before the first sport accessory peripherals were released for consoles.

     The first two, which were developed by a company called Sports Sciences, were for the SNES and Genesis. Neither peripheral was packaged with a game but the units could be programmed to be compatible with several available games. The $69 Batter Up was a baseball bat that plugged directly into the controller ports of the two consoles. The unit had four toggle switches that could be adjusted so it could be used with certain games, which were mentioned in the instruction manual. After an on-screen player pitched the ball, the real-life player would swing the Batter Up bat which would then figure out whether the ball had been hit or not. If it decided that the ball had indeed been hit, it then calculated exactly what kind of hit had been made.

     Sports Sciences also released a $130 unit for golf fans. TeeV Golf consisted of a specially-made “golf club” and a base that plugged into the console’s two controller ports. In the center of the base was a simulated golf ball and the base used infrared beams to track the position of the club as it passed over the ball. Like Batter Up, TeeV Golf was used with existing golf games. However, since the many golf games played differently, TeeV Golf had to be remapped for different games. The unit was bundled with a cartridge that mapped the system to play with Electronic Arts’ PGA Tour Golf but additional cartridges to map other golf games were supposed to be available separately but it is doubtful that they ever were.

TeeV Golf

     Although Nintendo had licensed TeeV Golf for use on the SNES, it wasn’t involved in its development. However, the company teamed up with the Japanese electronics company Ricoh to produce a similar unit for the Super Famicom, which was released in Japan in 1995. Unlike the prior unit, the $450 Lasabirdie only worked with one game, Get in the Hole, which was packaged with the system. It couldn’t be upgraded. Reportedly, only 3,500 units were manufactured.

Ricoh Lasabirdie

XAVIX ENTERS THE SCENE

     Beginning in 2000, Epoch in Japan, and Radica in North America, began releasing a slew of consoles that featured wireless sports-accessory controllers. All of the consoles could be plugged directly into a TV through the video input jack and could be played immediately. Radica referred to these consoles as plug & plays and even went as far as to file a trademark application for the term ‘plug & play’, which was rejected. Each console from Epoch’s Excite series and Radica’s Play TV line featured its own game and the controllers were unique to the console that it was packaged with. The controller for Excite Stadium and Play TV Baseball was a baseball bat and the ones for Exite Ping Pong and Play TV Ping Pong was a pair of ping pong paddles.

Epoch Extreme Tennis and Extreme Ping Pong controllers

     Radica and Epoch released dozens of plug & play consoles emulating different sports over the next few years. Most of them utilized Xavix Technology, as was mentioned on every product box.

     Xavix Technology had been developed by a small Japanese company called SSD Company Limited (SSD was short for Shinsedai, Japanese for “A New Generation”). SSD had been founded in 1995 by Katsuya Nakagawa, an electronics engineer who had worked for Nintendo where he had co-developed twenty patents. Nakagawa started SSD with seven of his Nintendo engineering-colleagues. The company’s mission was to “utilize our specialty digital technology to the benefit of society.” As a means to this end, they developed what they called Xavix Technology, which “combined leading-edge human interface sensors, including optical sensor and infra-red, to allow any television to respond directly to a user’s actions.”

     In 2005 SSD went ahead and released the XavixPort, the first multigame console that utilized their Xavix Technology. Five initial games for the Xavixport were sold separately on interchangeable ROM cartridges and were packaged with their own unique controllers:

  • XavixGolf came with a driver and a putter
  • XavixBass Fishing was sold with a fishing rod
  • The controller for XavixBowling was a bowling ball
  • XaviXBaseball came with a baseball bat controller
  • A tennis racquet controller was packaged with XaviXTennis

So while most of the world thought that the Nintendo Wii, which would be released two years after the Xavixport, was the first programmable system that exclusively utilized a motion-sensitive controller, videogame fans and historians knew that that title actually went to the Xavixport.

     But apparently they were wrong.

THE TV CONTROLLER

     As it turns out, a cartridge-based system that used motion controllers came out in 2001, three years before the Xavixport and a year after the first plug-and-plays. And that’s all that’s known about it.

     The system was released in North America. But that can only be ascertained because all of the text is in English and the system is NTSC. The box for the console is simply labeled TV Controller with a tagline that states “Be compatible with 8 bit Game cartridges”. There is a model number GM-811.The console itself has a label on it calling it the TV Master Game.

     The front of the console has two controller ports. The one on the left has 15-pins and the one on the right has 9-pins, similar to the Atari VCS and Sega Master System. The controller port on the left was used to play games. It is unknown what the one on the right was meant for.

     The following four known games were sold separately:

  • TV Game World Cup – the controllers were two sensors that were tied to the player’s lower shins. The box also calls it TV Game World Cup in the same font as the one on the console box.
  • Play TV Ping Pong – the controllers were two ping pong paddles. The box also calls it TV Game PingPong in the same font as the one on the console box.
  • TV Baseball Game – the controller was a baseball bat. The box also calls it TV Game Baseball in the same font as the one on the console box.

     In addition to the controller(s) each of the games was packaged with a game cartridge and an infrared receiver that plugged into the left controller port of the console.

Infrared receiver

A fourth game, City Patrolman, was a standard lightgun game. The controller, a light pistol, also plugged into the console’s left controller port. The box also calls it TV Game City Patrolman in the same font as the one on the console box.

     The console’s box mentions three additional games but it is unknown whether they were actually released:

  • Bowling
  • Tennis
  • Football

     The boxes for all of the games also say “Executive Criterion: Q/ (PJ) GM-6-2001”. What is not found anywhere is the name of a manufacturer.

     The box for the console also displays a television set with a TV Games Video Game System logo. This is the same logo that Toymax (and subsequently Jakk’s Pacific) used on their packaging of Plug-and-Plays. Toymax’s first Plug-and-Play, an Activision collection, came out in 2001, the same year as the mysterious TV Controller. However, there is no evidence that the two have anything in common other than they were both made in China.

TV Controller Box
Toymax Packaging

     However, the name of the manufacturer does appear if you look closely. The ping pong game shows a ping-pong table with a wall behind it and on the wall is the name of the company: Daidaixing.

     Daidaixing is a Chinese electronics company that had been established in 1993. A Daidaixing online product catalog shows that the model numbers for all of its products begin with GM-. As far as the TV Game is concerned, only the console and the baseball game are shown on the product catalog. This catalog also says that the TV Game comes under the brand name Time Top.

     Time Top is a division of Daidaixing. In 2004 it released a handheld unit called the Game King, which looked almost identical to the Nintendo Game Boy Advance. Most of the games available for the device were clones of existing NES, Atari 2600 and Commodore 64 games. The handheld console itself developed a reputation as being a clone of the GBA but that isn’t accurate. Aside from their appearance, the Game King had more in common with the original Game Boy including a monochrome screen and similarly-shaped cartridges.

Daidaixing Game King & Nintendo Game Boy Advance

     Despite the fact that the Game King wasn’t a counterfeit or cloned system, Daidaixing had a reputation of being a counterfeiter. In early 2000 it had been reported that Radica had seized quantities of counterfeit Deep Sea Fishin’ handhelds that had been manufactured for Daidaixing. This was the same year that Radica (and Epoch) began distributing the Xavix-developed sports games.

     So what is the TV Controller? Is it a counterfeit or cloned system? Some of its games, such as baseball and pingpong, resemble the Radica and Epoch versions of the same game somewhat. But Radica’s baseball game also comes with a ball so two players can compete simultaneously. The TV Controller game allows for two-player games by only having the two players take turns batting. This means they’re not the same game. And Daidaixing certainly didn’t copy from Xavix the idea of putting the games on a cartridge since the TV Controller came out three years before the Xavixport.

     The fact that the TV Controller was the first programmable system to use wireless motion-controllers should make it historically important. But it’s not. The TV Controller was just a novelty product that wasn’t widely available. Being first was not enough to make it relevant. However, as a curiosity piece it certainly has earned its place in the collections of videogame console collectors.

Copyright © 2022 Leonard Herman

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s