Early Advergames, part III

koolaid.jpgHere's another example of weird early advergames from my collection. These aren't rare like the last ones I mentioned, but they offer an interesting historical case for other reasons.

Remember the Kool-Aid Man character and ad campaign from the 70s and 80s? Oh, Yeeeaaahh. By the early 80s, General Foods had started spreading the character beyond their own advertising, first into comic books. In 1983, Mattel's M-Network software division created videogame versions of Kool-Aid Man for the Atari 2600 and Intellivision. This was a more complex process than the Johnson & Johnson and Purina games I mentioned earlier. General Foods did a lucrative deal with Mattel. There were two ways to get the game. One was by mailing in proofs of purchase, just like Tooth Protectors. The amount of Kool-Aid you would have had to drink was irrational, over 60 gallons by my count. Another was just to buy it the game at retail.

Even by 1981 third-party publishers were creating games for multiple platforms. Imagic in particular, which was founded by ex-Atari developers, started creating their titles for VCS and Intellivision, as well as VIC-20, Colecovision and Odyssey 2. But these were always ports of the same game.

The Intellivision and Atari versions of Kool-Aid Man, however, are completely different. Not just slightly different graphics and sound to account for the different machines, but totally different games. Both games pitted the player (as the Kool-Aid Man) against the evil Kool-Aid stealing Thirsties while collecting the fixings for a refreshing pitcher of Kool-Aid. In the VCS version, Thirsties are drinking all the contents of a swimming pool. The player must touch the Thirsties' straws to stop them. In the Intellivision version, player, Thirsties, and kids are trapped in a haunted house. The player must help the children avoid the Thirsties.

Making two different versions of the same title hadn't happened before and, perhaps unfortunately, didn't really happen again.

The reason for making different versions of the same game is actually quite compelling. Platforms differ. The Atari and the Intellivision in particular are very different machines. The Ì„Atari has no frame buffer and requires the programmer to synchronize graphics to the scanline of the television. The Intellivision has an operating system, a lot more RAM, and a video graphics system based on "cards" (or what we'd now call "tiles").

The M-Network programmers made the argument that each game should be different to take advantage of the different capabilities of the systems. Marketing reluctantly agreed, partly because of the limited development time allotted for the campaign.

It's an interesting lesson in an age when games are rarely developed for a single platform. Titles that appear for all three current consoles are usually developed atop middleware that makes targeting easier. Of course, this can also change how the titles are designed and developed - the middleware is the platform as much as the end machine. Unfortunately, console exclusive titles are often marketing ploys more than they are attempts to take full advantage of a specific platform.

Kool-Aid Man Ads [Toy Adz]


    *breaks through wall*


    I had no idea there were Kool-Aid Man video games. Hilarious :D

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