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Imagic was one of the top third-party game publishers of the Atari 2600 era, and it also made a few attempts at hardware/peripheral design. Its first non-game product was the Video Storage Center, a simple container that helped to keep your game system and games organized. The Game Previewer picured here was an entirely different animal. Made for the retail trade, it was a countertop display kiosk that allowed game store
owners to demonstrate up to 24 Atari 2600-compatible games with an adjustable time limit. The cost was “$345.00 delivered,” which sounds like a lot—especially in 1982 dollars. However, there have been Game Previewers on eBay in recent years that sold for much more.

You can’t see the unit’s three buttons or the two-digit LED counter too clearly in this photo, but customers could select a game by pressing the first two buttons to advance the numbers on the counter. When the third button was pressed, the cartridge input on the “not included” Atari 2600 console would switch from the “Play Your Favorite...” demo program to the game in the display case that was labeled with the number you chose. At least two different versions of the demo program have been found by collectors; one matches the screen shown here, and the other has two additional game publishers listed (Activision and Coleco).

Incidentally, check out the vintage Sony Trinitron TV depicted in the photo. It was probably state-of-the-art at the time, but its high-tech pushbutton tuner and sliding
volume bar are now dated examples of ancient technology. Even the faux woodgrain of the Game Previewer seems more stylish!

I always liked the way Imagic packaged its games; you could always spot an Imagic title by the shiny mirror finish, the space-age font and the telltale Colored Lines Of Varying Width (or as Princess Buttercup might say, the C.L.O.V.W.s). This sell sheet gives us a good look at the Imagic font, and I love how they incorporated the colored lines into the panel on the front of the Game Previewer as well as the onscreen demo. When Namco started to produce its Famicom (NES) games in vertical plastic cases instead of horizontal cardboard boxes, the spine of each box featured a similar motif of C.L.O.V.W.s, which—to my eye, anyway—must have been inspired by the Imagic box design. Sure enough, during Imagic co-founder Rob Fulop’s keynote speech at the World of Atari Expo in 1998, he mentioned that several Imagic executives had visited Namco’s corporate headquarters in Japan in the mid-’80s and brought them a collection of Imagic games. I guess they liked the packaging as much as I did!

© 2011 Chris Bieniek. Certain video game images, characters and logos on this Web site are copyrighted or trademarked by their respective publishers.