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The Story Of Tutorvision

In 1989, INTV Corp. made a deal with World Book Encyclopedia to manufacture an educational video game system called Tutorvision. The Tutorvision console would be a modified Intellivision, molded in gold plastic. Two sets of eight cartridges, one for younger children, one for older, would be produced. The World Book direct sales staff would market Tutorvision as they did encyclopedias - get the console and one set of the cartridges for a low monthly payment.

Part of the sales pitch would be that the family was also getting a game machine; while the Tutorvision cartridges would only work in a Tutorvision console, the Tutorvision console could play the entire library of Intellivision cartridges.

As they had on all their other original titles, INTV Corp. turned to Realtime Associates, headed by Blue Sky Ranger David Warhol (Mind Strike, Thunder Castle), to develop the sixteen Tutorvision cartridges. Dave, in turn, hired Steve Ettinger (Hover Force), John Sohl (Astrosmash), John Tomlinson (Mission X), David Stifel (Game Factory), and Doug Williamson, a recent graduate of Dave's alma mater Pomona College, to program the individual games. Dave Warhol did the music based mostly on classical themes, and Connie Goldman did the graphics, including the animated Tutor Tiger for the younger kids' games.

Half of the games were designed by producers at World Book in Chicago, half were farmed out to J. Hakansson Associates, an educational consulting firm in Berkeley, California. Designers Joyce Hakansson and Caroline Earhart, storyboarder Mitchell Rose, and others worked closely with the Realtime programmers.

John Sohl recalls pointing out a few punctuation errors in the game Story Stoppers. "[The designer] seemed to be amazed that I was, at the same time, a programmer AND someone who knew the difference between the usage of a colon and a semicolon."

Dave Warhol designed a new operating system for the Tutorvision called REX (for Revised EXEC). This new OS gave programmers more direct control over the system hardware, such as graphics RAM and controller inputs. Most importantly for educational games, it included a writing routine using a half-size proportional font, allowing much more text to appear per screen.

Everyone seemed happy with the completed games, so why it all fell apart is unclear. In 1990, World Book and INTV Corp. filed lawsuits against each other. The same year, INTV filed for bankruptcy. Tutorvision was never released and was mostly forgotten.

Over the years, flotsam and jetsam from the project have shown up. In 1997, collector Ted Brunner found a prototype gold Tutorvision console in a Chicago-area thrift store. Sean Kelly, co-founder of the Classic Gaming Expo, found bins of empty gray plastic cartridges stamped "Tutorvision" in the El Centro, California facility that used to assemble Intellivision cartridges for INTV.

But most importantly, when Realtime Associates moved two years ago from its El Segundo offices to new digs in Los Angeles, a box of 5 1/4 inch floppy discs and a beat-up INTV System III console were found. The console turned out to be a working Tutorvision prototype. The discs contained archives of fourteen Tutorvision games. For the first time in over 10 years, the games could again be played.

For younger children:

  • Nounsense (parts of speech)
  • Busy Bodies (jobs & workplaces)
  • Map Mazes (reading maps)
  • Tale Teller (building paragraphs)
  • Zoo Review (capitalization and punctuation)
  • Jungle Math (basic math)
  • Shapes in Space (fractions)

For older children:

  • Tops in Terms (word definitions)
  • Write it Right (spelling)
  • Wordsmith (constructing sentences)
  • Story Stopper (advanced punctuation)
  • Wordcalc (math word problems)
  • Time Trip (history)
  • Geo Graphics (geography)

Dave Warhol recalls the history game Time Trip. Events are listed that the player either has to match to a year or to put in order of occurrence.

"It had a lot of American events," says Dave, "like 'Washington becomes president,' and 'Declaration of Independence signed.' After we delivered it, the guys at World Book said that they'd also need a version they could sell in Canada.

"The next day I called to tell them I was modeming them a Canadian version. They were like 'Wow! How did you do that so fast?' Then they downloaded the game and found that all the events were now 'Washington becomes president, eh?' and 'Declaration of Independence signed, eh?' Everything was exactly the same except with 'eh?' appended."

A legitimate Canadian version took a little longer to produce.

Intellivision Productions is trying to sort out the legalities so that the 14 games (15, counting the Canadian Time Trip) can be released in a future Intellivision collection. The existence of the final two games is still being investigated. We will also be posting more detailed descriptions of each game, along with screen shots, to our web site.

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