The story of the Super Micro start in the early ’80s, when Esmail Amid-Hosur arrived in the United States. With his strong business acumen, Esmail make a few connections in the import/export business and soon find itself in Japan looking for the next big thing. It wasn’t long before Esmail stumbled on the new craze of the moment in Japan, the Nintendo Game & Watch. Esmail managed to convince Nintendo to let him import the Game & Watch in North America. Esmail started by importing a small lot of 300 devices to test the market. The response was amazing and he sold all of them without any effort. Seeing the potential of the Game & Watch, Esmail founded Palmtex on March 22, 1982, and like this, Palmtex became the first company to import Nintendo video game console in North America.
Esmail decided to open his offices at 1167 Chess Drive, in the heart of Silicon Valley with the other big players of the time in video games and microcomputer like Apple, Atari, IBM and Intel.
The Game & Watch were very popular and Palmtex decided to import other portable consoles as well as the ones from V-Tech. By the end of 1982, the demand for handheld video game systems was very at its peak and Palmtex decided to create its own portable video game system called the PVS.
The Palmtex Video System (PVS) was officially registered on January 19, 1983, along with the title of 5 games: Spellbound, Star Trooper, Mayday, Minefield and Crystals of Morga. The design of the PVS was first given externally to a Californian firm for the sum of $400,000. Esmail managed to create a very solid team with Glenn Helton in charge of the marketing and Barry Becker in charge of the sale, the team was missing a key player to manager the subcontractor design of the console. With that in mind, Esmail manage to find his Chief Engineer in Robert F. Sagarino.
Born in Long Island Bob was an extremely inventive person. Although he did not have a degree in Engineering, Bob had an extremely impressive career. He had worked, among other places, has head of research and development for Bulova and head of engineering at Timex
After joining the team, Bob started by reviewing the deliverable of the subcontractor. He rapidly understood that the subcontractor was going nowhere and decided to terminate the contract and to repatriate the design and the engineering in-house. He hired three engineers to do the industrial design and the electronic of the PVS. He also signed a contract with HomeComputer Software (HCS), led by Dan Shafer, to create the games. HCS who had already created games for the Atari and the Commodore 64 quickly demonstrated that they were a very competent group and were giving some latitude in the choice of games to be developed. HCS hired Chuck Blanchard specifically to work on the PVS game. While Dan did the design, Chuck wrote both React-Attack and Aladdin’s Adventures while an outside consultant was brought in to work on Outflank. With this new partnership, the development of the console and games progressed smoothly.
The PVS had almost no marketing done for it. A few articles here and there were promoting the upcoming console. One of them in the magazine Video Games of May 1983 gave a sketch what the console should look like, but it was not before September of 1983 at the Internationale Funkausstellung that the consumer had a chance to see the first glance of the PVS.
The Internationale Funkausstellung (IFA) was the world’s largest trade fair for consumer electronics and Palmtex wanted to showcase their product. The console itself was not ready, and to be able to show a functional prototype, the breadboard was hidden under the counter and was connected to the PVS through an external connector. At the time the console was made of a transparent plastic to put the focus of the inside of the machine.
Back from the IFA, Palmtex finalized the design and by the end of 1983, Bob used his contact at National Electronics & Watch Co Ltd in Hong Kong to start the production of the first PVS units. The first units were delivered just in time to be showcased at the CES of January 1984 in Las Vegas. This iteration of the CES broke the attendance record with more than 100,000 participants. But the beginning of the crash of the video game industry and the less than appealing line up of games and software at the CES, the time of video games seems to be a thing of the past.
It is in that context that the PVS was offered to the distributor for the first time. Although the PVS had numerous improvements over the other handheld of the time (smaller, more powerful, etc.) it also had one major flaw. The screen of the PVS is transparent and needed enough natural light coming from the back of the console in order to see anything. This seriously impaired the portability of the console as you always need to be in front of a light to play the game, even during the day. The problem was not without a solution, but in a tumbling market, no distributor wanted to introduce a new device, especially a flawed one.
With no order received at CES, Palmtex to a round of Venture Capital to raise the necessary fund to continue to project. With the state of industry at the time, the response was frigid. With this news, there will be no money to improve the PVS and the device seems to be officially dead. At this point many employees left the company.
Stuck with a lot of PVS that nobody wanted Esmail tried to sell the unit in is possession. Since the video game market was crashing, the normal distribution channels were not interested in taking the risk. Palmtex then turn to alternative channels like wholesalers and even out-of-country retailer that could liquidate the stock in Asia. After failing to secure a partner even in the alternative channels, Palmtex decided to liquidate the stock themselves.
To achieve this, Palmtex had to first resolve the issue for the dim screen. A simple workaround was created by adding a light box that would attach behind the device to provide additional lighting if required. The second change was the name. Palmtex decided to change the name to Super Micro to appeal to the microcomputer market which was still blooming in 1984. All the marketing material was changed to underline the proximity of the Super Micro and a microcomputer. In the same line of thought, the name Palmtex was removed from the marketing material and only the name HomeComputer Software remained, again positioning the device as in close proximity with a computer.
The Super Micro was finally made available via mail order for $39.95. The “LightPak” was sold for $19.95 while each game was sold for $14.95. A “Deluxe Pack” containing the console, a “LightPak” and a game of your choice was also available for $59.95. Due to this, 3 different packaging exists for the Deluxe Pack, one for each possible game.
Additional games were still in development for the device, but after Palmtex failed to pay a lump sum that was due on the delivery of the first three games, HCS stopped all development. HomeComputer Software never really recover from the missed payment and even if it managed to work on other projects and stay afloat a little while after their failed partnership with Palmtex, the crash of 83–84 force them to declare bankruptcy.
Only 3 games were ever released for the console. Each game is available either in stand-alone or as a pack-in with the Deluxe Pack.
- Aladdin’s Adventures
- React Attack
- There’s no official word of the number of units sold, but all sign points to fewer than 10,000. See this tracking sheet.
- With time, the plastic shell may have shrunk a bit making almost impossible to remove the cover from the batteries compartment when batteries are inside. To avoid this situation, simply avoid to put the cover on the batteries compartment. In case you acquired the console already in this state, you can simply unscrew the bottom part of the console and remove the control panel. You will have a direct access to the batteries this way and will be able to safely remove them without damaging the shell or the batteries cover.
The information gathered in this article is mainly a summary of discussion I had with various former employees/associates of Palmtex and other interviews and material found online. Although all the information provided though the interview I conducted with the former employees was to the best of their recollection, at the time of the interviews, more than 35 years had passed since the PVS was first conceived so some detail may not be 100% accurate.