Star Chess by VideoMaster

Console Name: Star Chess
Release Date: 1979
Original Price: £70
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Manufacturer: VideoMaster
Developer: Peter Gebler

The history of the VideoMaster Star Chess stated with Peter Gebler. Peter was a technical editor for the British magazine New Electronic, one of the most renowned publications on electronics of its time.  A graduate of mathematics and physics, and with his experience in electronic design, Peter had managed to create a niche job as a journalist specializing in electronics.

During the summer of 1977, Peter visited a semiconductor company to write a piece and the marketing director made a joke to Peter that with all the privileged information he had access too as a journalist, he could probably come up with a new way to use microprocessor . At the time, the microprocessors were the next step in the evolution of electronic and every company was looking for way to introduce new technology using microprocessors.

The same night, Peter sat at is kitchen table and tried to come up to a clever way to use microprocessors. The first idea was to use a microprocessor within a synthesizer. He rapidly discards the idea as the microprocessors available at the time were not powerful enough for the idea he had in mind. He then dabbled with the idea of incorporating microprocessors in toys, but the microprocessors where still very expensive. Nobody would want to pay hundreds of dollars for a toy, with one notable exception: video games.

With this revelation, Peter started to develop a video game concept.  At the time, most of the video games where dedicated pong console and Peter thought that a fresh take on video game could be a game changer. At the time, the Star Wars film had just been released and even if Peter had not seen it yet, he decided to take inspiration from it. Peter then though to use Chess a as based for the game, but as he was not very proficient at this game, he decided to introduce elements of chance in the game so that the game would appeal to anyone and not only the few who can master Chess. By the end of the night, Peter had managed to define all the rules of the games on 2 hand written pages.

A few days later while attending a press conference given by VideoMaster, Peter met Derek Martin, the marketing director of VideoMaster. As VideoMaster were one of the only video game companies in the UK at the time, Peter decided to pitch the idea to Derek.  Derek immediately saw the potential and the presented the idea to VideoMaster executives. One week before Christmas 1977, Peter signed a exclusivity agreement for all rights on Star Chess.

VideoMaster was very confident and made a massive order of Motorola 6800 microprocessor, the biggest order for this type of processor at the time. The design of the console was subcontracted to Frazer Design, a well-known British design company that previously worked with Videomaster on their Superscore TV Game . The design aimed toward a refine clientele and was made of luxurious materials (compare to other console at the time) so that the console could server as a conversation piece.

In 1979, the console was launched with champagne and a laser show during a huge press conference to which many televisions personally were invited, including Magnus Pyke.  At the time of the launched all were expecting the product to be a success, but really broke that illusion very fast.

In 1978, the 1292 Advanced Programmable Video System was released all across Europe under different brand. This console was one of the first cartridge-based consoles to hit the European ground and was gaining a lot of traction. Consumer didn’t want to pay for a console that only plays a single game when you could purchase the console with cartridge support.  The other major factor was the cost. At £70, the system was extremely expensive. The main reason was the cost of the Motorola 6800. The Motorola 6800 was way too powerful to only be limited in a single-game console. In fact, the Motorola 6800 was considered by Atari for the release of the Atari VCS (Atari 2600), but was considered too expensive for a gaming machine. In fact, the aside from arcade cabinet, the only other console related hardware associated with the Motorola 6800 is the Imagination Machine, a computer that extend the capacity of the AFP MP-1000 gaming console and that was detailed at 700$ US.

VideoMaster how had invested a lot of money in this endeavor was in a critical financial position. Waddingtons, a company well known for their wishing cards, decided to acquire VideoMaster and had every intention to pursue with Star Chess as the buyout was conditional to the transfer of the right from Peter Gebler to Waddingtons. But, by the time the deal was signed, Star Chess was already a thing of the pass and Waddingtons didn’t make any attempt to push Star Chess to the market again.

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