CreatiVEmu

 

History

Hong Kong, 1981. Electronic handheld games and toys manufacturer VTech attempts to join the rising home videogaming market by engineering an original system capable of competing against VCS 2600 and Intellivision, which gave Atari and Mattel enormous incomes.

The idea is certainly clever: offering users what the competitors can't offer, that's the chance to programme their own software on a powerful console hardware by expanding it with computer-style periphherals such as keyboard, cassette tape player/recorder, printer, etc. This is not the first "hybrid" computer/console system, actually: the American electronic manufacturer APF sold their "Imagination Machine" in 1980 - a console which could be expanded into a complete home computer.

The CreatiVision project is quite ambitious and VTech engineers decide to endow it with the most recent available hardware such as the Rockwell 6502A microprocessor running at 2 MHz, the Texas Instruments TMS9918/9929 (NTSC/PAL) video display processor managing up to 32 sprites on a 256x192 pixels screen at 16 colours, and a Texas Instruments SND76489 sound chip, generating 3 mono + 1 noise channels. Such a powerful hardware has never been seen on a home videogame and computer system before!

Such a technological wonder would be very expensive if it's to be manufactured in USA or Europe... but VTech is located in the very cheap Hong Kong - hence costs can be reduced quite a lot. For this reason, the CreatiVision system is even cheaper than "obsolete" gaming-only systems such as the VCS 2600 and the Intellivision.

Hardware is done, so the next step is writing dedicated software. At first, programmers focus their efforts on designing games. They did choose the cheapest way: "cloning" the gameplay from top selling videogames and then changing the graphics, sounds and plot - such a procedure is quite common in the 80's, even though often causing copyright issues!

In a result, we have Police Jump (Donkey Kong), Sonic Invader (Space Invaders), Planet Defender (Defender), Auto Chase (New Rally-X), Mouse Puzzle (Loco-Motion), etc. There's even a Pac-Man clone named Crazy Pucker, which is then retired from shops due to legal issues with Namco, and then reissued with the name of Crazy Chicky: the "new" game hero is a chicken (Pac-Man) filling a labyrinth with eggs (dots) and foxes (ghosts) trying to get her.

The CreatiVision system hits the Hong Kong market early in 1982. A few months later it's also distributed in Europe (Italy, Germany, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland), Israel, South-Africa, Australia and Japan. The "CreatiVision" name is kept for all markets except Australia and New Zealand, where it sells through Dick Smith Electronics (a very popular appliances chain) as "Wizzard", and Israel, where it sells as "Educat 2002".

All boxes, manuals (in several languages) and accessories are produced in Hong Kong and then provided to distributors, and all consoles do share the same hardware. It's a PAL-only system except the Japanese version (NTSC) which is extremely rare and sought after by collectors. The Venezuelan (NTSC) version is still a mystery as it's uncertain whether it's a commercial product, or a prototype.

The complete list of distributors is:
- Australia & N.Z.:  Dick Smith Electronics, Hanimex, Bente International Pty Ltd.
- Austria:  Spiel-Sport Stadlbauer
- Germany:  Sanyo Video GmbH
- Israel:  Educat-Development and Marketing of Learning systems Ltd.
- Italy:  Zanussi Elettronica
- Japan:  Cheryco
- Sweden:  Elof Hansson
- South Africa:  Telefunken MicroTek
- Switzerland:  I. M. Rosengarten

CreatiVision is promoted through a massive advertising campaign and it's claimed as being the most powerful home gaming computer system on the market. Promo leaflets feature comparisons with other home computers as Commodore VIC-20, Atari 400 and Radio Shack TRS-80 - and of course CreatiVision is said to be the best of all. A lot of additional peripherals are shown on promo pictures - many of which are just "mock-ups" and will never be actually produced.

The Wizzard sells very well in Australia, due to the popularity of the eccentric enterpreuner, Mr. Dick Smith and his electronic supermarkets where the system sells in exclusive right. Dick Smith Electronics not just sells Wizzard systems and software, they also produce new games and utilities, which are sold on tape format for use with the BASIC cartridge and the "Cassette storage module". Very popular books are written by Australian programmers and computing experts, and they sell through the "Dick Smith Publishing" division. Dick Smith sells Wizzard units, software and books from 1982 to 1985, then Bente International becomes a sort of "official" distributor for CreatiVision (not Wizzard!) stuff in Australia.

What about the Japanese market? Rumours say that CreatiVision doesn't sell well - maybe there are already too many other popular home computers, or simply users don't take interest into the cheap "hybrid" coming from Hong Kong.

A CreatiVision fan club is set up with the name of "CreatiVision Club" and is maintained by VTech in Hong Kong. Subscribers pay a yearly fee and receive a periodic newsletter full of news and bits of information. They are also granted to buy software at discounted prices. After the release of the "Laser" home computer series, the fan club name changes into "Laser Computer Club".

Another importan fan club is based in Melbourne, Australia, and the name is "Wizzdom". Gentleman Barry Klein, the founder, writes a very interesting three-monthly newsletter by using his typewriting machine and his big talent. Contents are pretty "technical" and lots of obscure facts about hardware and software are unveiled with each issue - that's especially about the BASIC interpreter. Wizzdom lives between January 1984 and the first half of 1985, while the "Laser Computer Club" ceases to exist far after 1988.

Maybe aiming at selling more console units, in late 1982/early 1983 VTech decides to re-release CreatiVision with a new shape and a new name: "Funvision" (also sold as Hanimex "Rameses" in Australia and "VZ 2000" (in France ?) has the same hardware as before, except the "CreatiVision" logo which is removed from the console boot sequence (hacked BIOS). The connectors layout is changed, and there are no side panels to be removed in order to connect additional peripherals. Also the cartridge slot is different and doesn't allow the use of the "old" CreatiVision carts (an early form of country lock).

Later in 1983 VTech gets ready for a new challenge: to go beyond the concept of videogaming home computer, and to focus their efforts into the promising home computer market. A new brand of home computers is set and the name is "Laser". Various models are produced with the names of Laser 100/110, 200/210 and 300, they're all very cheap and feature popular hardware such as Zilog Z80 microprocessors.

The CreatiVision brand is about to disappear forever. The unsold units are repackaged and named "CreatiVision Mark II". Actually it's the same old console with a new logo, a few hardware changes made to allow the use of the unreleased "Colecovision converter" peripheral, and a "Laser 500" text printed on the console front - so users would think it's a computer from the newest "Laser" series. VTech is trying to erase the home videogaming experience from their history.

The "Laser 2001" home computer is this story's last star. It hits the markets in late 1983/early 1984. It features almost the same hardware as the CreatiVision and it's empowered with more RAM, a professional keyboard, many peripherals and... yes, it's a true home computer! CreatiVision cartridges are fully compatible with Laser 2001 and many games are repackaged in new boxes with Laser logo and layout printed on them. A few games are even released on cassette format, which were originally available on cartridge for the CreatiVision system.

There's a last piece of hardware of remarkable interest: the "Laser Expansion Module #1". Rumours spread about an additional peripheral used to play ColecoVision games on CreatiVision, but it's in fact released for the Laser 2001 computer. A few units sell in Finland and have the same aspect as the Finnish version of Laser 2001, named "Manager" and sold through Salora. A full description with pictures can be found at the Pelikonepeijoonit web-museum. We have no proof of it being also produced for CreatiVision, even though such information appears on the CV Mark-II unit box.

 

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