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Merlin's Magic: The Inside Story of the First Mobile Game

Unknown Lamer posted about 9 months ago | from the purchase-additional-beeps-for-99-cents dept.

Portables (Games) 60

curtwoodward writes "Long before Steve Jobs kicked off the modern mobile gaming revolution with the iPhone, a Harvard astrophysicist got kids obsessed with chasing electronic lights and sounds with their fingers. Bob Doyle was the inventor behind Merlin, and built the early versions with his wife and brother-in-law. As the more sophisticated cousin of raw memory game Simon, Merlin offered games like blackjack, tic-tac-toe, and even an early music program. Doyle, now 77, got 5 percent royalties on each sale, money that paid for the rest of his projects over the years." Using those royalties, Bob Doyle spends his time writing things online.

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Tell me about it (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46392575)

It'd be kinda nice if all faggots died of AIDS.

Re:Tell me about it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46392621)

Off topic *AND* trolling... and in only 10 words (11 if you count "kinda" as "kinda of"). Not sure if that's actually a record, but it's still noteworthy.

Bob, if you're reading this- (5, Informative)

the_skywise (189793) | about 9 months ago | (#46392605)

The Christmas Merlin came out I was enchanted with it - I spent *hours* at the toy store in the mall, playing with the demo unit, learning how to program the music player to play the theme to Star Wars. I got one that Christmas and played with it incessantly. Eventually it ended up in a garage sale but several years ago I tracked down an original one on EBay and continue to play magic square on it to this day. (The original - not the remake.)

Thanks man.

Re:Bob, if you're reading this- (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46392657)

As much as I applaud this individual and the story, I find it odd that we've had some stories in a row painting royalties and patents in a good light by tellng stori s like this one where its easy to relate to the receiver of said royalties.

Re:Bob, if you're reading this- (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46392757)

You should be wary comrade! Capitalist ideas such as designing & building things people want to buy are fairy tales to deceive the masses. They trick you into thinking that "you too can win the capitalist lottery!".

Re:Bob, if you're reading this- (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46395225)

In Soviet Union we try to win food lottery...

Re:Bob, if you're reading this- (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | about 9 months ago | (#46392911)

Why do you have a problem with royalties? Those are contractually agreed terms that have nothing to do with patents or copyright.

Re:Bob, if you're reading this- (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46393259)

Why do you have a problem with royalties?

Why do you have problems with reading comprehension and putting words in other people's mouths?

He was merely pointing out a recent series of submissions and news articles which aren't news, but all make a point of specifically mentioning patents and royalties and how much of a help they were to some small, non-corporate person. It sort of stinks of some kind of concentrated media effort to spread the idea of "patents GOOD for the little guy!", right around the time when there's a lot of talk about reforming patent laws. Might be interesting to trace the money and associations behind the people putting these articles out, I'd be willing to bet there's some links to Lobbyist groups who represent a lot of large Corporate Patent holders/trolls.

Re:Bob, if you're reading this- (1)

Obfuscant (592200) | about 9 months ago | (#46393463)

Why do you have problems with reading comprehension and putting words in other people's mouths?

I didn't put words in anyone's mouth, and it appears my comprehension was better than yours. Allow me to quote the parent:

As much as I applaud this individual and the story, I find it odd that we've had some stories in a row painting royalties and patents in a good light by tellng stori s like this one where its easy to relate to the receiver of said royalties.

It sort of stinks of some kind of concentrated media effort to spread the idea of "patents GOOD for the little guy!",

You left out "royalties". "Painting royalties and patents in a good light". And then he refers only to royalties when saying the "odd stories" are presenting people it is easy to relate to.

So, that's why I'm asking him (not you) why he has a problem with any stories painting someone who is receiving royalties for his work in a good light? Why are royalties an issue?

Re:Bob, if you're reading this- (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46404159)

Im with the two (other) ACs here. The last sentence refers to this story only, by example. Because in this story the topic is royalties. So in this one we can relate to someone getting paid royalties. In other stories that are about patents we would be able to relate to someone making money off the patents. All in all with them being posted in close succession its like the second AC said: seeems like the small guy is to be convinced that he will benefit from these things (patents and royalties) while in truth its mostly large corporations that benefit (from royalties and patents if one needs to spell that out to you in every half sentence so you wont fixate on just one ;))

Re:Bob, if you're reading this- (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 9 months ago | (#46394531)

I doubt many have problems with paying royalties to people who make an actual effort, creating something new and interesting, i.e. paying to someone who actually invented something.

The problem only exists with "inventions" that are none and exist only to corner a market without actually adding anything to it, from one-click-patents to patented round corners on devices.

Re:Bob, if you're reading this- (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | about 9 months ago | (#46396895)

The problem only exists with "inventions" that are none and exist only to corner a market without actually adding anything to it, from one-click-patents to patented round corners on devices.

One click is a utility patent. Rounded corners is not patented. The closest thing to it is a design patent Apple owns of a slate like device, with rounded corners, a grid of icons on one of the flat sides, with one row of said icons static while the rest of the grid is changeable.

And yes, it makes a HUGE difference - rounded corners is not patented. Because of one manufacturer's perchant for making a custom Android UI that copied those details down to practically the icons. No one back then was mistaking an Android device as an iPhone, other than the new Samsung Galaxy S where the first comment was "iPhone Clone!" in every review.

(Want to know why Android has a home screen? Or why the launcher doesn't have a static dock? Hello patent avoidance). As a design patent, all the frills are AND - you must have A AND B AND C AND D to violate it. If you simply get rid of B and do something else, you aren't violating it.

(Funny how /. claim people need to know more about IT and computing, and yet know very little about IP law especially given how it affects them).

Re:Bob, if you're reading this- (3)

Geek Hillbilly (2975053) | about 9 months ago | (#46393591)

I got 1 for Christmas,which I still have and yes,it works perfectly.Still love to get it out and play with it.Thanks,Bob

Re:Bob, if you're reading this- (1)

show me altoids (1183399) | about 9 months ago | (#46410249)

My story was about the same. It's probably still somewhere in my mom's basement.

i've still got one... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46392613)

I've still got one of these in a closet somewhere.

Big difference from today's electronic devices: the Merlin had no other master besides its owner.

Re:i've still got one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46396389)

I found mine and took a video.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SedOqaof9gY

"kicked off the modern mobile gaming revolution" (1)

Goose In Orbit (199293) | about 9 months ago | (#46392615)

Snake... surely?

(or is it all about the shiny...?)

Re:"kicked off the modern mobile gaming revolution (1)

Rob the Bold (788862) | about 9 months ago | (#46392859)

Snake... surely?

(or is it all about the shiny...?)

"Modern" is kind of a weasel word, isn't it? I guess it means: "As far back as I can remember without a time machine, hypnosis or thinking too hard." Or really, whatever the author wants it to mean.

Re:"kicked off the modern mobile gaming revolution (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46393583)

The key word I think you're overlooking is MOBILE. I don't think there were any hand-held devices playing Snake in 1978.

Re:"kicked off the modern mobile gaming revolution (1)

Goose In Orbit (199293) | about 9 months ago | (#46402329)

There weren't iPhones either... doesn't stop someone praising Steve Jobs though...

(maybe I should have been clearer on that score)

Steve Jobs really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46392695)

"Long before Steve Jobs kicked off the modern mobile gaming revolution with the iPhone"

One word "Gameboy".

Re:Steve Jobs really? (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about 9 months ago | (#46394889)

this predates game&watch.

not sure if really otherwise the first, but first electronic mobile gaming system that sold well in the usa I think at least.

First touchscreen (5, Funny)

hawguy (1600213) | about 9 months ago | (#46392703)

The Merlin was also the first touchscreen mobile device, it had a High Definition 3x3 pixel screen (plus 2 bonus pixels). But the screen was 1 bit monochrome (not even grayscale), so it never really caught on for watching movies, plus it had no Netflix support. Also, just like the iPhone, it had no MicroSD slot so you were stuck with the onboard memory.

It's still available (in a new and improved model): http://www.amazon.com/Milton-B... [amazon.com]

Re:First touchscreen (4, Informative)

Obfuscant (592200) | about 9 months ago | (#46392783)

It also used the Intel 4004 4-bit processor that led to the 8008 and 8080 later.

Unlike the iPhone, you could replace the batteries. Or take them out to make sure it wasn't spying on you while you slept.

wrong processor (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46393379)

It actually used the Texas Instruments TMS-1100, another popular 4-bit microcontroller.

Kevtris figured out how to dump the ROM from the TMS-1100, making emulation of a bunch of games a possibility (including the Microvision handheld LCD game). http://blog.kevtris.org/blogfiles/TMS1000/

Re:First touchscreen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46393423)

Merlin had on, off, and blink. So it had sort of had an in-between gray'ish pixel mode.

Re:First touchscreen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46393763)

You forgot to say 'lame'.

You selling Merlin's on amazon? (1)

bloggerhater (2439270) | about 9 months ago | (#46393833)

Is that why you linked that over priced nonsense?

Ebay People.

Re:First touchscreen (1)

Megane (129182) | about 9 months ago | (#46395931)

Also, no wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.

First? (3, Informative)

hubie (108345) | about 9 months ago | (#46392713)

My sister had the Merlin, but before that I had an LED football game, and I remember an auto racing game as well. I know those predated Merlin, and I'm not sure if the ones I had were "first" either.

Re:First? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46392891)

Here they are, both by Mattel Electronics:

Mattel Football [handheldmuseum.com]
Mattel Auto Race [handheldmuseum.com]

Auto Race came out in 1976, and Football in 1977, both predating the Merlin (which I had and loved).

Re:First? (2)

Dan East (318230) | about 9 months ago | (#46393155)

I picked up an (original) Mattel Football game at a yardsale last summer for 50 cents (and one of those baseball games with the removable wired controller for pitching to the other player, also for 50 cents). I forgot how much fun that game was. I still remembered the nuances of how to play.

Re:First? (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 9 months ago | (#46396823)

nuances? once you know the trick, you can score a few hundred points with football.
Run, Run, Run, Punt as fast as you can. Don't dodge, just run forwards. You can get a field goal every few seconds.

Re:First? (3)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | about 9 months ago | (#46393875)

Auto Race came out in 1976

Some people are also thinking of Tomy's "Digital Derby" which was actually all mechanical, but was still loads of fun (batteries not included) -

http://rctoymemories.com/2012/11/16/tomy-digital-derby-auto-raceway-1978/ [rctoymemories.com]

Re:First? (3, Interesting)

Opportunist (166417) | about 9 months ago | (#46394853)

That was one masterpiece of analog electronic game design. I had one, it was lots of fun!

Re:First? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46402345)

I'd totally forgot about Digital Derby. I had one of these back in the 70's, played the shit out of it til it finally broke. At which point I went at it with a screwdriver!

Re:First? (3)

cascadingstylesheet (140919) | about 9 months ago | (#46393105)

My sister had the Merlin, but before that I had an LED football game, and I remember an auto racing game as well. I know those predated Merlin, and I'm not sure if the ones I had were "first" either.

I remember the LED football game; it was awesome :)

It really is all about the game, not the graphics!

Re:First? (1)

GTRacer (234395) | about 9 months ago | (#46396087)

I got a Merlin ages ago. Promised my parents I wouldn't take my curious screwdriver to it, as I'd ruined as number of electronic things in the name of science. I broke that promise *IMSOSORRYGUYS!* but I did get it back together.

The membrane keypad, the LEDs... the memories! I probably still have it somewhere. Also, I had both versions of the Mattel Football handheld. Really good game!

WOW (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46392853)

OH WOW this brings back memories.. I had one and played it for hours!! might even still have it in a box someplace

Re:WOW (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46393325)

ohmygod. Merlin. Absolutely my favorite childhood toy, hands down.

On Christmas 1979, my parents thought it would be cute to hide it so I'd think I didn't get one. Apparently, they were under the belief that it would somehow make me show more interest in my other gifts. In reality, it had the opposite effect... convinced I didn't get one because there was nothing under the tree whose box was even plausibly the right size and weight, I was *miserable* at dinner on Christmas Eve, and went through 10 minutes of ritualistically and mechanically opening gifts with zero enthusiasm or joy before they "remembered" that they "forgot to bring out one of the gifts". The rest of the evening was quite happy, and Merlin was a constant part of my life until I got my Atari 2600 for Christmas in 1980.

come on smack a troll (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 9 months ago | (#46393001)

that can be fun

Re:come on smack a troll (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46393193)

I think you're pissed at the trolls because they tell the truth. Let me guess; are you homosexual? Do you like it when men smack you in the face with their hard cocks? Does it anger you others might know this and you fear the trolls for bringing it to light?

Re:come on smack a troll (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46393203)

dumb ass

you need to do some Googleing to get it.

It's Real (-1, Offtopic)

mrebecca757 (3560977) | about 9 months ago | (#46393047)

my Aunty Kayla recently got a fantastic metallic BMW M3 Convertible by working parttime from a home computer. you can check here >>>>>>>> www.bay91.CM

WTF? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46393085)

Where do they find these idiots that can't remember further back than something steve jobs created. Unless you want to twist and weasel the word "modern" to conform to the spec of the first iPhone, modern gaming on phones existed well before the iPhone was a rumbling in jobs bowels. Hand held gaming was hugely populars years before the first iPhone was even announced.

Re:WTF? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46393321)

Of course they invented modern portable gaming. You're also apparently forgetting all the other things Apple created, which didn't exist before Steve Jobs invented them:

* The computer mouse
* Portable music players
* Email
* The Internet (1)
* The first personal computer
* The transistor (2)
* The first moon landing

Please, learn some computing history before spouting off about how Apple didn't invent portable gaming.

(1) Originally called "Appletalk".

(2) The earliest transistors were little more than a way to use one electronic signal to switch another.

Re:WTF? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46393431)

Hell, I remember playing simple RPGs on my graphing calculator during math class.

I recall the merlin (1)

atari2600a (1892574) | about 9 months ago | (#46393309)

I mean, I'm half the age of any Merlin in existence but I grew up with a fascination with the history of electronic entertainment, mainly with a focus on videogames. It was like a dedicated-purpose oversized calculator with like 5 or so built-in games, like most of the time, except it was portablized by its terrible display. The concept itself was further improved upon later by a similar, yet interchangeable, system, then by Nintendo's Game & Watch series, &.....well you should know the rest by now. It exists as one of those critical points in history, fucking fascinating at the time though looking back today only has a tiny fraction of the appeal even by its successors like a year or two later.

Yeah baby! (2)

MobileC (83699) | about 9 months ago | (#46393435)

I played one to death in a local shop here in New Zealand.

Then bought it as non-working scrap and fixed it.

Absolutely loved it.

Old handhelds (1)

BillX (307153) | about 9 months ago | (#46393691)

Seeing this reminded me of an old handheld electronic pinball game I found in my grandparents' attic as a kid. I figured it had to be almost this old, possibly predating the Merlin, and so Googled it... Sure enough [handheldmuseum.com] , it is from 1979 and invented by one Bob Doyle.

iPhone "mobile gaming revolution" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46393807)

Funny, I don't remember the GameBoy running iOS.

Beep BOOP (3, Interesting)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | about 9 months ago | (#46393839)

In the spring of 1980 we went on a family roadtrip from Vancouver to Disneyland.

(Contrary to popular opinion, back in the day airfares were very expensive so many family vacations were car trips. But I digress).

The Merlin in the backseat entertained we three kids for hours. My dad made one modification before we left: He installed an earphone jack so my parents didn't have to listen to 50+ hours of infernal beeps and boops.

Amazing machine.

Wasn't that Nintendo? (1)

Solandri (704621) | about 9 months ago | (#46393945)

Wasn't that Nintendo who invented the modern mobile gaming revolution? I remember playing Mattel Electronic Football [handheldmuseum.com] when I was in grade school (1977). But the Nintendo Game Boy [wikipedia.org] (1989) was a game-changer because it (1) let you load different games into the same mobile device, and (2) plugged into another Game Boy with a cable so two of you could play head-to-head. It was the first example I can think of of multiplayer gaming in the modern sense (each player has their own dedicated device).

I'm not really sure what the iPhone introduced that was new? Maybe virtual game distribution (software-only, no cartridges) and online sales (App Store)?

Re:Wasn't that Nintendo? (1)

freeze128 (544774) | about 9 months ago | (#46394611)

I'm not really sure what the iPhone introduced that was new? Maybe virtual game distribution (software-only, no cartridges) and online sales (App Store)?

PalmOS devices had software apps long before the iPhone. The only thing that the iPhone has going for it is that it was kissed by Steve Jobs.

Re:Wasn't that Nintendo? (1)

tlhIngan (30335) | about 9 months ago | (#46396999)

I'm not really sure what the iPhone introduced that was new? Maybe virtual game distribution (software-only, no cartridges) and online sales (App Store)?

PalmOS devices had software apps long before the iPhone. The only thing that the iPhone has going for it is that it was kissed by Steve Jobs.

Well, the iPhone was the first usable smartphone for the masses. It didn't have an App Store other than web apps (remember those?). You went to a web site, then you simply tapped an icon to add it to your homescreen which was really a glorified bookmark.

Now, what it REALLY had was a kickass HTML engine - mobile phones in those days had crap for web browsers - the "best" was Opera Mobile, a $30 app if they had it for your phone (and by best, I mean, actually does a half-decent job of rendering it like on a computer). Everything else was like WAP or rendered like Mosaic in today's world. But the iPhone featured Webkit, which was the same as the desktop renderer, giving you a desktop-like browsing experience with support for modern standards.

That was the iPhone's claim to fame - it was a phone, an iPod, and an Internet communicator. (The latter referring to the web browser).

Of course, the App Store came a year later. And it was popular because it was ultra-convenient. You could browse and get apps on the go. PalmOS, Windows Mobile, Symbian, etc., they all required you to go to a computer, browse some third party website, then purchase the app which you downloaded to your hard drive (heaven forbid if the website refused multiple downloads). You then ran the installer app to mark it for installation and then forced a sync with your drive where the app was installed. Repeat for every update, too.

Apple simply made it so the user could do it all without involving a PC and on the road - just browse the app store, tap Purchase, and it's downloaded and installed automagically. And re-downloads are allowed always, and updates were semi-automatic.

Later Palms added the ability to have an "app store" that was merely a bookmark to built in web browser. Depending on the store, you could download the raw PDB file and have it install. Maybe.

Re:Wasn't that Nintendo? (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 9 months ago | (#46394869)

I remember an earlier handheld console that offered the option to load various games into it. I have no idea what its name was, but I do remember that I kept the ad flyer around and read it over and over and over, pretty much drooling over it. That was certainly before 1989, no later than 1986.

Re:Wasn't that Nintendo? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 9 months ago | (#46414979)

You might be thinking of Milton Bradley's Microvision [wikipedia.org]

Mystery Box (1)

Aerosiecki (147637) | about 9 months ago | (#46394781)

Oh, wow. I was re-gifted one of these in about 1987 or so, right around the time I was going into primary school. It had no manual with it, and some of the button labels were missing. I remember playing around with it for hours a day, weeks on end. I remember finally figuring out only about half the modes, probably limited by my childhood ignorance of standard game rules. Still, at it's heart, it was a simple computer with a few binary inputs and a few binary outputs. I can probably credit that device with launching an entire lifetime of experimenting, fiddling, tweaking, hacking, and documenting. Thank you, Bob.

Sorry but... (1)

PJ6 (1151747) | about 9 months ago | (#46425301)

mobile games have been around for thousands of years. Did you mean to say 'electronic'?

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