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Portables (Games)

Merlin's Magic: The Inside Story of the First Mobile Game 60

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the purchase-additional-beeps-for-99-cents dept.
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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Merlin's Magic: The Inside Story of the First Mobile Game

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  • by the_skywise (189793) on Monday March 03, 2014 @08:45PM (#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.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      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.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        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!".

      • by Obfuscant (592200)
        Why do you have a problem with royalties? Those are contractually agreed terms that have nothing to do with patents or copyright.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          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

          • by Obfuscant (592200)

            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

      • 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.

        • by tlhIngan (30335)

          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 - rou

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

    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.

  • Snake... surely?

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

    • 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.

  • by hawguy (1600213) on Monday March 03, 2014 @08:58PM (#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]

  • First? (Score:4, Informative)

    by hubie (108345) on Monday March 03, 2014 @08:59PM (#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.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      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).

    • by cascadingstylesheet (140919) on Monday March 03, 2014 @09:54PM (#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!

    • by GTRacer (234395)
      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!
  • that can be fun

  • by Anonymous Coward
    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.
  • 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 no
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Beep BOOP (Score:4, Interesting)

    by CohibaVancouver (864662) on Tuesday March 04, 2014 @12:08AM (#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 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 real
    • by freeze128 (544774)

      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.

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        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 wh

    • 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.

  • 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

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