Magnavox Odyssey 2: A Beginner’s Guide

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Note from racketboy: For some reason, we don’t typically venture before 1985 in our discussions of console gaming.  However, our newest forum moderator and content contributor, MrPopo is broadening our horizons with a blast back to 1978 and Magnovox’s Odyssey2 console. BTW, The RetroGaming 101 series is aimed at gamers who are just starting out in the classic gaming scene or are curious about an older console that they don’t know much about yet.

Magnavox released the first video game console, the Odyssey, in 1972, predating the Pong machines by three years. However, the games were all included on the circuitry; the cartridges were nothing more than a series of jumpers to select the game. When the Fairchild Channel F and the Atari 2600 released in 1976 and 1977 respectively, which both featured programmable ROM cartridges, Magnavox responded with the Odyssey2 (also known as the Philips Videopac G7000, the Philips Odyssey, and a few other names around the world). While inferior graphically and with a smaller library than it’s competitors, the Odyssey2 managed to last until the crash of 83.

Background Information

  • Successor to the first video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey, and took advantage of the new technology of programmable ROM modules.
  • Was released by Philips in all territories outside the US. In Europe it was known as the Videopac, while in Brazil it was the Odyssey.
  • It launched in 1978 in the US and Europe, and 1982 in Japan, where it did poorly.

Historical Impact

  • The only console of its generation to have a keyboard. The Odyssey2 featured a touch keyboard standard on the unit which allowed for more complex input than offered by the standard joystick of the era. It also allowed for a Computer Intro! game pack to be released that allowed owners to create programs in a limited form of assembly.  (See Classic Commerical)
  • The Odyssey2 had an addon speech module which vastly improved the sound capabilities of the console beyond the beeps and boops of its contemporaries. The module enhanced the music and sound effects and even added voice to certain games. (See Classic Commerical)
  • One of the first examples of a console that floundered due to insufficent third party support.
  • The Odyssey2 had several games which combined the functionality of board games with the new video game technology. Players would set up their pieces on a game board, and the Odyssey2 was used to act out specific encounters reached on the board, such as fighting a group of monsters.

Strengths

  • The Voice: Addon module which enhanced the sound of the system far beyond its competitors
  • Integrated keyboard used for game selection and input
  • Computer Intro! programming cartridge
  • Chess Module addon gave a secondary CPU and memory to allow for a decent (at the time) chess implementation

Weaknesses

  • More limited color palette than the Atari 2600
  • No third party support outside of Europe

Game Library

  • Full Game List
  • Due to no third party support some of the in-house developed games were noticable ripoffs of known titles. The biggest example is KC Munchkin being a Pacman clone, while the sequel was merely inspired by Pacman.
  • A few games, such as Quest For The Rings, were board game/video game hybrids, and a complete boxed set can be difficult to find.

Imports and Modifying

  • While there is no region locking on the Odyssey2, a few carts from the Europe Videopac releases will not play properly on an American Odyssey2 system.
  • In an unusual move the Odyssey2 requires the owner to open it up in order to switch the RF output from channel 3 to channel 4. Once the case is open a switch is found that allows the toggle.
  • An original model Odyssey2 will likely need to have its video out plug replaced with a standard RCA plug in order to fit in most RF switches. Alternitavely, you can replace either model’s video out plug with a standard coax connector to plug directly into the cable jack on modern TVs.

Emulation

  • O2EM is the most complete Odyssey2 emulator out there.
  • It requires a BIOS image to run, and a separate BIOS image if you want to emulate the Voice module.

Accessories

Odyssey2-voice The Voice
The Voice add-on for the Odyssey2 was one of only two accessories for the console.  It was a rather interesting add-on that provides some impressive voice and sound capabilies to the system.   You can get a good idea of what if offered from this vintage commerical on Youtube.
Also see this print advertisement.
Odyssey2-chess C7010 Chess Module
The C7010 chess module which was a Europe release only.  Since the stock Odyssey hardware had limited memory, it needed this add-on to give it the power to run a chess simulation.  You can learn more about the C7010 module and see some additional photos and documentation here.

Variations in Hardware

  • There were two versions of the Odyssey2.
  • The first version featured detachable controllers at the rear, which were painted silver.
  • The second version had hardwired black controllers, again coming from the rear. The hardwired controllers can be relatively easily removed, though, as they are not directly soldered to the mainboard; instead they plug in akin to a modern PC’s front panel LEDs.
  • One key difference is in the nature of the video out plug. The original Odyssey2 has a fatter plug which will only connect using the original model RF switch. The second version used a standard RCA plug which was compatible with the Atari 2600 RF switch.

Affordability

  • Due to low demand the Odyssey2 system can be had for $20 or less at times (check eBay). Around 2 million consoles were manufactured and the system did not have many stand out titles.
  • Individual games can be had for $5 complete and $1 loose (check eBay). The priciest games tend to be complete copies of the board game/video game hybrids.
  • The Odyssey Voice is harder to find but still does not command a high price, due to a general lack of demand. It typically can be had for under $30.  (check eBay)

Additional Resources

Want to learn more about the Odyssey2?  Check out these links to feed your curiousity

17 Comments

  1. Ack says:

    Awesome! I’ve been waiting for us to start hitting the pre-Nintendo era. Thanks very much for the work, Mr. Popo, it’s a great addition to the site.

    Hmm…pretty cheap too…I may just have to look into this one of these days…

  2. JF says:

    Excellent! The Philips Odyssey 2 was the first console I had, so I had a lot of memories playing when I was a child. It had great games: K.C. Munchkin! a Pac-man clone with a maze editor, Cosmic Conflic: a Star Wars game, Hockey/Soccer: hundreds of hours playing against my bro and friends, Quest for the Rings a two players board/video game hybrid and UFO an excellent Asteroids clone. Unfortunately most of the games haven’t aged well.

    Thank you MrPopo

  3. nickfil says:

    wow! the The Quest for the Rings looks like an EPIC game. So glad you put together this article mrpopo.

  4. JT says:

    I had one of these back in the 80’s. I bought it for one dollar at a school fund raiser. I had a Colecovision at the time, which I was more interested in, so I never played this too much. It’s an interesting relic though.

  5. T says:

    Thank you! Nice for people to realize that yes, we did have videogames prior to the NES :)

  6. executioner says:

    Great article!

  7. The Hon. Reverend Fred Gherkin says:

    Incidentally, the latest AVGN video focusses on the original Odyssey.

  8. jjj says:

    So this is a different system than the one AVGN reviewed? Cool, that means we might have a Odyssey2 review from him :)

  9. racketboy says:

    Yeah, that was the original Odyssey. This is the followup.

  10. Tancred says:

    This article is great. Never new they were so cheap. Might even pick up a boxed one :D

    As for AVGN, his reviews get less funnier over time. I don’t understand his fascination with excrement and bestiality. His Odyssey video could have been good if he didn’t include that stupid piece of shit (literally) with his face on it making nothing but bowel movement effects for 10 minutes. The gun ending was wonderful though.

  11. +peter says:

    I’m also very happy to see pre-Nintendo articles.
    Thanks Mr Popo!

  12. Julian Solo says:

    My first console ever. The name was Philips Videopac here in Italy so I thought it was named after that Pacman clone, K.C. Munchkin!
    Also got an horrible formula 1 game…unfortunately I lost the videopac in a house removal :(
    Then I got my C64 and the Master System right after :)

  13. Tyler says:

    You should do the C64, even though this site isn’t about computers, or the Jaguar.

  14. Edward says:

    I have some great memories with this system, one of the first game systems me and my brothers had.
    Even after we finally got an atari 2600 we still played
    alot of the games on odyssey 2.
    I started collecting for this system about 10 years back,
    the voice adapter is hilarious.
    Even failure systems are a great part of history.

  15. Kree says:

    Very outdated as the price for the Older systems has gone up quite a bit since this was written. Demand has started to grow for these systems and they are getting harder to come by at a cheap price.

  16. Gerald says:

    Hi!

    I am searching for odyssey 2 /j videopac hardware and games.
    if somebody have something for sell please contact me.

    qwertzu@gmx.net

    many thanks

  17. seob says:

    The videopac/odyssey2 did have a limited thrid party support. In Europe there where 4 Parker games released and 2 Imagic games, that where also avialible in the US.
    The videopac did resive a follow up the g7400 that allowed the use of background graphics. It was in fact the unreleased Odyssey3 that was redesigned for the European market. There was a basic module released for it called the c7420 that also carried a z80 processor, extea memory and cassette hookups to allow storing and loading of games.
    A active forum for the videopac/odyssey2 can be found at http://www.videopac.nl/forum