Mattel Auto Race

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Mattel Auto Race Handheld (1977)

Mattel Auto Race was the first in the line of many Mattel Electronics games, and is credited with being the first handheld game that was entirely digital, even predating the Milton Bradley Microvision, having no moving mechanisms except the controls and on/off switch. Finding one of these systems in working condition is rare.


Mattel Auto Race was on the shelves by 1977,[1] and is often forgotten because of the much more successful Mattel Football that was released shortly after it. Because it is not well known, many people[who?] believe that Mattel Football was the first handheld, when Auto Race came out at least a year before. The game itself used about 512 bytes in memory—"half a kilobyte, or 1/2048 of a megabyte". Because of how early it came out, many clones of this game exist.


Mattel Auto Race was programmed by Mark Lesser who was, at the time, a circuit design engineer at Rockwell International. George Klose and Richard Cheng from Mattel approached Rockwell with the concept of converting a handheld calculator into a game. The Rockwell Microelectronics Division was, at the time, a leader in designing handheld calculator chips. A one page description of the game idea was given to Rockwell and the project was offered to Mark Lesser. Mark redesigned an existing calculator chip to allow for the display driver multiplexing scheme and a special sound driver for a piezoceramic speaker. Mark then proceeded to write the program, shaping the gameplay to fit into the 512 bytes of ROM allowed. The program was written entirely in assembly language. There was no sound processing hardware, so the sounds were produced by toggling the speaker in embedded timing loops from within the program itself.[2]


The player's car is represented by a bright blip (a vertical dash sign) on the bottom of the screen. The player must make it to the top of the screen 4 times (4 laps) to win, but, while make it towards the top, the player must swerve past other cars using the switch at the bottom of the system to toggle between three lanes. If hit by a car, the player's vehicle keeps moving back towards the bottom of the screen until it gets out of the other car's way. The goal is to beat the game before the 99 seconds (as high as the two digit timer can show) given are up, and to get the shortest time possible. The player's car has four "gears" and the faster the gear, the faster the other cars come at it.

 | | 
i| | 
 | | 
!| | 
 | |i
 | | 

Above is a mock-up of the viewing screen. |'s and _'s are borders, i's are oncoming cars, and the ! is the player. The number at the top of the screen is the remaining time.

A similar game based on the 1970s Battlestar Galactica TV series was released, but in this version the player remains at the bottom of the play field, and the game is equipped with a fire button that enables the player to shoot and destroy the adversaries. If one managed to reach the center-bottom space on the playing field, the Galactica was considered destroyed and the game lost.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Loguidice, Bill; Matt Barton (05-08-2008). "A History of Gaming Platforms: Mattel Intellivision". Gamasutra. Retrieved 2009-10-31. 
  2. ^