Developer, historian, and all-around Blue Sky Ranger: Keith Robinson has died at 61

Mere hours ago, friends of Intellivision’s Keith Robinson reported on Facebook that the industry pioneer has passed away. If your sense of gaming’s history begins with the NES, you may be unfamiliar with Robinson’s contributions to the medium, but he played an active role in the generation before that—and was vital to keeping its memory alive in the decades beyond.

After Atari introduced the Atari VCS (later known as the Atari 2600) in 1977, toy company Mattel began devising a home console to compete with it, which was released in 1980 as the Intellivision. At first, Mattel farmed out the creation of Intellivision games to independent contractors, but in 1981 they hired a team twenty-odd internal developers to meet their growing demand. Fearing Atari might hire them away, Mattel kept their names a secret, but they rose to fame nonetheless as the mysterious “Blue Sky Rangers,” a moniker bestowed upon them in a 1982 TV Guide article which they would go on to wear as a badge of pride. Robinson, then in his twenties, was among them; soon promoted from programmer to manager, he oversaw the development of many games until Mattel dissolved their electronics division in 1984. Having suffered catastrophic losses in the market crash of ’83, they handed off the Intellivision in its entirety to INTV Corporation, a company founded by former Mattel Electronics executive Terry Valeski. To INTV’s credit, they managed to continue selling the Intellivision all the way through the end of the ’80s, but in 1991 they shuttered their doors as well. That might have closed the book on the long-lived platform, but Robinson, it turned out, was far from finished.

Keith Robinson (right) with Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell in 2010.

Robinson resurfaced in 1995 with the Blue Sky Rangers website, a digital shrine celebrating the history of the Intellivision. Then, two years later, Robinson and fellow ranger Stephen Roney obtained the rights to the Intellivison system and games from Ultimatte Corporation—a special effects studio who had picked up the rights from Valeski—and formed a new company called Intellivision Productions. From there, they collaborated with fellow retro enthusiasts to dump ROMs and write the first Intellivison emulators for Macintosh and MS-DOS, bundling games into “Intellipacks” which Robinson made available for free on his website. This was right in the middle of an era when game publishers were laser-focused on breaking new ground in the first generation of fully 3D experiences, and anything that looked even slightly behind the times was quickly dismissed as an artefact of a bygone age. In such an environment, Robinson’s recognition of the lasting appeal of older games was both anomalous and a breath of fresh air for players who weren’t so ready to cast aside the past.

In 1999, Robinson and company released Intellivision Lives!, a compilation of over fifty games sold via mail order for Mac and Windows. More than just a bunch of ROMs in a wrapper, this collection included developer interviews, old television commercials, scans of the games’ package art, unreleased games, and even staff credits that were never recorded in the games themselves. Intellivision Lives! was a great success, and Robinson went on to design many more collections like it, collaborating with various publishers to bring the Intellivision experience to platforms from the PlayStation 2 to iOS. Along the way, he continued to add features to flesh out the package, including old print ads and even “The Intellivision Story,” a historical documentary which he personally narrated.

Keith Robinson did not create the Intellivision—he didn’t design the hardware or steer the business—but he tended to its legacy unlike anyone else. A fan at heart, he performed this duty proactively, motivated by nothing so much as his sheer love for the games. And for adapting classic games to modern formats while contextualizing the culture surrounding them—efforts begun years before the term “game preservation” entered common usage—he will be remembered as a visionary in the field. The medium has rarely seen such a dedicated steward of its heritage, and it is undoubtedly worse off now without him.

11 Comments

Filed under Game Culture, Retrogaming News

11 Responses to Developer, historian, and all-around Blue Sky Ranger: Keith Robinson has died at 61

  1. gutzsant

    As Jeremy and Bob have commented on multiple occasions, this is really a young medium and few of its pioneers have passed away. Rest in peace, Keith Robinson. You will be remembered by fans of the medium as the man who kept alive the legacy of the first 16-bit game console. I’ll always remember him from all conventions where he appeared and particularly from The Video Game Years, where I first saw him in video. He will be missed.

  2. In honor of Keith, I have placed his full uncut interview with us available for download at RetroGaming Radio. See the front page at

  3. Colin Kennnedy

    Intellivision actually came out in 1979 in test markets. Some of the first games have 1979 copyrights.

  4. It’s important that Retronauts, Matt Chat, Pixelated Audio and others are taking the time to interview and treasure the legacy and the history of video gaming. Thanks for all that you guys do and RIP to a legend .

  5. Kevin

    Thank you for reminding me to try and hash out an interview time with one of the Atari guys I’ve been throwing emails back and forth with.

    Keith was a cool dude from when I met him, and genuinely loved introducing Intellivision to people. My friend Earl did a great writeup about him for his website, having met him at the Classic Gaming Expo’s alumni dinner years back. http://www.thelogbook.com/earl/2017/06/15/work-the-room/

  6. Vic Vega

    As unwieldy as this system looked (ugh, those “controllers”…calling collect??), this was actually a pretty neat little system that played much better than anyone that hasn’t played it would likely ever imagine.

    I’m far from an Intelli-phile (are those kinda like sapiosexuals?), but it was really the first way I played a lot of popular games, and the controls really did work particularly well for games that featured isometric design (like Q*Bert), diagonal controls (like moving up/down the stairs in Popeye), or trackball ports (like Centipede).

    Anybody with any experience have any thoughts on the “Intellivision Lives” console versions (namely, the one for the DS?)? I’m intrigued, although the reviews certainly weren’t as encouraging as I would have liked…

    • Greg Falkingham

      I dearly love Intellivision Lives for DS, though perhaps part of that is simply that it exists at all. It is a very convenient and relaxing way to play the more arcade oriented titles like Astrosmash, Night Stalker and Shark Shark. But, there are definitely flaws. An error with how it handles touch pad controls means you could find yourself walking through walls in AD&D/Crown of Kings. It is missing some sounds, which makes it impossible to count arrows in the two AD&D games, and the voice doesn’t work right in Space Spartans, making that game impossible to properly play. Given that it is one of my favorite games, Treasures of Tarmin/Minotaur has a heartbreaking bug that cuts off the bottom of screen, preventing you from seeing what you have equipped in your hands or the attack stats of your weapon.

      Unless you’re dead set against using the Intellivision style controller, I can easily recommend the Intellivision Flashback. It has a really nice full collection of first party games, with pretty solid emulation. Only Tower Of Doom stands out as being broken, with improperly functioning collision detection.

      I always hoped we could have seen a 3DS redo of Intellivision Lives, given how well the circle pad could replicate the directional disc of the Intellivision controller. There was some chatter about a potential Intellivision Flashback 2, but ATGames has been pretty silent on that so far, and is definitely not on their release schedule for this year.

    • Kevin

      DS one was all right in my experience – not perfect, but got the job done and provided a decent way to play Frog Bog on the go. The console ports were mostly fine, though I seem to recall the PS2 version didn’t have the full 16-directional recognition of the Gamecube and Xbox, making Vectron basically unplayable.

      The Flashback is pretty solid, and with an adapter you can even use its controllers on the original hardware!

  7. Vic Vega

    Totally agree about the 3DS Lives, which seems less and less likely to materialize with each passing month. This is one of those annoying situations where if everything was just time-shifted a few years in another direction, we would be able to have our cake and eat it, too (but that would also somehow mean the Axis Powers won WWII and Hitler became global dictator, so nevermind).

    Great post, and thanks for the Flashback recommendation (I have their Atari release from a few years back and rather enjoy it)!