Just as TI pulled out of the market, Milton Bradley were producing a peripheral system which supplied a touch pad and a triple access joystick, plus speech recognition, this was the MBX Unit.
First the system description, then the modules:
The MBX unit is a large box which connects to the console via the joystick socket AND the cassette port. Other connections are: 9v DC power supply. special joystick, and microphone.
Technically the MBX Unit is a computer which uses the TI99/4a for game storage and for video display, the link is a form of serial port, using the TI99/4a's left side joystick port. The MBX unit has a Z80 at 6MHz and a unique speech chip. MBX games modules with speech could use speech with either the MBX or without the MBX but with a TI speech synth.
Membrane keyboard on the MBX unit. This is used to control the unit, and in some games, an overlay is used giving various positions certain functions.
Microphone: attached to a comfortable headset unit, this is used for speech recognition, allowing you to direct a program with your hands tied behind your back!
Joystick: Very special joystick: fire button plus 3 control buttons. Analogue joystick...point it in the direction you want to travel: not limited to 8 directions. Also can be used as accelerometer: the faster you move the stick the faster your man moves. Also the 'knob’ rotates and can be used to rotate a man or to provide some other input.
None of the cartridges use ALL the MBX facilities and the joystick was never fully utilised. A simplified version later appeared with an Atari badge.
In later years, Barry Boone produced assembly code to allow Extended Basic programmers to access the facilities of the unit using Extended Basic "Call LINKs".
The modules for the MBX
Modules that REQUIRE the MBX Unit
TERRY TURTLES ADVENTURE, I’M HIDING. BASEBALL: REQUIRE the MBX unit to function. The other seven modules may be used on a 4A console without the MBX. although the MBX may add certain features.
All ten modules have speech output: the MBX can provide this (output via a loudspeaker in the MBX) or if you do not have the MBX. the Speech Synthesiser may be used.
The modules in detail
TERRY TURTLES ADVENTURE
Using Speech Recognition. You tell the Turtle where to go. The aim is to get him home before Winter.
Quite easy even with the 3rd (most difficult) screen.
For very young owners.
Directions include Swim. Eat, Climb, Left, Right. 1, 2. and 3. Suggested for age 4 up,.
Suggested for age 4 to 7, but some 1 year olds could benefit with supervision.
Uses speech recognition.
A simple game of hide and seek, with two screen layouts of jars. pencils, crayons, and brushes. A cast of very likeable characters. each with its own voice.
Choose a location (type. colour and size) and receive clues such as 'nearer' or 'farther' or 'very close'. Uses bit map mode graphics and very catchy music.
Teaches classification and deduction.
A younger child who may lack voice control can use a keyboard overlay which has pictures on it, to input guesses.
The voice recognition is remarkably accurate by the way, but can be fooled. You first 'teach' it your voice, then it compares your input to the taught library, and chooses the closest match.
Described as for ages 5 to 8. The only facility is speech synthesis.
Honey Hunt is described as teaching patterning skills.
Like all Milton Bradley educational games, it comes with a manual full of advice on how to use it educationally, and how to relate it to 'normal' play activity.
As a bee you have to collect pollen. from flowers which open and close in a pattern, avoiding spiders webs, a dragonfly, a killer bee, and a bear which likes pollen too.
Soundtrack Trolley seems like an interesting variation on the Simon music game.
Uses many of the MBX facilities.
For two players.
One player is pitching: he uses the keyboard to input the type of pitch, and the headset to direct his fielders where to throw the ball.
The other player as batsman uses the joystick. The rotating top gives bat speed (which governs where the ball is likely to land) while the joystick itself directs the man to run.
Baseball is not very well known here, but the module seems faithful to the game.
A sort of 3D game in which you collect gems and avoid aliens.
The form of input is very difficult, and you may prefer the use of a normal joystick to the MBX.
Voice recognition is available, but a trifle too slow.
There may be a bug in the program, as the man seems to dislike turning one of the corners.
A very difficult game to master, and the layout, being original, may appeal to those who like a challenging arcade game.
The 3d tunnel is wrap around style, so even if the aliens do not shoot you, you could shoot yourself in the back!!! Different.
May be best suited to younger players. as there is no urgency in the action.
You must search a sewer for a hidden bomb, avoiding an alligator and rabid rats.
The MBX unit adds speech recognition, which does add to this game.
The MBX joystick is also used.
The speech recognition allows you to 'store' a command ('door') which will be obeyed when possible.
The MBX adds nothing to this game.
Similar to ALPINER, but much better put together.
In Big Foot, you have to climb a mountain, collect treasures, and cage a Bigfoot, who is chucking snowballs at you! There is also an eagle ever ready snatch you from your rope ladder...
You must climb up rope ladders, which you throw, and can climb down them or jump down one level only. You alternate picking up food and gold until all are gone, then head for the mountain top, and once there lower a cage onto BigFoot by moving the joystick forward (or pressing E, keyboard can be used too!), then lift it off screen by pulling back.
You lose a life by being hit by a snowball- you can shelter under some ledges, on a rope if required.
You lose a life by being carried off by an eagle- you can avoid this by noticing that the eagle will carry away the leftmost rope on the level you are on, so just throw up a dummy rope, then another to its right, and use that.
You lose a life by falling more than one level
There are six mountains, each with their own pattern of ledges, offering different strategic problems. Sound effects are good if you have speech synth OR MBX Unit.
Patience has its rewards in this game! Not TOO difficult.
The MBX joystick may be found better, but I am happy using an ordinary joystick.
For 1 or 2 players, who must shoot down meteors and satellites and each other.
There are conflicting tasks: to get a high score, or to destroy your opponent.
Playing against the computer, high scores are difficult as the computer can play very aggressively, and once either of you have used up all your ships, its game end.
The confusion of tasks does detract a little, I suggest you forget high scores, and play for who has the highest score at the end of each round.
For younger players.
Features speech recognition, and uses the MBX joystick rotating top. (CAN be used with a 4A alone).
Control a fly armed with a deadly laser(?) and control those equally deadly spiders.
Quite a simple game. Most players will reach at least screen 7 on first play!
I'm Hiding and Meteor Belt do require a COLOUR display