Friday, September 28, 2012

Allied Leisure's Name of the Game Home Video Game

One of the lesser-known home video games from the 1970s was Allied Leisure's Name of the Game, produced for Christmas 1976. Even David Winter's excellent Pong Story website doesn't have much on it.

Allied's Name of the Game (photo from

I was going through some of the company's annual reports and they acutally had a decent amount of information on the game.
Scott Cohen's Zap claims that Allied introduced a home backgammon game in 1977 but the annual reports don't mention it.

The early reports also listed production and release dates for the company's early video and electromechanical games, but they stopped doing that in 1974 (actually they may have done it in 1975 and 1976 - my library only has 10Ks for those years, not Annual Reports).
Here is the info on Name of the Game from the 1976 and 1977 annual reports/10Ks.

"By July of 1976, because of continuing service difficulties, orders for the pinball machines had been substantially curtailed. At this point the Company determined to enter the home video game business. Based on prototype models, the Company had tentatively accepted commitments for approximately 60,000 home video units from several major customers. The Company expected F.C.C. approval on its game in late September, however,  the F.C.C. approval did not materialize until early December. Because if its late approval, the Company suffered the cancellation of many of these commitments.

In the meantime, the Company had given out substantial requisitions to several suppliers to allow the manufacture of the home video games. While the company had projected sales in excess of $1,500,000 from its home video games during the Christmas season of 1976, the Company sold home video games in December in the amount of approximately $350,000. The company, as a consequence, was left with a substantial inventory of home video games, for which the market is very soft."

"Home Video Games
In June 1976, the Company decided to enter the consumer market by the introduction of a home video game. It was contemplated that the Company could complete its development program in time to participate in the 1976 Christmas season. Delays in deliveries on the part of a major component supplier, plus additional delays in obtaining required F.C.C. approval, prevented the Company from commencing production until December 1976. As a consequence, the Company experienced cancellations on more than $3,000,000 of commitments.

The Company had committed itself for raw material for the production of 25,000 units. Approximately 17,000 units were built, of which approximately 4,000 finished units remained in inventory as of October 31, 1977. The market, beginning in early 1977 was very soft with increasing price deterioration. During its fiscal year ended October 31, 1977, the Company realized gross revenues of approximately $670,000 from the sale of home video units. Since the end of its fiscal year the Company has sold all but 1,000 finished units, which were written down to, and sold at, a reduced price of $15 per unit

The Company’s home video games were marketed through manufacturers' representatives to major discount houses, department stores and other retail outlets. The Company made two models:

(1)    “Name of the Game I,” a four player model that allowed the player a choice of four games (tennis, hockey, squash and handball), plus two target games with an optional electronic gun. This game was designed to sell at $67; (2) “Name of the Game II,” a two player model involving the choice of the same four games, which was designed to sell at $45. The Company is no longer in the business of manufacturing and selling home video games and the remaining raw materials have been completely written off."

 Another item of interest in the early (1973 and 1974) annual reports was a chart of when various games were in production.
Here are the video games they list:

·         Paddle Battle: in production from March to September of 1973.
·         Tennis Tourney: in production from June of 1973 to January of 1974
·         Super Soccer: in production from November of 1973 to January of 1974
·         Hesitation: in production from April to July of 1973
·         Ric-O-Chet: In production from September of 1973 to January of 1974
·         Deluxe Soccer (may not be a video game):  In production from November of 1973 to January of 1974
Ric-O-Chet and Deluxe Soccer were listed as "Export Only"
Ric-O-Chet may not be a video game either. They did have a video game of that name but it is usually listed as a 1975 game. It may have been that it was only available for export before 1975.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Some Legal Odds and Ends

There were a number of court cases (primarily copyright cases) involving video games during the 1970s and 1980s. Reading court cases can be mind-numbingly boring, but the cases sometimes have nuggets of great information, such as production numbers, release dates, and names of company employees.

Recently, I found a few such tidbits in a pair of cases from the era (including a well-known one).

The well-known case is Stern Vs. Kaufman, but buried in the minutia was something I hadn't seen before  that I found interesting. In the case, Stern filed complaint against Omni Video Games for their game Scramble 2, a bootleg of Scramble that was released about a month after Stern's game.
The famous part of the case is that it established an important precedent in the area of video game copyrights.

Rather than registering the game's code as a literary work, Konami had registered a video tape of the gameplay and attract mode as an audiovisual work. To get a copyright on an audiovisual work, it has to be original and "fixed" in a medium of some kind. Omni argued that Konami's copyright wasn't original because the audiovisual display depended entirely on the code, which Konami hadn't registered. It also wasn't fixed because it changed every time you played it. The court didn't buy it, but that's not the interesting part.

In addition to the copyright issue, Omni had actually filed a cross-complaint against Stern for violating their common-law trademark on the name Scramble.

Back in December of 1980, while the game was still in development at Konami and before Stern had even seen it (which they did at a London trade show in January of 1981), Omni president Frank Gaglione ordered ten video game marquees bearing the name "Scramble" from BCA Posters. At the time, they were producing (or had already produced) the bootleg games Space Guerilla, Space Carrier, and Rally-X. Gaglione took five of the marquees, and slapped them on cabinets for these three games (the rest of the cabinet art still referred to the original game title).

Clearly, Gaglione had somehow found out about Scramble, and made a rather transparent attempt to get a trademark on the name. Once again the court didn't buy it, but you've got to admire the nerve of such a sleazy move.

Read the details here:,33

NOTE that this was the later of the two Stern Vs. Kaufman cases.

The second case was this one:

Cinematronics vs. Electronics Sports Research from 1989. This one involves the game World Series: The Season. According to the case, Cinematronics head honcho Jim Pierce met with Roland Colton of Electronic Sports Research in May of 1984 to talk about Colton's concept for his game World Series: the Season and about the possibility of Cinematronics manufacturing it. Accorging to Colton, Pierce signed a confidentiality agreement about the game and only then did Colton explain its "secret design". Pierce told Colton thanks but no thanks - Cinematronics wasn't interested in the game. Then in October of 1985, they released the game on their own without paying Colton a dime.

Colon was able to get an injunction to prevent Cinematronics from showing the game at "a particular trade show in Chicago" (no doubt the AMOA show) but Cinematronics claimed that this violated the "automatic stay provision of the bankruptcy code" (at the time, Cinematronics was in the midst of what some say was the longest bankruptcy case in California history).

Did Cinematronics steal the idea for World Series from Colton? I'd have to do further research to find out but it wouldn't surprise me (BTW, the game was excellent).

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Tortuous History of Tube Chase/Vertigo/Tunnel Hunt

Of all the games from the golden age (or any other for that matter), surely none had a more convoluted history than Centuri's Tunnel Hunt. It started out as a vector game called Tube Chase at Atari and ended up as a raster game called Tunnel Hunt at Centuri, with a stop at Exidy (where it was called Vertigo) in between. Adding to the confusion, Exidy produced another prototype game called Vertigo.  Here's the story, largely from an interview I did with Owen Rubin in March of 1998.

            Another Centuri game had actually started life as a color vector game, but 1981’s Tunnel Hunt ended up as a raster game. The game, which was actually the creation of Atari’s Owen Rubin, had a long and torturous history. It started life at Atari as Tube Chase and was Rubin’s first color vector project. Initially he started with an Asteroids vector system and some Night Driver code to create a simple flying game.

[Owen Rubin] I started the game as a vector graphics project based on the opening landing sequence in the movie Aliens. It did not work in vector, but that took several months to discover. Dave Sherman had an ellipse generator that he thought would be good, so I spent nine months or so and did this great game of flying down tunnels. The tunnels split and merged and you occasionally exited into space where you could fly into one of several other tunnels (worm holes). . .The only way you could slow down was to hit the walls, but that raised the hull temperature. It was a good strategy to bump the wall to hold off a target so that you would not overtake it, especially if your lasers were out. . .  It had a great cabinet. It “wrapped” around you with speakers behind and in front. You stood, not sat, and it blocked out outside noise. The controller was a flight stick for flying with buttons for firing and shields.

The game was play-tested and scored a solid #2 or #3 for 10 weeks straight but Atari would not feel comfortable unless it reached #1. Atari felt that the game needed some changes and Rubin went back to work, spending another six months on the game. Then management decided that the game was too expensive.

[Owen Rubin] So we cheapened the hardware to do circles only. This made the split tubes ugly, and the warping of the tunnel effect was lost. . . It took another four months to make the changes. We field tested it again - #2, solid! They changed the hardware again to make it even cheaper, which allowed only one sorted list of circles and so I had to take out the splits. The game was MUCH simpler now, but still the same basic game play.

     [It was] still too expensive, so Dave did a rectangle generator and I rewrote the game for a square tube. After 3-4 months [we did] another field test – still #2 for another five weeks (at different arcades all the time as well). So after almost two years of screwing around with it, they decided to sell the game to a competitor – something Atari had NEVER done.

     So, I stated another turn to change the name to Vertigo for Exidy. This was harder than it sounds because I put some VERY elaborate security code in the game to prevent a clone company from being able to copy the game and remove the word Atari from the screen. After all this time, I forgot where it all was. Another three months and they had their game. They field tested it again, but now it was only earning a solid #3. After all, it was OVER two years old and starting to look out of date.

In Exidy’s version, the game was packed into a cockpit cabinet. After building a small test run, however, Exidy decided it didn’t want the game after all, though they did go on to develop another, unrelated, game with the same name.

[Owen Rubin] About three months later, they rolled the game back into my lab and asked if I could make “just one more change”. This line became a joke because they’d asked this maybe 70 times by now. I changed it AGAIN, this time for Centuri in Florida, and they did build the game. Unfortunately it was now almost three years out of date…

     The kicker to all this is that after I left Atari, I went immediately to Bally/Sente to work with some old teammates from Atari. When I walked into my new law, there was a Tunnel Hunt with a sign asking if I would make “just one more change”. Of course, they didn’t really want it, but I got a VERY good laugh out of it.    


And as a bonus of sorts, here's what little I know abou the OTHER Veritgo designed by Exidy.

Perhaps the most interesting, if not successful, game Exidy "released" in 1984 was Vertigo – a game designed by Howell Ivy with the same name as Owen Rubin’s effort from two years earlier, but different gameplay. Vertigo was a vector graphics game mounted in a huge cockpit cabinet that actually swiveled and spun about. The system was called the “XCD-1 environmental system”. According to Ivy, Exidy (or is that XCD?) built about 150 units. Interestingly enough, they actually sold only a fraction of those. Most were given away to operators as part of a revenue sharing program. The operator would be sent a game and  place it on location, where Exidy and the operator would split the cash box 50/50. The idea, which seems innovative, was actually the result of desperation. Exidy was floundering at the time and was looking to generate revenue any way it could.

NOTE - For those who don't know, SOP at the time was that the manufacturer sold a game to a distributor for a set price. After that, the manufacturer got no more income from the game. The distributor then resold the game to an operator (again for a set price). The operator would place the game on location where he (or she) and the location owner would split the "coin drop" (the money the game took in). While a 50/50 split was most common, the operator could negotiate whatever deal he wanted (Replay reported splits as high as 85/15).

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Dark Side of the Moon of Video Games?

Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon is well-known for its 741-week run on the Billboard charts. But there is a coin-op video game that did almost the same thing - and it's one that very few who didn't experience the golden age of video games first hand will remember. Even a lot of people who WERE there probably wouldn't be able to name this forgotten classic.

Back when I started writing my book, Replay was kind enough to send me copies of their Player's Choice charts from the 1980s (actually, I might have bought them). My main goal was to track the peak chart position of all games released prior to 1985, so I only asked for the charts up to December of 1986.

That December 1986 chart included only two games released prior to 1983.
One was barely on the charts at #24 (the chart only went to #25) but the other was at #9 and had appeared on the charts a record 55 times.
Guess which one?

Nope, it wasn't Pac-Man, Asteroids, Defender, Centipede, Space Invaders, Donkey Kong or Ms. Pac-Man.


Good guess. Very good guess. That was the one at #24.

No, the game at #9 wasn't any of those all-time classics, it was

drum roll

Monaco GP by Gremlin/Sega, which debuted WAY back at the AMOA show in 1979.

Now you're probably thinking this is a fluke - some kind of anomaly with the Replay charts, right?

Well, maybe but I don't think so.
Monaco GP was actually a freaking great game.

It may not seem like it today, but I very clearly remember playing it back in the day and loving it. In fact, it's probably the driving game that I enjoyed the most from the era (and yes, I played Pole Position, Night Driver, and most of the others).

What was so great about the game?
It's hard to say. It may have been that it was one of the first full color driving games.
The gameplay was pretty straightforward but there was something about it that just took it to another level (similar games like Midway's Super Speed Race came out around the same time but they didn't have the "it" factor that Monaco GP did).

It was a top-down driving game in which you navigated over four terrain types - a regular road, an icy road, a night-time road, and a bridge. Controls were the standard driving controls - steering wheel, gas pedal, and gear shift.

Unfortunately I know next to nothing about its design history.
It was one of the last TTL/discrete logic games released (which is why it isn't in MAME, though I think it is in MifitMAME).

Sadly, the game seems all but forgotten today but back in the day, it was the stuff.

For the record, here are the top ten games in terms of # of chart appearances through December 1986:

1.       Monaco GP - 55

2.       Galaga - 44
Galaga could also merit the title "Dark Side of the Moon of Video Games".  Perhaps even more so than Monaco GP.
If I compiled the all-time numbers, I'd guess that Galaga would be #1 in total chart appearances and quite possibly in longest span between first and last appearances. It was one of the few classic games you  could still find in a significant number of locations just before retro gaming took off. Plus it was reissued in the Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga cabinet.

3.       Turbo - 38
Here's more evidence that Monaco GP wasn't a fluke. Turbo was basically a semi-first-person follow-up to Monaco GP.

4.       Centipede - 36
5.       Asteroids - 35
6T.    Ms. Pac-Man - 34
             Pac-Man - 34
8.       Pole Position - 30
9.       Galaxian - 29
10.   Defender - 23

Monday, September 17, 2012

Worst Arcade Game Names / Game Name Quiz

A bit of a change of pace today. What were the worst coin-op video game names from the bronze and golden eras? I'm talking worst names here, not worst games. It is, of course, subjective but here is my top ten
10. Donkey Kong (Nintendo) - Blasphemy you say? At a time when Donkey Kong is a household name it may seem like it but people forget how stupid this name seemed when the game first came out. The explanation that "donkey" means "stupid" clears things up a bit but if you have to explain your game's name…
9. Do! Run Run (Universal) - I actually like the Mr. Do series. In fact, loath as I am to admit it, Mr. Do! is my favorite game but this name just doesn’t work. Plus, anything that reminds me of Shaun Cassidy can't be a good thing.
8. Libble Rabble (Namco) - Toru Iwatani once called this his favorite game. Neither the game nor the name is among my favorites. What is a "libble" anyway?
7. Ckidzo (Meadows Games) - I can't even spell this thing much less pronounce it (for the record, the pronunciation is "SKID-ZO").
6. Oli-Boo-Chu (Irem/GDI) - I'm not even going to guess what this one means but the name doesn't exactly make me eager to play the game.  "I'm gonna play me some Defender" gets the blood pumping. "I'm gonna play me some Oli-Boo-Chu"? Not so much.
5. Smatch (Renee Pierre) - Sounds like a communicable disease to me.
4. Computer Space Ball (Nutting Associates) - Uninspired doesn't begin to describe this one. I have no idea where the "space" part comes in (though I suppose the name "Computer Ball" was right out).
3. Pooyan (Konami/Stern) - Sounds like something you say when someone cuts the cheese. "Pooyan! That stinks!".
2. Minky Monkey (Technos) - Who's a minky little monkey? YOU"RE a minky little monkey. Yes you are. Yes you ARE a minky little monkey. Koochie, Koochie, Koo! (minky monkey claps and giggles)
Again, I have no idea what "minky" means. Is minkiness something one looks for in a monkey?
1. Defend the Terra Attack on the Red UFO (Artic?) - That's not a name - it's a short story.  OK, I realize that this was probably a translation of a Japanese title and that it may not have ever been released (and if it was, it was likely a bootleg) but still.
I remember once looking at the patent application for Tapper and was amused to find that it listed the game as "
Video game in which a host image repels ravenous images by serving filled vessels". I thought "Hey, wouldn't THAT make a great name for a video game?". Well "Defend the Terra Attack on the Red UFO" isn't much better - and it was actually used.
Finally, a quiz.
Many games were known by other names prior to being released. Sometimes they started life as a different game. Sometimes they were given nicknames during development. Sometimes they even changed names after being released.
Match the following alternate/pre-release names with the more well-known version.

1.       Agent X
2.       Amishman
3.       Armageddon
4.       Bug Shooter
5.       Catch 40
6.       Charlie the Tuna
7.       Crazy Otto
8.       Deep Death
9.       Dukes of Tron, Startkey and Clutch
10.   Eon and the Time Tunnel
11.   Expander
12.   King Crab
13.   Midnite Racer
14.   Mothership
15.   Road Runner
16.   Snots and Boogers
17.   Tollian Web
18.   Toporoids
19.   Tube Chase/Vertigo
20.   Vortex/Aliens
21.   Warp Speed
22.   Xs and Os
A.      280 Zzzap
B.      Atari Football
C.      Atomic Castle
D.      Centipede
E.       Cloak and Dagger
F.       Crystal Castles
G.     Desert Gun
H.      Kickman
I.        Kozmik Krooz'r
J.        Levers
K.      Major Havoc
L.       Missile Command
M.    Ms. Pac-Man
N.     Q*Bert
O.     Reactor
P.      Sea Wolf
Q.     Shark Attack
R.      Spy Hunter
S.       Star Wars
T.       Tempest
U.     Tunnel Hunt
V.      Zookeeper

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Simutron Tournament Center - The Ultimate Arcade Video Game?

Picture this. A video arcade where up to 8 gamers could compete against one another and/or the computer in custom-designed, sound-proof cabinets, with sports car seats, quadraphonic stereo sound, and multiple monitors in a game incorporatign laser disc footage from Star Trek.
"Big deal", you say? What if I told you this was in the early1980s and it came within a hair of completion.

I give you the all-but-unknown story of the Simutron Tournament Center.

Simutron was the work of a team of programmers and designers at Perceptronics of Woodland Hills, CA. Founded in 1970 by Gershon Weltman and Amos Freedy, Perceptronics early work consisted largely of research and development studies for the Department of Defense. The introduction of the laser disc player provided Perceptronics with its first practical success. In 1981, the group demonstrated a prototype for a laserdisc-based tank gunnery simulator to Senator Sam Nunn. The U.S. Army, which was seeking less expensive ways to train its personnel, soon bought into the idea. Other laser disc products included a corporate training system called ActionCode and an exercise bike called LaserTour that displayed laser disc footage on a large screen (including a virtual tour of the moon) while the user pedaled. Offered in the 1982 Nieman Marcus Christmas catalog at a hefty $20,000 each, only two units were sold. Perceptronics would also work on Bally's NFL Football laserdisc coin-op (along with Advanced Video Inc.). Around 1982, Cinematronics contracted with Perceptronics to create a 3D tank battle system for use in military training but it was never completed. (Was it the same system they demoed to the U.S. Army? - I'm not sure but that's a subject for another time).

Back to Simutron.
Simutron, Inc. was incorporated on November 24, 1981 in Escondido, California. Originally the company analyzed business trends for clients in various industries. While investigating problems in the video game industry that manufacturers weren't addressing, Simutron decided that they had the solutions and went into the video game business. Simutron's idea was the Simulator Game System - a multigame, multiplayer system that would be installed in dedicated arcades across the country with a library of games that would be delivered via phone lines. Players would be able to compete against one another and eventually even compete in real time with players at other locations. The initial game would be a space combat incorporating laserdisc footage from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The idea had come from one of Simutron's owners, who had written a text-based multiuser shoot-'em-up game. Simutron decided to create an arcade version of the game and got rights to use special effects from the film

To create the system, Simutron contracted with Perceptronics (the same company that worked on Bally's NFL Football). The first Simutron Tournament Center was to be located in San Diego. The contract called for Perceptronics to deliver a final product by June 30, 1982 (long before either Astron Belt or Dragon's Lair debuted).

At the initial meeting, Perceptronics' Scott Ellison, who eventually led the project, as he put it  "…took over their meeting and proceeded to blow the proposal out of all proportion."  Ellison and his team (including his brother Todd, Larry Zempel, and programmers Michael Moore and Jose Paglieri) went on to develop probably the most complex arcade game designed to that time (or maybe even since). For $3 per 15 minutes, players could sit in one of 16 soundproof cockpits with quadraphonic sound facing four color monitors where they could square off against the computer or up to 8 other players. The hardware for each "pod" was custom designed and built around a Z-80 microprocessor. Each pod had voice output, a sound generator, and a console controller that interfaced with the central arcade station. A video interface allowed players to connect to players in other pods. Each pod also had four monitors: one for a tactical display, one for ship status, one for game play statistics and controls, and a larger one above them to display the laserdisc sequences. They also featured Recaro seats (the German company that designed bucket seats for the Porsche and other sports cars) with woofers in the base..

In an article in the April 1, 1983 issue of Play Meter Simutron's VP of Marketing, Dave Jenkins, describes the game as follows
[Dave Jenkins] It is basically a territory acquisition game. The goal is to rebuild the Federation space while defending it from the Klingon and Rebel forces

Scott Ellison supplies more details on the game (which was planned to include seven levels of play):

[Scott Ellison] The lowest levels were finger candy games...similar to Space Invaders in the sense of shooting moving objects of various behaviors. The higher levels were more sophisticated. Players would roam the universe discovering planets and characters with certain innate powers. If you had a good enough crew, you could capture a planet or improve your chances during battle with other gamers in your universe. You might come upon a planet of psychotics...if you also happened upon a planet of psychiatrists and had the power to obtain control of it, you could use it to neutralize the psychotics, all adding to your ownership of the Universe. And obviously, if you managed to acquire Spock, Bones, or Scotty, you were golden!
            The most interesting ( to me) was a level in which you could adopt a role in an ongoing scripted universe. The first version of this included the assembly of something called the 'Plasma Trough Articulator' which was being assembled in your universe by nasty aliens in an adjacent universe...various roles were to be available with objectives of their own. At the higher levels the design was intent upon bringing groups of players back to the arcade. The time slots were to be scheduled (reserved) and billing was by time of play.…
Players could play independently or form alliances. That was key for us. In a video conference you could align yourself with another ship and then betray your oath - all that was intentionally build into the design. In fact, we had algorithms to weight a player's power in battle by how they had performed. Did they lie and cheat...were they always true blue...we were working on modeling how our universe works, but exaggerated.

As for the laserdisc footage:

[Scott Ellison] Simutron had obtained the rights to use the special effects to Star Trek the Motion Picture - but, could not use scenes with characters in them. So, I went into the video editing room and spliced together all the sequences of action in which Captain Kirk and the other characters were not present. This gave me a catalog of special effects to use, like going into warp, planet fly-bys, space stations and stuff. But, I felt there weren't enough of these scenes to fill the disk and ensure variety (truly a real gamer would be monitoring his console displays anyway). So, I combined scenes, changed angles, zoomed stuff, added atmospheres and halos around stuff to beef up visual assets.


In addition, the centers were designed to be self-diagnostic, alerting operators when service was needed. Other locations were planned with players being able to square off against opponents in different cities. A library of games  were planned( a sports game and a fantasy games were slated to be created next), which would be delivered over phone lines. There were also plans for an educational system using the technology.

The prototype tournament center was built in San Diego with most of the hardware and software functioning and portions of the game were demoed, but the project was cancelled in the fall with each company blaming the other. The first sign of trouble came when a May 1, 1982 demo had to be postponed. Dave Jenkins claimed that Perceptronics "…didn't have the technology they said they did[1]." A year later, negotiations to salvage the product finally collapsed (Scott Ellison recalls that Simutron ran out of money and that other investors offered to help foot the bill, but the owners were unwilling to give up any rights to their company). The crash of the video game market didn't help things any. Perceptronics claimed that the delays were due to changes in scope  and filed a $150,000 lawsuit on June 27th for money owed them for the work they did. Simutron (which had paid $315,000 to Perceptronics) responded with a $48 million suit of their own, charging Perceptronics with breach of contract, fraud, conspiracy, and violation of a non-compete agreement (for their work on NFL Football).

So after more than two years of work, what could have been the most innovative video game of the 1980s died a sudden death (though reportedly the company had an order for a standalone version of the game for Pizza Time Theatre - until the chain declared bankruptcy and was restructured).

[1] Play Meter, October 15, 1983

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What Was The First "True" Color Arcade Video Game?

What was the first "true color" coin-op video game? The answer to that question obviously depends on what you mean by "true color". I am not asking which coin-op video game was the first to make truly effective use of color. I mean, which coin-op video game was the first to produce actual color images (even ineffective ones) rather than using cellophane overlays to achieve the appearance of color.


Galaxian (Namco, 1979) Bzzt! Not even close. This used to be the standard answer and you can still find plenty of websites and books that say it is, but isn't. Now it may have been one of the first games, or even THE first game to make really effective use of color, but it wasn't the first to use color period.

Car Polo (Exidy, ca March 1977) - Nope. This was Exidy's first true color games and one of the earliest to combine color with a microprocessor, but it wasn't the first in the industry. Factoid: Death Race was actually intended only as a filler until Car Polo was ready.

Indy 800 (Atari/Kee,  April 1975) - Yes, this DID use color (it kind of had to in order for players to be able to tell which car was theirs), but it wasn't the first arcade video game to use color. Heck, it wasn't even ATARI's first video game to use color (well, maybe it was but we'll get to that soon enough).

Pace Car Pro (Electra Games, debuted October 1974) - Wow! Where did you hear about this one?   Electra Games was the coin-op video game division of URL (who later developed for Stern). Pace Car Pro was their first game. Interesting little company, that URL. They made circuit boards for Paddle Battle. Their  Video Action (1974?) may have been the second home system released in the US. And Pace Car Pro was actually similar to a color home game that they ALMOST released in winter of 1975. You see…
but that's a story for another post.

Wimbledon (Nutting Associates, 1974??) - Maybe, just maybe. Yes, it was a ball-and-paddle game that used true color (at least I think it did). Why? Don't ask me. The question is, if it was released and (if so) when. Some sources (including TAFA) say it was released in 1973, others (like KLOV) say 1974. I'm not sure which it is (my library's run of Vending Times starts in March of 1974 or I might be able to confirm). In any event, it likely beat Pace Car Pro to market. But is it the absolute first? It all depends on that unconfirmed release date.
Table Tennis is another Nutting game that might have used color, but it looks like overlays to me.

Color Gotcha (Atari, October 1973) - Ladies and gents we might have a winnah!  Or we might not. No, not Gotcha, I'm talking about COLOR Gotcha. And yes that is a flyer for regular old black-and-white Gotcha, but that's because I don't thik Color Gotcha ever had a flyer since it was (supposedly) a "limited run" game.  
Color Gotcha did use real color and we seem to have a firm release date (from the internal Atari document) but did it come out before  Wimbledon or not? Then there's the issue of whether or not it counts as "released". One person at Atari told me this: " Usually, an ultra-limited production run meant that we sold the pre-production prototypes and hoped nobody got mad at us." Color Gotcha was (I believe) developed at Grass Valley/Cyan Engineering and my guess is that less than 10 were produced (someone might have actually told me that), but until I can confirm Wimbledon's release date or find another contender that I missed (a distinct possibility), it gets my vote.


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Wynn Bailey - Cinematronics Mystery Man?

One interesting item I came across recently was an article called Video Wars that appeared in the March 8th, 1981 San Diego Union.

It's about someone named Wynn Bailey who claims he was "key in the creation" of Tailgunner, Rip Off (which the article says was his "first brainstorm for the company"), and Star Castle. Bailey had recently been fired - he says for "talking to a magazine reporter without authorization from company management." (though he also admits he was seeking employment with other companies and speculates that Cinematronics may have feared he was selling company secrets). Cinematronics denied the story, claiming that he just up and quit. Bailey also claimed an "executive level" salary with "free use of a company car."

The article claims that Bailey developed a love for arcade games as a child when he lived next to an amusement park. After graduating with an engineering degree in the early '70s, he took a job with a Bay Area medical imaging company (NOTE - this was probably Ramtek, who did make medical imaging products prior to getting into video games) In 1976 he was transferred to the firm's small video game department, where he "specialized in idea and design work." In early 1980, Cinematronics allegedly bought the department "..including Bailey's services and his exclusive vectorbeam system".

The trouble is, I've never heard of this guy. Nobody I talked to from Cinematronics, including
Rip-Off / Star Castle designer Tim Skelly, mentioned him. Many of the alleged facts in the story don't square with what I've heard elsewhere. For instance, it claims that Cinematronics purchased his vectorbeam system in 1980, but they had introduced their first vector game, Space Wars in November of 1977.

 A web search turned up only one article from an Italian magazine but the text is in Italian.

So what's the deal with this guy?

1) Could "Wynn Bailey" be a pseudonym? If so, for whom?

Tim Skelly? It doesn't look anything like Skelly (at least not to me) and some of the details don't seem to jibe with Skelly's story (Skelly came to Cinematronics directly from Kansas City and had nothing to do with developing the original vectorbeam system).

Larry Rosenthal? Again, it doesn't look like him to me (though I've only seen a couple of photos of Rosenthal) but it's possible. From what I've heard, Rosenthal and Bill Cravens left on their own to form Vectorbeam and he wasn't fired (though this story is compatible with that of Cinematronics in the article). I've also never heard that he had anything to do with Rip-Off (though Star Castle used elements of a game that he and Dan Sunday created at Vectorbeam).

Dan Sunday? This seems like the most likely candidate to me, though again there are problems.
Sunday was the main designer/programmer of Tailgunner and the rotating rings idea for Star Castle came from game he and Rosenthal worked on. As with Rosenthal, however, I've never heard that he had anything to do with Rip-Off (which, from what I know, was entirely Tim Skelly's idea).
Sunday is the only one of the three I haven't talked to, but in his account here:
he doesn't mention being fired by Cinematronics (though neither does he deny it) but he does say that they wanted to hire him back, which seems unlikely if he is the Wynn Baily in the article.
I have not seen a photo of Sunday, so I can't compare (the Italian article has a photo of Steve Ritchie [Ithink] playing Black Knight - the caption metions "Wynn Bailey" and seems to indicate that he is on the left but I'm not sure. I think he's the guy in the firt photoe (he doesn't look exactly like the guy in the Union but they could be and the pose in the two photos is similar) - the guy sitting in the background in the Ritchie picture might be him, but I think it's Larry Demar).

2) Is "Wynn Bailey" stretching the truth?

Maybe he did work on the games in a minor capacity and is falsely claiming he created them to try and get back at the company, launch a lawsuit etc.

3) Is his story true?

Maybe his name really is Wynn Bailey and he really is the creator of Tailgunner, Rip-Off, and Star Castle and all others associated with the game are covering it up. This seems highly unlikely to me. Tim Skelly, Dan Sunday, and Scott Boden all seemed truthful to me in all the interviews I've read or conducted.



Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Pac-Man/Pizza Story - Video Gaming's Creation Myth?

The history of video games is replete with origin stories. Most of them are known only to those who follow gaming. There's one story, however, that the average person on the street is likely to have heard: the idea for Pac-Man came about when designer Toru Iwatani ordered a pizza for lunch, ate a slice, and looked at the pie with one slice missing. He was immediately struck with the idea for the game's main character.

It's a good story. But is it too good to be true?

Here's how Iwatani himself put it in Stephen Kent's Ultimate History of Video Games:

[Toru Iwatani] The actual figure of Pac-Man came about as I was having pizza for lunch. I took one wedge and there it was, the figure of Pac-Man.

Seems pretty definitive, no? Straight from the horse's mouth so to speak.
Here he is again in a 2010 interview for Is that story true, that you thought of the shape of Pac-Man after removing one slice from a pizza?
Iwatani: It's true[1]

So I guess that settles it, right? Case closed. Well - maybe not.
How about this, from a 1986 interview by Susan Lammers:
INTERVIEWER: Is the story about the pizza really true?
IWATANI: Well, it's half true. In Japanese the character for mouth (kuchi) is a square shape. It’s not circular like the pizza, but I decided to round it out. There was the temptation to make the Pac Man shape less simple. While I was designing this game, someone suggested we add eyes. But we eventually discarded that idea because once we added eyes; we would want to add glasses and maybe a moustache. There would just be no end to it[2].
Or this, from Trstan Donovan's Replay:
[Toru Iwatani] When I imagined what women enjoy, the image of them eating cakes and desserts came to mind so I used ‘eating’ as a keyword. When I was doing research with this keyword I came across the image of a pizza with a slice taken out of it and had that eureka moment. So I based the Pac-Man character design on that shape[3].
One recent author (I forget which one at the moment) claims that Steven Kent told him in a letter that Iwatani had later said something along the lines of "It would be nice if it were true?"
So is the story true, half-true, or just plain false?
We may never know for sure and Iwatani himself has given different answers at different times.
I actually think the Replay story is intriguing. Perhaps Iwatani did come across the image while doing research then he (or someone at Namco) embellished the story by adding the bit about lunch. Once a story is out there, it's harder to undo it (cherished myths can be hard to give up) - and It DOES make for a much better story.
This is, of course, mere speculation on my part.

[1] Chris Kohler, Q&A Pac-ManCreator Reflects on 30 Years of Dot-Eating, May 10, 2010;

[2] Susan M. Lammers, Programmers at Work; New York, Microsoft Press, 1986 (
[3] Donovan, Tristan (2010-07-13). Replay: The History of Video Games (p. 87). Yellow Ant. Kindle Edition.