Less successful were Centuri’s other 1981 games. Route 16 (another Tehkan license – though it was likely developed by Sun Electronics) was a maze game in which the player drove a race car around a map containing 16 different rooms. When the player drove into a room, the screen switched to a close-up view of the room’s interior. The goal was to collect a series of treasures from each of the rooms. While it wasn’t as successful as Phoenix, Vanguard, and Pleiades, it probably sold in the neighborhood of 1,500-2,500 copies.
Meanwhile, Centuri hadn’t completely abandoned the idea of game development. After leaving Taito America, Ed Miller had managed to lure five of its designers away to work for him at Centuri where they designed Challenger, Killer Comet, and Megatack. Challenger was another vertical shooter, but with a few twists. Rather than firing strictly upwards, the player’s ship was equipped with a kind of laser shotgun that fired in three directions at once – straight upwards and diagonally to either side. Enemies mostly consisted of a series of multicolored geometric rings (though a snake like “space bogey” would occasionally appear). In addition to their shotgun, the player had a warp button that would teleport them from the bottom of the screen to the top, and a superbomb that would destroy multiple enemies. From time to time, a “bonus bug” that looked like an AT-AT walker from The Empire Strikes Back would walk onto the screen, allowing the player to connect to its nose (?) and suck up (eww!) bonus points. While the gameplay was actually somewhat interesting and the sounds were nice, the game’s graphics paled in comparison to those of other games on the market and Challenger probably sold only a few hundred copies. Megatack was basically a takeoff on the same theme with the addition of more enemies. Killer Comet featured the same basic gameplay but allowed the player to move freely about the screen. While the player could still only fire in the same three directions as Challenger and Megatack, they could control which way they fired with three fire buttons. Strangely, the game only awarded the player a single point for each enemy destroyed (which may be one reason why it wasn’t a hit). While all three games were designed in-house, Challenger was the only one released under the Centuri banner (though they may have produced Killer Comet for a short time). Killer Comet and Megatack were both licensed to newcomer Game Plan.
[NOTE - See my earlier post for more on Leisure Time Electronics]
On October 19, 1981 a company called Leisure Time Electronics filed suit against Centuri in Indiana charging them with delivering defective goods and making false and fraudulent warranty claims and seeking $3.15 million in damages. Nine days later, a company called Fascination International, Inc. filed suit against Centuri in Illinois for largely the same reasons. Both Leisure Time and Fascination (which trade magazines report were essentially the same company) were examples of what were called “blue sky” operators. Blowing into town for a weekend, they would set up shop in a local hotel or convention center then blanket the local media with ads promising easy profits in a “no cash” business. Potential customers were shown misleading media articles including exaggerated claims of the earning power of coin-op video games. Those who took the bait were sold substandard games at inflated prices, which often didn’t work and earned only a fraction of the advertised figures. Some even offered bogus services to help scout locations, only to fail to deliver once the customer left. Some failed to deliver any goods at all. In June of 1981, after a number of complaints, the California Attorney General took action against Leisure Time, Fascination, and another company called Potomac Mortgage, eventually fining them (see the chapter on legal issues for more details). By 1982, Leisure Time and Fascination were also under investigation in Iowa and Denver. At least some (and perhaps all) of Leisure Time’s games were made by Centuri. In an article in the November 15, 1981 issue of Play Meter Centuri’s marketing manager Ivan Rothstein claimed that Leisure Time was "a reputable company". Asked if the games Leisure Time sold could earn the promised minimum of $80-100 a week, Rothstein said "Oh, that should be no problem.”
What Centuri games was Leisure Time selling? One possibility is that they were the three games that Centuri introduced at the 1979 AMOA show, but apparently never released (Battle Star, Space Bug, and Lunar Invasion) but the descriptions of those games do not match up with the games Leisure Time is known to have sold (Space Ranger, Moon Lander, and Astro Laser - knockoffs of Taito’s Space Invaders, Lunar Rescue, and Space Laser respectively). The bigger question is how Centuri ever got involved with Leisure Time in the first place. The company had been running their scam since at least January of 1981, so the deal appears to have been struck before Allied’s amazing transformation, when it was still struggling to make ends meet.