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.
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
[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.
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).
Has anyone ever seen a Vertigo machine? Even if non-working?ReplyDelete