Sunday, March 31, 2013

Bouncer and Turbo Sub

Today's post post is a preliminary one covering two rare games from the golden age. I don't have a lot of info on these games beyond what's already out there but I'm hoping to interview some more of the principals in the future.
There is already an excellent website devoted to Bouncer and Turbo Sub at with lots more info, including interviews with the creators and storyboards forTurbo Sub. Turbo Sub is also on MAME.
Entertainment Sciences
           Entertainment Sciences was founded in 1982 in Huntington Beach, CA from a company called Creative Sciences[1] by Ulrich Neumann and a partner (probably Ron Clark, who served as president, or Robert Rauch). Neumann had formerly worked for Gremlin before Sega shut it down and moved to Los Angeles. The two decided to form a company to create a programmable game system that would allow operators to cheaply and easily swap out old, poorly performing games for new ones. While his partner raised the money, Neumann set to work on a state-of-the-art hardware system called RIP (Real-time Image Processor) that was capable of generating high-resolution graphics with 16,000 colors The system also had a megabyte of RAM, a 16-bit microprocessor, three 8-bit microprocessors, and a display with a 500 x 384 resolution.  The system took Neumann about nine months to complete. Meanwhile, in October of 1982 Entertainment Sciences  hired programmer Rob Patton who'd just left Cinematronics.
During his job interview, Patton pitched ideas for a number of games, including Bouncer - a game that cast the player as Mr. B - a burly, chrome-domed bouncer who had to keep annoying barflies from pestering customers, causing barroom brawls, and interfering with the waitress Julie. Enemies included Fatso (who stole the customers' food), Soppy (who stole drinks), Romeo (a flasher who was added as a replacement for a prostitute named Bambi), and Scooter (who tripped people with his skateboard). Shortly after he was hired, Patton's new coworkers took him to lunch and gave him  T-shirt that said "Welcome Rob" and a sleeve that said "Malcom's 10%". At the time Patton was being represented by Malcolm Kaufmann - the first known video game agent. Before long, Patton set to work on the game. He hired an artist who created a large storyboard of a barroom with moveable cutouts to represent the various characters. He also hired an animator from Disney. To help with programming, Entertainment Science brought in Lonnie Ropp from Rock-Ola, which had recently shut down its video game division. Bouncer featured four different settings: Gilleys (based on the famous Pasadena, Texas bar from Urban Cowboy), Hussong's Cantina, The Ritz, and Studio 64. The game was tested in the San Diego area and displayed at the 1983 AMOA in Chicago where it generated a good deal of interest. Steve Harris of the U.S. National Video Game Team (who provided game reviews for Replay magazine) considered it the best game of the show (though he noted that it was not shown in the main auditorium and thus didn't draw as large an audience as it might have). Atari negotiated for rights to the game but never pulled the trigger (one reason may have been its $4000+ price tag). Entertainment Sciences also paid to have the game featured in the 1984 film Ninja III: The Domination (in which the spirit of a dying ninja possesses a sexy aerobics teacher - at one point the spirit actually comes through the game).
In the end, despite having perhaps the most powerful hardware and arguably the best graphics in the industry plus a game that drew rave reviews, Bouncer was never released. So what happened? In a February, 1985 Replay article Ron Clark claimed that the game failed because the graphics were too good. So good that many mistakenly believed the game was a laserdisc game at a time when laserdisc games were getting an increasingly bad reputation for reliability (the website, however, claims that operators at the AMOA show rejected the game when they found out it wasn't  a laserdisc game) . After the failure of Bouncer, Rob Patton left to work for Sega. Lonnie Ropp (who had actually been hired to work on a different game, and didn't want to work on Bouncer to begin with) left as well.

A review of bouncer from the January, 1984 issue of Replay by Steve Harris


An AP article on Bouncer that appeared in various newspapers starting around August 17, 1983

Turbo Sub
After the failure of Bouncer, Entertainment Sciences spent a year and a half doing government contract work while they sold and tried to attract investors for the production of another video game. In early 1985, the game was finally ready. Turbo Sub was a first-person game in which a player navigated a submarine through an underwater seascape of tunnels and rock formations facing exotic sea creatures like manta rays, jellyfish, mechanical sharks, and fireballs.  Turbo Sub shipped in two different cabinet configurations. One was a cabinet with a slide-out drawer called the "Solo" system designed by San Diego's Pacific Coast Games. Other games were mounted in Atari Star Wars cabinets. Both cabinets used the Star Wars yoke controller. The buttons on the front fired the lasers while the thumb buttons engaged the "turbo engines". Once again, the game had stunning graphics - perhaps even more-so than Bouncer. The game appeared at a Los Angeles area video game tournament in February of 1985. Entertainment Sciences announced plans to release fifty "seed" units in May followed by 200 more in June. A series of tournaments was held to promote the game in 1985 with a grand championship in June of 1986 sanctioned by Twin Galaxies and organized by Steve Harris with a grand prize of $3,000 and a Turbo Sub game. Entertainment Sciences also gave away T-shirts to the first players to finish a game at various locations.

The two photos above were taken from the April, 1985 issue of Replay. the creator of says that he thought Jeff Peters won the TurboSub grand championship in 1986, but he might have been thiking about this tournament. Phil Britt won the 1984 Track & Field tournament and the 1985 Coronation Day event (aka the 3rd Annual North American Video Game Challenge).
After Turbo Sub, other games were planned for the RDI system, including a sequel to Turbo Sub that would allow the sub to surface "and face bizarre challenges both on both on and below the high seas". Other planned games included a revival of Bouncer and a "graphically stunning" driving game.  As far as anyone knows none of them came to pass and Entertainment Sciences itself eventually folded after a long legal struggle.
[1] Creative Sciences was incorporated on August 10, 1981 and Entertainment Sciences on January 12, 1983

 RePlay, July 1985




Thursday, March 28, 2013

Rare Games, More 1975 Atari Photos, and Odds and Ends

Here are a few games I've come across that I've seen almost nowhere else. Actally, I haven't "seen" most of them since they don't even have flyers or photos that I know of:
Mugger (c1982?) – This game was mentioned in Michael Rubin's Defending the Galaxy, which described it as follows: "Walk through alleys shooting possible muggers. Earn points by killing the muggers before they kill you; lose points if you accidentally kill an old lady or an innocent bystander…Your shots graphically splatter the victims against the walls. Mugger never made it past its prototype in Atlanta." I don't know how reliable Rubin's book is so you may want to take this one with a grain of salt.

Love Miner (c1983) – An outer space mining game in development when Simutrek went under. It is not known if it reached the prototype stage.

Cowboy Casino (1983) - A card game featuring laserdisc footage of live actors in wild west garb produced for the Countercade countertop unit. It was shown at the 1983 AMOA show (and again at the 1985 show) but it is not known whether it made it into production or not. I may be wrong about it being show in 1983 (have to check). Could this be the same game as the 1993 CDO title?
Here's an odd one (or three) from the November 1982 issue of Replay.
Three "adult" video games from Computer Kinetics.
Stripper was featured in the movie Joysticks and is apparently a knockoff of Streaking.
As for X-Hot Stuff and Stop the Iatola? I didn't even know there WAS a category called "Red Neck Games". What else would be in it? Big Buck Hunter?

Here's a better version of the photo (from TAFA) - no mention of Stop the Iatola though.
Finally, another Pong clone from 1975:

I was recently going through some 1975 issues of Play Meter and found a few pictures I thought I'd post.
First up, some Atari pix:
Note the Puppy Pong (sign?) on the right



Tank II and Goal IV on the production line
Here's Al Alcorn (what's that on the board behind him? Is it a diagram of a paddle?)
Joe Keenan:
The big dog himself (that's Nolan Bushnell)
Here's an article on Atari from the February 15, 1973 Boston Herald. I think it's interesting because it still refers to them as "Syzygy" instead of "Atari" (even though they had incorporated in June of 1972 and already released Pong):

Not Atari, but here's another 1975 picture I found interesting. It's a computer portrait booth introduced by Taito America. They installed it at Old Chicago, a combination mall/amusement park that opened that year in Bolingbrook.
Here's another non-video game. I think this one is from ca 1981 (have to double check):

Finally, another non-video from (I think) 1975. This one involved shooting coins out of a gun.
A few Un-TAFA'd games:
PSE's Frenzy cabinet


Friday, March 22, 2013

Arcade Origins

Today's post covers the early history of four of the more popular arcade chains of the 1970s and 1980s. It's a little short on details, but I hope to correct that in the future.

Time-Out Family Amusement Center

In 1970, Tico Bonomo opened the first Time-Out Family Amusement Center. Bonomo's grandfather Albert Bonomo had emigrated to the U.S. from Turkey. In 1897 he founded the Bonomo Company in Coney Island and began selling salt-water taffy and hard candy. Albert's son (and Tico's father) Victor invented a new confection called Turkish Taffy  Bonomo Turkish Taffy became one of the country's most popular candy treats (people loved to crack it to pieces before opening the wrapper), especially after Tico Bonomo created The Magic Clown, which ran on NBC from 1949 to 1954 (it continued on local networks until 1959). Created solely to sell taffy, it was one of the first sponsored children's programs.

In 1970 Bonomo sold his interest in Bonomo Turkish Taffy to Tootsie Roll Industries and was looking for a place to invest his money when he encountered some electromechanical arcade games and decided to open his own arcade (he apparently also opened an instant portrait studio around this time). His first location in Northway Mall in Colonie, New York, was a resounding success. The next year, he opened four more locations, including locations in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Bonomo opened his business just in time to cash in on the first video game boom and by 1975 there were a dozen Time Outs. By 1978 there were 20. As video game arcades began to gain a reputation as a hangout for unruly teens, Time Out began to revamp its image by brightening up their arcades with brighter colors and more family-oriented design, resulting in more expansion. On December 30, 1986 Bonomo sold the entire chain (which at the time comprised 74 locations - including non-mall "Station-Break" locations - in 15 states, plus D.C. and Puerto Rico) to Sega, staying on as president and CEO. In the early 1990s, Time-Out was purchased by the Mall Entertainment Division of Edison Brothers' (a clothing and shoe maker from St. Louis and Tico retired to Virginia.  He died in Great Falls, Virginia on September 14, 1999.

Photo of a Time-Out - from the excellent Time-Out Tunnel website (

Time Zone

A Time Zone in Detroit - from the website

            The similarly named Time Zone was founded in 1974 by Ted Olson. At the time, Olson (who had majored in accounting at the University of Montana) was working as comptroller for Atari when he decided to purchase the company’s street route. After getting the okay from Nolan Bushnell, Olson took the route, along with the rights to the name Syzygy and went into the arcade business for himself. The first Time Zone was opened in a small San Jose shopping center on November 1, 1976. At only 700 square feet, however, the space was too small and after Olson experienced problems with loitering and disturbances from neighboring stores, he closed the location within 18 months. A second, 1,500-square-foot location at the much larger Mountain View Center mall proved much more successful. Like Time Out, Time Zone attempted to create a family atmosphere where adults as well as teens could enjoy the arcade experience. Olson spent $30,000 - $40,000 a year on radio advertising and promotions to push his message. By the end of 1977 Olson had six arcades in the Silicon Valley area and was still growing.

Malibu Grand Prix

In March of 1975, a group of overgrown kids from Orange County CA created the first Malibu Grand Prix near Angel Stadium in Anaheim.  The idea had come about when Ron Cameron, a Malibu investor, was visiting Detroit and came across a miniature speedway where people could drive cars around a dirty track. He took the idea home with him to California, made a few improvements, and started his own business. Initially, the only feature was a miniature race track with three-quarter scale, custom-designed, 28-horsepower, formula one racers powered by Sachs-Wankel rotary engines, which allowed anyone to play Mario Andretti for a dollar a lap. The cars, which were valued at $12,000-15,000 each, cruised along at speeds of up to 67 MPH. The "official fastest time" for each location was posted on a board outside the track. After three or four months, the location installed a half dozen pinball games and a handful of video games (operated by an outside vendor) outside the main building. When the games proved to be an easy source of extra income, the owners tore down some of the offices in the main building to make room for more. When the second location opened up in Fountain View, it included a small game room with about 25 games. The third location opened in Pasadena in July of 1976 with 67 games. The owners quickly realized that using an outside vendor to supply their games was costing them money and began operating their own games. While the race track remained the focal point of the centers, the video games became almost as well-known. By late 1976 the first Malibu Grand Prix's outside of California were opened in Tucson, Denver, and Houston.  As the video game explosion got into full swing, Malibu Grand Prix became one of the largest arcade chains in the country. In 1977, Cameron sold the chain to Warner Communications (owners of Atari) for $4 million. Under Warner, the chain soon expanded to over 100 locations nationwide. The Malibu Grand Prix idea eventually spawned imitators such as Funway Freeway, which had locations in 19 states when Warner sold it to Six Flags in 1980. On December 31, 1983 Warner sold Malibu Grand Prix to a holding company controlled by two Canadian businessmen for $19 million, who later merged it with a company called Castle Entertainment. In 1984 the chain lost $6.3 million on revenues of just $28.1 million. In the first quarter of 1985 they lost $2.4 million more. Ron Cameron fared much better. In 1988 he sold his five acre estate for a reported $7 million - at the time the second highest price ever paid for a home in Malibu (after Johnny Carson's $8.5 million purchase in 1984). In 2002, the last three remaining Malibu Grand Prix was purchased by Palace Entertainment.

Aladdin's Castle

The largest of the Golden Age arcade chains by far was Aladdin’s Castle, which had 450 locations at its peak. Founded by Jules Millman, the chain had its origins in a company known as American Amusements Inc. After graduating from the University of Miami, Millman went to work for World Wide Distributing, a coin-op distributor in Chicago, where he noticed that operators seemed to making money “in spite of themselves” (Millman 1975). Though the games were certainly popular, most operators did not follow sound business practices and had no idea how to promote their games. In addition, coin-op games at the time were mostly located in the “undesirable parts of the city” and had something of a seedy reputation. Millman wanted to change that, and thought he knew how. His idea was to put games in a well-maintained location with a fulltime attendant and to aggressively promote them. Doing so, however, would require large locations, but the only ones that came to mind - large airports and military bases - were already taken by existing operators. Meanwhile, Millman’s uncle, who owned a discount store, had let him put five games at the store’s entrance where they were making over $100 a week. Realizing that retail stores represented a potentially lucrative and untapped location for coin-op games, Millman wondered how much money the games might make in in a dedicated location in an enclosed shopping mall, which were becoming increasingly popular.  

Millman visited mall after mall, only to be turned down flat every time. Then he found one that was having trouble finding tenants and talked them into letting him give his idea a try (Millman 1975). Instead of the typical dark, dirty coin-op game location, however, Millman created a family-friendly arcade where parents could take their kids. He installed carpeting and lighting, banned smoking and eating, and hired fulltime attendants. It was an instant success. Millman established a company called American Amusements that appears to have run a chain of arcades called Carousel Time[2]. To promote the idea, he established a marketing department, which began scanning newspapers looking for announcements of new shopping mall openings and trying to convince the often-reluctant owners to add an amusement arcade. It was a hard sell. Many at the time felt that arcades were hangouts for troublesome teens and hoodlums. The Carousel Time people made a novel suggestion – “You already have kids hanging out here in the mall. Why not give them a nice, well-policed place to have fun rather than having them prowl the aisles and other stores?” (RePlay 11/79) Convincing the mall owners, however, was only half the battle. The company then had to make their new arcades comply with local zoning laws, which could be quite restrictive in the early seventies. Nonetheless, the chain had expanded to around 30 locations by April 1974, when American Amusements was purchased by Bally, which merged it with Carousel Time, then already a Bally subsidiary. Bally then changed the name of the chain to Aladdin’s Castle, allegedly after the Aladdin's Castle funhouse at Riverview Park - a Chicago amusement park that operated from 1904 to 1967. By the end of the year, Aladdin’s Castle had 50 locations and by the end of the next, it had 75.

In the post-Space Invaders boom, the company really began to take off, eventually becoming known as “the McDonald’s of the arcade business.” In 1980, it had 221 locations in 41 states that generated $38 million in revenue. By 1982, with fewer shopping malls being built, Aladdin’s Castle had peaked with 450 locations, counting its various subsidiaries (Pin Pan Alley, Pac-Man Palace, Bally’s Great Escape, and 55 Bally’s LeMans Fun Centers). After the video game industry crashed, Aladdin's Castle went into sharp decline. Bally closed 46 locations in 1984, 88 in 1985, and 47 in 1986 - though in terms of profitability, the chain had its best year yet in 1986. In 1989, Bally sold the chain and exited the arcade business entirely. In 1993, Aladdin’s Castle was sold to Namco, which merged it with Namco Operations to produce Namco Cybertainment.

[1] Replay magazine, November 1979
[2] The relationship between American Amusements and Carousel Time is unclear. In 1982, William O’Donnell said that Bally had gone into the arcade business in 1972 when it bought Carousel Time, then changed the name to Aladdin’s Castle and merged it with American Amusements in 1974. (Games People 1/15/83). RePlay (11/79) noted at the time Bally acquired it in 1972, “Carousel Time mostly amounted to a route of amusement machine in discount stores in Illinois and across the country” and reported that, “In 1974, with about 30 arcades and minicades on the roster, the name was officially changed to Aladdin’s Castle.” In an interview with Bally’s Tom Nieman, Play Meter (5/77) noted that when Nieman joined Bally, Carousel Time was Bally’s “operating subsidiary” and that Bally later bought American Amusements and renamed it Aladdin’s Castle. Marketplace (8/30/74) reported “Carousel Time has a new name: Aladdin’s Castle Inc. due to the latest acquisition.” Finally, Vending Times (6/74) reported that Bally “recently completed the acquisition of a domestic coin-operated operator…Bally has acquired all the stock of American Amusements Inc. (Chicago). The acquisition will be merged with Carousel Time Inc., a wholly owned Bally subsidiary. The organizer and developer of American Amusements Inc., Jules Millman, will, as of the date of the acquisition, serve in the capacity of president of Carousel Times Inc. He will direct the expanded operations of the firm.” An entity search of the Delaware Secretary of State website shows that Aladdin’s Castle Inc. was incorporated on May 29, 1973. The Aladdin’s Castle v Mesquite decisions noted that Millman had founded Aladdin’s Castle in 1969. In John Britz’s July 1974 deposition in the Magnavox v. Bally case, he said that “Carousel Time” ‘was a subsidiary of Bally that operated amusement devices in malls, that the company had “just changed hands,” and that the chief executive was Jules Millman.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Galaxy Game

A quick post about what some consider the first coin-op video game ever - Bill Pitts' and Huck Tuck's Galaxy Game.  Much of this info is from an interview I did with Bill Pitts about 12-15 years ago - back before anybody had really interviewed him and few had even heard of Galaxy Game. This is an excerpt from my book (from the chapter on Computer Space and Galaxy Game)


Nolan Bushnell wasn't the only person working on a commercial version of Spacewar at the time. Elsewhere in the valley, a recent Stanford graduate and Spacewar veteran named Bill Pitts was createing a version on the PDP-11 computer, which had been released by DEC in 1970. While Pitts had a degree in Statistics, his real love was computers. At the time he attended Stanford, they did not offer an undergraduate degree in Computer Science (and wouldn't until the mid-1990s). In order to attract students, the Statistics department allowed undergraduate students to take graduate-level Computer Science classes and count them towards a Statistics degree. At a time when Computer Science courses were rare at any college, many students jumped at the chance to study the field in any way they could. In many ways, Pitts was a prototypical hacker.
[Bill Pitts] My first two years at Stanford (I started there in 1964), my hobby on campus was breaking into buildings and exploring the steam tunnels [under the campus]…I had conquered all the buildings on campus and one day I was driving through the hills behind Stanford and I noticed this new building I’d never seen before. It was a big, fancy building out in the hills but I could tell by the writing on the sign that it was a Stanford building so I went back at 11:00  at night to break in but unfortunately all the doors were open, the lights were on, and people were in there working. So there was no challenge as far as breaking into the building goes but what they had was a nice PDP-6 computer – the first really successful time-sharing system from DEC. That was the Artificial Intelligence project that John McCarthy had started and it had only been in that building for a couple of months.
After his groundbreaking work at MIT, McCarthy had taken his AI project to Stanford, bringing with him a number of students (as well as fellow AI-pioneer Marvin Minsky). Among them was Spacewar creator Steve Russell, who was placed in charge of the project’s ever-changing timesharing mainframe. Needless to say, Spacewar found its way onto any number of Stanford mainframes and a core of dedicated players soon emerged. As had been the case with their predecessors at MIT, the main problem for Stanford’s fledgling community of hackers was gaining access to the mainframes.
[Bill Pitts] In order to use the time-sharing system, there was a sign-up procedure. You had to sign up for one or two DEC tapes (we didn’t have disk drives then), some amount of core memory and a teletype. You’d sign up for all these resources and then you’d have them for the next hour or two. As an undergraduate, I had no privileges to sign up – only graduate students could do that, but because I was a Stanford student, I could use any idle resources that weren’t being used by someone else. So I ended up going there at 10:00 or 11:00 at night and I’d stay until 6:00 in the morning. I was often the only one there and had the whole machine to myself. So I stopped going to day classes and started living in the AI lab.
After discovering Spacewar (which he’d first seen on a PDP-1 elsewhere on campus), Pitts showed the game to a high-school friend named Hugh Tuck. Tuck was impressed with the game and speculated that if it ever got to where they could make a coin-operated version, he and Pitts could make a lot of money. A few years later, when DEC released the PDP-11 (at a cost of around $10,000), Pitts realized that his friend’s dream could become a reality.
 In June of 1971 Pitts and Tuck formed Computer Recreations Inc. with plans to build a coin-operated version of Spacewar. For the next three and a half months, the two worked on the game. The hardware consisted of a PDP-11/20 computer with 8k of memory, a Hewlett Packard 1300A Electrostatic Display, and a simple point-plotting display interface (designed by Ted Panofski).  At the same time, of course, Nolan Bushnell was working on his own version of the game. Pitts and Tuck, however, wanted to take a different approach.
[Bill Pitts] Nolan Bushnell and I had both played Spacewar at Stanford and we were both bringing it to the masses. His way of doing it was to cut all the corners necessary to build a machine that could be sold to operators for under $1,000. I give him a lot of credit. I think that his real knack, which he demonstrated on a number of occasions, was to be able to take the current state of some complex technology and pull from that something that could be taken to the masses and generate money. My goal was to bring Spacewar in all its glory to the masses. I was driven more by wanting to bring the real thing to market at opposed to making money. I see Nolan Bushnell as an entrepreneur with both an engineering and a business aspect to him and I see myself more as an engineer.
            Bushnell heard that we were building ours at the same time he was building his. Through some mutual friends, he contacted us and said “Come on over and I’ll show you what I’m doing because I (think) that if you’re using a PDP-11 and Hewlett-Packard displays, you’re spending a lot of money to build a single system and I want you to be aware of what I’m doing because I’d hate to see you lose all of your money.”
            So we went over to Nutting Associates in Mountain View. He had started months before and he had some prototypes up and running. We played the game and I thought it was incredible what he was able to build and sell for under $1,000 but it wasn’t Spacewar. He had to cut so many corners that it didn’t really have good playing characteristics, but I appreciated the fact that he had called us over and warned us.
After visiting Nutting, Pitts and Tuck got back to work, and by September, the game was complete. Pitts’ and Tuck's game was much more expensive than Busnhell's. Luckily, Tucks’ family was able to provide funding for the project, whose total cost came to around $20,000.  In addition to the $14,000-plus low-end PDP-11, the game included a similarly expensive (circa $3,000) Hewlett-Packard monitor.
[Bill Pitts] The tube it used was a Hewlett-Packard 1310, which is like a large oscilloscope tube. The difference being that most large vector tubes used electro-magnetic deflection and this one used electro-static defection, which meant that you didn’t have all the inertia of a big coil at the back. The bandwidth of the tube was 10 to 100 times faster than an electro-magnetic display. For programming reasons, that was a whole lot easier because when the beam wraps around from one side to the other, the tube is so fast that it just does it immediately, whereas with an electro-magnetic tube, you have to detect when it goes off one edge and you need to stop and wait for the beam to get around to the other side before you can continue drawing.
            While much of the computer hardware for Galaxy Game was expensive, the game-specific hardware was sometimes hard to find. Coin-boxes came courtesy of veteran jukebox manufacturer Rowe International, who had heard about Pitts’ project and was eager to provide help. Joysticks were a different story.
[Bill Pitts] There was a place called J&H Outlet in San Carlos. It was the typical military surplus place – they had all sorts of electronic stuff and airplane parts and who knows what and they had it there bunch of joystick-like devices that were out of B-52s from the 1950s or 1960s. I guess they had been obsoleted or worn out and I was buying them at J&H outlet in 1971. They controlled something to do with the radar system on the B-52. There’s a scene in Dr. Strangelove with James Earl Jones[1]… when the nuclear bomb is detonated and there’s a fire, and in that scene I remember seeing the joystick. These joysticks got heavily modified. They’re actually very heavy joysticks. In the first game we didn’t modify them very much and they were very unreliable but in the second version I sent them to a machine shop and we had a really good engineer there do the engineering for us. They were analog joysticks originally and we converted them to where they were completely digital and they were very reliable.
After completing the hardware, the duo packed it into a walnut cabinet designed by an engineer in Palo Alto. The cabinet allowed the player to sit down while playing - a feature designed to encourage players to play for long stretches, resulting in more revenue. With the cabinet and hardware complete, Pitts and Tuck were ready to take their creation public. Because of the raging anti-war sentiment on campus, the two decided to change the name from Spacewar to Galaxy Game. In September of 1971, they installed the game in Stanford’s Tresidder Union (Computer Space had been placed out on test in August). The PDP computer that controlled the game was actually located in the attic of the union and connected to the game console via 100 feet of cable. The game became an instant hit. At ten cents a game (three games for a quarter) it would take a long time for Pitts and Tuck to recoup the $20,000 they’d spent building it, but that didn’t seem to faze them. The game was wildly popular with the Stanford students with people sometimes waiting an hour to play, lining up their quarters atop the cabinet to reserve a spot (a practice that would become standard in video arcades across the country in years to come). True to its mainframe predecessor, Pitts’ coin-op version contained a host of options the user could select – though in a much more user-friendly format.
[Bill Pitts] In the original [mainframe] version, in order to get negative gravity for example, you would go in there with a debugger and you’d know the magic location of where the gravity constant was and you’d stop the program and change the number, making the gravity stronger or weaker and you could even make it negative, but you had to be a programmer to go in and change these things. In my version…what I did was to have a bunch of buttons between the joysticks that allowed you to select the various options. There were like 16 different setting for the gravity field, you could select the level of thrust your engines had, you torpedo velocity etc. When the ship got to the edge of the screen, it could wrap around, you could bounce off, or you could blow up. One of the interesting variations was to have negative gravity, which was always pushing you to the edge of the screen, and to have the edge set to blow you up.
Another feature from the original was the realistic star field (which included Polaris in the center of the screen in addition to the sun). The player’s ship was controlled by a joystick to control rotation and thrust with a button on the front to fire the lasers and another on top to engage the hyperspace feature. A dime (or quarter) brought you a certain amount of fuel, which was consumed at varying rates depending on what you did.
Before long, Galaxy Game was drawing crowds of Stanford students and became so successful that Pitts and Tuck changed their original plans for the game. Similarly to Nolan Bushnell, the designers soon decided that the only way to turn a profit on the game was to allow one computer to power multiple terminals so they designed a second version of Galaxy Game using a more powerful display interface that would allow the computer to drive four to eight terminals.
[Bill Pitts] When we built the first machine, we didn’t expect to make money. We knew it was costing a lot of money to build one machine and what we wanted to do was see how much business we could generate and then we would go back and figure out how cheap we had to make the machine to really be successful but when we encountered such a huge wave of enthusiasm from the people that were playing the game, we forgot what our plan was. We were just out of college and were not business people. So we decided that we would amortize the cost of the computer by having it drive up to four consoles and each console had two players. So we embarked on building version two and that had fiberglass casing and a lot more tooling and meant buying another computer and more displays and that’s how we ran up to $60,000 in expenses. While it could have driven four consoles, what we ended up putting at Stanford (because it was all they had room for) was the 2nd version that had a PDP-11 inside one of the fiberglass cases and it drove both systems. You could either drive those two consoles as two totally separate games or you could interlink the two and have four player games where they were all fighting each other.

Placed in a blue fiberglass case designed by Hugh Tuck (who had a mechanical engineering degree from Cal Poly), this new version was installed in the Tresidder Union coffee house in June of 1972. This second version included some new features, such as being able to increase the rotation and thrust speeds by holding the joystick in position for a certain amount of time. Despite the features, the second unit failed to match the success of the original.
[Bill Pitts] The system at Stanford in the Student Union always did well. The other system I had, I moved it all over the place and I never did well. Somehow the Stanford community really appreciated this game and they were willing to read a legal-sized document of instructions. In other places, they just didn’t want to do that.
Eventually, the second unit made its way back to the student union coffee house, where it remained until May of 1979, taking in around $60,000.Unlike Computer Sapce, Galaxy Game never saw the outside of the Stanford campus and only two units were ever built. Pitts and Tuck realized from the start that their creation was too expensive to be commercially viable on a large scale (the $60,000 in revenue generated by the second unit was barely enough to cover the cost of building it) and never tried to market the idea to any coin-op manufacturers. The duo's intention had never been to create a game for mass-production, but to produce a coin-op version of the mainframe classic realistic in every detail no matter what the cost. In that, they succeeded admirably

[1] Jones, in his first movie role, played bombardier/radar operator Lt. Zogg.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The US National Video Game Team and the North American Video Game Challenge/1983 Video Game Masters

Today's post is the final in my three-part series on events that occured in the wake of the Life photo shoot. Unfotunately, I didn't have as much information on this event (save Walter Day's book) and there are a number of unanswered questions and no doubt some inaccuracies (I'm still not sure about the 2nd and 3rd State Team Tournaments, for example).

If any of the principals are out there and can provide me with corrections or more information, I'd appreciate it.



From the 1984 Guinness Book of World Records.
Scored from the 1983 Video Game Masters

            Perhaps the biggest victims, however, were the "superstar" players. Expecting a months-long tour, complete with salary, they now found themselves stranded in Boston and had to fly home at their own expense (though they had been paid for the five days the event lasted). Rather than returning home, a number of the players accompanied Walter Day back to Ottumwa. As they sat around trying to decide what to do they decided to stage an impromptu tournament. Walter Day contacted the Guinness Book of World Records, who agreed to sanction the event, which was dubbed the 1983 Video Game Masters. Walter also returned to his earlier idea. On July 25th he announced the re-formation of the U.S. National Video Game Team with five initial members:: Billy Mitchell, Steve Harris, Jay Kim, Ben Gold, and Tim McVey. It wasn't the first video game team. On October 10, 1982 the a group of students at North Missouri State University had formed a collegiate video game team (they even showed up at the famous Life magazine photo shoot).



            Day also organized the North American Video Game Challenge (now known as the 1983 Video Game Masters Tournament), the most ambitious video game tournament to date. Players from all 50 states and the Canadian provinces would be invited to a series of tournaments to fill 30 more slots on the National Video game Team. Three "State Teams Tournaments" would be held with the top ten finishers from each earning spots on the team. The results would be featured in the 1984 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records. The first of the tournaments would take place during the week of August 24-28th in eight different arcades across the Midwest and West representing eight different states/regions: Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, Idaho, Washington, Northern California/Northern Nevada, and Southern California. The tournament involved seven different games: Star Trek, Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom, Congo Bongo, Sinistar, Bubbles, Mario Bros., and the unreleased Atari 2600 game Spike's Peak (from K-tel/Xonox). Ten finalists from each of the 8 regions would compete in the finals on the 27th and 28th (at their home locations) with the top 10 overall finalists being invited to join the national team. Two more State Teams Tournaments were scheduled for October 28-30 and November 24-27.

Venues for the first State Teams Tournament:
  1. Video City, Dayton, OH
  2. Lake Odessa Fun Center, Lake Odessa, MI
  3. Video Wizard, Villa Park, IL
  4. Space City, Omah, NE
  5. Mr. Deli, Coeur D'Alene, ID
  6. Arnold's on the Avenue, Seattle, WA
  7. Starship Video, Upland, CA
  8. Video Paradise, San Jose, CA

            To kick off the tour, Day planned to take his five-member core team on the road to visit six of the eight locations where the first State Teams Tournament would take place taking on all challengers and raising money for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation while collecting proclamations of support from Mayors and Governors to present to president Ronald Reagan. The trip would culminate with a visit to Washington D.C. where Day planned to top by the White House for a proclamation by Reagan before heading off to the Japanese embassy to challenge Japan to an international competition. Day also planned to open a Video Game Hall of Fame museum exhibit in Twin Galaxies.

            The last member of the team to arrive in Ottumwa was Ben Gold who showed up on August 11th to find the rest of the team camped out on the floor of Twin Galaxies out of money (Day had spent his last $60 on six red-and-white team t-shirts), desperate for food, and afraid to call home (lest their parents cut the trip short). That evening, their departure delayed by an interview with an AP reporter, the team set out in a rented 44-foot 1953 GMC city bus loaded with nine video games hooked up to a generator. It was a disaster from the start. The bus suffered the first of many breakdowns on the way to their first stop in Dayton, Ohio the next morning. After a delay, the bus finally started and they drove all night, arriving in Dayton at dawn where the owner of Video City arcade let them sleep in her living room. On other occasions, the team would sleep on the floor of the bus, wedged in between the video games.

After two days in Dayton, they broke down again in the arcade parking lot. A mechanic repaired the bus for free and the team headed to its next stop - tiny Lake Odessa, Michigan - then to the Video Wizard arcade in Villa Park, Illinois (a Chicago suburb). Once again the bus broke down. This time it was unable to switch gears. The bus was repaired late that evening but after three hours on the road, it broke down again in Portage, Wisconsin. When Day got out, he saw a trail of oil extending back along the road. The mechanic had failed to secure a gasket header properly and most of the oil had leaked out. A friendly cop arranged to have the bus towed into town where the players stayed for two days (missing an appointment at K-Tel offices in Minneapolis). This time the bus was beyond repair. The owner of the bus sent a car to bring the team back to Ottumwa where they packed into a hot, smelly school bus with a noisy engine and headed to Space City in Omaha where the bus was broken into and some of the players had their personal property stolen (including Ben Gold's prized log book of high scores that he'd kept since he started playing games seriously - Billy Mitchell found it in the woods). Steve Latch, the owner of Space City, offered them money to ditch the bus for a rental car. With Billy Mitchell taking the wheel, they headed for Mr. Deli in Couer D'Alene, Idaho 1,350 miles away with Mitchell driving 90 most of the way. From there it was on to Arnold's On the Avenue in Seattle. While in Seattle, the players paid a visit to Nintendo headquarters where they were treated to free handheld games and (more importantly) free food. The food was a godsend. With almost no money, the players had to scrounge free meals whenever and wherever they could. A few days later they traded the games for more food.

On their way to Starship Video in Upland, California, Mitchell as pulled over for speeding (he was going 94). Then, on Sunday, Ben Gold got violently sick. They found a clinic that was open on Sunday and Gold headed to the back while the rest of the team stayed in the waiting room. Before long Gold let out a bloodcurdling scream when the doctor game him a shot in the ass. For the rest of the day, Gold's teammates teased him mercilessly. After a quick stop at Starship Video they headed south to San Diego for a tour of Sega headquarters, During their visit, Sega learned that they'd been bought by Bally and were being shut down. While the employees wept, the team beat a hasty retreat. With that, the trip was over and the team members headed home. The tournament was won by Tim Collum (in January of 1984 he was crowned 1983 player of the year, along with Ben Gold, Billy Mitchell, Eric Ginner, and Steve Harris).
Local players from Video Paradise in San Jose.
The first two in the back row are Todd Walker and Eric Ginner

Information above taken from

      The team (with new members) made an appearance at the 1983 AMOA show where they rated games for Play Meter magazine. The proclamation from President Reagan never materialized. Nor did the competition with Japan . Day, Mitchell, and Tom Asaki did visit the White House in September, where they presented their Japan challenge to some aides they never heard from again. They then headed to the Italian Embassy to deliver another international challenge. This one was accepted. Finally they made their way to the Japanese Embassy only to be met by befuddled diplomats who told them they had no time to play foolish video games and sent them packing. The second and third State Teams Tournaments apparently never took place. For such a promising start, it was a sad ending and perhaps the best illustration that that the golden age of video games was over.
Walter Day returned to Ottumwa where, according to an article in the October 23 Omaha World Herald he had to sleep on the floor of Twin Galaxies and on three occasions forced to live off change from the coke machine as the arcade struggled to stay afloat. On March 6, Twin Galaxies closed its doors.  The U.S. National Video Game Team, however, lived on under the direction of Steve Harris. Despite its shaky start, the USNGVT was an important milestone in the history of e-sports. Sadly, it's one the few today remember.