Tuesday, October 29, 2013

More Photos And Undocumented Games

Donkey Kong on the production line

1979 ad for Funspot

Another shot of the Atari Theatre Unit, from April, 1976
Some undocumented games:

Electrocoin's Minesweep (1977)

Infinity 1 from Nova Games of Canada (1984)

Technical Design Corp's Whiz IV, from the 1975 MOA show

From Vending Times, May 1979
This sounds like the same game as the Warp Speed prototype in MAME

Finally, a few that are documented but rare

A photo of Sente's Shrike Avenger at the 1984 AMOA show
This Sega Car Hunt cabinet is different than the one on Arcade Flyers

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Forgotten Gems - Stern's Dark Planet

            Chicago’s Stern Electronics may not have had as many coin-op hits as Atari, Midway, or Nintendo, but during the video game heyday of the 1980s they produced a number of solid efforts, both in-house (Berzerk) and through their relationship with Konami (Scramble, Super Cobra etc.)  One game that wasn’t a hit was 1983’s Dark Planet. What it lacked in sales, however, it made up for in innovation. While companies like Atari and Midway with their massive production facilities and huge design staffs could crank out mega-hit games by the truckload, smaller firms like Stern often had to turn to novel gameplay elements in an attempt to catch the fickle fancy of the jaded gaming public. Dark Planet was a space shooter with genuine 3D effects in the mold of Sega’s Subroc 3D (though it used an entirely different technology). The game was the brainchild of toy designer Erick Erickson. At the age of 9, Erickson had begun taking art classes at the Art Institute of Chicago before moving on to the Kansas City Art Institute where he graduated in 1974 with a degree in industrial design, Erickson had begun looking for work in his native Chicago. At the time, Erickson's portfolio consisted primarily of toys, novelties, and the like and a number of people suggested that he apply for a job at a company called Marvin Glass & Associates. Erickson had never heard the company's name but he certainly knew their products, which included some of the most legendary toys of the 1960 and 1970s such as Lite Brite, Toss Across, Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, Mouse Trap, Operation, STP Racers, Ants in the Pants, Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle, Simon, Mr. Machine, Mystery Date, and even the original chattery teeth.

Marvin Glass, the man, from an article by Erickson himself at http://www.spookshows.com/toys/glass/glass.htm

Unfortunately, Marvin Glass didn't hire new college graduates at the time and suggested that Erickson come back after he had a few years of experience under his belt. Disappointed, Erickson took a job at Embossagraph Display Mfg Co, whose primary business was making point-of-purchase displays for breweries in the Milwaukee area. The company was looking to get the toy market, however, and Erickson was put to work designing cereal premiums and Cracker Jack prizes. Two years later he was hired by Marvin Glass. For a toy designer, it was pure heaven. His first major success was The Slime Monster Game, a board game released by Mattel in 1977 to make use of the popular "slime" product they had released the previous winter. At the center of the board was a green plastic monster with slime oozing from his mouth. The goal was to move your characters from the high school to the armory to pick up a landmine and knock over the creature before it "slimed" you. The game's success landed Erickson his own office.

As Erickson continued to design toys for Marvin Glass, he noticed that the video game field was exploding and suggested that the company enter the new market.

[Erick Erickson] I was watching the video game business go crazy in 1979. We were in Chicago and all the major video game manufacturers were in Chicago…Instead of selling something that retails for $20 now you can sell something that retails for $4,000. Look at the difference in royalties you can make on it.

Marvin Glass took Erickson’s suggestion and before long, he had about two dozen people working for him creating video game concepts for companies like Bally/Midway and Williams (the first was for a game called Mothership, which eventually turned into Midway’s Kozmik Krooz’r, but that’s another story). Then the firm's partners called a meeting, inviting everyone from the cooks to the accountants to the game designers and announced that all video game projects were to be shut down immediately. Erickson was stunned. Rather than coming to him in private and telling him about the decision, they had done so in a public meeting and he felt humiliated. He was also frustrated that he would no longer be allowed to work on video games when he knew that there was a goldmine out there just waiting to be tapped - especially in Chicago, the center of the coin-op universe. Then a coworker named Dan Langlois began encouraging Erickson to leave and start his own video game design company and before long the two of them did just that.

Erick Erickson, from http://www.houseofmasks.bizland.com/homabouterick.html

            Erickson felt he needed something big to start his company - something phenomenal. He and Langlois had just cut their apron strings and had no job to fall back on. Inspired by the asteroid scene in The Empire Strikes Back (where Han Solo flies the Millennium Falcon into what he thinks is  a crater, only to find it is the mouth of a reptilian creature), Erickson created an elaborate concept for a 3-D game that involved fighting aliens on the surface of an asteroid. Now he and Langlois needed to sell the concept. There was one problem. Neither of them were programmers and they lacked the engineering skill and materials to make a coin-op video game. They could have drawn up a proposal on paper, perhaps supplementing it with a storyboard of two, then shown it to one of the Chicago area video game manufacturers. Instead, Erickson took a much more innovative approach, based on something he had learned from Marvin Glass himself. When trying to sell toy concepts, Glass didn't want to leave anything to the imagination because he never expected executives to have any imagination. So he had his designers create prototypes that were as close to a finished product as possible. Erickson took the same approach with his video game idea. He decided to create a demo model that was as close as possible to a real arcade video game, but without the circuitry or programming.

[Erick Erickson] …what I did was [to] always create an illusion. Each cabinet was an illusion…in order to portray the illusion what I would do is rotoscope a puppet show … I took a super 8 mm camera and shot live action of me manipulating the icons on wands to get the rhythm, pace, and feel of the movement and then I would photograph that and …translate [it] to stop-motion…so it looks like it was pixelated in those days but what I'm doing is showing a video tape of a movie that I made that creates the illusion. When a client would come up to see one of my machines it would appear to be a full working machine with graphics and everything. The headers would light up. Everything would be in place so all the boss had to say is "Could I sell that". So I made it real easy for them.

Using stop-motion animation, models, rotoscoping etc. the duo created a video tape of simulated gameplay then mounted it in a full-fledged cabinet, complete with all the bells and whistles. Erickson even included a tape recorder with electronic music and sound effects. Most video games at the time used simplistic, upbeat music. Erickson wanted something more fitting for the game's theme. Something like Darth' Vader's theme from Star Wars or the electronic music of Alan Parsons Project's I, Robot (which Erickson was listening to at the time). In later years, when the two were designing electromechancial games, Dan Langlois would sometimes crouch behind demo units with a control box, making the game elements appear to move in response to the player's actions.

Working in the basement of Erickson's house, the pair had a demo unit ready in about two weeks and began calling various coin-op companies in Chicago. When they contacted Gary Stern, he was interested enough that he took a limo to Erickson's house to take a look. He bought the concept on the spot and gave the pair an advance and a contract granting Stern first refusal rights on any game they developed in the next year.  With an advance and a monthly check, Erickson and Langlois moved into their own office in a seedy neighborhood in Chicago's manufacturing section near the various coin-op factories (they had to chase prostitutes of their gangway every morning where they got to work turning their demo into an actual video game.

            The final game, Dark Planet, would incorporate a number of ideas from the demo, including the use of actual models inside the cabinet. Using urethane, Erickson sculpted an alien landscape, then used mirrors to create the illusion of a full planet curving away into space. The player peered through a small viewport to see the playfield, where green and red filters produced a 3D effect.

[Erick Erickson] I divided the red and blue colors through filtration. If I wanted something to be on the surface of the planet I would make it blue and if I wanted it to be flying above the planet I would make it red…You're flying above the planet your laser is focused [on the surface] and causing all kinds of havoc through its crackling fire scarring the face of the planet...There was a vacuum tube on the side built into the wall...you can fly into [the tube] and it transports you down to the lower [level where] you've got this civilization…building tracks so they can bring out the laser train...One system starts and you try to keep it under control, then the other system starts and you have to try to keep IT under control…and the third system starts…it's like spinning plates. You have to be everywhere at once. Then the volcano starts to erupt...you blast into the mouth of the volcano…and it's okay for a while but then it will erupt again and if erupts and covers your whole screen you don't know where you are and are going to get blown up…then the cannons on the rim start shooting - it's just a mayhem of a battle…you keep controlling this situation that's looking like it's out of control...it's a 3D wonderland and when people saw it they went ape

            Meanwhile, Stern needed someone to program the game. They turned to Bill Jahnke and consultant Dale Jurich.  Jurich, a computer science graduate of the University of Illinois, had opened an arcade called the Apple Duck in the Urbana-Champaign area in the early 1970s along with Andy Dallas (who went on to become a world renowned magician, hypnotist, and escape artist). After cofounding a company called Small Systems Services (where he developed one of the first microcomputer versions of FORTRAN) and working for Intel, Jurich founded his own consulting company called Dale Jurich Associates. Jurich (who was living in Oregon) landed a contract at Stern where his friend Bill Jahnke was already working. Jurich and Jahnke were tasked with turning Erickson and Langlois' video tape concept into software. It was an interesting coincidence that Jurich's first game involved a volcano. In 1980, he had witnessed the eruption of Mt. St. Helens from the second floor of the Intel facility in Aloha, Oregon and his first college roommate, volcanologist David Alexander, had died in the eruption.

Dark Planet programmer Dale Jurich (from his LinkedIn page)

            Working from Jahnke's home in the Chicago Suburbs, the two worked on the game for the better part of a year, creating one of the more interesting, if lesser known, games of the golden age. Stern showed Dark Planet at the 1982 AMOA show and "released" it in January of 1983 but only in limited numbers. Despite high hopes for the game, it never went into full production (Erick Erickson recalls that around 350 were sold). One problem was the high production costs. Some reports also claim that aligning the games optics proved difficult. Another problem was that the player had to be a specific height to be able to actually see the 3D effect properly. Players who were too tall had to bend over and players who were too short couldn’t reach the viewer at all (though a slide-out stool was reportedly included in some versions). While Dark Planet had failed to catch fire, Stern didn’t abandon the idea of 3D graphics. Even more ambitious was their attempt at a hologram-game that actually projected the image of a plane over the top of the monitor. Once again, however, engineers experienced technical problems with the game’s optics and it never made it into release.

            As for the team that created Dark Planet, Dale Jurich never programmed another coin-op video game (though he did program PC Pool Challenge for the IBM PC). After their contract with Stern ended, Erick Erickson and Dan Langlois inked another deal with Williams Electronics where they submitted a number of video game concepts (such as Cockroach - a bug-squashing game involving a kind of early touch screen). None of them were ever released- though Williams did release their Still Crazy pinball game. Today, Erickson designs high-quality custom sculptures and masks based on life masks of famous individuals (http://www.houseofmasks.bizland.com/). Marvin Glass later decided to give video games another go and designed a number of titles for Bally/Midway, including Journey, Wacko, Tapper, Domino Man, and Timber. While it may not have sold many copies, Dark Planet stands as one of the more interesting creations of video games' golden age.

See a video of Dark Planet's gameplay here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wO69GrbYiA
Thanks to Erick Erickson and Dale Jurich for taking the time to provide information for this article.

Extra - Kickstarter Projects

Finally, I thought I'd mention three Kickstarter projects that might be of interest to readers of this blog (though they likely already know about them). Two have already been funded and one still has about two weeks to go.

The one that still hasn't reached its goal is for a new retro gaming magazine called Retro It looks very promising and they have some impressive contributors lined up:

The other two are already funded.
One is a documentary about the Nibbler high score attempts (but it also includes interviews with the designers)

The other is for a book on "The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers" consisting of a number of exclusive designer interviews


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What Was the First Cocktail Video Game (Redux)

Last November, I posted a preliminary report on the first cocktail video game: (http://allincolorforaquarter.blogspot.com/2012/11/preliminary-report-what-was-first.html)
Since then, I have gathered some more information and thought it was time for a follow-up.
So what was the first cocktail video game? I'm still looking into the matter, but here are the prime candidates I've identified so far:
Atari's Quadrapong is probably the game I've most-often seen identified as the first cocktail video game (at least among those with some knowledge of the subject - I'm not counting articles like the one that said Space Invaders was the first video cocktail).
Here's one example:
But when, exactly, was it released.
According to the well-known Atari internal document available on the web, Quadrapong was released in March, 1974. The game, however, may have actually been on the market a bit earlier than that. A flyer appeared in Vending Times in January, 1974. But flyers often appeared in trade magazines a month or two before a game's release. The trademark registration for the game lists a "first use in commerce" of March 4, 1974 and a "first use anywhere" of January 1, 1974.
Of course, none of this really matters because Quadrapong was really just Atari's version of Kee's Elimination.
The Atari internal document lists Elimination as an October, 1973 release. I didn't find a trademark registration for Elimination under Atari or Kee, but I did find one for WCI Games, Inc. of Sunnvale filed 7/12/76. I'm guessing that "WCI" is Warner Communications, but am not sure. The registration gives a first use in commerce of 10/31/73 and a first use anywhere of 10/31/73. The October 6, 1973 issue of Cash Box announced that the game was (or would be, I don't have the actual issue, just my notes) sample shipping.
So, was Elimination the first cocktail video game?
Maybe not.
As I mentioned in my earlier post, I think there is some question as to whether it counts as a cocktail game at all given that it lacked the flat top where player's could put a drink and that seems to have been marketed at a game that you stood, rather than sat, to play and I think that the flat top and ability to sit while playing were almost defining characteristics of cocktail games.
Even if you do count it as a cocktail game, it may not have been the first.
Here are some other candidates:
Fascination, Ltd.
According to an article in the April, 1975 issue of Play Meter (a key source of information on this whole question), Fascination Ltd. of Des Plaines, Illinois claimed it was the first to market a video cocktail table.
Is there any merit to this claim?  
Fascination was founded in August, 1973 as National Computer Systems, Inc. by Bob Runte and Bob Anderson (in the latter's living room). 
Runte actually did file a patent for a cocktail video cabinet. Two of them, in fact.
The first was filed on July 17, 1974 for an "Amusement Device":http://www.google.com/patents/US3940136?dq=ininventor:%22Robert+Ralph+Runte%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=UXucUOThBOuD0QGx6IDwAg&ved=0CEAQ6AEwAw

The second was filed on July 29, 1974 for an "Amusement Game Table":http://www.google.com/patents/USD237727?dq=ininventor:%22Robert+Ralph+Runte%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=UXucUOThBOuD0QGx6IDwAg&ved=0CDcQ6AEwAA
The patent was filed in June, 1974, long after Quadrapong debuted (though he could have filed another patent earlier). Of course, patents - especially in these early years of the video game industry - sometimes weren't filed until months after the game was released.
So was this the case here?
Yes, it appears it was. That same April, 1975 article includes the following:

According to this article, then, Fascination Ltd. sold its first cocktail video game in October, 1973, the same month as Kee's Elimination. Which one came first? I don't know for sure (though if Elimination was sample shipping by the 6th, then it seems that it would have the better claim).
Of course, there are at least two other candidates.
National Entertainment
One intriguing possibility is a cocktail video game made by Atari for National Entertainment.
Once again, we look at the April, 1975 article:
This story is backed up by Nolan Bushnell himself in an interview in the June-July 1975 issue of Play Meter.

[Nolan Bushnell] We tried to sell cocktail tables clear back when and we were singularly unsuccessful through our regular distributorship organization. It was just a thing no one was ready for. We ended up building and selling some in Tokyo as early as mid-1973. The operators over there were a bit more aggressive and did rather well with it. But we could get no interest whatsoever in the states. So, we were approached by National Entertainment and we said, "Sure, we’ll build you a cocktail table."

Exactly when did all this happen? The April article says it was in "late 1973" but is no more specific. The Bushnell interview indicates only that it was some time after "mid-1973".
Several months back, I interviewed Doug Hughes, who says he actually worked on the game.
He doesn't remember exactly when the project started, but thinks it might have been as early as early/mid-1973 or even late 1972. In any event, his memory is that it was clearly before Elimination/Quadrapong.
The 1972 date is clearly far too early, and the mid-1973 date seems too early as well so Hughes' memory of the dates appears to be off. OTOH, from his memory of the details and people involved, he clearly knew of the game and was involved with it (at the time of the interview, I didn't even ask about cocktail games, much less about the National Entertainment game. In fact after he told me about it, I didn't even make the connection with the game from my earlier post until I went back and reread the April article in more detail).
Interestingly, Hughes also worked with Dick Januzzi later, after National Entertainment became Innovate Coin Corporation (Hughes worked on their game Spitfire).
There is one other piece of info I found that might support a mid-1973 date.
The following appeared in the March 22, 1975 issue of Cash Box.
This article says that National Entertainment was founded "almost two years" before March 22, 1975. Again, this is a bit vague, but would seem to indicate a date in summer, 1973, or possibly in very late spring. The article also indicates that National Entertainment put some games in the field very soon after Atari delivered them (assuming that Atari is the "leading video manufacturer" referred to) and even sold some before turning to Meadows.  
A search of the California Secretary of State's office reveals that National Entertainment incorporated in San Jose on 3/15/74, but this is of little help since the Pong game was created earlier.
So the evidence I have points to a date no later than "late 1973" but I can't pin it down more precisely than that. Given the evidence, it seems to me that there is a decent chance that the National Entertainment game was started before October and they may even have sold some before that date, but the data is just too inconclusive to draw a firm conclusion.
Atari's Japanese Game
But what about that cocktail game that Atari built and sold in Japan "as early as mid-1973", before National approached them? If Bushnell's dates are correct, that would seem to be a clear candidate for the first cocktail video game.
Doug Hughes actually remembers working on that game as well, but didn't recall the details.
And did Atari release the game under its own name, or did they license it to a Japanese company?
One very intriguing possibility is that they licensed it to Namco.
I came across the following flyer on a Japanese site devoted to Namco history.
Unfortunately, all I could find there was a tiny thumbnail and I've yet to find a better copy.
This appears to show a cocktail Pong game.
The flyer is not dated, but Pong Doubles came out in September, 1973.
Could this be the game Bushnell (and Hughes) was referring to?
Given Atari's relationship with Namco at the time, I can't imagine that they'd have licensed a game to another Japanese company.
I don't know if the game is the game Bushnell was talking about or not, but right now Atari's mid-1973 Japanese cocktail Pong (whenever it was released and by whom) is my leading candidate for first cocktail video game.


Another leading candidate for first cocktail game is Atari's Pong-in-a-Barrel (not to be confused with the Australian-released Barrel Pong). This was a standard Pong game with the monitor placed face-up in an actual barrel.

Supposedly, only about 20 were produced and it doesn't appear to have been widely advertised (if at all) so some might see it more as a prototype than an actual release. It was apparently designed to be played sitting down, but given the height of the barrel and position of the monitor (which, in existing photos, appears to be at the bottom of the barrel), there is some question about this. There is also some question as to exactly when it was released. Nolan Bushnell reports that it was made early in Pong's production run, but exactly when is unclear. It was likely made in the first half of 1973.
Finally, I should mention a few games that I consider non-contenders.
TAFA lists Nutting's Table Tennis cocktail as a 1973 game, but this is almost surely incorrect (they similarly list Computer Space Ball as a 1972 game, while trade magazines don't mention it until mid-1973). The release of Table Tennis was announced in the June 1, 1974 issue of Cash Box and the game was not listed in their 1973 catalog issue, which listed the games released in the previous year (it WAS listed in the 1974 catalog).
I interviewed Andre Dubel, founder of Elcon Industries and he said that as far as he knew, Elcon was the first company to release a cocktail video game (he said he came up with the idea and had never seen it in a video game before). Unfortunately, I am unable to confirm this story and the evidence I have indicates that Elcon didn't start making video games until well after 1973 (the first reference I've found to Elcon is an announcement for their cocktail conversion kit in the June-July, 1975 issue of Play Meter.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Photo Odds and Ends and Undocumented Games

Not much narrative this time, just some interesting photos I've found in various trade magazines:
May, 1978
Jews For Jesus was sued by Bally/Midway for infringement over this Pac-Man-themed religious tract.

From the 1978 JAA show. I like the Nintendo Shooting Trainer in the bottom row.
Courtesy Cash Box magazine.
A few scenes from "The Video Game" gameshow (short-lived follow-up to StarCade)
Some rare shots of a P.J. Pizzazz (Sega's answer to Pizza Time Theatre)
A few unlisted (or rarely listed) games:
UEP's Beam Shock

Here's another Kamikaze (I'm not sure who made this one - love that 'fro, though)

From Play Meter, January, 1976
Rare cabinet shot of Rock-Ola's Rocket Racer

Elcon's Diversions cabinet (1981)

From the 1975 MOA - Meadows Star Shooter video pinball game in a pinball cabinet. Never made it into production.

Another rare cabinet photo - Alstate's Battle Back

A couple of non-video games I found interesting:

From Play Meter, 6/15/80

From 1984


From April, 1976 - I don't think PSE ever released this one.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Ultimate (So Far) History of Allied Leisure/Centuri - Part 4

1977 - Bankruptcy and Skateboard Parks
Financially, 1975 and 76 had not been good years for Allied. The company lost almost $700 thousand in 1975 and a whopping $3 million in 1976. Total revenues had declined to under $4 million per year. On March 4, 1977 (after a spate of lawsuits from angry creditors) the company filed for chapter 11. Only an almost $1 million loan from David Braun saved them from disappearing completely[1]. Allied attributed its bankruptcy to three issues: the production delay for Daytona 500, unanticipated service problems with their solid state pins, and their disastrous attempt to enter the consumer market.
            With Allied mired in financial difficulties, only a handful of games trickled off the assembly line in 1977, perhaps as few as three. Their most ambitious effort was Super Picker. Noting the success that Bally had seen with licensed celebrity-themed pins like Tommy and Capt. Fantastic, Allied marketing director Arnold Fisher decided to give the concept a try and inked Roy Clark of Hee Haw fame to a deal in 1976. Unfortunately, Roy Clark was no Elton John and Super Picker failed to take off. According to Allied's annual report they released just two "specialty arcade pieces" in fiscal year 1977 and they barely qualified as "released". Chase sold just 200 units and X-11 sold 120. The former was a first-person air combat video game in a sit-down cabinet that seemed quite advanced for its time. The debuted a third game at the AMOA in October, another huge (electromechanical) air combat game called Battle Station. They also released the gangster-themed pinball game Getaway Scott Cohen's Zap reports that Allied was designing a home backgammon game in 1977, but never marketed it (the company's annual reports don't mention it at all). Perhaps the most bizarre move in 1977, and a sign of their dire financial straits, was a subcontract to manufacture fiberglass skateboard parks (they got $13.5-20,000 per park and by early 1978 they had orders for about 25).

Aside (possibly) from Chase, Allied had not released a video game since early 1976. This may have been due to a lack of talent. On October 31, 1976 Allied had a staff of 20 engineers. By the time their 1976 annual report appeared, only 10 were left. One reason may have their video game designers began to slowly disappear. Upset with Dave Braun’s financial arrangements, Jack Pearson and Ron Halliburton left to form a design company of their own called Arcade Engineering[2]. When they needed employees, Haliburton and Pearson called Allied Leisure, who soon found themselves without a design staff.

Allied's bottom line didn't get any better during the year, but it didn't really get any worse either. For the fiscal year ending October 31, they lost $3.1 million on sales of $3.7 million. The news wasn't all bad however. On November 3, Allied was discharged from bankruptcy. They only way they were able to keep their head above water by striking an exclusive distribution deal with Fascination, Ltd. of Elk Grove Village, IL. . They also found themselves without one of their founders when Bobby Braun (who had been replaced as president by Morton Mendes in August, 1976) died suddenly on December 28th.

1978 - A comeback? - Allied's Cocktail Table Pins

Allied rebounded in 1978, thanks largely to another pinball innovation- the cocktail table pin. Like cocktail table video games, these games featured smaller playfields and allowed the player to sit down while playing. Cocktail pins had appeared as early as the 1930s but never really taken off. Allied had actually started making the games much earlier, but exactly when is uncertain. Their 1976 annual report claims that they made 800 cocktail pins (plus 300 microprocessor pins) to date (this figure included the first few months of 1977). In June, 1976 Play Meter reported that they'd shown a game called Spirit of '76 at a recent distributor meeting, describing it as a "tennis/pin cocktail". RePlay (2/77) reported that they had shown a "prototype of a video pingame in a cocktail cabinet" at the ATE in London in January. On August 12, 1977 David Braun and Ian Richter filed for a patent on a cocktail pinball cabinet. According to their 1977 annual report Allied had introduced a cocktail pin in April, 1977[3] and had sold 1,150 cocktail pins that year (compared to just 375 standard pins) and 3,500 to date. No trace of these machines, however, has turned up. The annual reports mentioned that they had an exclusive distribution deal with Fascination,Ltd. (the same company that had a 1974 patent for a cocktail video game cabinet) for the games and they may have been released under the Fascination name. That was the case with The Entertainer released in early fall. The Entertainer was another Roy Clark-themed pin, this time in a cocktail cabinet. When Arnold Fisher signed Clark to a licensing deal in 1976, he announced plans to introduce more games featuring the country star's likeness, including "coffee table" and cocktail models. He even planned on showing games at the Consumer Electronics Show. It appears that Allied wanted out of their deal with Fascination and wanted to produce The Entertainer themselves but they were mired I bankruptcy at the time and had to make the deal to stay afloat[4] (though they entered into another exclusive arrangement with Fascination in July, 1978). Allied's first pin of 1978 was actually a standard pin - March's Hoe Down (a non-licensed version of Super Picker). They followed in April with Take Five, their most successful cocktail pin, and according to most sources, their first.  Later in the year they debuted two more: Flame of Athens and Hearts Spades. Allied sold 4,290 cocktail pins in 1978. As for other games, there weren't many. In May they were appointed exclusive distributors for a pool table made by Champion Billiards. They showed two games later in the year - a water-pumping electromechanical game called Space Chip and a video game called Battlestar - but don't appear to have released them. They also licensed the projection screen rifle game Clay Champ from Namco but it wouldn't be released until 1979.  Thanks almost entirely to its pinball games, Allied actually turned a profit (of $3.2 million) in 1978 for the first time in five years.
1979: Back in the Red

            Allied's turnaround was short-lived. For those who looked beyond the numbers, this probably wasn't surprising. In 1978, for the first time, the company hadn't introduced an electromechanical game or a video game. They didn't do much better in 1979, releasing just two more cocktail pins: Disco '79 and Star Shooter as well as Clay Champ. While sales increased to $6.2 million in 1979, the highest total in since the Paddle Battle days of 1974,  Allied (once again) lost almost a million dollars ($154,000 of the total came from the settlement they paid to Magnavox).
Late in the year, Allied seemed ready to mount another comeback when they announced that they showed not one, but four new video games at the AMOA show: Battle Star, Clay Shoot, Lunar Invasion, and Space Bug. Of the four, the only one that was ever actually released was Clay Shoot, a video version of Clay Champ. By the time of the show, Allied was in trouble. While they had sold 10,000 cocktail table pins since introducing the concept in 1977, they had posted losses in five of the previous six years. Allied had released a number of innovative games over the years, including shakerball and cocktail pins, the video game Ski, and arcade hits like Wild Cycle, F-114 and Super Shifter. But while their products may have been long on innovation, they were short on reliability. In 11 1/2 years of existence. Allied had turned a profit just 3 times. Not for nothing did some refer to them as "Allied Loser".
The biggest news of 1979, however, was that the company had new owners. In a June 1 agreement, Brighton Products of Binghamton, New York acquired a controlling interest in Allied. Brighton was part of the KoffmanGroup of Industries, a conglomerate headed by Milton Koffman and his nephew Burton with a reputation for taking struggling companies and turning them around. As part of the agreement, Allied's officers and directors, including Dave Braun, resigned (though Braun would stay on in an advisory role). In 1980, the company would get new leadership, a new focus, and a new name. Only time would tell if they would get a new lease on life.


[1] Allied's annual report reports that Braun loaned Allied $215,000 plus an additional $85,000 for 1.6 million shares of stock.
[2] I'm not sure then the exodus bega. The 1976 annual report came out some time after March 2 (the SEC received it in September). Arcade Engineering may not have been formed until 1978.
[3] The seeming discrepancy with the 1976 report may be due to the fact that the 1976 report included the first months of 1977. While Allied's fiscal year ended on 10/31, their annual reports were generally prepared in spring of the following year, and often included information on the first quarter of the next year. The 1976 report, for instance, indicates that Allied resumed pinball production in November and that the cocktail pin wasn't introduced until that time or later.
[4] Fascination did release a number of Allied-designed pin uner their own banner in 1979, including Circa 1933. According to Allied's 1978 annual report , the Fascination agreement had accounted for 1/3 of total sales.