Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Ultimate (So Far) History of Allied Leisure/Centuri - Part 7

            In 1981, Centuri had undergone one of the most remarkable transformations in coin-op history, going from perennial also-ran to major player in a single year. As 1982 dawned, they seemed ready to enter the upper echelons of the industry, but only time would tell if they would be able to do so.

1982 Games (Part 1)

            Licensed from Hiraoka[1] (probably the same company that created Phoenix), Round-Up was released in December of 1981. The game was a combination maze/puzzle game with emphasis on “puzzle”. The player controlled a character called “Cowboy” who, despite his name, was more of a ghostly-white version of Pac-Man with eyes, legs, and a pink hat. The action took place in a concentric maze at the center of which was a grid of 9 (later 16) white circles. The goal was replace all the white circles with red ones. To do this, “cowboy” had to “round up” red “knights” then “push” a new red circle into a row or column of the grid. Opposing Cowboy were five “gly boys”: Ugly, Beastly, Ghastly, Homely, and Deadly. Aiding his efforts was King Rompus, whom the player could touch to temporarily freeze all enemies and knights. The game also featured a bonus round in which the player had complete one side of a Rubik’s Cube (which they called an “electronics cube”) so that it matched a target pattern. While the game was certainly innovative, it wasn’t much of a hit and Centuri probably sold around 700-1,200 copies. The game was later released by Taito as Fitter.
            One of Centuri’s sorriest releases was April’s D-Day, licensed from Italy’s Olympia, a company that had been founded by Livio Leante. While Olympia was headquartered in Milan, their games were developed and manufactured at their factory in Bari (supposedly home to the second university in Italy to offer a degree in information science). Olympia produced its first game, Master’s Game (a Breakout-like game) in 1979, possibly under the Leante Games brand. From 1979 to 1983, the company produced at least a dozen and a half titles, many of them knockoffs of existing hits. ­D-Day was their most successful game and the only one to be released in the U.S. Looking at the game’s crude graphics, it’s hard to see why. The game was a shooter in which the player used a single cannon to defend a beachhead from enemies including tanks, ships, planes, and trucks. It was a perhaps Centuri’s biggest flop of the decade and probably less than 100 units were sold.
Loco-Motion/Guttang Gottong

A bit more successful, but not much, was Loco-Motion (known as Guttang Gottong in Japan), licensed from Japan’s Konami (formerly known for their very profitable relationship with Stern). . The game was based on the ubiquitous 15-piece sliding block puzzle invented by Noyce Chapman in 1880 in which the player slid blocks horizontally or vertically within a frame to complete a picture or rearrange the blocks in numerical sequence. In Loco-Motion, the video “frame” contained 15 blocks, each with a section of a railroad track on it. As a train chugged around the track, the player had to slide the blocks to create a path for it and prevent it from crashing. The player also had to guide the train to pick up trackside passengers. If a passenger wasn’t picked up within a reasonable amount of time, they were replaced by a countdown timer and if the player didn’t reach the timer before the time reached zero, A “Crazy Train” appeared that the player had to avoid. While the game was not a hit, it was one of the earliest examples of an arcade puzzle game.
Centuri sold only $576,000 worth of Loco-Motion games in 1982, probably translating to about 300-500 units. In the long run, however, the game may have Centuri’s most important release of the year since Centuri’s relationship with Konami would prove perhaps even more lucrative than Stern’s had been.

 The Pit


1982 was an international year for Centuri. Loco-Motion had been licensed from a Japanese company, D-Day from an Italian one, and April’s The Pit came from jolly old England. The game was developed by the British company AW Electronics (aka Andy Walker Electronics, for its founder). In his youth, Andy Walker had served as a shipboard radio operator before spending ten years in the British Foreign Office. In 1977, while working at a government electronics center, he had his first brush with computers when he encountered a Honeywell 316 mini-computer. Instantly captivated, he purchased a kit computer consisting of single board with an 8080 microprocessor, a small amount of RAM, and a set of 8 red LEDs for output (as with the Altair and other early computers, it didn’t support a monitor). The only documentation consisted of a single photocopied page of instructions and a copy the 8080 instruction set. Programs had to be entered a byte at a time via 8 toggle switches. If the user made a mistake, they had to start over again from the beginning. In addition, the computer had no way to permanently store data, so even if a user did enter the data correctly, the program only lasted until they turned the computer off. This led to an amusing (at least in hindsight) incident. Walker entered program after program, only to find that they didn’t work. After spending days trying to sort things out, he finally discovered that to enter a 1 the user had to flip the toggle switch up and to enter a 0 he had to switch it down. This was obvious to American users but not to Walker, since in the U.K. (and most other countries), switches worked exactly the opposite way (to turn a light on, for instance, you pushed the switch down rather than up). Nonetheless, Walker eventually tamed the electronic beast and taught himself how to program in hex code. In 1981, fascinated by the new microcomputers that were appearing on the scene, Walker asked his bosses to send him to a small systems course to learn more about the machines. Convinced that the future was in mainframes and minicomputers rather than micros, they refused. Not long afterwards, Walker’s job changed and rather than relocate he quit and formed a company called Andy Walker Electronics (AWE - aka Slogan Court Ltd.) in the seaside town of Birdlington.
Deciding to build a computer of his own, Walker acquired a Tangerine Microtan 65 computer (a 6502-based kit computer). After putting it together, he ordered another and began writing programs in assembly language, displaying simple, interactive shapes on a black-and-white monitor. Realizing the system had potential, he hired another programmer named Tony “Gibbo” Gibson from Barnstable in Devon. Meanwhile, he purchased three graphics board (one each for red, green, and blue) and set about designing new hardware that expanded the MicroTan’s meager RAM, sound and graphics capabilities. After persuading a local company to turn his design into actual circuit boards, Walker programmed a crude Defender clone called Andromeda on his new system. Realizing that it was a bit too crude, he trashed the game and started again, eventually bringing in Gibson. Working together in a spare room in their house, Walker and Gibson would write code in assembly language then print it out and pin it to the wall so they could remember the memory addresses the next day. When they added joystick control to the game, they realized they could make a coin-op game. Young and full of confidence, they decided they could create their own from scratch and Walker began designing a cabinet. He ended up creating a multi-game system that allowed operators to swap ROM boards on the fly without turning the machine off (Walker described it as a “video jukebox”). Around this time, a third member joined the team - a graphic designer named Andy Rixon. Before long, the trio had created two additional games for the system: Hunter and The Pit. Oddly enough, it was a bug in Andromeda that led directly to the creation of The Pit 
[Andy Walker] The spaceship had a fin on the back and it didn’t always rub itself out. It would paint the screen in pixels but then when it went through a second time it would tunnel through them. Ah, there’s a game there.
            <”The Making of The Pit”, Retro Gamer #85>

With three games completed, Walker and Gibson packed their system into a rented Nissan van and headed to the Cunard Hotel in Hammersmith for the London Previews (a prominent British trade show). They set up a small both next to a major manufacturer (where the near constant music from a Frogger machine nearly drove them mad) and got their system up-and-running, which required loading the operating system from cassette tape - a process that took fifteen minutes or more. Then, five minutes before the show started, an electrician told everyone they were going to turn off the power for a few minutes. Panic set in as Walker and Gibson had to hurriedly reboot their system and wait several painstaking minutes as the first visitors wandered into their booth only to be greeted by a screen with a “loading…” message.
In the end, however, things worked out just fine. They made the acquaintance of Norman Parker, who headed Zilec Electronics in Burton-on-Trent, one of the U.K.’s leading arcade game manufacturers. Parker took a look at their system and was duly impressed. After the show, Walker paid a visit to the Zilec factory and Parker suggested he show his system to Centuri sales exec Joel Hochberg, who was Zilec’s agent (it appears that he had also set up his own company called Coin-It by this time). Hochberg was interested in their system and had them ship it to him in Florida (Zilec actually handled the shipping). During testing in Miami, The Pit proved to be the most popular of the system’s three games and Hochberg quickly licensed it to Centuri, netting AW Electronics a royalty of $136 per machine at a time when the going rate was around $40. Hochberg took a large part of the royalty for himself, but Walker didn’t mind since Hochberg had given him the foot in the door he needed to establish himself in arcade industry. While Hochberg liked the game, the multi-game system proved impractical

[Andy Walker] Our (treasured) rack-mounted Tangerine custom hardware worked fine but was really unsuitable for mass-production and Joel suggested that we completely abandon it in favour of Centuri (capable, successful) boards - and he was right. The software guys at Centuri knew their board inside-out and got The Pit rewritten in fantastic time. It was quickly agreed that it should be released as a single game - and that was shown to be right decision too.

Meanwhile, Zilec/Zenitone produced a version of The Pit for English arcades based on the Galaxian board and assigned the task of porting the game to a pair of new Zi       lec engineers – brothers Chris and Tim Stamper (who went on to form their own company called Ashby Computers & Graphics, designed the game Blue Print for Bally/Midway, and later founded the software company Rare).
      The Pit was a digging game – a kind of crude predecessor to Dig Dug, Mr. Do, and Boulder Dash (whose creator, Peter Liepa, named The Pit as a major influence). The player guided a "space prospector" through an underground landscape strewn with boulders in an effort to collect a series of seven gems while avoiding enemy astronauts and falling rocks. Three of the gems were located in a large rectangular "pit" at the bottom of the screen whose ceiling was lined with falling enemies. Other obstacles included a pool of green acid(?) with a disappearing floor above it. While the player collected gems, the "zonker" (a name had chosen for the American version) slowly chipped its way through a mountain protecting the mother ship. If the player made their way back to the mother ship before the zonker "zonked" it, they received a bonus depending on how many gems they collected. As with most games, there were a few features that didn’t make it into the final version. The game was originally to feature additional levels, culminating with a fight against the "Grand Dragon". Despite the fact that the Grand Dragon never made it into the game, it may have influenced a much more popular digging game.

[Andy Walker]…when we were at the preview show, we all knew it was a work in progress. We described it as such to some Japanese people who were extremely interested. I think they were from Namco or Atari. We described how you would find the Dragon and blow it up. Not ‘you kill it’ but specifically ‘you blow it up’. The Japanese gave us an old-fashioned look then made expanding gestures, then “boom”. The point being that when we said “blow it up” they thought “inflate.”
          <”The Making of The Pit”, Retro Gamer #85>

The idea of a dragon that you “blew up” later turned up in Namco/Atari's Dig Dug. Walker claims that when he mentioned the uncanny similarity to Atari, they informed him that THEY were suing HIM for stealing their (or rather Namco’s) idea. Luckily, at Joel Hochberg's suggestion, AW had registered a U.S. copyright on their game in November of 1982, two months before Atari and Namco copyrighted Dig Dug and nothing came of the threat. While The Pit wasn’t a major hit for Centuri, they did sell $2.9 million worth, probably about 1,200-2,000 units[2].

The Pit ended up being AW Electronics sole arcade video game. They did develop a few games that never made it to production, including Stamper (a game in which the player tried to deliver items by foot, plane, or car while avoiding being stomped flat by wandering beasts) and Hunky DoorKey (a maze game in which the player collected keys to open doors). Meanwhile, with their royalties from The Pit, Andy Walker and Tony Gibson purchased some Intertec Superbrain computers and began working on another game called Pipeline. Eventually they formed a company called Tasket and released Pipeline for the Commodore 64, along with a number of other innovative titles such as Super Pipeline (probably their most popular game), Seaside Special (which involved throwing seaweed at leading U.K. politicians) and Bozo’s Night Out (in which the player guided a character named Bozo on a pub crawl, trying to get as drunk as possible before returning home safely)

[1] While the game’s flyer says it was licensed from Hiraoka & Co, the attract screen says it was copyrighted by Centuri and Amenip.
[2] According to Centuri’s annual report, their biggest production run of the year was 2,000 units. If there was only one game per run and The Pit only had one run, that would mean The Pit sold 2,000 units. If there was more than one game per run (the report said that Centuri never had more than two games in production at one time) then the figure would be lower.


This has nothing to do with Centuri but I was recently discussing Taito America's games and thought I'd post the following. It's a marquee for the ultrarare Taito America game Black Widow that was sent to me by the game's designer, Mark Blazczyk. Some report that the game was unreleased, but Mark recalls that a few copies made it out the door.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Video Game Mythbusters - Was Rally-X the Hit of the 1980 AMOA?

            There are number of well-known legends associated with various arcade video games of the 1980s. Perhaps the two games with the most are Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. With the latter there are legends about the origin of the game’s name, the main character’s name, the involvement of Ikegami Tsushinki, the game’s Popeye origins etc. With the former there's the pizza legend (discussed earlier), the release date, the question of when and if the enemies were referred to as ghosts and so on. One story about Pac-Man that has oft been repeated is that when it debuted at the 1980 AMOA show in October, the industry pundits liked Namco’s other game Rally-X better. In fact, the story goes, Rally-X was the hit of the show. Here’s a typical version from Steven Kent’s Ultimate History of Video Games:

“Buyer and analyst response at the October AMOA show further confirmed that Rally-X was the best game in the group. Of all the video games at that show Rally-X received the most favorable comments.”

Note that the “group” mentioned here refers to the four games introduced by Namco: Pac-Man/Puck-Man, Rally X, Tank Battalion, and King & Balloon. There are actually two (or three)  separate claims here: 1) that Midway liked Rally-X best of the four Namco games and 2) that Rally-X was the hit of the 1980 AMOA. Both stories are often used to illustrate either the myopia of industry executives or the revolutionary nature of Pac-Man (a third claim is that the industry in general preferred Rally-X to Pac-Man)

Let’s look at claim 2) first. This one should be pretty easy to check. I have the relevant issues of RePlay and Play Meter, the two premier industry journals of the time, so if we want to know what the industry thought, those are the key sources of information.

First, however, a word about the 1980 AMOA show, and the show in general. For those who don’t know, the AMOA (Amusement and Music Operators of America) expo was the premier industry show in the U.S. in the 1980s (and probably from the 1960s to at least the 1990s). The 1980 show was a pretty interesting one in terms of coin-op history. Other than Pac-Man and Rally-X, games making their debut at the show included Battle Zone, Berzerk, Defender, Crazy Climber, Spectar, Star Castle, Space Panic, and Moon Cresta.

So, which games were considered the hits?

Play Meter covered the show in its 1/15/81 issue, which actually had three separate articles, reviewing the show.
First was an article by Dick Pearson titled "Play Meter plays the games"
Unfortunately, Pearson didn't name a standout game, noting "But since Space Invaders, we have seen something new added to the games, which makes it all the more difficult to pick a 'Game of the Show." He then goes on to further discuss how difficult picking standout games is and doesn't name a game of the show.

Nonetheless, he does discuss the following games as among the standouts: Battlezone, Berzerk, Star Castle, Defender, Spectar, and Space Tactics, and also mentions Radar Scope, Zero Hours, Uni War S, Space Panic, and Crazy Climber.
Here's his take on Pac-Man and Rally-X

Hmm. He doesn't seem to favor one over the other. Plus he also mentioned a lot of games, so this article may not be of much help.

Later in the same issue we have Dick Welu's show diary. Welu is much more forthcoming with what games he liked and disliked.
He calls Star Castle a "honey", was lukewarm on Space Panic, and liked Battlezone.
His pick for game of the show?

OTOH, he did pick a Bally/Midway game as "sleeper" of the show. Which one?

Yep, he picked Space Zap (!!???) as sleeper of the show. Now don't get me wrong, I loved me some Space Zap back in the day, but sleeper? Really?

Finally, we have the article "An Independent Review: Standout games at Chicago Show" by Tony Licata. Ahh. This is just what we're looking for. He actually picks four standout games of the show.
And they are....




Star Castle




wait for it


Deep Death.


Deep Death?


DEEP DEATH!!??!!?!

That's what he picked. Pacific Novelty's Deep Death (which was subsequently renamed Shark Attack).

OK, so it looks like Play Meter didn't consider Rally-X the standout game of the show, or even significantly better than Pac-Man.
What about RePlay?

Here's a review of the show from the 12/80 issue

No Rally-X there, but he does mention Pac-Man and (once again) good old Space Zap.
Here's another review from the same issue.

I don't know about you, but I'm not seeing any evidence that Rally-X was considered the hit of the show or that it was more well regarded than Pac-Man. OTOH, neither was Pac-Man considered the hit of the show, so the perhaps the larger point still stands.

What about the other claim, that Midway initially liked Rally-X more than Pac-Man? That claim actually does hold water. Midway president Dave Marofske said as much to Kent. When I talked to him circa 1999, he told me pretty much the same thing: 

[Dave Marofske] When we went to Japan there were four games, I believe, that were shown. Atari, ourself, and many others had looked at the games and talked to Namco about licensing them. The one that Mr. Nakamura and company felt had tremendous potential was Rally X, which was a maze driving game. They also had Pac-Man, which they called Puck Man. They also had a tank game, which I think was called Red Tank or maybe just Tank and they had a game that they called Red Balloons or something similar. They said they were not going to licensing all four to any one company and, in fact, they were leaning towards releasing them to four different companies. Rally X seemed to be the one that kept getting touted but we sort of thought there were two strong games and the other one was Pac-Man. I don’t think anyone on our side, and obviously nobody on their side at that time knew which was going to be the stronger game but we felt they both had strong potential.

Far more interesting was a story that Game Plan exec Ken Anderson told me. First, a little background. In the end, Namco chose to license the four games to two different companies. Midway got Rally-X and Pac-Man, while Game Plan got Tank Battalion and King & Balloon. Ken Anderson was an executive at Game Plan at the time and over the years it seems he worked for half the manufacturers in the industry. How did Midway end up with Pac-Man? Here's what Anderson told me

[Ken Anderson] You want to hear a real story. Dave Marofske was the president of Midway in 1980. Namco had four games and they were going to give Game Plan two and Bally/Midway two. [It came down to] Tank Battalion and Pac-Man. We flipped a coin. I won and I turned down Pac-Man because I thought Tank Battalion was the better game.  So I turned down Pac-Man for Tank Battalion.

Now I don't know if that's true or not and I haven't confirmed it but if it is, it has to be one of the all-time great whiffs (though, of course, it's easy to say that in hindsight).
Oh, and did you notice the raves about Space Tactics in the above articles? What's the deal with that one? For those who don't know, it was a huge cockpit game from Sega that used an elaborate system of gears, motors and pulleys to rotate - not the cabinet, or the player's seat, but the monitor (which was actually mounted in the bottom of the cabinet and reflected via a mirror, so they may have rotated the mirror). It also had LED lights to display various player stats as well as a steering wheel with a thumb button, plus six other buttons. One person called it the most over-engineered video game in history.
Finally, here's some more pictures form the 1980 AMOA show.
Hmm. Is that Namco founder Masaya Nakamura playing Rally-X? I thought so at first, but can't tell for sure. It looks like the game starts with a "T" but it doesn't look like a Tank Battalion cab.



Bonus. Another famous myth.

Earlier, I mentioned Donkey Kong myths. One of the most famous is that it was originally called Monkey Kong and the name was only changed to Donkey Kong due to a translation error (in some versions, due to either a blurred fax or a misheard phone call depending on who's telling the story).
That story is considered "busted". There's even a longish article on it at Snopes.
Recently, however, I came across the following from the October 1, 1981 Play Meter

What? Monkey Kong? So is the "busted" myth not a myth after all? Have I found holy grail of video game mythbuster-busting? Alas, I think not. I'm pretty sure this is just a good old fashioned typo. RePlay referred to the game as Donkey Kong the month before this issue came out and may have done so earlier. But it did give me a brief rush of adrenaline.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Tangled History of Omni/Glak/Eagle/Magic Electronics (Part 1)

            Magic Electronics of Cranston, Rhode Island is little remembered today but in 1984 and 1985, they released over two dozen video games, a few of which were minor hits. Their most well-known games were probably The Glob, Super Glob, H.B.'s Olympics, 8 Ball Action, Driving Force, Samurai (Nichon Ichi), and Special Forces: Kung Fu Commando, all of which made the RePlay and/or Play Meter charts. Most of these games have been forgotten today as had Magic Conversions. There are a number of reasons: they made only conversion kits, they released their games at the height of the industry crash, and their games were designed by or licensed from other companies and are thus not associated with Magic.

            Nonetheless, Magic had a fairly interesting history. Tracing that history, however, can be difficult since it is intertwined with the history of a number of other companies and tangentially related to even more. In fact, I could have called this article "the tangled history of Ferncrest Distributors/Omni Video Games/Glak Associates/Eagle Conversions/Magic Conversions/Epos Corporation/Cardinal Amusements/Montgomery Vending/Magic Electronics"  but that doesn't really roll off the tongue.

            The main connections between Magic and its direct ancestors were two men: Frank Gaglione and Kevin McIntyre, who served as President and VP of most of them. Their history starts with another Rhode Island company called Omni Video Games.

Omni Video Games, Inc.


            Of all the companies associated with Magic Electronics, Omni Video Games is the most famous, largely because of their role in the Stern v. Kauffman case, one of the most influential and important cases in video game history. Omni was headed, and likely founded, by Frank Gaglione. Little is known about Gaglione’s early life. It appears that he may have been born in 1913. On April 2, 2013, the Rhode Island Senate passed a resolution honoring Frank Gaglione of Providence on his 100th birthday (
Given the name and the fact that Gaglione’s business were all in the Providence area, it seems likely that this is the same person (a Frank Gaglione who died in Buffalo in 1997 appears to be a different person). By 1980, Gaglione had established a company called Ferncrest Distributors in Warwrick, RI to distribute slot machines and video games for Universal and other coin-op companies. I am not sure exactly when Omni was founded but it appears to have been around 1980. According to the records of the Rhode Island Secretary of State, Omni Video Games, Inc. was incorporated on June 24, 1980 as Omni Gaming Systems, Inc. The incorporation record claims that the name was changed to Omni Video Games. Inc. in 1993, and lists Barbara Maggiacomo listed as president (whose address is listed as 123 Shadow Brook Lane in Warwick). It also claims that Omni filed the fictitious name of Elm Manufacturing on 3/12/84. I'm not sure this is the same company, but given the name and the Warwick association, it seems likely). Frank Gaglione's name doesn't appear on the summary of the incorporation record on the Sec. of State website, but it might appear in the actual articles (articles of incorporation generally include officers of the company)

Omni produced at least a dozen-and-a-half titles between 1980 and 1982. A number of them seem to have been legit. The licensed a number of games, for instance from Artic Electronics/ATW USA, including Mars and Devil Fish (I believe that Artic Electronics is a different company from the Artic International that was sued by Williams and Midway. I read that they actually changed the name of their US branch to ATW to avoid confusion with the other Artic). Other Omni games, however, were anything but legitimate. Midway sued them over their bootleg versions of Pac-Man, Galaxian, and Rally-X.


Stern v. Kaufman
            The 1981 case Stern v. Kaufman brought Omni its most lasting fame. It was not, however, the first time they’d tangled with Stern in court. In November, 1980 Stern had filed a complaint against the company over a bootleg version of Astro Invader called Zygon and succeeded in shutting production on the game down. Omni was unfazed. In April, 1981, just four weeks after Stern released Scramble (like Astro Invader, it was licensed from Konami), Omni released their own version (called either Scramble or Scramble 2), selling it for $650 less than Stern. Stern filed a complaint almost immediately.

The “boring” stuff

            First, the stuff that many will find boring (though I actually think it’s interesting) – the case itself.  I don’t have time to go into all the details here (that could take up an entire post) but the case hinged on a few provisions of the Copyright Act of 1976 (incorporated into Title 17 of the U.S. code), which protects "… original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression ". The act then goes on to list examples. The list does not include video games specifically, but it does included literary works, and audiovisual works, and video games were generally registered under one of these two categories. Rather than registering the code as a “literary work” Stern had registered a video tape of the actual gameplay as an audiovisual work. One reason might have been that registering the code might not prevent someone from creating an exact copy of the game with original code. Registering the gameplay, on the other hand, protected the game even if someone duplicated it with new code. According to George Gerstman, Stern’s lawyer in the case, there was another reason. Gerstman had earlier worked on a case called Data Cash Systems v. JS&A group that involved a copy of an electronic chess game. In that case, the judge had ruled that game code embedded on ROMs was not copyrightable since the code wasn’t “readable”. As a result, the copyright office stopped granting copyrights for programs on ROMS or PROMS (after the trial, Gerstman was able to persuade them to change their policy and the Data Cash decision was apparently later overruled).

            The idea of submitting a videotape of gameplay had come up in the Astro Invader case and Gerstman himself shot the video. To do so, he had to lug his “portable” VCR to the Stern factory (which consisted of a camera and a base VCR unit that he had to strap to his back). In addition, neither TV monitors nor VCRs were common in courtrooms at the time (not even in New York, where the Kaufman trial took place) and Gerstman had once again haul his VCR to court.

            In the trial, Omni claimed that Konami//Stern’s Scramble did not meet the copyright act’s originality requirement because what happened in the game depended on the actions of the player. The video tape wasn’t original either, because it depended on the ROMs and the underlying code, which Stern had not registered. The judge disagreed and issued a temporary injunction against Omni. On appeal, Omni tried attacking the “fixation” requirement of the copyright act claiming that the game was not “fixed” because it was different every time you played it. They also claimed that each act of playing the game constituted an original work, while the video tape only showed one particular instance. Omni lost again.

The not so boring stuff

            Some aspects of the case were a bit more exciting. One was that Frank Gaglione himself was called to testify. Of course, that itself is not very interesting, but the reason he was called is. As Gerstman explains in his book “Clear and Convincing Evidence”:

“The president of Omni, Frank Gaglione, was present at the hearing. Judge Nickerson had recently been the judge in a federal criminal case concerning the New York mob. Without impugning Frank’s character, let’s just say that he was wearing a dark red shirt, a dark suit and a light tie. Frank was a tough looking guy. I wanted to be sure that Judge Nickerson knew that Frank was Omni’s president. I called Frank to the stand as an adverse witness. Frank had not expected this. Although I had not taken his deposition earlier, I was confident that I would be able to get useful testimony from him.”
[George Gerstman (2013-04-02). Clear and Convincing Evidence: My career in intellectual property law (Kindle Locations 1913-1917). AuthorHouse. Kindle Edition.]

            Also interesting was that two weeks after Stern filed a complaint against Omni for copyright infringement, Omni filed a complaint against Stern for trademark infringement. “What gives?” you may well be asking. As it turns out, in December of 1980, Gaglione ordered 10 marquees bearing the name “Scramble” from a company called BCA posters (Konami had already showed Scramble in Japan, so the title was known in the video game industry). Gaglione slapped five of the marquees on three other Omni bootlegs that were already in production (Space Guerrilla, Space Carrier, and Rally-X) then filed for a trademark on the name “Scramble”. It was a rather shameless attempt, but you have to admire the guys’ chutzpah. Thankfully, the court didn’t buy it for a second.


            A final amusing (in retrospect) incident occurred after the trial. Despite the judge’s order, Omni continued to produce their bootleg Scramble game, this time under the name Air Shuttle. In October, Stern found out about some copies of Air Shuttle that had been sold in Tulsa, OK and got a court order allowing them to seize the games (they even got the judge to fast track the process). Gerstman himself went to Tulsa and, aided by a US Marshall, helped confiscate games from 14 different locations. They later found more bootleg games in Brooklyn. This time, however, things didn’t go so smoothly. Gerstman and another US Marshal went to a convenience store to seize five games. After loading three of them on their truck, 8 men walked in with Doberman pinscher’s on leashes, then locked the door behind them and threatened to turn the snarling dogs loose if the games were not returned posthaste. Gerstman and the Marshall (wisely) decided to comply. As the left, they were pelted by rocks from kids lining the rooftop.

            In any event, the judge was none too pleased that Omni had continued producing their games in violation of his order and brought criminal contempt charges against Frank Gaglione (to expedite matters, the charges were later dropped). Not long after the case, the Omni Video Games disappeared from the trade magazines (though the company didn’t go away entirely. In 1986 they were assigned rights to a video game scoring system developed by Wing Company, Ltd (which served as the basis for a 1991 lawsuit). Frank Gaglione, meanwhile, went on to form another company, this one in Providence, called Glak Associates - but that will have to wait for part 2.
Games Made by Omni

            I don’t really have a good list of games made/distributed by Omni, since I don’t really track bootleg games, but here are some titles I’ve come across:
·         Devil Fish (licensed? from Artic Electronics)
·         Mars (licensed? from Artic Electronics)
·         Packman (Pac-Man bootleg)
·         Piranha
·         Pool Hustler? (Omni registered a trademark on this name, but I don’t know if they ever made a game)
·         Rally-X (bootleg)
·         Red UFO (appears on flyer, may be same as Artic’s Defend the Terra Attack on the Red UFO)
·         Scramble/Scramble 2 (bootleg)
·         Space Carrier
·         Stand-Off (Omni registered a trademark on this name, but I don’t know if they ever made a game)
·         Super Sphinx (Omni showed this game at the 1982 AOE show in March)
·         Uniwars
·         Zygon (Astro Invader bootleg)
·         Golden Poker (licensed??? Bonanza)