Since I haven’t posted in a while, this one is going to be a long one. Sadly, it will not be a very in depth one since I was unable to interview anyone for it.
During the mid-1980s, as the arcade video game market began to decline, many operators began looking for new ways to make money off of their fading old titles while not breaking the bank buying new games. One solution that became increasingly popular was convertible games. Convertible games came in two major variations: conversion kits (which allowed the user to change one game to another by swapping out the hardware) and “system” games (which included a standardized main board and games that could be swapped out by replacing a tape, small daughter board etc.). Two of the earliest, and best-known such systems were Gremlin’s Convert-A-Game and Data East’s DECO Cassette System. One of the most prolific system game makers, however, was Century Electronics and their CVS system. Unfortunately, the system has received little attention in gaming histories and few remember it today.Perhaps this post will go a (very small) way towards correcting that. Unfortunately, I was unable to find much info on the company or track down anyone who worked there. Nonetheless, I did find some interesting (at least to me) info that I thought I’d share. First, I’ll give an overview of the company’s history. Then I’ll take a more in-depth look at their games.
In January of 1981, Century Electronics Ltd. of Oldham England introduced its CVS Convertible Video System at a private showing at the ATE in London. Century had been founded in 1979 (possibly by Peter Robinson and David Jones) and development on the CVS system had started around summer of 1980. The system consisted of a Signetics 2650-based mother board (designed by Philips Electronics) and a 5.5” x 8” x 1“ “program module” that could be swapped (along with a marquee) when the operator wanted to install a new title. The system also included a separate sound board with speech capability. While only two titles were available at the time of its debut (Dark Warrior and Cosmos), more were in the works and Century planned to release a new title every six weeks. To create them, Century had a staff of 12 designers using a $1.5 million development system made exclusively for them by Philips in the Netherlands.
While the system was available earlier in Europe, it wouldn’t make its way to America until 1982. Around December of 1981, Tuni Electro Services of Tempe, AZ inked a deal with Century for exclusive North American rights to the system. At the time, Tuni was all but unknown in the U.S. coin-op industry, though they had a 12,000-square-foot factory in Arizona capable of turning out 100 video games per day as well as a 13,000-square-foot factory in Vancouver, Washington. Century chose to deal with the tyro manufacturer because (they said) they wanted to work with a young, aggressive company that would be dedicated to pushing their games. And Tuni was aggressive. They initially planned to spend $800,000 (upped to $1.6 million by April) to launch the system in the U.S. and Canada and ordered 10,000 modules. By this time, two more games were available (Space Fortress and Radar Zone/Outline?), and Tuni planned to order 10,000 more modules after the first half of the year. While Century supplied the game modules (which Tuni panned to offer for $350 each, or $250 with a trade-in), Tuni would manufacture the cabinets and circuit boards.
The first two titles for the system were a pair of vertical shooters, Dark Warrior and Cosmos. Other early titles included Space Fortress (a color version of Asteroids), Dazzler (a maze/climbing game in which the player avoided pursuing vultures while feeding bananas to a gorilla), Video 8-Ball (a video version of pool), and Radar Zone (a kind of combination of Amidar and Qix). It seems that Tuni initially had high hopes for the system. In the summer of 1982, it announced that it was expanding its R&D department with an eye toward developing new CVS games in conjunction with Century. Engineering VP Tom Opfer was appointed to head a staff of ten programmers and technicians and Tuni spent $100,000 on development equipment with plans to spend even more. They also sent Opfer to England to learn the ins and outs of the system.
Things apparently went downhill quickly, however and by the end of the year the relationship between Century and Tuni had soured (to put it mildly). According to Tuni marketing director Patrick Reed, the trouble started when Century complained that Tuni wasn’t selling enough of its games (Play Meter reported that they sold only 700 complete systems by January of 1983). Reed, on the other hand, said it was because Century didn’t furnish them with the number of new titles they’d promised (they had delivered only 3 since the system launched). Whether because of this or the lackluster quality of the games they did offer, Tuni was already in trouble by the fall of 1982 and in September, Arizona’s E.T. Marketing (another company headed by Reed) bought up Tuni’s assets, which they felt included the rights to the CVS games. Century, on other hand, disagreed, maintaining that they had terminated their contract with Tuni in August and that the rights to the games now belonged to Century’s U.S. branch, (recently established in Great Neck, NY) which had signed an exclusive contract with Century on September 1. In addition, Century sued Tuni for copyright infringement for selling the games Wall Street and Logger, which they had shown at the 1982 AMOA show. Century also launched separate suits to collect outstanding debts from Tuni. Reed, on the other hand, claimed that Tuni had never even signed their contract with Century, because of “problems with language…that would have required Century to come up with a new game every six to eight weeks that would be marketable in the United States” Instead, the two companies had made individual licensing agreements for each game. In addition, said Reed, Century owed Tuni $240,000 for electronic parts. He further claimed that he had scheduled a meeting with Century VP Peter Robinson to discuss the issue, but he had never shown up (Robinson, in return, said he wasn’t taking any calls from Reed).
Convertible Video Systems Takes Over
The End of Century
None of these games, however, matched the success of Hunchback (though Outline reportedly sold well) and Century didn’t last much longer. In mid-January, 1984 they scheduled a distributor showing where thy debuted three new products: a shooting gallery, a quiz game, and a children’s video game series. While the games were well-received, they were never produced (at least not by Century). The next week, on January 18, Century declared bankruptcy (ironically, the previous month, Tuni had been pulled out of bankruptcy and taken over by Enter-Tech).
CVS was not completely finished, however, at least not yet. Century’s U.S. branch was not affected and soon began to work with other companies to produce their games. Around May, Crown Vending of Corona, New York announced that they would be producing new Game-Paks for the CVS system. Headed by Steve Hochman, who had started his coin-op career as a soda machine operator in Queens in 1965, Crown Vending was one of New York City’s largest distributors. In mid-1983, noting the growing success of Hunchback, they had sold a kit called Playpak that allowed operators to convert games with Galaxian/Scramble hardware to CVS base systems. In 1984, they released a pair of new titles for the system. Both were (apparently) developed by Century (though the first, at least, was manufactured in California) and both proved to be solid hits (though mostly as conversion kits for other games). First was the motorcycle racing game Superbike (April, 1984), which was available as a CVS module as well as a conversion kit for Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong, Jr. Despite gameplay that was derivative of title 2-years out-of-date, Superbike reached #1 in Play Meter’s conversion kit chart for street locations in November of 1984. Almost as successful was Hero in the Castle of Doom (aka Hero), in which Quasimodo made a return appearance (this time without the green tunic) in a maze game where he once again had to rescue the fair “Ezzmerlda”. Released in November, 1984 Hero in the Castle of Doom debuted at #1 on Play Meter’s conversion kits chart for street locations in February 15, 1985.In late 1984, another company began producing titles for the CVS system. First came H.B.’s Olympics (aka Hunchback Olympic and Herbie at the Olympics). Designed by Century/Seatongrove, the game was built by Magic Electronics of Cranston, RI and marketed by Montgomery Vending. The game, once again, featured our old friend Quasimodo. Sporting his original green tunic from Hunchback, Quasimodo competed in seven different Olympic events. Priced at $375, the game was also available as a conversion kit for Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr. and Scramble. It reached #12 on Play Meter’s conversion kit chart for street locations in December, 1984 and #14 on RePlay’s software chart in February, 1985. Montgomery/Magic also had a minor hit in 1985 with another CVS release called Eight Ball Action, which was also released as a conversion kit.
With Eight Ball Action, CVS and Century disappeared into the mists of arcade history. Exactly how many games Century sold is uncertain. In May, 1984, Play Meter reported that they had sold 20,000 CVS systems overall and about 10,000 in the U.S. and they likely didn’t sell many more systems after that point (though they continued to sell games). Despite this, the company and its games (except maybe for Hunchback) have largely been forgotten by video game fans today and have drawn scant mention in video game histories. There are number of possible reasons for this. While the system did produce some minor successes, it never had a hit on the order of magnitude of a Burgertime or a Mr. Do! In addition, the few hits it did have came during the nadir of arcade video games’ popularity. The fact that the company was British may have been a factor as well (at least in the U.S.). The biggest reason, however, was probably the lackluster quality and derivative nature of the games themselves. Nonetheless, CVS remains one of many interesting footnotes that litter the pages of coin-op history.
THE GAMESNow let’s take a brief look at the actual games, in rough order of when they were released.
NOTE – For various games on the list, I note the original game that they ripped off. I suspect, however, that all of their games may have been rip-offs, so if anyone knows of one I missed, let me know.
Rips Off:??? This one does look familiar, but I can’t think of an actual game it copies.
A fairly straightforward vertical shooter in which the player protects a line of fuel tanks from a variety of invading alien ships. In addition, walking aliens (called “dogs” in one issue of Play Meter) would appear on the horizon and begin moving toward the player, launching an attack when they got too close. If the MAME sounds are accurate for this one (and lord hopes they’re not), this gets my vote for wussiest firing sound in the history of video games (it sounds like an anemic chicken peeping).
Released: at the same time as Dark WarriorRips Off: Astro Blaster(Gremlin/Sega) – big time
This is one of the top candidates for Century’s most blatant rip-off. They copied everything from the laser temperature gauge to the fuel gauge to the speech to the docking. All without much of the charm of the original (I’m not sure, for instance, if they copied the bonuses – one of my favorite features of Astro Blaster).
Somehow, this managed to be chosen as one of five games for the famed That’s Incredible tournament/Video Game Olympics (the one won by Ben Gold).
Released: ???, I believe it was available by the time Tuni started selling the system around December, 1981. It was shown at the AOE show in March, 1982.
Rips Off: Asteroids
This one isn’t nearly as blatant a rip-off as Cosmos. While it had the same basic gameplay as Asteroids, it also added a number of new features, including color, a fuel supply, a damage meter, speech, sensors, and a stage where the player defended a space fortress. The game also included a second stage that was sort of similar to Dark Warrior (complete with a firing sound that is, if anything, even more annoying – at least in MAME)
Released: 1/82 (MAME), 5/82 (DRA Price Guide), ca 4/82 (Play Meter), shown at 1/82 ATE showRips Off: Donkey Kong (level 1) and ???, The MAME history filed describes this as “cross between Pac-Man and Donkey Kong Jr.” but I don’t really see it, other than that it was a maze game and had locks and a gorilla.
This one combined a maze game and a climbing game. In the former, the player opened a series of 13 locks, collected bananas, and fed them to a purple gorilla. The player also had to avoid vultures (or distract them with snakes). The second level was a version of the first level of Donkey Kong with some amazingly crude graphics for an arcade game in 1982 (or even for a computer game in 1979).
Video 8 BallTuni/Century/CVS
Released: 4/82 (RePlay catalog), shown at AOE in 3/82
Rips Off: ???, this one was similar to Konami/Dynamo’s Video Hustler/Li’L Hustler but I don’t think I’d call it a “rip-off” since most video pool games were necessarily similar
Charts: RePlay software chart, #4, (1983)
Not much to say here. A video version of pool. It made the charts a long time after its debut, so CVS may have produced another version.
Radar Zone/Outline (??)Tuni/Century/CVS
Released: Uncertain. This one was listed on the original Tuni flyer and Play Meter says it was available at the time the system was released in the U.S. but the July, 1982 issue of RePlay said that it would be available shortly as the sixth CVS title.
Rips Off: Amidar
I’m not positive this is the same game as Outline, but I think it is. Trade magazines refer to both games and never intimate that they are the same. The first mention I found for Outline was in February, 1983. After the New York office took over, they said it was one of their two biggest sellers (along with Video 8 Ball) so they may have renamed it.
The game itself was kind of a more boring version of Amidar without the gorillas and the jump button (i.e. the fun stuff). The enemies looked kind of like the sparx from Qix. The player’s main defense was a button that created a temporary gap in the maze outline. Later levels included enemies that fired at the character and “asteroids” levels (with colored asteroids in the background).
Released: ???, Tuni/E.T. showed it at the 1982 AMOA show in NovemberRips Off: Donkey Kong (big time)
Another candidate for Century’s most shameless rip-off. I’m not sure how this one got by Nintendo’s lawyers (maybe it didn’t). This was basically a carbon copy of Donkey Kong with a lumberjack instead of a carpenter, logs instead of barrels, and a giant bird instead of Donkey Kong. Oh, and of course, substandard graphics and gameplay.
Wall St./Wall StreetTuni/?Century
Released: ??? Tuni/E.T. showed it at the 1982 AMOA show in NovemberRips Off: ??? If this one ripped off something else, I’d LOVE to know what it is. The only trampoline game I can think of off the top of my head is Exidy’s Trapeze/Taito’s Trampoline, but that’s nothing like this one. The second phase was quite a bit like Tutankham.
I may be alone here, but this one almost makes up for all of Century’s earlier games put together. This has to be one of the strangest classic era arcade video game concepts ever in terms of sheer bat-poop craziness. Would-be suicide victims leapt out the windows of a skyscraper while the player used a trampoline to bounce them into a waiting ambulance in an attempt to keep the Dow Jones Index (represented by a bar at the bottom of the screen) from reaching zero. All while jaunty music played in the background. In the second stage, the player maneuvered through a bank collecting bags of money while tanks (!?!) tried to blast him to smithereens.
Rips Off: ???
Another vertical shooter somewhat like Astro Blaster or Astro Fighter. The player could move vertically as well as horizontally and had both bombs and lasers. There was also a wave where you faced a kind of mother ship with three ports as well as a docking stage.
Released: ???, first mentioned in RePlay in 3/83
Rips Off: ???
A rather boring digging game with typically crude graphics. The player collected gold nuggets while avoiding bugs. As they dug out the ground, mine carts filled with ore.
Released: July, 1983 (RePlay catalog)
Rips Off: One hopes nothing. Though it has some similarities to the Atari 2600 Maze Craze cartridge.Charts: #2 RePlay software charts, 1983
Oh man, what a turkey. This one gets my vote for worst graphics of any game made after 1980. Crude doesn’t even begin to describe them. As far as the actual game, the player had 20 seconds to complete each of the 99 game’s different mazes while avoiding pursuing “chasers” (which could be “frozen” once per level, causing the maze walls to disappear for seven seconds). This thing actually appeared on RePlay’s software charts five times. How? I have no idea. Even worse, Century claimed that it was “rapidly becoming one of the top three games” in European test locations. Please tell me they were exaggerating. Then again, maybe there’s something I’m missing.
Released: 9/83 (MAME, Play Meter), though it was previewed at the ATE in January, 1983 and mentioned as shipping in the 6/15/83 issue of Play MeterRips Off: ???
Charts: #2 RePlay software chart
This is the big daddy as far as CVS was concerned. Their flagship game. And, surprise, surprise, it was actually pretty darn good. The goal was to guide Quasimodo across a series of screens to rescue the fair Esmeralda. The main character was (reportedly) originally supposed to be Robin Hood (hence his green tunic) but was switched to Victor Hugo’s famous bell ringer during development. To accomplish his task, Quasimodo had to make his way across a castle wall, leaping over pikemen, crenellations, arrows, and other obstacles or swinging over a fiery pit to ring a bell on the other side. In a second phase the player had to climb a pair of bell ropes and remove plugs from a series of wall sections (shades of Donkey Kong’s rivets level) before reaching the princess. In addition to the CVS version, Hunchback was offered as a conversion kit for Donkey Kong (what was it with Century and Donkey Kong?). While the gameplay is nice, it’s the main character that really makes the game for me. Thankfully, we haven’t seen the last of him.
Released: 4/84 (Play Meter catalog)
also as conversion kit for Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr.
Rips Off: Moon Patrol
Charts: #1 Play Meter conversion kit chart for street locations 11/15/84 (appeared 11x)#10, Play Meter conversion kit chart for arcade locations 10/15/84 (appeared 9x)
This might look like a contender for Century’s biggest hit but I suspect that most of the units sold were the DK/DK Jr. conversion kits rather than the CVS version.
While the game was described as a racing game, it was essentially Moon Patrol with a motorcycle. Instead of Moon Patrol’s boulders, Superbike had trees. Potholes replaced craters and the main “enemies” were balloons (the one new wrinkle was a series of ramps that they player could use to jump obstacles).
Hero in the Castle of Doom/Hero/Hero in the Temple of Doom
Released: ca 11/84 (RePlay), shown at 1984 AMOA show
also as conversion kit for Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr.
Rips Off: Tutankham
Charts: #1 Play Meter conversion kit chart, street locations 2/15/85
This one may have done better than Superbike on the charts, but I think Superbike sold more. Again, it probably sold best as a conversion kit. It was developed by Seatongrove.
The game featured (once again) Quasimodo’s attempts to rescue Esmeralda (or, in this case Ezzmerelda). This one is basically a rip-off of Tutankham (though not a blatant one). Interestingly, the original flyers for the game referred to it as Hero in the “Temple” of Doom and featured the image of an Indiana-Jones-like character, complete with fedora (one wonders if they changed the name and character in an effort to avoid litigation).
H.B.’s Olympics/Hunchback Olympic/Herbie at the OlympicsCentury/Montgomery Vending/Magic Electronics
Released: ca 7/84 (RePlay), ca 10/84 (Play Meter), possibly earlier for other versionsalso as conversion kit for Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Scramble
Rips Off:: Track & Field (big time)
Charts: #12 Play Meter conversion kit chart, street 12/84, #14 RePlay software chart, 2/85
Quasimodo’s back, and with his original green tunic. The one was another shameless rip-off, this time of Track & Field. It featured five of the six events from the Konami/Centuri original (all except the hammer throw) and added the discus and shot put. God help me but I like this game. Yes the gameplay was virtually identical (and inferior) to the original and the graphics were much worse but there’s just something about a hunchback doing the high jump that tickles me. Another one that probably sold better as a kit.
Eight Ball ActionCentury/Montgomery Vending/Magic Electronics
Released: ca 7/84 (RePlay), ca 10/84 (Play Meter), possibly earlier for other versions
also as conversion kit for Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Scramble
Rips Off:: ???
Charts: #6 RePlay software chart, 3/85, #37, Play Meter 10/15/85
Another video pool game.
Other CVS Games
Pharoah (mentioned in RePlay in March, 1982 but either it was never released, or it changed its name).
Voyager - a flyer for the game exists, though it does not include a picture of the cabinet. It is described as "the ultimate sea battle game". The player controls a Nimitz class aircraft carrier equipped with radar, sonar, bombs, torpedoes, cruise missiles, submarines, and 200 aircraft. Enemies included destroyers, subs, battleships, helicopters and aircraft.
While the painting on the flyer shows a spaceship, it appears that the actual game (if it existed) was a naval combat game.
The following are listed on a British flyer for Century's games, but the flyer shows only a marquee. I’ve found no other references to them.
The following are listed at arcade-history.com but no other info is given and I’ve found no other references to them.
 Play Meter, January 15, 1983.
 Ibid. The figure may have been a misprint. Mickey Greenman later (in the May, 1984 RePlayi) claimed that there were 7,000 CVS units on location in the U.S. while Crown Vending’s Steve Hochman (in the May 1, 1984 Play Meter) estimated that 10,000 CVS units had been sold in the U.S. and about the same number in Europe. If the 700 figure is accurate, it would mean that the overwhelming majority of units were sold after Century severed their relationship with Tuni (which is certainly possible, given the issues between the two and the fact that the biggest hits came in 1983). It is possible that the “700” was a misprint for “7,000” but this seems unlikely too, since it would mean that CVS sold almost no more units after 1982. It is also possible that the 7,000 and 10,000 figures refer to the number of game modules sold rather than base units (though this also seems unlikely).
 In the Play Meter article, Reed claimed “We were supposed to get a new game every eight to 10 weeks, but we have received a total of seven since January.” He cannot mean that they received seven new games (since that would have actually been more than they were promised) so I’m assuming he meant they received seven in total, including the four that were available at the time they signed the deal.
 This may have been the video game Shooting Gallery, which was developed by Seatongrove and licensed to Buhzac International and Zaccaria.