Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Ultimate (So Far) History of Exidy - Part 5

Other Products

Not all of Exidy’s efforts during these years were video games, however. The company also branched out into other areas. A number of games were the result of Pete Kauffman’s love of games from the penny arcade era. 1975’s Old Time Basketball was one attempt to re-capture that era. The game was a throwback to Chicago Coin’s mechanical Basketball Champ (1947) and Pro Basketball (1961), but it fared poorly against the video and pinball games popular at the time with around 1,000 units produced. Exidy would later release Whirly Bucket and Tidal Wave (a pair of roll-up games similar to Skee-Ball), a half-size craps table, and a line of player pianos.
Supposedly, this is Exidy's craps table, but I haven't confirmed this
The Sorcerer


Perhaps the company’s most ambitious effort came in April of 1978 at the PERCOMP convention in Long Beach, California with the debut of the Exidy Sorcerer personal computer. With the release of the Sorcerer[1], Exidy became (probably) the second major coin-op company, after Gremlin, to make a personal computer (Atari would join them in 1979 with the 400 and 800). At the time, the major players in the low-cost home computer market were the Apple II, the TRS-80, and the Commodore PET.
      In November, 1977 Exidy had formed a Data Products division in Sunnyvale and appointed Paul Terrell as marketing manager. By 1977 Terrell was already a seasoned veteran in the incipient computer industry. In December of 1975 he had founded The Byte Shop (named for the recently introduced Byte magazine) in Menlo Park, California - one of the earliest consumer computer stores. The Byte Shop started as one of the first retailers for the MITS Altair 8800, but lost its dealership status for violating the company's exclusivity agreement. Terrell didn't mind. He was selling all the machines he could get from companies like IMSAI and Processor Technology. The store even sold its own Byte Shop-branded computer called the Byt-8. Since most of these early computers required assembly, Terrell offered "kit insurance"  - for an extra $50, Terrell guaranteed he would help solve any issues that arose with the machines. Within a month of opening his store, Terrell was approached by others wanting to open Byte Shops of their own and the chain began to expand. In July 1976 Business Week profiled that chain and soon inquiries began pouring in by the thousands from potential investors. Terrell was also a member of the Homebrew Computer Club where he met Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak who told him about their new company, Apple Computer. Terrell gave Jobs his business card and told him to keep in touch. The next day, a barefoot Jobs walked into The Byte Shop and told Terrell he was keeping in touch and tried to sell him some Apple I circuit boards. Terrell wasn't interested in boards. Instead, he wanted fully-assembled computers and was willing to pay $500 a piece for them on delivery. Terrell gave the pair a purchase order for 50 Apple I's on net 30 days credit. The Byte Shop had just become the world's first Apple retailer. Now Wozniak and Jobs had just 30 days to deliver 50 machines. With Terrell's guarantee in hand, they were able to obtain the parts they needed from suppliers who otherwise might not have given them the time of day. Apple delivered the 50 machines on the 29th day. Terrell (who felt that computers should work out of the box) added keyboards and monitors before selling them.  According to some accounts Terrell's idea had one other far-reaching effect on Apple. Jobs and Wozniak (the account goes) had previously seen their computers as being primarily of interest to hobbyists who would want to customize them. When Terrell began selling fully-functioning computers, the two finally saw the light. The Apple II would have a built in keyboard and come with a case and a monitor. By the time Terrell sold the Byte Shop in November of 1977, he had 74 stores in 15 states and Japan and valued his operation at $4 million.

Shortly thereafter, Terrell went to work for Exidy. It was Terrell, in fact, who had talked Pete Kauffman and Howell Ivy into launching the Sorcerer in the first place Terrell had been impressed with the colorful graphics he saw in Exidy's arcade games and felt that they would be the ideal company to design a personal computer with improved graphics capabilities. He also  gave the computer its name. Since computers were like magic to many people, Terrell suggested calling the computer the Sorcerer.
Hoping to compete in a tough marketplace, Exidy decided to combine the graphics capabilities of the Commodore PET with the flexibility of the TRS-80. They also included a few features of their own – the most highly touted of which was the Rom Pac, an 8-track cartridge containing the BASIC language interpreter. The Pac, which plugged into a port on the side of the computer, allowed users to load BASIC quickly instead of waiting the five or more minutes it took to load an application from a cassette tape (the standard method of data storage at the time). Exidy promised additional cartridges in the near future. The Sorcerer also contained ports for a printer, a cassette player, and a monitor (it could also be connected to a TV set). The unit shipped with a 4 MHz Z-80 CPU and 8k of RAM (expandable to 32K) the target price was $895. Upon its launch in April of 1978 orders poured in and Exidy found itself with a 4,000 unit backlog. Pete Kaufmann had high hopes for the Sorcerer - very high. In late 1978 he announced that he expected the data products division to account for 40% of Exidy's business in 1979. While initial reviews were quite favorable, only time would tell if the Sorcerer would make it in the dog-eat-dog world of home computers.

[1] In the August 1997 Computer Shopper, John Dvorak claimed that the Sorcerer was designed by Tulip Computers of the Netherlands “as part of a project to bring computer literacy to the country”.

Bonus Pictures

A Nichibutsu coin-op Go game from the 1982 ATE show in London.

Wall-mounted video games from the 1982 IMA show in Germany.

I mentioned this one in an earlier post. Here's a screenshot from the third game in Breshnahan Technologies' game system - Airport


Nintendo's production line.



Monday, June 17, 2013

The Coin-Op Industry Year by Year: 1976-1977

            In 1976 the industry finally left the ball-and-paddle game behind. While a good number of such games were produced (around 1/3 of new titles) they were a distinct minority. Driving games and shooting games proved especially popular. Of the 11 video games named in Replay's year-end operator survey, 5 were driving games and 4 were shooting games (the exceptions were Atari's Breakout and Ramtek's Trivia).At the AMOA in November, a number of innovative new games were introduced including Death Race, Blockade, and Night Driver. Replay gave Blockade a "best of show" award. Midway sold 7,000 units of Wheels, 8,600 of Gun Fight and 10,000 Sea Wolfs. Atari sold 11-15,000 Breakouts. On the other hand, there were still plenty of old Pong clones on location and many operators remained leery of video games after having been once bitten. An article in the January, 1977 issue of Play Meter by operator Gene Beley sums up this opinion nicely.

[Gene Beley] I can still remember Bob PortaIe…showing me the first Pong game by Atari. When he told me the price of over $1300, I looked inside at the Hitachi TV set, and joked, 'For that price, I at least ought to get a Sony.' But when we discovered that the cash boxes overflowed in the Pongs, we overlooked the Hitachi and the other adolescent pimples …(such as giving free games when it was kicked or received a charge of static electricity). The industry rejoiced. Nolan Bushnell became the Messiah. And, better yet, before the payments were even completed on the Pongs for all of the operators' locations, along roared Gran Trak 10 and its twin, Gran Trak 20. No operator could afford to be without such equipment. As a result, an abnormally large amount of equipment was purchased on credit, frequently with no down payments, during this boom period…Manufacturers were throwing new video games into distributors showrooms faster than Billy Jean King could hit tennis balls over the net. Many of those games that are now skeletons in the closets of manufacturers looked great enough to try and buy Fortunately, because the video games were still a public novelty, times were good, the payments got paid, and, if a particular video game began turning sour, we hustled it back to the distributor, and got a fair trade-in price on the latest TV game…Operators began to realize they really weren't making money on these games. The location was getting the feast. And everyone else in the distribution chain. But the operator began to ponder the predicament by the end of 1975…several veteran operators on the West Coast faded quietly out of the business, along with the video machines that were creating a graveyard. In 1976 distributors began being highly selective in which video games that they would even accept for trade-ins. By the end of 1976, it was almost impossible to sell any video game but a Gran Trak 10, 20, or Indy 800 to a Los Angeles distributor, though the same distributor may have sold the same game six months before

 As successful as video games were, however, pinball games may have been even more so. At least 5 games introduced during the year sold 10,000 copies or more led by Bally's Captain Fantastic with over 16,000. The legalization of pinball in New York City and Canada helped but pinball sales were up everywhere. In Replay's list of the 10 top earning coin-op games during the year, pinball games held down the #3 (Bally's Wizard from 1975) and #9 (Captain Fantastic) spots. Replay reported that 41% of games on location in 1976 were pinball games, accounting for 49% of operator income.
While microprocessor games had been introduced at the 1975 MOA show. Most pinball and video games produced during 1976 didn't use them as manufacturers were still scrambling to incorporate the new technology. While pinball and video games got most of the attention, electro-mechanical arcade games weren't dead. Atari/Namco's F-1, Sega's Plinker's Canyon (a rifle gallery), and Americoin's Junkyard (a crane game) also received best of show honors.

One sign of the growing importance of pinball and video games came in November when the MOA (Music Operators of America) changed its name to AMOA (Amusement and Music Operators of America) - though part of the reason for the change was that the rival IAAPA was trying to lure arcade operators away from the MOA. Another major trend during the year was the continued explosion in the number of arcades. In Replay's operator  survey, 92% of operators said they had a major arcade (defined as a location with 20 or more games) on their route. For the first time, Replay conducted a separate poll of arcade owners and operators and found that 24% of them had opened within the previous year. The most common locations for arcades were, in order, shopping malls, bowling alleys, strip centers, and colleges. Many in the industry thought that arcades (at least the "family fun center" variety often found in malls) might offer a solution to the industry's image problems. Replay reported that "In 1976, arcades entered 'phase two' of their revolution from center city sleaze to plushly-decorated salons populated with all-American folks from 'central casting.'   

            On the negative front, a few video game manufacturers closed their doors during the year, including Digital Games, Innovative Coin Corporation, and Electromotion. In December, the venerable Chicago Coin's assets were purchased by Sam and Gary Stern. Exidy's Death Race caused the industry's first national controversy. Other stories affecting the coin-op industry in general included the legalization of gambling in Atlantic City and the signing of the Copyright Revision Bill in October. Jukebox operators would have to pay a royalty of $8 per machine, which would increase to $25 in 1982, and $50 in 1984. While many hailed the bill as bringing a truce to the decades-long war between jukebox operators and song writers, many operators were unhappy. For the first time, they would be required to pay royalties on their equipment. Many felt that they were being double taxed since they had already paid royalties when they bought the records. In addition, the bill required operators to provide a list of locations where they placed their machines, which many felt was a violation of privacy. Many also felt that the MOA had not done a good job representing their interests (in later years, when the royalty per machine was raised to $63, many operators stopped carrying jukeboxes altogether). 1976 also marked the beginning of the corporate era in coin-op video games as Columbia  acquired Gottlieb and Warner bought Atari (though whether this was  a good thing or a bad one depends on your point of view).

With the introduction of the General Instruments AY-3-8500 chip the home video game industry exploded in 1976, with over 75 companies making ball-and-paddle games. Coleco introduced the Telstar and sold a million units. Fairchild introduced its cartridge-based Channel F and Mattel introduced its handheld Auto Race.

# of Different Video Games Released: ca 100
# of arcade video games sold (according to Creative Strategies, Inc.): 54,000

Top Games
Replay: 1. Sea Wolf (Midway), 2.Gun Fight (Midway), 3.Wheels (Midway), 4. Indy 800 (Atari), 5. Breakout (Atari), 6. Indy 4 (Atari), 7. BiPlane (Fun Games)

Other Significant Games: Death Race (Exidy), Blockade (Gremlin), Night Driver (Atari)

Entering Video Game Industry (major manufacturers only)
Bailey International, Cal Omega (?), Electrocoin, Fascination Ltd, Gametech, Gremlin Industries, Innovative Coin Corp, Sidam (?), Subelectro, United Games, World Wide Video Enterprises
Exiting Industry (major manufacturers only)
Bailey International, Digital Games, Edcoe (?), Electra Games, Electromotion, Fascination Ltd, Fun Games, Gametech, Innovative Coin Corp, World Wide Video Enterprises (?)
Top machine types, average weekly earnings:
Replay (street locations): Pool Tables $44, Flipper Pins $41, Jukebox (taverns) $41, Upright Video Games $36
Replay (arcades): Group Games (e.g. Indy 800) $310, Driving Games $46, Video Games $42, Flipper Games $38, Skee-Ball $38
Play Meter: Jukeboxes  $49, Pool Tables $41, Video Games $40

Percentage of Game Distribution (RePlay, September, 1976)Street Locations: Flippers 41%, TV Games 30%, Driving 14%, Rifles 6%Arcades: Flippers 34%, TV Games 18%, Rifles 17%, Novelties 13%
Percentage of Game Income (RePlay, September, 1976)
Street Locations: Flippers 49%, TV Games 21%, Driving 16%
Arcades: Flippers 37%, TV Games 21%, Rifles 14%, Group Games 9%

If you could operate just one machine type, what would it be? (Replay)
1.    Pinball, 2. Jukebox, 3. Pool Table, 4. TV Game

Most popular game types (Replay)Taverns: 1. Flipper Games, 2. Pool Tables, 3. Shuffle Alleys, 4. Soccer TablesRestaurants: 1. Flipper Games, 2. Video (upright), 3. Soccer Tables

            Play Meter called 1977 a "transition" year in coin-op. The transition they were talking about was from electro-mechanical to solid state technology. By the end of 1977 most pinball manufacturers were producing solid state pins while most video game manufacturers were switching to microprocessors. Ball-and-paddle games were finally a thing of the past with only a handful being produced (at least on the coin-op front). Some saw the coin-op video market as flat. In June Play Meter noted that while pinball and juke sales were soaring, video games "seem to be slipping". Elsewhere in the issue, Joe Robbins of Empire Distributing said that "Certainly the video games have peaked and are in a plateau." RePlay's spring survey noted that it was the third consecutive one in which video games as a group were labeled "trouble".  At the AMOA show the two most popular video games were Space Wars by Cinematronics and Circus by Exidy.
Replay had a different name for 1977. They called it the "Year of the Electronic Pinball". Solid state pinballs were an instant hit with operators, who found them easier to service. Of the top 20 coin-op games in Replay's operator survey, 8 were pins including the #1 overall game, Evel Knievel, which sold 14,000 copies for Bally. September's Eight Ball (also by Bally) did even better with 20,320 sold. Even Atari got into the pinball game. Gottlieb, on the other hand, once the leading producer, was slow to climb on the solid state bandwagon and lost its #1 position to Williams and Bally. Another significant event, at least symbolically, was the legalization of pinball in Chicago, the birthplace of the modern pinball industry.
On the home front, things started well enough with the introduction of the RCA Studio II followed by the Coleco Telstar Arcade. Mattel hit it big with the handheld Auto Race and Football. The big news, however, was the released of the Atari VCS for Christmas. Ultimately, however, Christmas 1977 turned out to be bad news as the video home game industry underwent its first crash. The market was glutted with ball-and-paddle games. As demand rose for programmable consoles, dedicated unites were dumped at bargain basement prices, causing a backlash the affected the consoles. Handheld games also siphoned off customers. RCA and Fairchild both exited the market permanently while Coleco dropped the Telstar to concentrate on portable games. 
# of Different Video Games Released: ca 100
Top Games
Replay: 1. Sea Wolf (Midway), 2. Sprint 2 (Atari), 3. Breakout (Atari), 4. Drag Race (Atari), 5. Starship 1 (Atari), 6. Double Play (Midway), 7. Night Driver (Atari), 8. Bazooka (PSE), 9. Robot Bowl (Exidy), 10. 280 Zzzap (Midway)

Play Meter: 1. Sea Wolf, 2. Sprint 2, 3. Breakout, 4. LeMans (Atari), 5. Gun Fight (Midway), 6. Night Driver, 7. Death Race (Exidy), 8. Tornado Baseball (Midway), 9. 280 Zzzap, 10. (tie) Blockade (Gremlin) and Indy 4

Entering Video Game Industry (major manufacturers only)
A-1 Supply, Amutech
Exiting Industry (major manufacturers only)
Electrocoin, Nutting Associates, Project Support Engineering (PSE)

Top machine types, average weekly earnings:
Replay (street locations): Pool Tables $60, Upright Video Games $54, Jukebox (tavern) $54, Flipper Pins $51
Play Meter: Jukeboxes $46, Pinball $44, Video Games $44
Vending Times (no figures for jukeboxes): Pinball $43, Pool Tables $40, Video Games $37[1]

% of total equipment, by type (Play Meter)Pinball 33%, Phonographs 25%, Arcade Games (including Video games) 15%
# of new machines bought per operator, by type (Play Meter)
Pinball 13, Video Games 9, Phonographs 5, Foosball 5

Preferred Video Game Manufacturer (Play Meter)
Atari 59%, Bally/Midway 31%, Others 10%

If you could operate just one machine type, what would it be? (Replay)1.    Pinball, 2. Pool Tables, 3. Jukeboxes, 4. Soccer Tables, 5. TV Games
Most popular game types (Replay)
Taverns: 1. Pool Tables, 2. Flipper Games, 3. TV Games
Restaurants: 1. Video (upright and cocktail) 2. Flipper Games

[1] For comparison cigarette machines (the most popular type of vending machine and the one type usually carried by music and game operators) earned a an average of $60 per week in 1977 and $64 per week in 1978. The one type of machine not included in the above figures is the slot machine. A 1977 Forbes report examined the earnings 23 Bally slot machines in a single casino over an 18-day period and showed that they were grossing almost $1,350 a week (after paying out)

Bonus Pictures


An interesting non-video game from the 1978 AMOA show - Sega's Grand Prix IV

Some months back I posted about the game Meteors. Here's a photo from its debut at the 1981 AOE show.

Here's a rare Moppet game - Big Paw's Cave - from the 1983 AMOA show
A better picture of the cab

Did you know that there was a sixth Moppet game in the works? (from Vending Times, February, 1984)

The Video Game Trailer from Elcon Industries (IIRC founder Andre Dubel tolde me they only sold one). Atari tried a similar concept.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Ultimate (So Far) History of Exidy - Part 4

By 1978 Exidy had become one of the leading video game makers on the west coast and continued to churn out games at a rapid pace. 1978’s Football and Rip Cord were standard variations of games already on the market. Football was a soccer game using trackball controls (which Exidy called "palm balls"). Rip Cord was a takeoff on Atari's Sky Diver. The player controlled a sky diver who parachuted from a plane, guiding him to a series of landing pads on cliffs or a central island while avoiding the blades of a squadron of helicopters. The most distinctive (though not unique, sine a similar idea had been used in Sky Diver) feature was the game's controls, which included a triangular ring the player pulled to deploy their parachute. Rip Cord debuted at the 1978 AMOA show in November. Exidy's really standout game, however, was another game that debuted at the same show - a game that was anything but standard and that would result in one of Exidy’s lasting contributions to video game history. Star Fire was an extraordinarily innovative game that featured a number of significant firsts[1]. The game, however, was not designed at Exidy.

Arlen Grainger, programmer for Rip Cord

Star Fire

Ted Michon graduated from Cal Tech in Spring of 1975, intending to return the following year to get a second degree. What was supposed to be a summer job at Glendale’s Comtal turned into a full-time project designing a “Digital Vidicon Scanner System” that allowed the CIA to reduce the time it took to digitize spy satellite photographs from 3 hours to one minute. By the time Michon finished his project, Comtal was on the verge of extinction and Michon was let go. Looking for a new way to pay the bills, he came across an ad for an electrical engineer opening for a company called Digital Games. Michon took the job, only to watch most of the design staff leave after a dispute between the two owners leaving him as one of the few engineers. Michon's most significant work at Digital Games was the "3-D" driving game Night Racer (which was based on the German game Nurburgring, which Michon had seen on  a trip to Germany to fix an issue with Digital's Air Combat game). While Michon's stay at Digital (which was renamed Micronetics by the time Night Racer was released) was chaotic, he did find a new career as a video game designer.
After leaving Digital Games/Micronetics, Michon decided to start his own independent video game design company, which he called Techni-Cal. Before leaving, he had contacted Midway’s Hank Ross and negotiated a contract to develop games for Midway. After borrowing money from his family, Michon soon had Techni-Cal up and running and turned his mind toward designing new video games.
In the early months, his main problem was a lack of engineering staff. A solution came when a pair of old Cal Tech friends contacted him about a contract they had to design a terminal for C. Itoh Electronics. The pair may have been good engineers, but they were poor businessmen and were going broke. Michon decided to join forces with them and they renamed their new company Technical Magic Inc. In late 1977, Technical Magic would begin work on a new video game as well.
After thoroughly enjoying the 1977 mega-hit Star Wars, Michon decided he wanted to create a video game based on the movie. By this time microprocessors were becoming increasingly common in video games. Michon, a hardware specialist, decided he needed a programmer and hired friend David Rolfe who had recently graduated from college. In addition to a microprocessor, the game Rolfe was to design would be a color game – a combination that had rarely been used at that point (though Exidy’s Car Polo had used a 6502 processor).  

[David Rolfe] Ted had developed a system with a Z-80 processor running at about 2.5 megahertz. This was going to be the first arcade game system that had a color monitor and was controlled by a microprocessor. I think before then both microprocessors and color were pretty rare ... Color monitors were hideously expensive. Ted found the first one that was slightly less than hideously expensive and developed some hardware trying to cut the costs to the bone and yet have some ability to manipulate a bitmap.

            The game Rolfe developed was a first-person shooter in which the player squared off against invading TIE fighter-like enemies. While the game’s enemies and title graphics clearly borrowed from Star Wars, Michon had not bothered to obtain licensing from the movie’s producers, believing he’d either have time to do so later or would be able to change the game enough to avoid infringement.
Star Fire was primarily the work of three people. Michon designed the hardware, Rolfe handled the programming, and Michon’s then-girlfriend (and now wife) Susan Olsen created much of the game’s art. While Michon’s development system was innovative, it was also rather primitive by later standards. The game made use of what was called a “bit-mapped” display in which each pixel on the screen was “mapped” to a location in memory that stored the color values for the pixel. The more memory that was available, the more colors you could produce but more memory was also more expensive and there were also technical limitations, so designers often had to get the most mileage out of limited hardware resources. In addition, bit-mapped displays presented a number of inherent challenges.

[David Rolfe] With a bitmap you can put up anything you want but it’s hard to maintain your background because you’re drawing on top of it so if you’re moving an object across your background, then when you move the object out of the way you have to redraw your background, unlike something with sprites or moving objects where you set up a background and the thing is just painted in front of or behind it. So it was a relatively primitive system but you could design the games to work with the limitations as quickly as possible.

Because of limited resources, Ted was designing madly to have as few bits to show as much information as possible so we wanted the appearance of full color and yet we cheated as much as possible since we didn’t really have to have lots of bits per pixel. So it ended up being like 1.6 bits per pixel or some relatively compressed amount of data for a relatively large number of colors and we did have to struggle with that to move things around.

Each bit map byte described the state of a horizontal row of 8 pixels, and within that byte only two colors were available, corresponding to the bits being on or off. This limited the ability to draw arbitrary pictures…The bytes were painted from left to right so it means that if one pixel was directly above the other you could create arbitrary colors but moving left to right it was tricky business. One thing could bleed over onto another because if you have one item that is red and white and the next which is red and blue and they cross each other then there’s going to be bytes in the middle that want to have 3 different colors on them and they couldn’t technically. So it was sort of tricky to allow for complete free motion of pictures that you were moving around on the screen because they tended to step on each other and to some extent you could design the game around lines such that that wouldn’t happen and to some extent they were just going to step on each other and that was that.

Another technical challenge was creating the game’s 3D effects in which the enemies got larger as they got nearer to the player’s ship.

[David Rolfe] Anything we did 3D was a complete cheat. There was a set of 32 different pictures so [you] had some sense of how far away it was.  I looked up in the table do I want picture #1 or picture #20. We didn’t have the processing power to calculate that kind of stuff.

Star Fire appeared in the Disney film "Midnight Madness" and yes, that's Eddie "Mr. Potato Head" Deezen of Wargames fame on the left.

Michon’s original intention was to sell the game to Midway but they didn't like the gameplay, even after Michon and his team made a number of requested changes. Midway cofounder Hank Ross even suggested adding a witch on a bicycle that you could shoot. The team dutifully complied. When you shot the witch, the words "A Witch" appeared on the screen. Despite the changes, Midway ultimately ended passed and the rights to the game’s hardware and software reverted to Michon, who began looking for another buyer. They found one in Exidy.
The gameplay of the finished product was relatively straightforward. The player controlled a star fighter and used his lasers to destroy a host of incoming alien invaders. Realism was enhanced by the game’s first person perspective and color graphics, a targeting computer that could “lock on” to enemy ships, lasers that could overheat if used too much, and a limited fuel supply that could be increased by inserting more quarters. The witch was replaced by an Exidy spaceship and the words "A Witch " were chanted to "Got Us". While these features were all innovative, it was two others that really set the game apart.
The first had come when David Rolfe suggested that what players wanted out of a game was to go down in history. Realizing that the game’s processor and RAM would allow them to store data, the team decided that they would let the 20 highest scoring players enter and save their initials. The only problem was how they would actually enter them. After puzzling over the issue for some time, they hit upon idea of using the game controls themselves.

[David Rolfe] That was probably the best idea of my life…In retrospect it all seems obvious but at the time the notion of actually putting in your initials and having the game remember them was sort of a big deal. The concept of a high score table was very novel. The concept of a computer was very novel – that something could be so smart that it could remember who you were.  That was the dawn of the era of smart stuff. In the 1960s, everything was dumb and for what it's worth I think video games played a role in teaching people in our culture that machines were no longer dumb.

Another interesting feature was that if you entered the initials of one of the designers after achieving a high score, you were presented with an appropriate greeting. With the game almost finished, Technical Magic still needed to find a buyer. They soon turned to Exidy, who decided to produce the game, and who even added what became the game’s other major innovation in the form of a cabinet designed by Michael Cooper-Hart.

[Michael Cooper-Hart] Star Fire was the first time I packaged a game in an enclosed cockpit…I put an 8” speaker under the seat, the equivalent of what a subwoofer would be today. That was very daring because the operators and distributors were really scared that people would go in there and do naughty things or vandalize the game and in fact that never happened. After that there was a whole genre [of cockpit games]. The next one I did was Tailgunner, which was kind of an art nouveau [concept].

Star Fire was hailed as the first “total environment” game. Games where the player sat down were nothing new, cocktail table games had been around since the heyday of the Pong clones. Other games, like Atari’s Hi-Way (April 1975) and Night Driver featured a built-in chair that the player could sit in. Star Fire, however, took things to a new level by adding walls and a roof to completely enclose the player in the game cabinet. The new, wedge-shaped cabinet design of Star Fire (which came to be called a “cockpit” cabinet) looked like the latest creation of the NASA labs and took the gaming experience one-step closer to realism. In addition to its innovations, Star Fire also proved quite popular and Replay listed it as the seventh most popular video game of 1979 in its year-end issue.
 Even more realistic was Rolling Star Fire , a version that included a “rolling chassis” (a cabinet that used hydraulics to move in response to the player's actions) and improved game play. A protytope version was show at the 1981 AMOA show but it does not appear to have been released. At least not in the U.S. Sigma licensed the game from Exidy and showed it the Japan Amusement Machine Show in Tokyo in 1982[2]. Dave Rolfe recalls[3] that a game called Star Fire II was also created, possibly for the export market, though it was really just a slightly modified version of the original (it may have been the same game as Rolling Star Fire).

[1] Numerous sources have listed Star Fire as not only Exidy’s first color game, but the first color coin-op video game period. Documentation, however, indicates that Car Polo was released some months prior to Star Fire.  As for other companies, many of them produced true color games prior to Star Fire.
[2] The December 15, 1982 issue of Play Meter reports that "Sigma showed Ponpoko…and Rolling Starfire again this year", indicating that they may have shown it the year before.
[3] In an interview in Atari2600 Connection.
Bonus Pictures
Since we mentioned Wargames, here's a picture of Ally Sheedy at the Video Invasion arcade in Toronto for a Wargames promo
Here's a shot of the interor of a Funway Freeway arcade, showing their trademark street sign motif

Someone one another board requested I post this - a photo of the rare Sega vector game Battle Star from a distributor showing
 Finally, here's one I found VERY interesting. This was shown at the 1975 MOA show in October - the same show where Gunfight (the first microprocessor video game) and Spirit of '76 (the first microprocessor pin) debuted. It's from a company called California Online Computer Systems. It's a video game "system" for sale to arcades that consisted of a central, programmable computer and several remote terminals. According to the main article, it cost $35,000 (more than the figure mentioned in the caption). I'd love to find out more about this one. It would have arguably been one of the first "system" games and was released right around the time personal computers were starting to take off (the Altair came out in 1975 too). This picture is from the November, 1975 Play Meter.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Brides of Chuck E. - Pizza Time Theatre's Forgotten Imitators

Today's post is mostly pictures.
Everyone has heard of Pizza Time Theatre and its mascot Chuck E. Cheese. Most people know that the chain spawned a number of imitators that combined food (often pizza), arcade games, and costumed or robotic characters. Some of the imitators, like Dave and Busters (thought they ommited the characters), everyone's heard of.  Today's post is about some you may not have heard of (and one that you have).

First off, here's an interesting photo from June, 1976.
Note that at this point, the idea was in its early stages (the first Pizza Time Theatre wouldn't open until 1977) and the character (and restaurant, I believe) was called "The Big Cheese" (it was also known as Rick Rat's Pizza at one point).

Here's the one you've all heard of.
Showbiz Pizza Palace (and its relation to and dealings with Pizza Time Theatre) merits a post of its own. For now, here are some of their characters.

The "big cheese" at Showbiz was Billy Bob Brockali (named for founder Robert Brock).

Here are some more Show Biz characters.
I believe the one in the upper left is Rolfe DeWolfe, who delivered stand-up comedy with a puppet named Earl Schmerle. The house band was the Rock Afire Explosion, featuring Fats (the King Kong of the piano), Duke Larue on drums, Beach Bear on guitar, mouse vocalist Mini Mozzarella and Looney Bird - a heckler that popped up out of a stump.

P.J. Pizzazz was Sega's answer to Pizza Time Theatre. The first location opened in West Covina, CA in June of 1980.

 P.J.'s mascot was a robot named P.J.

Bullwinkle Family Food 'N Fun opened its first location in Santa Clara in 1983. Characters included the various characters from the Jay Ward and Peter Piech cartoons (Bullwinkle, Rocky, Dudley Do Right, Tennessee Tuxedo, Underdog etc.). The idea for the chain came from Paul Frees (the voice of Boris Badenov). Bill Scott (the voice of Bullwinkle) and June Foray (the voice of Rocky) went back into the studio to record dialogue for the robotic characters.


John Phillip Tuba's was a Florida chain.

Sgt. Singer's Pizza Circus was founded by Craig Singer (president of the Nickels and Dimes arcade chain) in Pasadena, TX in 1984.
Characters included Dolly Porker, P.T. Barum (a bear), Sgt. Singer (a tiger), Pete and Repete (an elephant and a mouse), and Ponce de Lion.

I don't know about you, but this one is just plain creepy to me.
Sammy Sands was the mascot of a chain called Gadgets.

Tom Foolery was Bally's answer to Pizza Time Theatre but with a difference. This chain was aimed at adults with a full service restaurant and no characters. It started when Bally acquired a chain of restaurants called Barnaby's Family Inns in 1981.

Zapp's took the adult concept even further. A creation of Nolan Bushnell, Zapp's was a kind of combination singles bar and arcade. The first one opened in 1983 in Cupertino (in a converted Pizza Time Theatre). In addition to the food and games, Zapp's featured two dance floors, MTV, an "excuse booth", video tape monitors in the bathroom (Chippendales for the ladies, the choice of a topless bar or sexy aerobics for the gents), and the "tunnel of love" where singles coudl sit with member of the opposite sex while they got "zapped"

One of the more interesting sounding the The Magic Pizza, which opened in Manhattan Beach, CA on 1/29/84 (it may have been the only one). This one combined games, pizza, and magic. Attractions included Sorcerer's Screening Room (shows , movies and cartoons), Magical Sports Theatre (satellite sporting events), Merlin's Showcase Theatre (live magic shows), Wizard's Forest arcade, Merlinville USA for tots (including the House of Shadows  - where you could strike a pose and see your shadow frozen on wall  and Merlin's Magical Mansion - a miniature house full of dazzling special effects).  Other effects  included Merlin's Lightning Sphere, and a 200-year-old talking Hawaiian skull named Irving.

Merlin's Showcase Theatre from The Magic Pizza

Finally, a few more.