Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Tangled History of Omni/Glak/Eagle/Magic Electronics (Part 2)

In part 1, we looked that the somewhat colorful history of Omni Video games. As we left the story, Omni had all but disappeared after coming out on the short end of the Stern v. Kaufman case. Omni prexy Frank Gaglione, one the other hand, was still alive and kicking in the video game industry.

Glak Associates


Around 1982, Gaglione established a new company called Glak Associates, at 25 Eagle Street in Providence. Billing itself as “New England’s largest manufacturer of video games”, Glak had a 40,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, complete with its own cabinet shop and silk-screening department. As with Omni, a number of Glak’s video game seem to have been legitimate, including the same Artic games Omni had produced (some under the Omni brand). Other Glak games included Red Clash (licensed from Tehkan), and Portman (in which the player caught bales of goods off a conveyor belt to fill the hold of a waiting ship). At the 1982 AMOA show, Glak showed Crazy Mazey[1], Woodpecker, and D-Rail (though this doesn’t necessarily mean the games were legit). On the other hand, there were some troubling signs. Glak often sold directly to operators (a somewhat suspicious move in itself). They also dealt with “business opportunity” companies, a term often associated with shady, fly-by-night operators who sold customers shoddy goods at inflated prices. In late 1982, one of these companies (who claims they were actually legit) - Counter Top Amusements of Raleigh NC - terminated their relationship with Glak after a customer complained about a bootleg copy of Frogger they’d been sold.


Eagle Conversions

            In any event, by early 1983 Glak seems to have disappeared as well. By then, Frank Gaglione had already set up a third company called Eagle Conversions (for a brief period at the start of 1982 it seems that Omni, Glak, and Eagle existed simultaneously, though Eagle may have just been another name for Glak). Eagle was probably named for its address at 25 Eagle Street, Building 5, in Providence (not coincidentally the same address as Glak). As its name implies, Eagle specialized in conversion kits, in addition to producing most of the same games Glak did (including those ubiquitous Artic titles). Even with his new company, however, Gaglione couldn’t stay out of trouble. In March, 1983 Universal filed suit against Glak for its illegal version of Mr. Do! and on May 16, the U.S. District Court in Providence issued a temporary restraining order against the company ordering them to stop producing the game (in response, Eagle filed suit against Easter Micro Electronics, though they didn’t say why).

Games I’ve seen associated with Eagle Conversions: Ack-Ack, Crazy Mazey, Devil Fish, D-Rail, Espial, Lady Bug, Popper, Portman, War of the Bugs, Dragon Slayer (?? - suspect this one may have been a typo)

Magic Conversions/Magic Electronics

            By late 1983[2], yet another company had appeared on the scene called Magic Conversions. Located in Cranston, Rhode Island, Magic was headed by Kevin McIntyre. Born in Australia, McIntyre had come to Rhode Island from Sydney on a business trip in 1973. While there, he met a client’s niece named Valerie and the two fell in love. The following year they were married and McIntyre relocated to the Providence area. After serving as VP of Omni, Glak, and Eagle, McIntyre decided to form a video game company of his own, specializing in conversion kits. Magic Conversions’ first game was The Glob (September 1983), which the company released as part of its “Magic Conversion System”. The Glob was an extraordinarily cute platform game in which the player controlled a smiling, blue, quivering “glob” with big eyes name Toby. The goal was to guide Toby through multiple floors of a building, scarfing up fruit from the floors. To move between floors, Toby could summon an elevator by pushing the button (though with what is anyone’s guess since he didn’t have arms or legs). Opposing Toby (“the glob”) was “the mob”: gator, froggy, bunny, monkey, and porker. Toby could either avoid his deadly foes or destroy them by using a limited supply of energy to cling to the ceiling, then drop down on them as they passed, engulfing them in his gelatinous body. With excellent graphics and fun gameplay, The Glob reached #13 on Play Meter’s arcade conversion kits chart. While Magic may have been a new company, they still had ties to Eagle Conversions, whom they licensed to produce The Glob as a $325 conversion kit for Pac-Man. The game was actually designed by Epos Corporation, who would later design three more games for the firm. After The Glob came Eeekk (February 1984), a cute/horror-themed game in which the player guided Sidney the Ghost on a quest to rid his haunted, four-story house of the Fantum Gang. The game was licensed from Shinkai Industries (though some say it came from Epos). Next came a follow-up to The Glob called Super Glob (February 1984) that reached #15 on Play Meter’s arcade conversions chart. In June’s Revenger, the player piloted a ship through 48 sectors, searching for intruder bases, and blasting enemies with torpedoes. Intruders who contacted fallout debris were transformed into atomic mutants with enhanced powers. Epos’s final game for Magic was Igmo (August 1984) in which the player tried to rescue the princess Iggy from her island, where she was held captive by The Dragon Sintar. In 1984, Epos began releasing conversion kits of its own under its Cardinal Amusements subsidiary. Their first game was Beastie Feastie – essentially the same game as The Glob. When Epos had sold the marketing rights to The Glob to Magic, they kept the copyrights to themselves. Or at least they thought they did. Unbeknownst to Epos (and without its permission), Magic had registered a copyright on the game, prompting Epos to form its own game company so it could retain the copyrights to its creations)
NOTE – thanks to Supercade author Van Burnham for unearthing the above information about Beastie Feastie. Expect a detailed history of Epos/Cardinal on Van’s forthcoming revival of the Supercade website (supercade.com)

Other Magic offerings during this time included Popper (licensed from Alway Electronics) and H.B.’s Olympics (designed by Century Electronics/Seatongrove). Throughout the first half of 1984, Magic and Eagle continued to work together, with Magic manufacturing games and Eagle often distributing them. By the time of Revenger, Eagle seems to have vanished, along with Frank Gaglione (who, it seems, had never been directly involved with Magic). Around the same time, Kevin McIntyre renamed Magic Conversions to Magic Electronics. With Eagle out of the picture, McIntyre established another company in Providence called Montgomery Vending to distribute his games. With that, it seems that Magic had broken its ties with its shady past and the company seems to have been on the up-and-up for the remainder of its short life. In the fall and winter of 1984, Magic released a number of new games but none of them saw much success in the arcades. By the end of the year, they had produced almost a dozen titles but only three (The Glob, Super Glob, and H.B.’s Olympics had seen any kind of success).

In 1985, that would change as Magic became one of the industry’s most successful conversion kit specialists. Following are the known games Magic produced from late 1984 on (in roughly chronological order)


Atlantic City Action – a 6-games-in-1 poker game.
Taxi Driver – just what it sounds like. Drive around a cab around a city and pick up passengers.

Bomb Jack – licensed(?) from Tehkan
Curve Ball – licensed(?) from Mylstar

8-Ball Action – a pool game designed for the bar/tavern market. Conversion kit for Donkey Kong/Donkey Kong Junior. Reached #6 on RePlay software charts.

Driving Force – racing game released as a conversion kit for Pac-Man and marketed as an inexpensive substitute for Pole Position II. Reached #8 on RePlay software charts.
Bull’s Eye Darts – a darts game marketed to bars and taverns. Licensed from Shinkai. Conversion kit for Centipede.

Porky – licensed from Shinkai. This one sounds like one Magic’s more interesting efforts. A pig drove around a city landscape avoiding potholes while shooting wolves with smoked sausages and dodging falling bombs and barbecue forks. For bonus points he could jump into the air to catch flying piglets.

Samurai (aka Samurai Nichon-ichi) – Side-scrolling martial arts beat-em-up licensed from Taito. Reached #18 on RePlay software charts and #11 in Play Meter.

Special Forces Kung-Fu Commando – Designed by Senko Industries. The player controlled a gung-ho super commando named Captain Action in a quest to fight off kidnappers and rescue hostages using commando tactics in one phase and hand-to-hand kung-fu in another. Conversion kit for Donkey Kong/DK Jr./Crazy Kong. Reached #6 in Play Meter.

Field Combat – appears to have been a kind of combination of Xevious and Commando in which the player piloted a UFO over a battlefield fighting off enemy foot soldiers.

Grobda – Sci-fi tank game licensed from Namco. “the great alien invasion of 1985 has ended…the evil Xevious empire has retreated to their native solar system pacmanus…[and] left behind advanced nuclear war tanks known as grobdas”

Wiz (aka The Wiz) – Another interesting-sounding game. I’ve never seen it before, but pieced together some info from various reviews and game descriptions. The player controlled a staff-wield wizard, collecting treasure chests and fighting off enemies like gremlins, snails, and skeletons with his magic powers. The wizard was also “…ever searching for elusive dragons” and avoiding falling into craters. One phase began in an ice-encrusted cavern. At one point the wizard was whisked away in a balloon.
Poseidon (aka Poseidon Sea Fighter) – not much info on this one.

Special Forces II (???)

Son of Phoenix (???)
Hex Pool – listed as “coming soon” in flyers produced in late 1985 but may never have been released.

Nun Chackun – ditto

Magic’s most interesting venture may have come at the 1985 AMOA convention when they tried to revive the “Moppet” game concept with a line of games designed for 3-8 year olds called “Child’s Play”. Magic was convinced that the problem with the Moppet games was that they had been too difficult for their target audience. Magic's games (Sailor Sam, Jumbo Pilot, and Race Ace) were much easier. For further appeal, the cabinets also dispensed "badges" (stickers) to every player. The Child’s Play games don’t appear to have fared any better than their predecessors and, with the Moppets, they stand as an obscure footnote to video game history.

          By the end of 1985, things seemed to be going well for Magic. Around November, it consolidated all of its operations into a new 25,000 square-foot facility in Providence. In 1986, however, things went rapidly downhill (or maybe they hadn’t been going so well in the first place). On May 14, Magic petitioned the courts for debtor protection and filed suit against a number of companies for licensing games to Magic that they had no right to. On May 23, Kevin McIntyre (who had reportedly been forced to sell his home) went before the Rhode Island Superior Court to get permission to sell off its assets. The court granted permission and on June 12, Bob Henry of Hi Tech Coin Distributors bought them all (including a number of unsold machines, parts, and equipment) for a paltry $1,000.

[1] Rotheblog claims that Crazy Mazey was originally developed by Ron Meadows for the Apple II.
[2] The December, 1984 issue of RePlay says that the company was founded in “late 1982”. However, the December, 1983 issue of RePlay claimed it was a new company that had just entered the field. Given the timing of their games, the 1983 date seems more plausible.


Here a few undocumented games I found in the September, 1988 RePlay catalog issue


This one is documents, but I thought it was interesting nonetheless:

This one isn't a video game:

These are the games I found most interesting. They were developed by Axlon for the Sente SAC-I system. For those who don't know, Sente was a company founded by Nolan Bushnell that started producing video games in October, 1983 (after Bushnell's non-compete agreement with Atari expired). They planned to revolutionize the industry with a "system game" called SAC-I. They had plans for other systems, including SAC-II (a motion cabinet used for the barely released Shrike Avenger), SAC-III (originally a laserdisc system but it later went through a number of changed in concept - at one point it was a crane game with a robot arm), and others (IIRC there was a SAC-IV and SAC-V as well but I don't think they even got around to specifying what they were).

After Pizza Time Theatre got into trouble, Bushnell sold Sente to Bally. When WMS bought Bally in 1988, Sente (or at least its assets) was purchased by Bushnell's Axlon Inc. They announced plans to produce new games for the SAC-I system but I don't know if they ever did (I suspect they didn't).


Axlon produced some non-video games (and it looks like they actually made Frenzy, or at least a prototype)


Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Ultimate (So Far) History of Allied Leisure/Centuri - Part 8

Today’s post is part 8 of my ongoing history of Allied Leisure/Centuri. It mostly covers Tunnel Hunt and as such is basically a repeat of a post I did earlier. Sorry for that, but I couldn’t leave the game out of my history.

Tunnel Hunt


            While The Pit had a convoluted history, it was nothing compared to July’s Tunnel Hunt. The game, which was actually designed by Atari’s Owen Rubin, started life at Atari as Tube Chase and was Rubin’s first color vector project. Initially he started with an Asteroids vector system and used some Night Driver code to create a simple flying game.

[Owen Rubin] I started the game as a vector graphics project based on the opening landing sequence in the movie Aliens. It did not work in vector, but that took several months to discover. Dave Sherman had an ellipse generator that he thought would be good, so I spent nine months or so and did this great game of flying down tunnels. The tunnels split and merged and you occasionally exited into space where you could fly into one of several other tunnels (worm holes). . .The only way you could slow down was to hit the walls, but that raised the hull temperature. It was a good strategy to bump the wall to hold off a target so that you would not overtake it, especially if your lasers were out. . .  It had a great cabinet. It “wrapped” around you with speakers behind and in front. You stood, not sat, and it blocked out outside noise. The controller was a flight stick for flying with buttons for firing and shields.

The game was play-tested and was ranked a solid #2 or #3 for 10 weeks straight. Atari, however, would not feel comfortable releasing it unless it reached #1 and asked Rubin to make some changes. After Rubin spent another six months working on the game, management decided that it was too expensive.

[Owen Rubin] So we cheapened the hardware to do circles only. This made the split tubes ugly, and the warping of the tunnel effect was lost... It took another four months to make the changes. We field tested it again – #2, solid! They changed the hardware again to make it even cheaper, which allowed only one sorted list of circles and so I had to take out the splits. The game was MUCH simpler now, but still the same basic game play.  [It was] still too expensive, so Dave [Shepperd] did a rectangle generator and I rewrote the game for a square tube. After 3-4 months [we did] another field test – still #2 for another five weeks (at different arcades all the time as well). So after almost two years of screwing around with it, they decided to sell the game to a competitor – something Atari had NEVER done. So, I stated another turn to change the name to Vertigo for Exidy. This was harder than it sounds because I put some VERY elaborate security code in the game to prevent a clone company from being able to copy the game and remove the word Atari from the screen. After all this time, I forgot where it all was. Another three months and they had their game. They field tested it again, but now it was only earning a solid #3. After all, it was OVER two years old and starting to look out of date.
In Exidy’s version, the game was packed into a cockpit cabinet. After building a small test run, however, Exidy decided it didn’t want the game after all (though they did go on to develop another, unrelated, game. In a cockpit cabinet bearing the same name). 

[Owen Rubin] About three months later, they rolled the game back into my lab and asked if I could make “just one more change”. This line became a joke because they’d asked this maybe 70 times by now. I changed it AGAIN, this time for Centuri in Florida, and they did build the game. Unfortunately it was now almost three years out of date…The kicker to all this is that after I left Atari, I went immediately to Bally/Sente to work with some old teammates from Atari. When I walked into my new law, there was a Tunnel Hunt with a sign asking if I would make “just one more change”. Of course, they didn’t really want it, but I got a VERY good laugh out of it.                                                                             

While Centuri did release Tunnel Hunt, it was even less successful than The Pit and netted Centuri just $1.15 million in sales (probably less than 1,000 copies). Centuri’s final release of 1982, September’s The Swimmer (licensed from Tehkan), didn’t do much better, netting the company just $1.49 million (though it might have made more money in 1983).

 Centuri – 1982

            After their “annus mirabilis” of 1981, Centuri failed to reproduce its success in 1982. In fact, they didn’t even come close. Centuri’s revenues for fiscal year 1982 (which ended October 31) fell from $61.5 million to $37.6 million and the company lost $2.9 million. It was déjà vu all over again. Centuri sold just 8,682 video games during the year, resulting in $14.1 million in revenue, but losses from video games were $3.1 million, even greater than losses as a whole. Their biggest “hit”, The Pit, accounted for 21% of video game revenues. With arcade video games in decline, the company began to branch out into other areas. In February, they struck a licensing deal with Atari for home rights to Phoenix, Vanguard, and Challenger (the Phoenix license would be the basis for Atari’s November suit against Imagic over the Demon Attack cartridge). In May they sold $10 million of their convertible notes to a California life insurance company to raise some much-needed cash. The biggest move came In September, when Centuri acquired Outdoor Sports Headquarters Inc., a wholesale distributor of hunting, fishing, camping, marine, and archery equipment with four retail stores in Ohio and Indiana (though the stores accounted for less than 5% of Outdoor Sports’ revenue). In September and October alone, Outdoor Sports generated $20.9 million in revenue (more than video games had for the entire fiscal year) and turned a modest profit of $134,000. In the final two months of the calendar year, Centuri had revenues of $21.2 million and a profit of $72,000 with most of the total coming from Outdoor Sports.
            In response to the decline in their video game business, Centuri also made a number of personnel changes in 1982. In the spring, Ed Miller resigned as president and formed his own company called Telko Properties, which worked with Miami’s Techstar (founded by former Centuri VP Bill Olliges) to secure licenses for their games. A short time later, Centuri brought in another coin-op veteran – Arnold Kaminkow – to replace him. In addition, Centuri laid off a number of workers in their Hialeah plant and shut down their development lab in Bensenville, IL. With the industry crash already underway, things were not looking good for Centuri’s video games, but 1983 would be much different from 1982.
Bonus Pictures
First, a few more undocumented games:
Above photo is from the 1982 AMOA show
Photo above is from June, 1976

The next one is not a photo, but it does confirm the existence of Shadco's Mister Doodle and Naughty (for which I posted an ad earlier). This one's from August, 1982

Anybody ever seen the following? Wonder if you could put a Moppet game in there?

This one's not a video game, but it's interesting anyway:

Finally, a little peek behind the scenes. Here's a Gremlin IC inserter from 1982:

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Sampler of Coin-Op Football Games - Part 1 (non-video games)

I planned to post this on Superbowl Sunday, but obviously didn’t get around to it. In honor of the Superbowl I wanted to look at a few coin-op football games. While there have been dozens over the years (including one made in 1892, thought I don’t know if it featured American Football or Soccer), here are a few that illustrate the variety of coin-op games that existed (mostly) prior to the rise of video games

 1. Play Football – Chester-Pollard Amusement Company– ca 1926

OK, this was soccer, not American football, but it was a very cool, and very popular game. The Chester-Pollard Amusement Company was formed in New York by three Chester brothers (Pollard was their mother’s maiden name). Football was an English game that Chester-Pollard bought the rights to for production in the U.S.

You can see the machine in action at this link at this link.

If you are interested in antique coin-op machines, take a look at some of the guy’s other videos. A few of my favorites: Bally Alley,  1901 Rifle Game (love the mechanism), The Locomotive (created in 1885 by William T. Smith, this is considered by some the first American-made coin-op amusement device).

 2. Army- Navy – Rock-Ola – 1934

Rock-Ola made a trio of absolutely ingenious pinball games in 1933 and 1934. First was Jigsaw (aka World’s Fair), in which the player flipped over pieces in a miniature jigsaw puzzle. Next was World Series, which featured a rotating baseball diamond. Then there were Army-Navy, which simulated a football game and even kept score.

I would try to describe it but this video does a better job than words could. Jigsaw sold 50,000+ copies and World Series sold 75,000. Army Navy didn’t sell nearly as well (though maybe it should have). On, and if you didn’t know, these game were 100% mechanical. No electricity at all, just some brilliant engineering.

There were plenty of other pinball games over the years with a similar idea (Gottlieb’s 1973 Pro Football is a good example), but Rock-Ola was there first.

3. Football – Victor Vending – 1950
This one was a gum vending machine.


4. Air Football – Mike Munves – 1954

Munves also produced a game called Air Hockey at the same time. This took me aback at first. Air Hockey was supposedly invented by Brunswick around 1972. Could that be wrong? Probably not. It appears that Munve’s game just used air to push the ball/puck across the table. There doesn’t appear to have been a cushion of air that the ball floated on.

5. Quarterback – Genco – 1957

Photo courtesy of pinrepair.com (an outstanding source of info on electromechanical arcade games). Despite the fact that it was called Quarterback, it looks like a kicker to me.

6. Touchdown – Williams – 1965

Another photo from pinrepair.com

This was actually a “pitch-and-bat” game. Pitch-and-bats were baseball games that featured a miniature bat you used to hit a ball and score doubles, triples, homeruns etc. Some of them had a “running man” unit like the one seen here. Others used miniature figures of baseball players. Most of them depicted baseball, but here’s an example of a football variant. Williams produced two more football pitch-and-bat games, both named Gridiron, in 1969 and 1984 (the latter as a conversion kit).

7. All-Star Football – Chicago Coin – 1972

Wall games were a fascinating, short-lived, mutant variety of game that appeared in bars in taverns mostly from about 1970-1975 before video games basically put them out of business. They used light bulbs behind a plastic screen and usually had remote controls boxes with a single button for controls.

 8. Challenge Football – Unknown – 1975

I posted a picture of this one before. I have no other information about it but it sure looks cool.

9. Touchdown Football – Intermark – 1988

A football version of Pop-a-Shot.

10. Football Frenzy – Island Interactive – 1990s??

A football-themed redemption game.

 Next time - back to video games.