“Saturday Supercade” Video Games Characters Cartoon

admin on November 1st, 2008 File Under Arcade, Articles, Videos

While browsing the Internet, I found this post on VG Retro Blog. It shows a cartoon TV show with many classic arcade video games characters on it. Here’s the video (Saturday Supercade’s opening sequence):

Saturday Supercade was first aired on 1983 and was produced for 2 years. The main characters of the show were many of the best arcade characters from those years. This opening sequence is from the first season, as you can see the show main characters were Frogger, Donkey Kong, Mario, Pitfall Harry, Q-Bert and Donkey Kong JR. Notice that today’s most recognizable video game character, Mario, was just kind of a “secondary” character back then (he was treated just like Donkey Kong’s enemy, which was the main character).

For the second season Frogger, Donkey Kong JR. and Pitfall! segments were removed from the show and replaced by new characters from “Space Ace” and “Kangaroo”.

This show was never republished on DVD, VHS, or any other format (probably due to licensing issues… so many characters from so many video games companies…). It was never re-showed on TV either after its original broadcasting (only “Space Ace” segments were showed on Boomerang from time to time).

And you are probably asking “Why aren’t Pac-Man or Ms. Pac-Man in the show?”. The answer is very simple: because they had their own cartoon (Pac-Man was always ahead of any other arcade character from that era… hehe…). Here’s a video of Pac-Man’s cartoon intro (maybe you remember it):

Ah, those were the days… hope today’s cartoons were as good as these… 😉

Well, hope you enjoyed it. If you have more info about retro-video gaming cartoons feel free to coment it!

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Computer Space – The First Mass-Produced Arcade Video Game

admin on July 7th, 2008 File Under Arcade, Articles, History

In some previous history of video games articles, I wrote about how “Spacewar!” video game influenced the creation of the first and second arcade video games. The first one was “Galaxy Game”, created by Bill Pitts and Hugh Tuck (only two versions/five consoles were created). The second one, which will be the beginning of the main subject in this article, was “Computer Space” by Noland Bushnell and Ted Dabney (the first mass-produced arcade video game).

As written in my last article, Bushnell and Dabney were co-workers at a company named “Ampex”. Bushnell played “Spacewar!” at the University of Utah, and as soon as he played, he noticed the business potential. They both started making a new version of “Spacewar!” video game, suitable for arcade gaming. Some of the changes they made were making it 1-player (instead of two spaceships, it was a player-operated spaceship against two cpu-operated flying saucers) and removing the center star . Since they needed more time to work on this project and since they were convinced of their future success in their new business venture, they both left Ampex and started their own business under the name of “Syzygy Engineering“ (all of this happened during the same year, 1970).

In 1971 they sold the system to Bill Nutting, owner of “Nutting Associates”, a company that manufactured coin-operated trivia game machines. But the arcade machine was not ready for production yet (only the basic concept and game programming was done, and the latter still needed some refining), so Bill Nutting hired Noland Bushnell to finish it (as Chief Engineer in charge of the project). Bushnell and his crew at Nutting Associates were very clever with their arcade design. In order to keep unit costs down they used discreet components circuits (made mostly of transistors and diodes) instead of a CPU and a Black and White TV set instead of a vector display. They also included a two-player version, similar to the original “Spacewar!” video game. They put everything together in a very nice looking “space-age” cabinet made of fiberglass, and there it was, the first mass produced arcade video game was made: “Computer Space”.

About 1,500 units of “Computer Space” arcade machines were made with a brief initial success. However, it was not a massive hit as originally expected. This was attributed to the fact that the game was complicated, and game control was difficult. Most of these arcade machines were installed in bars and similar places, where a simple game was the selection of choice by customers.

Although there were some negotiations between Syzygy Engineering and Nutting Associates for designing new arcade video games, it actually never happened. That was the end of their business relationship, so Bushnell and Dabney continued designing and manufacturing video games on their own. But when they attempted to do business under the “Syzygy” name they found out that the name was already taken by another company (some says that it was a roofing company, others says that it was a candle making company). So they started this new business venture under a new name: Atari.

And this will be the subject of our next article.

Computer Space Arcade Video game

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Beyond “Spacewars!” – The History of the First Arcade Video Game

admin on July 6th, 2008 File Under Arcade, Articles, History

In our previous article “History of Video Games – The First Video Game?…” we talked about a small group of games that are considered as the pioneers of the video gaming industry, which after 4-5 decades has become a multi-billionaire industry (ranked as the #1 entertainment industry, side-by-side with the filmmaking industry.

In this article I will go a step ahead and write about how arcade video games were created. The whole idea of the first arcade video game came from “Spacewar!” (in case you haven’t read my previous article, “Spacewar!” is a video game programmed for a DEC PDP-1 computer by a group of students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology). Although “Spacewar!” was a “not for profit” video game (it was created with the main purpose of showing PDP-1 computer graphics capabilities), it became very popular at the MIT campus.

Not so long after that, this group of MIT students (or at least some of them) went to Standford University. And as you can expect, they took with them their most beloved “creation”. When “Spacewar!” video game was presented to this whole new audience at Stanford University, it was no surprise that it was very welcomed by students and programmers of this campus. The video game program was ported to a DEC PDP-10 computer and had many updates and changes. As in MIT, it was pretty obvious that “Spacewar!” was a sure-hit in Stanford University (and with so many updates, “Spacewar!” was becoming a state-of-the-art piece of software). It was just a matter of time for somebody to figure out that “you could make some money with this thing”.

So, it happened. In 1971 Bill Pitts (a recent Stanford University AI graduate) and Hugh Tuck (a mechanical engineer and also Bill’s long time friend) formed “Computer Recreations, Inc.” with the idea of manufacturing and marketing the first arcade video game. Bill worked on the programming and electrical connections, while Hugh worked on the arcade enclosures. It consisted of a DEC PDP-11 minicomputer (a new cheaper version from DEC PDP computer series, but powerful enough to run “Spacewar!”) and an HP 1300A Electrostatic Display, all packaged in a walnut veneered enclosure. The first prototype was finished three and a half months later, with an approximate cost of $20,000. They wanted to call their version of the video game “Galaxy War”, but in 1971 (with Vietnam’s war on its peak) the word “war” wasn’t kindly welcomed at Stanford University campus. Because of this, they took the “marketing decision” of calling it “Galaxy Game”.

“Galaxy Game” arcade prototype was installed in Stanford Student Union Coffee Shop for “market testing” purposes. It was priced at 10 cents per game, or 3 games for 25 cents (plus if at the end of the game your spaceship survived, a free game was granted). The game, as expected, was extremely well received by campus students (sometimes players had to wait over an hour with dimes in hand in order to play the game). However, at ten cents per play it would take forever to recover the $20,000 invested. So by 1972 they created a second prototype with a more powerful display interface, which allowed them to use a single PDP-11 computer to control four different arcades (thus spreading the costs in four consoles instead of one and bringing costs per unit down). They made some fancy fiberglass enclosures for each arcade machine and installed them at the coffee shop. As the original single arcade, these ones were heavily played for many years, until 1979 (7-8 years later) when the arcade units were finally removed from the coffee shop due to a hardware failure. So this was the end of an era… and the beginning of another (that we will write about in detail in future articles)…

While all this was happening in Stanford, something very similar was going on at the University of Utah. A young engineer named Nolan Bushnell played “Spacewar!”, and immediately saw a business opportunity there. He used to work at a Pinball Arcade, so he had the idea of a coin-operated version of “Spacewar!” video game to be placed and played side by side with pinball machines (in places like bars, coffee shops, diners, pinball arcades, and so on). But unlike Pitts and Tuck, he had the idea of manufacturing arcade machines for resale instead of keeping them and making profit of arcade players. Together with Ted Dabney (a co-worker at a company named “Ampex”) they started working on this idea together as partners. This was another important point in the history of video games, since it was the first steps of a partnership later to become Atari, the biggest video game company of its era. But I will write more on this subject in the next article.

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