My Favorite New Facts from 2016

This year has been the point where I have really started to take my process in documenting video game history seriously, starting in about April. I have learned so much about how to locate information and how to disseminate information in a way that allows me to properly pursue the stuff which isn’t as well known. Shout-outs must be given to Alex Smith of They Create Worlds for bolstering my confidence there and showing me the ropes a bit.

 

I did well over 40 interviews this year in some form or another. Not all of them were in depth, not all of them were even that useful, but I’ve enjoyed hearing these stories so much that I feel compelled to share some of the information. I can’t necessarily say if all of this is strictly true; I’m just putting it out there because I’m well off of publishing my interviews in full and I want to share some of it.

 

The information will be listed below into categories along with the attributions at the end of the sentence. If you’re curious about any of these bits, feel free to message me or comment below about it.

 

Nutting Adventures:

-Prior to turning his company from Nutting Industries into Milwaukee Coin Industries, David Nutting and his partners Gene Wagner and Harold Montgomery met with Sam Stern of Williams on the offer to go into business together. Nutting refused the offer of Stern buying the assets of Chicago Coin to form a new venture together. Stern did this himself and established Stern Electronics. (Gene Wagner, Harold Montgomery)

-There was an additional pair of hands on Computer Space aside from Nolan Bushnell, Ted Dabney, Steve Bristow, and Allan Alcorn. I can’t reveal his name, but he played some role in engineering the game. (Rodney Geiman)

-When Computer Space was first showcased at the AMOA show in Chicago, there were still graphical elements missing (it would ship a month or so later). (Rodney Geiman)

-The third name associated with Nutting Associates at the Magnavox Profit Caravan in Burlingame, Charles Fibian, was a distributor of Nutting’s games and not an actual employee of the company. (Rodney Geiman)

-When Pong first hit the scene, Keith Egging demonstrated to Dave Nutting a way to create an electro-mechanical version of Pong. (Keith Egging)

 

Ampex Videofile:

-The complexity of Videofile was such that Ampex would put full-time field engineers on location for years at a time to help maintain the equipment. (Rod O’Connor)

-Rod O’Connor told me a story about Ted Dabney being compared to the farmer in the painting “American Gothic” and that Dabney was quite enraged by the comparison. One hopes he would have a better sense of humor about it today. (Rod O’Connor)

-Werner Berli described Nolan Bushnell as having a “Sherlock Holmes” pipe, smoking it down the hallway. (Werner Berli)

-Almost everyone who worked with Nolan Bushnell in the early days remembers Ted Dabney, but everyone I’ve spoken to has told me that he was an unremarkable person compared to Bushnell in terms of personality. Early Atari employee Satish Bhutani only remembered the name, and their boss in Videofile, Kurt Wallace, emphasized how he felt that Dabney was “just a tech”. (Kurt Wallace, Satish Bhutani, Werner Berli, Richard Patak, Rod O’Connor)

 

Electronic Arts:

 

-Producers at Electronic Arts would often play extended wargaming sessions with Trip Hawkins, and he would take great pride in squashing his opponents when he got the opportunity. (Jeff Johannigman)

 

Origin Systems:

 

-There was a proposal in 1986 to create a modem-based version of Ultima IV, though that next got past concepting. In the early 90s, Origin attempted to partner with Kesmai to create an on-line Ultima, but were thwarted in that attempt as well. (David Shapiro, Jeff Johannigman)

-Origin created a vertex editor called EOR, a program used by Origin and its related companies to create polygonal graphics via text entry. (Brennan Priest)

 

Taito:

 

-The Space Invaders coin shortage myth has been explained in a number of ways. The versions I heard from Keith Egging and Rene Lopez are, respectively, that the Japanese government ran out of coins or that they worked with Taito to create a special token specifically for Space Invaders. (Keith Egging, Rene Lopez)

-Keith Egging famously kept a skull on his desk during his time at Taito. He says it was just “some dead guy”. (Keith Egging)

-Michael Kogan’s son Abba Kogan was not particularly skilled in the coin business and thus was unable to pick up the torch after his father suddenly died on business. (Keith Egging, Rene Lopez)

 

Atari:

 

-A new version of the famous “Pong filled with quarters” myth has been told to me by Satish Bhutani. He says that this event occurred when Nolan Bushnell, Allan Alcorn, Ted Olson, and himself were in attendance (and didn’t mention any phone calls). While Keith Smith disagrees with this since Bushnell has always stated he was visiting Bally when he heard the news, I think it’s closer to the truth than how Alcorn tells it. (Satish Bhutani)

-Ray Kassar is of Syrian descent and speaks Arabic. (Claude Nahum)

-Atari had its own separate groups for when they were developing software on the Colecovision and the Intellivision. The Colecovision group consisted of folks primarily from arcade companies like Exidy and Sega/Gremlin. (Matthew Householder)

-Jack Tramiel set up the international subsidiaries of Atari Corporation much in the same way he did for Commodore, granting them almost total autonomy to operate in their own country. (Claude Nahum)

 

Looking Glass:

 

-While in the final stages of Flight Unlimited, employees of Looking Glass set up a speaker system to each worker’s cubicle for their enjoyment. One of the regular selections was Weezer’s Blue Album. (Richard Wyckoff)

-Looking Glass was a rarity in that it had a dedicated sound team for it projects. Prior to establishing this team though, Tribe members Eric Brosius and Greg LoPiccolo did contract work for the studio and did 100 or so sounds for Interplay Production’s Descent, basically tossing sound effects “over the fence” in the rush to finish the project on time. (Eric Brosius)

-One of the reasons that Looking Glass was purchased by Intermetrics was that there was a board member on Intermetrics who had been the president at the Norweigan game studio Funcom. (Carl-Henrik Skårstedt)

-One of the primary factors in Dark Camelot turning into The Dark Project (which then became Thief: The Dark Project) was the lighting system in the 3D engine. When the team implemented the lighting into the engine, the sharp contrasts in light made the team heavily consider stealth as a new direction for the game, having previously been a sword combat-focused game. (Brennan Priest)

-Stephen Russell, voice of Garrett in Thief, was first asked to do a Sean Connery impression for his audition. After impressing the team with his ability to do it so perfectly, he was able to develop the character and the voice from there. (Eric Brosius)

-Several early contributors to Dark Camelot and The Dark Project were not credited for their work in the credits of Thief after having left the company. Brennan Priest was, but Richard Wyckoff and original producer Vijay Lakshman were not.(Brennan Priest, Richard Wyckoff)

 

Mattel:

 

-A large part of why the Mattel Hyperscan has such a high failure rate was because Mattel commissioned all the individual pieces of the console to be developed independently and then stuck together later. Not even any development tools were created for the device, so Rick Koenig’s solution was to create an emulator. (Rick Koenig)

 

Sega/Gremlin:

 

-Gremlin Industries’ reason for selling to Sega was entirely based on growth money and the ability to maintain their independence. Sega and Gulf and Western agreed to not alter the operations of Gremlin, at least at firs. (Frank Fogleman)

-David Rosen would pass down game ideas verbally to Frank Fogleman who would then get Gremlin’s hardware team to implement the concepts. Frogger, which Fogleman claims was fully programmed at Gremlin, was the one time Gremlin did a game coming from completely outside the company. (Frank Fogleman, David Money)

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