Happy Gremlin Day! Announcements, Projects, and More

50 Years Ago today, two engineers named Frank Fogleman and Carl Grindle founded a contract electronics firm at San Diego’s 3555 Aero Court. This company was Gremlin Industries, a name forged by last second decisions and a literal game of telephone. The company would be purchased by Sega in 1978 and form the backbone of their early 1980s arcade empire until the tumultuous 1983 saw it shuttered while still leaving a lasting legacy on the industry.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while you know about my close association with this defunct company which is about to bare more new fruit! However, before that, let’s talk about some other things.

The History of How We Play Video Series

Due to the circumstances around Covid-19 I can’t get all the things I need to finish production on my video series at the moment. I am revising, I am editing, and I am building a recording studio for better audio recordings but I’m not in the best position to work on it. I hope to get more time to work on what I have soon and I still plan to release it by year’s end no matter what comes.

I optimistically also hoped to present a panel at Midwest Gaming Classic but those plans went off with the cancellation of the event. I sincerely hope that the Retro Cons can get back on their feet after all this as well as everyone who may have been personally affected in the past this time.

Gaming Alexandria

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I’m the meantime you can enjoy the consistently stellar work we’re doing over at Gaming Alexandria. I serve as editor for the articles on the website and I’ve helped communicate the great work done by our team like preserving obscure educational material for the Famicom, the underground world of Japanese piracy, and various collections of Japanese PC games.

We also recently held a fundraiser to begin a project of digitizing Ralph Baer’s old Court records. Curt Vendel, who has held these papers since Baer’s death in 2014, has not been able to scan these records due to time and budgetary constraints. I offered to help out and now we will be bringing you never before seen court documents from a lost era of video games.

If you’re interested in playing an active part in the preservation and history of games, our Discord is open! You’ll find me as GameResearch_E and you can send me any questions you like.

Books

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Yes plural! I’m happy to announce I will be part of an upcoming Storybundle for game-related material. David Craddock, himself a fantastic author of video game history, reached out to me and we decided the best route to go for what will be my first book. That was for me to collect some of my many interviews into a thematic volume about game creators.

The working title is currently Candid Conversations in Code: Interviews with the First Generation of Video Game Programmers. Some names planned to appear include Jamie Fenton (Dave Nutting Associates), Vic Tolomei (Exidy), David Rolfe (of Star Fire and Intellivision fame), and Dave Shepperd (Atari). I hope that I can produce something  which is more than just a collection of words and can be informative on a wider basis about programming video games in the 1970s.

That leads me onto what will be the longer term project. After a lot of thinking about my deep involvement with Gremlin Industries and questions by co-founder Frank Fogleman as to when I’m going to write a book, I decided I might as well give it a shot. After collecting the info that I posted about last year, I feel like I have enough to go off of to create an interesting history out of this information.
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However, at the same time I felt that the book would be insubstantial in content if merely about Gremlin. In thinking about the story, I realized that the greater region of San Diego and it’s technological legacy was at the heart of this story. In addition to that, many of the Gremlin engineers continued on to the enigmatic Cinematronics which has always been a company shrouded in rumor. This book, I decided, will be about both Gremlin and Cinematronics, the two sides of the San Diego arcade scene.
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Some of this thought was also spurred by the unfortunate recent death of Tim Skelly. Skelly was the first man to cross between these two worlds and while the deeper parts of his story are lost now, there are both people who knew him and a lawsuit regarding his departure from Cinematronics that may shed some light on his story. It will not just be an engineering focused story, as I’m excited to get a chance to talk about the many facets of an arcade company like Gremlin including sales, production, and the difficulties of building games at a mass scale.

Some people may wonder how this book will compare to Ken Horowitz’s Sega Arcade Revolution book, which I did contribute interviews too. While certainly there will be similar coverage and access to the same interviews as in Ken’s book, my look will be more biographical and down in the trenches with the employees rather than talking about what they did in a wider abstract with game criticism. Plus the focus will be different, though of course Sega in general will be covered. I am hoping to secure an interview with David Rosen to supplement some views I have gotten from Sega employees who migrated to Gremlin, for instance.

It is also worth admitting that I do not have any publisher for this second book and I do not plan to self-publish either. That will be a road to cross once I have something substantial enough and I will assuredly keep the readers of this blog updated.

Timelines

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As part of my research, I have also started collecting my dated research into timelines inspired by the great comprehensive work done by Michael Current on Atari. Sega’s history is similarly complicated and so I thought it would be very useful to lay that all out in a format which is very useful for research. Coincidentally, it turns out that Sega is celebrating it’s own 60th anniversary so this is a great chance to gather and spread information about Sega’s history.

I will cover Sega’s many permutations up until the CSK buyout of 1984 (for now at least), Gremlin, Cinematronics, and Vectorbeam using my coin-op magazines collection as well as a few exclusive materials. Any cited contributions will be welcome and I look forward to expanding the timeline as I do research. I’m not seeking to hide away information and I want to know if people are able to connect dots that I’m unable to see as well.

Interviews

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Lane Hauck

My work in tracking down and speaking to members of the industry has been more fruitful this year than last, it would be fair to say. I have been announcing some of my gets on my Twitter, but I will continue to update my grand interview list as I feel comfortable.

Thus far I have interviewed three new Gremlin people: The brilliant and influential game designer, Lane Hauck; the President from late 1980 to 1983, Duane Blough; the service technician and later salesman from 1978-1982, Steve Margolin. Tom Stroud Jr. gave me some wonderful insight on Cinematronics through his experiences and that of his father which will form some of the backbone of the Gremlin-Cinematronics book.
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I had another opportunity to talk with Satish Bhutani to get into detail about his fascinating time with Atari from 1973-1975 and other companies. Eddie Adlum, founder and editor of Replay Magazine, gave me some great insight on the coin-op world of the 1970s and today.

More interviews are pending on availability and situations during the current crisis. If you see me tweet about and upcoming interview you can feel free to send some questions you might have, even if they are “Who is this person?” as I’m always glad to share some background.

Other Work

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This year I contributed to a number of other projects. Chief among them was Alex Smith’s finally published They Create Worlds: Volume 1. I am given an entire paragraph in the acknowledgments, which I duly thank Alex for. I am proud to be a part of something with such importance to the field and I hope to continue giving Alex further motivation and information for his subsequent volumes.

In addition to this, I helped Kate Willaert with two articles relating to early video game advertising, I did some work on videos from the Gaming Historian and Wrestling with Gaming, and I provided the sound effects for the Video Game Newsroom Time Machine‘s titular mode of chronology transportation. I also contributed an article to Old School Gamer Magazine of an interview with the creator of the ColecoVision, Robert Schenck. I also had an appearance on the New England history show Pilgrim’s Digress talking a bit about my general life as well as video game historical research (Pilgrims Ponders how we Played in the past).
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There should be a few more collaborations in the near future. For instance, the documentary series Welcome to Arcadia which is coming to Kickstarter, I’m serving as a historical consultant on to correct and enhance their material. The film looks extremely cool and I would encourage anybody interested in arcade history to check it out. I also recently contributed some materials to the general history podcasts Pontifacts, History of Persia, and The Hellenistic Age which I love helping make better in some small way.

Much to do, little time, and all that. I will keep up with everything that I can and hopefully keep some consistent updates coming through all these platforms. One day I might hope to make stuff like this a career, but I’m only on the cusp of making contributions truly worthwhile. Keep an eye out!

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