History

As told by Tim Skelly

 

Dan Sunday was the first former employee to publicly discuss his involvement with the company.  Dan’s history was somewhat brief and he principally worked with Larry Rosenthal at Vectorbeam.  

 

DAN SUNDAY HISTORY

 

 

Tim Skelly of Rip Off, Reactor (Gottlieb), etc. fame later provided a different version of events at both companies.  This is often the version most people see and seems to be the most comprehensive, thus, I added several contemporary pictures  to the story.

 

TIM SKELLY HISTORY

 

 

After updating these pages a bit in 2008, I was contacted by Charles Williams, another former employee.  Charles had read Tim’s history and felt compelled to add to it.

 

CHARLES WILLIAMS ADDENDUM

 

 

I think having the views and memories of three former associates, all from different areas, adds to the overall picture of what was Cinematronics.

The text of this write up by Tim Skelly originally appeared on Vectorlist on May 25, 1999 courtesy of James Hague.

 

To the best of my knowledge, while working for Vectorbeam, Dan Sunday,  with help from Larry Rosenthal, designed and programmed the game that  became Tailgunner. For absolute fact, I, Tim Skelly, designed and Scott  Boden programmed the game Star Castle for Cinematronics. The design for  that game incorporated a design element (revolving rings of shields)  created by Sunday and Rosenthal which I noted during the Cinematronics  takeover of Vectorbeam.

 

Okay, now the details of the whole damn Rosenthal/Cinematronics/Vectorbeam saga, based on hearsay, reliable witnesses, my own experiences and legal documents I have been privy to over the years. I will try to identify specific sources of information as I go.

H o m e

H i s t o r y

G a m e L i s t

P r o j e c t s

L i n k s

CINEMATRONICS

Larry Rosenthal and Space War

Until Larry gets to Cinematronics this is just legend to me, but it all sounds reasonable and I have never heard a different version. From Larry's first contact with Cinematronics and up to the time I met him, my sources are Jim Pierce and Papa Tom Stroud, at that time the co-owners of Cinematronics.  Either while a student at MIT or shortly thereafter, Larry developed the TTL-based "vectorbeam" board and prototyped a coin-operated version of the famous MIT game Spacewar!. I was told by someone (I don't remember who) that Larry bought rights of

some kind to Spacewar! from the guy who is said to have first created it, so that game may not be in the public domain as has been suggested elsewhere. Larry took his prototype to just about every game company in the US, with an offer to split profits 50/50 with anyone who would build and distribute the game. This was an unheard of arrangement, and the industry reaction was a big fat NO.

 

Tom Stroud

 

Dan Sunday was the first former employee to publicly discuss his involvement with the company.  Dan’s history was somewhat brief and he principally worked with Larry Rosenthal at Vectorbeam.  

 

DAN SUNDAY HISTORY

 

 

Tim Skelly of Rip Off, Reactor (Gottlieb), etc. fame later provided a different version of events at both companies.  This is often the version most people see and seems to be the most comprehensive, thus, I added several contemporary pictures  to the story.

 

TIM SKELLY HISTORY

 

 

After updating these pages a bit in 2008, I was contacted by Charles Williams, another former employee.  Charles had read Tim’s history and felt compelled to add to it.

 

CHARLES WILLIAMS ADDENDUM

 

 

I think having the views and memories of three former associates, all from different areas, adds to the overall picture of what was Cinematronics.

Eventually, Larry worked his way down to Cinematronics, a company that had done a couple of cocktail knock-offs and was about to go under. This was at the time of Pong and its early cousins. Pong had no copyright protection, so there were many companies at that time that began by copying that game, right down to the circuit board.  Unfortunately, these companies, like Cinematronics, had nowhere to go from there and had to look for other sources of product.

 

 

The collaboration was a huge success, but even though they were very happy with their share of the revenues from Space War, Pierce and Stroud were not so happy with their arrangement with Larry. 50 percent was (and continues to be) an outrageous share to go to a game developer. Also, in addition to his cut of the profits, Larry retained the application patents to his board, which he licensed to Cinematronics. This meant that he received additional cash for every game, Space War or otherwise, that Cinematronics manufactured using his technology. I am relatively sure of these details, but I never saw the contracts, only heard them discussed. However, later events would demonstrate that Rosenthal had maintained ownership of the patents.

 

Jim Pierce

 

Dan Sunday was the first former employee to publicly discuss his involvement with the company.  Dan’s history was somewhat brief and he principally worked with Larry Rosenthal at Vectorbeam.  

 

DAN SUNDAY HISTORY

 

 

Tim Skelly of Rip Off, Reactor (Gottlieb), etc. fame later provided a different version of events at both companies.  This is often the version most people see and seems to be the most comprehensive, thus, I added several contemporary pictures  to the story.

 

TIM SKELLY HISTORY

 

 

After updating these pages a bit in 2008, I was contacted by Charles Williams, another former employee.  Charles had read Tim’s history and felt compelled to add to it.

 

CHARLES WILLIAMS ADDENDUM

 

 

I think having the views and memories of three former associates, all from different areas, adds to the overall picture of what was Cinematronics.

My recollection of the sales figures on Space War was 30,000 units. This is not unreasonable given that the game was one of the top ten earners for almost three years, starting at number 1 for 1978 and ending at number 7 in July 1980. (Pac-Man would later break the 100,000 mark.) Based on manufacturing and sales figures at that time, a very reliable number for profit per unit on sales of upright coin-op games was $1,000 per game, net. Manufacturing costs were approximately $1,000 per unit and the games were sold to distributors for around $2,000 apiece. This, of course, varied with the desirability of the game, but given Space War's success, we can assume that it earned at least the minimum in profits. (Note: This $1,000 per unit figure was also used at Gremlin/Sega and Gottlieb/Mylstar during the time I worked for those companies, all the way through 1983.) If you do the math, you'll see that even without Larry's licensing "bonus" he should have made almost 15 million dollars from Space war. Even if I am off by a factor of ten, he still did pretty damn well for an individual in the early days of coin-op video games.

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