Skelly History Part 3

Somewhere around the time I was finishing Starhawk, we hired Rob Patton as a second game programmer. He stayed busy learning the system while I was working on Starhawk and Sundance. One day Jim Pierce walked into the lab with a Mattell handheld football game. This was the first handheld game and extremely popular, despite being incredibly simple, with just a few LEDs for a display. Jim thought we should turn it into a video game. I told him that it would certainly stink as a video game and would probably mean a law suit from Mattell. He forgot about it for a while, but when it became clear that Rob had run out of things to do, Jim talked me into letting Rob program it strictly as a learning exercise. That game was Blitz, later Barrier. To make Jim happy, we put it out on test. It did very poorly, to put it nicely, and we stuffed it in the closet.

 

I started work on Warrior, my one-on-one sword fighting game. Late at night, while waiting for code to compile, I'd go down to the production floor and set a new high score on Speed Freak, the first Vectorbeam game to rise above the radar. On their breaks, the production crew would beat my score.

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CINEMATRONICS

Cinematronics, Me and Vectorbeam

Speed Freak was a step above other driving games of that time, although like others, the player's point of view (and therefore, car) didn't rotate. Instead, the trick was to slide back and forth like a stick shift moving dropping through a slotted board. Even so, this simulated the driving experience fairly well. It was a good game, but Vectorbeam wasn't selling enough to keep the assembly lines going. They needed something to build and sell, soon.

I know this because I was in the room when Bill Cravens visited Cinematronics, looking for something to build and sell, soon. Cinematronics sold him Blitz/Barrier and we all laughed our asses off. But soon after that a very strange thing happened. Cinematronics purchased Vectorbeam, which at the time was building and failing to sell Barrier. It wasn't until much later, after I had seen the legal documents of the sale, that I was able to figure out this bizarre business move. It was true that Vectorbeam was in trouble, and therefore a bargain, but why purchase a losing company? Cinematronics didn't need product. The short run on Sundance had me hurrying to finish Warrior, but that game was ready to go with time to spare. Though it wouldn't see release for a long time, Rob Patton had started War of the Worlds. Also, by then we had hired Scott Boden, who was already up to speed and ready to start his first project.

So, what did Cinematronics have to gain by buying Vectorbeam? Nothing. Admittedly, the company did gain Tailgunner, but it didn't need it. Cinematronics shut the doors on Vectorbeam as soon as they finished building the game I had developed at Cinematronics, Warrior. Cinematronics may not have had anything to gain from the purchase of Vectorbeam, but Jim Pierce and Papa Tom Stroud were set to gain plenty - Larry Rosenthal's patents. They had been paying (or were supposed to pay) a licensing fee to Larry for every game sold. Now they wouldn't have to. But it gets better. Jim and Papa Tom purchased the patents under their own names, not Cinematronics. Now every time a game shipped, Cinematronics had to pay them, personally, as did other companies that later licensed the technology.

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