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.
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, 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