When I did the research for Midway’s unreleased arcade prototypes of the past, I had a feeling that there should have been more. Perhaps that is a tainted view as a company like Atari is pretty well documented in that regard, however the reality is that many game companies of the past don’t seem to have a lot of documentation online about what they were working on at one point.
To complete the second part, I reached out to some individuals who worked for Midway in the past and thanks to their answers, we have a better understanding of other unreleased prototypes handled by Midway over the years. They discussed several games that I never even knew existed so its great to be able to document them here. Thanks to Brian Colin, Steve Ranck, George Petro, and Andrew Eloff for the information. For text in italics and blue, that is a verbatim description from the Game Refuge website. I’m sure there is even more out there than this so if you happened to work on a project for Midway (or any other arcade company), we’d love to hear from you so we can share the information and preserve it in some small way.
Continuing on With The Games We’ve Never Played
Blackjack (ca 1976) – I couldn’t really find anything on this one, other than it was in black-and-white, the norm at the time. It’s probably not dissimilar to games like this.
Ant Raid (1981) – Long before “real-time strategy” games were enough of a thing to be called a genre, work was being done on this game to provide such entertainment to two players at a time. “Hardware designer Atish Ghosh came up with the concept of two ant hills fighting over limited amounts of food in 1981, but it never got off the ground until animator Brian Colin adapted the ants into cartoon warriors who walked on two legs. A trackball moved a cursor around the City Dump and players sent worker ants, soldier ant and super soldiers out to retrieve spoiled foodstuffs for their queen. As a two-player game, it tested quite well, but the lack of an engaging single-player mode meant that earnings were not consistent, so the game was never produced. Art: Brian Colin, Programming: John Marcus.
“The ability to control a small army in real time was brilliant and hysterical and addicting… I was crushed when the decision came back not to finish the game… I never forgot that feeling, though. Certainly the ghost of Ant Raid is evident in a number of our later games, i.e., Sarge, Arch Rivals, Pigskin and of course, General Chaos!” – BC
Brian added that there was a limited food supply (like limited resources in RTS games down the road), and that the Queen would die if she did not receive enough sustenance, thus ending the player’s turn. The game view would switch from a top down perspective into isometric view depending upon the need. Had a 1 player mode been able to work at the time, that certainly could have saved it for production. Here is the marquee:
Critical Mass (1982) – Brian describes this as a game with a nuke in the center of the screen that players tried to defuse it before it went off. It was programmed by Al Rosetta. The first assumption from that description was that it was possibly a Midway response to Gottlieb’s Reactor.
Mothership (1981/82) – This was the prototype name for the eventually released Kozmik Kruiser. There was another prototype name of Kapt. Krooz’r for this one of Mothership. Brian described some of the deleted content, including a level called the Bizarn Ocean, which involved divers dropping pearls that would go into a bathysphere.
Clone (ca 1982) – This is the one that used Ralph Baer’s digitzing camera and allowed players to take pictures of themselves. Thanks to some of the unintended consequences of such technology, this was shelved; funny enough these days finding a camera in a game isn’t uncommon.
Barzoids (ca 1982??) – A commenter using the handle astrp3 from Post 1 stated that this is “a spinning top battle game. I’ve heard a couple of people at Midway rave about this one”. Brian stated that Sharon Barr was the artist that trained him and was the one who worked on this game. The spinning tops had arms that could extend out. Sounds interesting from that description and according to this website, the game was finished but ultimately shelved. Probably due to similar reasons as Ant Raid, in that it was stronger as a 2p game than a 1p game.
Stomp It (1983/84?)- This was a Dudley Do-Right themed game where the player went around and smacked black bombs with a bat. Kind of a virtual Whac-A-Mole game in that sense. Not much else available on this one as the code and art have been lost.
He-Man: Masters of the Universe (1983/84)– While thought to be nothing more than a rumor, Brian does recall seeing some raster art for it. But it never progressed more than that into a playable game that anyone would care for.
Spy Hunter – Before Spy Hunter was known as Spy Hunter, the design teams were tasked with coming up with a name for it. At the time Williams wanted them to write everything down, which was kept in some three-ring binders. It didn’t take long for these binders to multiply around the offices and Brian described that in the binder for Spy Hunter there were at least three pages of suggested names for the game that a dozen or so designers were throwing around. He mentioned that he still had the Spy Hunter binder somewhere but at the time of this publication it had not been located. Perhaps that can wait for a future post as I’m sure it would be interesting 😉
The Spectre Files (1983) – A film adaptation of an original interactive text adventure designed for an Arcade Laser disc game that was scrapped before the game’s completion. Though never produced, you can take a look at a sample of this “Lost Laser Disc” Game’s game play on YouTube. Initial text game design & development: Brian Colin, Marty Broeske. Film Production: Brian Colin & Jon Nicholson. Here’s some footage from the disc, full of great 80s cheese; Brian Colin has the footage of the game but is still lacking the game script to put it all together. Along the lines of a video text adventure albeit not as complex as Thayer’s Quest which was intended for release around that time. The game would stop and present the player with 3 choices at particular points, a good, an intermediate and a bad choice.
Brian continues: “When the Laser Disc Game craze hit the coin-op market, I jumped at the chance to create a feature-length interactive film/game modeled after an interactive text adventure I had written some time earlier. (My first, and only, attempt at writing a game using Assembler Code). Working with co-workers, amateurs and film students in an unheated, abandoned mental institution on a shoestring budget that covered little more than the film and processing, we finished the completed the film in just under 8 months. Unfortunately, by that time, Bally/Midway had been badly criticized for their decision to use Video Disc technology (NOT the same as Laser-Disc technology – it used a needle/stylus to read the disc instead of a laser so one can imagine the problem of using this in an arcade machine) , on their much-touted NFL game disc project, and all future game disc projects were abandoned. “
Aerocross (ca 1984) – This was first pointed out by commenter astrp3. He described it as “fly a ship along a 3D racetrack floating in space” which sounds like another version of Star Rider. I asked Brian Colin about it and he knew a few things about the game. It first was a project where art was being handled by Bob Dimmerman who worked on Discs of Tron. He had been working on a 1st person roller coaster idea for a long time and that was turning into Aerocross. They were trying to get it working on a new and expensive 3D hardware system that had been created by John Perser but those expenses would prove to be too much for the project. At some point it was given to BC who tried to rework it for use on the cheap hardware that Zwackery ran on. It was limited to a few frames of animation at that point and ended up getting axed.
UPDATE: Thanks to a comment on the KLOV forums by p1899m, it turns out that an Aerocross showed up on Craiglslist back in 2011 so the game did at least get far enough along for testing. It used a modified Spy Hunter sit down cabinet but whether it ever was fixed up to the point of working again is unknown.
Buckaroo Banzai (ca 1984) – This was intended to be a licensed, horizontal-scrolling desert racing game based upon the movie. Brian stated that it didn’t get very far in development before being canned. Kevin O’Conner was manager of the artists and said they needed some mock-up graphics to be used in the gamefilm and that’s as far as it got.
Willie Lump Lump – From commenter astrp3: “I’ve seen a marquee for this one and someone at Midway confirmed its existence.” That seems to be all that is known about this one for now.
Tank Maze (ca 1984?) – Also by commenter astrp3 as “a game similar to the tank wave in Tron.” Unfortunately that is all I could find out about this one so far.
Spitfire – Described by astrp3 as a 2-player game in which players spit at each other or at floating eyeballs. Like the previous two title, I was unable to find out anything else about this one for now.
P’Tooie Louie (ca 1985/86) – Also brought up by astrp3, “In this game you play a cave girl riding a pterodactyl that scoops up watermelon seeds and spits them at enemies”. Brian Colin remembered this one well. At the time hardware for scaling effects was still in its infancy and thus costly. Other ways could be found around that (such as Blaster), and they wanted to do a game where scaling was essential. You could lift off and fly on a giant red pterodactyl while snatching up watermelons on the ground, spitting seeds at the onscreen enemies. The cavewoman could also throw boomerangs. It used a control configuration like Konami’s Track & Field, with two buttons the player would have to alternately slap to control the flight of your creature. What killed this was hardware related : without hardware scaling support, their workaround ended up using the available art memory, which ate up the ability to properly render enemies. As such they were invisible until it was too late.
JetPack (1987) – Brian describes this game as “Pac-Man meets Zaxxon”, where the player controlled a cartoony mascot kind of character on an isometric plane. Was a “cute game” but never got more than 1/2 way done. Judging by the timing, it was about this time that Namco released Pac-Mania, which was an isometric Pac-Man game so perhaps that is what shut down Midway’s effort here (who no longer had the Pac-Man license to use like they had just a few years prior).
Midway’s Pro Tour (88 or so?) Also by the people of Game Refuge was this golf game that was in the works before Golden Tee became the de facto golf standard. Tom Dedamenico was the programmer. It was described as “a highly addictive, single-screen golf game that featured over a dozen adaptations of some of the world’s best-known courses.” It did use a trackball and was so good that it was the #1 game at the Midway offices for a long time. It did not reproduce the same effect on test however and was shelved. Perhaps they should have tried a bar instead and watch it take off from there.
International Team Lazer (1987/88) – Put out on location test as a 4p title, the lackluster performance sent it back to the drawing board. There is was changed and ultimately released as Blasted, a two player game. Here is the prototype cabinet that was in the possession of programmer Jeff Nauman, Brian Colin’s business partner at Game Refuge. He brought the cabinet to the GR offices so we could all get the look below.
The Ugly Stick
This weird, cartoony, multiplayer game was sorta like Tag with a Two-By-Four played by a handful of annoying little Monsters. Never completed. Art: Brian Colin Programming: Jeff Nauman. Nothing exists on this anymore.
A wacky, cartoon-intensive four-player Radio Controlled Vehicle racing game in which Players raced through and disrupted dozens of densely-populated environments. Programming: Jeff Nauman, Art: Brian Colin, Sean McMenemy, Rob Dollase, Tom Konkol, Mark Sieka. Sounds Music: Brian Schmidt. Design: Colin/Nauman. Not exactly a Midway title but Game Refuge produced enough content for Midway that they can fit into the same column.
“We were about two months away from completing RC2 when EA coin-op folded due to the dismal earnings and sales of the Madden Arcade Football piece. This was our first experience with a company going out of business before the game we were hired to do was completed, and unfortunately, it would not be the last. Later that same year, The 3DO Company hired us to do a tongue-in-cheek Fighting game and went out of business a few months after we got started, and American Laser Games did the same thing several months into the development of an ambitious 3D Basketball project about a year later.”
Here is the marquee and cabinet, as found at the Game Refuge offices:
Wild Pitch – Also developed by Game Refuge, this game was meant to be like Arch Rivals but with a baseball theme. Midway management wanted something with the “rich level of detail a home game would have” while marketing wanted something closer to Arch Rivals. WP was somewhere in between those clashing ideas. The controller was a swinging spring loaded bat used for pitching and swinging. The player spent most of their time pitching or batting but they could also direct people out on the field. The ultimate issue with this one was the hardware, which turned out to be unreliable enough on tests that the game was shelved. Brian C. did state that it was taken to events like state fairs over the years and the game did very well in that setting.
Joust 3D – In the late 90s when 3D had reached full acceptance, Play Mechanix undertook the development of a new version of Joust that they called Joust 3D. It would have gone in a slightly different direction thanks to other mounts the player could ride (expanding well beyond Joust 2) and the freedom the 3D perspectives could provide. The code for this still is in the possession of George Petro at PM. Here’s a brief video of it in action that found its way online a few years ago.
Stock Carnage – After the success of Hydro Thunder, the team responsible for that which included Steve Ranck and Brian Silva grew to tackle two projects – a sequel to Hydro Thunder and another racing game called Stock Carnage. Steve describes it as “a stock car racing game with over the top action and carnage”. And here are some pictures from the game which I believe have never been seen publicly before, showing off some graphics that would have been among the best in the market for 1999/2000:
Hydro Thunder 2 – Already mentioned a few times on AH, here are a few more details about this project via Steve Ranck. Let’s start with a graphic showing some of the intended boat models:
Let’s follow those some of the track ideas for HT2:
- France (with underground passages and Eifel Tower finish)
- Lake Powell 2
- Chicago River
- Lost Island FOUND! (now a fully-inhabited vacation paradise)
- Revenge of The Nile (exterior Egypt with Stargates)
- Bermuda Triangle (race through giant, alien mother ship)
Again, a big thanks to those who provided information for this post. Hopefully this allows some extra appreciation for these projects that often so much effort was poured into but the public never had a chance to enjoy. As mentioned, if we get our hands on more data about other unreleased games we will be happy to share those; if we find out more about the games described above this post will be updated and we’ll announce the update on Facebook and Twitter.