UPDATE: Part 2 can be found here.
It’s been a long while since we did an arcade prototype overview in regards to a single company and with news all but dried up this weekend due to the first major traveling holiday in the US this year, I figure why not take a look at some of Midway’s prototype games of the past. The last time we did this (excepting a look at the single Pac-Man Battle Royale upgrade board) was with Atari and today let’s take a look at Midway/Williams/Bally. Also considering the holiday being Memorial Day, my thanks go out to those who have sacrificed their lives in the line of duty.
The conglomeration of what eventually was recognized as Midway got their start well before video games were a thing, producing stand-alone electromechanical amusement games. They got pretty good at that and they didn’t dump the EM game development when it became clear that video games were the way to go. In fact, they had some EM games being made into the 80s. Data regarding the development of these games is more limited than the video games and so if there were any prototypes that never made it, we will just have to say unknown for now. Midway itself may have shuttered their arcade operations in 2001/02 and their console side closed in 2009 but many of the people that worked for Midway in the 70s/80s/90s have stayed in the arcade industry, working in companies like Raw Thrills, Play Mechanix, Specular Interactive, etc. Also the company went through some changes so expect to see names like Williams, Bally Sente, Bally Midway, etc. which we will just consider to be one and the same.
I am calling this part 1 as it seems like there should be more out there than this. Every company has prototypes that never made it out but in regards to Midway, there is pretty much no info on unreleased titles from the 70s and the 90s are pretty sparse too. It’s in stark contrast to the well-documented side of Atari; it also happens to be like this for several other companies. After researching what I can, these are the games to share for now. It just seems like there should be more unreleased prototypes out there that perhaps we haven’t heard about and they just haven’t been documented. We would certainly appreciate hearing from anyone who worked for these companies back in the day about any projects they worked on that just didn’t get the chance to be released.
Crazy Otto (1981) – Perhaps one of the most famous examples of a prototype game would be Crazy Otto. This was the hacked version of Pac-Man by a company called GCC that after some tweaks became one of the best selling video games ever, especially in arcade circles, Ms. Pac-Man. Namco did not know about this at first but Midway got some mileage out of the concept of making various Pac-Man sequels
Earth Friend (1982) – One notable aspect of Midway’s history is how they almost completely ignored vector games. Vector technology got a lot of attention from pretty much everyone else after Cinematronics had a hit with Space War but Midway preferred raster graphics for the most part, releasing only one vector game, Omega Race, in 1981. Earth Friend was another title in development using vectors but it was never released. It was reportedly a cockpit color vector game developed by Nutting Associates and would have been licensed to Midway for production. A little more information can be found on KLOV.
Devastator (1983) – For a long time, not much was known about Devastator, a game that had a flyer made for it, but not much else. It was known to have been designed by Steve Richie as well. Fortunately in an uncovered Williams promo tape from 1983, we now know what the game would have been like in action – a behind the space ship shooting game, kind of like Blaster but faster paced and with hints of Konami’s Juno First to it. Jump to 12:00 in to see a minute’s worth of footage for Devastator.
Also, George Petro of Play Mechanix added: “Speaking of Steve Ritchie, I played both of his games, Devastator and Chicken ala King. Devastator was ahead of it’s time, but also similar to Blaster. CaK was, first of all an inside joke and second very fun.“
Ms. Gorf (1982/83?) – The unusual Gorf had made it to arcades but the sequel, Ms. Gorf never made it quite that far. Footage of this one was rediscovered and can be found at 2:00 min into the video over at Mediaburn. Apparently the code still exists on some old floppies but Fenton has surmised that it would better to do a Kickstarter-funded reboot of the project from scratch as opposed to recovering the data from the old floppies (which at the present time still seems to be incomplete).
Demons & Dragons – (1982) – Before the princess rescuing craze hit full on in the mid-80s, Midway had an idea about that involved something along the lines of Robotron, a single screen game but with a medival fantasy theme to it. The game was designed by Pat Lawlor but didn’t make it far enough to reach full completion, which is why this also has no sound.
Playball! (1983) – This one doesn’t look too exciting which is why it probably got the axe. It’s baseball themed although the balls look more like beachballs than baseballs.
Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984) – As soon as it was apparent that laser discs could be used for video games in some form, everyone jumped on the wagon of producing an LD arcade title. But it became clear just as quickly that it was going to be a short lived fad and so many projects were dumped. Among those was Star Trek III: The Search For Spock. The adventurous nature of the film probably lent itself better to a game of this format as opposed to outright space battles but currently there is no know cabinet or footage of this prototype in action.
Speed Ball: A Contest At Neon World (1983) – This was a futuristic sports game, sort of like robot soccer but with some changes from the typical soccer game. This recently uncovered video promo describes how it works, the game used a trackball and a joystick with a button on top.
Inferno (1984) – What would happen if you combined a game like Crystal Castles with a game like Robotron 2084? Inferno, that’s what. Only 6 Inferno cabinets are known to exist but the software is playable on MAME. (Image source)
Turbo Tag (1985) – This overhead racing game seems to have made it far enough along where it was probably tested but ultimately canned. Whoever played it in this video doesn’t really do the game any favors but there’s a good chance that has to do with poor emulation of the controls compared to what they would have been like at the arcade.
Toggle (1985) – This was a weird competitive game involving tank-like vehicles and colored squares on the ground. It seems like the point was supposed to be shoot your opponent while changing the color of the ground to your own colored squares, although judging by the video its hard to say if all of that was fully implemented before the game was canned.
Team Hat Trick (1986) – Among the titles that kept Midway moving along (under the name of Bally Sente) in the mid-80s was the overhead hockey game Hat Trick. Team Hat Trick wasn’t a huge jump from that but it would have supported up to 4 players, had it been released. Instead, we have this flyer:
Predators (1986) – This is a notable effort for a few reasons.
1st, it was a vector game which Williams/Midway never really jumped into. Not to mention it was a vector game in 1986, which was a few years past the vector craze in arcades. In discussing some other projects with George Petro of Play Mechanix for part 2, he corrected some of the history on this game – “That game was definitely NOT vector. It was all bit-mapped raster graphics. I know Newcomer said it was vector but it was not. I played the crap out of that game. Steve Ritchie and I used to grudge match until 3am. Very awesome, yet not a sell-able concept.” So it’s good to know that for certain now as it did seem a little weird to do a vector game in ’86.
Then, it was a networked game that could link 4 cabinets together. Networking had been tried on a limited scale behind the scenes of various companies and had this made it, it would have been the first major release to support it. This game did receive location testing but the cabinets were later converted to other titles. Unfortunately the hardware and code to this have not been found yet, hopefully its still lurking out there somewhere, intact enough to preserve. This page on Retrokade.com has most of the information known about this game, which is also where we see this picture of two units being tested in some Nintendo VS. cabinets
Moonquake – (1986) – A launch title of sorts for Bally Sente’s newest arcade hardware, the Amiga powered Sente Super System, Moonquake was kind of like Q*Bert meets Robotron in space. The control panel had the joystick set in diagonal directions, with four fire buttons in a similar layout. Kind of a weird choice when it could have been two joysticks set diagonally instead. According to Roger Hector who worked on the game: “MoonQuake was a robot-in-space themed game that was created/programmed by Bob Smith. Bob is a good guy (and quite a character). I think that was the only game he worked on at Sente. You had to jump (Q*bert-like) through a slowly-scrolling field of floating block-like asteroids, and there were various obstacles and holes in the field to kill you. If you jumped on a block, it cracked; if you returned to that block, it crumbled and it fell through. It was a good basic play mechanic, and looked cool. I don’t really remember why it wasn’t released. I’m guessing maybe because it was done late in Sente’s history. Bally wanted to move us all back to Chicago, and we didn’t want to go, so they started planning to close the Sunnyvale office. Development came to a grinding slow-down at that point, and MoonQuake may have gotten caught in that.“
Shrike Avenger (1987) – This might be considered a borderline prototype, getting a release that was so limited it may as well have been left unreleased. It was among the first motion simulation arcade games, wanting to be like The Last Starfighter without going as far as using the license(which wasn’t probably worth a whole lot anyways). It was completed by Owen Rubin who reported that on test the game earned exceptionally well, not to mention they charged $1 per play which was unheard of at the time. Also below is a photo from Roger Hector showing an early build of the game.
Liferider (1987?) – It seemed like everyone wanted to figure out a way to bring exergaming to arcades and that usually meant trying a bicycle type game with real pedals. Only in recent years has anyone managed a full release of such a concept but at Bally Sente, they were developing Liferider, a 2 player cabinet with a split screen and two stationary pedal bikes. Roger Hector has a little more info on this one as found in this interview @ 2600 Connection.
Race For Pink/Grudge Match (1987) – This was Owen Rubin’s last coin-op video game project as well as his last at Bally Sente. The video below shows an earlier build than what he describes (below it seems like a basic Super Sprint type game). It was going to have varied upgrade options as well as unique obstacles in the race. Full details about what it was going to be as well as what happened to it can be found here.
Judge Dredd (1993) – A brawler using Judge Dredd and digitized actors. Not exactly the best game if we judge by this below, explaining why it got canned. UPDATE: thanks to Ant Cooke on Twitter he sent a link to an interview he did with two of the people who worked on the project. Sounds like the hardware held it back, among other things. Great interview with some pictures of one of the 4 cabinets over at Gaming Hell.
Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 Wavenet (1996)- In the 90s as everyone was starting to get excited about the Internet, arcade developers tested out an idea here and there involving cross-arcade play. Unfortunately this all was taking place a little too early in the development of high speed connections as most everyone could afford dial-up but hardly a T1 line. Among the few games tested was Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. It probably would have worked out fine, if the arcade owners hadn’t needed to get expensive T1 services to go somewhere with it. The Wavenet version did have some tweaks made to the game and this thread at Test Your Might has a few details about the test, including a video that shows a Wavenet cabinet for an entire microsecond.
Bio Freaks (1998) – This was a weird case of where the arcade version was canned but they felt that the software was strong enough to move over to the home console side of the industry so it was released on the PSX, N64 and PC. I can’t find some arcade footage so we’ll go with the N64 version:
Hydro Thunder II (2001/02?) – I almost forgot about this one. Hydro Thunder was so popular that a sequel was in development around the time Midway shuttered its various amusement divisions. I spoke with Steve Ranck about this when I was checking out Dirty Drivin’ and here is what I found out about the game from that visit: “Both Steve Ranck and Brian Silva were involved in the development of Hydro Thunder 2 before that was canned by Midway’s closure of it’s arcade studios in the early 2000′s. Brian mentioned that the game was nearly complete, with many of the tracks and vehicles completed; Steve also mentioned toying with the idea of using things like heated air bladders to blast some hot air into the player’s face when they would fly through explosions and one of the team’s family members adamantly wanted a water mist spray feature to be added to the game on top of that.” Of course we now have H2Overdrive, which was pretty much HT2, minus the “4d” features like heated air blasts and water spray.
RIP Squad: Raids Against The Reich (2001/02) – This is a prototype that flew under everyone’s radar until a few years ago when Scott Pulaski provided us with information on the development of this title, the last game to be worked on by Midway’s Chicago offices before they pulled the plug. To spare myself typing it all over again, check out this post which details much more about this game and what it would have been if Midway had not closed their arcade doors.
Again, that’s all that could be found for now but if more details about several other prototype games come to light, I will do a part 2.