A Website Dedicated To The Only Two Games Ever Produced By Entertainment Sciences
BOUNCER and TURBOSUB
(Designer of Bouncer)
When I came to E-S in October 1982, it was because I had left Cinematronics a couple weeks prior and wanted something fresh to work on with a more entrepreneurial group. I really enjoyed my colleagues and time at Cinematronics, but the company had lost its internal direction - the engineering group was working on a 3-D tank battle system for military training (via a Perceptronics contract) and in parallel they had contracted with two outside firms for "zig zag" (a brick wall removal game) and "Dragon's Lair". Frankly some of us were unhappy that the management had outsourced the development of some projects without discussion with us, or the ability for us to chip in on those projects. While I was at Cinematronics, I partnered with Tim Skelly (he and I were the only designer/programmers there originally) and later with Scott Boden (who I helped to recruit from the tech support department and train to be a game programmer). Tim did a great vector swordfight game, and Scott did Star Castle based on graphical design from Tim. I did a "War of the Worlds" game (my concept, Tim Skelly drew the crablike-leg animations on graph paper for me), an urban shoot-em-up coded named "eastwood", and a football-like game (a rip off of the popular handheld Mattel football electronic game, I was ordered to do it by management when I joined the company). I also interfaced a tablet digitizer to a program I wrote to digitize and compile animation tables for vector figures. I also wrote a custom assembler for the original Space Wars hardware (it was a state machine, no microprocessor, Skelly and Boden and I used my tools from then onward), then later I made the assembler and linker for a 68000 color vector system that Cinematronics developed (hence the tank simulator opportunity).
Lifelong, I have been an electronics nut, and programming became my first love. Right before Cinematronics, I worked during school at UCSD on the Pascal project - a very famous project that ended up being the operating system for a system called the Apple II, and later the Macintosh was based on an evolved version of that original Pascal. I was one of 3 people who coded the 6502 Pascal system and met Steve Jobs when he licensed it for the Apple. I had no idea at that time (1978) how monumental Apple would become. I received no direct credit in the annals of Apple, but I am very proud of that contribution to tech history. That's one of the reasons I could quickly code assemblers, linkers, tools, etc for Cinematronics as a sidebar to my game design job.
When I discovered Entertainment Sciences, I was represented at the time by a talent agent named Malcolm E. A. Kaufman, and I think he was the first agent every for game designers / programmers. He handled my hiring negotiation with Entertainment Sciences, they were frustrated with Malcolm at times but Malcolm was a skillful negotiator and got me a better package than I would've for myself. The whole company took me to lunch on my first week there. As a joke, they gave me two gifts, one large box, one smaller one. The larger one had a tee shirt that said "Welcome Rob". The smaller one, had a sleeve that had been cut off of the shirt, and on it they had silk-screened the phrase "Malcolm's 10%". They were real characters and we had a great laugh over that!
I had a concept for several games, but until I interviewed with Ulrich Neumann, I hadn't found the platform for them. Ulrich showed me his design for RIP and did not yet have a working prototype, but was going to fab the board set that month, and microcode the 29000. However, E-S had no game ideas for it. That's where I came in. I went over a couple of my concepts, verbally, they liked Bouncer the best, and since I could program too, and understand hardware, and partner with Ulrich, they hired me. The RIP system was way ahead of others, due to hardware raster scaling (no one had even attempted that feat, hats off to Ulrich!), and that weekend I packed up from San Diego and moved to Huntington Beach.
For the next week, I commissioned a graphic artist named Vick, in San Diego, to help construct a full-sized (large screen size) bar room storyboard with realistically drawn cartoon figures cutouts that I could move around to develop scenes. After I hired an animator, he did some cleanup to give them their final look. I regret to say that the original storyboard figures stayed at Entertainment Sciences and must have gotten lost after I left.
To your questions Chris - yes, for a while there was a troublemaking prostitute ("Bambi", at the storyboard level) but I decided to make it more acceptable for kids, so I replaced her with Romeo, the boxer-short-flasher. The concept for the bar brawl just came to me once I saw that RIP could scale figures, because I wanted to do a fully animated theme with perspective scaling, but within a well-contained setting, to keep the scope within limits of the current systems. I also wanted to do something that would have unique appeal and allow for physical comedy as well as fast action. I liked that fact that in Tempest, the game would eventually over run you, but you had to see how much you could handle before you lost.
Also, RIP had a couple real limitations - it would only handle about 10 objects on the same horizontal scan line (due to the 29000 needing to process the lists at scan speed rates), and it had no bit map - it was purely sprites. That made it difficult to create background art and text, to name a couple things. The 384 kB of sprite ROM held every graphical object in the game, all I could do was set the color palette, X-Y locations, and scale.
The 4 locations were my ideas - being a San Diegan, Hussong's Cantina , (Encinata Mexico) was well known, Gilley's Bar in Texas (due to Travlota's recent Urban Cowboy movie) The Ritz (I just wanted a diverse theme, I thought the bouncer would look funny being a big guy in a Tux) Studio 64 (Studio 54 in NY was at its height due to the disco craze) (64 was a good binary multiple too)
The field test locations are accurate. I remember the thrill of visiting the units each day and seeing the coins piling up in the coin box. It was being tested as a 50 cent game, and as I recall, the price was finally set at $4295 or so. I only recall about 5 working systems being made - One of the technicians had to hand make the wiring harnesses. The 15 might have included cabinets that became samples that big operators wanted a copy of after the AMOA show for their own tests. E-S didn't have the funds to fuel a manufacturing run - that was I think a major downfall - by the time money was secured, the game was already widely known from all the trade press, and coin operators usually only bought games for a few months before they considered them "old" -- similar to a first run movie these days. The manufacturing money ($500k) was being raised via a big distributor's letter of credit who was willing to commit an order for a certain quantity, but it took too long to plan the manufacturing run, get parts, etc. I think they were forced into a second game since they had made Bouncer "old" before it could be sold. Since there was no game #2 in the pipeline, I left and became software manager for Sega coinop. I thought the E-S business mistakes would cause it to fail and I wanted to move on to a firm that knew how to manufacture and had adequate capital. BYW - your site says the AMOA was in Chicago and also says New Orleans - it was in New Orleans at the Hyatt Regency. It was a wonderful event!
Due to the high cost of the RIP system ($1800 factory cost for board, monitor and power supply) it was defined as an upgradeable system - more games were to appear and operators could switch ROMs and artwork. Without more games in the pipeline, that promise faded so they didn't buy into the high initial cost.
Atari issues - yes, a number of Atari execs flew down in their Gulfstream a couple times. I met Nolan Bushnell and showed him Bouncer myself. There were others. I cant comment on the business discussions - I wasn't privy to that. Later on, while at Sega, I met Nolan a couple more times, he was with Sente at that time, building an interchangeable game system (!! coincidence??) Sega was a great place, and I creative and programming input on Star Trek, Masters of the Universe, Destruction Derby, and others. Sega shut down when Eisner and Diller left Paramount - we were a business unit they considered too small, and they allowed the Japanese branch to continue its own destiny. Of course, later it re-emerged in the US with many hit coin op games and home games.