Sunday, August 26, 2012

PMC's Aztec - First Game With a Microprocessor?

Ask anyone with a nodding acquaintance with arcade video game history what they first game with a microprocessor was and they'll likely name Midway's Gun Fight.  And they may be right.
But there is another game that may have beaten them to the punch - PMC Electronics' Aztec.

Gun Fight

Gun Fight was the U.S. version of Taito's Western Gun (designed by Tomohiro Nishikado, who later designed Space Invaders), but with a major change. The Japanese version did not use a microprocessor. Gun Fight did.

It was not, however, the first time Bally tried using a microprocessor in a coin-op game.
In August of 1974, Bally sent two Flicker pinball games to Dave Nutting and Jeff Frederiksen at Dave Nutting Associates (a group that designed games under contract for Midway). Nutting and Frederiksen redesigned the game using an Intel 4004 microprocessor. Bally chose not to purchase Nutting's patents and instead would try to design their own microprocessor pins. Nutting, meanwhile, took their idea to Mirco Games, where they created the first commercially available microprocessor-based pinball game, Spirit of '76.
Before long, Bally changed its mind about Nuttings' patents and put them to work putting a microprocessor in a video game. They started with a baseball game (probably Ball Park) then switched to Western Gun. I'll skip the rest of the story, but the resulting game, Gun Fight, debuted in November of 1975.

(UPDATE - It appears that Aztec did not, in fact, use a microprocessor - see comments for details)

PMC's Aztec was a cocktail-table Pong clone released around March of 1975.

Flyer from

 I know next to nothing about PMC. Located in Southampton PA, it appears to have been established in 1965 and began making video games in 1973. In 1976 they were sued by Electromotion in nearby Bethlehem for copying one of their games (both companies were gone by the end of the year).

Allegedly, Aztec used a microprocessor. If so, that could make it the first microprocessor game, as it was released before Gun Fight.
For this to be true, however, we'd need to confirm a few things:
  1. When was Aztec released?
  2. When was Gun Fight released?
  3. Were there any other prior games that used a microprocessor?
  4. Did Aztec use a microprocessor?
Let's start with #4. The flyer doesn't mention that they game used a microprocessor. In fact, I'm not sure where I first heard the claim (possibly in Vending Times). I don't have the game itself, nor do I know anyone who does and could confirm its use of a microprocessor.
The manual, however, has been posted online. The manual contains a written parts list and a typed one (the latter with part #s). The latter doesn't list anything that is clearly a microprocessor (it does list an IC but when I Googled the part #, it didn't seem to be a 4004 or 4040.

However, the written parts list includes the following:

That second line sure looks like an Intel 4040/4004, but I'd have to see the board to confirm (actually, someone besides me would probably need to look at it).

There's another problem, however.
The manual cover is actually labeled "Aztec Princess"

While Aztec appears on the cover, everything inside refers only to Princess.
The Arcade Flyer Archive has flyers for both Aztec and Princess.
Vending Times announced the release of Aztec in the March 1975 issue.
The May 1975 issue had a flyer/ad for "Aztec Princess".
Were these all the same game?

Aztec and Princess look very similar but there are differences.
Maybe the differences were in the cabinets?
Whatever the relationship, it looks like all the games were released by spring of 1975.

Gun Fight debuted in October1975 at the MOA show. The Mame history file lists a November release, but the source is unkown. It may be that it was introduced at the MOA and released a month later (there was generally a 1-3 month lag between when a game showed at the MOA and when it was released to distributors) or it may be that the announcement of its debut appeared in a magazine with a November cover date (I know that it was announced in the November 1975 Vending Times).

So it looks like there is a good case to be made for Aztec being the first game with a microprocessor.

But hold the phone.
There's actually another candidate.

Demolition Derby

Jerry Lawson (photo from

In 1975, Fairchild Semiconductor released its first microprocessor, the F8. One of their new "field application engineers" - Jerry Lawson (who later created the Channel F and was also the only African American member of the Homebrew Computer Club), was convinced the F8 could be used in a video game. He added it to a game he created called Demolition Derby, which he sold to Major Manufacturing. Major supposedly tested it in a pizza parlor in Campbell California but went out of business a short time later.

NOTE - some sources claim this game was tested "shortly after Pong debuted".  (
If it used an F8, this seems to be clearly inaccurate (though I suppose that depends on what they mean by "shortly") Lawson himself says in an interview that he create the game in his garage in 1972 or 1973 then goes on to talk about using an F8 in it. My guess is that he started it in 1972 without a microprocessor and later added the F8.

Even if all of this is true, however, was Demolition Derby tested before or after the release or testing of Aztec or Gun Fight? If Aztec did have a microprocessor and if it was released in March, it seems unlikely that Demolition Derby beat them to the punch (the F8 was released in the first quarter of 1975, but I'm not sure exactly when). The game was also never really released.

Another candidate for the first microprocessor video game is discussed in the following post, which also has more info on Demolition Derby (though both that post and this one are out of date as I've since come across more information on both games):


  1. I actually talked to a collector who owns the PCBs to a PMC Electronics game (it says "PACE 2000" on the board), we're going to try to figure this out.

    You should probably drop me a line, username @ URL domain
    I can answer some questions of yours. :)

  2. Hi Keith,

    I can confirm that the Aztec doesn't use any CPU, only TTL's (Discrete Logic). the 4040 & 4004 are in fact CD4040 and CD4004. So you can count this one out for good as the 1st CPU arcade game.

    But there is one that i still can't confirm if it was the 1st CPU arcade game: US Billiards Video Pool. This one does use a CPU and also came out in 1975. The is a web site (don't rememeber which one) that listed this one was released in April 1975. If this is true, then this one would be the very first arcade using a CPU but need to have proof that it did came out in April 1975.

    If you can find infos about US Billiards Video Pool that proves that it did came out in April 1975, then many web sites and books would be wrong. Hopefully that anyone (like you or me) could find the exact released date. :)

    --- Sylvain D.C. (aka Sly DC) ---

    1. According to the November 1976 issue of Vending Times Video Pool (sometimes called U.S. Billiards, same as the company) debuted at the 1976 AMOA show, which was held November 12-14 that year (the first time it was called the AMOA rather than the MOA).

      I am currently going through the 1976 issues of Play Meter and will see if I can confirm that but right now it looks like it's out as well.

      I did find some more info about PMC.
      There were indeed founded in 1965 and originally manufactured PC boards.

      The games involved in the Electromotion suit were Electomotion's Electomotion IV and PMC's Aztec.

      In addition to video games, PMC released two wall games (Kennel Club Dog Race and a baseball game whose name I don't have handy), a light organ, and the Comp-Pix computer photo booth.

      They were located in Philly when they made their first video games in 1973 (and may have been founded there) and moved into a 30,000 square foot facility in Southampton in late 1974.

    2. OK. I confirmed from Play Meter that Video Pool debuted at the 1976 AMOA show in November.

      However, I seem to remember that in another issue (or maybe it was the Vending Times issue) U.S. Billiards claimed that the game was in development for 18 months, which would have put the start to around May of 1975.

      Of course, I'm not sure it matters when they started developing it (plus, I don't know when development of Gun Fight started). Also, even if they did start development in spring of '75 they may not have added a microprocessor until later.

      I'll have to try and track down the issue with the 18 month figure.

  3. Hi again Keith,

    Both PMC Aztec & Princess were only cabinets. PMC added game boards upon the buyer's request (either Hockey or Tennis). PMC also made another cocktail cabinet called "Inca" which has a 2 or 4 player Tennis game.

    Oh and the name of the PMC Baseball Wall game you were looking for is "All-Star Baseball" which came out in 1974.

    Now about the Video Pool game: this would make lot of sense if they began developing around May 1975 since i read on a web site that the author listed the game has came out in April 1975. I finally found were that i saw this information:

    The author even lists that the board uses a 6800 CPU (see the 1975 section). So the question still remains not 100% answered. Did US Billiards released the Video Pool game or began developing in April 1975 ?!?

    BTW, i can't wait to read your book even if i'm not an arcade collector. I just trying to gather infos for simulating many Discrete Logic arcades games (and also Discrete & Dedicated Chips "Pong" consoles/systems and many electronic handheld games) that can't be emulated. Just want to digitally preserve those old games before it's too late.

    Keep on the great work! :)

    --- Sylvain D.C. (aka Sly DC) ---

    1. Hi. Thanks for the comments.

      I went back and checked the 1976 issues a little more closesly and found a few more clues.

      The December 1976 issue of Replay has their review of the AMOA show. They show a picture of Video Pool. The caption refers to it as "U.S. Billiards BRAND NEW video/pool game".
      The December 1976 issue of PlayMeter has an ad from U.S. Billiards listing their new games. They refer to "U.S.B." their "sensational new generation video game". No photo of the game but this is probably "video pool". They don't call it that but it's not really clear that "video pool" was the game's name rather than just a description. The marquee didn't say that. The flyer for the upright says "Our name is the game". Both it and the cocktail flyer say Video Pool, but it isn't entirely clear that's the name (I actually listed it as "U.S. Billiards" before I saw that TAFA listed it as "Video Pool").

      Also, I looked at a few U.S. Billiards ads prior to December of 1976. Some of them listed their various games but none that I looked at mentioned video pool - and none of the three trade magazines I looked at mentioned it being released prior to late 1976 that I can recall (though Replay didn't pulbish its first issue until October, 1975). I don't remember it being mentioned in any reviews of the 1975 MOA either, but I'll have to go back and double-check.

      It might have been released much earlier(maybe on a limited basis?) and the company would have to have not notified any of the trade magazines that they'd released it.

      OTOH, I'd like to find the source of that April 1975. date. I actually supplied some of the dates for that bronze age list about 10-15 years ago. It would be funny if I was the source.