Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Ultimate (So Far) History of Cinematronics/Vectorbeam - Pt 2

At the end of Part 1, Cinematronics was in dire need of a hit to keep the company from going under. Today 's post is about that hit - Space Wars.

Their next game would give the company just the shot in the arm it needed. The seed for the game was planted in May of 1968 when a 17-year-old high school senior from New Jersey named Larry Rosenthal, who’d just been accepted to MIT, paid a visit to campus to check things out. After he and a friend went sailing on the Charles River, the two paid a visit to the computer lab, where his friend showed Rosenthal the school’s PDP-1 computer, along with a number of programs written for it, including Steve Russell's Spacewar. At the time, Rosenthal was wondering if he could handle the rigors of MIT, perhaps the most prestigious engineering school in the country. The visit put his fears to rest.


[Larry Rosenthal] At this point I saw that it was the week before finals – everybody was supposed to be studying. I didn’t see a single person studying at all. I said “OK, I can handle going to MIT”
<talk at California Extreme 2014 ->


Surprisingly, during his years as an undergraduate, Rosenthal never even played Spacewar (much less write a thesis on the game, as some have claimed) – though almost all of his classmates did. Rosenthal was not a game player. Designing games was his thing. In 1972, after graduating with a BS in Electrical Engineering, Rosenthal moved to northern California to pursue graduate studies at Berkeley. On a visit home during Christmas break, he paid a visit to the MIT student union where he saw at Nolan Bushnell’s Computer Space. Rosenthal was shocked, wondering what a game as crude as Computer Space was doing at MIT, the bastion of high tech. To Rosenthal, it seemed almost a sacrilege. He didn’t immediately thing about creating a version of his own, however. After obtaining his masters in June, 1973 Rosenthal had had enough of school but still wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life. When an MIT professor called and offered him a lab job, Larry begged off, noting that he had yet to visit Yosemite. Rosenthal was torn between staying in California and returning to Cambridge. He decided to solve the problem in true engineer fashion. 

[Larry Rosenthal] I remember writing down a list – all the pros and cons of staying in California (versus) going back to Boston. I assigned weightings to the various items and added it all up and it said “go back to MIT” and I said “Well, maybe I can re-weight some of these things.”
<talk at California Extreme 2014 ->
Still unsure, Rosenthal spent the summer traveling around the Pacific Northwest. By then end of his vacation, Rosenthal had decided on a course of action – he would create his own version of Spacewar, based entirely on his memories of the game he’d seen five years earlier at MIT. Initially, he set out to create a home version of the game using a standard TV set. Thus began one of the most impressive, and least known, technical feats in arcade video game history. At the time (summer of 1973), video games of any kind were rare – at least outside of computer labs. The only consumer video game on the market wast the Magnavox Odyssey and the arcade video game industry, which had really just gotten started a few months earlier, consisted mostly of Pong clones. Creating a video game, then, was no mean feat. Creating one from scratch, was even more of a challenge. While microprocessors existed at the time, they were too slow to accomplish what Rosenthal wanted. In the end, he basically ended up creating his own microprocessor and computer using old-school transistor logic. 

[Larry Rosenthal] Most of the chips I used were small chips. Each one had four NAND gates or NOR gates in them…The most sophisticated chips on the board were 4-bit adders(?). I built a computer from very basic blocks. At the time, the most sophisticated that existed was the Intel 8008, which just didn’t have the power for what I wanted. A year and half later the 8080 came out. Shortly thereafter the Z-80 came out. Maybe by coupling a couple of those together I could have done something – but (I thought) “No I’ll build my own computer.”<talk at California Extreme 2014 ->

Rosenthal’s computer was built with surplus parts obtained from a run-down store near the Oakland airport called Mike Quinn Electronics (as we shall see in a later chapter, it wasn’t the only time Mike Quinn Electronics had a hand in video game history). To “program” his system, Rosenthal used a 16-button keypad to hand-enter machine code in hexadecimal (a base-16 numbering system common in computers, that uses the digits 0-9 and the letters A-F).
[Larry Rosenthal] The 16-button keyboard, I bought a couple of dozen of them. I saw them in a surplus place right outside of Cambridge and they were perfect for blue boxes. I think that's what I had in mind at the time…
<talk at California Extreme 2014 ->

Because the game program was stored in RAM, it was lost every time the game was powered off. To save his progress, Rosenthal connected a Sony cassette player to the system and used it to generate digital pulses to store his data on tape. Not surprisingly, designing the game offered its share of challenges. Rosenthal spent about six or seven weeks trying to debug a problem that occurred when the game shut down after too many of its “address registers” were changed at once (it ended up being a grounding problem). When he finally got the basic system working, an even bigger problem manifested itself. He was able to put a couple of numbers on the screen and add them, but when he tried draw a diagonal line, the results were crude and Rosenthal immediately realized that he would never be able to draw ships with the level of detail he wanted using a raster display. Instead, Rosenthal would need to use an entirely different display technology. 

[Larry Rosenthal] I set out to do a home version of Spacewar but gave up when I realized the technology didn’t exist. Instead, I came up with an arcade version. Very early on said “I can’t do this with the existing hardware and I came up with a vector display system cheap enough to stick in a box in an arcade. The reason for that was at the time the displays were 256 lines and I couldn’t get my spaceships to look right with 256 horizontal lines. Now, all computer displays are raster displays but back then the high end commercial ones were vector displays so the approach I took was to get the cost of a vector display system way down. 
Rosenthal’s creation would be the first coin-op video game to make use of vector display technology. Previous games used raster-scan monitors where an electron gun painted a picture by scanning across the monitor one line at a time. The process was slow since the entire monitor had to be constantly redrawn (even if only one small part of the picture had changed). Eventually, some raster displays made use of a technology called “interlaced” video where only the even lines were drawn in one pass and only the odd lines in the next. While this resulted in faster redraw rates, vector-scan graphics were much faster still. In vector display systems (also called X-Y systems), the electron gun could draw the outlines of the individual shapes directly, without redrawing the entire screen. The result was a much sharper picture than was possible with raster displays at the time. On the other hand, designing games for vector systems provided a number of challenges not found in the raster world. Atari’s Owen Rubin explains some of them: 

[Owen Rubin] Anything you wanted static on the screen (like scores, for example), had to be drawn every frame. The obvious downside was that to have something on the screen, you had to draw it, and that took time. And the more you wanted to draw, the longer it took to draw everything. Unlike raster displays, there was no constant "frame time" or refresh rate; you had to update the display often enough so it looked stable to the viewer.
<“Memories of a Vector World”, ACM SIGGRAPH, Vol. 32, No. 2, May 1998>
In the early 1970s, however, the main problem with vector displays was their cost. Vector displays cost multiple thousands of dollars, making them impractical for use in consumer products.
[Larry Rosenthal] I developed a technology that allowed a system that sold commercially for $100,000 to be stuck in a video game box that sold for $2,000. I came up with some clever ideas, cut a few corners where accuracy didn’t matter, and came up with a system that worked.  

Rosenthal’s solution was as ingenious as it was daring. Rather than using expensive existing vector monitors, Rosenthal created his own from scratch, using a standard TV set. 

[Larry Rosenthal] [I] basically tore the guts out of it and used the high voltage power supply…and yoke but drove the coils directly with my own circuitry, turning an off-the-shelf black-and-white TV into a vector display.

It was an amazing accomplishment, made all the more difficult by having to use a display designed for raster graphics. 

[Larry Rosenthal] I wanted to use the yoke around the tube for deflecting the beam…but it was not quite symmetrical. In a TV set, the horizontal goes 60 times a second and the vertical goes 15,750 times a second so they’re totally asymmetrical. When you put the deflection of the beam on the screen, it’s proportional to the current that’s going through the coil... The induction from the coil in one direction was a lot different than the other. In the horizontal direction I made it - I don’t remember – plus or minus 12volts to drive it. To get the same deflection in the other direction in the same field I had to drive it, I believe, plus or minus 150 volts…
<talk at California Extreme 2014 ->
Not only did Rosenthal get his system working, in the process basically creating a computer from scratch, but it ran faster than existing systems that had been created by teams of engineers. In late 1975, Rosenthal filed for two patents on his new technology[2]  one (filed September 22nd) for a "vector generator" and another (on December 22) for a "video game system"

A diagram from one of Rosenthal's patents on the game (filed December 22, 1975)
Note the joysticks

Larry Rosenthal's original "suitcase" prototype for Space Wars, from California Extreme 2014

            While creating a video game from the ground up was unusual, Rosenthal wasn’t the only independent videogame designer in the Bay Area. At one point, he sought help from Dave Needle, who was also designing one-of-a-kind games and placing them in local arcades. 
[Dave Needle] I was in Berkeley working on a Star Trek game of mine that broke down all the time. The hardware was terrible and it was forever failing. I’m sitting on the floor of the arcade with an oscilloscope when…some scraggly looking guy comes in and starts asking me all kinds of questions. People always ask questions. You always get some kid who’s asking, “How do I cheat the game? How do I do this?” and you usually just ignore them. So here’s this guy and he’s asking me questions but they’re good questions. They’re solid, intelligent engineering and marketing questions. So I look up from the oscilloscope and ask “Who are you? What are you looking for?” So he tells me his sad story. He’s built a vector game. He’s got an insanely difficult time trying to get it working He can’t figure out who to sell it to. It was Larry Rosenthal. So here was fellow designer, a fellow traveler in this world of “how do we break into the game [industry]”. So we got together and I loaned him a bunch of equipment. He would come to my house and one bit at a time program the EPROMs. I had a single-bit-at-a-time programmer…I had a lot more test equipment than he did so he used to borrow all my junk and go off and fix his games. 
Once Rosenthal had a product reliable enough to test, he put it on location at the Pinball Palace in Berkeley. Since the program was still stored in RAM, Rosenthal attached a 12-volt motorcycle battery to serve as a backup power supply so that if someone unplugged the game, he wouldn’t have to make a middle-of-the-night house call to reload the software from his tape drive. Crude as it was, in some ways, the game was an immediate hit. 
[Larry Rosenthal] I had a prototype of Space Wars that was stable enough to put in an arcade to test it. A friend of mind owned an arcade and let me put it in there. The deal was that we’d split the coin box 50-50. I remember putting it in there in December 1976. As soon as I got it in running, I ran to the airport to catch a flight back to Boston for a visit. When I got back here 10 days later, it had taken in $500 and paid for my round-trip airfare. 
Meanwhile, Rosenthal had also created a demonstration unit that he lugged around the Bay area in a suitcase. Rosenthal initially showed his game to some distributors in San Francisco. At the same time, he was trying to license the vector display technology, but no one seemed interested. The only company to send someone to take a look was Hughes Aircraft (a defense contractor founded in 1932 by Howard Hughes). In 1974 another Hughes company (Global Marine Development) had been contracted to recover a Soviet submarine that had sunk northwest of Hawaii in 1968. During the rescue operation, part of the submarine broke off as it neared the surface – an incident Rosenthal decided to incorporate into his when demo for the Hughes engineers. 
[Larry Rosenthal] In preparation I programmed the system to lift up a submarine and have half of it drop back to the bottom as it approached the top of the screen. This was to demonstrate the flexibility of the system.
<talk at California Extreme 2014 -> 
While Rosenthal’s vector technology didn’t generate much interest, his game did. Around February, 1977, it came to the attention Bally, who came to Berkeley to take a look. A few months later, Rosenthal flew to Chicago to demonstrate the game to Bally executives. While rumors over the years have claimed that Rosenthal wanted to split profits 50-50 with Bally (an unheard of arrangement), he was actually seeking far more reasonable terms. 
[Larry Rosenthal] I remember talking to one of [Bally/Midway’s] head engineers at a game conference in the Bay area and I told him about Space Wars. He ran up to the arcade where I was testing it and really liked it and said they were interested – something about a 1% royalty. I went out and talked to them in Chicago and he said “Well, we’ve taken a look at your patents and we feel they’re easy to get around. So just because you brought it to our attention we’ll give you 0.5% royalty.” I went there expecting to go from 1% to maybe 3%, which made sense – 3-5% was the going rate. I didn’t even try to negotiate at that point. I just said, “Can you give me a ride to the airport?”
 Rosenthal had made the same claim in Steve Bloom’s Video Invaders 
[Larry Rosenthal] They [Bally] liked the vector, but not the game. They didn’t believe people could adjust to buttons instead of a joystick. Also, they offered me a ridiculous royalty.
<Steve Bloom, Video Invaders> 
            At the time, Ed Anderson (who had got his start in the video game field building cabinets for Pong) was working at Tempest Products, which had just merged with Ramtek.  
[Ed Anderson] Larry walked into Tempest one day – we were becoming Ramtek at the time. He said “I want to start a video game company.” He went to every company and he had a little suitcase and inside was Lunar Lander[3]. Some people called us and said “There’s this nut going around with a game in a suitcase and he’ll probably show up there next. He’s a kook. Don’t even think about it”. So he comes by and normally we don’t talk to people when they do that for legal reasons. But when he came in there was something about him and I knew he was very intelligent so I invited him in to talk.  He opened up his suitcase and showed me the game but it had buttons…there was a whole industry with joysticks and they didn’t want to change the technology and thought he was really screwy…Pretty soon all of the managers and executives were in there playing this game. He wanted us to start a company up for him but we couldn’t do anything – we had just merged. So we called in an attorney and he came in and said, “Get him a licensing deal” so he licensed it to Cinematronics. 
In the winter of 1976/1977, Rosenthal visited Cinematronics El Cajon plant where he was offered a much more generous royalty than Bally had been willing to pay. It was not, however, the 50% royalty that has been reported in most accounts. Rosenthal doesn’t remember the exact amount but recalls that it was around 5%. The royalty wasn’t the only reason he chose to go with the then-relatively-unknown Cinematronics. While he realized that a small company like Cinematronics would never be able to produce the game in the quantities that a Bally or Atari would, working with a small producer did have its advantages. At Cinematronics, Rosenthal could have a hand in the game’s development and would have more say over the final product. Reportedly, Rosenthal also retained the rights to his hardware, which he licensed to Cinematronics. Luckily for Cinematronics, Rosenthal decided to accept their deal. It was a decision that may have kept the company from going under. After 8 months of location testing in Berkeley[4] and 3 more in San Diego (where it earned $600 a week) Cinematronics introduced the game, now called Space Wars (At Jim Pierce’s insistence, Cinematronics had added the “S” to capitalize on the recent success of Star Wars) at the AMOA show on October 28, 1977. It was the hit of the event, and Cinematronics reportedly racked up $2 million in orders before the show was over.


Space Wars at the 1977 AMOA show. From Replay (12/77)

             Cinematronics finally had the hit it needed but there was a problem. They had
 no experience building games in such numbers and little experience in building games at all. Bill Cravens, who came to work for the company shortly after they inked the Rosenthal deal, remembers that the company was on the verge of bankruptcy when he arrived. 

[Bill Cravens] When I started the first day at Cinematronics there was a keeper in the place, a sheriff to take all the money that came in. They were going to [take the] inventory and everything else. I went up on Pico Boulevard[6] and I raised a little over $50,000 from distribution and we brought in a guy by the name of Ken Beuck who had been with me in some previous deals and Ken knows how to build games better than anybody in the world. You have to remember that Space Wars was the first XY game and we had to build the monitor…and it had reed switches and all kind of special devices that had never been used before – it was no longer just slapping a TV in a game -  you had to build it and Ken came down and actually built most of the product that went out of there.

            After leaving Atari in 1976, Ken Beuck had gone to work for a company called Kush 'N Stuff, a supplier of test equipment and service manuals for the fledgling arcade video game industry that had been founded by ex-Atari technician William Arkush. (see sidebar below) Kush N'Stuff was eventually purchased by Duffy Electronics, a bay area company that had made wire harnesses used by Atari as well as controls used in their home products. At the time, the president of Duffy was Antonio Villegas, who had pulled himself up from the slums of Manila to serve as the city's mayor from 1962 to 1971. A hero to many, Villegas was known as "YEBA" ("Young, Executive, Brilliant Administrator").

[Ken Beuck] My job with Tony was that I was supposed to buy 51% of manufacturers that were labor intensive. He was trying to get his people out of the Philippines. Marcos took over the Philippines at the time and actually asked Tony, after…years of being mayor (being mayor of Manila was basically like being president of the country)  to take his Swiss bank accounts and leave town and take his regime with him.

Beuck was looking for companies where immigrants from the Philippines could get entry-level  jobs such as assembly work. In October of 1977, Beuck attended the AMOA show and got a look at Space Wars. Seeing how innovative the game was and realizing its potential, he approached Larry Rosenthal and told him how much he admired the game. Before leaving, he handed Rosenthal his card and told him if he ever had any problems with production or purchasing, to give him a call.

            Beuck thought that Cinematronics might be just the kind of company Villegas would be interested in and bought him to San Diego to take a look. When Beuck got his first glimpse of the company, he knew they needed help

[Ken Beuck] I wanted to check out what they had and basically they had an about 2,500 square-foot production facility…half of it was offices and a little back end of a garage with rollup doors was their production area. [I was] talking with their purchasing people (there was only one purchasing  guy) and  I asked him "Do you have a parts list?"
[He said] "Well, we think we do."
"Do you have all the parts orders?"
"Well, I have a gut feeling we don't."

Beuck tried to talked Villegas into providing the $100,00 that the company needed to move forward with production but Villegas passed. Beuck, on the other hand, was still interested. When he told Villegas he wanted to leave, however, he was told that nobody leaves Tony Villegas (when he went to work for Duffy, Beuck was unaware of Villegas' background). Beuck instead asked for a leave of absence, which Villegas found acceptable and Beuck moved to San Diego.

[Ken Beuck] Bill Cravens and I got a place on Ocean Beach and Bill lived with me while we were getting the company started and rolling and right off the bat the sheriff came and put up stickers on the doors and said "We're taking an inventory and we're closing the doors." And I said "Look, if you get a good inventory that would be great because that's going to save me a bunch of time."

A clearer shot of Space Wars at the 1977 AMOA show from Play Meter (12/77).
Note - on the right is coi-op legend Al Bettleman of the distributor C.A. Robinson.

    After Cravens made his trip to Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles to line up distributors, they were able to get the sheriff off their backs and the doors open but there were still plenty of problems to deal with.

[Ken Beuck] We were in El Cajon which is…about 20 miles east of San Diego and about another 20 miles east of that were Indian Reservations where they'd have these Indians stuffing boards. They'd drive them all the way back to the El Cajon area to a guy that had a wave soldering machine and by the time they got there half the components were jacked out of the boards and it was just a real mess.
So [Larry Rosenthal] has these vector boards and they're wire-wrapped so I had to turn [them] into a real life multilayer boards and get components that weren't available…engineers would reach back into their little box and pull out something that was only made in the monsoon season in Malaysia and unfortunately they hadn't had a monsoon for two years so parts were obsolete or not available

A few other minor changes had to be made to Rosenthal’s design as well.

[Ken Beuck] …his sound board for Space Wars ended up being a transistor that would backfeed and make a noise. Well, first of all, not all transistors no matter if they're the same part number, are exactly the same and sometimes a transistor can burn out pretty quickly when you're backfeeding it. In fact Bill Cravens went to a big game show in England…and the sound completely went out and he didn't bring an extra sound board with him…Fortunately there was so much noise at the trade show and the game was so popular that nobody really noticed

In addition, the game wasn't designed to withstand the rigors or life in the field, where customer are apt to pour beer over the control panel or kick the coin door. Another change from Rosenthal's original concept was the control mechanism.  The game originally featured a joystick (as seen in Rosenthal's 1975 patent) but Cinematronics replaced it with directional buttons. In a letter in the February, 1978 issue of Play Meter, Tom Stroud Sr. explained that this was done because buttons were more responsive and reliable. Stroud also claims that the cabinet bezel (the area surrounding the screen) originally featured "artwork of battling spaceships" but that the team decided that a "… solid black background around the screen enhanced the feeling of being in outer space".
Eventually the various issues were resolved and production was ramped up. In early 1978 they added an additional 12,00 square feet of manufacturing space and were soon churning out 80 games a day (the figure later climbed to 350) and went from 14 employees to 98 by the end of 1978.

Tom "Papa" Sroud, Sr. - From, origianlly from Replay (1/79)

 One of the earliest fans of the game was a San Diego operator named Tom Stroud (aka “Papa”) whose previous work experience had included stints as a teacher and work on a newspaper. Stroud liked Space Wars so much that he bought into the company and became Jim Pierce’s partner[7]. Stroud wasn't the only one to like the game. In addition to being the top game of 1978 in both Replay and Play Meter, it was ranked in the top 10 as late as July of 1980 (when it was #7 on Play Meter’s popularity charts). At least 10,000 units were produced and possibly a lot more[8] - a big hit at the time, but one that would soon be eclipsed many times over by other games.

Space Wars screenshot (from MAME)

            The gameplay of Space Wars was basically the same as the mainframe original. Two opposing players, one in a wedge-shaped ship and the other in a miniature Starship Enterprise, scored points by blasting each other to kingdom come while avoiding the deadly sun in the center of the screen. Each quarter usually bought a minute of gameplay (though the time could be set by the operator). Each player had a limited supply of fuel and ammunition. Controls consisted of five buttons for each player (left, right, forward, fire, and hyperspace). An additional 9-button control panel allowed players to choose from 9 different games at 3 levels of difficulty. Players could also select from five optional "modifications" - bounce back (objects rebound from edge of sceen), expanded universe (ships can maneuver beyond edges), black hole (invisible sun), negative gravity, and no gravity. One innovative feature was that hitting the opponent didn’t always destroy their ship. Sometimes it would only damage it, knocking off a piece here or there and leaving the ship partially functional. A number of the features in Space Wars would later appear in Atari's 1979/80 smash Asteroids, such as "expanded univers", hyperspace, the wedge-shaped ship, and the basic control arrangement. Space Wars even featured a small asteroid that traveled across the screen from time to time. Atari reportedly approached Cinematronics at an industry show and offered them $5 million to license the game. Cinematronics refused and didn’t believe Atari’s claims that they could reverse engineer the game. When Asteroids came out, Cinematronics actually brought suit against Atari for violating their patents, but apparently nothing ever came of it. 

There are many possible reasons that Space Wars became the hit that Computer Space didn't. One may have been timing. The arcade public may simply not have been ready for such a complicated game in 1971. By 1978, however, the public’s tastes had grown more sophisticated after over half a decade of video gaming experience. Another likely reason, however, was gameplay and graphics, which were far superior to Computer Space. Space Wars was also a two-player game, capturing the spirit of the M.I.T. original. Whatever the reason, Space Wars was just the success that Cinematronics needed and Rosenthal's "VectorBeam" system would provide the basis for a string of hits that would lift Cinematronics to the top of the video game heap.


[1] From “Memories of a Vector World”, ACM SIGGRAPH, Vol. 32, No. 2, May 1998. Available at
[2] Some have claimed that Rosenthal had purchased patents on the game from Steve Russell, but that is apparently not true and Russell himself apparently never patented the game to begin with.
[3] A version of Jack Burness’ mainframe classic Moonlander. Rosenthal had created the Lunar Lander game before starting on Spacewar in order to test his vector display. Rosenthal’s game even included a McDonald’s restaurant, just like the original and Rosenthal reports that he got permission (under the table) from a local McDonald’s restaurant to use the “You Deserve a Break Today” melody.
[4] This likely included the testing Rosenthal did before meeting with Cinematronics.
[6] A major thoroughfare in Los Angeles that was home to a most of the area's coin-op distributors.
[7] Replay (January, 1981) reports that Stroud arrived at the "close of 1976" and that he did so because he was a fan of Space Wars. If  true, however, this would mean that Cineatronics released Space War in late 1976, at least to Stroud (it was not field tested in San Diego until around July of 1977). The same article reports that Rosenthal arrived in the "winter of 1976", though it isn't clear if they mean the winter of 1975/76 or 1976/77. The former conflicts with most other sources. The latter seems more likely, though if true it would make it very unlikely that Stroud arrived in late  '76 (not to mention that no other sources list the game as being released prior to October of 1977).
[8] Tim Skelly recalls sales of 30,000 units and Ken Beuck thinks it may have been more than that, but these figures seem far too high. Rosenthal doesn't recall the exact figure but guesses that it was in the 7-10,000 range.

Sidebar - William Arkush and Kush N'Stuff

            William Arkush is all but forgotten today outside of the small circle of classic video game collectors, some of whom still rely on his manuals to repair their games (though even they know next to nothing about him) but he was in some ways one of the more important figures from the bronze age of video game, despite the fact that he didn't work for a manufacturer, distributor, or operator. Called the "digital magician Arkush was the greatest source of information for repairing and maintaining video games. Arkush attended a number of schools, including the University of California. After obtaining degrees in electrical engineering and chemistry, Arkush went to work at Atari where he wrote some of the industry's first technical manuals for games like World Cup, Rebound, and Gran Trak 20.


[William Arkush] Those first manual were really produced by Atari to cover their marketing department…Atari decided that it would be easier and less costly to teach the owners to modify their own machines rather than invest in all the field support needed to send somebody out to do it[1]..


Arkush quickly found that books were not enough, however, and Atari sent him and Pat Karns on the road to conduct technical seminars. Arkush wanted to teach more general classes in video game repair as well as specific classes in how to repair games made by other manufacturers but Atari insisted he stick to Atari games. As a result, Arkush quit in early 1975 to work for Kurz-Kasch, a manufacturer of test equipment. At Kurz-Kasch Arkush continued his seminars and began writing service manuals for other games (like Midway's Wheels). Kurz-Kasch, however, was primarily a manufacturer and was unwilling to commit fully to providing coin-op training resource. So Arkush left again and formed his own company called Kush N'Stuff, where he conducted seminars, offered correspondence courses, and wrote a series of much-used service manuals, including the Text Book of Video Game Logic.  Kush N'Stuff also manufactured some test equipment of their own, including a device that allowed operators to display text messages during the attract mode of video games so that they could sell advertising time (the idea never really panned out and they eventually sold a similar idea to convenience stores).


[1] Richard S. Dietrich, "We Service What They Sell", PlayMeter Vol. 2 No. 10, October, 1976.



  1. Great stuff. I wonder where that Vectorbeam 50% royalty figure came from? Even the new book Replay has that in it. That book in particular portrays Rosenthal as being a greedy jerk basically.

    1. Yes, the 50% royalty figure appears in almost every history I've seen but I'm not sure of the source.
      It may actually be true, but I'd like to see a better source.
      Tim Skelly recounts the story in his two major accounts but Rosenthal had left by the time he arrived and I'm not sure where he got it.

      It's possible that Rosenthal wasn't being truthful with me but his story rings true to me - or at least more true than the 50% story. One thing that never made sense to me is that he supposedly left to form VectorBeam because he was unhappy with his arrangement. If he was getting 50% royalties, what was there to be unhappy about?

      I've since heard from someone else who was there that he was actually happy with the arrangement but would like to confirm it.

      I talked to Larry Rosenthal about 12-15 years ago and, unfortunately, I've lost his contact info.
      I actually contacted him by cold-calling him. He didn't know me from Adam and was in the middle of doing other things so I only got to talk to him for about 30 minutes and didn't get to ask about a lot of things I'd like to have (plus, now I have a lot more info and more questions).

      Then, after I transcribed what I wanted for my book, I threw out my tape of the interview, along with all my others (though I still have my e-mail interviews). At the time, I had dropped the book and didn't think I was ever going to pick it back up.