Designing a handheld electronic pinball game in 1979 #VintageComputing @kitchengarry
Garry Kitchen documents making handheld electronic gamed circa 1979, specifically the handheld pinball game Wildfire.
Mattel had had great market success with the Mattel Football handheld electronic game (1977), motivating our engineering consulting company to try to break into the electronic toy business. Parker Brothers had a problem and they badly needed a solution. They were sitting on the concept of their next hit electronic toy, but they didn’t have an engineering firm to design the production unit. They said “sure, we’ll do it.”
The team had to go from a $3,000 prototype to a manufacturing cost of about $10 per unit.
From a hardware standpoint, the microprocessor that we chose to use for Wildfire was the AMI S2150, made by American Microsystems Inc. (AMI). It was a 4-bit microcontroller, with 1.5 KB of ROM for the program, and a robust 40 bytes of RAM (costing about $4).
For the “display,” the game used a circuit board with about 70 red LEDs (light emitting diodes) mounted on it, positioned to define all of the potential paths of the pinball as it moved around the playfield.
And the programmer they hired didn’t come up with a working code base:
We had a program, but we no longer had a programmer. We had no idea what was right, or wrong, with the possibly random list of words that I had typed in.
Sprinting down the hallway and almost out of sight, I heard an echo of “great Garry, why don’t you take a crack at it and see what you can do?” The die had been cast. The savior had been chosen, and it was I.
As I sat there stunned, I was reminded of that age old poker adage — If you’re sitting at a poker table, and you can’t identify which one of the players is the sucker, you’re the sucker.
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