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Column: The RePlay Files

Column: The RePlay Files: Atari Talks Gauntlet, Paperboy

June 26, 2007 12:01 AM |

[New column 'The RePlay Files' will reprint classic features and news stories from seminal arcade/amusement trade journal RePlay Magazine, with the kind permission of the magazine's creators - check out their website for info about subscriptions, news, and the contents of the latest issue. This second of three officially approved extracts is a full-length interview with then Atari coin-op boss Shane Breaks, which was the cover feature for the January 1986 issue of the magazine, just as Atari's coin-op resurgence was hitting with Gauntlet and Paperboy!]

- In his twenty-plus years in the coin machine industry, Shane Breaks has made his name (and the products he’s represented) known in numerous corners of the world. An authentic “globetrotter” who’s crossed the Atlantic 125 times and made numerous visits to Southeast Asia, Japan, Africa, South America and, of course, Europe, this son of England has almost as many miles on his shoes as the space shuttle has on its nose cone.

If there’s a single threadline throughout his glamorous career in the industry, it’s been Atari…as a distributor at the very beginning of that company through to his present position as Senior VP of Atari Games in Milpitas, Calif. Where his duties put him at the top of all coin-op sales domestically and overseas.

A native of West Hartlepool (located in the North of England), Shane elected to take a job with a South African bank after school rather than one in journalism which his “Mum” would have preferred. He had the wanderlust even then. His first job in the industry was with Quick Maid, a subsidiary of England’s Associated Leisure which ran a vending operation (“I had no love for that,” he recalls).

Six months later, he joined Streets Automatic Machine Co. and in his twelve years there, went from sales to Sales Manager to Director to President. Streets not only ran operations but manufactured arcade games and Shane took them worldwide. He actually dealt for five years with Madame Furtsyeva, Russia’s Minister of Culture, selling her games like the ‘Streets Rifle Range’ and other arcade items like coin pushers for use in Russia’s fairgrounds.

He made an important “Atlantic crossing” in 1974 to join Rowe International as their VP of Games Buying. Two years later, he became Sales VP at R.H. Belam, exporters of new and used games who found a perfect rep in the man who had game knowledge, overseas contacts and the wanderlust to bring Belam’s program to the client in person. One of the products represented by Belam was Atari.

As it goes, Shane then moved directly into Atari in 1979 to pilot their international sales program. During this period, he established their factory in Tipperary, Ireland and worked either out of there or London covering foreign markets until the summer of 1984 when he was offered his present position up in Silicon Valley.

Shane remains a British citizen but enjoys permanent resident status from the United States Government. He and wife Linda live within driving distance of the Atari facility. Son Brendan (22) is presently working at Betson Enterprises in San Francisco and daughter Sondra (25) lives and works in Australia. The family also maintains an old Victorian home in Surrey, England and a small vacation cottage in San Remo, Italy near Monte Carlo.

“Home” right now is at Atari’s new administrative and factory facility in Milpitas which the company only recently moved into (they vacated the former Milpitas headquarters some time ago). It’s a comfortable, trimmed down version of the complex the “old” Atari operated, but is nevertheless adequate to meet existing market conditions, although with a hit like ‘Gauntlet,’ the company is a bit pressed to meet market demand.

RePlay visited Shane Breaks at the new place to get his thoughts on today’s Atari Games as well as some personal reflections about where the business has been and where it’s going in 1986. Being machine-oriented, we began our question/answer chat with the obvious:

COLUMN: The RePlay Files: Rampage's Original Stylings

June 1, 2007 6:46 AM |

[New column 'The RePlay Files' will reprint classic features and news stories from seminal arcade/amusement trade journal RePlay Magazine, with the kind permission of the magazine's creators - check out their website for info about subscriptions, news, and the contents of the latest issue. This initial batch of three articles kicks off with a feature on the launch of Bally's Rampage, from the August 1986 issue of RePlay, including photos and info available online for the first time.]

Bally Readies Choice Entertainment Line-Up

Such was the wild day at Bally Midway when execs and designers put down their tools and camped it up for our readers to launch their equally zany (but appeal-packed) new 3-player upright suitably called Rampage.

Company execs like President Maury Ferchen, Sales VP Steve Blattspieler and Sales Manager Dick Konopa (plus other staffers like Barbara Seifert and John Flakne) had a ball watching the design team don costumes and strike poses evoking the characters and actions on the Rampage scene. Spirits were up, up, up and as Ferchen said: “We’ve waited a long time for a piece like this!”

For want of more adroit descriptions, Rampage is like “Godzilla meets the Three Stooges.” It’s a “Saturday Morning TV cartoon adventure” starring George (the gorilla), Lizzie (the lizard) and Ralph (the wolf) who, with the active guidance of game players, proceed to bash just about every city in North America to smithereens in search of food.


Letting down their hair (plus whiskers and fangs), the costumed ‘Rampage’ designers mug it up for the camera in celebration of their new Bally Midway attraction. Included in that fearsome bunch are Mike Bartlow, Jim Belt, Sharon Perry, Jeff Nauman and Brian Colin.

With insatiable appetites, the three literally go from Peoria to Plano (and 83 cities in between) reducing each cityscape to rubble by punching through walls while avoiding a host of adversaries and other dangers to keep alive and keep up the mayhem.

No mercy in the sales department as Ralph Wolf and George Gorilla pay an unexpected and rather violent call on Blattspieler, who’s attacking back with his favorite weapon – the phone.

The game offers the continuous action feature as players inject successive quarters to keep their individual character alive and bashing just as it’s about to get zonked. And this need for an additional quarter and then another one comes up (on average for a decent player) every two minutes, 45 seconds, so those quarters really add up. (Novices will have to drop additional coins a heck of a lot quicker until they come up to speed.)

There’s a mob of things to do besides wreck real estate, of course, but that’s where most players begin, and you learn these as you go along. Since it’s a three-player, Bally says that new players often get an introduction from those already at the upright and that the learning curve is quick (e.g. a fellow player can tell you to avoid grabbing the toaster since that means electrocution).

Designers Jeff Nauman and Brian Colin join Bally Midway execs Maury Ferchen (left) and Steve Blattspieler by their new 3-player upright. Humorously dubbed “Godzilla meets the Three Stooges” by RePlay, the unit begins shipping to distributors middle of the month.

Bally Midway’s design team under leader Jeff Nauman has been programming Rampage since last January at the Franklin Park, Ill. Shop and has injected a lot of skill into the attraction that players will pick up on as they go along. But even at first blush (first bash?), the friendly but ferocious destruction is more than enough to keep the crowd happy.

By punching the “jump” and “punch” buttons and using the 8-way joystick, the idea is to grab food (for points), spit out “poison” and generally avoid harm. Godzilla himself couldn’t imagine such a field-day in his wildest dreams (and you can bet Godzilla has some wild dreams). You could write a small book about all the madness in this piece (oh yes, there’s a train crash in there too) but right now, let’s simply say Bally Midway could have a boomer here and do a ton of business.

“We’ve tested it and we’re proud to say Rampage is a record-breaker,” noted Blattspieler. “It looks like most operators will recover their investment faster with this than on any dedicated video in recent memory,” he added. “The ‘Join the Action’ buy-in feature is put to full use. Players want to see what comes next or they want to keep up with better players. There are 768 different screens in this but it will take a lot of hours of play before even the best video aficionado can get through the whole entire course,” he stated.

Bringing new meaning to the phrase “dishpan hands”, Sales Manager Dick Konopa gets into the spirit of Bally Midway ‘Rampage’ day.

Bally Midway is proud that the whole package was designed and built at their suburban Chicago plant. Production models will begin shipping to dealers mid-August and the firm is actually saying the piece could take its place next to the likes of Space Invaders, Pac-Man and Spy Hunter in the “Midway Hall of Fame.”

GameSetPics: Rare & Nintendo - Where It All Began

May 22, 2007 10:12 AM |

- Though I'm not as much of a collector as our very own MagWeasel, I've been known to hop on eBay from time to time to pick up some gaming magazine memorabilia, even if shipping for all that dead wood is a little bit excessive.

In fact, Gamasutra contributor Jason Dobson and I [EDIT: Uhoh, grammar fiend commenters object!] recently fought through a fierce bidding war to each pick up a few mid-'80s issues of arcade/amusement trade journal RePlay Magazine, and boy, there's some pretty amazing stuff in there.

RePlay stood alongside rival Play Meter magazine as the only trade chroniclers of the arcade industry as it grew up, crashed, and was reborn in the '80s, and there are some stand-out looks at the Japanese arcade biz in 1986 and in-depth interviews/site visits with Capcom and Konami's U.S. divisions in the issues that I managed to purchase.

However, we obviously wouldn't reprint these articles without permission (something we're currently talking to RePlay about - we'll see what happens!). But in the meantime, there was one Nintendo-supplied press photo from the August 1986 issue of the magazine I wanted to scan in for you all, because I'm pretty sure it's never been available online before, and it shows the beginning of a seminal relationship in the history of video games (click through for hi-res version):


This picture was taken on the first-ever signing of an outside software developer, Rare, to produce titles for Nintendo's VS. System, the NES-based arcade setup. So, from left to right, there are some people you may have heard of - Joel Hochberg of (Rare's U.S. business partner) Coin-It, Chris Stamper of Rare, and Nintendo's Frank Ballouz, Howard Lincoln, and Minoru Arakawa.

What happened from there? Actually, a Steve Kent article for Screenager Central (!) has much of the skinny. Skiing title Slalom, at least, made it out for the VS. System, and also for the NES itself. And obviously, Rare went on to a much closer relationship with Nintendo, creating RC Pro-Am, Donkey Kong Country, Killer Instinct, GoldenEye, and a host of others - and Lincoln and Arakawa were key figures in Nintendo's rise to power in the West, too. And this is where the Nintendo/Rare relationship all started - which makes it an important image.