25 April 2001

CVG 101: Please Don't Chew the Gum! (originally for Classic gamer Magazine)

[Classic Gamer Magazine introduction. This article was originally published in CGM #6 (spring 2001). This is the article as I submitted it and may not exactly match what was published. Some information is incomplete, so please see the postscript at the end.]

If you're a child of the '80s, you probably bought at least a pack or two of Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, or some other kind of video game stickers.  Remember those?  They came in wax packs with a piece of pink cardboard masquerading as chewing gum, just like baseball cards.  While there were later ones based on characters like Super Mario Bros., for the sake of this article, we'll limit discussion to video games "Golden Age."  (That is, the early 1980s.)

Although there were two different companies making video game related stickers during this time, Fleer and Topps, there are many similarities in the way they were sold.  All of them came 36 packs to a box.  (Super Pac-Man was also available in boxes of 48 packs.)  Each pack (except maybe Dragon’s Lair) contained three sticker cards, three rub-off game cards, and the previously mentioned stick of “chewing gum.”  The packs sold for 25 to 30 cents each.

Fleer started the whole thing by releasing Pac-Man stickers in 1980.  Back then, Pac-Man was on everything from mugs to shoes to bed sheets, so it’s only natural the trading card industry would try to get in on the action.  There were 54 stickers in the set.  The front of the stickers generally had black, yellow, or white backgrounds and featured either one or two Pac-Man characters with word balloons or one or two rectangular stickers with sayings on them.  The text on several stickers was taken from the lyrics of “Pac-Man Fever” by Buckner and Garcia.  (“Slide out the side door”/”I’m cookin’ now.”)  Others were just plain silly.  (“Happiness is a hungry Pac-Man.”)  This may also have been where the words “Waka!  Waka!” were immortalized, as they appeared on several stickers.

The backs of the stickers were rather plain.  They had the Fleer logo and said “Pac-Man Sticker No. X of 54.”  They also contained suggestions for holding contests using the rub-off games.  The interesting thing about the backs is that there were a few variations.  In my experience, most have blue ink on the back, but you can also find some that are black.  In the upper right corner is either the traditional circle-with-a-wedge-missing Pac-Man or the legged Pac-Man from the side art of the coin-op.

There were also two different styles of front:  those that had eyes and those that didn't.  That is, you could find the same sticker, but one would have eyes on the Pac-Man and another wouldn't.  The Pac-Men with eyes also had blue and red highlights around the edges.  My observations show that the cards with the circular Pac-Man on the back have a no-eyed Pac-Man on the front, while the side art Pac-Man on the back has a Pac-Man with eyes on the front.  (If you have examples that break this pattern, please let me know.) [There are, in fact, more than two variations. See the postscript below.]

As for the rub-off games, they were a simplified version of the Pac-Man maze covered in gold circles.  You “moved” through the maze by scratching off the gold circles that filled it, revealing either a dot; blue monster; red, orange, or pink monster; or a cherry.  The object of the game was to get through as much of the maze as you could before revealing three non-blue monsters, at which point your game was over.  All the other items were worth points, which determined how well you did.  There were 28 different rub-off games, so once you had an example of each, you were set to cheat your way through the rest of your rub-off games.

Apparently Pac-Man stickers were a success for Fleer, because in 1981 they released a set of Ms. Pac-Man stickers.  Again, they generally featured one or two characters with word balloons or a rectangular sticker with a saying.  Looking at them now, from an adult perspective, there was a strong undercurrent of sexual innuendo.  (“Ms. Pac-Man does it faster.”  Pac-Man saying, “I need it bad.”)  Most stickers had a blue or pink background.  The backs of the cards simply stated “Ms. Pac-Man Sticker No. Y of 54” in pink ink.  The Ms. Pac-Man stickers did not suffer from the variations that the Pac-Man stickers did.  On the fronts, both Pac-People always had eyes.  Pac-Man had the red and blue highlights around the edges while Ms. Pac-Man did not.

Since the Ms. Pac-Man arcade game had four different mazes, there were four different mazes for the rub-off games.  In addition to the cherry, the Ms. Pac-Man games also had pretzels and bananas.  The basic premise remained the same.  The backs of the games came printed in either blue or black ink.  I have never seen a count of the unique game cards for any sticker series other than Pac-Man, so I do not know how many different Ms. Pac-Man games there were.  The same goes for all of the sets described below.

Fleer’s last set of Pac-Man stickers was Super Pac-Man in 1982.  It was more of the same on the front.  Once again, the Pac-People all had eyes.  The backgrounds were red, blue, purple or divided into three stripes of purple, white, and pink.  The backs this time all promoted a Pac-Man poster contest.  They featured either a child wearing a Pac-Man hat, a girl wearing a Pac-Man shirt, or a boy holding a Coleco Pac-Man tabletop game.  I’m uncertain if you could find the same sticker with different backs.  It was pointed out to me by Geoff Voigt at Classic Gaming Expo 2000 that if you turn all the fronts to face the same way, some of the backs will be upside down!  Because the stickers don’t tell you how many there were in the series, I’m not sure, but there were at least 40.  From the previous two sets, I’d say 54 would be a good guess.  The rub-off games this time were all the same maze, but there were gates in the maze that you were not permitted to go through unless you revealed a key nearby.  There was also a large gold oval in part of the maze that might direct you to the scratch-off “super speed button” at the bottom of the card for bonus points.

Nineteen eighty-two was also the year Topps got their chance to cash in on the video game phenomenon.  They acquired the license to produce Donkey Kong stickers.  There was no set layout for the front of the stickers, which featured various corny sayings.  (“Jump Man at work.”  “I’m ape over Donkey Kong.”)  The backs of each sticker featured a piece of one of two pictures.  It took 15 stickers to make a complete picture.  There was a 16th sticker for each puzzle that showed what it should look like when completed, so there was a total of 32 cards.

There are four different styles of rub-off games, one for each board of the arcade game.  The object is to get to the girl at the top without revealing a combination of three fireballs and barrels.  That’s right, there are both fireballs and barrels on every card, even though barrels only appeared on the first screen of the coin-op.

One thing about the Donkey Kong stickers people don't know is that a slightly different version of them were included in specially marked packages of Donkey Kong cereal.  The fronts are identical to those found in the packs.  The puzzle pieces on the back, however, are oriented vertically instead of horizontally, and it takes less of them to make a complete picture.  The two pictures were the same, however.  Each picture was made of only nine stickers, plus a tenth one showing the completed picture.  Thus, a complete set of these would be 20 stickers.  Good luck finding them, though.

The next year, in 1983, Topps released their Video City stickers.  Instead of featuring a single, highly popular video game, this series of stickers featured four moderately successful ones:  Donkey Kong Jr., Frogger, Turbo, and Zaxxon.  A complete set consists of 28 stickers:  seven for each game.  However, describing the seven is a bit complicated, so bear with me.  There were four stickers that had a portion of a larger picture on the back, similar to the Donkey Kong stickers.  Then there was a fifth sticker showing the completed puzzle on the back.  The catch is that front of this fifth sticker was identical to one of the first four.  For most of the games, it’s the same as the one with the lower left puzzle piece on it, but for Frogger, it’s identical to the upper right piece.  The sixth sticker front is the same graphic as the complete puzzle and has playing tips for its arcade game on the back.  Then, there’s a seventh sticker for each game that is also the same as the puzzle, but has a special subscription offer for Electronic Games magazine on the back.  The rub-off games are much simpler to keep track of.  There’s only one board design per game.  In the case of Donkey Kong Jr., which had multiple screens, Topps used only the first screen.

Finally, Fleer got back into the act one final time with Dragon’s Lair stickers in 1984.  I have to admit, I never even knew these existed until a few years ago.  Most of the stickers featured art from the game, some with an extremely corny word balloon (“Please don’t squeeze the Dirk.”) and some with a just label naming the featured character.  Some didn't feature any art from the game at all, just a saying.  The backs of the stickers featured playing tips for the game.  Some game tips were repeated on multiple stickers.  According to the front of the stickers, there were 63 in a set.

I’m not sure anyone knows how many Dragon’s Lair rub-off games there are.  They featured art from the game as their backgrounds.  The problem is there are at least two dozen different backgrounds used.  Unlike all the other rub-off games mentioned here, instead of circles, they have solid paths that branch.  A nice change of pace after all those circles.

Now that you know what’s out there, you might wonder where to find these stickers.  First, there are the usual sources:  other collectors and eBay.  You might also try comic book and trading card stores.  Geoff Voigt let me in on an online merchant that he doesn't mind sharing named Marchant Non-Sports Cards (www.marchantcards.com or www.nscards.com).  Their prices for Donkey Kong and Video City are very reasonable.  The prices on the rest might give you pause.  Just remember, no matter where you manage to find your stickers, please don’t chew the gum!


If collecting stickers isn't up your alley, but you’d like to give them a glimpse or know what they say, try these web sites:

Donkey Kong

  • http://www.ohio.voyager.net/~ngsippel/cv/donkeykong.txt

Dragon’s Lair

  • http://www.tomheroes.com/Video%20Games%20FS/Arcade/dragon's_lair_cards.htm
  • http://www.dragons-lair-project.com/community/merch/ [Try this instead.]
  • http://bioinfo.mshri.on.ca/people/feldman/vgmuseum/cards/dlruboff.html


Author note: Many thanks to Geoff Voigt for his help in researching this article. You can also thank (or blame) him for letting us use his title.

Postscript (12 June 2013)

As I mentioned in the previous Classic Gamer Magazine entry, this article was written quickly to replace one that was rejected. (You can read about the reasons in that entry.)

Some of the information above, while maybe not inaccurate, is incomplete. If you have any interest in stickers for the various Pac-Man games, you must visit The Pac-Star web site by Kevin Jay North! It is the end-all and be-all of information on these stickers. (And Russ Perry, Jr. and I helped provide some bits of information.)

21 February 2001

Tip of the Moment (battery springs)

Tip of the moment: Check the springs when you change the batteries.

I recently got a Palm PDA as a present from my wife. I changed the batteries for the second time since I got it and rushed off to an appointment. Upon arriving, I discovered my Palm had reset and I'd lost everything. Investigating, I discovered one of the springs that's supposed to make contact with a battery was bent sideways. I fixed it and restored all my data upon my first opportunity. (Yes, as recommended, I'd done a HotSync just before changing them.)

[From my "Past Tips of the Moment and Past Thoughts" page. This was the eighth tip and 13th and final post overall. Although the page and the section on my home page stayed there through 2009, I let it stagnate and never updated it again, even though I didn't yet have a proper blog or other venue to replace it.

This tip refers to my first PDA, a Palm IIIxe. Unlike later PDAs, it used regular, disposable AAA batteries instead of a rechargeable one. It did have some way to maintain its memory during battery changes, but it was a very short term thing. — 28 May 2009]

17 February 2001

CVG 101: The Atari 2600-Hasbro Link (previously unpublished)

[Classic Gamer Magazine introduction. I submitted this article for CGM #6 (spring 2001), but due to an error on my part, it wasn't published. See the postscript at the end for details.]

As a Classic Gamer reader, it’s a safe bet that you’re aware that, up until recently, Hasbro owned the rights to Atari’s console-related properties. This, of course, included their Atari 2600 games. What you may not have thought about is just how many third party Atari 2600 games Hasbro also has the rights to. While I could simply list them for you and be done with it, that wouldn't be much of an article, would it? Although considering I’m writing this the night before my deadline, it would certainly be easier on me. (Writer’s block is a terrible thing.) So, let’s examine just how Hasbro wound up with the rights to so many Atari 2600 games in its holdings.

First, let’s start with Atari itself. Atari, incorporated in 1972, was the first of many companies founded by Nolan Bushnell. Although successful from early on, Bushnell had to call in debts every pay period to keep the payroll checks from bouncing. In 1976, Warner Communications paid Bushnell $28 million for Atari. Bushnell realized there was no way Atari would be able to afford getting their latest project, the Atari Video Computer System (VCS, later the Atari 2600), designed and into stores without the capital provided by a major company.

Unfortunately, the laid back atmosphere of Atari, Inc. and the more traditional corporate culture of Warner were like oil and water. In 1978, Bushnell could tolerate no more and left Atari. Atari went on to successfully launch the VCS and, after just a few years, became the dominant player in the home video game industry. In 1981, Atari’s annual sales were $35 million and a significant portion of Warner’s total annual income. Just two years later, in 1983, Atari posted losses of $536 million! Looking to get rid of the albatross that was Atari from around their neck, Warner sold majority interest in the home video game and computer divisions of Atari to Jack Tramiel, recently fired president and founder of Commodore. Tramiel called the new company Atari Corporation. Atari’s coin-op division was renamed Atari Games and went on, forevermore separated from the home division.

Fast forward to 1996. After the video game crash of 1983-84, Atari never recovered its former glory. Their last effort in the home video game market, the 64-bit Jaguar, was a failure. Tramiel had Atari Corp. do a “reverse merger” with hard drive manufacturer JTS Corporation. Two years later, in 1998, Hasbro bought the Atari properties from JTS for a paltry $5 million. Classic video gamers and Atari fans saw a glimmer of hope once again. Here we pause to look back at some of the other companies that created Atari 2600 games.

First, there’s Milton Bradley. Mr. Milton Bradley first started making jigsaw puzzles in 1880, beginning what would become his namesake company's entry into the toy and game business.A century later, in 1983, Milton Bradley published a whopping two games for the Atari 2600. A year later, in 1984, Hasbro acquired Milton Bradley.

Next is Parker Brothers.  Founded in 1883 as the George S. Parker Co., George Parker’s brother Charles joined him in 1888 and the company was renamed Parker Brothers.  Exactly 80 years later (1968), General Mills bought the company.  In 1982, Parker Brothers began releasing video game cartridges for multiple platforms, including the Atari 2600.  In 1987, Tonka Corporation acquired Parker Brothers.  A few years later, in 1991, Hasbro acquired Tonka, and thus Parker Brothers, too.

Then we have Tiger Electronics. In 1982, they hopped on the bandwagon with, it seems, half the companies in the world to create video game cartridges. They sold their games under the Tigervision label. In 1998, the same year they acquired the Atari Corp. assets, Hasbro also acquired Tiger Electronics.

Lastly, there’s Avalon Hill. Avalon Hill was the publisher of many strategy war games. They also formed a computer game division early in the establishment of the home computer market. In what must have seemed like a good idea at the time, they too entered the home video game market in 1983. Today, their Atari 2600 cartridges are among some of the hardest to find. Timing is everything; Avalon Hill’s was bad. In 1998, determined to be the Borg of the toy and game industry, Hasbro assimilated, er, acquired Avalon Hill as well.

So, in 1998, Hasbro has acquired Atari Corporation’s assets, plus four companies that published Atari 2600 games as third parties. What does Hasbro do with all of these assets related to the Atari 2600, once the best selling video game console of all time? Absolutely nothing. Instead, from 1998 to 2001, they concentrated on Atari’s classic arcade games. They updated them for today's gamers and slapped the original name and Atari logo on them for brand recognition. The Cyberpunks even attempted to get Hasbro's permission to do an emulation package during this time, but Hasbro was simply not interested.

In fairness, I should point out that all of Parker Brothers' and some of Tiger Electronics' 2600 games were licensed in some fashion. Publishing them would have required new licensing deals that were unlikely to happen. While no one could seriously expect re-releasing the Atari 2600 version of Spider-Man or the Star Wars games would have any impact on sales of current games featuring those properties, legalities are legalities. Companies tend to give exclusive rights to their properties for a number of years when they license them, and exclusive means exclusive.

Resuming the tracing of the acquisition of the rights to Atari's assets we come to the present. Early in 2001, Hasbro sold their entire Hasbro Interactive division, including the Atari assets, to Infogrames for $100 million in stock and cash. What will become of the Atari properties now? That’s uncertain. Both press releases concerning the sale specifically mentioned Atari. One even mentioned that Hasbro had 60 titles in development at the time, but failed to include any classic Atari properties in the short list of specific titles.  All that can be said for certain is . . . uh . . . er . . . um . . . . that writer’s block is a terrible thing.


One of the nice things about writing articles for a magazine like Classic Gamer Magazine, as opposed to a college paper or article for a scholarly journal, is that I don’t have to give a reference for every little fact I site. Still, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the following sites for their help in researching some of this article.
  • The Atari Timeline by Robert A. Jung – http://www.digiserve.com/eescape/atari/Atari-Timeline.html
  • The History of Hasbro – http://www.hasbro.com/consumer/history.htm
  • The History of Toys and Games by the History Channel – http://www.historychannel.com/exhibits/toys/inventors.html
  • I.C. When by Don Thomas – http://www.icwhen.com/
You might also be interested in the timeline at my site, the Classic Video Games Nexus.  It can be found at http://home.hiwaay.net/~lkseitz/cvg/nexus/features/timeline/.

Postscript (12 June 2013)

It is ironic that as I post this to my blog, Infogrames renamed itself Atari several years ago, but has now gone bankrupt and has its properties up for auction. And sadly, every single one of those pages I referenced in the "sidebar," including my own, are now gone. (Although you can find my timeline archived at the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.) I.C. When actually still exists and is still run by Don Thomas, but it no longer contains the wonderful timeline of video game history that it used to.

I wasn't kidding about writing this right before it was due back in the opening. I barely squeaked it in in time. Two days later I get an e-mail from Cav, the publisher.
We kinda have a problem. Your latest CVG 101 while good is extremely similar to Leonard Herman's "Ultimate Videogame Company" article from #4. I also had Sarah read them side by side and she also felt they were very alike.
He went on to ask if I had any suggestions or another spin on it. Uh-oh! I respond.
 Oops.  I never finished reading #4. Sorry! In my defense, maybe great minds think alike?  (Or maybe I did read the article and have forgotten about it. Regardless, I didn't intentionally set out to write an article similar to one already published.)
I went on to make some suggestion for new articles, wondering if I can write them fast enough. Cav offered me a choice of the video game sticker article I suggested within a week or "[taking] the time to research a real good article about emulators for the next issue." I took him up on the stickers article, which I managed to finish in the week I was given, and made a note of doing an article on emulators for the next issue.

04 January 2001

CVG 101: What I Learned Over Summer Vacation (originally for Classic Gamer Magazine)

[Classic Gamer Magazine introduction. This article was originally published in CGM #5 (fall 2000). This is the article as I submitted it and may not exactly match what was published.]

I learned many things and got to meet many people at Classic Gaming Expo (CGE) 2000. You probably don’t care much about who I met in person for the first time (although it included the illustrious duo of Chris Cavanaugh and Sarah Thomas), so I thought I’d share some of the things I learned while there. There was so much to see, do, and learn at CGE that I’m doubtless leaving out many interesting things, but Chris will only give me so much room. Most, but not all, of my new knowledge came from the discussion panels and keynote speeches. I primarily attended the Atari 2600 related ones, so this article is biased toward it. My apologies for that. By covering what was new to me, I’m sure there will be something new here for every reader, even if you're Leonard Herman (whom I also met).

Atari 2600 Panel

  • Steve Cartwright was Activision employee number 26.
  • A two-man salvage team named Seaquest sued Activision after seeing the Atari 2600 Seaquest game, thinking it had been named after their business.
  • Bob Polaro is currently writing games in Java. He feels this has a lot in common with the old days of video games where the games were one-man creations.
  • It took an entire day for Steve Woita to record the speech in Quadrun and get it under 700 bytes.
  • Approximately 10,000 Quadrun cartridges were manufactured for the Atari 2600.
  • Mike Albis’ (Atari Games employee for 24 years) corollary to Nolan Bushnell’s theorem that "a game should be easy to learn but difficult to master": You should be able to play the game with one hand in order to hold your beer or girlfriend in the other.
  • Brad Stewart played a game of coin-op Breakout against newly hired Ian Shepherd to decide who would program the Atari 2600 version. Stewart cleared the board with his first ball, thus winning the contest.
  • Someone in marketing at Atari actually asked Rob Fulop where he’d gotten the idea for the Atari 2600 game Night Driver. (It was an Atari coin-op first.)
Howard Scott Warshaw

  • Most of the information listed under here actually came from the Atari 2600 keynote, but he was the liveliest panel member and contributed enough information to warrant his own section.
  • Although Yars’ Revenge was planned to be a Star Castle port, at no time did the programmed game actually resemble Star Castle any more than the final game does. Warshaw immediately realized that the 2600 wasn't capable of reproducing the game well. (And besides, Atari ended up not getting the license for it.)
  • The original name for Yars’ Revenge was Time Freeze.
  • Steven Speilberg asked Warshaw if he couldn’t just do something like Pac-Man for the Atari 2600 E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial game. Warshaw said no, saying there was no point in rehashing someone else’s game. In retrospect, he quips, it may not have been a bad idea.
  • The comic book packaged with Yars’ Revenge is a simplified version of the story Warshaw created for the game. He was given a choice of taking credit for the game or the story, as credit for both was too much, he was told by Atari.
  • According to Warshaw, Yars’ Revenge was the first game Atari produced with official credit to the programmer and an officially approved Easter egg.
Joe Decuir

  • Decuir, one of the primary designers of the Atari 2600 hardware, didn't know there was an Atari 2600 light gun game released (Sentinel), but knew it was possible to create one.
  • Decuir wishes he had patented the color-cycling used in Atari 2600 games to prevent burn-in, but in his words, they didn't think you could patent software back then.
  • Decuir's mother was proud because color-cycling was the reason Consumer Reports gave the Atari 2600 the highest ranking when they reviewed home video game consoles.
  • Decuir's then 13-year-old brother "kicked his ass" at Combat, even though Decuir had created the game.
  • In retrospect, Decuir admits saving five cents per 2600 console by using a 24-pin instead of 30-pin chip was a mistake. Using a 30-pin chip would have allowed the creation of games larger than 4K without having to resort to bank-switching.
  • The Atari 2600 used chips with 15 micron circuits. The Microsoft X-Box, which Decuir is currently helping design, uses .015 micron chips. That’s 1000 times smaller!
  • The original Atari 2600 consoles were heavy on purpose. Atari felt consumers would feel gypped if they paid $200 for it and it weighed almost nothing.
  • Atari ultimately decided not to build speakers into the 2600 for two reasons. First was the extra cost. Second was that by using the television speaker, consumers had built-in volume control.
Ralph Baer

  • It was not until 1967 that Baer, who is called "the father of video games" for his invention of what eventually became the original Magnavox Odyssey (the world’s first home video game console), had the idea for a machine-controlled ball. Up till then, it was controlled manually by a person.
  • The original use of what would become the Magnavox Odyssey light gun was for quiz games. Each spot on the TV could be encoded somehow so that the machine new which answer the user selected (or at least if it was correct or not).
  • Ralph Baer said his idea for sending games via cable (TV) was 30 years too soon. (He was comparing it to playing games via the World Wide Web.)
  • Approximately 20,000 Odyssey light rifles were sold compared to 95,000-100,000 consoles.
  • In court, some companies claimed that because their "pongs" were digital, they were therefore completely different from the analog Odyssey. (This didn't hold up.)
  • According to Baer, Bushnell preferred to have Magnavox keep "the riffraff" out of the video game industry rather than fight their lawsuit.
  • Magnavox was still in litigation with other companies for video game patent violations (related to the Magnavox Odyssey) as recently as 1997. (Notably Taito and Data East.)
  • Baer is hesitant to donate the "Brown Box" Odyssey prototype to the Smithsonian because they have so many exhibits. However, there's an inventor's museum that he may donate it to. He believes it should be available to be played by visitors wherever it ends up.
  • It was two Scottish men who had the idea for "pong-on-a-chip" at General Instruments.
  • Sanders Associates, the company Baer worked for when he invented the home video game console, made about four arcade games that did well. They then made elaborate plans for the future that fell apart in the end.

  • Hasbro Interactive was approached by Columbia (or whoever owns it now) about including a copy of the Krull Atari 2600 game on the upcoming Krull DVD. I don’t know how they plan to use it (an emulator on a DVD player?) or what the results of this request were.
  • You may have noticed interesting happenings at Twin Galaxies, such as a redesigned web site and the advent of shooting their own video footage. It turns out that Twin Galaxies now has a billionaire investor. Before this individual came along, Twin Galaxies was on the verge of going under.

And there you have it. A concise list of the things I learned at CGE 2000, from the trivial to the slightly less trivial. I hope those of you that attended learned many things as well and that both those who did and didn't will benefit, in some bizarre way, from this article. Even you, Leonard.

Postscript (12 June 2013)

Leonard Herman is the author of Phoenix: The Fall and Rise of Videogames, the first and possibly still most comprehensive history of video games and systems. I don't believe I ever thought to ask him if he learned anything from the article or not, assuming he read it. Sadly, CGE 2000 is the only one I've been able to attend, but I had a blast!