Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Ultimate (So Far) History of Exidy

Today's post is the final installment of my history of Exidy (not counting the errata and statistics). Unfortunately, it won't be nearly as complete as the other posts since a) it's after the time covered by my book and b) I don't have nearly as many sources of information for the post-1989 years.

Cheyenne and Combat

1985 saw the appearance of the second and third games in Exidy's alliterative shooting series. First up was the wild-west themed CHEYENNE. The game was basically CROSSBOW in a western setting. The player maneuvered as single character through eight different wild-west settings (a saloon, a canyon, a stagecoach attacked by natives, a graveyard, a ghost town, a forest, and a mineshaft) collecting bounties on outlaws and avoiding enemies. Initially the game was known as BUSTER BADSHOT or BUSBY GRITS (after the main character). Pete Kaufmann, however, insisted they name it CHEYENNE. Ken Nicholson jokingly suggested that the next game should start with "C" to. Exidy took him up on the idea and dubbed their series of rifle games the "alliterative shooting" series (the idea was abandoned after the fifth game).

Keeping to the alliterative theme, the next game in the series was COMBAT. This time the theme was military. The player, armed with an M-16, tried to liberate a series of countries while climbing the ranks from private to General of the Army. An easier version of the game called CATCH 22 was also produced. Both CHEYENNE and COMBAT appeared on Replays software charts in 1985 and 1986 with the former peaking at #4 and the latter at #10.

Exidy sales manager Mereille Chevalier

On the business front, things didn't go as well. Gene Lipkin (formerly of Allied Leisure and Atari) signed on as company president on January 2, only to leave within a few months to head the newly reestablished Sega. Exidy, meanwhile, was having financial problems. In an effort to raise money they worked out a loan arrangement based on leasing their Sunnyvale factory to an outside party at a higher rate than they were paying in rent. The deal fell through when the property owner objected and on July 17, Exidy filed for bankruptcy.

After 1985 Exidy's video game fortunes went into sharp decline. The alliterative shooting series continued in 1986 with CRACKSHOT (a target shooting game), CLAY PIGEON (skeet shooting) and CHILLER The latter went on to become Exidy's most controversial game since DEATH RACE (Replay opined that it made DEATH RACE "look like a gumball machine"). It featured perhaps the goriest graphics to date in an arcade video game. Particularly gruesome was a torture chamber scene, that featured a victim chained to a wall, and another having his head crushed in a vice. The idea had not started as a game at all.

[Larry Hutcherson The scene with the guy chained to the wall was a goof that I put together while I was developing better art tools on the 440 system. One day[Pete Kauffman] walked by and said, we have to make that game. And one thing lead to another.

Shooting the hapless victims released a veritable fountain of blood (though squeamish operators had the option of turning it green " for a more 'monster movie' effect if that's the way people want it to appear should they get flak from customers.").

Exidy also released some non-shooting games in 1986. TOP SECRET was a James-Bond style driving game in which the player fought off enemy cars with a variety of weapons, including heat-seeking missiles, oil slicks, time warps, and force fields. It was available as a conversion kit for the company's shooting games or in a sit-down cabinet. The game had been shown as 0077, part of a new series of games (Exidy planned to follow up with 0088 and 0099, but never did so). When the game was fully released, the name had been changed to TOP SECRET, with the addition of 50 levels, a 360-degree steering wheel, and a new control panel (though one wonders if the estate of Ian Fleming had something to do with the name change). Perhaps the most unexpected offering was TOP GUNNER, a licensed first-person shooting game in which the player flew over a series of 3D surfaces fending off groups of oncoming enemy ships. What made the game unexpected was that it was (probably) the last vector graphics arcade game ever produced. While the graphics were outstanding they were also outdated as vector games had gone the way of the dodo two years before. If TOP GUNNER was the year's most unexpected game, SPIN-A-BALL was perhaps the most unusual - a video redemption game that offered the player the choice of four ball games like shuffleboard and Skee ball. The summer of 1986 witnessed two big changes at Exidy. First the company moved its factory to Fremont. Second, veteran engineer Howell Ivy left to join Sega.

In early 1987 the company moved its headquarters to Santa Clara. In late summer, they final emerged from Chapter 11 and began producing gun games again, starting with HIT 'N MISS (the alliterative idea had finally been dropped). Unlike the gory CHILLER, HIT 'N MISS was a kiddie themed game without a trace of blood. In the December issue of Replay, Pete Kauffman explained why, noting "We've learned the hard way from our past six shooting games that blood and guts are not accepted in the long run."On a slightly more risqunote, Exidy also released one of its most unusual products in 1987 - a condom vender called the Rainbow Machine.(They also announced a video war game called UNDER FIRE that was apparently never produced).

Exidy's final gun games came in 1988. WHODUNIT was a mystery themed game in which the player used a "dueling pistol" to protect a character named Max as he made his way through s house searching for a hidden key. 1988 also saw Exidy try a new tack with SHOWDOWN, a video poker game that featured comical animated, talking opponents whose tells often revealed when they were bluffing. The game was available in a dedicated cabinet, and a countertop cabinet. The most unusual configuration was a conversion kit for Exidy's gun games, perhaps the only case of a poker game that used a rifle controller. The rifle could could also be used to play a bonus gunfight round. Payout poker games were still illegal in many locales at the time and so called "amusement only" card games were suspect (often with could reason). SHOWDOWN may have been the first, if not the only, video poker game to truly merit the label. Larry Hutcherson also developed a credit version of the game called YUKON for sale in Malta. From 1984 to 1988, Exidy concentrated the majority of its efforts on its gun game line. The first two, CROSSBOW and CHEYENNE had proven enormously popular. Perhaps too popular. While Exidy released nuermous update kits and rebate programs for the games, no one wanted to buy them. Pete Kauffman's wife Virginia, who took a job as the company's sales manager in 1986, explains why.

[Virginia Kauffman] I found out that many CRASSOBWS, CHEYENNES, and COMBATS didn't need a software update because they were still taking good money in. It was a thrill to hear that, but a little frustrating when you were trying sell a conversion.

In 1989, Exidy finally gave up and exited the video game field entirely to concentrate on redemption games. First came Twister, a bowling/roll-up game where the player rolled a ball at a moving target. More followed in the 1990s, including Hot Shot, Troll, Critter, 4x4 (a truck racing game) and Turbo Ticket (a ticket blowing machine where the player put their arms through two circular openings and grabbed swirling tickets). As the new millennium started, the company changed its name to Xidy and continued producing redemption games with founder Pete Kauffman still at the helm. In 2006 Mean Hamster Software acquired the rights to develop coin-op games under the Exidy name.

Bonus Pictures

Hardware Designer Mark Von Striver

Pete Kauffman, Replay, April, 1986

RePlay, August, 1988
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