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RCA Studio II GOLD MINE! An interview with the Studio 2 Production Manager!


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Well back then rca was an immensely bigger company than Apple.

I'm not familiar with the Apple game though....is it based on star wars even? I also notice it's made into 1 word which could be enough to protect them if elements of the movie aren't in the game.

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On the other hand, has LucasArts ever sued Apple Computer for their unlicensed Starwars game which even says © 1978 on the cassette? Or perhaps the two have settled outside court. I mean if there was a big fish for George Lucas to catch, Apple seemed far more likely than RCA or even less, the 3rd party manufacturers to whom RCA seem to have offered the Studio III and the new games.

 

applecassette1.jpg

I have no idea if they even really cared enough to go after Apple back then, but I'd be amazed if they knew RCA had created a Star Wars game in the Summer-Fall of '77 while it was still going strong in theaters. Word of it likely never got beyond a few people from RCA, and nobody overseas had any issues selling the carts complete with manuals that explicitly say they were based on the film. Licensed games just weren't yet an idea that early on. Lucky thing, that- we might not have gotten a lot of great Star Wars games had just a few bits of paperwork been done differently back in the day.

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Apple II Starwars:

 

RCA Studio III Star Wars:

 

Ok, I'll agree that Apple back then was nowhere as large as they are today. The sales figures for Apple II computers are questioned, but one source says they sold 7600 computers by the fiscal year of 1978 which ended in September. It was launched at $1300 but I haven't looked up how much the price dropped over a year. If Apple had a turnover of $6 million in the first year, RCA surely was a bigger company if all divisions were combined.

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Given that commercially available Apple-compatible joysticks don't seem to have appeared for at least a couple of years after the release of the Apple II (and the Startrek/Starwars cassette), I don't know how Bob Bishop expected people to play Star Wars with the then-standard game paddles. :P It's almost unplayable without a joystick IMO.

 

FWIW Bob Bishop's Apple Star Wars game was also released by several other publishers, who sometimes renamed it. (ex: Powersoft = Star War; Softape = Star Warriors on tape insert, but Star-Wars on label itself.) And there was also Super Starwars by Bruce Henderson, published by Programma in 1978.

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Well back then rca was an immensely bigger company than Apple.

I'm not familiar with the Apple game though....is it based on star wars even? I also notice it's made into 1 word which could be enough to protect them if elements of the movie aren't in the game.

 

It is definitely based on Star Wars. I actually own the Startrek/Starwars tape--when you load it, there's a title screen that flat-out says "STAR WARS" along with a pretty off-key rendition of the Star Wars theme music. ;)

 

It may be important to note that with very early computer games like this, what the cover/box/tape insert says, what the tape/disk label says, and what the game itself says are often different things. ;) :P Maybe film and media copyrights didn't yet extend to software itself at the time, but only packaging, labeling, and advertising? It was very new, after all. Thinking of a more recent analog, copyright law had to be rewritten once the internet took off, and it took a little time for that to happen--maybe it was a similar situation in the late '70s?

 

Apple II Starwars:

 

This version looks different than the Apple cassette version (also found on the DOS 3.2 disk, IIRC, along with other games Apple had released on tape, some in modified form). In that version, you fire straight-line lasers instead of torpedoes or whatever these are supposed to be. There's also the aforementioned title/intro screen, which was either cut from this video or is missing from this version of the game for some reason.

Edited by BassGuitari
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Hm, ok. I found several videos of that version and since they were attributed with a date of 1977-78ish, I assumed that was the same version. But irregardless, you confirmed that both these early games named Star Wars contain elements that makes it obvious they are based on Star Wars as well. Furthermore there is at least one Commodore PET game and perhaps TRS-80 game with this name, but as long as those were games distributed by user groups and not attempted to be sold commercially, it would have been much harder for George Lucas to track them down and no money to sue them for.

 

It could be compared to records based on popular books, for instance Music Inspired by Lord of the Rings while in some way was licensed by Tolkien's family was forced to have "Inspired by" in the title. Now I doubt "Video Game Inspired by Star Wars" had worked out just as easily. Perhaps music albums are better suited to have really long and cumbersome titles.

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If anybody is willing to do more research on the RCA Studio II and the Emerson Arcadia 2001 regarding the rumored releases I would be happy to help front the cost. I'm sure myself and several others would be willing to pitch in towards the $200 cost to see if those carts are copyrighted and exist in some form.

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If anybody is willing to do more research on the RCA Studio II and the Emerson Arcadia 2001 regarding the rumored releases I would be happy to help front the cost. I'm sure myself and several others would be willing to pitch in towards the $200 cost to see if those carts are copyrighted and exist in some form.

That's a very nice offer, and much appreciated. For a while, I was tempted to do a minor Kickstarter or GoFundMe to offset a few expenses, but that turned out to be unnecessary. I can assure you that the 4 "foreign exclusive" Studio games were never Copyrighted. I am inclined to think that Pre-production sales samples might have existed for the other 3 given that one does for Bingo- and a few pages back I posted a surviving compilation of the manuals for the overseas versions in Studio III format. That document also confirmed that at least one physical cartridge of each might have been made. The odds that they or any of them still survive are low. I'm already leaving no stone unturned on this.

 

Where a crowdfunding would come in handy would is to cover the fees associated with arranging inspections of the actual item deposits for other Copyrighted games. For example, Tekhan did copyright several of their games, including their rare Arcadia releases. Seeing whatever was deposited for those would be of great interest. Same for several Atari programs. Depending on just what was originally deposited, source code and/or quality box and manual scans could be obtained.

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If anybody is willing to do more research on the RCA Studio II and the Emerson Arcadia 2001 regarding the rumored releases I would be happy to help front the cost. I'm sure myself and several others would be willing to pitch in towards the $200 cost to see if those carts are copyrighted and exist in some form.

Ward Shrake is the guy to ask about Arcadia 2001 rumored releases. Back in the day he and I did a bunch of research to find out everything we could, but to be honest he was the expert on the subject. I don't know how much has changed since then, but all of his research was in the DP guide.

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True except at the time it was the only Bingo known to exist. Now there's at least two.

Looks like the lot is still available. I wonder if the seller is open to the idea of an auction or if this is just going to linger for years the way other overpriced rarities do.

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Ward Shrake is the guy to ask about Arcadia 2001 rumored releases. Back in the day he and I did a bunch of research to find out everything we could, but to be honest he was the expert on the subject. I don't know how much has changed since then, but all of his research was in the DP guide.

 

Only two things: 3D Attack being properly dumped, scanned, and shared; and the theoretical copies of a few releases that might have been deposited at the Copyright Office. Nothing else new since back in the day, really.

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I'm helping with the conversion to binaries of the tapes at The Sarnoff Collection at The College of New Jersey. This is quite a bit of work. I also helped Kevin with the collection at the Hagley Library and Museum in Wilmington but the number of tapes / wav files was a little smaller. The TCNJ collection is over 100 tapes.

 

Anyway, so far most Studio and Coin Arcade games were found on the Hagley tapes. That was until yesterday when I found another Coin Arcade game in the TCNJ collection. The game is called 'Scramble-Split Second' and consist of 2 button press reaction games both for two players. The other side of the tape had a Coin Arcade 'mines' version which is an exact copy of the one we loaded from the Hagley collection a while back.

 

The rest of the TCNJ collection is mainly VIP and 'FRED' SW, especially the FRED stuff is interesting as well as it is using a CPU which was the predecessor of the 1801. It Is actually not really a CPU as it was build of multiple chips and only used for prototyping. Still interesting stuff.

 

I'll try to share all my findings in the next Emma 02 release but that will take some more weeks or months. Mainly due to the number of tapes and every few days I find more stuff that I either need/want to emulate or want to include in some form.

 

If you can't wait and want to see the work in progress, drop me an email directly and I can provide a beta link.

 

Cheers, Marcel.

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Amazing. Who knew there was so much history behind the Studio II?

Man, I think about this every so often. Even a decade ago about all anyone knew about the system is that it came out after the Channel F, seemed technologically outdated by the time it came out, was in color in the international "clones," and that Bingo may or may not have come out. Now we know who wrote the games, who developed the system going all the way back to 1971, FRED, the arcade games, that the clones are indeed Studio IIIs, that the Studio IV was something that existed in development... and we even have a better idea on whether or not Bingo was an actual release :P I maintain that if RCA had gotten behind the FRED project with more enthusiasm, resources, and money, maybe the Studio II itself wouldn't exist, but certainly a consumer-grade personal computer built on the same tech could have beat the 1977 trio to the punch.

 

(and honestly, the games are pretty solid for that 1976-77 console release era)

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Makes ya wonder how much history we're missing on other systems...

 

The better question is what records relating to those systems (and the firms that created them) have been lost to history.

 

Sadly, only a very tiny fraction of business have any kind of archival or preservation program in place (and then only a proportion of those are even willing to make the records accessible to third-parties).

 

The volume of material that has been preserved about the development of the Studio II (etc.) is truly amazing.

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The better question is what records relating to those systems (and the firms that created them) have been lost to history.

 

Sadly, only a very tiny fraction of business have any kind of archival or preservation program in place (and then only a proportion of those are even willing to make the records accessible to third-parties).

 

The volume of material that has been preserved about the development of the Studio II (etc.) is truly amazing.

As far as I'm aware, Intellivision Productions still has all the paperwork pertaining to the Intellivision's development, with bits and pieces posted on their website. Heck, before he died, I actually was able to email Keith Robinson about a few questions, and he was able to look them up for me - I assume they still have the stuff, unless it's been donated out to like the NVM or the Strong or something. Curt Vendel has a ton of Atari materials that he rescued essentially from the garbage heap, which informed the book he and Marty Goldberg wrote - I know a bunch is on his website. The Strong Museum has all the records Jerry Lawson owned related to the Channel F's development, and stuff from various other companies and individual developers. But I would love to see the Intellivision and Atari materials make their way to a public institution like that for researchers to dig into(and anything else still around for other platforms, third party software and/or arcade games).

 

I do suspect that as far as physical documents, artifacts, and unreleased materials go, though, the Studio II and the Intellivision are in a class of their own in terms of completeness, and the Studio II is certainly in a rarefied position in terms of having any kind of outside accessibility.

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There is rather more preserved for the history of video games than I had realised, and that is heartening news.

 

But I would love to see the Intellivision and Atari materials make their way to a public institution like that for researchers to dig into(and anything else still around for other platforms, third party software and/or arcade games).

 

I agree 100%. There is little functional difference between "the records do not exist" and "the records do exist, but you cannot have access to them". I am a strong believer in libraries, archives, and similar institutions.

 

And for the record, I have amassed a very large personal collection of research materials (albeit not video game related) that will eventually be donated to a public institution for all to access and enjoy.

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It is pretty remarkable that the Studio II is probably the best documented creation of a console that exists in anything resembling a public record (save for the Odyssey). It's likely much more to do with how RCA was as a company than anything else. They were very careful about establishing legal legitimacy in case they patented anything. Big corporations like paperwork and it just so happens that RCA also had a process for saving files which is not something every corporation has.

 

As far as I know, the early console documentation would be as follows:

 

Channel F - Basically nothing. Jerry Lawson donated some sketches of stuff to the Strong but no real notebooks or processes. I don't know if anyone had contacted ON Semiconductor (who hold the Fairchild name now) but that would really be the only hope for more info. Beyond that, there's not even a lot of public info about the creation of the system beyond some FCC nonsense.

 

Atari VCS - The documentation is spotty and scattered. The stuff which was hosted at the Atari Games website was given to the Strong, but I don't know how much of that was specifically VCS related. Marty and Curt have been holding onto their stuff though they have put a little bit online. Steve Bristow's papers were unfortunately lost after his death, so anything he didn't donate to Stanford is 100% gone. Of course Joe Decuir put his notebook up on the Internet Archive.

 

Intellivision - I have been uploading the David Chandler documents on the Internet Archive (I do need to finish that sometime). Keith Robinson definitely had some internal stuff, even if some of the early info he had was contradictory to those documents. I think it would be worth reaching out to see if they would allow researchers, at least, to view such files. Sharing would be all the better but I have to imagine that they tried to keep everything after Keith's unfortunate death. Marty's book isn't forthcoming based on his current trajectory.

 

Colecovision - The only internal stuff I've seen has been from Jennell Jacquays and she hasn't shared any of that online yet. I am currently talking with one of the principle designers of the Colecovision and I will ask about anything that he has.

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Actually I wish someone would give the VideoBrain this treatment. I've done some research (Shameless Plug: http://www.atariprotos.com/othersystems/videobrain/videobrain.htm)but only from what I read from various online resources and magazine scans. I've never tried to look anyone up or dig through archives before. Same with the Exidy Sorcerer, although that at least has more info out there about it (my Sorcerer page is coming soon-ish).

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Re: Channel F I do believe there was an interview a couple years ago with the guys who designed the original prototype of the system around 74 before shopping it to Fairchild (where Lawson refined it into a commercial product that used the F8 chip instead of something else). Those fellows might still have some documentation, I don't know if anyone has ever asked. I can say with certainty that I've never seen anything related to the Odyssey2 pop up. There's a group in Tennessee dedicated to preserving Magnavox history, but I haven't been able to successfully contact them to see if anything O2 related exists.

 

Even though Hagley has a ton of records covering the Studio II's development it should be worth noting that Joe Weisbecker did a ton of dev work privately at home in his workshop, only bringing it in to be made official when the timing with management made sense and they would be willing to sign off. At that point the other engineers were allowed to work on them too, and help refine the projects/program demos and games. According to Joyce this started with the first FRED in 1969 (which was made official in 1971) and extended to the products from the back half of the 70s - the VIP, the Studio II, etc. So any complete reckoning of its history does need to take that into account to - it's not necessarily something that was written about, but involves contacting primary and secondary sources. It's still the most complete picture available (hell, you can find a ton of info on their tv, computer, and radio development too) but it isn't the end all, I guess!

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Yes, I remember that article about the early Channel F. It was a little sketchy on the details, for instance it was not clear if the prototype used Intel 8008 or 8080, though if the timeline was to be believed, the 8080 had not been released before they got Fairchild interested and the move to the F8 CPU took place. Now when we know more about Joe's early work at RCA, the other article makes more sense putting in context, and likely the idea to use a CPU and ROM to produce a video game with interchangeable games wasn't quite as groundbreaking as it first might have appeared if only one team were trying to do it.

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This is the Channel F article. Benj got pictures from them so I'm sure he asked for documentation, but the only thing I see is the papers on the cartridge locking mechanism which I believe are just part of Lawson's papers at the Strong. There's also the business report that Gene Landrum wrote up, but that's not really anything to do with the technology as much as the marketing. I'll ask but he apparently had a hard time getting these guys to talk in the first place.

 

As for Odyssey 2 most of that's in Baer's book, though he's an outsider. I have also uncovered a bit about the ongoing development from the K C Munchkin copyright case that I scanned. That would help people be able to find names for people in the division.

 

Also forgot about the Bally Professional Arcade. I have talked to Jamie Fenton but we didn't quite get to that stuff. I hope to follow up. She does have documentation, but a lot of it is related to her work on the ZGRASS programming language which was sort of happening concurrently with the Bally console development. She did tell me that her interest in personal computers was sparked by Ted Nelson's Computer Lib/Dream Machines and basically implied that was the start of the console as a hybrid computer project. Jeff Fredricksen made the custom chips which I will have to ask him a lot about as I've been uncovering some interesting details in the Dave Nutting Associates story.

 

Also to the above about the Sorceror, I have talked to some Exidy people. I still have no idea who actually headed up the Sorceror project, though I do know a lot about how it was used and their general hopes for it. All in Color for a Quarter has a bit of general info about it though I do believe he updated it in his book some. Exidy was too obscure for it's own good. Related, I have learned a lot about the Gremlin Noval computer which was sort of in the same vein. They used them as development stations in both the US and Japan.

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