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Introducing: Carol vs. Ghost Arcade Edition!


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As I mentioned in an earlier post, the time has come to let the cat out of the bag and share with everyone a secret project I've been cooking up for the last two months:  Carol vs. Ghost Arcade Edition.


A Strange & Completely Random Beginning

At the end of September I received a very interesting e-mail.  The conversation went something like this (excerpted for publication):


  • SOME GUY:  I own an arcade - With permission of course, do you have an arrangement for commercial use of your game?
  • ME:  What sort of use do you have in mind?  It may be something we could arrange.
  • SOME GUY:  I envisioned an arcade cabinet running your game for the Holiday/Christmas Season.  We would have to find a way to lock out any unwanted options, wire up for coin start, etc.
  • ME:  I could definitely provide a modified ROM with some tweaks to make it more "arcade-friendly" (perhaps even an "attract mode" and some branding for your location).
  • SOME GUY:  That is great news that you are considering our request.  An attract mode would be awesome!


From there on, we established a relationship and started making plans for the actual project.  It turned out I was talking to one Joe LeVan, proprietor of a real arcade.  Mr. LeVan has been in the business for over 20 years, with a solid reputation in the industry running gaming tournaments and other events.  His latest venture was to be a brand new arcade establishment named Challenge Arcade which was to have its grand opening sometime in November, a little over a month away.


So, after some long conversations and friendly negotiations, we arranged the terms of a commercial license for exclusive use of the game, and off we went to start modifying Christmas Carol as necessary.


An Ever-Growing To-Do List

The plan was to modify the game quickly with some minor changes to enable it to work in an amusement environment, things like accepting coins, a short "attract mode" sequence, and re-cycling the game automatically upon game-over.


However, this quick-and-dirty "to-do" list quickly turned into a rather large laundry list of enhancement and bug fixes to make the game not only practical for an arcade, but actually unique and exclusive for Mr. LeVan's establishment.


In the end, the game included that an much more.  Among the new features are:


  • A robust boot-up sequence that configures internal game settings and displays a licensing screen.
  • A modified title sequence with more colors, and the original credits pages changed with announcements of the host arcade and other details.
  • Support for configurable coins per credit.
  • Real-time coin pulse scanning on a dedicated input channel.
  • A rather extensive "attract mode" sequence which includes sections for:
    • Meet the cast
    • How to play
    • Scoring
    • Demo play
    • High-score screen
  • A new "Player One - Get Ready" screen when starting the game, with animated sprites and musical jingle.
  • Key mapping to support standard MAME control keys.
  • High-score, coins, usage, lives, and other game configurations persisted in NVRAM.
  • Three new bonus levels presented as challenge stages for extra points.
  • A never-before released game mechanic for the bonus levels.
  • Many, many bug fixes and internal optimizations.


The NVRAM support is especially important, since the game is intended to run unattended, in a commercial environment.  The feature needed to be stable, robust, and reliable; so great care went into implementing the function based on Joe Zbiciak's JLP "save game" reference code and numerous recommendations for stability and reliability.


The software keeps track of changes to system settings and the number of coins inserted, then persists it all as necessary at various transition points throughout the life of the program.  Thus, if the game crashes, or the machine needs to be shut down for some reason, all settings and credits can be restored automatically on the next boot-up.  Storing the high-score along with the rest was just icing on the cake.


The Arcade Challenge

The new Challenge Arcade is located at the Berkshire Mall, in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, just about an hour from Philadelphia.  It is a cavernous location, with ample space for many games.  At the moment, still close to its opening, it includes a bit over 80 distinct games.  However, Mr. LeVan tells me he expects that number to grow steadily as they settle in, with the hope of eventually reaching over 200 unique games!


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At some point in time during our conversations, I mentioned to Mr. LeVan that it would be ideally cool if Christmas Carol were housed in a Pac-Man cabinet -- not only would it be very fitting, but it would also be an homage to Carol's own roots.  After all, Christmas Carol started life as an Intellivision port of Pac-Man.  Mr. LeVan agreed, and diligently found an original Pac-Man cabinet and proceeded to prepare it for a new life.


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As part of our deal, I would include artwork for the cabinet, posters, and a new marquee.  Due to the limited time available, the plan was to re-use as much of the promotional assets I had already lying around from the Carol vs. The World tournaments I ran in the past.  I modified a few of the images I already had to fit the new project.


Here's the marquee:


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And here are a couple of promotional posters:


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Unfortunately, time and resources were scarce as opening day approached, so we could not complete the cabinet transformation with proper decals and bezel.  At least for the moment, Christmas Carol would have to live within a semi-intact Pac-Man cabinet:


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Carol vs. Ghost - Arcade Edition

Below is a description of the new game, Carol vs. Ghost - Arcade Edition, complete with screenshots and videos.


Attract Mode

First off is the new "attract mode."  Every video game in an arcade must include a way to showcase the game and attract players, and so Carol follows the long tradition.


The attract mode sequence goes through various stages to illustrate the game, its characters, and its mechanics.  Below are some screenshots of the different sections:


First, when the game is initially started, a special copyright screen is shown for several seconds expressly stating the exclusive license of the game:


  • 01-license.thumb.png.20e0092900b6dd8081c49856985dea10.png


Then an updated rendition of the animated title screen is shown, with more colors and the moniker "arcade":


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As before, the title screen transitions into the "credits" section, with location branding and copyright information:


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Then a new "Meet The Cast" animated section introduces the characters in the game:


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Following the character introductions is the "How To" section, which describes the game mechanics.  This turned out to be an important and necessary part to include, for devoid of the instruction manual which is traditionally included with the cartridge game, there is no other way for arcade players to know what the goals are or how to play.


Great care was taken in making sure that the important aspects and mechanics were illustrated in a simple, concise, and fun way.  It needed to be interesting and inviting, since the whole point is to attract new players to the game.


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The player instructions are directly followed by the scoring scheme.  Again, an important thing to illustrate for a game that demands people's coins in order to play.


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Right after, a short demonstration game is played automatically.  On every attract cycle, the program chooses randomly from four different levels and showcases its introduction cut-scene, and a scripted play intended to show the mechanics of the game in full.


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And finally, the attract mode sequence ends with the "Insert Coin" screen, which doubles as the high-score display.  The screen is contextual, depending on the number of credits available.  If no coins have been inserted, it will say, "Insert Coin(s)"; when not enough coins are available for a credit, it will say, "Insert Additional Coin(s)"; and when there is at least one credit, it will say, "Press Start/Player One Only":


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After a few seconds on, the screen transitions back to the title screen, and the attract sequence starts again.  This cycle continues endlessly until credits are inserted and the game is started.


Arcade Game-Play

The game-play remains mostly intact, with some minor enhancements to the enemy A.I and internal optimizations.  A new "Player One Start" screen has been added to mark the beginning of the game and ensure the player gets ready to start.  The screen include animated sprites and a nice Christmas-themed jingle to focus the player's attention.


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Below is a full play session by yours truly to illustrate the game in action, including one of the new bonus levels.  (Please don't judge my skills -- I've been coding more than playing the game, so I'm severely out of practice):



There is also a slight change to the way that collisions with the Ghost are handled, which I consider an improvement in general:  Rather than just playing the collision sound effect and returning the presents to the board, the stolen presents flash and flicker temporarily before returning, in a colorful and eye-catching effect.


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This turned out to be a sorely needed enhancement, since many arcade players commented that they really couldn't tell what happened when they collided with the Ghost -- they just realized at some point that the board was reset, which caused some initial confusion and even minor frustration.


When the game ends, it goes straight into the "Insert Coin/High-Score" screen and from there back into the attract mode cycle.



New "Scary Ghost" Bonus Levels

From the beginning, Mr. LeVan had requested that I include some special "exclusive" content for his game, so that he may promote it as an exclusive title only available at his arcade.  Once again, in the interest of expediency, I decided to re-use existing code and features which I had worked on before -- some of it from the upcoming "Ultimate Edition," and others from the various "Special Editions" I created for winners of the Carol vs. The World competitions.


In the end, I went back to the "Special Edition" prepared for user Liduario, a.k.a. @LidLikesIntellivision, winner of the CvW Championship in 2014.  Liduario liked the custom mechanics created for his game so much, that he requested I release it generally.  It will be part of the "Ultimate Edition," but in the meantime, I decided to include some of it as bonus levels in the new "Arcade Edition."


The "Scary Ghost" itself is a brand new mechanic which adds a new level of challenge to the game:  The Ghost randomly transforms into what Liduario called the "Scary Ghost":  turning either red-hot or blue-cold, with a special power that affects the player's speed, making him go faster or slower, respectively.  In addition to the speed penalty, when the Ghost hits Carol three times in the same color, he will take one of her lives.


For the new Arcade Edition, the "Scary Ghost" is only included in the three new challenge stages.  These are peppered in between the regular stages, and provide the player with the chance to earn additional points without losing anything.




There are three challenge stages:

  • Toy Surprise!
  • The Scary Ghost!
  • A Scary Chase!


The "Scary Ghost" is introduced progressively through the series:  The first challenge stage is purely a race against time, with the "Scary Ghost" locked in a pen.


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In the second one, the "Scary Ghost" is unleashed, and the player must avoid him -- but there is still plenty of space separating them.


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The third and last challenge stage has the player facing the "Scary Ghost" head on, in his own cave, making it the most difficult to complete.


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A Cordial Invitation

That is it -- that's the new Carol vs. Ghost - Arcade Edition in all its splendid glory and gory details.  This version of the game is exclusive to Challenge Arcade, so it will not be released to the general public, at least not in its current state.


Nonetheless, because some of its parts were taken from the still in-development "Ultimate Edition" (namely the "Scary Ghost" mechanic and some other enhancements), everyone will be able to experience at least some of its features in the future.


In the meantime, I invite you all to visit Challenge Arcade at the Berkshire Mall in Wyomissing, PA.  Challenge Arcade will be home to some very popular gaming tournaments in the coming year, and Mr. LeVan and I have been talking about a potential deal to showcase Christmas Carol in one of the local ones.

So, get some change, take a road trip, and play a game or two. :)




Edited by DZ-Jay
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12 minutes ago, cmadruga said:

Amazing story, congratulations!


I wish the arcade was closer to me, as I’d love to stop by and give your game a shot.

Thanks, me too.  It has all be remote work and telephone communications.


My wife told me recently that I should get my own cabinet to put up the game in our living room.  Fancy that. :)



Edited by DZ-Jay
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1 minute ago, carlsson said:

Somewhere, I read a brief note about this project a few weeks ago, but since I found no information elsewhere, let it pass. Glad to be able to read the complete story now!


I meant to post this by Thanksgiving, in time for the arcade opening and the game's debut, but never got around to recording the videos and writing the history until this week-end.  In order to ensure to at least mention that it was coming (and build interest), I posted a short blurb announcing the project, but with little details.


It was intended to be a 2-week project (just like Christmas Carol!) and ended up taking over a month of long nights interspersed with $DAYJOB work.  :)



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I wonder if a wrapper could make it easy to get this on Steam?  Or other Intellivision games.


Not many games lend them selves to arcade controls.  But this is one that certainly does.  I would hope Carol and a few others make it to Evercade etc.


If you cannot tell, this is one of my favorite games for the Intellivision.  Been waiting for the followup as patiently as possible. ;)  


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I forgot to mention that my deal with Challenge Arcade is for the whole Christmas Season, so the game will be available at the arcade until the middle of January, 2023.


Mr. LeVan and I are discussing extending the license agreement, so  Carol vs. Ghost - Arcade Edition may yet live a longer and fuller life. :)


Still, you better hurry up, just in case!  There’s just about a month left to celebrate Carol’s special 10th anniversary!



Edited by DZ-Jay
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2 hours ago, DZ-Jay said:

I forgot to mention that my deal with Challenge Arcade is for the whole Christmas Season, so the game will be available at the arcade until the middle of January, 2023.


Mr. LeVan and I are discussing extending the license agreement, so  Carol vs. Ghost - Arcade Edition may yet live a longer and fuller life. :)


Still, you better hurry up, just in case!  There’s just about a month left to celebrate Carol’s special 10th anniversary!



It is just to far away with so much going on at work and home.

If only the Philly Classic was also going on during this period of time. 


I am full out crazy through Feb 1.  I am guessing, the slow down is closer to March 1.  Migrating 7 systems to 1 ( 3 really )  1 complete system and 2 other reporting systems for historical data not being migrated. 

I am aging faster then the intellivision version of Coleco's Donkey Kong.


To say I need a vacation is an understatement. ;)


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3 hours ago, gunoz said:

The Berkshire Mall's directory map doesn't show the arcade, but sleuthing from the pictures it seems to be right around stores 210/220. If I get down to Reading in the next few weeks I'll try to check it out.


Let me know how it goes!  See if you can get your high-score on the game.



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This is the part where I creep in and ask if there's any chance of a ROM release for home arcades later. I'm still fussing with the controls for Intellivision (that black pile is a pair of Flashback controllers and adapters I'm waiting on more cords for), but if I could just throw that in the arcade ROM folder and play...


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59 minutes ago, colormesticky said:

This is the part where I creep in and ask if there's any chance of a ROM release for home arcades later. I'm still fussing with the controls for Intellivision (that black pile is a pair of Flashback controllers and adapters I'm waiting on more cords for), but if I could just throw that in the arcade ROM folder and play...



Oh goodness gracious me!  That's an awesome looking cabinet!


To be honest, there is currently no plan for a general release of the ROM, since I have it under contract for an exclusive license.  It is a limited license at the moment, but out of good will, I expect to give the party the opportunity of first refusal to extend it.


However ... who's to say what will happen in the future.  I am working on the "Ultimate Edition" of Christmas Carol, and I may be inclined to add coin support, an attract mode, and other arcade-y features to that one ... ;)



Edited by DZ-Jay
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My dearest wife just surprised the heck out of me with this: 😱




Now ... to figure out a way to make put Carol vs. Ghost Arcade on it ... 🤔





Edited by DZ-Jay
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