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If you have a question for me, feel free to send it to owen-at-orubin-dot-com. I can't promise that EVERY question will be put on these pages, but I'll post as many as possible!

All letters are pasted exactly as I get them.

From Vaughn Ripley (

Q: Owen,
I have been looking for a dedicated Major Havoc for several years now. I was wondering what you thought I should expect to pay for one in good condition. I saw the one for sale on you site fron Dan M. and his seemed a little steep. Can you tell me how many dedicated machines were made? Finally, do you know anywhere else to find a dedicated machine?

I would appreciate any answers you could give me.

Owen: I too thought it was a bit steep at first but I do not set the price. Of that type machine however, I believe there were only about 1200 made, so that justifies the price so many years after its production. That one on the site I wish I could buy myself actually, much better condition than my prototype.

And to be honest, this is the first excellent one I have seen in a good many years, and the first real machine I have seen for sale in even more years as well. His price may seem steep, but consider that there are no more being built, only 1200 were made in 1984, some of them were converted to other games, and they do not show up for sale often if at all.

As for where else to find one, I have no idea. One use to be able to call video game distributors, but this one is so old, I suspect that it would not be available anymore. EBAY wanted list?

Perhaps I can add a list of people to the site looking, and a list selling. (Brian?)

Sorry, wish I could help but I seldom see them myself.

From justa guy (

Q: Hello Owen,
First I would just like to say it is very cool to see a person responsible for so many arcade games actually still in the loop and willing to discuss and share information and history with all of us that enjoyed the games!

I recently rediscovered an article in an old issue of Computer Entertainment Magazine where you were speaking of working on a Laserdisc game of the TV show Knight Rider, Also in that article they had comment's from Ed Logg about his workon a Laserdisc version of The Roadrunner game.

I was wondering if you could give any info about exactly how far the production into the Knight Rider game went and what it might have been like, Also in the article Ed said the Roadrunner LD game was actually field tested. Do you know how many protos were made and or any info on that game aswell?

Thanks For all you have done and for your time.

Owen: Laser Disk (LD) games. Too bad really, we never got very far on those games. Here is the story:

I spent two summer sessions at MIT in 77 and 78 (or maybe 78 and 79) educating myself on laser disk games and technology in the Architecture Machine Group (later to become the Media Lab), and basically came back to Atari and suggested that we did NOT do any games with LD. Bottom line, the technology would not survive the arcade environment, was slow and unreliable, and was very expensive for what you really got out of it. And I was right, but we started several games anyway. One was the turd Firefox, one was Road Runner which was GREAT, and WAS tested in an arcade, and then redesigned to not have the LD because it kept failing. Then we started Battlestar Galactica, for which an early LD was made but not much else.

On Knight Rider and Galactica, we went to Universal and got to look through a LOT of footage, some aired, some not of shots from the shows Knight Rider and Galactica. On Knight Rider, the game was going to be a driving game where you had to use KITT's special features to catch the bad guys. Jumping, speed, guns, electronic jamming, etc. It would be a combination graphics and video game (NOT like Firefox) with graphics better than most driving games and live video mixed in, and the voice of KITT helping you along in the game. When you did a stunt with KITT, you would see an instant replay of the stunt in live video from the show. We also had some great footage that was never seen. Like what REALLY happened to the cars (there were seven or eight of them always being repaired) after they made a jump. It really crumpled the front of the cars a lot, but that was edited out. If you missed a jump timing in the game for example, you would see the car land and crumple and you loose a life (or whatever). There were lots of outtakes that would have made great game play error footage. We never got much further than that as we killed all LD games shortly after Road Runner.

Roadrunner was similar. It used video game graphics for the game play almost identical to the game that was releases except that it used LD video instead of graphics for the background. Very cool to have the game graphics go in and out of cartoon footage. When the Roadrunner would "get" the coyote (like making him fall off a cliff or hit a truck) the game would pause and a LD "video replay" would show a real cartoon segment with that same thing that just happened. For example, in the game where the coyote has avoid stepping on the land mines, when he does, the game shows him getting blown-up in graphics, and then (not always) a video would show a real cartoon excerpt from a Roadrunner cartoon of the coyote getting blown up. It was very cool.

On Galactica, it was my idea originally as I was a Galactica fan obviously, (those are Cylon ships in Major Havoc, and the graphics displays in the tactical display were drawn like in Galactica as well), the guys who did Star Wars and Firefox started the project. I did a small amount of work as well. All that was really done was some footage on the LD that let you land a fighter ship into one of the landing bays on either side of the large ship.

I also did a Golf Simulator game where you actually hit real golf balls at a projection screen and the ball was projected the rest of the way. We recorded thousands of pictures of the Los Gatos golf course on a LD. When you started, we would project the view from the tee. You would hit a real ball with a real club, we has sensors that measured your swing, your weight balance, and where the ball hit the screen and we would calculate and project the ball on the screen onto the real course. After each shot, you could get a lesson from a Pro on something the system analyzed you might have done wrong, we measured so many things, and had about 200 lessons from golf pros. A graphic top down view would display where you shot went, and then we would display the next view. It had silly things like going into water hazard footage as well. I actually have the ONLY copy of the LD (I wonder if it still even plays, I have not tried for so long) that shows Galactica footage and the Golf footage. Neither was ever built.

The video on the disk is recorded in such a way that playing it back would look like garbage. It is a bunch of still frames that you play out of order so that you can change what you are playing seamlessly. For example, the landing footage is one of 9 to 16 or so frames from different positions as you approach the landing bay. Imaging a 3x3 of 4x4 grid of possible positions you can approach from, with the center being straight on. If you fly straight, the program would display every 9th frame which was the video of flying straight. If you moved right, you would select the proper "frame view" and it would look like you moved in the video to the right, and now play every 9th "right position 1" video frame in order. With this scheme, you could fly in 2 dimensions with the joystick while the game pushed you forward in the third as well, controlled by a throttle.

Anyway, I doubt there is any prototypes of any of these games, and what happened to the LD for Road Runner is anyone's guess.

Hope this helps some.

From: Ed Burns (

Q: Hello Mr. Rubin,
Thanks for putting up your most excellent site, and thanks for creating Major Havoc. I'm writing also to inform you of the broken image links on the page.

I really enjoyed the computer lingo jokes in the story: humanity pushed onto the planet stakk, stopall, a cluster of vaxxians. Excellent!

I'd like to read the rest of the story.

Owen: Thanks for the pointer. I'll pass on the word on the broken pointers to see if we can get that fixed. (NOTE FROM BRIAN: actually, the broken links weren't supposed to have any pictures. I guess I got a little paste-crazy :)

There were a LOT of computer jokes. I opted to NOT go to a trade show that week and originally had game credits in the space. I spent that week writing the story, which was later shortened. We programmed on VAX computers (not Dec Stations) and thus the VAX puns.

From Stefan Jokisch (

my driver for Triple Hunt is almost done. As expected, the emulated version doesn't do the game justice, but at least it's playable and you can watch those cute sprites. Perhaps we will get hold of artwork or sound samples some day.

By the way, have you ever seen the bonus stage of Sega's Carnival - that was obviously inspired by "Hit the Bear"...

I'm not sure what my next project will be, but it might be "Orbit".

Owen: This is VERY cool.

I wish I knew where to get the art or sounds. The sounds were very simple as I recall. I would really like to see a MAME build that would let me play. We should be able to come up with some artwork actually, it was also simple.

The hard part will be adding the "masking" layers to the driver for the artwork. The artwork was in two pieces. One piece was a mask that went over the monitor (NOT VISIBLE TO THE PLAYER), the other was the piece behind the half-silvered mirror. This let objects "disappear" behind the artwork, for example, the bear would appear to walk behind one tree and then in front of the next one.) The gun actually "read" the light from the screen, so you could not hit the object when masked. There was artwork and a mask for all three games! Or the witches and ghosts would fly out of the windows properly masked by the window edge.

Orbit would be very cool, I might even have a working board in my garage, I need to go look again. I think I might have listings as well, which would make the hardware addresses easier. I will look when I return from vacation and send you the hardware addresses at minimum if I have it.

Send on the game when you get the chance, I am dying to see the graphics. As I recall, they looked VERY strange without the overlays!

More from Stefan Jokisch

Hi Owen,
I have not yet found the time to fix the sprite positions in Triple Hunt. The good news is that Orbit is working perfectly except for the missing sound. Aaron Giles is also making good progress with the new artwork system...

I'll let you know when any further progress is made. I will probably spend some time on polishing a few drivers. My next project might be Starship 1. (NOTE FROM BRIAN: drool :P~ )

I have a question about Cannonball: Was this game ever released? All the information I found on the net indicate that it was prototype only.

PS: Some people left their initials in the Orbit ROMs. :-)

Owen: I had forgot ALL about the initials, thanks for the memory jog. That game was before we were allowed to put our names in the game. Originally, entering my home phone number at the time would display the initials. I have NO idea what my number was at that time, but when scanning the code, if you see some tests on the options panel for a series of numbers, that was what it was going to be. It was originally my birth date followed by my SSN, but I did not want that info in the ROMS anywhere!

I do not recall if Cannonball was ever really built. I thought they did several hundred games, and I use to have one long ago. I gave away 13 years ago when I got married, along with thousands of dollars of other collectors games now! *SIGH* Who would have known! :-)

Where did you find Cannonball anyway?

And yes, please send your latest builds, I would love to see Orbit. Can I have the ROMS too?

From: Brad Niven (

Hey there Owen!!
I'm an arcade fanatic. I think it was because my father used the arcade as my babysitter when I was little...and you know what?!? I don't regret the time I spent in arcades at all....from a child's perspective, it was the best thing around. And it was people like you, the creative and imaginative programmers, that sculpted and colored my world back then. I seriously give all those hours spent plugging quarters much credit for my creativity and vivid imagination I enjoy now at the ripe age of 30. I was writing this letter first to thank you very much for Major Havoc...above all other games, I enjoyed and reveled in this one the most. Yours must have been a fascintating world back then, given our current level of technological advancement. Imagine my surprise when I found out about emulators (whatever the hell those are...although I am very creative, it is more on the academic side rather than the techno side). Your site helped a great deal in finding everything I need to take me back to the eighties. Keep creating Owen, the world will only get better.

Owen: Thanks for the letter and the kind comments :)

From: Tomas Dahlgren (

Hello Owen.
I am happy to be able to mail you. One could say that I am a fan of yours. I have doubles of Space Duel. It captured my attention some years ago when it was descretally standing in a corner of an arcade in a amusement park here in Stockholm.

It was the explosion sounds that really cought me. I thought it was the thunder outside, but no, the weather was fine so it could only be Space Duel. It became an obsession for me to feel the panel rumble under my hands as I blew up the objects. The explosion sounds are fantastic. How did you come up with those? Did you work alot on creating the rumbling, to get it right? I mean, they really sound like thunder!! I am always looking for games with powerful sounds.

Owen: Thanks for the message. I wrote quite a bit of the sound software for Atari games, and I was obsessed with good sounding effects. Some if it was having larger speakers put in the game, baffles behind the speakers or at least an air space to get the base. And then I spent a good deal of time tweaking the sounds. The explosion sound actually came when I was adding the fireworks at the end of the game, and likes the sound so much, I replaced the regular explosion with the sound.

I have a Space Duel cocktail that has even more base than the upright. I like the sounds too! Thanks for writing.

More from Tomas Dahlgren

Owen: No problem, I still like talking about the old games.

Tomas: ... It must have been quite a project developing/modifying sounds in those days compared to todays easy-to-use PC software.

Owen: A lot of our sounds had sound support hardware, so in some cases, it was easier, we just built a circuit to do the sound. Then we started to use the "pokey" chip, which was a sound and input device developed for the Atari 800 personal computer. We sounded better because we put better speakers and enclosures. In some cases, we simply played with the sound parameters until something sounded good. An explosion is just a LOT of white noise with a heavy emphasis on the base. The start of the sound is a VERY rapid ride in amplitude and and then the amplitude is modulated to a decay. I added "echo" type effects (variances in the amplitude as if the sound were echoing off a wall far away) in the middle of the sound, and some additional random modulation to get better explosion effects. I used the same effects in Major Havoc.

Tomas: What is "baffles"?

Owen: I think that is the right word. In good speaker enclosures, you have something called a baffle, which is a long channel chamber behind the speaker. Look up Bose, and see how they do their Wave radio to see a baffle in action. Most speakers are what are called "air suspension", and the area behind the speaker helps make sound as well. A speaker in a good enclosure will sound considerably better than will a speaker standing out in the middle of the air. That is baffling.

Tomas: When you wrote that the cocktail version of Space Duel has even greater base than the upright I immediately opened my Space Duel manual to study the cocktail cabinet closer. It has only one speaker, but maybe the speaker is placed in a way that the resonans may allow for the base to build up more.

A much better cabinet enclosure, and a slightly bigger speaker (at least in my prototype) so it is much better sound.

I am currently constructing a cabinet where I will play all my vector games, and I want to study the sound phenomenon to make the optimal base perfornance with Atari speakers. I only use Atari parts from scrapped/discarded cabinets.

I thought about converting one of my old games to a Mame cabinet as well. I would buy better speakers if I were you, things will sound MUCH better. I do not believe Atari spent a lot of money on speakers in the early days. I would suspect that the Star Wars cabinet has the best speakers of all.

I only know one more xy-game which has the kind of explosions as Space Duel, and that's Gravitar. Do you know other games which have those good base sounds?

Owen: Rich Adam worked right next to me, and I believe he used some sounds from Space Duel. We shared a lot of things at Atari, no reason to rewrite code effects that were already done. Tempest used the early sound routines as well, but he had no large explosions. I think Star Wars may have a large explosion as well, as they used my routines, but not my sounds. I also had good explosions in the game Tunnel Hunt, but it is not vector game.

Tomas: The Mame (emulated) version of Space Duel does not have the good base sounds. Mame have higher frequencies mixed into the sounds and are not as "booming" as the real thing. I think it may have something to do with the amplifier, or?

Owen: Impossible to emulate the pokey chip perfectly, so that has a lot to do with it. Try plugging the output of the computer into a good amp, and crank up the base. It will help.

Take it easy.

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