A little history on Nutting & Associate’s Vector Prototype

There comes a time when true history turns into a story, or a legend. What were originally factual stories are passed on from person to person to the point where details are left out, and only the general ideas remain.

This is one of my passions that drives this blog. These creators that worked for the big arcade manufacturer’s won’t be available forever, and it has been nearly 30 years since some of these original games were developed. None of which were around at the time where the internet was booming.

Today we get a few more facts on Nutting & Associate’s – Earth, Friend Mission Prototype from the mouth of a former employee of Nutting and the truth of how this vector cockpit prototype was connected to Bally’s Tron.

The benefits and risks of having cutting edge technology

In my original post I did some theorizing about a rare Nutting & Associates vector cockpit prototype. I found a mention of it at Mame World, and the information there would have you believe that this game called Earth, Friend, Mission (EMF) was developed specifically as a bid for the Tron project at Bally. The idea being, Bally put out a bid for Tron and Nutting took a shot at developing the game in the form of this prototype. However, Earth Friend was already in development at Nutting and was just really ‘thrown’ at the Tron project because it existed. Why reinvent the wheel? The development costs were already sunk.

Nutting & Associates had been developing this cockpit prototype vector game that was on the bleeding edge of technology. High end components and unique use of resources made this vector game a sure bet to be a hit. But, with any high end boards, chips and what have you – the costs are high as the performance of the hardware. When you use the top of the line components before they are wide spread and mass produced throughout any industry the base costs are that much higher.

The costs of the high end components ended up being the downfall of the Earth Friend Mission vector cockpit. That and a small detail that because of the cost of the game it would have needed 2 quarters for one play in a period of one quarter coin ups. So, what can you do? The price margin was too great, and after Bally decided to develop the Tron project in house the EFM project never saw the light of day.

The Facts about Earth, Friend, Mission

But here are some details about that game that we do know. There are limitations in how a vector monitor works and redraws. For EFM the programmers came up with some unique ways to accommodate these limitations where at the end of the game the high score wouldn’t render on the monitor but instead on small LEDs next to it. As for the controls, all we know right now is that it had a flight stick, which would imply to me that there would have been at least some firing buttons or something. There aren’t too many games out there where the main gameplay focus was to ‘dodge’ things and nothing else, especially a game that would have been considered ‘top of the line’ right before the arcade game crash.

The source for this information was employed at Nutting & Associates for only two years, leaving just before the crash. From what they could remember, there were five prototypes of Earth Friend Mission, but the whereabouts for those cabinets, hardware, or whatever else today are unknown. Maybe 😉

It turns out that there may also be some development artwork for some games that Nutting was also working on and there is a possibility we might be able to bring some of that history to the light of day. Who knows, maybe a piece or two would be pre-production artwork for a game we know. We could only hope it would be something as widespread and popular as Gorf.

Hopefully I’ll be able to continue updates as I get them.

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If you haven’t already, in regards to “Earth Friend” you should contact *temporarily removed* I could be wrong, but EF might have been the game with a camera that would take your picture if you made high score. This feature was dumped when, on test, players were mooning the camera. ;>) I played the game myself when it was on test. The display and cockpit were impressive, but I found the game play to be weak.

Tim Skelly

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Hey Tim! Good to see you hit this blog!

There is a mention of Tron being a “color XY” game in the Steve Bloom book Video Invaders, which came out a year or so before Tron did. I wonder if Bloom saw the actual game, or if that’s what Midway told him. Hmmm….

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the “XY” may just be misinformation, due to Nutting’s letter that mentions ‘XY’ for the tank level. Of course, he didn’t mean XY in the sense of vectors, but XY in the sense that it’s a basic overhead view of a maze. In other words, just X and Y coordinates with no Z (ie: not 3D)

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Well….we are getting closer to finding out some more information on Earth Friend Mission, or at least I hope. Hopefully I’ll be able to talk more about it soon, within a week or so.

Is that Steve Bloom book worth owning you think? If it was published in 1982, then it must have some pretty interesting information about the industry at that point in time…

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Jeff- sorry for the late response.

By all means, pick up Video Invaders. There is some VERY cool info and interviews within the book, although some of it is inaccurate…

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I actually played the game you refer to as “Earth, Friend, Mission” sometime back around 1983 or 1984. I was in 7th grade at the time, and I was friends with the son of an engineer who either worked for or indirectly with Dave Nutting Associates. The DNA engineers (the one I remember specifically was Jeff Frederiksen), taught computer classes for their kids using the Zilog Zeus minicomputers that they had. I remember one of the classes was in basic Unix, and another was in Forth programming. In any case, we used to go in the evenings and take these classes, and then before or after the classes we would wander around the DNA office and play the videogame prototypes they had laying around. I remember this game they called, just “Earth Friend” sitting out in their loading dock. It was a large sitdown cockpit-style game. It was, by far, the favorite of us kids. The graphics were far beyond anything I remember of the day. What I remember was a vector-drawn landscape with a trench through the middle, and you flew over the landscape blasting some kind of bugs that would jump either onto or off of the landscape (don’t remember, exactly). I thought it was incredible. My friend’s father told me once that it had a custom designed “3D computer” in it designed by Jeff Frederiksen, and it was the world’s first “true 3D computer” (whatever that means). I think he told me that Jeff was some kind of incredible, self-taught genius. Anyhow, just wanted to pass that memory along. I’d love to see that game again.

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Greg – really! That is crazy. Thanks for sharing. I can’t believe they had classes for kids of your age.

Everything you have shared is in line with the recollections I’ve tracked down. We’ve been in touch with a former DNA employee, and back in late 2008 I had tracked down what I thought was Jeff’s locality after hours of searching. But that lead went cold at the time.

References tell me that Jeff would be pretty old by now, maybe in his 80’s.

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I personally spent hours and hours playing this game at Balley’s PinPan Alley in Schaumburg, IL.

This game had a white or yellow vector terrain. Possibly in some levels it was multi-colored with each line being a different color, like when you’d get a free life award in tempest. The general layout was like a V trench of a sort. The terrain lines were mostly horizontally drawn from left to right. There were no up/down lines. Akin to driving over a series of parallel white lines. Make no mistake, this was a 3-d flight simulator style game. Vector x,y drawing.

Imagine warping from level to level in Tempest, and instead of being stuck to the grid you can fly up and down and left and right, with banking turns. And the level is constantly in warp mode. A whole landscape to fly over. And instead of being rendered with lines of longitude like in tempest; to help give the impression of speed, Earth Friend drew the V-shaped trench scenery with lines of latitude. Perhaps imagine yourself flying through the outlying moat of a Bessel function plot. Uhm, yeh..!

Sometimes the terrain wasn’t 100% V-trench shaped though. There were some variations in it and you had to maneuver through it while blasting aliens in the air and turrets mounted on the canyon walls. This was almost a rail shooter in that you couldn’t make U-Turns or do loop-da-loops. You had 3-D freedom within limits – the game progressed and pulled you along.

After flying over terrain for about 2:16 seconds (is that accurate??) you would go to space warp scene, like a bonus level, and fly through space to do something else for a while.

I don’t recall anything about the enemies, but either their weaponry or your own emitted plasma bursts that would look like the bouncing stars in StarDance on the Apple II.

The game was smooth, almost perfectly stuck at 30fps or 60fps.
The terrain started out all white, but changed to yellow and other colors and mixed colors as the game progressed. I don’t remember anything about scoring.

The level of graphics complexity was similar to Tac/Scan, Black Widow or Tempest or Battlezone, perhaps about 20% more complex/detailed. The enemy ships were about as detailed as the ones in Major Havoc. Of course, this felt like an 8-bit game, no doubt. You know how certain programmers when mixed with certain cpu chips, can produce a series of games that have an ineffable ‘signature’ about them?? Well, this strongly feels like a 6502 or Z-80, perhaps both, or multi-processor. If pushed for a 3rd choice of chip I would put money on a 6809. Whatever was used, there was adequate processing power.

The sound seemed all synthesized, no sampling going on here! I would say this had the sound characteristics of a the AY-3-8910. It sure had tonal qualities similar to Discs of Tron, Gyruss, Tron, Frogger, Vectrex.. Definitely not a Pokey chip or the TI SN76489. Come to think of it, it also sounded similar to some of the dual tones in the Intellivision home system. I don’t recall any white noise in the game. I don’t remember what was used for explosions though.

The cabinet was all white outside and flat black inside and was available in sit-down tron-style hardware or a standard stand-up.

You had a joystick controller, push forward to go down and faster, pull up to go slower and climb. Left/right to bank. There may have been a throttle lever too. But I am not sure on that. You had a finger-trigger fire button, and I think you could either fire a secondary weapon, or select a different type with a thumb button.

I do recall the guy from Balley coming out to ask opinions of the game. *I* was enthralled with it quite a lot. And would monopolize it to the point where he couldn’t really get other folks to play it and get their opinions. But the few ones I heard were just so-so, like what’s the big dead. A ho-hum game. My buddies preferred Pole Position or Donkey Kong or those stupid fighting games (did they have those back then?) It would seem the guy didn’t give a hoot about what I said because I just showered praise left and right! At one point the arcade had two units going! Yes TWO! I recalled playing this in the summer fall of ’83 .. It was in beta testing there for a good 3 or 4 months. This was the only arcade where I played Earth Friend. The guy specifically called it Earth Friend, since the cabinet had drawings on it, but no name imprinted. The title screen said it was Earth Friend too, and not Earth, Friend, Mission.

I fear this is a lost classic though. It was coming out just right prior to the crash. And I don’t know if the prototype was removed from the arcade or scrapped with the rest of the inventory. I don’t know if Balley/Midway removed it due to non-interest. And I don’t know if a guy in Palatine bought one or not. Seem to remember something about that. But, as kids, we were interested getting to the park to launch model rockets and could care less about Big Business!

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Awesome description. That sounds exactly like the game I played, although your memory must be far better than mine. Maybe you were a little older than me at the time, too.

The engineers at DNA definitely called it just “Earth Friend”, consistent with your recollection at Pin Pan Alley. What I wouldn’t give to go back in a time machine for one more visit to Pin Pan Alley sometime around 1983.

I, too, was enthralled by the game. It sounds like the game was probably too expensive for the business people at Bally, so it never made it past Pin Pan Alley.

Thanks for sharing your memories. Maybe there’s still a shred of hope that someone somewhere still has one of these prototypes in their basement.

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This have anything to do with Earth Friend?
The control description seems about right. And the graphic seems to have the general style of the little artwork I remember on the prototype I played..


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Devastator was a prototype game from Williams that had no connection to the Nutting stuff. It was designed by Steve Ritchie while on “hiatus” from designing pinball machines.

You can see some video of it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2ZSCQockuU&t=11m58s . This might be the only video ever recorded of it.

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Some concept art for Earth Friend has shown up today, scanned from Bill Kurtz’s Encyclopedia of Arcade Video Games.

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Stiletto » This is awesome, thanks for letting everyone know! A big thanks to Keith for his excellent research into arcade history!

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