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Live Tim Skelly chat a success!

Tim Skelly was the first live creator chat (February 4th, 2009) at Coinopspace.com and everything went pretty smooth. Right around 50 members attended the event and Tim was nice enough to extend the session from an hour to just over 2! And as a result, most all members questions got answered and a few new insights were uncovered.

Here is the formatted version of that transcript. I have taken the information relevant to the conversation and formatted it so that the arcade history is more easy to pick out. The original chat was over 28 pages so paring this down was imperative for anyone serious about reading 🙂

Tim Skelly – Questions and Answers

Tim signed on and was online at about 9:26 and we started taking moderated questions soon after. Over three pages of questions were submitted, and the following the answers. Thank you all for participating and for your great questions and for understanding that, for simplicity stake, all questions will be asked by Coinopspace and all answers are by, of course, Tim Skelly.

Coinopspace
How many people worked on Starkhawk? Were you involved in the design of the cabinet as well as the game itself?

Tim Skelly
That’s a good one, and fairly easy. The cab graphics were done by the folks who did the panel graphics. Starhawk, as regarding the important stuff, was all me. But I want to give plenty of credit to the guys who made Rosenthals’ CPU work, etc.

Coinopspace
So you gave input to the rest of the team for what the cab graphics should look like…

Tim Skelly
Heh, team? Well, besides myself, we had three or four hardware guys who were making some mods to Larry Rosenthals original Space Wars board.

Coinopspace
So…no true ‘artists’, just whoever handled it, handled it.

Tim Skelly
You bet

Coinopspace
Frank Brunner did some artwork as well, did he not?

Tim Skelly
Frank, absolutely!

Coinopspace
Starhawk was your first Vectorbeam game?

Tim Skelly
Yes, in fact it was only the second Vecorbeam title after Space war.

Coinopspace
Were you involved with the Vectorex port of Starhawk?

Tim Skelly
No, I had nothing to do with the Vectrex games, though I think they did a nice job with them.

Coinopspace
You’re quite an artist Tim, do any of your games have artwork you designed?

Tim Skelly
The entire set-up was pretty much from scratch as we went along. I did the artwork for Sundance, my second game. After that, I hired great guys like Frank Brunner.

Side Comment – Brian D.
I know Tim did some work for Tailgunner that was never used. Jason Cody did an article in Syzygy Magazine with him years ago that had pics of the artwork.

Coinopspace
So, Sundance was one of the only ones then, if not the only one you did the artwork design on.

Tim Skelly
Yes, here is a good story about the cab art. Each game had one less color removed from the cabinet art. The cab art was stenciled, so each color was layered on. With every new game, Jim Pierce removed one more color. Check it out for yourself. Start with Warrior and go on to Armor Attack. It drove me nuts!

Coinopspace
Are the background sounds on Reactor influenced by the song My Sharona?

Tim Skelly
Ha Ha. That’s David Thiel’s work, and an amazing bit of programming. David is still in the game biz, he has been doing Pinball Games for several years now. (David is working for Stern.)

Coinopspace
So…you can’t really speak to whether David was influenced by that song or not…:)

Tim Skelly
Oh, I can tell you about the song. Like the games, the constraints were so tight, technically. That David just cranked out this crazy, cool loop.

Coinopspace
Do you prefer the wealth of programming tools available today, or do you lament the loss of the days when the coding was very manual and granular? Basically, do you feel that coding in assembly contributed to the originality found in early games?

Tim Skelly
Yes, I miss the old days, simply because the games were little gems. I’ve toyed with doing some more work, but if so, it would be a casual game of some kind, just because I like the “short story” form.

Coinopspace
How did you come up with the game play idea for Reactor?

Tim Skelly
The game idea for Reactor was originally called “Ram-it” The idea was to reverse the usual shooter and have the player figure be the projectile. I think it suffered from not having kinesthetic feedback. You should have felt some resistance when you collided.

(There was a reference made that there was a story in Joystik Magazine about Ram-It/Expander/Reactor)

Coinopspace
What was the system and software used for development in the early days, obviously they didn’t make boards and burn chips at the development stage.

Tim Skelly
The development tools were very, very, crude. Especially at Cinematronics.

Coinopspace
Punch cards?

Tim Skelly
Nope, we were too poor to have punch cards. What I had for Starhawk was a a tablet of paper and a teletype machine we used to punch in code. Fortunately, we did get a small computer shortly after that and we had a small system for printouts, etc.

Coinopspace
And over time the systems improved, yes? How did you get it from the teletype to a game board for testing?

Tim Skelly
What I remember most about those days was just that I spent almost all of my time writing code in tablets, drawing line diagrams. The tech guys got a small computer up that would allow me to type in code and that could print it out. All of the debugging was by looking over the code (on sheets of paper)

Coinopspace
That would be cool if you still had some of those tablets around.

Tim Skelly
Actually, I do have the line drawings from several games.

Coinopspace
Can you describe the product development lifecycle for a typical arcade game?

Tim Skelly
Sure, as far as I can regarding my own games. I’d start by just thinking the thing up. Then I might try a few things out, write some code, and see if it worked. Mostly it was conceptual. Since paper was cheap, I was able to try out a lot of things. Once I had an idea, like Warrior, I’d experiment with different routines.

Coinopspace
So you basically made it up as you went.

Tim Skelly
Yep, all made up.

Coinopspace
Was Warrior the first ‘mock 3d’ game?

Tim Skelly
In a way. When Larry Rosenthal started his own company his first game was “Speed Freak” which had pseudo 3D for the most part, but one crash animation that was mostly true 3D.

Coinopspace
Can you also touch on what the general process was for marketing the game? Once the game was developed, how would you guys go about marketing it or generating interest in it?

Tim Skelly
This is how it went. I would come up with a game idea. We would give it a name. We would put it out on test. Then we would count quarters. The only marketing was printing flyers and going to trade shows. A little advertising in trade papers and that was it.

Coinopspace
What exactly would you do with the quarter count? Decide whether it was worth actually selling it?

Tim Skelly
Yes. That’s exactly it. Quarter count is pretty much all that mattered.

Coinopspace
What game are you happiest with that you were involved with, game, art and all?

Tim Skelly
Rip-Off, though I wish pierce had let me get *all* the colors on the side art!

Coinopspace
Why Rip-Off? Does it have to do with multiplayer cooperative gameplay?

Tim Skelly
Of, course! But it also was the game where I hit my stride as a programmer. By the time I moved to Gottlieb, I had all the tricks I needed to make a good game. No question though, people like to play with other people, even if it isn’t in the same room, as we all know.

Coinopspace
Did you work on any pinballs at Gottlieb?

Tim Skelly
Nope, never did pins. Steve Ritchie asked me to program one for him, but nothing came of that.

Coinopspace
Did you do any work on Mad Planets?

Tim Skelly
Ah, Mad Planets. That is a cool game, but I just happened to “be in the room”. (Another member pointed out that Kan Yabumoto did created Mad Planets) Kan was cool.

Coinopspace
During the “vector months” at Sega (as you call them), did you work on, or do you recall, any games that were being worked on that were not released (other than Battle Star)?

Tim Skelly
Heh, Yeah, there were a few fun things going on at Gremlin. The game I was working on, of course, and a couple color vector games. Space Fury was one. I’m not sure about Battle Star, which game was that?

Coinopspace
(Brian D.) That was the game where, when tested, the players would “play the radar” rather than the screen, so (the game) was killed. Your exact quote in an email to me: I believe they were trying to tweak it into shape when I left. I think this game was the first 3D vector game they tried. Star Trek came soon after. What you can barely see on the screen is a series of hockey-puck shaped disks that the player would shoot at attackers — perhaps that shape up and to the right?

Tim Skelly
When I first got there, I started out doing tricks with the color Vectors, programming the colors so that they would sort of reflect the environment. The problem was that the vectors were still skinny things in a sea of black, so there wasn’t much to speak of at the end of the day. My favorite at Sega was “Space Meatball” AKA F!@k Your Buddy. There was a huge boulder and your ships were little tiny things. There was a path that ran through the boulder and if you could fly in and shoot, you would win. One of the Sega guys coined the name because that was how he played the game. 🙂

Coinopspace
Sounds like something inspired by the “Empire Strikes Back”

Tim Skelly
Yeah, it was.

Coinopspace
What was the pressure like, to get games out the door and earning money? Was there a good deal of pressure from ‘the suits’?

Tim Skelly
Well, after showing up at Cinematronics and finding nothing except a pad of paper and a desk, everything was good after that. Yes, it was stressful, but, wow! What fun I had and what freedom! Anything went. Anything you could get the hardware to do!

Coinopspace
Where they in your office everyday checking up on progress then?

Tim Skelly
Yeah, there were only a few offices, so everyone sort of hung around. I worked all night, if I didn’t have too many interruptions

Coinopspace
About how long did it take to get your games into production from the time you started working on the ideas?

Tim Skelly
Three months. We had to get them out, fast.

Coinopspace
Did that include cabinet design as well?

Tim Skelly
Yes, including cab design. I did have a rule of thumb, that the game was finished when the print-outs of the code reached the top of my desk.

Coinopspace
How many people in a design team?

Tim Skelly
I thing we had about five guys working, including myself, give or take. Most were technical. I worked with Scott Boden a lot.
Coinopspace
Do you still own a Star Castle cabinet and still play it?

Tim Skelly
Oh, I wish. I never owned any of my games. I moved around too much for that.

Coinopspace
What are your views are on people actually collecting these archaic machines?

Tim Skelly
I love you guys! I get a huge rush just knowing that the games are being enjoyed.

Coinopspace
Did you program the code for Star Castle yourself?

Tim Skelly
Glad you asked. Scott Boden wrote the code for Star Casle. Scott has been a great pal and a hell of a programmer.

Coinopspace
(Lee B.) I was thinking about how awesome it would be for you to go back and re-visit the game and make some changes or enhancements to the original game design, so that collectors like us could burn new rom images to be played in the game. One example of a VERY simple mod that could DRASTICALLY change the dynamics of the game would be to put a border around the screen (similar to Omega Race) that would keep your ship from “wrapping” around the screen
This would force the player to be engaged with the castle at all time. Of course, this is just one example of how a very simple mod would impact the game and change it considerably.

Tim Skelly
Some of the things like screen wrap were used just because it made the game play better. I think it would be great to have upgraded 3D contemporary versions of the old games. But that’s just me. A few years ago I looked into the rights for my games. At that time I went to Williams (It’s been awhile) and they were doing a new console version of Robotron. Apparently it tanked, because they didn’t repeat the exercise. As regards the rights, Williams, or whoever they are now, Gulf and Western, probably,

Coinopspace
Basically, what are your thoughts about doing an update to Star Castle for the original hardware…

Tim Skelly
Ummmm…. I’ll think about it.

Coinopspace
On Star Castle, how did the version 3 “Hard Chip” come about?

Tim Skelly
Wow, that it way out of my knowledge base. I’m a programmer (barely) and an artist.

Coinopspace
How was the artwork (control panel, bezel, sideart) for games was originally made, like the master copy? Was it made on a computer, hand drawn, etc.?

Tim Skelly
Yeah, that was all done by a little silkscreening place right next door to Cinematronics. At Gottlieb it was pretty much the same, but a bit more industrialized. Later, there were various decals, essentially.

Coinopspace
So, you hired out the artwork…gave them general ideas…and then did typical development to revise it before it was finalized.

Tim Skelly
Yes, production of the art. For the art work itself on my games, I did it myself or hired Frank Brunner or Rick Bryant (Star Castle)

Coinopspace
You hired meaning…on Cinematronics dime.

Tim Skelly
Yes, I hired the artists. On Cinematronics dime

Coinopspace
All artwork was hand drawn as long as you were in the business, correct?

Tim Skelly
Ha ha ha. Now I reveal myself as an old man. No computers were used in the making of the cabinet art.

Coinopspace
Do any of Tim’s other games contain a “secret” message like Armor Attack?

Tim Skelly
No, “Don’t Register” is the only secret in my games. No room (in the code) for easter eggs.

Coinopspace
Did Frank Brunner do the War Of The Worlds artwork?

Tim Skelly
Frank and Rick drew all the art, yes. Rick Bryant specifically did War of the Worlds.

Coinopspace
The original manual for Vectorbeam’s Space War actually includes the entire game code in HEX. Did you give out source code with any other games?

Tim Skelly
Great question! Yes, they shipped with code. To my knowledge that was not repeated.

Coinopspace
Where did Star Castle Rank – from most successful game to least successful?

Tim Skelly
I’d put Star Castle towards the top, but I think Rip-Off will always be my favorite. Least successful was Sundance, but only because it kept blowing up! These were simple games, but elegant in their own way.

Coinopspace
How long a game like Star Castle took to develop from start to end?

Tim Skelly
Three months. (As mentioned above, all games fell into this time line)

Coinopspace
So how much of an influence were the electromechanical games produced by companies like Sega, MCI, and Bally? If any at all?

Tim Skelly
Oh, I made it a habit to be around every coin-op game I could find. I really enjoyed seeing other games and ideas. These days I’m a Big Fish kind of guy.

Coinopspace
So, along those same lines then, does one game stick in your mind as something that inspired an aspect of a game you designed?

Tim Skelly
Ummm… Before I made games I was an aspiring cartoonist. Coming up with gags was tough, and I developed over time this sense of how to make something from anything. My first arcade game idea was a hang gliding game because I had just moved to southern California. It used up too many vectors, so I never went for it.

Tim Skelly
Okay, guys, time for me to head off. thanks for all the fun!

No thank you Tim for all that you have done, and continue to do. Over the years I am sure there have been many requests made for your time and questions repeatedly asked about the history of these games. We just appreciate that you are still so accessible and willing to talk about the past and keep this hobby alive and going. Thanks from all 50 or so of us who were involved in the chat and thank you so much for your time.

The next creator chat is Owen Rubin, on February 24, 2009 from 7-8 PST. Don’t miss it. RSVP at Coinopspace.com or on the Coinopspace.com Facebook page.

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Thanks so much for putting this chat together, and to the community for asking such interesting questions! I’m writing a history of Warrior right now and the information here was very helpful.

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