Cinematronics

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For other uses, see Cinematronics, LLC and Cinematronics (album).
Cinematronics Incorporated
Industry computer and video game industry
Fate Purchased by Tradewest and renamed Leland Corp.
Successors Leland Corp.
Founded 1975
Defunct 1987
Headquarters El Cajon, California
Key people Jim Pearce: co-founder; Tom "Papa" Stroud; Larry Rosenthal;
Products Space Wars, Dragon's Lair

Cinematronics Incorporated was a pioneering arcade game developer that had its heyday in the era of vector display games. While other companies released games based on raster displays, early in their history, Cinematronics and Atari released vector-display games, which offered a distinctive look and a greater graphic capability (at the time), at the cost of being only black and white (initially).

Meager beginnings[edit]

Cinematronics Inc. was founded in 1975 by Jim Pearce, Dennis Parte and Gary Garrison in El Cajon, California, although early on Parte and Garrison sold their shares to Tom "Papa" Stroud. Cinematronics' first games, a Pong clone, a Flipper Ball copy and their first original game design, Embargo, were released in 1975, 1976, and 1977, but they were not particularly notable. The company really began to prosper after the Space Wars game came into production about a year later.

Cinematronics' first success[edit]

Larry Rosenthal, a student of MIT, had written his master's thesis on Spacewar! and wanted to create a version of the computer game that could be placed in arcades. Rosenthal had created a processor that was powerful enough to run a proper version of Spacewar! and yet inexpensive to produce. He named his TTL-based technology "Vectorbeam". After building a prototype, he shopped the machine around to various game companies, looking for a distributor. Rosenthal demanded a 50/50 share of the profits, a figure that caused nearly all companies to pass on the deal.

At this same time Cinematronics was looking for their next game. The timing was perfect for the two: Cinematronics was running out of funds and looking for any deal to land a new game and Rosenthal was selling a game but insisted on a ridiculously high profit share. The deal was made and the game was released as Space Wars.

Space Wars was the first arcade game to utilize black & white vector graphics, which enabled it to display sharp, crisp images. Space Wars had graphics which were far more detailed than the raster displays of the time. Cinematronics shipped over 30,000 units and was a top seller in 1978.

Rosenthal, feeling that he was still not receiving enough money for his innovations, left Cinematronics and formed Vectorbeam. When he attempted to take his "Vectorbeam" technology with him, Pierce and Stroud sued. The men came to an agreement outside of court with Rosenthal selling his company and technology to Cinematronics.

Vector games[edit]

With the "Vectorbeam" board under their control, Cinematronics released a series of vector graphic arcade games including Starhawk, the first one-on-one fighting game Warrior, Sundance and TailGunner.

Cinematronics experimented with color overlays on some of their games. In Star Castle, the overlay gave color to several elements of the game with fixed positions. In Armor Attack, the overlay was itself a part of the game: the overlay was a top-down view of a small set of city streets, and the player drove a jeep through the streets fighting tanks and helicopters.

Cinematronics created Cosmic Chasm, a color vector game. Other games were developed based on the same hardware system (based on Motorola's 68000 chip) but were never released, including a 3D color vector game.

Raster, laserdisc games and beyond[edit]

About 1982, Cinematronics started releasing games which used raster display, such as Naughty Boy and "Zzyzzyxx". During this time Cinematronics filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

In 1983 Cinematronics released Dragon's Lair, one of the first laserdisc-based arcade games. In order to finish the project they partnered with Advanced Microcomputer Systems (later renamed RDI Video Systems), who later tried to sell a home version of the laser-disc machine. While RDI's home console, the Halcyon, was a failure, the Dragon's Lair arcade was a huge success. Cinematronics followed it up with the similar sci-fi-themed laserdisc game, Space Ace. In about 1983 some prototype animation material for a Dragon's Lair sequel was produced, but due to the lack of an agreement between Cinematronics and the animator, Don Bluth, this material sat unused for years, eventually becoming part of the Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp game in the 1990s.

About 1984, Cinematronics released Express Delivery and other raster games based on a new hardware platform called the Cinemat System, which was designed to be reusable with replaceable software, control panels, and cabinet artwork.

About 1987, Cinematronics was acquired by Tradewest and renamed the Leland Corporation and continued to make arcade and PC game software. Tradewest was bought out by WMS in 1994 to become their console division.

Cinematronics, LLC, a completely separate entity with no connection to the original arcade game creator, was founded in 1994 and primarily developed games for Windows and Macintosh systems.

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