Tim Skelly

I picked designer/programmer Tim Skelly's brain and asked him about Armor Attack:


Armor Attack was done at a time when I felt I had worked out a few things about game design. I was just trying to do an artful update of one of the earliest video games, "Tank." Everything went smoothly. There were only two problems. One was that (again and again and again!) (Jim) Pierce wouldn't allow the mirror technique used in Warrior to be used here for a background. Pierce and (Papa Tom) Stroud (the owners of Cinematronics) were cheap, cheap, cheap! With every game they took away one more color from the cabinet art because each pass cost a few pennies more. Check it out. If I had done one more game the artwork would have been black on black!

Like Warrior, I just didn't have the drawing time to draw the (very important!) background outlines on the screen during the game. (They can be seen by themselves in the test mode for alignment.) So, the clever solution that management came up with was to use the same kind of overlay that was used on Star Castle. The problem was that the overlay wasn't covering/coloring anything but black! That's why the playfield for the game is either black or slightly-greenish-black. Ah, well. It worked well enough I guess.

A second event occurred about the time I had just started the game. We heard through the grapevine that Atari had completed a tank game and was testing it in the Bay area. Obviously we were concerned. One of the management guys went through the phone books for the bay area and called every arcade until he found the one with the test game. (He used a cheesy hillbilly accent. It was pretty funny.) We flew up immediately. When we got there we spotted the game, which turned out to be 'Battle Zone.' Since it was 3D and mine was top-down with entirely different game play, we went ahead with our plans, despite how good we thought the Atari game was. But that's not the funny bit. While everyone else was checking out 'Battle Zone' I wandered around the arcade like I usually did, looking for games I hadn't played. I found one and really got into it. It, too, was an Atari test piece, but none of the management guys thought much of it. Funny, I really thought 'Missile Command' would make it. ;>)

At the time I was finishing the game, the (US) government decreed that every male of draft age had to register, even though there was no draft in effect. This pissed me off (old draft resistor), especially since my buddy Scott Boden was someone who had to sign up. I wanted to use morse code sounds in Armor Attack, and I knew morse, (old boy scout) so that's real morse code in the game beeping out "dontregister." I was also assuaging my own conscience, since I had heard that Atari had sold Battle Zone to the Army.

Tim worked for Sega/Gremlin during what he calls the "vector months", so I thought he might have some information about the unreleased vector game Battle Star. Here's what he told me:

I think I know this one. I believe they were trying to tweak it into shape when I left. (I was certainly there when Space Fury was made.) 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?

The reason I'm pretty sure about this is the rectangle at the top of the screen. The aiming and shooting was so difficult (drift or some other secondary motion may have been involved) that they had to include a top-down view for the player to reference. I don't know if any of these were ever shipped. The problem was that players were "playing the map." That is, the best way to play the game was to look at the schematic view (the rectangle) all of the time because it provided more and better information than the primary screen. Not exactly getting the most out of the 3D experience. ;>)


Thanks Tim!