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Spellrazor - a haunted arcade game from 1981 · By Fluttermind

Suggestions Sticky

A topic by Fluttermind created Jan 18, 2016 Views: 734 Replies: 25
Viewing posts 1 to 10

Think something needs changing? Got an idea you think would make the game better? Bring it on. Even if I disagree, and think you're Mr Wrong of Wrongtown, I'll explain why, because if I can't, I'm probably Mayor of Wrongtown. And nobody wants to be that guy.

Enjoying my first explorations of the game. One thought: I'm not always sure which spell I've maxed out when I start getting gold. Maybe a notification when you get to 10, similar to the one when you hit 0?

Also, there seems to have been corruption in some of the accompanying data; Jolt Cola wasn't introduced until 1985. DMB must have been drinking something else.

Developer (1 edit)

Yup. Good idea. Also need to make chests more obviously spew spells, and pickups to give more feedback in general.

And I hate you for spotting that blooper. The tractor feed paper was really crumbly in this area near a fold, so I... um... inserted a likely drink/drug/thing he'd have wanted to spend money on. Initially, I put 'Twinkies' but that just seemed wrong.

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As well, or instead of, a notification, maybe spells that are maxed out could be gently highlighted in your inventory? Actually, I think I much prefer this. A highlight is still useful three minutes later, when you've forgotten which notification you received and which spells you've used since then.


Turn the numbers red?

To me, red suggests something bad is happening. How about turning them yellow (for gold!) or putting them on a colored background? I defer to your proven sensibilities.


Well, it's in the game as fiery red/orange. Let me know what you think. I can always reverse them so that red/orange is default.

Fabulous! That works for me. I hadn't seen the '+' notifications before either, loving it.

Actually, it's hard not to wonder if the entire calendar is off by a year. Making Spellrazor in the spring of 1981 would mean Bower had never seen Tempest or Robotron or (I think) Omega Race. Defender would have been out there, barely, but I don't know how fast distribution channels got it to various cities in the US. Spellrazor screams with the joy of taking something to the next level, but it feels like it's building on the aforementioned classics, not on Pac Man and Space Invaders.

So even taking into account his modified hardware, this would make more sense to me as a project from 1982 than 1981.

This concludes maybe the pickiest post I have probably ever made on the internet. Please enjoy. :)

Developer (1 edit)

No, it's 1981 (Defender was released in February that year). I believe Bower was working at Williams at the time, contemporaneous to Defender (in the next windowless lab). He showed it to Eugene Jarvis at one point, who laughed and said "I don't even have a reverse button on my game and that's still considered too complicated. You're nuts." (This is true - Defender originally only allowed you to fly forward). The reason I haven't mentioned either direct quotes from Eugene or the name 'Williams' is that (cough) Lawyers (cough, splutter). I redacted them. :-)

As for the 6503, somewhere between '75 and '81, someone was doing weird stuff with the 6502. I am presuming a former cult member.

Bower went missing at the end of 1981, but is believed to have moved to Sinneschlosen, although that can't be confirmed, of course. Some believe Polybius IS just Spellrazor with a re-skin (hence the short timeframe), but those people are probably fools.

Oh, if he was internal to Williams the timeline makes perfect sense! Sorry about that.

In any case, thanks for your dedication to restoring this piece of history. Looking forward to playing through the rest of it.

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Sorry about all the edits; I learned a lot of stuff about some interesting history in Williams, and have been revising this post; it's worth a thorough read!

It's a funny thing, I used to live in the Chicago area; Around that time, Chicago was the hub of video game manufacture in the United states; Companies like Bally, Midway, Gottlieb, Stern and many others were based out of the Chicago area. My father worked in vending machine/coin-op service, and arcades were everywhere. it was a magical time. Being from that area, and being a young arcade enthusiast in that era, as well as having a father who worked in the industry allows me some insight into how / why SpellRazor may have come to be cancelled, so indulge me while I share some info:

The game, Berzerk (manufactured by Stern a Chicago-based company) was made in 1980. It was the first arcade game to use digitized speech, and was ridiculously expensive to implement at the time (cost about $1000 per word, in 1980, that was a LOT of money!) so, as it would have been probable to implement speech in spellrazor, the addition of Speech digitization saying the phrase, "Threat detected, seek and destroy" would have cost the developers about $5,000 (which comes to about $14,502.56 USD in today's money) quite pricey.

Judging by the graphics of the game, with it's clean lines and particle effects, it could have only been implemented as a vector game. Vector displays have been used by some arcade manufacturers in the USA (such as Atari) but Williams was not known for a color Vector display in any of their machines (which were raster based) of course, there has been recent info about a color vector prototype that was being worked on by Williams... in the timeline between the games Robotron and Blaster. Robotron was a game from 1982, which would place the timeline for this mysterious vector game anywhere from 1981 (when development on this project was possibly started) to 1983 (when Blaster was released) The vector game was going to be called "Predators" or possibly "Conquest". Although the article I link below is uncertain of the title and has pretty much ruled out the possibility of the game being called Predators, we will refer to it as "Conquest" for clarity...

Some info from the developers:

"Between Robotron and Blaster, Eugene (Jarvis) and I spent a great deal of time working on what was going to be Williams' first color vector game. There was a hardware system designed around the 68000 CPU. We built up a home-brew development system to work with the Gimix boxes and worked on the beginning of a space game." -Larry Demar

More info on this prototype including schematics photos can be found HERE

In theory, development of Spellrazor could have started prior to this, with the intention of running it on the same hardware... one of the reasons for the projects cancellation may have been due to the fate of the prototype hardware being unsuccessful or not up to the performance specs required. Another possibility could be that the basis for this vector hardware came from repurposed assets from the now-cancelled SpellRazor project, and in attempting to switch to a different CPU, found it wasn't up to par and the "Conquest" project fell apart as a result. Either that, or "Conquest" suffered from similar "side effects" that SpellRazor did, due to using similar hardware. It's highly unlikely we will ever know for sure; but it does give one insight. Also of interest is the Hardware developer who worked on the vector – R Van Ollefen. Little is known of this person, searches turn up nothing, and supposedly he worked for Williams only briefly, similar to Mr Bower, and supposedly disappeared around the same time... Are the disappearances of these two developers which happen to be around the same time frame somehow related?

Another quote from Larry regarding this:

"The hardware design (which was done by a classmate of mine that had a very short employment at Williams) was flawed and the images that were produced were fuzzy. I think he used an analog design for something that everyone else did digitally (or maybe the other way around) and had a problem with noise getting amplified that he could never solve.
In the middle of it all the hardware designer had differences with the management and left the company. At that point the project died."

Of note, many of these effects can be caused by what is known as the Bucha Effect (or Flicker Vertigo) when a person is exposed to a flashing light source somewhere in the 20hz range. It can cause Nausea, Vertigo and disorientation in exposed subjects, and epileptic fits and seizures in those who are overly sensitive or prone to seizures.


I think that post might win 'posts'. Go home everyone. It's been won. Don't waste your time here. The winner is Big-E. We're done. No, really. I can't think of anything anyone could do to top that. That is just amazing. Thanks so much!

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No problem; I love doing research :)

Edit to add; You should read the comments on that article I linked; Tons of info! Apparently someone had tracked down Mr. Ollefen in 2011, and supposedly: 1) he doesn't work in the electronics industry at all anymore and 2) "Doesn't remember much from back then"... Very strange...

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As for Polybius, My theory is that the confusion comes from the game "Cube quest", which was the only game produced by a startup called Simutrek (sound similar to Sinneslochen?) It was released in 1983, was raster-based, with a primitive 3D modelling engine that overlaid rasterized graphics over footage from a laserdisc. The game is currently emulated perfectly in MAME; I have it installed, and it's trippy and fun. A cross between a surreal space shooter and a puzzle game (due to the Cube elements) It's a rare arcade cabinet. never saw one in the flesh personally, but it was featured on the game show, Starcade" in an episode.

Paul Allen Newell was responsible for the programming... interesting to note the development of the game was originally done on the Vectrex (vector display-based home console). Roms for this prototype exist in the wild, btw.

Youtube video of the gameplay and attract screens: note the similarity between what was described in the gameplay descriptions of Polybius.

A thought: When I run out of shield, I love the handy warning message. But then when I hit 's', and successfully activate a shield, the warning message is still displayed until it times out. This might just be me, because I'm old and sick, but it makes me uncertain whether I now have any shields activate or not.

I know there are other indications that my shield invoke really did work. and it never lasts for long - it's only a second or so. But when I've just lost my last shield, it's at a critical moment when I'm probably already under pressure and flustered, so I get uncertain and distracted, which is sometimes fatal.

So I'm wondering whether that warning message should disappear instantly when you activate a shield.


I'll add this to the list. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I've played it so much I just stare through things like this, now!



My high score list says that someone died of "incompetance". That A should be an E.


And here I was, trying to be funny... (sigh) :-)


Not so amusingly, I realized today I had misspelled 'intemperance'. Can't fix without wiping people's save files. Doh!

It would be nice for me if the download page made it clear what version the attached zip files contained - so I can see whether or not there has been a new version since I last downloaded.

For me, the place I might expect to see it would be in the filename of the zipfile itself, but anywhere on the text of the webpage would be equally good. Then I could see the version without even having to download.

Failing that, something visible in the content of the zipfile would be almost as good. Then I would have to download, but wouldn't actually have to install it just to find out whether it was a newer version or not.

Maybe there already is an indication and I'm just not seeing it?


I update the itch webpage every time there's a new version, and change the version number. If your current version is different (as shown bottom left when on the game's start screen), you need a new one.

Also, if I change the filename itself, I lose all download metrics!

If you subscribe to the game on itch, you should find you get bothered with a mail when there's a new version.

Hope that all helps

Ah, I'm such a space cadet: I got so used to scrolling right down to the download buttons I overlooked that what I'm asking for is front and center at the top of the page. Sorry to waste your time. :-)

And I'll definitely be signing up for emails, thanks.

This game is fascinating. Thanks for this.

A couple small critiques:

  • Is there a sell all command? "SELL * B" or "SELL ALL B"?
  • I don't know how deep this story is going (great so far) but it seemed like a pretty big text dump right at the start. I think you can get up to the level 4 nautical-word quest from the beginning, through a chain of 20-25 commands? It seems like that if that were split into a couple parts with some arcade game in between it might be better pacing. The snippets that I've found after that on levels 5-6 are nice.
My 2¢. Keep it up!

There's no 'sell all's but you can see how many you have and type 'sell 32 b'. That's a good idea, though. Good you're enjoying it. I'll see if I can do something about the adventure's pacing, too.