I interviewed William Moeller of Elektronite for my 35th anniversary Intellivision article in Retro Gamer 127. Elektronite do some amazing work creating new Intellivision games today but unfortunately there wasn't enough room for the small boxout I composed. Below you can read the boxout, and underneath there is the full interview with William. Thanks again to William for his time.
[BOXOUT] The Elektronite Story
“I first saw the Intellivision in a shopping mall in Canada in August 1980,” recalls William Moeller, owner of Elektronite, a software company specialising in new games for old systems, mainly the Intellivision. “And when we eventually got one, it was so exciting to have, at that time, the most advanced videogame system in the world.” Many years later, William created Classic Game Publisher Inc., and suggested to Valter Prette, founder of Elektronite, that they join forces to produce new Intellivision games. “I loved the logo and look of Valter’s packaging, but it was all virtual. Nothing was on paper.” Forced by necessity, and with a history within the Intellivision homebrew scene, William began investigating how to go about publishing new games for the console. “Obviously we need a great game to start with,” he explains, “and wait until it’s complete. Then we modify any artwork into the Elektronite packaging, burn the cartridges, screw them into new shells, apply the sticker, test them, glue the boxes, insert everything, apply a serial number hologram sticker and finally shrink wrap the whole thing!” So how does William explain his love for the Intellivision? “I loved the feel of the original master component – everything seemed so high quality. And I loved the control you had over the games; the controller was never an issue for me. And I loved the two-player games and the games with a lot of depth such as Utopia – they really grabbed me.”
Full Interview with William Moeller of Elektronite
"Presumably you had an Intellivision when you were younger? What were your initial impressions?"
Yes. I first saw the Intellivision in a shopping mall in Canada in August 1980 with my dad and brother. It was playing baseball. We were blown away and instantly wanted one. However, it was too expensive and we had to pass it up. That Christmas, my dad surprised my brother and I with an Intellivision. I was 17 and my brother was 18 and we were in the military, but we were like little kids. It was so exciting to have what was at that time, the most advanced video game in the world. And, it wasn't inexpensive by any means.
"Which games did you like best?"
We got six games all together including the pack-in game. Las Vegas Poker and Blackjack, Checkers, Space Battle, NFL Football, Armor Battle and Major League Baseball.
I liked them all because we had 3 one player games, and 3 two player games. However, the number one game in our house was Baseball, followed closely by Space Battle and then Armor Battle.
Later, games that I particularly enjoyed with my brother were Utopia , Burgertime, Snafu, Swords and Serpents and especially Biplanes in Triple Action! Personal favourites as my collection grew were Beauty and the Beast, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons CARTRIDGE......(that is the first game where I actually was startled playing it) and Sea Battle!
"What about the console and games in general appealed to you?"
I loved the look and feel of the original Intellivision Master Component. Everything seemed so high quality. (Until they went to the Intellivision II and Atari style boxes)
I loved the control that you had over the games with the controller. It was my first video game aside from Pong clones, and I never had an issue with the controller. I didn't try to hold it like a joystick. I instinctively knew how to hold it, and so did my brother. It was never an issue with us. I found that only the people who started out with Atari had a problem with the controllers. I loved the two player games, and the games with a lot of depth really grabbed me. I learned to play Backgammon on the Intellivision, and I have fond memories of my grandmother taking part in the betting on Horse Racing and enjoying that game despite her never touching the console.
"Prior to Elektronite, did you have any experience of games production?"
When I was a teen, I played a lot of historical simulation games (usually World War II) from Avalon Hill. My brother and I tried to create our own board game based on one we played, and it was pretty good. I always thought it would be a great line of work to get into, but I never did. So, when I decided to start publishing, I was pretty much learning as I went. I had to figure out how to get my boxes and overlays designed and printed. I had a hand in the design of Match 5 for which I am very proud. It was chosen one of the top 10 games of 2013 by Classic Game Room on the internet, right behind a Sony Playstation 3 game. I was really proud.
"I know you bought the company (or name?) Elektronite from Walter Prette. Why this instead of create your own company?"
When I created my own company Classic Game Publisher, Inc., (it is a real corporation), to create new games for old systems, I contacted Valter Prette the founder of Elektronite to see if we could join forces to produce new Intellivision games. Elektronite was struggling to publish Defender of the Crown, and I was set to enter the Intellivision market. I loved the logo and the look of his packaging, which was all virtual. Nothing was on paper. When I first heard about Elektronite, I was a bit skeptical but they were making some amazing progress but unfortunately got bogged down. I wanted to help get their first game out. I joined as the President of Elektronite, and Valter is the founder and is still very active. Eventually, I want to publish new games for other defunct systems, but Elektronite is our Intellivision brand. I see them as separate entities. My company Classic Game Publishers, Inc. manufactures Elektronite products but Elektronite is our identity as far as the Intellivision is concerned.
"What inspired you to make new Intellivision games?"
When I moved back to Canada after 8 years in Japan in 2010, I had a a very difficult time getting a job as an English as a Second Language teacher. I needed to do something to make money if no one would hire me. I have always been plugged into the Intellivision 'homebrew' scene, and I was there from the start. I was involved with obtaining technical information for Carl Mueller Jr., who wrote the world's very first Intellivision emulator. Eventually it found its way on to Intellivision Productions' 'Intellivision Lives!' for the PC back in the late 90s. So, an opportunity presented itself with Carl wanting to write D2K Arcade, and Left Turn Only having a surplus of 800 plus JLP cartridge boards. I thought with Facebook, and the current state of the internet, the time was right and we could find the number of customers to make a professional product with all new materials viable.
"How does the process of producing new games for the Intellivision work?"
Obviously, we need a great game to publish first. There is no sense in publishing something that is substandard and isn't a fun game. I don't want to waste my time producing something like 'falling down' that was written for the Atari VCS as a homebrew. It is very financially dangerous to create materials for a game that is not complete. We have done that in the past, but Ideally, once we have a complete game that is ready to sell, we begin to create art for the cover. Sometimes that is a challenge to think of what the art on the cover will look like. For example, in Match 5, the author told me that he thought of the playing pieces for the puzzle game as 'spaceships'. I took that idea and came up with the idea of a 'spaceship wrecking yard', and wrote a background story that fit the game. From that story, we came up with the cover showing the 'spaceships' being blown apart by an electrical charge on 'the grid'. Other games such as the officially licensed Boulder Dash(R) are easier. We had our artist update original art and modify it for the Elektronite packaging. We have our 'Elektronite look' and are fairly consistent in the packaging. The artist who does most of our art, also is responsible for creating the stickers, overlays, manual cover and box PDFs. When we have the 'final' packaging, we send them to the printer and have them professionally printed. After a game has been programmed and tested, we 'burn' the cartridges, screw them into new shells, and apply the sticker. We then test them in a real Intellivision for quality control. We have to glue boxes together and then stuff the boxes, apply a serial number hologram sticker and then finally shrink wrap the whole thing. Throughout, we have strict quality control, because our customers expect that if they are paying $70 US for a new Intellivision game, they want it to be 'perfect'.
"The market for new Intellivision games is by its nature limited. Did you ever worry the games wouldn't sell despite the professional production?"
In the past, Intellivision homebrew has been very limited because there was a concern that too many would be produced and there would be a large amount of money at risk. Therefore, only 200-300 copies of any title would be produced, or sometimes less. We felt that this was 'self limiting'. As a result, many 'homebrew' titles shot up tremendously in value, and became scarce. This told me that there was more demand than supply. However, one of the big problems back then was that you had to make as many games as you thought you could sell, and you couldn't change the circuit board. Our cartridges now can be changed. If I make too many D2K Arcade games, I can simply take the circuit board and put a new game on that board and sell it as a different game. We couldn't do that back in the early 2000's.
Carl Mueller, Jr. and I were convinced that we could move a lot more than 300 copies of a well written Intellivision game. With thousands of 'likes' on Intellivision Productions' Facebook page, we thought that certainly 500-3000 people would want to buy a new game. I still believe that, but I've taken a lot of heat for this claim in various classic game forums. We said we 'weren't homebrew' because we didn't use recycled shells, and we weren't limited in our numbers or availability. Some people took offence. Some probably think we are making 'big bucks'. Unfortunately, it seems some people take us for granted, that the games will 'always' be available, and have been putting off buying our games in hopes of getting it on sale, or picking it up when they have more money. Unfortunately, as a result, some of our titles have not sold very well as there is no urgency to buy our games. We still feel there are a lot of people who haven't heard about us and would love to buy our games for their Intellivision. We are looking at different methods to find new customers and encourage support. However, we might be forced to go back to a limited model where some people simply 'miss out'. It is too bad, but it is better than going out of business.
"Which of your own games are you proudest and/or are the best sellers?"
D2K Arcade is our best seller. I believe it is the first Intellivision 'homebrew' to break 500 sales.
I am most proud of Match 5, not only because I helped design the game play, but because it is an AWESOME and addictive game. I call it a 'sleeper hit' because, whenever ANYONE looks at it, they dismiss it as 'not their type of game'. However, when they give it a chance, they find that it is an ADDICTIVE and FUN game. I am proud that it was chosen as one of the TOP TEN GAMES OF 2013 by Classic Game Room.
Mark from Classic Game Room reviewed the game recently. His response to the game is typical. He said he 'doesn't like puzzle games' but really likes Match 5.
Mark, a.k.a 'Lord Karnage' said "...It is tons of fun, very clever. Took several games to get into it and then BAM.... addiction. And then Match 5 rehab. How can any human break 2000? Those stupid phone poles destroyed me every time."
Some of the comments on the video where Classic Game Room chose it as a top ten game were incredulous, but nevertheless, it was chosen just behind the new Assassin's Creed for the Playstation 3. That just blows me away!
"What's next up for Elektronite?"
We are releasing a 'cartridge only' game called 'Old School', that was supposed to be released in 2009 by Intelligentvision, but never was. It is a limited release and will only be available for sale until March 31, 2014.
We are continuing to struggle to complete the officially licensed game Defender of the Crown, but hope that we can bring that to market this year.
We are about to publish 'The Lost Caves of Kroz' a licensed Apogee Kroz adventure. It is VERY close to completion.
Finally, we are very excited about our collaboration with First Star Software, Inc., in bringing Boulder Dash(R) to the Intellivision platform on the 30th anniversary of the game. It will be ready in Summer 2014.