Ken Fedesna, former Executive Vice President and General Manager at video game developers and publishers Bally/Williams/Midway/Atari Games, has donated a collection that documents the history of Midway Games and showcases the company’s work on the TouchMaster line of multigame touchscreen video game units and projects related to connecting their coin-operated games through the internet. Fedesna joined Williams Electronics in 1977 and, over his 27 years with that company and Bally/Midway, he managed the development of countless pinball machines, video games, and other amusement and video lottery games. This collection consists of a TouchMaster Infinity unit and thousands of pages of documentation, including internal correspondence and memorandums, hand-written notes, market research and benchmarking documents, game earnings reports, promotional materials, and presentations related to new strategies and products. These invaluable materials highlight several key areas of Midway’s game development work and broader industry trends during the 1990s and 2000s.
Beginning in the mid-1990s, Sony’s PlayStation (1995), Nintendo’s N64 (1996), Sega’s Dreamcast (1999), and other high-powered home video game consoles lured players out of public pay-to-play arcades with high-quality games and improved graphics that rivaled the many arcade games. As the home video game market grew, the coin-operated game market consolidated, eventually leading industry giants Bally, Midway, Williams, and Atari Games to become one through a series of mergers. The materials in this collection chronicle how Midway Games positioned itself to meet the new reality of declining arcade game revenues by developing innovative multigame touchscreen video game units, systems that networked arcade games through the internet, and publishing games solely for home consoles.
In the mid-1990s, less costly and more durable touchscreen technology allowed coin-op game manufacturers to produce touchscreen units that could hold up well in high-traffic bars and street locations. In 1996, Midway introduced TouchMaster, its first multigame touchscreen video game unit. The countertop unit featured nine games, including card games such as Solitaire and the poker-style game Royal Quest, as well as a Ripley’s Believe it or not trivia game and the four-player basketball game Hot Hoops. Before the proliferation of smartphones placed computers and mobile gaming in the palms of most barflies, millions of people played casual video games on touchscreen units like TouchMaster. The Ken Fedesna Collection traces the development and evolution of the TouchMaster series and its games during the middle to late 1990s.
Hoping to attract players back to arcades, in 1998 Midway Games tested its first internet-based coin-operated video game network Wavenet on Atari’s San Francisco Rush: The Rock arcade racing game. The technology never found wide adoption, but it laid the foundation for future network projects. Just two years later the company released the Midway Tournament Network (MTN), which uploaded player’s accomplishments to a Midway server where high scores could earn players cash prizes. Midway’s work on MTN exemplifies the broader coin-op industry investment in networked game competitions, tournaments, and rankings, including by companies such as Incredible Technologies (ITNet) and Merit (TournaMAXX). Unfortunately for Midway, the technology didn’t prove workable and profitable enough to continue. The company closed its coin-op business in June 2001 to focus entirely on making home console games. As such, this collection also includes an array of materials related to the development and publication of home console and handheld system games, including Gravity Games Bike: Street Vert Dirt (2002), Justice League: Injustice for All (2002), MLB SlugFest 2003 (2002), Haven: Call of the King (2002) Freaky Flyers (2003), Red Card (2003), and remakes of the arcade classics Spy Hunter (2001) and Defender (2002).
Donations such as this one complement ICHEG’s existing collections of coin-operated games and archival materials related to the design and production of Atari and Williams coin-operated video and pinball games, while also helping advance The Strong’s mission of preserving and interpreting the history of electronic games.