Friday, December 30, 2022

Another weird MOS Pong console: 1976 Allied Leisure Name of the Game II

If you've ever wanted to play Pong on a miniature Babylonian ziggurat, have I got the machine for you.
However, what particularly interested me about this Pong machine is not just the fact it's another MOS 7600-series console (from the makers of the MOS 6502 CPU), but also that this unit has the oldest 7600 I've seen so far and worth comparing to other consoles we looked at previously — even those using chips that are labeled the same. I'm not just talking about the wacky styling and the golden labels, either.

Hialeah, Florida-based Allied Leisure was Atari's first arcade Pong licensee in 1973 (which they badged as Paddle Battle), but they had been producing games since at least 1968, making electromechanical attractions and eventually broadening into pinball. Some of this work was contracted to Universal Research Labs (unhappily for later Google searches abbreviated to URL) who fabricated the Paddle Battle circuit boards and produced their own paddle game, the similarly odd octagonal Video Action table. In 1974 Allied Leisure's production facility suffered a massive fire and the financial hit they sustained left URL with warehouses full of unsold components. URL turned these into the Video Action-II, which in 1975 was one of the earliest Pong systems to hit the home market.

Although Allied Leisure was able to recover from the fire, their core pinball machine business was gradually becoming both less profitable and a bigger and bigger service liability, and they decided to enter the home market too in 1976. This timed well with MOS introducing the MOS 7600/7601 Pong-on-a-chip microcontroller and near as I can determine Allied Leisure was the first manufacturer to use the NTSC 7600 in a Pong machine. Unfortunately their belated FCC clearance caused them to miss the 1976 Christmas buying season and only about 13,000 were sold before Allied Leisure cancelled the line and liquidated the remainder of their unsold stock in 1977. These machines are considered particularly uncommon today as a result.

Allied Leisure made two Name of the Game systems, both released simultaneously: the four-player Name of the Game I (model A-100) and the two-player Name of the Game II (model A-300) shown here, which is the less common of the two. A total of about 17,000 units were manufactured.

The NOTG2 specifically advertises a one-player mode — even though only one of the games supports that, and the box counts it as one of the games (called "Practice"). The other games are Handball ("Practice" is a one-player version), which is the same as racquetball or squash on some other systems, Hockey (which also variously appears as soccer/football elsewhere), and Tennis. Notably, it has no skeet shooting option of any kind, unlike most other 7600/1-based consoles and the NOTG1.
In the box with the console is an A/C adaptor (no battery option for this one), a manual (just a double sided large page folded in half), a Spanish translation of the manual (!) and a warranty card. What isn't present is a TV RF antenna switchbox — not only was it never sold with one, it's designed not to need one. Instead we have a RCA jack ending in 300Ω twin-lead antenna spade lug connectors and an explanation sheet. We'll come back to this.
After a little shining up, it's apparent this is a rather attractive console, particularly because of its unique styling. The plastic is high quality and the gold-foil labels are quite fetching.

The game is selected by the rotary dial, requiring a reset after choosing it. The reset button is actually on player one's paddle, which oddly on this unit is on the right. Again something we'll look at a little later.

There is no obvious power switch, either. Instead, there is a switch for "TV" and "GAME."

If we look on the back, all becomes apparent. The reason there is no RF switchbox is because the console itself is the switchbox: you connect your TV's usual antenna leads to the screw terminals on the back of the NOTG2, plug the RCA jack-twinlead cable into the back as well, and connect those antenna lugs to your TV. When the switch is on "TV," the console is powered off, and the antenna signal is passively passed through. When the switch is on "GAME," the console is powered on, and cuts in its output instead. Clever, and not frequently seen!

That said, I just plug the RF output directly into my TV's RF switchbox, and that works fine too.

This unit is serial #002138, though partially hand-numbered. As evidence of the FCC approval delay, the Part 15 approval number is also hand-numbered!

A small aperture at the bottom is the channel 3/4 selector. The manual instructs you to insert a small blade here to flip a buried switch.

That switch is inside the taped-and-soldered-shut RF shielded section. There is only one circuit board; most of the space within the case is empty. We'll just cut the tape and flip the soldered-on lid to the side.
With the lid off, we see the RF modulator (the small ASTEC-labeled box), some discrete components and the standard complement of 7600 and associated ICs. What we don't see here is a separate speaker: this turns out to be one of the few MOS 7600 systems that actually passes audio through the RF modulator to the TV set, and the first such system I've personally owned. (A little annoying for testing them but much nicer for actually playing games with.) The channel 3/4 selector accessed by the slot on the underside is the small black switch north of the RF modulator.

As with all 7600 systems colour is provided external to the main microcontroller, here through the typical combination of 4069 hex inverter and 4016 quad bilateral switch (in this case an SCL4069AB/E and SCL4016AB/E from 38th and 16th week 1976 respectively, manufactured by the former Solid State Scientific). The hex inverter delays and inverts the colour signal, changing its phase to generate different colours, which is selected by the quad switch. The NOTG1 and NOTG2 have only one colour palette.

Something I found interesting, though not unusual from this period, was that everything was embedded on the ground plane side. The actual, hand-routed PCB traces are on the other side of the board.
Another interesting find, though again not unusual for the period, was how the system crystal was labeled. NTSC 7600 systems use a 3.58MHz crystal, the same as the NTSC colourburst frequency, but this one's value is stamped on the can as "3579.545 KC" (kilocycles).
And the 7600 microcontroller itself is more interesting still. MOS initially produced chips with both ceramic and plastic dual in-line packages, labeled MCS and MPS respectively (later MOS and CSG chips were invariably plastic and the MCS/MPS tags were dropped), but this is the first 7600 I've seen in ceramic (an MCS 7600-001). It is a -001 variant with tennis, squash/racquetball, hockey and skeet shooting, but labeled 42nd week 1976, making it also the earliest production 7600 I've seen so far.
But wait, I hear you say: there's no skeet mode on this machine! And that one-player mode! How can this chip be the same?

The answer is that the rotary dial, depicted here in the manual, is controlling more than just the game. What's missing here compared to many other 7600-based Pong consoles is the 2-4 player switch (though this switch is on the four-player NOTG1). In consoles with a 2-4 player switch, the squash/racquetball game is one player when the switch is set to 4, such as the Radofin SC8000, Commodore's own TV Games 2000K, and the NOTG1. The rotary dial on the NOTG2 is specially wired to run the same 7600 game in the left two positions (practice and handball), differing only on what's sent to the 7600's 2-4 player pin, whereas the skeet game position is simply omitted entirely. If this particular chip were placed in any other 7600-001 unit, it would play identically.

Note that the inside of the manual differs from the front picture. The manual's front photograph shows the reset button on player one's controller on the right, but with the console turned around inside the manual, the player one controller (and reset button) is on the left.

I'm assuming this was just an error, because the reset button is back on the right controller on the back of the manual, so we'll take two out of three. Incidentally, the NOTG1 takes the decoration-only ventilation slats and makes them into a functional cord storage box, while the NOTG2 just has them embedded into the top cover and lets the cords dangle.
Well, let's check the power supply before we hook it up. Despite the label claiming it's a 7.8V supply at 30mA, the multimeter measures a straight-up 6 volts, centre positive.
Connected to my NTSC video capture rig, the console has an unusual but strangely pleasing sea green on indigo palette, with an orange bat in the single player "practice" mode.
It also has the large score numbers of every 7600-001 variant, but not the PAL 7601-001.
In the two-player handball mode, the second bat is enabled in a fascinating shade of magenta.
Hockey. Each controller controls the two bats in the same colour, with "goal" openings on each side.
And rounding out the game modes, tennis.
Shooing the cat off the ottoman, the NOTG2 works great on my old TV/VCR combo and I didn't have to mute the TV.

Anyway, to finish the story, Allied Leisure limped along until 1980, trying (at least initially) unsuccessfully to branch into the newer generation of arcade games. In 1980 the ailing company was bought out by former Taito of America president Ed Miller and partner Bill Olliges, renaming it Centuri. Centuri became a major North American licensee of Japanese arcade games, particularly Konami but also early systems from Tekhan (Tecmo) and SNK, along with a handful of in-house machines. Strangely, Centuri missed out on some of Konami's biggest hits like Frogger (which went to Sega) and Pooyan (which went to Stern), and while machines like Vanguard, Gyruss, Loco-Motion and Track & Field did relatively well, they were not enough to keep the lights on. Centuri closed shop in 1985.

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