Article 12—KONAMI CES BROCHURE (1983)

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Konami is best known for popular series like Castlevania, Metal Gear, Silent Hill and Winning Eleven (a.k.a. Pro Evolution Soccer). It’s one of the biggest video game
companies in the world, and it is also a leading producer of toys, collectible cards, anime and more. But one of its most important distinctions has generally been overlooked. It’s hard to pin down exact release dates, but I believe that Konami’s Pooyan was released for the Atari Video Computer System (a.k.a. Atari 2600) in late 1982, about six months before Sega’s 2600 version of Tac-Scan hit store shelves. Why is this significant? It means that Konami was probably the first Japanese company to publish home video game cartridges in North America.

Before Konami opened its Torrance, California office in November of ’82, popular Japanese games like Taito’s Space Invaders, Namco’s Pac-Man and Nintendo’s Donkey Kong were licensed by American publishers. The licensees would then use their own
programmers to create stripped-down versions of the original arcade games for play on home systems. Konami’s Frogger, Amidar, Tutankham and Gyruss were also handled this way, but from Pooyan to the present day, Konami has taken matters into its own hands. This brochure (from the 1983 Summer Consumer Electronics Show) features all three of the games it published for the Atari 2600 (Pooyan, Strategy X and Marine Wars) as well as one game (Super Scramble) which was never released.

Also inside: Konami’s “JoySTICK” (a garish orange-colored controller, apparently also for the 2600) and two handheld games with vacuum fluorescent display screens. I’ve seen the Tutankham handheld on eBay before, but I’m not sure if Time Pilot or the
JoySTICK were ever released. Maybe in Japan….

Even though it’s not technically a video game, I’m fascinated by the “Baseball Computer” depicted on Page 5. It’s a handheld device that was intended to simplify the arcane practice of keeping a scorecard at a baseball game. By pressing buttons with labels like “FOULBALL” and “SWINGA MISS,” you could document the result of every pitch and even print hard copies of the results and records by using the attached “reliable printer”! Unfortunately, the picture of the unit is an artist’s illustration, and I can’t find any evidence that this thing was ever manufactured. In fact, I’m skeptical that such a device could even have existed, given the state of consumer electronics technology in 1983. I suspect that the Baseball Computer was probably just a pipe dream, the pet project of some baseball-crazy Konami executive. I’d love to be proven wrong, though.

And as much as I have always admired Konami’s games, I really dig the package design of its Atari 2600 releases. They came in sturdy boxes with front flaps that opened like books; the cartridges had a unique curved shape; both the boxes and cartridges had gold foil printing…and how can you not love the old Konami logo with the curly “K”?

There is one other Konami innovation that I’d like to mention here, even though it’s not depicted in the brochure. In the 1980s, several Japanese game publishers thought it would be a good idea to identify their games with sequential numbers. I’m not talking about serial numbers or product codes; every game has those. These were more like the numbers on comic books or baseball cards, placed in a conspicuous location on the cartridge and/or box, starting with #1. Like the Pokémon “Gotta Catch ‘Em All”
concept, the idea was to encourage brand loyalty as well as a collector mentality—if you lined up all of your Namco Famicom games in order on your shelf, it would be obvious that certain games were missing from the sequence. I always liked this idea; it’s why I put volume numbers on the monthly columns in Tips & Tricks magazine, and it’s why each page on this Web site has an article number. Well, Konami did this in the U.S. back in 1982, and get this: They used a binary numbering system! Pooyan was “001,” Strategy X was “010,” Marine Wars was “011” and I’m assuming that the unreleased Super Scramble would have been labeled “100.” How cool is that?

© 2010 Chris Bieniek. Certain video game images, characters and logos on this Web site are copyrighted or trademarked by their respective publishers.