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March 2014 Retro Gaming Article


March 18, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Sega made “The Fonz” as cool on arcade screens as he was on Happy Days by re-branding Moto-Cross

The Fonz arcade flyer - 1976 The Fonz arcade flyer Growing up in the 70's, it was hard to be unaffected by the Fonz. As a kid, Arthur Fonzarelli, from TV's Happy Days, was the pinnacle of Cool. Despite this, I was a sensible kid. When the Fonz "action figure" arrived on toy store shelves, I was more than aware that my G.I. Joes were much cooler than the Fonz. What astounds me is that Happy Days aired from January 1974 to September 1984.
Happy Days logo
Is it possible that Fonzie, played by actor Henry winkler, was on the tube when I was still in High School?

That astounds me almost as much as discovering there was an arcade game centered around the Fonz and his motorcycle! In 1976 Sega created a motorcycle racing game that was later re-focused and branded around Fonzie. It was released only 2 years after this American TV show debuted, but Fonzie wasn't introduced as a character until the 2nd season. That dude was pretty cool.

Fonz - The Arcade Game

Fonz is a motorcycle racing game where the course approaches from the horizon (top of the monitor) with twists and turns. You have to stay on course and avoid hitting other racers. Passing 1000 kilometers activates extended play adjustable from 45 to 100 seconds by the arcade operator.

It's interesting that the game is controlled with a motorcycle handlebar interface. In the mid 70's there was no standard or expectation about controls. Manufacturers could let their creativity go wild. The Fonz controls went so far as to allow players to twist the throttle for speed which also moved you farther up the screen - allowing less time to react to turns in the road. Crashes sent forced-feedback to the handlebars. Good stuff!

The Fonz The Operations/Service Manual is full of interesting features. I would have thought that an arcade cab of the mid 70s would be moderately simple in set-up, implementation and operator adjustments. Not so with the Fonz! Both the road's swing width (curves) and swing frequency was adjustable on the PCB. Other variants like the road's shoulder widths and the size of the motorcycles were adjustable to vary crowding (increased difficulty) on the course. An operator could also alter the player's motorcycle and/or the other racers.

The Fonz arcade game used an 8-track tape deck to produce motorcycle sounds.
Remember the use of static or white-noise to simulate "rocket" sounds in video games. I recall quite a a few Atari 2600 racing games that generated engine sounds that lacked the guttural sound of an engine. We excused this anomaly in exchange for the thrill of racing a car on the family television. But Fonzie's motorcycle shouldn't sound like static! He was cool. His bike was cool. You can't absorb his cool factor if it sounds like static.

Sega employed the handlebars with a throttle and forced-feedback to provide an authentic experience. They tout realism right down to the sound. A sound unit, separate from the usual onboard chips, used tape to deliver realistic motorcycle sounds. The sound unit employed an 8-Track tape deck and had it's own 5W power amp, control amp, pre amp and volume controls.

Sega Moto-Cross (Fonz)

Which came first - the chicken or the egg... or the Fonz? If you already have a motorcycle arcade game in 1976 and you wanted to increase it's cool-factor, linking it to Arthur Fonzarelli was the way to do it. Sega did just that! They had an arcade game, Moto-Cross that they probably felt would be more popular if it were likened to the Fonz. They rebranded the cabinet art with the Fonz and out the door it went!

Sega Moto-Cross arcade flyer - 1976 Sega Moto-Cross arcade flyer

The promotional flyer designed for North America shows, Explorer (1974) and Rodeo (1976) pinball machines in the background. Neither one was released outside of Japan.

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