Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Saker One Space Probe




During the Golden Age of Video Games, there were a number of attempts at creating a video game with a moving cabinet. Among them were Exidy's Vertigo,  Sente's Shrike Avenger and Amusement Technology's Max Experience. The most intriguing, however, may have been the Saker One Space Probe. Introduced in 1983, the unit was invented by John Sassak, president of the Segmented Carbide Die Company of Livonia, Michigan. The eccentric, 60-year-old Sassak, had degrees in metallurgical and aeronautical engineering. He was a reconnaissance pilot during World War II, taking some of the first pictures of a devastated Hiroshima after the atomic bomb was dropped. After the war he worked in Ford's R&D department while earning degrees from Wayne State University. After twenty years at Ford, he left to form Segmented Carbide. When the 1970s recession hit, he changed careers yet again and entered the computer game field. Sassak was also a lifelong tinkerer. Among his other creations was a toy alligator, a beer tap, and a mechanical for a bar he owned in Westland, Michigan to cash in on the Urban Cowboy craze of 1980 (he even renamed the bar The Urban Cowboy, before changing its name to Diamond J's). In addition to his inventions and engineering work, Sassak was a helicopter pilot and owned racehorses.



Sassak's Toy Alligator

Sassak got the idea for the Saker One after witnessing a department store demonstration in which a beach ball floated on air from a vacuum cleaner[1]. Sassak went on to design a video game mounted in a spherical cabinet that floated on a stream of air moving at up to 140 MPH powered by a 30-horsepower electric turbine engine. Four fins on the outside of the Plexiglas cabinet allowed the unit to bob and weave, and even tumble end over end in response to the player's commands as he attempted to shoot down or avoid enemy spacecraft. Sassak created a prototype that he installed in Diamond J's, charging adventurous patrons $2 for a two-minute ride.  After five Sassak was ready to take the game public with plans to have it in production by June of 1983. Sassak planned to lease the game to locations for $2,500 per month. While the games cost upwards of $70,000 to produce, a March UPI story reported that Sassak had taken $30 million worth of orders.

Industry pundits were skeptical. Atari coin-op president John Farrand said he didn't think it would any effect on the industry whatsoever (though he noted that Atari was developing its own environmental games). Another company that wasn’t amused was Lucasfilm. Sassak's prototype had used videotape footage from Star Wars and Lucasfilm intimated that they might take legal action Sassak said that he never intended to use the footage in the final version and eventually he even talked to George Lucas about the idea of using it in a movie. A film script was in the works about a boy who rides a Saker One into outer space then had trouble returning to earth. In April of 1983 NASA had a unit shipped to Cape Kennedy to investigate its use in astronaut training. The unit also appeared in a brief news segment on the program Starcade (http://www.starcade.tv/starcade/one-hotlines.asp?vid=SakerOne). While no further mention has been found of the Saker One, Sassak's obituary reported that he "struck gold" with the unit and that "it really took off." (not literally, one hopes). John Sassak died in 2003 at the age of 81.
 
Images from one of the half dozen patents Sassak received for the Saker One
 

 
 



[1] RePlay (May, 1983) reported that it was a Ping Pong ball, and also reported that the game cost $30,00 to build, not the $70,000 reported by UPI.

3 comments:

  1. Really enjoy your blog Keith. So anyone have any idea what happened to any of these?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks. I'm not sure what ever happened to this.
    Someone on KLOV (http://forums.arcade-museum.com/archive/index.php/t-205666.html)
    said that there was one in his local arcade.

    Given the comments of the inventor's daughter, you'd think he sold at least a few of them.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Newspaper article from March 16th, 1983:
    https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1842&dat=19830316&id=ImIeAAAAIBAJ&sjid=0cgEAAAAIBAJ&pg=1325,3147796

    ReplyDelete