American Game Cartridges Inc. was formed as a subsidiary of ShareData. For those that don’t know it, ShareData was a minor software house located in Chandler, Arizona.
Richard Frick was appointed vice president of ShareData in 1989. Frick would be responsible for developing new recreational software titles. Richard had previously worked at Tengen developing unlicensed Nintendo games; in the early ’90 he would leave to form his own company American Video Entertainment.
ShareData had produced a large line of game show titles for PC, C64, and Apple ] [. Some of the titles that Share Data had produced included Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, Classic Concentration, and Card Sharks. Eventually, ShareData lost the rights to produce these games. Around this time, ShareData observed the potential market in producing Nintendo games. ShareData’s luck in the computer market was slowly diminishing, and the Nintendo market was rapidly increasing.
The first game published by ShareData’s newly formed subsidiary was Chiller. Chiller was not programmed in-house; it was programmed by another long-forgotten company. ShareData contacted Color Dreams, another unlicensed game company, and purchased a small number of their cases. A small batch of these early Chiller carts was manufactured, though I highly doubt that they were actually released.
Chiller had always been revered as an unlicensed NES smash hit. Game Players Strategy Guide to Nintendo had published a two-page review for Chiller back in 1990, the pages can be viewed here and here. (Sorry for the crappy scans, hard to align a magazine properly) With the success of Chiller, American Game Cartridges was ready to try programming their own games in-house.
Since American Game Cartridges Inc. was not licensed by Nintendo, they had to make their own development kit. Scott Schryver and Donald Forbes went to Target, and bought several Paper Boy carts. They also bought an EPROM programmer and some 28-pin ZIF sockets from Tri-Tech. The chr/prg ROMs were unsoldered and eventually replaced with the ZIF sockets. Keith fiddled with this stuff; it became the AGCI development kit. Later Donald realized that they could probably swap the CHR ROM with a static ram and slight circuit change. This new circuit board design was tested and later used with Wally Bear and Crossbow.
Donald Forbes and Scott Schryver managed to program several development programs. The main program at the time was credit (character edit), though later a program titled NES Paint was written. Credit allowed the user to import Deluxe Paint .lbm files and then allowed editing of character tiles, character maps, and palettes. Other programs written over the time were a Shockwave maze editor, a music conversion utility, and QP. QP was a Quick Pulse EPROM programmer, much faster than other EPROM programming software of the time.
The first Nintendo game that American Game Cartridges worked on in-house was Death Race. Death Race was a project led by James Ferguson. The object of the game was to drive around various cities across America while shooting helicopters and running over people. According to John, “It (the helicopter) was originally going to be a computer-controlled car that would attack the players, but the AI for effectively navigating the mazes in the game would be too complicated to hold in the Nintendos limited memory. As an off-the-hand comment, I jokingly said we should just ditch the car and turn it into a helicopter and we wouldn’t have to worry about it. Everyone just looked at me for a moment and then we all realized what a great idea it was, so that’s what we did.”
To promote Death Race, AGCI held a contest. If you were one of the first 100 people to finish the New York stage you were eligible to win a free Death Race remote-control car. I highly doubt that anyone actually won this contest, due to multiple stipulations and also due to the fact that Death Race is an extremely hard Nintendo game to win. The Death Race to New York contest was probably handled exclusively by the marketing staff, as none of the former programmers seem to remember this contest.
After Death Race, the majority of AGCI’s team started working on Shock Wave while Keith Rupp started working on Warp Space. Although Shock Wave was produced in a matter of six weeks, it was one of the better American Game Cartridges titles.
After the release of Shock Wave, American Game Cartridges began having financial troubles. Nintendo began using ill tactics forcing toy stores to quit selling unlicensed Nintendo games. If companies such as Toys R Us continued selling unlicensed products, Nintendo would refuse to sell the licensed products. Since Nintendo products made up over ˝ of the sales, these stores had no choice but to stop dealing with the unlicensed American companies.
AfterShock Wave’s release, some of the programming team began to work on Wally Bear and the No! Gang. Originally titled Wally Bear and the Just Say No Team, the name was changed after American Game Cartridges realized that the phrase “Just Say No” was copyrighted. During the development of Wally Bear, some of the development team including John Dunn and James Ferguson left to work on other projects, such as Bard’s Tale IV.
Keith Rupp finished coding Wally Bear. While Keith was working on Wally Bear, his other project was put on hold. Warp Space, “an action-simulation of outer-space combat,” was left unfinished.
While Keith was finishing Wally Bear, Donald Forbes and a few others were working on another rumored American Game Cartridges game titled Crossbow. The crossbow was another one of the old Exidy games which were being ported to the Nintendo. Backgrounds and character sprites were drawn, and some of the light gun source code was written. The game was approximately 80% finished when it was displayed at the Consumer Electronics Show.
Before Crossbow was finished, American Game Cartridges had run out of money. They stopped paying the employees, promising a higher rate on a contract basis if the employees stayed. Needless to say, many of the programmers got out while they could. Keith Rupp went on to form Baton Technology and many of the other programmers followed. American Video Entertainment purchased the rights to the Wally Bear game and they eventually published it.
Around the same time period, American Game Cartridges had American Video Entertainment publish their other three releases, Death Race, Shockwave, and Chiller, on a fifteen-game compilation known as Maxivision 15. The Chiller license was also sold out to Home Entertainment Suppliers (HES) of Australia, who eventually published the Chiller game. It is interesting to note that the Aussie version of Chiller has the name “American Game Cartridges” on the title screen while the US release has the old “ShareData” title screen.