Axlon was a game developer, amongst other things, that was responsible from some of the last, and best games released for the Atari 2600. The little known company was founded by Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, and designed a never-released console to compete head to head with Sega and Nintendo at the dawn of the 16-bit generation. Who was this interesting little company, and what happened to them?
After Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari – the once largest and seemingly unstoppable video game and console developer, sold his company to Time Warner in 1977 for $28 million, he made several attempts to re-enter the game industry that he helped to forge.
On October 1st, 1983, the date his non-competition clause ended with Time Warner after he sold Atari, he announced the formation of Sente Games, a console and arcade developer that teamed up Midway as the distributor. After a decent run, and with only one major hit Hat Trick, Sente games was absorbed into Midway in 1987.
Determined as ever, Bushnell created Axlon in 1988 under his Catalyst Technologies Venture Capital Group. Axlon developed some of the finest games for the Atari 2600 very late in its life cycle, including Off the Wall and Secret Quest, the last game officially released for the 2600 in the US (1989).
Despite the brilliance of Axlon’s games, they were published only to help generate enough revenue to keep the company alive for their real mission – to launch a new revolutionary game console to rival the Nintendo dominated market.
To create this console, Axlon partnered Hasbro. Bushnell, and his partner Tom Zito created the NEMO project, which was the code word for the project used internally at Hasbro, which purportedly meant, “Never Ever Mention Outside.”
The console later came to be known as Control-Vision. It was to use VHS as its storage medium, like the View-Master InteractiveVision, only with a focus on using real live actors for games, and it used a special patented technology called “InstaSwitch.”
A game called Scene of the Crime AKA Night Trap, now famous for being the subject of hearings in the US Congress in the 1990’s due to girls in wearing the kind of lingerie than can be seen in a beer commercial in prime time, was developed as a tech-demo to showcase the amazing InstaSwitch technology, which allowed the seamless transition from one part of a VHS tape to another. Sewer Shark, another game of Sega CD infamy, was also originally developed for this system.
In an exclusive interview with NetLink World, Ken Soohoo, current Planetweb CEO and former Digital Pictures honcho, commented that the Control-Vision version of Night Trap was far superior to what was possible on the Sega CD and Sega CD 32X, both in terms of graphics and gameplay.
Set for release in January of 1989, Control-Vision was dropped by Hasbro in November of 1988, less than two months before the console’s launch. The reason? Cost. Ram in the late 80’s and early 90’s was expensive. It has been reported that the D-RAM needed to run the console would’ve cost $100 by its self. The console would have retailed for $299, much more expensive than the Nintendo Entertainment System, Atari 7800, NEC Turbo Grafix 16, or Sega Genesis, all of which would be competing on the US market by the end of 1989.
After spending over $20 million dollars on R&D for the Control-Vision console, and over $4 million in game development costs, Hasbro pulled the plug on the whole thing.
So, where are they now?
Axlon was done. Hasbro absorbed the company’s assets, and it ceased to be. Tom Zito, the mastermind behind the Control-Vision games, went on to found Digital Pictures, and released both Night Trap and Sewer Shark for the Sega CD. Night Trap 32X has a special video of a NEMO demo for any gamer able and willing to complete the game.
The rights to the two unreleased and never completed Control-Vision titles, Police Academy and a Halcylon-esque NFL game featuring John Madden were acquired by Hasbro and footage of these two projects has never surfaced.
Nolan Bushnell, unable to repeat the initial success of Atari, declared bankruptcy in 1996 after his latest business venture, TeamNet – a series of online arcade games – failed due to being too far ahead of their time, and not all that good in the first place. Bushnell is now back in business with uWink, which is responsible for many touch screen style games that can be seen in bars.
Bushnell has since launched a restaurant chain based around the uWink concept called “uWink Media Bistro,” where guests can order food from a touch screen, play games, watch movie trailers and other videos, and get their online dating groove on with other singles in the bar. Currently, the only locations are in Southern California. In 2010 he joined the board of directors of Atari, SA, a French game company with the rights to the name that Bushnell made famous over three decades ago.