This little beauty popped up on eBay with the title “Willis Pac-Man bezel”. Now I’ve seen plenty of Pac cpo’s and of course that really bad Wico Pac-Man side art; but I have never seen a Willis Pac-Man bezel, or even knew it existed. The seller only posted a few small pictures, and while the Willis name appeared to be printed in the lower right, it just wasn’t very clear. What really caught my attention was a small mark or artist signature also in the lower right corner. Whoa, an artist signature? Insert token to continue…
I do love Willis artwork and have done a pretty good job documenting the stuff that’s out there. Saving this little piece of arcade history is fun and helps shed light on how the replacement artwork business worked back in the glory days of arcades. For a look at the stuff I’ve found so far, visit the Willis Gallery. Even though I believe I’ve documented most of the Willis stuff that was produced, I still keep an eye out for interesting artwork, and occasionally I find something I haven’t seen before. A few weeks ago this strange arcade bezel popped up on eBay. It was labeled in the lower right corner as “Willis Industries Inc” and I needed to know more about it.
So what the heck is this for? It looked almost generic with the simple color scheme, but the mountains in the background reminded me of an overlay I’d seen somewhere. Hmm, I would have to do some digging to see if I could figure it out. Insert token to continue…
Have you ever looked at something after you bought it and thought, “What the heck was I thinking?” Well, when I won this TV Tennis by US Billiards off eBay, I had one of those moments. I really didn’t think I would win with a maximum bid of only $22.00, but I did win and it only cost me $16.50! Wow, that’s probably the least I’ve ever paid for a cabinet, but now what? The game was about a 7 hour road trip one way and this was just a pong clone, not a garage full of minty vectors. This would be tough to claim.
So why did I bid anyway? I have to admit that I have a fondness for all the unusual artwork and games that were produced during the hey-day of the arcade game era. The stranger the better and this cabinet certainly fits that criteria. When I saw it on eBay with no bids I felt compelled to save it. I’ve never seen one before and it turns out that the picture on KLOV is this very game. So maybe its the only one left? It was also made by US Billiards, a company that has some connection to Willis Industries, that alone made me want to see it up close.
After weeks of trying to arrange schedules to coincide with visiting friends in the area, working around work schedules, asking locals to pick up and hold, nothing was working out and I was left with few options. I could bail on the game and be out $16.50, I could drive there and back in one day (not an awesome option at all), or I could suck it up and ship the darn thing. I wanted to save it after all, right? So I popped on uShip to see what kind of rate I could get. The rate was great, so here it sits in my garage. It is currently not working and needs some TLC, but it is safe and sound. I’ll spend some time messing with it in between spray coats on the Robotrons. Stay tuned and happy gaming.
Hope you’re not getting tired of all the Willis artwork because I have another one to talk about, and this one is special. It’s the Willis Phoenix cpo (control panel overlay), produced back in 1981 by Willis Industries. This slick looking cpo could have been used by an operator to spruce up a game before tossing it back into the line up to make money. It has an attractive blue fore ground, space scene background and the mechanized looking bird we’ve come to recognize as the Centuri Phoenix. But why is this cpo special, and why does it look so familiar? Is this really a Willis Phoenix replacement cpo or is it some type of NOS (new old stock) variation produced by Centuri?
It does have a number of similarities to the original game side art, so what’s going on? Was this Willis Phoenix replacement cpo drawn by the same artist? Did they infringe on Centuri’s intellectual property? Or is it possible that Willis worked with Centuri to create this artwork? That’s a lot of questions. Insert token to continue…
So here we have the Willis Moon Patrol control panel overlay. It has all the quality features I’ve come to expect from a Willis product, with die-cut control openings, reverse screen printing and 3M paper backing; they even made a good effort on the artwork. Granted its not the Williams Moon Patrol cpo, but it has some interesting features. The Willis Moon Patrol cpo attempts to create the perspective that you’re in the seat of some lunar vehicle, driving your way across the moons craggy surface. With the sun setting in the distance, you’ve just embarked on some great adventure across this alien terrain. Not buying it?
I sold a few games to a California collector and in an effort to reduce shipping costs, agreed to accept another game for pickup by NAVL. The game would be dropped off by the seller, so all I had to do was park it in the garage for a couple days. Not knowing what to expect, you can imagine my surprise when the seller dropped off a Moppet Tugboat arcade game, in almost perfect original condition. I knew these games were pretty scarce, but an example this clean must be super rare. Having never seen one of these odd little games in person I figured this was the perfect opportunity to play a few games and see what all the fuss was about.
Moppet Video produced five titles in 1982 which included: Desert Race, Leprechaun, Noah’s Ark, Pirate Treasure, and Tug Boat. Moppet Video arcade games were tiny in comparison to their grown up relatives, and easy for kids to understand and play. All they had to do is walk right up, drop in a quarter and away they went. The games were designed with simple controls and game play, without the need for a step stool or help from an adult, attractive features for our pint sized gamers. You could call it their initiation to the world of arcade games. Hey, back in 1982 kids didn’t all carry Nintendo in their pockets! Insert token to continue…
It has been too long, so I thought I’d start on a new round of Willis artwork posts. I have a bunch to show, but decided to start by throwing out a fun one, Bubbles. The Willis Bubbles UR cpo is an eye catcher, with bright vibrant colors and what else? Lots of bubbles of course! This little beauty was produced by Willis on quality materials using the screen printing process we purists know and love. Of course as a purist you would never actually use this cpo, but it is still a cool piece of 80′s arcade nostalgia nonetheless.
At first glance the bubbles look very neat and uniform, which is odd, considering they’re bubbles and should be a bit more random; but I think it’s a fun overlay and certainly a good effort by the Willis artist. Taking the idea of the sink and drain very literally, with lots of bubbles and a very stylized sink makes for an interesting if not awe inspiring design. Considering there was probably very little time for the creative process, a direct approach may have been the best idea. It gets the message across and there can be no confusion that the game is Bubbles. A closer look at the actual artwork reminds me of my days rendering products with markers. I wouldn’t be surprised if the original drawing of this screen printed cpo was done entirely with markers. Insert token to continue…
We’ve all seen it at some point during our collecting days. That piece of hideous arcade cabinet artwork that just makes you cringe and wonder what the hell they were thinking when they produced it. Why would anyone cover the original artwork with this? The infamous Willis Ms. Pac-Man side art is a prime example of this…or is it?
Looking at this side art makes me wonder if the artist was given a day, or maybe only a few hours to crank out some artwork that could be mass produced in the fastest time possible. Maybe to fill a big customer order or special request. This side art would be used to cover some of the most iconic cabinet art ever produced, and while I realize that time was money in the coin-op business, this was pushing the boundaries of bad taste to the limits. More time should have been spent to craft artwork suited to the rejuvenation of a worn ms. pac-man cabinet. Having never seen this artwork in person, I was forced to accept what my peers were saying about it. “…some of the worst Willis artwork ever produced, just awful.” I have to agree that it’s awful, but thanks to a few pictures from a fellow collector, I was able to confirm my long standing suspicions.
The artwork was not produced by Willis, it was a Wico product as can be clearly seen on the side art, part number and all. Everyone knows the Wico Corporation, famous for their red top joysticks, unmatched in the industry and standard on scores of classic arcade games. Wico was in the parts business in a big way, which also included replacement artwork. In this case bad replacement artwork. So with that the mystery of the bad “Willis” Ms. Pac-Man side art is laid to rest, firmly on the shoulders of Wico. Hug your Willis artwork, it’s finally over.
- This constant sunlight in Burbank CA is brutal. I need a dark Midwest corner. #
One thing I’ve learned in this hobby is that patience really pays off in the long run. Sometimes a new or interesting piece of arcade artwork will pop up for sale on eBay and you just-gotta-have-it! Letting your emotions control your buying decisions can be an expensive proposition, so I like to evaluate the piece and determine the maximum I’ll spend. Then I set my snipe software and walk away. If I win great, if not I’ve learned that there is a good chance a similar item will show up for sale. I’ll wait it out. OF course this technique won’t work with any rare NOS artwork, so don’t let that stuff slip away
Take this little gem for example. Pretty easy to recognize, it’s Q*bert! At least I think so… The nose isn’t quite right, those feet are too long, the swearing balloon text is all mixed up and the other characters have issues as well. Insert token to continue…