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Archive for the ‘Willis’ Category

Willis Asteroids UR cpo

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Way back in 1979, Atari released the soon-to-be-a-hit game Asteroids to the coin-operated world. I love its simple yet addictive game play, beautiful side art and huge, easy to use control panel. Big enough to set a drink on if you dared. This popular, money making game took lots of abuse on location. Worn, crappy looking games didn’t make as much money as newer looking ones, so what did operators do? When the artwork has been worn away by scores of eager gamers, it’s time to paint or replace.

Asteroids cpo

Operators were notorious tight wads and didn’t like to spend money on OEM parts, often turning to Willis for their more cost effective products. While not always the best looking, they were better than a worn or ratty original (in the ops eyes at least). So here we have the Willis Asteroids cpo, released in 1981, and measuring in at a whopping 26-1/4″ x 23-1/3″. This thing will completely cover the original metal control panel.

Now with every Willis overlay the production quality is excellent, and this overlay is no exception. 3M backer paper and adhesive, artwork screen printed on lexan, and die cut button holes. This particular example still has the majority of the die cut outs in place. My favorite little Willis men adorn the p1 and p2 buttons, but there isn’t much more to say about this one. Very simplistic, kinda boring, and lacking in color variety. I’ll add it to the archive anyway.

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Willis Enviro-Graphics come home!

Saturday, January 15th, 2011

I make no secret about my love for Willis artwork in all of its cheesy 80’s goodness. It’s not just the artwork, but the history of Willis Industries and what the company did for the arcade game industry that intrigues me, and I’m constantly on the lookout for new information and artwork. I’m not sure if there is a proverbial “grail” piece of Willis artwork, but if anything would come close, it would have to be the Willis Enviro-Graphics package (or WEG’s for short). To learn more about this amazing arcade artwork, check out my original post Willis Enviro-Graphics, or bye bye Wico!.

Willis Enviro-Graphics

If you were an operator back in the day, these large wall hanging graphics were meant to give your arcade a little ambiance, to spruce things up a bit, or just to act as some quality signage for contests. Now when I say large, I mean 30″ x 50″ kinda large, we’re talking 1500 square inches of Willis graphical delight! These were some darn big posters! Insert coin to continue…

Willis Zoo Keeper cpo

Friday, January 14th, 2011

I recently got a peek at Brian’s amazing, scratch built Zoo Keeper arcade cabinet, and it got me thinking about this under rated classic arcade game by Taito. Released back in 1982, it combines simple yet challenging game play, with full cabinet artwork. A welcome break from Taito’s typical cabinet scheme. Somewhere in my artwork stash, I knew I had one of these.

Zoo Keeper

This particular Willis replacement overlay does a good job at trying to keep the original feel of the game. With bright colors, fun character’s from the game, and the brick motif, it could actually be used as it was intended – to replace your worn out original overlay. NOS overlays are tough to find and reproduction cpo’s have long been sold out, so this replacement might be your only choice. Insert coin to continue…

Willis Super Pac-Man cpo

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

Is not so super. Don’t get me wrong, it gets the job done, but what happened to the caped Pac-Man, and the angry blue ghost? The color has changed from a blue background with yellow insert to a yellow background with blue. The Willis version is also missing the stripes from the original cpo that matched up with the bezel, this breaks up the continuity. Add in that color variation and the overlay just seems “off”. You might also notice the slightly darker boxes around the text and the player select character, perhaps because the artwork was attached to the film and not integral. A kind of screen print cut and paste. A little more effort could have gone into the artwork on this one, especially for a Pac-Man game.

Super Pac-Man

Now of course with every Willis overlay the production quality is excellent and this overlay is no exception. 3M backer paper and adhesive, artwork screen printed on lexan, and die cut joystick and button holes. The control panel overlay is labeled part number 2001 and was produced by Willis in 1983, which makes it one of their later production pieces. Insert coin to continue…

FedEx toyed with my emotions today

Saturday, December 4th, 2010

If you are familiar with my site or my collecting habits, you know that I’m a big fan of Willis artwork. Willis made some weird stuff and I’m always looking to add to the collection. Well I got lucky not too long ago, and met another collector online that had what I consider to be the holy grail of Willis artwork. An almost complete set of the Willis Enviro-Graphics! This amazing set of wall hanging artwork and atmosphere graphics were supposed to enhance the operators business location or arcade. There were high score save signs, out of order signs, and massive black light graphics, all sold as one package deal. Pretty cool stuff, but because of its size and the fact that most of the pieces were mounted on foam core, very little has survived. The collector I met found a batch of the Willis artwork in some operators flat files out on the east coast. He doesn’t have space for all the art and agreed to sell me a few pieces. After some negotiations, proper packing and a shipping company selection, the 48x48x2 package was on the way. I was ecstatic! I got the tracking info and patiently waited to see this…

fedex tracking

I was really looking forward to opening up this package to get a first hand look at the artwork. I ran some errands with my kids, recapped a wg4900 series chassis, and just kept busy. I would check the FedEx website every 30 minutes or so to see if anything had changed. Nope, it was still on the truck for delivery. By about 6pm I started to get a little worried, but the status hadn’t changed so I figured the holiday packages had kept the driver behind schedule. At 8pm I figured I was screwed, but it wasn’t until 8:20pm that I saw this…

fedex tracking

I could think of lots of things to say, but none of them are nice. It looks like I’ll have to wait until tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Willis battle damage sign

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

This piece of Willis artwork was part of the Enviro-Graphics package, but was also available for purchase separately. Not too long ago someone on the KLOV forums was blowing out a stack of these for $1 each, a pretty good price. I got mine off eBay ages ago and really like it. I was thinking of scanning it and printing out a few at the local Kinko’s on card stock, maybe have them laminated. That way I could mark the games that are currently down in my game room. Of course I could also spend the time working on repairs…

Battle Damage SignBattle Damage SignBattle Damage Sign

The sign has the standard Willis logo, date and trademark info right on the front, typical of Willis artwork. Being just a sticker, it wasn’t printed using the heavy duty 3M paper and adhesive, just a generic plain backing. I can’t recall ever seeing these on games back in the day, usually it was just a hand scrawled note that said “Out of order” taped to the bezel. Not sure if sticking one of these on a game would have been a good idea anyway, would they come off easily? Doubt it.

Willis Enviro-Graphics, or bye bye Wico!

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

“Enviro-Graphics, an exciting new concept for the amusement industry. The Enviro-Graphics kit includes all the decorative treatment, signage, and support material required for your arcade, game room or game location. These products are designed and produced by the premier game art company in America – Willis Industries.” A bold statement from a company that the classic arcade collecting community tends to frown upon. But take a look at the brochure and you might think twice.


I had never heard of Enviro-graphics, or known about artwork packages that operators could use to decorate their arcade. I was too busy finding my next quarter for that new game, or waiting for the 6 tokens for $1 special at Aladdin’s Castle. Who paid attention to the d├ęcor? I vaguely recall the way my local arcade looked back in the day, with a simple neon exterior, lots of games inside and a pseudo space theme. The atmosphere did contribute to the overall memory, though my strongest memory seems to be of dark and smokey spaces, with lots of flashing lights and sounds! Even so, perhaps Willis had a good idea. Token signs, out of order signs, score boards, event schedules, specials, rules…all things the operator needed to communicate with his customers. The random space scene posters remind me more of the black light posters you’d find at Spencer’s gifts in the mall, along side the edible underwear. The brochure states that the posters were directly screened onto 1/8″ thick foam board, which made them more durable and easier to hang, but is also probably why so few (if any) survive today. Once they came off the wall if you couldn’t store them, they got tossed.

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One thing I noticed is the apparent change in relationship between Willis and Wico around the time this stuff was being produced. If you recall my post about the partnership they shared, apparently it didn’t last or just wasn’t working out. Whatever the reasons, the brochure above is a lot different from the unopened one you see below. Dated September 10, 1982 it has the Wico name and distributor information prominently displayed. A few additional pieces of artwork can also be seen on the back. The almost identical brochure above has all traces of the Wico name removed and “Now operators can buy direct from Willis”. Interesting move and even before the industry crash really took hold. If you can shed any light on this relationship or if you have a Willis Enviro-Graphics poster you’d like to sell, let me know.

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Willis Atari Football cpo

Monday, March 8th, 2010

I’ve added another Willis overlay to the growing archive, this time the 4 player version of Atari Football. A big thanks to Jeff of rotheblog for this one. Now Atari is famous among the collecting community for fabulous cabinet artwork and the Atari Football cocktail cabinets were no exception. I had a chance to see and play a HUO example at a party not so long ago and it was amazing.

atari football cpo

The artwork and color scheme on that game exude 70’s funk and I love it. The cp artwork was originally screened right onto the metal panels, just like on Asteroids and Missile Command. Unfortunately that means when it wears off, its gone forever. So besides being a replacement overlay and not a metal panel, the Willis piece just doesn’t fit well with the Atari cabinet artwork. Sure, the big “football” and a bunch of football players make it obvious what game its for, but so boring. Still has all the earmarks of a quality Willis piece and makes a nice addition.

Willis Asteroids CT cpo

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

Willis made a few different overlays for Atari games, the Asteroids cocktail table being one of them. This overlay has very simple styling, partly taken from the very understated original control panel overlay. The artist added some color and shapes to create an overlay that works well with the cocktail table, in my opinion.

asteroids ct cpo

Now I’m not saying that it’s super fantastic or anything, it just works well and looks better than the original in this case. Quality materials, die-cut button holes, part numbers and copyright info all in place. Another piece for the archive.

Willis Donkey Kong cpo

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Here we have the famous, or infamous, Willis Donkey Kong cpo. I think this one went a long way towards creating the bad reputation Willis developed with arcade collectors and its easy to see why.

donkey kong cpo

The original control panel overlay was reverse printed on a thick piece of plexi which made it quite durable but prone to scratching or graffiti. The reproduction was made in the same way Willis made all their products, reverse printed on lexan material with 3M adhesive. (more…)