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Blue Sky Rangers 20th Reunion

Blue Sky Rangers Ray "BurgerTime" Kaestner, Bill "Space Hawk" Fisher, Shal "Triple Action" Farley, Mark "Kool-Aid Man" Kennedy, Dave "Atari Star Strike" Akers, Dave "Mind Strike" Warhol, Eric "Apple BurgerTime" Del Sesto, Stephen "Space Spartans" Roney and Mike "Snafu" Minkoff.

On February 7, 2004, the Blue Sky Rangers, their guests and families took over an arcade in Redondo Beach, California, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Mattel Toys pulling the plug on the Intellivision video game system.

Every year the former Intellivision programmers mark the anniversary with lunch at Jino's Pizza in Hawthorne, a regular lunch hangout when they worked at Mattel.

But for the 20th, something special was called for. So Intellivision Productions, Inc., as a thank you to the programmers, bought out the arcade for the night and put all the games on free play. There were barbecued hamburgers and hot dogs and - for those who wanted to keep with tradition - Jino's pizza.

The site of the event, Castle Park, was familiar to the Blue Sky Rangers; Mattel Electronics hosted a party for the programmers there in 1983. And for their tenth reunion, the Blue Sky Rangers stopped into the arcade for a couple hours of play before having dinner at a nearby restaurant.

Castle Park Arcade & Miniature Golf, Redondo Beach, California.
Jay Hastroudian, who wrote the operating system for the Entertainment Computer System (ECS)
Julie "Thin Ice" Hoshizaki

While the programmers have remained friends over the years and frequently get together for reunions and parties, this was the greatest number of Blue Sky Rangers in one place since the layoff of 1984.

In addition to the former Mattel Electronics crew, there were former employees of APh Technology Consulting, the firm that programmed many of the early Intellivision games. Also present were employees of companies that work today with Intellivision Productions:

  • Realtime Associates (headed by Blue Sky Ranger David Warhol), which developed the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube versions of Intellivision Lives!
  • Quicksilver Software (headed by Blue Sky Ranger William Fisher), which developed the Windows emulator used on the Intellivision Lives! and Intellivision Rocks PC versions.
  • Crave Entertainment, which publishes the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube versions of Intellivision Lives!

Several Blue Sky Rangers showed up who had never before attended one of the reunions. Jay Hastroudian was one of these. He was able to correct a mistake on the Intellivision web site: he was not the creator of the abridged BASIC that came with the Entertainment Computer System (ECS). That was Anita Clock, he said. He was the creator of the ECS operating system.

Another first-timer was Tom Priestley, who flew in from his home near Detroit for the event. Tom was the developer of Number Jumble, an unreleased educational game for the ECS that made its first appearance on Intellivision Lives!

But of particular excitement was the first-time appearance of Gabriel Baum, former vice president in charge of Intellivision development and inspiration for Hal, the imaginary spokesman for the Blue Sky Rangers who appears in the BSR logo. Gabriel is a resident today of Chicago where he is vice president of technology at Navigation Technologies, a digital-mapping company.

Peggi Decarli Fiebig, who did the graphics for many Intellivision and Aquarius titles
Connie "Thunder Castle" Goldman and Bob "Pinball" Newstadt
Tom "Number Jumble" Priestley flew in from Detroit
Russ "Maze-A-Tron" Haft (left) and Mark "Vectron" Urbaniec
Realtime Associates' Xheryl Durham and Lisa Dawson teach John Sohl (center) how to play his game Astrosmash on the Xbox version of Intellivision Lives!

The event was covered by the press, including the local FOX TV news and The Orange County Register, which ran a three-page article about the reunion and the return of classic video games. (Read the article here on the OC Register web site. Download fee required.)

A number of door prizes were awarded, including the Intellivision 25 and Intellivision 10 direct-to-TV controllers. The top prize of the night was a copy of Intellivision Lives! for Xbox...along with an Xbox console, extra controller, and DVD remote. The Xbox package was won by the family of Bill Snyder, a programmer at Quicksilver Software.

There were no losers, though: everybody got a goodie bag which contained a commemorative T-shirt, the PC/Mac version of Intellivision Lives!, the Intellivision in Hi-Fi music CD, and an Intellivision handheld game.

Intellikids - children of Blue Sky Rangers - glued to the free-play arcade games
Joe "Hover Force" King and wife Angela brave the cold for a round of late-night miniature golf
Andy Sells did music and sounds for a number of Intellivision games
Aquarius programmer Tony Ettaro
Game testers Traci Roux and Dale Lynn

As the senior member present of the former Mattel Electronics staff, Gabriel Baum cut the Running Man cake. First, he spoke a few words:

"I remember distinctly twenty years ago, I was playing 'LA Woman' at the time when I fired about 120 people. It was a major event, and all I did was close my door and play The Doors - 'LA Woman' - very, very, very loudly. And I do remember people knocking at the door, worrying if I was alive or dead or hanging myself or whatever I was doing. It was a worrisome time.

"So here I am, twenty years later and this is the closest thing to a high school reunion that I've ever, ever been to.

"So what I really, really want to do is pay credit to a guy who's kept alive the vision of Intellivision for twenty years. What Keith has done the past twenty years is absolutely amazing. He's kept alive the vision, the programming side, the business side, the whole sense of who we are as a group."

Gabriel reminded everyone how, in 1982, programmer Ron Surratt and Ron's then-girlfriend Carolyn Carpenter made "True Blue Sky Ranger" buttons for all the Intellivision staff. They made a special one-of-a-kind button, though, for Gabriel: it read "Big Blue Chief."

Gabriel pulled the Big Blue Chief button from his pocket and presented it to Intellivision Productions President Keith Robinson, saying, "There is only one of these badges and it belongs to Keith.

"And if we ever talk about 'Hal' - this is the real Hal."

"That was quite a surprise," said Robinson. "First, I was surprised that after twenty years Gabriel would still have the button. And then that he would give it to me. It was quite an honor.

"But," he added, "we're not changing the logo: Gabriel will always be Hal."

Keith "TRON Solar Sailer" Robinson (left) and former Mattel Electronics VP Gabriel Baum with a cardboard Hal
Joe King tries to gather up some extra goodie bags

For their 30th anniversary, the Blue Sky Rangers will have to find a new site; the new owners of Castle Park have announced plans to demolish the building in 2005.

Photographs by Joe King and by Traci Roux.

For more about the reunion, including interviews with the programmers and photographs, read the article "Video-game Trailblazers" by Tamara Chuang in The Orange County Register, February 23, 2004. The article is posted online here at the web site. (Download fee required.)