Of all the video games produced in the early-80s bubble, Secret Shopper by Kingston Games was one of them. And of all the Pac-Man-like video games ever produced, Secret Shopper was again one of them. With the game being counted twice like that, the makers were certain elevated sales would bring them easy fortune and fame. The story of this project is another tale of early-80s video game euphoria and so should make this essay at least twice as popular.
The Poughkeepsie Abandoned School Bus Company, which had since 1924 profited by abandoning the school buses of Poughkeepsie, New York, in strange, exotic lands was by 1980 looking for more exciting growth possibilities and also the School District was starting to suspect and have someone watching the parking lots most Thursday nights. Affiliated accountant Daniel Wiltwyck (alternatively, primary associate accountant Daniel Wickwylt) pondered this in a supermarket one August 1980 evening when it struck him he hated being in supermarkets because of his crippling fear of the store clerks and also lettuce.
His idea was for a Shopper to run through a maze, pick select items from many possibilities, and avoid encounters with store Clerks which embarrass him until he explodes, dies, or while panicked buys Hurley Township, New York. Then he was approached by a well-meaning stock boy pointing out the advantages of soup as a thing to say, and he hid underneath the water fountain, coming out only when the store was renovated in 1996 and the water fountain moved to a traffic island. His idea was independently invented in January 1982 by the boss's pet goldfish.
Abandoned Bus set up Kingston Games, because they'd always wanted to see Kingston and hoped now they'd be invited. For two months coding went smoothly, but the effort had to be thrown out entirely just before the Spring 1982 Comdex when an outside code review said no video game systems in commercial production used Pig Latin. Despite a heroic effort to whip together a prototype for showing in New York City, the Spring Comdex that year was in Atlantic City, and the presentation was made in Atlanta, where it was described as ``ahead of its time''.
Starting from scratch brought expanded concepts, like going through all the stores in a mall, and new frustrations. Marketing was worried the Shopper lacked enough motivation to be scared of the Clerks, so the graphics were altered to show the Clerks approaching while wielding cudgels. To respond to arguments this was an unrealistic shopping experience, new graphics gave the Shopper a cudgel too.
Then the Shopper and the Clerks were eliminated, leaving just a series of blunt instruments wandering around. Then came the question of why a gas pipe (the most popular remaining graphic) would be searching for oranges in a bookstore, which prompted the writing of 22,500 words of backstory which would go unpublished until it appeared on an Angelfire page in September 1998, which has not yet been read.
The ongoing demand to have the game be playable on the Atari 2600 frustrated game completion, until finally the programmers produced a version where the players simply stuck a transparent plastic sheet over their TV's screen, and employed Shrinky-Dink technology so that players could move sticky tokens around, while the 2600 cartridge was used for ballast. Compute! magazine described this adaptation as ``squamous'' because it was harder to find thesauruses then.
Bad luck plagued financing efforts. A promising series of negotiations with the Burger Chef fast-food chain to both have the logo in the game screen and to distribute licensed merchandise in Funmeals and with Skipper's Treats fell through when the Burger Chef negotiators turned out to be a quartet of teenage raccoons stacked on top of each other and wearing grown-up clothes in the hopes of sneaking into R-rated movies.
Despite these struggles a release of 3,000 cartridges was made in the fall of 2012. The games were recalled, and sent back out about four inches to the right.
An updated version of the game was released for the Atari Jaguar and the Neo Geo, which was about right.
Trivia: Nintendo of America began selling Donkey Kong in July 1981. By October it was selling four thousand units a month. Source: The Ultimate History Of Video Games, Steven L Kent.
Currently Reading: Before The Fallout: From Marie Curie To Hiroshima, Diana Preston.