Bits, Lies, and Video Games:
The Contradicting Tale of 3-D Rubik's Cube's Discovery and Release

By Scott Stilphen

 

The person who found this prototype, David Winter, and his statements surrounding it are a study in contradiction.  Between late 2002 and 2004, he made some interesting statements in both the original Atariage thread and posts in the RGVC and alt.atari.2600 newsgroups.  Below is an account of his tale, copied verbatim and unedited:

http://tinyurl.com/n95j372  12-23-02 original RGVC thread

http://tinyurl.com/m2rgqhm (alt.atari.2600) and http://tinyurl.com/kb7mt92 (RGVC) - 4-04-2003 taking pre-orders

http://tinyurl.com/lporhyh (RGVC) 4-23-2003 carts ready for sale

http://tinyurl.com/mhbsxmw (alt.atari.2600) 5-08-2003 auctioning off #10 (sold for $125)

http://tinyurl.com/m439fjs (RGVC) 6-17-2003 auctioning off #9 (won by Marco)

http://tinyurl.com/oyhjzps (RGVC) 6-19-2003 trying to compile a list of owners for himself ...and for Seven Towns

http://tinyurl.com/ovl6hs5 (RGVC) 1-08-2004 auctioning off #8 to pay bills

http://tinyurl.com/l77k6bs (RGVC) 11-26-04 Winter's warped understanding of copyrights

 

[RGVC 12-23-2002]

"Sometime in 2002 I acquired a few eprom prototype boards for the 2600, among which a Rubik's Cube board. I didn't have an eprom reader back then, so didn't bothered doing any review.  However, I recently bought an eprom programmer, so I read the eproms, and realized that my prototype was a real 3D version of the game, which I didn't know to exist before. PLEASE DO NOT ASK FOR ROM DUMPS as I will eventually do a cartridge sometime in the future IF there is enough interest in it."

[Atariage 12-23-2002]

"The thing is, I absolutely HATE those lame ebay resellers who abuse of people's possessions, and enjoy reselling what they buy to make more money on people's back. For this reason, I don't want to hear about any ebay resale of this game. I paid to acquire this prototype, and therefore, don't see why some people would give themselves the right to "short-circuit" me and make the money I deserve." (Winter seems to be rather unclear about how, when you sell something, you no longer own it, and thus can't dictate how that item is handled after that. You can hate resellers all you want, but you can't control them)

"As I said, I WILL do cartridge because I want to share with you the interest we have on this game, but this requires some permissions (copyrights, etc), some investment in cartridge cases and such, and this will take some time."

"I WILL try to provide some proofs of authenticity to 2600 programmers, but will NOT provide any binary image. Please understand this.”

[Atariage - 12-25-2002]

"I found it 2 years ago from an ex atari employee, IF me memory is correct. Be both did not know it was the "3D" version, so indeed I did not pay $4000 for it."

[Atariage - 12-26-2002]

"There was NO "3D" in the title, as the prototype board had nothing written on it. The seller tried the game, saw the title on screen and didn't notice it was in 3D. Or he didn't knew the 2D release..." (He didn't notice?  It's rather hard NOT to notice. In fact, it's downright impossible.)

[Atariage 12-27-2002]

"See how I got confused with this 3D game: I got it 2 years ago, thought it was same as the original until I saw a screenshot on this site last week and then realized that it was different (after what I dumped the eproms and made the shots etc)." (Winter didn't notice it was different until he saw screenshots of it online - screenshots that he himself provided!)

"I tried the game again under Z26. Unless I'm wrong, the z26 guys didn't provide a doc so I played with the keys to see what would change the game behavior." (I guess Winter didn't see the "F1 HELP" info clearly visible on the Z26 screen, because pressing F1 shows all the key functions...)

[Atariage 12-28-2002]

"I'm thinking about releasing the ROM under certain conditions, for example once a number of cartridges will be sold."

[RGVC 6-19-03]

"I am currently compiling the list of serials and names for my personal use (and also to inform Seven Towns of the current status of the sales). This list is of course private and will NOT reach the web or other sources of download. Anybody who got a copy (or more) can you please email me with your serial(s)?"  (Seven Towns wouldn't be requesting this 2 months after he first started selling these, unless they weren't aware of it.  And if they were, he should have been keeping track of this from the start.)

"I know that lots of people think my Rubik's Cube 3D is too high priced at $50, but you guys need to understand that I have to pay royalties to Seven Towns Ltd., afford all the stuff and services, expensive shipping in both directions of all spare parts for assembling the carts, etc etc. And there's the original prototype to pay for. I might consider lowering the price, but that will surely not happen before the first 100 are sold out. I'll think about this, no kidding !"

[1-8-04]

“I need urgent money to pay a couple fat bills, so I'm (auctioning off a cart) I own the unique prototype of this game and arranged a special License Agreement with the company who owns the rights of the Rubik's Cube game, so I made with Atari Age a limited edition of 250 copies for this game. This is done in a totally legal manner. Note that I may consider selling privately the prototype as well, but please don't come with questions like "how much ?". Just send me your offers and then I'll think about it.” (i.e. send me some ridiculous offers and I’ll go with the highest one)

11-25-04

Digital Press releases the ROM.

11-26-04

Atariage and ClassicGaming.com “officially” release the ROM.  I guess it wasn’t too hard to clear it through all the ‘legal channels', eh?  Winter also puts a post up in RGVC, stating he’s still selling these, and now lowered the price to $40.  He also contends that only he has the right to sell/distribute the ROMs.  Still sticking to his strong-arm tactics.

[RGCV 11-6-04] includes lots of ‘gems’ like,

While I never wanted to release the binary of this game for obvious reasons, the Digital Press scums thought they would win their "game" by releasing the ROM without my autorisation. To show how much I care about their anal attitude I thought I could "agree" (oh well... !) with them and officially release the binary so that everybody can enjoy the game (and eventually purchase a cartridge from me).

I am also reducing the price of this game, which is now $40 + shipping or 30 euros + shipping.

You will find the binary at Atari Age and ClassicGaming. Atari Age should update their page with the new price.”

[11-27-04]

"I have an official license agreement with Seven Towns Ltd. to sell a small number of R3D cartridges" (Prove it.)

“They (Infograms) just "told" (Atariage to stop selling carts), they didn't come with blatent proofs that forbid them to sell cartridges. (They don't need proof because they OWN it.) As for R3D let them first find the source code and original copyright deposits to proove they own the software, and then we'll talk about it.” (Hmm, I thought selling them through Atariage was done in a “totally legal manner”?  Guess not.)

[11-29-04]

“No matter what I paid for this prototype, and yes I perfectly knew what I had as I used to play the original game in my childhood.” (That's not what he originally said, and he certainly didn't play Rubik's Cube 3-D in his childhood.)

“If you take those ultra expensive multicarts for Vectrex (FYI the entire Vectrex library is public domain) or other consoles what do you think the programers make on them ? And what do you think the makers of those carts paid to get the binaries ?” (Maybe because the *legal* owners of those games released them into public domain years ago.)

“Finally, this 3D version of the game never was an official Atari project. The author programmed it during his free time (at Atari… using Atari’s equipment.  Somehow I doubt Atari would have allowed someone to tie up their equipment for months at a time, programming a game that they didn’t want…) and just put a copyright message in the code. That's just some text on a sceen, nothing official nor deposited (Copyrights don’t have much meaning to pirates). I'd be happy to find copyright for the program of this 3D game. (It’s not hard to find – it’s right on the title screen – “© 1982 ATARI”.) If there's no copyright, the game code is in public domain.” (Ok, so if 3DRC has no copyright and the game is in the public domain, then Winter doesn't own it, and Digital Press did nothing wrong)

 

Recap:

Winter first said he got the prototype in 2002, but then 2 days later said it was 2 years before that, which would have been in 2000.  This was never clarified.  According to Winters, neither he nor the buyer, who was an ex-Atari employee, knew exactly what they had, which is highly unlikely. At first he had no plans to release the ROM, since he planned on selling carts of it, while at the same time stating how much he hates people that resell items like that, and doesn't want to hear about people doing it with this game b/c he deserves that money. Yet 5 days later said he'd consider releasing the ROM if a certain number of carts were sold (what that number was he never said).  In other words, he was selling copies of the game and trying to control what the owners of those cartridges could do with it.  Sorry, but when you release something in a free market, you can't dictate what happens to it after that, not unless you try to force owners to sign a contract before buying it.  This type of strong-arm tactic was tried a few months before with an Ebay auction, and when people started questioning the seller's outlandish terms, he quickly edited them, but never explained how he planned on enforcing them to begin with...

250 numbered carts were produced (150 for the US; 100 for Europe).  Carts went on sale in late April 2003. He planned on auctioning off #000-010 on Ebay, but apparently only sold 3 (last one in Jan 2004).  Atariage sold them for $50 each, and (according to Winter) only sold those carts that were numbered over 150.  As of mid-June of that year, less than 100 were sold, and he tried to justify the cart's high price - one reason being he was still paying off the cost of getting the proto.  He never stated what he paid for it, but did say it wasn't some (outrageous) price, like $4,000 (his figure), because neither he nor the seller knew what it was.  In 2009, he auctioned off the prototype, claiming he bought it at a yard sale along with other rare games 5 years before.  So again, I'm quite certain both he and the original owner knew exactly what this prototype was - especially if he paid over $1k (or even a few hundred) for it.  At the very least, regardless of what he paid, he wouldn't have waited months or years before dumping it to see what it was.  Soon after his 6-03-2002 post, Atariage pulled it from their online store (along with a few other Atari 'homebrew' titles) at Infograms request, proving neither Winters or Atariage had legal permission to sell them.

Well, as it turns out, not only was Atari aware of the 3-D version, but they had plans to include both versions on the same cart!  According to this 11-28-04 post, Ken Van Mersbergen (aka "Dutchman2000") found some original Atari documents with one having some information about this Rubik's Cube 3-D game:

There were 2 games, Rubik's Cube by Peter Niday and Atari Video Cube by GCC.

The original plan was to include BOTH 4k games on one 8k cart.

Rubik's Cube was going to be the power up game meaning that was the game that would come up first when the cartridge was inserted. Since Rubik's Cube used the game select switch Atari was trying to figure out a way to switch between the two games. There were two suggestions proposed:

1. Hold down the game select and game reset switches at the same time.

or

2. Plug in the second joystick (Both games are one player only) and use it to select the second game.

It was decided that the first suggestion was more acceptable, and they left it up to Marketing for the final decision.  Ultimately it was decided that only one game would be released, and they chose the GCC-programmed Atari Video Cube.

This puts to rest Winter's nonsense of Rubik's Cube 3-D never being an official Atari game, or of not being copyrighted.  It would also confirm why Atariage removed the game from their website store, as both Infogrames, Inc. and Seven Towns, Ltd. would have had to been paid royalties from any sales.  Since Infogrames sent a C&D letter to them, it's clear they weren't paid anything.  Whether or not Winter actually paid Seven Towns, Ltd. anything is unknown, as he never posted any proof of an arrangement with them.  However, Atariage is still selling these through their forum:

http://atariage.com/forums/topic/98145- 12-6-2006 Atariage doing "informal" sales at $35 each.

http://atariage.com/forums/topic/126929-  6-13-2008 Atariage still selling these on the side

 

More info from sound programmer Bob Vieira:

Peter Niday, who I met in about 3rd grade and went all through school with him, etc., wrote Rubik's Cube 3-D in his spare time while working as a tester at Atari.  After the programmers and managers saw it, they decided Peter should no longer be a tester.   He was a math wiz at UC Berkeley and is analytically gifted AND creative, so it was a good fit.  Peter was quickly put on Sorcerer's Apprentice (about the time I started contracting/consulting with Atari, thanks to Peter) and had no time to 'finish' Rubik's Cube 3-D and I suspect no one really knew how to make it a game beyond what you could do with the actual cube in your hand.

 

Here is a copy of David Winter's Ebay auction from June 2009 where he sold the original prototype for $449:

 

David Winter continues to try and sell this prototype on Ebay, now under a different account and with a price of $5k!:


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