Atari Gravitar Cabaret & Cocktail Cabinets

Released in 1982, Atari’s Gravitar, represents one of the last great colour vector titles released during the Golden Age of classic arcade gaming.

Project led by Mike Halley and programmed by Rich Adam, the game is generally regarded as being hard as nails. This, coupled with a general downturn in the industry and a level of cynicism towards the reliability of vector hardware, contributed to its relatively poor commercial success.

I restored an upright cabinet recently which you can check out here.

The upright cabinet showcases some of Atari’s finest coin-op artwork ever produced (in my opinion anyway!). Designed by Brad Chaboya, it is truly spectacular:

Gravitar upright cabinet
Brad Chaboya’s Gravitar artwork

Although only released in upright form in the USA market, there were plans and designs for cocktail and cabaret variants, which were ultimately never produced. To my knowledge, neither of these prototype cabinets have ever turned up in collector’s hands, and pictures have been far and few between.

The only real lead up until now has been a brief glimpse of the proposed cabaret and cocktail design in this promotional video. It is cheesy 80s cool – the cabinets show up at the 30 second mark:

Gravitar has the right cabinet style for every location. Each with a 19″ horizontal colour XY monitor. There’s the standard upright cabinet with colourful side panel graphics. A new streamline cabaret; contemporary and compact. And the woodgrain cocktail cabinet, ideal for comfortable gameplay, in relaxed locations.

Voiceover from 0:30 onwards

The challenge for Atari when considering three different cabinet styles, was how best to accommodate the 19″ horizontal vector monitor. They managed it with 1981’s Tempest in cabaret mode, but this was arguably easier to do because the monitor was in a vertical position – that cabinet design of course is shared with Centipede. But given the dimensions of the build for Gravitar, placing a 19″ vector monitor horizontally in that same cabinet simply wasn’t going to work due to the extra width required.

A new design was created and a prototype was built. Here is the only quality picture known to exist of that cabinet:

The proposed cabinet design of Atari’s Gravitar ‘cabaret’. That grid-style vinyl on the front is really cool – as is the “Atari” logo-style side art. (Credit: National Videogame Museum)

I like how the marquee is across the front of the control panel (a pretty cool idea on reflection) making good use of the limited space available. This Gravitar cabinet does seem to take some design cues from Irish Atari cabinets, such as Popeye, Millipede, Food Fight and Time Pilot:

Atari Ireland cabinet. Note this is taller and has a marquee at the top. Other than the chopped marquee, it appears to be dimensionally identical

Intended to provide a reduced footprint, cabarets were popular in locations where space was at a premium – this makes them particularly attractive to collectors today (as well as having been produced in smaller numbers compared to their upright counterparts).

Delving into Atari’s archives, there is quite a bit of documentation surrounding the development of Gravitar’s cabaret and cocktail cabinets:

References are made here to cabaret and cocktail designs.
Some of Mike Halley’s notes regarding the cabaret. Note the indication that suggests the cocktail game would use the Amplifone monitor, and Wells Gardner would provide the monitors for the upright, cabaret and Irish variants of Gravitar. I wonder why that was? (Courtesy of cooganphoto.com)
The results of a heat test carried out to stablish how hot the cabaret ran over a period of time. (Courtesy of cooganphoto.com)
The heat test results from the Cocktail cabinet. (Courtesy of cooganphoto.com)
An internal memo seemingly confirming approval of the cabaret design? (Courtesy of cooganphoto.com)

It seems that the cabaret build was going to share itself with Atari arcade releases around the same time. These plans suggest that Liberator was identical:

Cabaret Design document for Atari’s Liberator. This cabinet never saw production either. Thanks to Cassandra Quirk for sharing this image.
This Liberator prototype cabaret cabinet was showcased at a California Extreme show a few years back. As you can see, it is the same cabinet design
Collector Brian Jones shared this image of the original Atari silkscreen films for the sideart from the Gravitar cabaret. It matches the sideart shown in the image above
The annotations confirming the silkscreen image design was intended for the cabaret design

For whatever reason, the cabaret and cocktail versions of Gravitar never made it to production. We can only speculate as to why, but my best guess would be after monitoring the relatively poor sales numbers of the upright, a decision was made to pull production of the cabaret – demand simply wasn’t there to justify prepping the production line for an entirely new cabinet design?

As for the cocktail version of Gravitar – again, none have ever turned up, and until now, no pictures of this cabinet have surfaced. However, here it is:

This looks like a promotional shot to me – probably intended for a press pack relating to the release of the game. The design mirrors no other Atari cocktail that I can think of. Note the woodgrain top and sides, and single speaker underneath the control panel. What artwork there is, is pretty low key – just a small bezel around the screen, most of which looks like its taken up with instructions! The screen would be flipped for player two who would sit at the opposite side, facing player 1. Questionable positioning of the start buttons – not sure how those would be visible to a seated player! (Credit: National Videogame Museum)

A small footnote – the European version of Gravitar did have its very own cabinet design, strangely, in cabaret-only form factor. Built at Atari’s Tipperary plant in Ireland, this cabinet is almost as rare as the USA cabaret version. Just a couple are around today:

Gravitar European Cabaret Design. Notice the bezel and marquee are a single sheet of Perspex. Pic: Mikko Hypponen

That cabinet featured in the 007 film, Never Say Never Again. Kim Basinger is seen casually playing Gravitar in this scene:

Not to get too off-topic, but for interest’s sake, and while we’re here, that Gravitar European style cabinet built in Atari’s Tipperary factory also housed a clutch of other games:

Kangaroo (pic: Warren Maiden)
Fast Freddie, with dedicated sideart
Dig Dug
Here’s the rare gem – this Black Widow control panel and bezel was released as a kit to convert none other than Gravitar (Note you can just make out Gravitar artwork in the sides there). (Thanks to Oliver Moazzezi for the picture)

So back on track to the subject of this post; Gravitar – there’s quite a bit of info here.

Let’s summarise what we’ve established about the various Gravitar cabinet styles:

Every known Gravitar arcade cabinet

For more insight into Gravitar and its development, do check out Dan Coogan’s excellent website here, and the Ted Dabney Experience podcast interviews with Mike Halley here, and Rich Adam here.

So there you have it – good to be able to shed some light on more lost Atari coin-op history!

A big shout out to to the National Videogame Museum in Frisco, TX who shared these newly-found pictures of the cabaret and cocktail versions of Gravitar.

Let me know if you have anything to add below – thanks for reading this week.

Tony

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. Niall McMahon says:

    Stunning work. Want an apprentice?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Warren Maiden says:

    Hey that’s my Kangaroo! HA. Great blog as always,
    Warren Maiden Amherst, Ohio USA

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tony says:

    Oh! Thanks Warren – pic credit incoming!

    Like

  4. paulatluxor says:

    Thank you for all your investigations!
    This is one the best arcade history websites around.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Tony says:

    Thank you Paul. I appreciate you visiting!

    Like

  6. Gravatar was such a great game. as a Tempest owner, i somehow never put 2 and 2 together and realized that Gravatar used the same 19″ monitor that Tempest does, but of course it had to. That cocktail version is so problematic for two players… i wonder if that added to the reason why it was never produced. love the european cabaret style!

    Liked by 1 person

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