I couldn’t have planned this any better if I’d tried. We’re just days removed from the big Mortal Kombat 11 reveal event, and we’ve now come to the companies who helped to make the original games a household name.
When Nintendo initially announced the Ultra 64 Dream Team in 1995, one of the companies they partnered with was Williams, aka WMS Industries, so named for their New York Stock Exchange ticker symbol. The company had been founded in 1943 by Harry E. Williams as a manufacturer of electro-mechanical amusements: Fortune telling machines, novelties, and of course, pinball.
Decades earlier, Bally Manufacturing Corporation had been founded by Raymond Moloney in 1932 as a maker of pinball games before expanding into gambling-themed amusements, paving the way for them to become a leading manufacturer of slot machines. In 1969, they would purchase Henry Ross and Marcine Wolverton’s Midway Manufacturing Company, a developer of amusement equipment founded a decade before in 1958. After merging their pinball division with Midway in 1982, the latter company became known collectively as Bally/Midway.
Bally/Midway was a tour de force in arcades in the early 80’s, thanks in no small part to their licensing agreement with Namco to bring their hit coin-op Pac-Man to the west, where it would become a pop-culture phenomenon. They further capitalized on this success with further successful (but unauthorized) sequels, not the least of which was Ms. Pac-Man. Other releases from the company during this time period included the North American release of Taito’s Space Invaders, Rampage, and several others.
After attempting to expand further in to the world of gambling by acquiring numerous casinos, the companies came together when Bally sold off several of their divisions. In 1988, Bally/Midway went to Williams, who had found success of their own in the world of arcade video games with titles such as Sinistar and Joust.
Together, the combined company would become an even greater arcade powerhouse throughout the late 80’s and early 90’s. Hits included Smash TV, N.A.R.C., Terminator 2: Judgment Day, NBA Jam, and of course, Mortal Kombat. With a lineup like this, it’s easy to see why Nintendo would eye them to become a part of their 64-bit Dream Team.
Interestingly, their home presence was shared in the early goings with another member of the Dream Team: Acclaim. Throughout the life of the Nintendo Entertainment System, Game Boy, Game Gear, and much of the era of the Super NES and SEGA Genesis, it was Acclaim who handled the home market side of Williams’ home business.
This partnership even went as far as several of the latter’s characters (including Max Force from N.A.R.C. and Tyrone from Arch Rivals) to be featured alongside Acclaim’s Kuros (Wizards & Warriors), Kwirk, and Bigfoot (who was also licensed) in the “Power Team” segments of the syndicated television program, Video Power.
Numerous other things went down throughout the early 90’s: Midway would absorb Williams’ video game division, and dropped the “Bally” from their name, using that instead on pinball machines. Williams would begin to self-publish their games on home consoles towards the end of the Super NES and Genesis life cycles, and Williams would transfer their video game rights to Midway in exchange for Midway’s pinball rights. In the midst of all this, Williams purchased Time Warner Interactive in 1996, thus granting them ownership of what was left of the original Atari Games, which would be renamed to “Midway Games West” so as to avoid being confused with the other part of Atari that was then owned by Hasbro Interactive, before being sold to Infogrames in December 2000.
Prior to all of this, Midway would make a splash in the Nintendo Ultra 64 scene in a very big way. Williams signed a licensing agreement with Nintendo that would result in Midway releasing arcade versions of Cruis’n USA and Rare’s Killer Instinct (purportedly running on Ultra 64 hardware, but this would prove not to be the case), while a joint venture company known as Williams/Nintendo was to release exclusive home ports of both as launch titles for the home console.
Killer Instinct never made it due to delays in the platform’s release, receiving a scaled-down port on the Super NES, while its sequel would arrive shortly after the Nintendo 64’s release in the less scaled-down form of Killer Instinct Gold. Cruis’n USA was also delayed from launch, as the downgraded home port did not meet Nintendo’s quality standards.
Beyond that, Midway would prove to be a huge supporter of the Nintendo 64 platform, releasing around 40 titles for the platform from 1996 to 2001. Among the other highlights are Quake, Rampage World Tour, NBA Hangtime, NFL Blitz, Gauntlet Legends, Ready 2 Rumble Boxing, Hydro Thunder, a heap of Mortal Kombat and San Francisco Rush games, and of course, Midway’s Greatest Arcade Hits. At the end of the day, only one Nintendo 64 game would bear the Williams branding on store shelves: Mortal Kombat Trilogy (though a few others did feature Williams branding in the games themselves). In fact, not even the first game the company had announced for the upcoming platform, Doom (released as Doom 64), bore their name!
While perhaps one of the most prosperous members of the Dream Team, at least in terms of how many games they published for the Nintendo 64, the future would turn out to be bleak for Midway. Spun off into its own company in 1998, the decline of video game arcades led to financial losses, and in turn they shifted their focus towards the home market. Ranked as #4 in sales as of 2000 by Game Developer magazine, they had fallen to #20 by 2006, and things just got worse from there. In 2009, Midway received a takeover bid to the tune of $33 million from Warner Bros., who would acquire most of the company’s assets and properties, with a few exceptions — THQ would acquire the San Diego studio, while the NBA Jam brand found a new home with Electronic Arts’ EA Sports brand.
Meanwhile, Williams would continue manufacturing pinball machines before entering the world of slots, and ultimately being bought for $1.5 billion USD in October 2013 by Scientific Games (who, interestingly, now also owns Bally).
Under the banner of Warner Bros. Interactive, the legend of Midway continues to live on. NetherRealm Studios continues to produce Mortal Kombat and fighting games based on WB’s DC Universe, while WB Interactive themselves have made new versions of Spy Hunter and Gauntlet, as well as leveraging the Midway brand itself in compilations and even a full LEGO-themed expansion for their short-lived Toys To Life experiment, LEGO Dimensions. Oh, and let us not forget…
They can now make movies out of all this stuff, too.