It must have been a very satisfying moment for Marketing Director Tom Nieman, when he signed the deal. He successfully sold his business partners the idea. The new arcade cabinet would perfectly match the targeted audience. Toms business partner was no one else than the American brewing company Anheuser-Busch and the product these guys were negotiating about, was the pale lager beer “Budweiser”. Now the only thing missing was a great game in which these products would be perfectly centered around.
The company, which Tom was working for, was Bally/MIDWAY Mfg. At the time Bally/MIDWAY was a leader in the manufacture of slot machines and pinball games. In the 70s the casinos were full of these machines and the people out there just loved it. MIDWAY the game division of Bally was responsible of developing new arcade cabinets as of 1973. Midways big breakthrough came, when they started licensing and manufacturing Japanese arcade games from Taito in America. The first real blockbuster came in 1978, when the well-known hit Space Invaders was published, which eventually led Bally/MIDWAY and Taito into the golden age of legendary arcade video games.
One of these legendary games was unquestionably Tapper. The history of Tapper however is very special. Tapper was a product fully in the spirit of the classic Bally Corporation – the manufacturer of slot machines and gambling equipment. The target audience, which Tom Nieman originally had in mind, has never been minors in game centers or computer hobbyists with their home computers. The idea was to target adults which may a have drink at bars and pubs. Tom thought that this kind of environment would be the perfect location for Budweiser product placement. The machine was intended to be sold to bars complete with drink holders.
The first arcade version sported everywhere “Budweiser” motifs like on cups, sun shades, posters, kegs and so on. That’s why Tapper was also called the “Beer Tapper”. The cabinet even had a plastic “beer tap” with the Budweiser logo on it. With sales of about 3300 machines, the game quickly became popular also outside the bar scene. This wasn’t the exposure Bally/MIDWAY wanted, as advertising alcohol to minors was, and still is, illegal in the US as well as in many other countries.
There was a need of a family-friendly version, and quick. So the developers reworked the graphics for a new “Soda Tapper”. All the Budweiser motifs were kicked out and the actual drink has been replaced by “Root Beer on Tap”. Worth knowing Root Beer has nothing to do with classic beer. People who visit North America report, that the drink tastes like cough syrup (linctus). It is especially horrible when someone is expecting a nice cold Pilsner, but accidently or out-of-curiosity ordered the “wrong” type of beer. Why Americans and Canadian love their Root Beer remains an epic secret, at least for us Europeans.
Beside the graphics, the gameplay continued the same in Root Beer Tapper. In the consequence of Toms Budweiser deal, the game unfortunately ran into some minor inconsistencies. Because solely the Budweiser-motifs have been replaced, the intended bar atmosphere of the original level design does not fit anymore to the offered drink. It looks a little contrary that the punk visitors screw up the place just because of some yummy but alcohol-free “Root Beer on Tap”! The college students behave bizarrely too. Why do the act so aggressively and greedy just to get a soft drink? Even the bonus round is in a strange fashion. Since when does one play drinking games, when there is no alcohol involved. Isn’t that the point? But maybe “clammy” Root Beer is more downright nasty, in case the bartender chooses the wrong beer can, who knows?
Although these inconsistencies exist in Root Beer Tapper, the people were crazy to play the game and it quickly became another Bally/MIDWAY smash hit. After the great success of the arcade, official ports were developed for all major home computers and video consoles of these days. Even owner of the (terrible) IBM PC jr. got a “beautiful” CGA PC-Booter version of Tapper.
Remarkably, with creation of the home computer ports, the idea of product placement came back into Tapper. Instead of Anheuser-Busch there was now Pepsico on board. The “Root Beer on Tap” has been replaced by the soft drinks Mountain Dew and Pepsi Cola.
Tapper Special Edition
From the beginning, Tapper was one of my all-time favorite games on the Atari. As a kid I was not aware of any US-beverage brands. I didn’t notice that Tapper had references to a well-known soft drink, every kid in the USA probably would have known. Meanwhile Mountain Dew is somehow known in some European countries too, though not as wide-spread as in the US. One day I have noticed that my favorite Atari game had references to a commercial brand. Now my interest arose, why there was out of all things Mountain Dew logos used in the game.
While investigating, I realized that not a single home version featured alcoholic drinks. All of them were “Soda Pop Tappers”. That’s of course not a surprise, but the various home conversion had notable differences. In the spirit of the original Arcade Tapper, I had the idea to create a “Home Computer Beer Tapper”. Therefore my friend Fandal and I have modified the original Atari 400/800 Tapper and created the “Tapper Special Edition”.
The following modifications have been applied to the spirit of the original
There is a new title picture which is a conversion of the ZX spectrum graphics.
In all bars we now have some clearly visible product placements.
The Western bar has one at the wall behind. Also the mirror-inverted lettering “SODA” has been replaced by “-BAR-“ like in original Arcade Beer Tapper.
Sports bar: on the zeppelin
Punk bar: on a rather dirty wall
Space bar: on the spaceship surrounded by sparkling stars
The bar in the bonus round has now a large and beautiful branded wall mirror. There was no logo in the Atari version, probably due to memory limitations of the 400/800 machines. Now in the bonus round when the bartender chooses the right beer can, the text “Na zdravi! This one’s for you!” is shown. In Arcade Beer Taper the text used to be “This Bud’s for you!”.
The “Tapper Special Edition” advertises the popular beer brand “Pilsner Urquell”. Why is that? Since many years now, I’m attending to Czech Atari user meetings. One thing I noticed so often was that Czech folks are really crazy about their beer. Not a surprise – there are barely other countries in the world which take the beer quality standards so damn serious like the Czech. Pilsner Urquell is on the other side THE original pilsner and first pale lager beer of the world. Most of the beer produced and consumed in the world, is derived from the original Pilsen beer brewery procedure. It’s about time to honor this marvelous drink in an Atari game!
With all those modifications, Tapper Special Edition is now advertising alcohol potentially to minors and from the legal point of view needs a rating now. But I’m confident, that all those responsible Atari Gamers of today will be able to handle this challenging situation!
While researching for this article, I have found many interesting facts about Tapper.
The soft drink „Root Beer on Tap“ is not a genuine brand. There are hundreds of commercial Root Beer labels and they have names like “A&W”, “IBC” or “Boylan’s”. Therefore “Root Beer on Tap” is more like a place holder brand.
Atari Tapper is the only home computer version, which features the Mountain Dew logo in the Western Bar and Punk Bar. But Atari Tapper is missing the product placement in the bonus round. In all other home computer versions, product placement is only used in the bonus round.
The Colecovision Tapper is quite authentic “Root Beer Tapper” conversion. Like in the Arcade, the bartender is a soda jerk with a white-red stripped outfit and in the bonus round there is crisp “Root Beer” logo in the background.
The Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum feature Pepsi Cola instead of Mountain Dew. But it doesn’t matter – both drinks are from PepsiCo.
There is a legendary Japanese Arcade-Version featuring the famous Suntory beer instead of Budweiser. Albeit SEGA states, this version has never been officially released. Maybe Japanese arcade game-modders created their own “Tapper Special Edition”!
For the Atari 400/800 there were two different Tapper versions: The floppy version released on the US market in 1984 and the tape version release for the UK market in 1985. The product placement is identical, but the tape version is missing the Punk Bar and the Space Bar. What a shame! So better watch out the version!
The C64 Space Bar levitates nicely over animated stars. In general the C64 version looks graphics wise outstanding, maybe it’s the best 8bit version altogether.
There is a XBOX 360 remake of Root Beer Taper, which has an interesting multiplayer mode.
The bartender from Tapper has a short scene in the film “Wreck-It Ralph” by Rich Moore (2012). At the beginning, he wears the outfit from “Beer Tapper”, but when he is seen at work inside the Arcade cabinet, he suddenly became the Soda jerk from “Root Beer Tapper”.
The bartender looks similar to Mike Ferris, one of the work mates of the arcade game programmers. Very much like the bartender, Mike had that distinctive mustache, black hair and the receding hairline.
Unluckily the bartender from Tapper never had a name, but the character has been reused obviously in at least two other games by Bally/MIDWAY. First as lumber jack in Timber and again in Domino Man, which is a logical game.
After all those years Tom Nieman would definitely be able to negotiate another licensing deal for Tapper. I could recommend him to speak with Pilsner Urquell. The “Special Edition” is ready for the market and I’m sure it could be placed at Czech Atari meetings very well. Minors would be professionally assisted by expert Atari gamers at all time – I promise!
|Platform (Year)||Brand||Product Placement||Tapper|
|Atari XL/XE (2015)||Pilsner Urquell||Western Bar
|Arcade (1983)||Budweiser &
|Arcade (1984)||Soda (Root Beer)||Western Bar
|Atari 400/800 (1984)||Mountain Dew||Western Bar
|Atari 2600 (1984)||Mountain Dew||Bonus Round||Bartender|
|C64 (1983)||Mountain Dew||Bonus Round|
|Colecovision (1984)||Soda (Root Beer)||Bonus Round||Soda Jerk|
|ZX Spectrum (1984)||Pepsi||Bonus Round||Bartender|
|Apple II (1984)||Mountain Dew||Bonus Round||Bartender|
|PC Booter / IBM (1984)||Mountain Dew||Bonus Round||Bartender|
|BBC Micro (1985)||Mountain Dew||Bonus Round||Bartender|
|Amstrad CPC (1986)||Pepsi||Bonus Round||Bartender|