Flip-N-Match, a dead end

In 1983 the video and computer game market was hotter than ever, with revenues hitting over $3 billion. With no regard to quality or what consumers desired, subpar games were being pumped out in the thousands, flooding an already saturated market. By Christmas, the impending disaster that had been lurking all year came thundering down. Millions of games that nobody wanted, piled up in warehouses, containers, and even landfills. While the North American video game crash mainly hit the console game market, the ripples were felt by large parts of the industry. Over the next two years, the market dropped almost 97%. Companies that had helped herald the computer entertainment revolution were killed off one by one.

Sierra On-Line had invested significant sums in what should have been a lucrative venture in action and cartridge-based games. Throughout the latter part of 1982 and 1983, the company had bought into a large amount of more or less questionable games, some for systems already deemed obsolete by the lighting fast advancement in technology. What was burning hot today could be ice-cold next week.
By the time a game had been programmed, tested, manufactured, marketed, and distributed to retailers its designated system could be nothing more than a small remembrance of yesterday’s history – Betting on a single system could be dangerous, betting on many, life-threatening, and Sierra betted on nearly all of them.

In the July 1983 issue of Compute! magazine, Sierra On-Line advertised three upcoming titles for Commodore’s small and very affordable VIC-20 computer. Among those, the infamous Ultima: Escape from Mt. Drash, considered by many the holy grail of computer games, Chuck Bueche’s Creepy Corridors, and Doug Whittaker’s Flip-N-Match.

Sierra On-Line’s VIC-20 advertisement, published in the July 1983 issue of Compute! magazine.
Ultima: Escape from Mt. Drash, while using the Ultima name and cover art from Sierra’s Atari 8-bit release of Richard Garriott’s first Ultima title, had no real relation to the Ultima series. The title was solely chosen by Sierra to profit from the hugely popular Ultima series

In 1980 Jack Tramiel, founder of Commodore International, as part of his philosophy, computers for the masses, not the classes, introduced the Commodore VIC-20, the first low-cost color computer available on the market. The $299 ($1000 in today’s money), user-friendly computer quickly became a best-seller and the first computer to sell more than a million units, but by the time Sierra On-Line’s ad appeared the VIC-20 software market was beyond its heyday, and in rapid decline. Commodore’s latest offering, the Commodore 64, a vastly more capable machine quickly rendered the VIC-20 irrelevant and antiquated. Sierra On-Line, somewhat aware of the Commodore VIC-20 situation nonetheless invested in a number of new and original titles but only produced just enough copies to fulfill its end of the publishing deals, typically a few thousand copies. Besides new titles, the company decided to convert a few existing titles.

One of the original titles was Doug Whittaker’s Flip-N-Match, a memory game (tile-matching puzzle) for one or two players. The game contained a version for children with simpler and easier-to-identify shapes and fewer pairs to match and an adult version with more similar and harder-to-identify shapes and more pairs to match.
The two-player version played like a typical tabletop version, with players taking turns, in single-player mode, you would play against time.

Doug Whittaker’s Flip-N-Match was released on cassette for the Commodore VIC-20 in 1983 under the short-lived SierraVision label.
Artist Mark Crowe, who later earned his fame with the Space Quest series, did the cover art.
The game, like Mt. Drash, only sold in very few numbers.
My copy is sealed and given the rarity, I couldn’t get myself to open it. I really wanted to get a few photos of the content and digitally archive the cassette, making it available for anybody interested but maybe someone else will do that one day

Mark Crowe, who a few years later would earn his mainstream fame with his and Scott Murphy’s renowned Space Quest series, created the cover art. Crowe had started his career as an illustrator in Sierra On-Line’s marketing department doing art for packaging, titles, and documentation before moving on to creating in-game graphics, the first title being the 1984 title Winnie the Pooh in the Hundred Acre Wood.

Flip-N-Match was sore simple yet challenging when played on higher difficulty levels but both games and consumers had moved on when the title was released in 1983. Small pastime gimmicks like memory games on a system in a rapid decline with little to no marketing effort were a recipe for failure. It’s believed only a very few copies were ever sold, the rest dumped or destroyed in the time following the crash.

With the video game crash in late 1983 taking its toll, Sierra On-Line, co-founder Ken Williams swore he never would invest in the video console game and cartridge market again. Only a few of the SierraVision titles were later republished.

Besides Flip-N-Match, Whittaker, the same year ported, Bueche’s Jawbreaker II to the Commodore 64.

Sources: Computer Gaming World July-Aug 1983, Compute! July 1983…

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