A.J. Russo on winning at Photo Hunt, proposing through Megatouch [Friday Q&A] - Technical.ly Philly

Dec. 23, 2011 10:00 am

A.J. Russo on winning at Photo Hunt, proposing through Megatouch [Friday Q&A]

AMI Entertainment creative director A.J. Russo says he knows the secret to always winning at Photo Hunt. “The best people cross their eyes and the two photos come together and it makes the differences pop,” he says. “I can’t do it, but I’ve seen people do it at our trade shows and they just go […]
The new ML-1 MegaTouch machines

The new ML-1 MegaTouch machines

AMI Entertainment creative director A.J. Russo says he knows the secret to always winning at Photo Hunt.

“The best people cross their eyes and the two photos come together and it makes the differences pop,” he says. “I can’t do it, but I’ve seen people do it at our trade shows and they just go round after round.”

Perched on bars everywhere, the ubiquitous Megatouch touch screen game system has been entertaining pub-goers for over a decade, yet few know of the company’s Philadelphia origins. Best known for the aforementioned Photo Hunt game that has players scrambling to find all of the differences in two photos before the time expires, AMI Entertainment is based in Bristol and often uses Philadelphia as a guenea pig for its latest games and market research.

The company is working on its latest product line: a brand new machine that is best described as a combination of Megatouch and Xbox Live-like features, adding scoreboards, an in-game currency and social features. And with the company’s latest push on iOS, players are now able to practice at home with its free Photo Hunt iPad game.

“Before you go to the bar you can have a drink at home and play a little Megatouch and then go show off in front of your date,” says Russo.

We chatted with Russo, an AMI employee since 1999, about the next generation of touch screen games, how Philadelphia impacts its newest games and the time he helped a customer propose using one of his company’s games.

As always, edited for length and clarity.

Tell me about the new machines.

Our new ML-1 22-inch touch screens are multitouch and basically Megatouch reinvented. Everything is wide screen and high-definition and done in this brand new 3D engine and they are all connected to one another, so we can release things like the Megatouch battle arena which takes classic Megatouch games and makes them a best of three or best of five compititon. You can then post the scores to Facebook and buy weapons and upgrades for your games.

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“Before the iPhone was a glimmer in Steve Jobs’ eye, we were in the touch screen industry.”

A lot of people don’t know about that Megatouch is from the Philly area. What’s the history?

It’s in Bristol, and before that it was in Bensalem. The gaming component has always been located here, which is kinda cool because whenever we release new games we do all of our beta testing here. We go out to all of the bars in Philly and restaurants in Philly and we’ll go and interview people. Even without them knowing, Philadelphia’s customers have a big influence on the games that ultimately get released.

The company (then named Merit Industries) was founded by Pete Feuer out of his garage 35 years ago, he was making everything from poker to trivia games. It was always his idea to put the games on bars, but back then it was just a screen with buttons underneath it. Every now and then you’ll actually run into these old machines. However, we’ve been exlucsively touch screen for around 17 years now. Before the iPhone was a glimmer in Steve Jobs’ eye, we were in the touch screen industry.

So, how good are you at Photo Hunt? Do you just go to bars and destroy your friends?

[laughs] No. There’s actually a trick to Photo Hunt. Remember those blobby pictures form years ago that had an image appear after you crossed your eyes? The best people can cross their eyes and the two photos come together and it makes the differences pop. There are people that can do this. We’ve been at trade shows and people just go round to round.

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We were browsing around on YouTube and we saw that one gamer proposed to his girlfriend through Megatouch . What was that like?

This is actually an awesome story. This was two years ago and we got a call from a guy who had said “We play Word Dojo all the time. Is there anything you can do to help me propose to my girlfriend through the game?”

We were in the middle of a crazy development rush, but this was so cool we tried to figure it out. The guy arranged for this bar in D.C. to be open when it wouldn’t normally be open, the owner even had to bring in fake customers. We modified the software on one of our machines so as soon as you started up Word Dojo and you hit “T” and the software would know it was this guy and it would load the proposal.

We modified the winner animation so it would then come up marriage proposal on the screen and then we had a guy from our staff drive the machine from Philly to D.C.

What was crazy is that a day away from it happening, my wife went into labor and she wasn’t due for a couple of weeks. I had to make all of these crazy calls and explain to people the whole process. I was worried that this guy was depending on me and I was going to be unable to come through, but we did.

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