Wreck-It Ralph: The backstory behind the classic Tapper arcade video game
Out of all the vintage arcade video games that make cameos in Disney’s new Wreck-It Ralph film, which opened this weekend, perhaps none are as much of a surprise to old school gamers as Tapper, Bally Midway’s 1983 cult classic.
Originally conceived as an arcade title for bars and taverns, Tapper went into business with an official license with Budweiser, courtesy of Midway marketing guru Tom Nieman, and was programmed by Scott Morrison and Steve Meyer. A cabinet resembling a real bar, complete with cupholders, a brass footrail and a small beer tap as a controller, housed the unique coin-op title.
The object of Tapper was to control your speedy bartender as he tries to keep up with thirsty patrons who are capable of chugging their beer quickly and tend to get grumpy if they don’t get another right away. After the bartender fills a beer glass he slides it down to the customers, who slide back an empty one if they’d like to wet their whistle some more. The first level takes place in a saloon setting, with an athletic contest, punk bar and space alien bar appearing in future levels.
At one point a special chip was ordered to record burping sounds for use within the game. The production crew for Tapper sat around one night drinking beer and burping into a microphone, but once the concept was installed into the game it quickly became annoying. The idea was dropped.
The game was a modest success at a time when the arcade market was falling into a deep slump due to over saturation of product and locations. Around 3,300 Tapper machines were sold, and not all of them to bars and taverns as expected. When concerns arose about alcoholic advertising appearing in arcade locations where children might see it, Midway released an altered version of the game called Root Beer Tapper. The basic concept of the game was the same, but with root beer replacing Budweiser, removal of many of the bar elements from the game cabinet and replacing the bartender with a younger and more family friendly looking soda jerk.
Root Beer Tapper also allowed for the game to be licensed for home consoles of the time, though another licensing arrangement appeared in other home versions where soft drink Mountain Dew was the product of choice. The root beer version appears in all other modern day console re-releases.
In Wreck-It Ralph, Tapper’s is the name of the hangout where all the arcade characters gather at the end of a hard day. While it is quickly noted on screen that root beer is served there, the bartender is the mustached tapper from the original version. The arcade cabinet within the film features art from the original Tapper arcade machine with the root beer version on-screen.
This film appearance appears likely to cement the Bally Midway classic into pop culture some 29 years after it’s original release.