Thin Ice


Release 1986

AKA: Arctic Squares, Iceman, Duncan's Thin Ice, Voochko on Ice

Produced at Mattel Electronics (#4433)

Release version prepared by Quicksilver Software for INTV Corporation

Based on the Data East arcade game Disco No. 1

Design: Keith Robinson, Julie Hoshizaki, Monique Lujan-Bakerink

Program: Julie Hoshizaki

Graphics: Monique Lujan-Bakerink

Music theme "Carnival of the Penguins": George "The Fat Man" Sanger

Sound effects/Additional music: David Warhohl

Package Illustration: Keith Robinson

Instructions Posted Here


More Challenging! More Fun!


Duncan is a Penguin who loves to skate on thin ice, much to the dismay of the other Penguins. As Duncan skates, he weakens the ice; if he skates completely around another Penguin -- KER-PLASH! -- the ice collapses and the penguin falls into the pond.

• Duncan has only two worries: the Seal that loves to bounce him on her nose and the Polar Bear who likes to bat him around.

• You control Duncan; help him gobble shrimp cocktails for extra speed!

You have got to try this game to truly appreciate the indescribable fun and challenge!

For one or two players.


Mattel Electronics had a first-look deal with Data East for their arcade games. One day, Data East brought in a new game called Disco No.1 in which a roller-skating Disco Boy moved around a dance floor, trapping Disco Girls by skating squares around them.

Everyone agreed that the game was original and fun, but they also agreed that the theme was dated and sexist and that, technically, it probably couldn't be done for Intellivision.

Keith Robinson (TRON Solar Sailer), a fan of the game, wrote a proposal, dated May 28, 1982, for a new premise: Thin Ice. A mischievous penguin would skate around other penguins on a frozen lake. By completing squares around them, those sections of the ice would fall into the lake, dunking the victims. Between levels, a Zamboni would drive out to repair the ice.

In addition to writing the proposal, Keith programmed a demo showing that the game was feasible by limiting the skating penguin's movements to the borders of the screen's background cards.

Based on the proposal and demo, Thin Ice was given the go-ahead. After programmer Julie Hoshizaki completed the revised Lock ’n’ Chase in August, she and graphic designer Monique Lujan-Bakerink began work on the game. Everything went smoothly, except for a brief fight with someone in Marketing who wanted to change the name to Arctic Squares, a play on Arctic Circle. (He lost, but not before some literature was released to the public using that name.) The game was completed on schedule in mid-May, 1983.

While Thin Ice was in the game testing process, the Marketing department suddenly got excited about heading in a new direction. Instead of going outside the company for cartoon licenses, they wanted to start developing original characters for the games, then spinning off those characters to other products. And they wanted to start with the penguin from Thin Ice.

From June 17 to June 30, a penguin-naming contest was held, with the winning name, Duncan, submitted by David Warhohl (Mind Strike). The game officially became Duncan's Thin Ice and the cartridge size was increased from 8K to 12K so that Monique could add special animated title screens introducing Duncan and his penguin pals, Bobo, P.J., Minky and Norman.

Just as this new version was nearing completion, though, there was major upheaval in the management structure of Mattel Electronics. President Josh Denham was out, replaced by Mack Morris, who came to Mattel from Teledyne- Waterpik (and, earlier, from Breath Savers mints). Unfamiliar with video games, Morris brought in Jeff Rochlis, a former Mattel executive who had been instrumental in launching Intellivision, as a consultant. On July 15, 1983, sweeping through the Applications Software department like the Black Death through Europe, Rochlis briefly reviewed each game in development and gave it a thumbs up or down on the spot.

Luckily, he liked Thin Ice, but he thought the penguin was too cute. He ordered it replaced with a fisherman (Fishin' Sam) chopping at the ice with an ax. He also recommended changing the name to Iceman. Julie and Monique, less than thrilled, set about changing the animations.

But Rochlis's morale-crushing performance hadn't gone over well. The VP of Application Software, Gabriel Baum, told Mack Morris that Rochlis was no longer welcome in his department, and forbade Rochlis having any further direct contact with the programmers. Not long afterward, Rochlis was gone. Word was that Morris felt Rochlis was trying to grab too much power.

Once Rochlis was out, so was Fishin' Sam. Julie and Monique returned to completing Duncan's Thin Ice.

And, of course, as soon as it was done, Marketing came up with yet another brilliant idea. They had spent millions for the rights to the 1984 Winter Olympics license, yet, through bad communication, an original game using the license hadn't been developed. (An album of old sports titles was rushed into production as Go For the Gold.)

But why not change Duncan into Voochko the Wolf, the mascot for the Winter Olympics, and release Thin Ice as an official Olympics cartridge? Suddenly, with Go For the Gold, Mattel would have two official Olympics titles. The change was ordered on October 17; Duncan's Thin Ice would become Voochko on Ice. [Julie and Monique changed the "penguin pals" to Cossack dancers Ivan, Oskar, Misha and Bobo.]

Everyone connected with Thin Ice was disappointed; they had grown to love Duncan. So an unprecedented move was made: although Easter eggs in cartridges were forbidden -- you could be fired if found out -- VP Gabriel Baum gave permission for Duncan's Thin Ice to be hidden within the Voochko On Ice cartridge without Marketing's knowledge, even though it meant increasing the size from 12K to 16K. He said that if Marketing complained about the size increase, he would tell them it was necessary because of the last-minute nature of the change they had ordered. "They'll believe it," he explained, "none of them understand the technology."

[Gabriel had a low opinion of most Marketing personnel, and was particularly derisive of the deals they had made to obtain character and movie licenses. "When these people go to a meeting," he said, "they pull down their pants and walk into the room backwards."]

Julie, along with Group Leader Steve Ettinger (Hover Force), put together two versions: Voodun, in which Duncan was hidden within Voochko; and Dunvoo, in which Voochko was hidden within Duncan. Voodun was the one scheduled to go into production; Dunvoo was the version the programmers took home for themselves. To switch between Duncan and Voochko in either version, you pressed ENTER on the left hand controller, CLEAR on the right one, and pressed RESET.

But in January 1984, six months after the original Thin Ice had been completed, just as Voochko on Ice was about to manufactured, Mattel Electronics was closed down.

Finally, in 1986, INTV Corporation released Thin Ice. They went with the original 8K version -- no introduction screens, no hidden Voochko -- to save production costs. (The title screen still says "Mattel Electronics presents...") The game was introduced in the Fall 1986 INTV catalog.

FUN FACT: Early in production, David Warhol came to Keith Robinson, who was manager on the game, and said he had a friend who wanted to break into the video game field as a composer and was willing to write a theme for Thin Ice for free. Keith told him no; it was against Mattel policy to use freelancers, even if they were literally free. Following Keith's authority about as much as anyone at Mattel did, Dave had his friend write the music anyway. Dave coded it for Intellivision and Julie linked it into the game.

The theme, "Carnival of the Penguins," was so addictive and perfect for the game that Keith agreed it had to be used. He contacted Mattel's crack legal department and suggested they buy the rights for $100. They probably could have, but they procrastinated for months. By the time they got around tocontacting the composer, the game had been demonstrated at a number of trade shows using the music; the composer was able to negotiate a payment of $1200 for the 15 second theme.

Thus George Alistair Sanger sold his first video game melody. He has gone on, under the nickname The Fat Man, to become the most famous composer of music for interactive media. He and his Team Fat have provided the music for Loom, Wing Commander, The 7th Guest and many other computer games.

FUN FACT: In 2000, George "The Fat Man" Sanger recorded the Thin Ice theme in a rock surf arrangement, "Surfing on Thin Ice".

FUN FACT: Richard Zamboni, president of Frank J. Zamboni & Co., gave permission for his company's trademark to be used in the Thin Ice instruction book. He sent over a series of photos - the history of the ice-repairing machines invented by his father - so that Monique could accurately depict a Zamboni in the game.

FUN FACT: The penguins Norman and Minky were named after Julie and Monique's boss Keith Robinson (who only reluctantly admits that his rarely-used first name is Norman) and his boss Mike Minkoff(Snafu).

FUN FACT: By 1986, when INTV Corporation was ready to release the game, Keith had started his own graphic design business, Strand Cruisers. Because of his connection to Thin Ice, INTV hired Keith to write the instructions and illustrate the package. This led to Keith designing the packaging and writing all of the copy for most of the subsequent INTV releases.

FUN FACT: On the original box, the game title was yellow-orange. This was changed to white in the second run to make the title stand out more. A still later run added a UPC code to the bottom of the white-lettered box.