Tengen (company)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
IndustryVideo games
FoundedDecember 21, 1987
DefunctJune 28, 1994
FateFolded into Time Warner Interactive
SuccessorTime Warner Interactive
HeadquartersMilpitas, California, US
ProductsVideo games
ParentAtari Games
SubsidiariesTengen Ltd.

Tengen Inc. was an American video game publisher and developer that was created by the arcade game manufacturer Atari Games for publishing computer and console games. It had a Japanese subsidiary named Tengen Ltd. (株式会社テンゲン, Kabushiki-gaisha Tengen).


By 1984, Atari, Inc. had been split into two distinct companies. Atari Corporation was responsible for computer and console games and hardware and owned the rights to the Atari brand for these domains. Atari Games was formed from Atari, Inc.'s arcade division, and were able to use the Atari name on arcade releases but not on console or computer games. When Atari Games wanted to enter the console game market, it needed to create a new label that did not use the Atari name. The new subsidiary was dubbed Tengen, which in the Japanese nomenclature of the board game Go refers to the central point of the board (the word "Atari" comes from the same game).

At the time, Nintendo restricted their licensees to releasing only five games per year, mandated that Nintendo handle cartridge manufacturing, and required their games to be NES-exclusive for two years.[1] Atari Games tried to negotiate for a less restrictive license to produce games for the Nintendo Entertainment System; Nintendo refused, so in December 1987, Atari Games agreed to Nintendo's standard licensing terms. Tengen was incorporated on December 21 of that year.[2] In 1988, Tengen released its first and only three games licensed by Nintendo: R.B.I. Baseball, Pac-Man, and Gauntlet.

Meanwhile, Tengen secretly worked to bypass Nintendo's lock-out chip called 10NES that prevented unlicensed NES games from running. While numerous manufacturers managed to override this chip by zapping it with a voltage spike, Tengen engineers feared this could potentially damage NES consoles and expose them to unnecessary liability, and so they started development on a chip they called Rabbit.[3] The other problem was that Nintendo made frequent modifications to the NES to prevent this technique from working. Instead, Tengen chose to reverse engineer the chip and decipher the code required to unlock it. However, the engineers were unable to do so, and the launch date for its first batch of games was rapidly approaching.

With time running short, Tengen turned to the United States Copyright Office. Its lawyers contacted the government office to request a copy of the Nintendo lock-out program, claiming that the company needed it for potential litigation against Nintendo. Once obtained, it used the program to create its own chip that would unlock the NES.[4] Tengen announced that they were going to release their own cartridges in December 1988.[5] When Tengen launched the unlicensed versions of its games, Nintendo immediately sued Tengen for copyright and patent infringement. This began a series of lawsuits between the companies which would not be settled until 1994.[6][7][8][9]

Tengen faced another court challenge with Nintendo in 1989 in copyright controversy over the two companies' NES versions of Tetris. Tengen lost this suit as well, and was forced to recall what was estimated to be hundreds and thousands of unsold cartridges of its version of Tetris (having sold only about 50,000 copies).[10]

Tengen went on to produce games for other systems, including the Sega Genesis, Master System, Game Gear, and TurboGrafx-16, and a few more, as well as publish a localized Sega CD title. The company also licensed games for home computers such as the Amiga and the Atari ST, most of which were published by British company Domark. It was best known for its ports of popular Atari arcade games, including Klax, Hard Drivin', STUN Runner, and Paperboy, although they published many other titles as well. In 1994, with the lawsuit against Nintendo settled and after Time Warner reacquired a controlling stake in Atari Games, Tengen was consolidated into Time Warner Interactive.[11][12]

NES games[edit]

Tengen manufactured both licensed and unlicensed versions of three of their NES games (R.B.I. Baseball, Gauntlet, and Pac-Man). The cartridges for their unlicensed games did not come in the gray, semi-square shape that licensed NES games came in; instead, they are rounded and matte-black, and resemble the original Atari cartridges.

Licensed and unlicensed
Unlicensed only

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Happy 30th anniversary, Tengen! Your anti-DRM NES chip fought the law, and the law won". The Register.
  2. ^ "Articles of Incorporation of Tengen Inc". California Secretary of State. 1987-12-21.
  3. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2020-11-19. Retrieved 2017-11-01.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  4. ^ "How Third-Party Game Devs Reverse-Engineered Their Way Onto Your Consoles (And into Your Heart)".
  5. ^ "Tengen Making Its Own Video Game Cartridges". United Press International. 1988-12-12.
  6. ^ "Claims Japanese Rival Monopolizes Market: Atari Games Sues Nintendo for $100 Million". Los Angeles Times. 1988-12-13.
  7. ^ "Atari Games Gets Zapped by Nintendo Countersuit". Los Angeles Times. 1989-01-06.
  8. ^ "Nintendo Wins Court Order Halting Rivals". The Los Angeles Times. 1991-03-29. Retrieved 2020-03-13.
  9. ^ "Atari's Full-Court Press". GamePro. No. 59. IDG. June 1994. p. 184.
  10. ^ "COMPANY NEWS; Atari Is Blocked From Selling Game". The New York Times. June 22, 1989.
  11. ^ "Certificate of Amendment of Articles of Incorporation: Tengen Inc". California Secretary of State. 1994-06-28.
  12. ^ "Time Warner's Family Reunion". GamePro. No. 60. IDG. July 1994. p. 170.
  13. ^ "July 1988 issue". Computer Entertainer. July 1988.
  14. ^ "August 1988 issue". Computer Entertainer. August 1988.
  15. ^ "October 1988 issue". Computer Entertainer. October 1988.
  16. ^ "May 1989 issue". Computer Entertainer. May 1989.
  17. ^ "August 1989 issue". Computer Entertainer. August 1989.
  18. ^ "November 1989 issue". Computer Entertainer. November 1989.
  19. ^ a b "December 1989 issue". Computer Entertainer. December 1989.
  20. ^ a b c d "January 1990 issue". Computer Entertainer. January 1990.
  21. ^ "Tengen Announces New Games for NES". Computer Entertainer. October 1989.

External links[edit]