Eddy Goldfarb is a legendary figure within the toy industry. The prolific inventor is known for creating more than 800 classic toys over the last eight decades, including notable hits like the Yakity-Yak teeth, the battery-powered cars Stompers, and the children's game KerPlunk.
Something that's a bit less known about him, however, is that his company A. Eddy Goldfarb & Associates was also responsible for producing the first-ever computer games based on Barbie and Hot Wheels. These two titles were released between 1984 and 1985 for the Commodore 64 and were part of Epyx's "Computer Activity Toys" range, alongside a game based on G.I. Joe. The pieces of software were developed to be non-structured and non-competitive in nature and arguably paved the way for many of the more successful adaptations that followed.
Recently, we were able to put a few of our questions to the prolific inventor about his brief time in video games, but before we get into all of that, we couldn't waste the opportunity to ask him about his background in toys.
Speaking to us over the phone from the Californian retirement community where he currently lives at the age of 101, Goldfarb tells Time Extension a remarkable story of how he first began designing toys:
"I was on a submarine during World War II. I was in the navy for three and a half years during the war, and when the war in Germany ended, I felt like I better start thinking about what I wanted to do when we finished the war with Japan. I decided on the toy industry because I had no money and I wanted to be independent — I didn’t want to work for any company – so I started designing toys while I was on the Batfish submarine. I designed three educational toys, not realizing that the one category that the toy industry wasn’t interested in was educational toys."
As Goldfarb explains, when he returned home after the war, he pitched these three toys to a company in Chicago but quickly showed his inexperience.
When the head of the toy company expressed interest in just one of his products, he tried to negotiate for them to take the others too, only to lose the sale completely. Nevertheless, he stuck at it and in 1949 made his first-ever sale to H. Fishlove and Company. The item? The Yakity-Yak chattering teeth. This was a popular gag item that you can wind up to activate and was marketed as a way to get back at overly-talkative friends.
Goldfarb kept inventing and eventually other successes followed, including Kerplunk! (1967), Stompers (1980), and electronic games like Quiz Wiz (1980). Just a few short decades had passed and he had gone from a humble toymaker to being described as "pound for pound [...] the most successful guy in the business". His company A. Eddy Goldfarb & Associates also started producing video games, which were becoming popular in the US.
In the early '80s, his company developed the unreleased arcade game called Stamp Them Ants for Mylstar, as well as a couple of ColecoVision titles including Congo Bongo and Dr. Seuss Fix-up the Mix-up Puzzler. Then, in 1984, it partnered with the Californian publisher Epyx to convince Mattel to license out the computer game rights to both Barbie and Hot Wheels — its biggest projects yet.
As the former Epyx president Michael Katz told Time Extension earlier this month about the two titles:
"We wanted to expand the genres of software into the most popular selling categories. One of the categories that we had when I was in the toy industry was ‘Activity Toys’. Not games, but Activity Toys. Activity Toys were basically playing an activity with no win or lose criteria, which would make it into a game, but it was an activity just like playing with toy soldiers or playing with dolls. My concept was we wanted to have an activity toy category, we wanted to have something involving dolls, and we wanted to have something involving soldiers because toys and games are real-life in miniature."
Together with Epyx, A. Eddy Goldfarb & Associates got to work developing these tie-ins. The games were eventually unveiled in June 1984 at Chicago's Summer Consumer Electronics Show and were released between Winter 1984 and Spring 1985. What's fascinating about them is that they weren't necessarily designed with a single win condition in mind, but were conceived as sandboxes for a child's imagination.
For example, in Barbie, Ken calls Barbie up and asks them on a date to a fancy location, like a pool party or dinner at a restaurant, and your goal is then to dress the doll appropriately for that specific occasion from the available options. Compared to modern customization tools, it's obviously fairly rudimentary, but you can definitely see the germ of the idea that was later expanded on with fantastic results in other Barbie software like 1996's Barbie: Fashion Designer.
Meanwhile, Hot Wheels went for another fairly unconventional approach, eschewing the typical race format of most vehicle-based games of the time. Instead, players could partake in several mini-games, being able to enter Demolition Derbys, customize and maintain their vehicles, and put out fires with a fire engine. This broad selection of mini-games is an interesting spin on the genre and arguably feels like a predecessor to some of the bonus content you'd find in the highly-customizable triple-A video games of today.
So, how did critics react? Well, from what we were able to find, Barbie received a bit of a mixed response. The Vid Kid, Rawson Stovall, praised the game, based on the reaction of his younger sister Jenny in his syndicated review:
"Ask any young girl what she thinks of Epyx's Barbie licensed from Mattel, and if she is like my 7-year-old sister, she'll say she loves it."
Meanwhile, Run Magazine's Marilyn Anucci praised the game's "rich, colorful, finely detailed graphics" and "unusually realistic sound", but criticized the portrayal of Barbie:
"Why can’t Barbie call Ken? Why can’t Barbie say no? Why does Barbie have nothing to do but shop? Ken calls, Barbie jumps. It took Mattel’s Barbie 20 years to come out of her box and enter the real world. How long will it take the computerized—technology progressive —Barbie?"
Hot Wheels met a somewhat similar fate. Guide To Computer Living's Robert J. Sodero was enthusiastic enough, writing:
“The detail accomplished in the graphics of this game are some of the best I’ve ever seen, especially those offered while the gamer is driving down the highway. Here, the 3-D and motion effects are used very effectively.”
However, other reviewers weren't so keen. The British publication Zzap64, for example, gave it 40% and summarized it as:
"A game for the very young — or those wishing to reminisce about the ‘good old days’."
In spite of the mixed response, as Goldfarb remembers, the titles were both modest successes commercially, but he had no intention of staying in the games industry following their release:
"I made those two games [and] it was like making a movie," he tells Time Extension. "It was something very different and time-consuming. It took a lot of time and a lot of people, and I decided that really wasn’t for me. They took so long to make and while I could be making one video game, I could come up with three or four toys. So, I decided to stay with toys, and I did, and I was very successful with them."
Successful is probably putting it mildly. Goldfarb is still celebrated within the toy industry for his iconic inventions over the years. Recently, his daughter Lyn directed a short documentary that looks back at his impressive body of work and how the creator still stays young by continuing to design and invent toys from his workshop in his garage. You can watch the documentary below on the New Yorker's YouTube page: