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Discuss Atari History with Nolan Bushnell


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#1 Albert ONLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 5:10 AM

I'd like to welcome Atari's co-founder Nolan Bushnell to AtariAge! It's an honor to have Mr. Bushnell posting directly on this site. :)

While there is a long-running, existing thread about Nolan's recent appointment to present-day Atari's board of directors, that thread got a bit ugly at times and is now running over 30 pages (nearly 800 posts). This new thread will allow us to chat with Nolan and other Atari veterans without the need to sift through that entire thread. Ted Dabney, Atari's second co-founder, has also posting on AtariAge, as has Owen Rubin, one of Atari's earliest employees who was with the company for nine years.

I know there is a great deal of emotion on Atari's early history, but please do me and everyone a favor by keeping this discussion civil. I will be actively moderating this thread and I'll kick people from the thread if they cannot post in a rational, respectful manner.

Enjoy!

..Al

#2 Mirage OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 5:21 AM

Hi Mr. Bushnell. Thank you so much for everything you have done for the video game business/hobby. You are a real hero.

I'm just wondering in general about anything you could tell us about the early Atari artwork on the boxes and/or catalogs. Anything regarding how it was selected, who made the decisions, if there was any particular aesthetic goals... or anything else you may find interesting to share?

Thanks again!
- Chris (loving Atari since about 7 years old)

#3 Bryan OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 5:32 AM

Boy, AtariAge is going big-time. No more posting in cut-offs and flip-flops for me!

Mr. Bushnell, my first computer was an 800 and as a result I'm an engineer and programmer today. I still sneak back to Atari programming whenever I get the chance.

-Bry

#4 kuifje76 OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 5:55 AM

No discussion from me, just wanna say thanks to those men.

#5 cvga OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 6:00 AM

It's not Atari but any additional info Mr. Bushnell can provide regarding uWink or TapCode would be greatly appreciated.

#6 Ransom ONLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 7:15 AM

I notice that sound seems to have been very important to Atari's early history. Of course the fantastically evocative Pong sounds quickly became iconic. But then there's the fact that the 2600 was planned to have two speakers in it to provide stereo audio -- a very innovative move back when TV was mono only. In these days of homebrew modifications to the Atari 2600, I can finally play Air/Sea Battle and hear those missiles launch and explode in stereo! I can't even imagine how great that would have been in the 70s. And let's not forget Atari Video Music, which I'd very much like to own some day. Not only is it nifty in its own right, but it'd be nice to show the whippersnappers that the iTunes visualizer is nothing new.

At any rate, what role did audio (music, sound design, audio engineering, etc.) play in the early days at Atari?

#7 TwinChargers OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 7:58 AM

Hello Nolan, its a pleasure to see you here on Atari Age.

I was curious when was the last time you fired up the ol' VCS and what are some of your favorite games for the console?

#8 NolanB OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 8:24 AM

Hello Nolan, its a pleasure to see you here on Atari Age.

I was curious when was the last time you fired up the ol' VCS and what are some of your favorite games for the console?

I fired one up about a year ago. It depends on who I am with what cart I use. I keep coming back to the early favorites like tank and breakout. Later titles are in my collection but seldom used.

Nolan

#9 NolanB OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 8:29 AM

I notice that sound seems to have been very important to Atari's early history. Of course the fantastically evocative Pong sounds quickly became iconic. But then there's the fact that the 2600 was planned to have two speakers in it to provide stereo audio -- a very innovative move back when TV was mono only. In these days of homebrew modifications to the Atari 2600, I can finally play Air/Sea Battle and hear those missiles launch and explode in stereo! I can't even imagine how great that would have been in the 70s. And let's not forget Atari Video Music, which I'd very much like to own some day. Not only is it nifty in its own right, but it'd be nice to show the whippersnappers that the iTunes visualizer is nothing new.

At any rate, what role did audio (music, sound design, audio engineering, etc.) play in the early days at Atari?

Thanks for the appreciation of Video Music it was the only product on my watch that was not profitable. I think we sold less than 100 at full price. Too far ahead of the curve.

the initial DNA of the company was coin op. We found that Music and sound if well done increased earnings drastically. The ability to make good sounds with the technology at the time was expensive and less than satisfying in many cases. Pong for example just used signals that were already available from the video drivers.

Nolan

#10 ZIMM OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 9:12 AM

hi Nolan,
can't wait to hear you talk on Atari Video Club Live this Sunday!
I have to agree, I just love the sound and the artwork for atari 2600 games.
can't wait to meet you at Big Bang Event in August. I am sure you will be in the International Video Game Hall of Fame inaugural ceremonies. I will probably be a special guest player. I might attempt a couple live world records for atari 2600 games at the event, with one being Asteroids. it is going to be a honor to just have you in the same room during my attempt. I will also bring my Atari Video Pinball for you to sign. the home pong version.
I have a question about Secret Quest for atari 2600. what exactly did you work on for that game? it is a great game, so congrats!
also want to mention that I love the atari commercials and the theme songs. did Atari make those or another company?

Edited by ZIMM, Fri Apr 30, 2010 9:19 AM.


#11 Ransom ONLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 9:17 AM

Thanks for the appreciation of Video Music it was the only product on my watch that was not profitable. I think we sold less than 100 at full price. Too far ahead of the curve.

the initial DNA of the company was coin op. We found that Music and sound if well done increased earnings drastically. The ability to make good sounds with the technology at the time was expensive and less than satisfying in many cases. Pong for example just used signals that were already available from the video drivers.

Nolan


Wow, I didn't know that Pong's sounds came from the video circuits. There's that theory that constraints make for great art, because we are forced to move beyond what's easy and truly engage creatively in what we're doing. Apparently the audio constraints of those early years did just that!

Thank you for taking the time to answer my question.

#12 NolanB OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 9:44 AM

It's not Atari but any additional info Mr. Bushnell can provide regarding uWink or TapCode would be greatly appreciated.



the company continues to have installations and we just signed a big deal in China. This could lead to over 100 units in a few years. As the economy recovers I expect other franchise customers to emerge.

#13 birdie3 OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 9:47 AM

G'day sir. It is truly a supreme honour to have the opportunity to speak with you on AtariAge. Many of us here are among your biggest fans.

You have said that you are very interested in new game mechanics (i.e. iPad, Wii controller etc..). I can only imagine what it has been like for you to vicariously watch the industry over the years up to this point now where companies are finally appearing to think outside the box once again. Given that you are a proven innovator in your field, would you care to elaborate on any ideas you may have about the future of video games in this regard?

#14 NolanB OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 9:58 AM


Thanks for the appreciation of Video Music it was the only product on my watch that was not profitable. I think we sold less than 100 at full price. Too far ahead of the curve.

the initial DNA of the company was coin op. We found that Music and sound if well done increased earnings drastically. The ability to make good sounds with the technology at the time was expensive and less than satisfying in many cases. Pong for example just used signals that were already available from the video drivers.

Nolan


Wow, I didn't know that Pong's sounds came from the video circuits. There's that theory that constraints make for great art, because we are forced to move beyond what's easy and truly engage creatively in what we're doing. Apparently the audio constraints of those early years did just that!

Thank you for taking the time to answer my question.

I thought of another interesting anecdote. I told Al to use the sound circuitry from Computer space to simulate a crowd clapping. (you do that by creating noise and then shaping the envelope of the sound wave) Al though it was too much trouble and started poking around on the board till he got the right sounds. Genus. Remember the prime clock frequency was 3.58Mhz and the counters counted down for horizontal and vertical sync. So any frequency that is a binary divisor of that number is available down to 60 hz which is frame rate.

#15 HatNJ OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 10:00 AM

Hello Nolan

Most of the questions I had were already responded to.
But Id like to say I do enjoy Secret Quest and was wondering what inspired you to design and have a new game produced so late in the 2600's life span?

Thanks ahead
Mike
Got the Atari 800 few months before the VCS (along with Pong systems) all still working and hooked up today after 30+yrs

#16 NolanB OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 10:01 AM

G'day sir. It is truly a supreme honour to have the opportunity to speak with you on AtariAge. Many of us here are among your biggest fans.

You have said that you are very interested in new game mechanics (i.e. iPad, Wii controller etc..). I can only imagine what it has been like for you to vicariously watch the industry over the years up to this point now where companies are finally appearing to think outside the box once again. Given that you are a proven innovator in your field, would you care to elaborate on any ideas you may have about the future of video games in this regard?

Cant talk about things in too much detail but think about board games and then put an I pad in the middle of the table and everyone around the table has an Iphone that is connected to the iPad through bluetooth or Wifi. It becomes the universal board game videogame delivery platform.

#17 NolanB OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 10:09 AM

Hi Mr. Bushnell. Thank you so much for everything you have done for the video game business/hobby. You are a real hero.

I'm just wondering in general about anything you could tell us about the early Atari artwork on the boxes and/or catalogs. Anything regarding how it was selected, who made the decisions, if there was any particular aesthetic goals... or anything else you may find interesting to share?

Thanks again!
- Chris (loving Atari since about 7 years old)

The early art was from a guy named George Faraco. Later George Opperman (who created the Fuji Logo) became the look and taste of Atari. He really had a great eye and none of us would second guess his genius.

#18 Classic Pac OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 10:16 AM

I wonder if Mr. Bushnell could provide any information on projects that did not leave the development stage. I for one had heard rumors about consoles, games and add-ons for the 7800. That to this very day I don't know if what I was told was even true or not.

#19 Cebus Capucinis OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 10:22 AM

Mr. Bushnell:

What is your general feeling about the Atari "homebrew" community as a whole, if you are familiar enough with it to answer? Do you see the creators of new software for classic systems like the 2600 as pushing the boundaries of development and instilling the creativity and ideas that you started with Atari? Do you think homebrews have a place in the video game market as a whole, possibly with room to expand into a larger presence?

Thank you!

#20 Dan Iacovelli ONLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 10:37 AM

as I stated in teds topic: " I am not Worthy I am not Worthy"
it's finally good to see that they let you back in after the whole thing in marty's thread.
Also it was great to talk to you via skype and know where you stand with Atari.
As Zimm mentioned,I also can't wait for you to talk a bit more on Atari at AVC_Live (not Atari video Club Live(even though AVC does stand for Atari Video Club,
I went with the initials instead due to copyright reasons ) sunday night(I cleared up to 3 hours just for Nolan,my regular show will return on mothers day
may 9th) please see my post under AVC_live for the full details on how you can join in. (CVGM is also working on making a special page for this as well, and

#21 accousticguitar OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 11:01 AM

Did you program a game in college called Fox and Geese? Could you tell us about the game and the experiance of programming the game?





I programmed several games but the one that played the best and was sent around the country was Fox and geese. In the game the fox could move in any direction at twice the speed of the geese there was only one fox. The geese could move up to the right or the left. If a goose was alone the fox could eat it. If there were two geese adjacent he could not. The object was for the fox to either eat all the geese or escape past them. The geese won if they trapped the fox against the upper part of the screen. The number of geese was variable. 3 geese almost always lost 7 geese always won,

Nolan

Wow, thanks for the reply! I would like to program a version of this game for the 2600. I'm not much of a programmer though so I don't even know if I can do it, but I can try. It's going to be a while though because I have a college course to finish first.

From your reply I get the impression that the geese can only move forward and diagonally. Is this correct? Also, what shape is the board and how many squares are there?

I wonder if the original game you wrote has been preserved somewhere. That would be cool if it has.

#22 Ransom ONLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 11:05 AM

I thought of another interesting anecdote. I told Al to use the sound circuitry from Computer space to simulate a crowd clapping. (you do that by creating noise and then shaping the envelope of the sound wave) Al though it was too much trouble and started poking around on the board till he got the right sounds. Genus. Remember the prime clock frequency was 3.58Mhz and the counters counted down for horizontal and vertical sync. So any frequency that is a binary divisor of that number is available down to 60 hz which is frame rate.


That's amazing. Al sure knew his stuff!

One other question, if I may -- I realize you were no longer with Atari when they released their line of computers, but I once read that the designs that became those computers were begun while you were with the company -- as designs for the next generation video game console. It was said that you'd wanted to have the follow-on to the VCS ready, and perhaps introduce that new system within a few years after the VCS debuted. In retrospect, we know that doing so would have kept Atari far ahead of all the competition, and would have made things much more difficult for Magnavox, Mattel, and the like.

But -- is it true that this was your plan?

#23 Jess Ragan ONLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 11:40 AM

Sticking with my question from the previous thread, which reads as follows:

"Whose idea was localizing Rabbit Punch, aka Rabio Lupus? This was arguably the best game to come from the Bally/Sente joint venture and I wish we had seen more like it. How difficult was it to obtain the license from Video System? What steps did you take to get it? Did Bally's past dealings with Namco make this difficult? Why weren't more Japanese games distributed in the United States by Sente?"

#24 birdie3 OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 11:52 AM

Thank you for the interesting answer. I, as well as I am sure many others are looking forward to seeing the latest incarnation of Atari succeed in it's future endeavors and eagerly await what you are describing.

It was an amazing thing as a child to have experienced the electronic video game arcade phenominon during the early 80's. Many people I have discussed this notion with feel that people who were fortunate enough to have been alive during such a unique era in electronics and culture experienced something truly amazing and feel that something similar will probably not occur again for a very long time.

#25 Curt Vendel OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Apr 30, 2010 12:20 PM

Nolan left Atari in December 1978. So asking him about Swordquest swords from the early 80's or about the Atari 7800 which was done with GCC and Atari from 1983-1984 is out of scope for him.

Curt

I wonder if Mr. Bushnell could provide any information on projects that did not leave the development stage. I for one had heard rumors about consoles, games and add-ons for the 7800. That to this very day I don't know if what I was told was even true or not.






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