Thu, 22 September 2016
Steve Robinson: Diggerbonk and Bean Machine
Steve Robinson is the author of two games that were published by Atari Program Exchange: Diggerbonk and Bean Machine. Diggerbonk was first available in the spring 1983 APX catalog. Bean Machine first appeared in the summer 1983 APX catalog, where it won third prize in the Entertainment category.
This interview took place on June 13, 2016. A video version of this interview is available, check the show notes at AtariPodcast.com for the link.
In it, we talk about Jack Palevich whom I previously interviewed.
Teaser quote: "When they first published the game, they took the wrong version. I sent them the wrong version, not knowing that it had a bug in it. And — I got third prize anyway."
Video version of this interview: https://youtu.be/eNBn40q_BQ4
Tue, 20 September 2016
Alison Woods, Atari Graphic Designer
Alison Woods was a graphic designer at Atari from 1982 to 1984. She designed the packaging for the computer versions of Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Junior, Pole Position, Robotron, Food Fight, and other products. Later, she was Vice President and Creative Director at Kidsoft, a CD-ROM based software magazine for kids.
This interview took place on May 26, 2016.
"I wanted to have an exploding robot on the front of the package, and that was deemed too violent."
"One guy said to the other guy, 'See? I told you not to pay 'em!' I'm thinking, 'Oh my god, what am I dealing with here?'"
Alison's web site: http://www.alisonwoods.com
Sun, 18 September 2016
Mitchell Waite, computer book author and publisher
Mitchell Waite is a prolific computer book author and publisher. His first book "Projects in Sight, Sound and Sensation" was published in 1974. He founded the Waite Group in 1977, which published more than 80 titles in the computer programming field. He co-authored Computer Animation Primer (with David Fox) and Your Own Computer (with Michael Pardee), the 8086/8088 Microprocessor Primer with Christopher Morgan, CP/M Bible, and wrote, co-wrote, or published dozens of other computer books.
This interview took place on June 16, 2016.
Teaser quote: "'I don't even have an office yet,' you know? And he said 'Well you better get one.' And I said, 'But I don't even have a corporation.' He said, 'You better start one.'"
Video version of this interview: https://youtu.be/x1dU7b4ZkHA
Mitch's web site: http://www.mitchwaite.com
Mitch on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitchell_Waite
Full text of Computer Graphics Primer: http://www.atariarchives.org/cgp/
Full text of Computer Animation Primer: http://www.atariarchives.org/cap/
Mitch on Triangulation: https://twit.tv/shows/triangulation/episodes/252
Apple ad featuring ibird: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0zhotBPx1E
Fri, 16 September 2016
David Duberman, Antic magazine editor
David Duberman was an editor at Antic magazine (one of the two major Atari magazines in the United States). Later he was in customer support at Synapse software, then user group coordinator at Atari during the Tramiel era.
This interview took place on June 17, 2016. In it, we discuss Jim Capparell, whom I previously interviewed.
"We were now in the computer age, so we had to print these weird [ATASCII] characters that were probably never printed in a magazine before."
"They [the Tramiels] would not spend a single penny that didn't absolutely have to be spent."
Wed, 14 September 2016
Michael Boucher, MECC
Michael Boucher was a programmer at MECC — Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium — from September 1980 through August 1984, where he worked on educational software for the Apple // and Atari 8-bit computers. His projects included Oregon Trail and Odell Lake.
This interview took place on June 14, 2016.
Video of this interview: https://youtu.be/heuR8_eFFJI
"I had the honor of working with the finest group of dropouts I have ever had the pleasure of associating with."
"...Fairly sophisticated bit of code. And happily, nobody told us that it was hard, and being high school students, we didn't have the experience to know it was difficult. So we just did it."
Mon, 12 September 2016
Hung Pham, APX Game Show
Hung Pham wrote one program for Atari Program Exchange: Game Show, a game based on the Family Feud TV program (although the catalog never says that explicitly.) Game Show was first available in the Winter 1982-1983 APX catalog.
This interview took place on June 10, 2016.
"The reviewer was playing, and pretty soon he turned around -- a crowd of people was standing behind him, looking over his shoulder, trying to play. So, hey! This might have some potential."
Sun, 11 September 2016
Steve Stone, POKEY and ANTIC layout design
Steve Stone worked at Atari from 1977 through 1980, where he was a chip layout designer and engineer. He worked on the layout design for the POKEY and ANTIC chips. After Atari, he founded Macro Dienamics, Inc., a chip design firm that worked on custom chips for the Amiga computer.
This interview took place on August 29, 2016.
Video of this interview: https://youtu.be/JhGPasK_RmE
"The concept of someone flying in from Manhattan for the week, wearing thousand-dollar suits, being chauffeured around the valley and then flying out on the weekends -- was quite a contrast..."
Steve sent me a follow-up email after our interview:
"It was a pleasure speaking with you yesterday. The conversation jarred my memory. There is a few more comments, and some clarification that I would like to add.
I believe I stated that the disk capacity we used for the chip layout was 25-80KB. While it was literally as big as a washing machine, it was 25-80MB.
Also, I may have left out Warren questioning me about what I would put in that secret room. I told him that it should announce that the player had won a prize, and give them a phone number to call to collect.
I gave you a brief overview of the chip layout procedure used at that time. Our workload was driven by the schedule of displaying products at the CES. Our work-load had peaks and valleys. In the off-time (the valleys), I was allowed to do whatever I wanted, or do nothing at all. With some tutoring from Warren, and an APL programing book borrowed from Jim Huether, I spent my off-time writing programs to simplify the layout task. My code eliminated the drawing and digitizing phase, as the group became "on-line designers." My programs, then called "gate generators," were close to what is commonly used in chip design today, now called pcells. This is probably more information than you ever wanted to know about chip layout, but I thought it worthy of mentioning. The bottom-line is that, with these programs, we had a distinct edge over most companies that designed chips.
I'm really glad that we used Skype for our conversation rather than a phone call. Although, one could argue that if ever there was a FACE best-suited for a phone conversation, I may be it. But watching your expression, at the moment of epiphany, connecting the very old Star Trek game to Star Raiders, was enjoyable to see. I’m pretty sure Doug Neubauer would have got a kick out of that as well."
Thu, 8 September 2016
Gary Furr, AtariWriter Product Manager, Printer Drivers
Gary Furr was Product Manager for productivity software for the Atari home computer division, where his claim to fame was being the manager for the AtariWriter word processor. He also published a set of AtariWriter printer drivers, which were first published through Atari Program Exchange — the product first appeared in the fall 1983 APX catalog, with support for 10 printers — then was sold directly by Gary, and eventually grew to support about 150 printers. After Atari, he worked at Datasoft.
This interview took place on August 29, 2016.
"I left the meeting, went directly back to my cubicle, called the programmer, and said 'There's been a little hiccup.'"
Mon, 5 September 2016
Bob Frankston, co-developer of Visicalc
Bob Frankston was co-developer of Visicalc, with Dan Bricklin, and co-founder of Software Arts, the company that first published Visicalc. Bob was also involved with the Atari 800 port of the program.
If you're like to see our talking heads, a video version of this interview is available at the Internet Archive and YouTube, at the links below.
This interview took place on August 22, 2016.
"So we were really lucky there. But the important thing is to appreciate the luck factor ... A lot of people, especially in the .com boom days and everything, thought they were geniuses because the first thing they did worked. Well, no. They were lucky."
Video of this interview at YouTube: https://youtu.be/X2ksQXoump4
Bob and Dan wrote about the history of Visicalc for Creative Computing magazine: http://www.atarimagazines.com/creative/v10n11/122_Visicalc79.php
Bob's web site: http://bob.ma/public/?name=ImplementingVisiCalc
Inverse ATASCII podcast on VisiCalc: https://inverseatascii.info/2015/01/13/s1e8-visicalc/
Wikipedia on VisiCalc: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VisiCalc
Wikipedia on Bob Frankston: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Frankston
Sat, 3 September 2016
Brian Johnston: Manager, Atari Home Computer System Software Group
Brian Johnston was Manager of Atari's Home Computer System Software Group, where he worked on projects including DOS 3. He worked at Atari from 1978 through 1982, then moved to Fox Video Games where he programmed Atari 2600 games.
This interview took place on August 4, 2016.
"But Atari was poisoned by money,
And in death throes was free-falling up,
Lining pockets of sycophant beggars
Whose main talent, the art of the cup!"
Video version of this interview: https://youtu.be/WT5MRiQN9Z0