Mon, 8 August 2016
Mitch Balsam: NY Atari Research Lab
Mitch Balsam was hired at Atari to work as a game programmer for the Atari 2600, and worked on an unreleased game called Electric Yoyo. Later, at Atari Research in New York, he worked on more unreleased products including The Graduate, an add-on computer keyboard component for the Atari 2600; and a buildable robot toy. At Scholastic, he developed educational software titles for the Apple ][ computer.
This interview took place on April 3, 2016.
"Each game developer had a room, and the more successful ones had checks on their door, which were their royalty checks. ... So there were checks there for $200,000, $300,000."
"Yeah, it was rough. I'd still say that programming for the 2600 was probably the hardest thing I've ever done."
"We'd call California, 'Hey, are you our boss?' No. 'Are YOU our boss?' No."
The Graduate Computer:
Mitch on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mbalsam
Sat, 6 August 2016
Wes Newell, Newell Industries
Wes Newell was founder of Newell Industries, a company that produced a number of popular hardware upgrades for the Atari 8-bit computers. Products included Fastchip, which sped up floating point routines by 300%; Omniview, which provided 80-column text output; and RAMrod, which provided memory upgrades and enhanced ROMs; and Omnimon, a hardware monitor. Wes was also author of Pro Bowling, which was published by Atari Program Exchange.
This interview took place on June 9, 2016.
After our interview, Wes sent me his collection of Newell Industries paper: documentation for every product that they released, and a large collection of printed source code for Atari 8-bit and ST products. He generously placed all of the Newell Industries material in the public domain. I've digitized all of it: you can now find it at the Internet Archive (see the links in the show notes at AtariPodcast.com.)
"Well I sold 'em pretty cheap... that's probably why I went out of business... it was more or less just a hobby for me. I wasn't out to get rich."
Extended Directory article in ANTIC: http://www.atarimagazines.com/v1n6/assemblylanguage.html
Collection of scanned material from Wes: https://archive.org/details/@savetz?and%5B%5D=newell
Thu, 4 August 2016
John Reese, Tronix CEO
John Reese was the founder and CEO of Tronix, the software company that produced two games for the Atari 8-bit computers: Kid Grid (in 1982) Juice! (in 1983.) The company also produced other games for Commodore computers, including Sidewinder, Deadly Skies, and Gold Fever! for the VIC-20; and Suicide Strike for the Commodore 64.
John was simultaneously founder and CEO of Monogram, the software company that produced Dollars and Sense, home financial management software that was available for the Atari ST and IBM PC. Both companies were subsidiaries of Softsel, an early software distributor.
This interview took place on March 12, 2016.
"...told them that the right thing for them to do was to push out game software ... they didn't tell me that it's supposed to take six to nine months to go get that done."
"Piracy was there but it wasn't something that we had a handle on. It was sort of viewed at the time, by me at least, as the cost of doing business."
Tue, 2 August 2016
Gregor Novak, Math*UFO and Ringmaster
Gregor Novak is the author of two educational games which were published by Atari Program Exchange: Math*UFO and Ringmaster. Math*UFO first appeared in the fall 1982 APX catalog, where it won second prize in the education category. ("A mysterious spaceship floats to the top of the screen. Is it a Martian? No, it's MATH*UFO flashing you number drills! MATH*UFO is a very competitive , one- or two-player educational game that turns math drills into a fast-moving, arcade-style challenge.")
Ringmaster first appeared in the fall 1983 catalog, where it won second prize in the education category. ("Step right up to the circus! Watch the elephants and the camels on parade as the music plays. Everyone's in a carnival spirit, especially one rambunctious monkey. ... Using your joystick controller, you're the ringmaster ... you make sure he jumps successfully. He'll make it if he leaps onto the back of an elephant or camel numbered with a multiple of the number he started from at the bottom of the screen.") Ringmaster was also released as Under the Big Top by Main Street Publishing.
This interview took place on February 7, 2016.
Teaser quote: "I would have gone even without the money. In fact, I was shocked when Math*UFO made a couple thousand dollars. I didn't think it would do that."
Sun, 31 July 2016
Volker Multhopp, DSEMBLER
Volker Multhopp wrote DSEMBLER, which was sold by Atari Program Exchange and was first available in the winter 1981 APX catalog.
This interview took place on March 21, 2016.
Fri, 29 July 2016
Duane Bolster, Midas Touch and Advanced Fingerspelling
Duane Bolster published two programs with Atari Program Exchange: Midas Touch and Advanced Fingerspelling. Midas Touch, a word game, was first available in the summer 1982 APX catalog. Advanced Fingerspelling, a program for teaching letters in sign language, was first available in the fall 1983 catalog. He also created an add-on for the Atari 810 disk drive that circumvented disk copy protection.
This interview took place on March 21, 2016.
"That's one thing I gained from my working with the Atari, is that when you work outside the box, you can do incredible things. But you stick to the book, and you're stuck doing what somebody else did."
"Huh. If I market this, I'll be known as the father of software piracy."
Wed, 27 July 2016
Tom Halfhill, Compute! Magazine
Tom R. Halfhill was features editor of Compute! Magazine, and was later launch editor of several other magazines from that publisher, including Compute!'s Gazette, Compute's Atari ST, and Compute!'s PC Magazine. He co-wrote the book Advanced Amiga Basic and was later editor of Game Players magazine.
This interview took place on March 29, 2016.
"SpeedScript was written in a couple of months by our 18-year-old, untrained programmer. ... You've got a whole staff of professional programmers, and frankly, if you can't do better than him, then you don't deserve to be in business."
"There was a full page ad for ... I think it was a strip poker program. ... He got a complaint letter, Robert [Locke] did, from a school principal at an elementary school somewhere in the U.S., saying, 'We've got this magazine in our school library, we can't have strip poker in there. This is unacceptable!'"
Tom's web site: http://www.halfhill.com
The Basics Of Atari Graphics in Compute!'s First Book of Atari Graphics: http://www.atariarchives.org/c1bag/page003.php
Mon, 25 July 2016
Richard Mansfield: Compute! Magazine, 6502 Machine Language Books
Richard Mansfield is author of the best-selling book Machine Language For Beginners, and its sequel, Compute!'s Second Book Of Machine Language, both published by Compute! books. He also wrote Apple Machine Language for Beginners, Commodore 128 Machine Language for Beginners, and a bevy of other computer books continuing right up through today. Richard was also a long-time editor of Compute! magazine.
This interview took place on March 17 2016.
"It was kind of a lucky thing for me, the timing was right. I had the writing skill and I also had an intense curiosity and interest about computers and programming."
"Unfortunately, the amateur computer programmer is a memory, really. If some kid gets into computing now he basically has a lot of algebra, a lot of other hurdles that are meaningless, but they're there."
Full text of Machine Language For Beginners: http://www.atariarchives.org/mlb/
Full text of Second Book Of Machine Language: http://www.atariarchives.org/2bml/
Richard's articles in Compute!: http://www.atarimagazines.com/compute/index/index.php?author=Richard+Mansfield
Sat, 23 July 2016
Richard Wiitala, Number Blast
Richard Wiitala was the author of Number Blast, an arithmetic teaching program that was published by Atari Program Exchange. Number Blast first appeared in the winter 1981 APX catalog, where it won third prize in the education category.
This interview took place on February 1, 2016. After we talked, Richard send me 23 pages of scans of his correspondance with Atari Program Exchange, including the letters that included his royalty statements, and info about BASIC language upgrades and software compatibility with the Atari 1200XL computer. Those are now available for your perusal at the Internet Archive.
Teaser quote: "When I applied for a copyright on this, there weren't really a lot of guidelines about copyrighting computer programs back then."
Wiitala's APX correspondence: https://archive.org/details/APX_Programmer_Correspondence
Thu, 21 July 2016
Ray Citak, music education software
Ray Citak wrote Name the Notes, a music education program that was accepted
by Atari Program Exchange, and won an APX award, but never appeared in the
APX catalog. (The program is, as far as we know, lost to the sands of
time.) He also wrote the program Keyed Up, "a music education program
disguised as a goofy game," which appeared in Antic magazine, and Lightning
Renumber, an automatic line numbering program that was published in
This interview took place on January 30, 2016.
Teaser quote: "The trick to learning, of course, was knowing the computer.
Of course, I just devoured books on what the computer could do and what its
capabilities were when you plugged in different values in different places."
Keyed Up in ANTIC magazine: http://www.atarimagazines.com/v7n4/keyedup.html
Ray's articles in Compute!: