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ANTIC The Atari 8-bit Podcast

hosts: Randy Kindig, Kay Savetz, Brad Arnold
twitter: @AtariPodcast
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Sep 12, 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:

"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."

seven and a half years ago

Great stuff. I really enjoyed this. I also appreciate Steve's honesty. It felt like traveling back in time.

Chris Johnson
seven and a half years ago

The guy basically took credit for almost every game innovation that happened in the 1980s.