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Alive 2
       An Insider's View of Atari

The following information comes from "Debbie the Roboteer," a former Atari
Inc. employee who worked very closely with Nolan Bushnell and the original
Atari programmers. In exchange for anonyminity, she agreed to share the
following tidbits of historical trivia with the rest of the Atari

There were sorta two factions in the Atari set-up:

One was the programmer-analyst-management team that was out to get over
yuppie style (and like I say, it was a common practice for at least a
couple of decades for up-and-coming programmers to be burned by the ones
before them in a bazaar rite of initiation). Plus the "big boys" had the
good (and usually the only) computers worth working on. And hardware,
piles and piles of it!

The other was the up-and-coming programmers and hardware or "adjunct"
engineers. Most were 16-25. Most wanted to do well, make some real money
and be able to buy their own equipment. And for the most part they had

Now, one of the most crucial points here is the actual core information in
the program of Pong and most other realtime simulations of things like
"english" and reaction are strictly the creation of Bill Budge, the father
of video games and of all realtime programming on any computer anywhere on
earth. He probably wouldn't ever bother to admit it. His mathematical
capabilities (a.k.a. number crunching), plus his innovative programming
applications of it so that anyone could "see" it on the equivalent of a TV
screen into realtime simulations was the real step into the future of the
last century! There hasn't been a profound and technical blend like it
since people managed to learn how to make fire themselves, and control it.
Last time I talked with him he lived in California on the coast someplace.

Next is Guy Nouri, a warm-hearted fantastic programmer who has branched
off from his original development of color key. Most color programming on
computers is based on his innovative works; remember, it was two-tone
before. He was working on live video streaming from satellites, which I
suspect has mutated from his original programming into digital streaming
... He should be in New York City someplace. Fantastic human being! I
remember him bringing one of the first copies of LOGO over to my robot
store -- I had one of the first Apple IIe's, my cousin was a programmer
there, and I could interface in the I/O ports to a robot arm from a
desktop computer, unheard of! LOGO was made to recreate mathematical
equations into art, and then with a brilliant stroke of genius they used
one of the first versions of a serial I/O port to hook a "Turtle" up to
which was a mechanical crawling thing (robot) that would draw the realtime
design on the floor or wherever you had it set up. There had never, never,
never been anything of the sort for the "normal" guy out in the world. And
life changed at a breakneck speed after that! Plus, that is about the time
C overtook the other control languages for I/O applications and it has
blossomed back into realtime in the form of C++.

Actually, the way I remember it is that Atari had originally given at
least five youthful programmers an unheard-of contract for five years at
$150,000.00 a year, to do game development. That is where Centipede and
all that stuff came from, probably the core stuff for any and all of your
favorite games. These programmers perfected sound, sound cards, color,
animation, simulated real-time response to I/O input (the joystick),
gaming content, you name it. Unfortunately, they didn't have any
experience in reading contracts, so they signed away some very valuable

One was that anything they designed under the contract time period
belonged to Atari, irregardless of whether Atari was actually paying them
or not. Another was that they could be laid off. So let's say you have a
contract saying you get paid more money than a senior executive at a bank,
and you are working your best work because of it. A couple of years into
your contract -- when the old-time programmers figure they have enough
programming information now to run anything they want for decades -- you
get laid off without pay. Not only do you not own the rights to your
programs or your code, you can't work in the field until your contract
with the Atari people (who laid you off) is up.

In essence, the bigwigs at Atari effectively cornered the programmer
market, and then benched all the players for the three remaining years
while they marketed the snot out of the existing programs. At the time
fighting them would be comparable to fighting Microsoft now. In fact,
Gates really liked the Atari thing, and he was already an "old timer" by
the late 1970's as programmers go.

Why is this important? It was the very spark that started something so
commonplace now, people forget there was a time before ... The Yuppie
types and the developers with morals and ethics became two very distinct
groups by 1982. That was the year the first developer underground really
came to life. It was the birth of the hacker. A line was drawn in the
realtime sand, and since then people have absolutely had to make a choice
about where they stood in the computer world from this original line. it
was even played up in The X Files, which is an anthropological sliding
scale as to what people think is real and important (whether it actually
exists or not is a moot point).

This line was drawn in the realtime sand the day Atari laid off its best

After everyone involved and in any way in the know finished sucking in a
huge sigh, the war was on. And it's still on. It will be on long after the
programmers and Atari and everyone else who has a clue what happened
disappear from the face of the planet...

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