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Alive 3
             An excerpt from an intervew with Leonard Tramiel
                    By Martin "Retro Rogue" Goldberg

Leonard Tramiel is a  member of  the mighty  Tramiel clan. His father Jack
founded  Commodore in  1953 (known for the  now  legendary PET, Vic20, and
Commodore 64 computers) and  bought Atari  from Warner in 1984 after being
ousted  from   Commodore (he wanted  Commodore to  grow  more, some  board
members thought they were already spread to thin). Leonard's older brother
Sam was named as President of Atari.

Leonard's involvement with the family business began back at Commodore in
1976, while finishing his degree in Astrophysics from Columbia University.
His father Jack had bought  MOS  Technology, makers of the  now legendary
6502  processor  chip (versions of which  were used  in the Commodore Pet
and CBM line, Commodore Vic20, Commodore64, the entire Apple II line, the
Atari 2600, 5200, 7800 and XE game consoles, the entire Atari 8bit
computer line, and the Nintendo Entertainment System to name a few). Jack
wanted a personal computer to show at an upcoming trade show and told 6502
creator and MOS founder Chuck Peddle, and Leonard that they had 6 months
to do it in. They did it, and the world was introduced to the Commodore
PET (Personal Electronic Transactor). Involved in further projects at
Commodore, Leonard came along with the rest of the Tramiel during their
transition from Commodore to Tramiel Technologies to Atari Corporation.
Leonard served as Vice Preisdent of Software Development during most of
his tenure at Atari Coproration (1984-1996) and later as Vice President of
Advanced Technology.

The following are excerpts from an interview that Leonard was kind enough
to grant me while I'm doing research for my book on the history of Atari. is the only place you can find this interview, and they
will exclusively have all future excerpts from other interviews with Atari
notables that I conduct while doing my research.

On the transition from Atari Inc. to Atari Corp.

Marty: You guys got the home gaming and computer division of Atari and the
coinop was split off in to Atari Games. Did you guys retain the rights to
some of the older coinops as well though? (The actual Pong, Asteroids,
Centipede, etc. arcade games).

Leonard:We had the rights to all of Atari's games in the non-coinop field.
These were eventually sold to Hasbro. They have since sold them again.

Marty: Yes, that's what I was wondering. So Atari Games retrained all the
coinop rights for the Atari coinops from 1972-1984?

Leonard: Right.

Marty: Which brings me to another question - when you bought Atari and
formed Atari Corp., did that also include the exclusive rights to the
Atari logo and name? Or was the rights to the Atari name and logo split
between both you and Atari Games?

Leonard:Atari Games certainly had the right to their own name! I think
there may have been a requirement for them to add "Games" anytime they
used it, but the rights were certainly shared.

Marty: Including for the logo itself?

Leonard: Yes, the logo, with the word Games added below.

Marty: What happened to the rest of the Sword Quest series prizes (the
crown the philosopher's stone), and was there a specific reason for
canceling it when Atari transferred hands to your family? Some have
speculated that because you were primarily interested in Atari for it's
name in computers that it would be natural for you to cancel this. Do you
know what happened to the prototype to the Airworld cartridge as well?

Leonard: If I remember correctly the Sword Quest series had a set of
contests associated with it. This, combined with very little in the way of
public interest, were the major reasons for cancellation. I wasn't
involved in this one at all so I'm going by what I happened to hear over
the years. I have no recollection of any Airworld items.

Marty: What was the status of the Nintendo deal (Warner/Atari had been in
negotiations with Nintendo at the time for distribution of their Famicom
system that became the NES) at the time you took over? Had it already been
cancelled before your family took over, or was it just lost in the shuffle
of the takeover and eventually fizzled out?

Leonard: I'm pretty sure there was no serious negotiation between Nintendo
and Atari. I don't know what your source of information is, but there's a
lot of bad information in the world.

Marty: The two main video game history resource books on the market detail
this. Game Over is specifically about Nintendo's history and Phoenix is
about the entire industry in general, and both make mention of this.

Leonard: I didn't read Game Over but I have read other books on related
subjects. There was one written by an ex-Commodore employee that got so
many things wrong I was amazed. Even things he was closely involved in. I
would take these books with many POUNDS of salt.

The 7800

Marty: Regarding the 7800, was there a specific reasoning to cancelling it
when you took over and then releasing it several years later? I know that
Warner/Atari had the inventory ready to go, so when you decided to cancel
the release in '84, did you have any specific plans for the inventory at
that time? Trash it, unload it overseas or something else?

Leonard: I was quite busy with the ST stuff but, as remember it there were
a few factors in the 7800 delay. One was the lack of sales of Atari game
machines in general. Another was a problem with the GCC contract.

Marty: This is interesting, because most people assume the 7800 wasn't
delayed but rather cancelled and then brought out of mothballs when
Nintendo resurrected things with their NES. So it'd be great to set that
straight and clear things up.

Leonard: I remember a big demo setup by the GCC folk to try to convince
everyone how great the 7800 was. It was impressive enough that the
contractual issues were uncovered. When the 7800 launch didn't happen
there was no plan to reschedule. On the other hand the inventory wasn't
scrapped or sold off. Is that a delay or a cancellation? To be successful
it is important to be flexible. A subtle point is that the neogtiations
were very on and off, mostly off.

Marty: Ok, that's a shame then. Many Atari fans say that if it could have
been launched on schedule or even in '85, it would have done quite nicely
against the NES.

Leonard: Maybe it would have, maybe not. The 7800 was basically a 2600
with some things put into hardware that were done in software on the 2600.
It was still quite a limited machine. At this point it is difficult to say
for sure.

The Lynx

Marty: I just wanted to say thanks for the Lynx and Jaguar. The Lynx still
holds it's own to this day and kids I show it to get blown away when they
compare it to their crappy Gameboy color's.

Leonard: The Lynx was nice machine. Too bad it was impossible to keep it
competitive with the other systems at the time. Our LCD manufacturer would
not reduce the price. We sued, and won, but the case took so long that the
product line was long dead by the time it was over.

Marty: The Lynx became too costly to manufacture because of the LCD screen
prices. So after the Lynx died you sued the LCD manufacturer? Did you feel
the high price of the LCD screens (thereby not allowing you to drop the
price of the Lynx) had something to do with the Lynx failing and that's
why you sued them? Or were there other factors you feel led to the Lynx
failing and Nintendo's piece of garbage succeeding?

Leonard: Correct. The Lynx was effectively dead by the time the lawsuit
was filed. We tried to get the LCD manufacturer to reduce the price based
on our analysis of competing products, like the Sega Game Gear.

Our feedback from both consumers and retailers was that the Lynx would
sell and sell well but not at the price we could make money at. The major
factor that kept the price up was the cost of the LCD.

The lawsuit that was eventually filed was for contract violation. There
was a most favored nation clause in the contract that required the
supplier to sell us product for the same price as similar products to
other customers. We were quite sure that this clause had been violated and
after court ordered discovery we were able to prove the case.

The Gameboy had two things going for it over the Lynx. It was cheap and it
was tiny.

On Atari Corp.'s lack of Advertising

Marty: To the general public, Atari Corp. is not known for strong
advertising or support of it's products and I'd love to hear your feeling
on this.

Leonard: Atari Corp. was not a strong advertising company. The same was
true of Commodore, for the same obvious reason.

Marty: That's what I'm curious about with though. Was that the
philosophical view of your family?

Leonard: I can't say that there is a family philosophy. On advertising: My
dad's general rule was to spend 10% of the previous periods profit on
advertising. There was lots of variations but that was the baseline.
Lawsuits are best avoided, if not then settle if you can. This is true for
almost everyone that is sued. Atari didn't sue very often, as a result
they won a significant percentage of the time.

Marty: Looking back now, do you think this view on advertising hurt sales
on the various products at all? Or is there anything you would have done
differently? Or do you feel it was the right course?

Leonard: I'm not sure. More advertising might have helped but it might not
have been worth the money.

Accomplishments and wishes

Marty: Well, I'll use that to lead in to another direction - What do you
feel is your greatest accomplishment with Atari? Something that you
remember fondly to this day?

Leonard: We managed to maintain and improve a sophisticated Graphical User
Interface with a very small group. TOS was a ROM based product. In the
product's entire lifetime there was only one patch and that problem was
NEVER reported (or at least I never saw a report). TOS was also very
compatible from version to version. We even released a protected-memory
multi-tasking operating that was compatible with the vast majority of
applications many years before either Apple or Microsoft.

Marty: Also, are there any projects that never saw the light of day that
you wish would have?

Leonard: The Falcon030 Microbox would have been a real nice machine. I
also would have really enjoyed programming the Panther video game system.

(Interviewer's note - The Panther was the followup gaming console to the
Atari Jaguar).

Let me just say thanks again to Leonard for the interview. And to the
people out there, I hope you enjoyed this glimpse in to Atari's past from
one of it's notables.

Alive 3