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Alive 3
                       "What Went Right at Atari"
                   by Bill Haslacher

Hi-Res was a short lived Atari Computer magazine. The handwriting  on my galley
proof says, "Deadline for Issue 4 is Dec. 19, 1983." Well, to make a long story
short, Hi-Res  folded and  my unpublished  column lay burried  under a stack of

Until now.


"Have you been playing video games?" It's 1980, my first week at Atari and the
boss wants to know if I'm playing video games.

"Um ... a few but I've a good  start on the  assignment you gave me," I mumble.
"Forget the assignment. You like chess?" Steve Harding, my boss, rushes around,
finds a chess cartridge and shoves it into the Atari Home  Computer on my desk.
"And you've got to go  to the  picnic this afternoon ... no  use staying around
the office because  everyone  is going to be at  the park eating hamburgers and
drinking beer."

Lately, I've been thinking about my two-year adventure at Atari. It's the small
things about Atari that have stayed in mind.

HALLOWEEN : Everyone  dresses  up in  costumes : Mine was a  jester-fool outfit
complete with bells thatkept dripping  down into my  eyes. Milt was  a Rock and
Roll singer, Embee was  Cleopatra, and Glenda was a  road (a white center strip
went up the middle  of  her bodysuit). A Ubangi  warrior marched  with  a large
group of strange looking characters through the Atari marketing department. The
warrior kept  pointing to a roll  of toilet  paper on  his spear saying, "Atari
software, Atari software."

CAFETERIA. The engineering building had its own cafeteria. Great place to.
Programmers used to play word games with the movable  letters on the "soup
of the day" sign. They would try to make a word or words that used all the
letters in "chicken soup," for example.

SCHLADGE CARDS. These handy cards got you in and out of the various Atari
departments. If you were not allowed  into a department, the Schlage card
device would  make a clicking  sound and your attempt  was recorded on  a
computer somewhere. Rumor had it that Atari engineers tried to figure out
how the cards worked. They succeeded in  making fake cards within fifteen
minutes. Steve  Harding  says one  of the founding  engineers  forgot his
Schlage card one weekend day and kicked the door down to get in.

APPLE SIGN. One bright and sunny day an  Apple Computer warehouse appeared
next to the cubic monolith that was Atari's engineering  building. Some of
the Atari people grabbed  a brightly colored sign  with an Apple on it and
placed it in the Atari engineering department. Two months later, uniformed
police officers showed up to reclaim the sign.

T-SHIRTS. T-shirts and  jeans were  something of a status symbol at Atari. I
swear my boss had a  whole T-shirt  wardrobe. He even  had  a T-shirt with a
tie  painted on  it. A young  lady  named Carlina came  up with the idea and
design of  the "I'm a high   strung prima  donna  T-shirt." The  shirt had a
picture of an opera singer in response to a Kassar interview in the San Jose
Mercury-News. I remember my friend Milt  made several outrageous  prototyped
T-shirt designs for Carlina to  consider. But Milt's designs, clever as they
were, lost out to Carlina's own design.

ASTEROIDS. In the lobby of the engineering building, someone changed the
flying saucers to flying turtles. OK, who changed the shape table in the
Asteroids game?

RUMORS. I'm not sure I believe it, but there was a rumor about two ladies
wrestling on the floor for the right to be a certain boss's secretary.

Alas, that was before I got there. Steve Harding and others tell me the Atari 
I knew was a shadow of its former self. "Times are changing," they would say.

Someone at Atari showed me an old newsletter entitled "The Gospel According to
St. Pong." It gave Nolan Bushnell's vision of what a company should be like. I
don't remember much  of the philosophy  except that it seemed concerned mostly
with worker happiness.

In conclusion, let me give you an opinion -- Atari has done some things awfully

          ----- ooOOOoo -----

A shakeout is  happening in  the  video  games  industry. Shakeouts are to 
electronics what earthquakes are to nature. Fox Video Games has decided to 
call it quits. But Activision and Imagic seem to be weathering the storm.

There has been a flood of video games in the marketplace and a lot of price
cutting. Experts say this comes  about because video  game are not a mature
industry. In a mature industry like the cigarette industry, companies often
agree price cuts are like cutting each other's throats.

This predatory pricing means on can find some deals on video games right now.
I saw video games  priced two for $2.95 at a recent electronics  show. Better
shop for your video game bargains now. After the  shakeout, video game makers
might start acting like  the "mature" cigarette industry. Hint: The new Atari
chairman was an executive vice president of marketing at Phillip Morris.

Recently this  Silicon Valley  Reporter had a fun  conversation  with Jan
Martin-Risk of Activision's consumer  division. She finds  it interesting
that, historically, man has used his highest technology to amuse himself.
To Martin-Risk, games are an  art form and entertainment. The test of the
success of  a game  is a question  each person can ask. Is it fun? If you
think the answer is yes -- then the game you are playing is a success.

There is a  rumor that  when Atari's Steve  Wright was on the "TODAY" show
with Martin-Risk he got very nervous about something. It's hard to imagine
Steve Wright (Mr. Confident) nervous about anything.

What evidently happened was the host asked about Activision's policy of giving
game designers credit for  their games. Martin-Risk  explained the author of a
game program is  like the author of a book and  deserved his or her name to be
known. In  voicing the  opinion a video game  is a  corporate  product, Wright
became a little tongue-tied.

A programmer recently gave this reporter a photocopied masterpiece ...
"Real Programmers Don't use PASCAL:"

Highlights include:

* Real Programmers don't need comments -- the code is obvious.

* At a party, Real Programmers are in the corner talking about operating
  system security and how to get around it.

* At a football game, the Real Programmer is comparing the plays against his
  simulation printed on 11-by-14 fanfold paper.

* No Real Programmer works 9 to 5.

* Real Programmers don't know how to cook. Grocery stores aren't open a 3 a.m.
  Real Programmers survive on Twinkies and coffee.

It seems video game players and programmers fit the description quite nicely,

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