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Alive 9
My Life at Atari

This article is a preview of a longer one that will hopefully be released in our 
outline special after easter. The author is still working on it and I am looking
forward to what secrets he might be able to tell us without getting sued...

Much has been said  about life within Atari  HQ in Sunnyvale California  and the
Tramiel family. Much has been said,  but unfortunately much of it untrue  so the
aim of this  article is to  give a balanced  insiders view and  to blow away the
vaporous rumours on the winds of truth.

I flew out to California with  a twofold mission, firstly to complete  the Alien
Vs  Predator  project  and secondly  to  join  Atari. Up  until  that  point the
development of  the game  was not  a back-bedroom  affair, but  a kitchen  table
affair. Mike Beaton and  myself had commandeered my  dining table at home,  with
Mike staying with me to thrash out the  game. I had decided that

a) I no  longer wanted to officially be  a "freelancer" but an  official  member
   of Atari  and

b)  that   I   wanted to   work   from  a  more   formal  office   setting  with
    appropriate equipment.

I was met  at the airport  by Purple Hampton,  the producer of  AvP who had  the
unenviable task of all the  production issues surrounding the game,  from making
the  posters  to  ordering  cartridges  to  managing  testers.  Purple  has been
mentioned much in Atari folklore but  the part that the interviews, reviews  and
Atari related articles fail to say is that despite being under extreme  pressure
throughout the development cycle Purple really shone as a Producer. In  addition
to being  an outstanding  Producer he  is also  an outstanding  human being.  We
became firm friends, a friendship that lasts to this day.

People also talk  about the Tramiel  family, which is  usually centred on  their
failings. During all  the time I  have known him  Sam Tramiel has  been a kindly
courteous man, with a  passion for caring for  people in his organisation  along
with a passion  for the company.  Mistakes were made,  but they were  never made
maliciously or with a bad heart. During the development of AvP Sam decided  that
I  needed  a week  of  vacation time.  Not  only did  he  secretly fly  over  my
girlfriend from the UK, but the surprise was heightened when I was also given  a
few thousand dollars,  the keys to  Sam's brand new  sports car (he  hadn't even
driven it, it was the day of delivery!) and told to go and spend a week enjoying
the USA and not to come back with any money left!

Lunch at the Atari offices often involved the Tramiels, Jeff Minter, most of the
workforce and myself descending en-masse  to a diner in Sunnyvale.  My favourite
being Cals Burger Diner  which is still there  to this day! It  was very obvious
that the  Tramiels made  an effort  to mix  with the  workforce and  to be  team

I have fond memories of sightseeing around York with Sam and his daughter  Sarah
when they visited the  UK and Sam's penchant  for sharing a Newcastle  Brown Ale
with my dad!

So yes, there were  mistakes in handling the  company, but we are  all human and
the Tramiels  do have  failings but  I really  wished to  redress the balance by
pointing out that as  people they have always  been very kind, genuinely  caring
about the people who worked with them. I only wish that during a long career  in
the games industry every employer I have  worked for had the same values. It  is
all to easy for those on forums to fall into the trap of being critical  without
being fully aware of the  situation or being personally acquainted  and "Tramiel
bashing" has become something of a sport on Atari forums. I hope that in  future
people consider their actions when taking a swipe at decent people they may  not
have even  met and  remember that  the family  also brought  us a  great deal of
pleasure with both Commodore and Atari computer systems.

Jane Rachel Whittaker July 2004

Alive 9