Computer engineer Steve Wozniak played an instrumental role on the landscape of personal computer design in the 1970s. As the co-founder of Apple Computer with Steve Jobs, he created the Apple I early personal computer, as well as its successor, the Apple II. The Apple II was the first microcomputer manufactured by Apple, and became one of the most popular personal computers in the 70s and early 80s.
Wozniak, or "Woz" as he is affectionately known, has also left his footprint in gaming history as well, having developed the initial prototype for classic Atari game Breakout in 1975 before founding Apple Computer. Recently we caught up with Woz, and took the opportunity to speak with him about his experience developing Breakout for Atari, as well as Steve Jobs' gaming habits, and the influences of video games on the personal computer industry.
Gamasutra: How often did you visit Atari's offices back in the 70's around the time Steve Jobs worked there?
Steve Wozniak: About three times maybe, not very often.
GS: Not very often?
SW: I dropped by, he invited me in and I showed off my little Pong board [A copy of Pong he created on his own time -Ed.] and they were kind of impressed at how few chips it was and wanted to hire me, then we did Breakout.
I didn't hang around there; I had a job at HP.
GS: Can you describe the atmosphere around Atari at the time you visited their offices?
SW: Not too well because I didn't interact with a lot of people. It wasn't a very large building...go through the halls and you see just about everything very quickly, and they had a big factory floor where they were actually making the machines.
GS: I guess they were a pretty small company at the time.
SW: Yeah. They seemed huge to me, this was the center of arcade games, you know, video arcade games for the world. That was "the company." So it seemed large. I don't know how you judge what's large and what isn't.
GS: Well I was mostly talking about the number of employees, I guess.
SW: Yeah. You've got the factory floor and you'd see one new game just lined up, cabinet after cabinet after cabinet, long lines of the same game. It was interesting to see.
GS: That's cool.
SW: And I felt like it was a historic place.
GS: Do you think that's why Steve Jobs wanted to work there, because it just seemed like a really important place to be at the time?
SW: I think he just...it was just one of a bunch of companies that were in the electronics...he probably just looked in the pages at who's hiring. I don't think he had a propensity towards Atari over any other company.
GS: Did you ever meet Nolan Bushnell?
SW: Oh yeah. I met him back then; he offered me a job when he saw my Pong game. I saw him a few times at Atari and then every other time I bumped into him -- I dealt more with Al Alcorn, though, became more friends with him, went out to lunch and all; over the years, even after Atari, I kept up with Nolan and would go visit him once in a while.
GS: That's cool. So I guess you probably bump into him every once in a while because of computer and game history things, like conferences and stuff like that?
GS: What did you think about him at the time, back in the day, do you think he was doing a good job running Atari?
SW: I thought he was an exciting pioneer. I don't know how to judge how somebody runs a business, but I mean he kind of started it by wanting to do this new thing that was so astoundingly different. So I admired him.