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Outstanding Ideas: Ed Logg on Asteroids and Gauntlet

by David Craddock on 09/13/19 11:33:00 am   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

The following interview comes from Arcade Perfect: How Pac-Man, Mortal Kombat, and Other Coin-Op Classics Invaded the Living Room by David L. Craddock, available now in paperback and Kindle formats. Find out more at arcadeperfectbook.com, and on Twitter @ArcPerfectBook.


IF YOU FED quarters into arcade cabinets during the 1980s, you’ve probably played at least one of Ed Logg’s games. In his time at Atari, he designed classics from Asteroids and Centipede to Gauntlet and, under Atari’s controversial Tengen label, coin-op and NES versions of Tetris.

Arcades wound down in the mid-nineties, but Ed was just getting started. He stayed ahead of the curve by developing console ports of games such as new installments of San Francisco Rush 2049 for Midway and left his mark on other hits through compilations such as Midway Arcade Treasures 2.

Seven years before I spoke with Ed about his work on Tetris for this book, I picked his brain about Gauntlet and Asteroids for another project. My intent was to include that interview as a bonus chapter. After I decided it didn’t fit with the material as well as I’d initially thought, I set it aside. Years later, I deemed it perfect for Arcade Perfect.

***

David L. Craddock: What led to your interest in video/computer games?

Ed Logg: I was always doing games. When I first started programming in high school I used games as a means of learning of how to program and to answer questions about the games themselves (the best strategies or what are the odds of….). This carried on to college and my jobs thereafter.

Craddock: What did you do before creating video games?

Logg: I worked at Control Data Corp. (CDC) which was across the street from Atari. Of course I was the one at CDC that did all the games, had the most complete list of printable art, Snoopy calendar programs, complete list of etc. For example I did conversions of the original Adventure and Star Trek between CDC Fortran and the IBM Fortran. So although I was paid to support CDC software and I often did games on the side.

Craddock: How did you receive the opportunity to work at Atari?

Logg: A co-worker had gotten a job at Atari and encouraged me to come over. I do not remember who this was. But I did and as they say the rest was history.

Craddock: What was Atari's culture like when you started?

Logg: I had only one “real” job before Atari and it was dominated by a corporate structure that was out of state. So I only had this job to compare it to. In any case I liked the smaller company atmosphere, although in 1978 Atari was not really a small company anymore. I did not have to go through security every day and Atari was connected to Warner Bros. At the time so I could get LPs at a discount at the company store.

Craddock: You’re famous for designing some of the industry’s most successful coin-op games. Did you enter Atari as a designer?

Logg: I was hired to program video games. Atari has just recently switched over to using a microprocessor to implement games instead of using just hardware. I worked in a group led by Dave Stubben. This group had two programmers, myself and Mike Albaugh, one engineer, and two techs. My job was to replace Dennis Koble who had moved over to the consumer division. So I got to help release Dennis’ game of Avalanche and continue work on his game Dirt Bike.

"I had done some work on the vector hardware we had so I knew the advantages. The most important was the higher resolution. I felt we needed the extra resolution to show where the ship was aiming."

Now, programming in those days was very interesting. The development system did not have a compiler or any means to save our source code. This was all done on a PDP system and there were two ladies who did all the data entry. We provided a listing or marked up sheets of paper and they made the desired changes to the game code and provided us a listing and a paper tape (as best as I can remember it was paper tape) for us to load into the “black box” development system. This system would allow us to stop and start the program as well as examine memory.



Craddock: How did you receive the opportunity to design Asteroids alongside Lyle Rains?

Logg: Lyle called me into his office and said he had an idea for a game. The idea came from a previous game which failed miserably. The previous game had a large asteroid (for lack of a better description). People would shoot this asteroid but nothing would happen because it was just there to provide cover for the other player. In any case Lyle suggested we do a game that allowed the players to shoot these rocks and blow them up.

I am not sure why Lyle suggested this idea to me instead of others in engineering. Lyle was head of engineering at the time I believe so he could have chosen anyone. I had some success by that time with Super Breakout, Video Pinball, and 4-Player Football, so maybe he felt I could do the job better than anyone else. There were other projects I worked on that did not make it into production, but that is another story.

Craddock: The idea of floating around in space and shooting rocks to dust seems simple, but it was revolutionary at the time. How did you and Lyle hit on that idea, and Asteroids’ specific implementation?

Logg: I would certainly give Lyle the credit for idea for the game. However, the meeting I remember was more of a brainstorming session. For example I believe I suggested several ideas like breaking the rocks into smaller and smaller pieces so there would be a strategy other than just shooting wildly. In other words shooting all the big rocks just leaves more objects that could hit you. I also believe I suggested the saucer that would come out and shoot you if you did not shoot some of the rocks in a timely fashion.

Craddock: What were the advantages and disadvantages to designing Asteroids as a vector-graphics game?

Logg: This was another idea which I suggested in the meeting with Lyle. I had played Space War and I had done some work on the vector hardware we had so I knew the advantages. The most important was the higher resolution, 1024x768 instead of 320x240. I felt we needed the extra resolution to show where the ship was aiming.

Also the color masks on the displays at the time were not good, so a color pixel would be larger and less clear than on a vector screen. The black and white monitor also had a slow phosphor so that the shots and ships left a trail which actually added to the appeal of the game but this was not part of any design.

The only disadvantage was the game was going to be black and white, but being in space, that was not going to be a problem.

Craddock: Was creating Asteroids as straightforward as its design appears?

Logg: It was actually very straightforward. There were no difficult or technical issues. Of course there were limitations such as the amount of stuff I could draw and still update the game at 60Hz. The limited RAM also limited the number of asteroids I could draw so you may see some large asteroids go away with a single shot if the screen if full.

There was issue of the spot killer that was interesting. The spot killer was a feature added so that if the game crashed when the beam was on that it did not burn a hole in the phosphor on the screen. Thus I needed to have enough deflection on the screen so the spot killer did not turn off the beam. Therefore I put the copyright on the bottom of the screen and the scores at the top.

However, no one told me how much deflection was actually needed and I found out later this was not quite enough, so on some games the screen would dim if the player ship and the3 remaining asteroids were at the right spots on the screen.

I enjoyed myself during the development. I enjoyed watching the game come to completion. I enjoyed watching others having full play the game and I certainly enjoyed creating Atari’s most successful game.

Craddock: As you mentioned, Asteroids went on to become Atari's most successful coin-op game. How did you become aware of Asteroids' success in those days? Going to an arcade and seeing people crowding the machine?

Logg: I knew early that the game would be popular because those at Atari would ask when I was going home (so they could play the game). Also you come in each morning and see a bunch of new high scores.

But I certainly knew when we field tested the game in the arcades especially after many weeks when the earnings stayed at a high level. I never heard any stories about operators adding larger boxes.

Craddock: Fast forwarding a bit, the home video game market crashed in 1983. How did that affect your work in coin-op games, if at all?

Logg: We had layoffs and it was the first time we had layoffs in the coin-operated division. It was hard to see many coworkers leave. Our market had a serious problem too around that time due to over saturation of games. We were definitely seeing reduced sales.

Craddock: What led to your interest in creating a hack-and-slash arcade game?

Logg: My son had been bugging me for some time about doing a D&D game since he enjoyed it so much. I could not figure a way to do it until I saw the game Dandy. A coworker had brought the game in and we played it at lunch. This game gave me the idea on how to make a D&D game fit into the coin-operated market.

I was working on another game at the time so I had to finish that before I started but more important I had to figure out how to do the game with our existing hardware. We did not have hardware that allowed us to do this game so I asked for a set of features to be added to make this game possible. Unfortunately we were short of engineers at the time and the engineer assigned to the game could not work on it for more than nine months.

By that time I had lost my co-programmer. Fortunately a new engineer, Pat McCarthy, was assigned and he created the hardware necessary to put all those monsters on screen.

Craddock: Strip away the frenetic real-time gameplay and Gauntlet had much in common with roguelikes such as Rogue and Moria: clear dungeons of monsters to level up, survive to reach the next level. Had you played any roguelike-type games before making Gauntlet?

I have not heard this term before, nor the games Rogue or Moria. I certainly played many dungeon games before like Adventure.

Craddock: What was Gauntlet’s process of generating mazes? Did you consider adding an element of random, or procedural generation to keep arcade players guessing?

Logg: We had a maze editor that allowed anyone in engineering to create mazes. In fact Lyle Rains created many mazes for Gauntlet while I was away on sabbatical. So we had a fixed number of mazes and I had an algorithm that would sequence through all the mazes except the first 6 levels I believe. So the only random part of this was the starting point in the set of mazes.

Craddock: Each of the game's four characters had distinctive characteristics, such as the Elf having the fastest movement rate. Did you want one class to have an edge over all the others, or were they meant to be balanced?

Logg: I felt the wizard was most powerful although I could not prove it. Later when the game was released in Japan it was determined that the wizard and warrior could play forever on one quarter as long as no other players joined the game.

Craddock: Gauntlet didn't include final bosses or a goal besides survival. Did you worry that players would balk against playing within a video game structure, such as the growing template of ending levels with a boss fight? Or, was there even a "video game structure" at the time?

Logg: There was a considerable amount of discussion about this issue. I had this question come up often. I could not come up with a solution for those players who may have just joined or what to do with the money they have left in the machine. So I took the course of least resistance and did not provide an end to the game or a final boss to defeat.

Craddock: Gauntlet was lauded in large part for its fun co-op for up to four players. This was during an era when most multiplayer coin-ops supported two players at most. What led to incorporating play for up to four?

Logg: The fact that it was co-operative play came from the basic fact you had to co-operate to get to the next level and to fight the monsters and generators successfully. I would also create Dandy with the credit for 4 players and co-op play.

There another reason that four players were added and that has to do with the coin-operated industry. We could not increase the cost of play at the time because 50 cents was resisted by most players. Of course reducing the time per play was out of the question so the only logical solution was to have more players playing at the same time. Therefore I could earn four times more money with four players playing at the same time over any other game with one player playing at a time.

This was one of the most outstanding ideas for Gauntlet. This also proved hard for me to convince marketing that this was going to work. Fortunately the field test results spoke for themselves.

Craddock: The game was undoubtedly popular among friends. Did supporting four players require any extra game balance?

Logg: Unfortunately I did little to tune the game between one- and four-player play. I felt that having more players would increase firepower thus requiring less food so it would somewhat balance out. This proved to be wrong as the players in Japan showed me. So I later created a version of the game that would reduce the food if there was one player playing.

Craddock: Gauntlet was also known for its narrator, which both praised and goaded players. What led to the incorporation of the narrator's voice?

I added the voices to mimic the Dungeon Master that would normally be part of any D&D game. Many phrases were added to provide comic relief and to provide a little competition to see could eat all the food.

Craddock: Outside of balancing, did you have any strategies in mind for players who were going to enter Gauntlet’s dungeons with three friends? Or was the general approach—kill monsters, eat food—more or less the same regardless of how many players were up?

Logg: Each level needs to be learned so that you can expose the generators at the right time. For example shooting in their direction and then scrolling so that the shot hits the generator before it has time to generator a monster is a great strategy. Of course it helps if everyone cooperates.

Craddock: Was there any concern within management or marketing that a cabinet built to support for players would have trouble attracting so many to justify any extra engineering or manufacturing costs?

Logg: This was another major issue that marketing would ask me at any review. They were not convinced although I was. The doubt was dispelled the very first week of our very first field test. The game earned so much and increased the earning of the arcade that it created word of mouth excitement in the industry.

In fact I had to pull the game after the first week because all our competitors were coming to check it out. This is the only time I have ever heard of this happening.

Craddock: Gauntlet featured a barebones story, at least in the arcade release. Was this intentional? How important do you view player-controlled storytelling in games versus a more traditional, linear narrative?

Logg: I never felt games needed a story in the coin-operated industry. Coin-operated games needed to be played by those who could take one look at the screen and know what they needed to do. I felt Gauntlet met this criterion and added many features such as cooperative play that I did not need to add an explanation as to why you were there or where you were going.

"Gauntlet was by far the highest earning game I ever made. There was one operator in Toronto who said his Gauntlet made over $2400 in one week."

Craddock: What was the most difficult feature to implement in Gauntlet?

Logg: The hardest part of this game was getting the hardware done. This alone lead to many of the 5 patents Gauntlet was awarded. However, what most people do not know and cannot see if the changes required making the printed circuit board (PCB) for Gauntlet.

At the time we only made 2 player PCBs. This made the board too big. So we looked into making a four-layer PCB. This had never been done and it was feared it would not be cost effective but in the end it was. It also required Atari to redo their layout software to allow smaller traces and required changes in manufacturing to auto insert the components in the board.

The four-layer PCB also reduced our emissions to the point I believe where we did not need to put the PCB in a cage. After all this effort Atari would use 4 layer PCBs for all new games.​​

Craddock: What is your favorite aspect of, or feature in, Gauntlet?

Logg: It is always hard to pick one aspect of this game because it had so many new features. However, I always thought the thief was an interesting idea to steal away the power-ups the players gathered during play.

Craddock: Were there any features you wanted to add to Gauntlet, but couldn't? What were they, and why couldn't you add them?

Logg: There were many ideas we had and most of them made its way into Gauntlet II.

Craddock: Countless players have enjoyed your games over the years. They have their favorites. Where does Gauntlet rank in the gameography of properties you’ve worked on and, in this case, created?

Logg: It was by far the highest earning game I ever made. I had operators thank me. There was one operator in Toronto who said his Gauntlet made over $2400 in one week! It also the game that is most responsible with creating so many look-alike games.

Craddock: You were credited for Gauntlet's game design, which later caused problems with Dandy creator John Palevich. What is your take on the dispute?

Logg: I did not know anything about problems with Dandy or John Palevich. I know Atari was very sensitive and lawsuits so it was not right to speak out about Dandy. I do know John Palevich did approach Atari about Gauntlet and I heard it was resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. Perhaps I am wrong on this account.

I have not heard how John Palevich feels about this nor have I read anything on the subject. I do give much of the credit for the idea of Gauntlet to Dandy.

Craddock: Besides the first game's financial success, what factors led to you designing a second Gauntlet?

Logg: There were some ideas I had after Gauntlet was released and I thought the additions to Gauntlet II were compelling enough to make the game worthwhile, especially the secret levels and the Contest!

I believe we had a sufficient collection of new ideas that the game would add additional appeal. Besides this game was so successful we just had to create a sequel even if nothing more than to add new levels.

Craddock: Was creating a sequel something you wanted to do? Or was it a financial move?

Generally I do not like doing sequels especially in the coin-operated market. I believe Millipede was the only one I did and only because I had many ideas which I thought would add to the game play. The only idea I had for Centipede which I did not include was the colored area at the bottom of the screen to indicate where you were allowed to move. All the other ideas came later.

In the consumer market sequels are a different matter. I did several sequels for San Francisco Rush. The last one, Rush 2049, I was very happy with.


Arcade Perfect: How Pac-Man, Mortal Kombat, and Other Coin-Op Classics Invaded the Living Room by David L. Craddock, available now in paperback and Kindle formats. Find out more at arcadeperfectbook.com, and on Twitter @ArcPerfectBook.


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