This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.
GS: That's cool. Let's talk about Breakout just a little bit. I know you've talked about it a lot, but when you designed Breakout for Atari, how did you know what game to make? Did they give you a set of instructions about how the game would play, and then you worked from that?
SW: Steve Jobs could have been a bit vague on it. He told me that Nolan Bushnell wanted a game that was like a single player Pong with bricks that you would hit and the ball would go behind them. So it was pretty well defined by the time I heard about it.
GS: Did they have like a sketch of the way it would look on the screen or did you just interpret it yourself?
SW: No sketch, I just interpreted it from the description I just gave you, very simple description. It came to a point where I was thinking of saving one more chip, and I might save half a chip if I put the score at the top instead of the bottom, and Steve said, no no no, it has to be at the bottom. He said Nolan wanted it there. That's how the game was defined. I don't know how much of that was true or Steve saying, "Here's how it should be," and just pretending it was coming from Nolan. I don't know.
GS: I don't know how accurate this is or not, but I read somewhere that Atari couldn't use your Breakout design because it was too hard to manufacture. Is that true?
SW: No, no, no. I did a clever little design with very few parts...
GS: So they used your final?
SW: The reason Atari wanted me to design it is they were tired of their games taking 150, 200 chips, and they knew I designed things with very few chips, so we had incentives for getting it under 50 or under 40 chips. That was my forte. Now I designed it, but it was... To save parts, I'll make no part go to waste and have tricky little designs that are hard for just a simple engineer to follow.
Once you understand it, it's very easy because there's so few parts, it's easier to understand. But they had trouble understanding it. So maybe some engineer there was trying to make some kind of modification to it, slight modification, and by not even understanding, who knows what part of that they mean. Was it my vertical horizontal counters or something else? If they don't understand it, that was the problem. They never called me.
GS: So when you played the final Breakout machine later when it was in an arcade, was it the same as you had created originally?
SW: Oh yeah.
GS: Cool. So it played exactly the same?
SW: As far as I could tell.
GS: How did Steve Jobs feel about video games in the 70s? Did he enjoy playing them or see their potential in the future? Or was he just there for the ride?
SW: I never saw Steve Jobs really as a game player. Yeah, ever. Not even before Atari.
GS: So he didn't have any favorite games that he'd play there or anything like that?
SW: Oh, well not that I saw, but I wasn't there every day.
SW: He could have. I think he enjoyed some of the games that he helped finalize and add finishing touches to, like the "Simon" game...
GS: The Touch Me game? Was that it?
SW: ...where you'd touch, push buttons, and it would play tones, and you'd have to repeat them. The buttons would light up and you'd try to copy the pattern.
GS: I remember that. I think it's called Touch Me.
SW: Touch Me, yeah. Yeah, so maybe he liked playing the ones that he had to play all day long as part of development.
GS: But he never talked about playing them on his own time, like brag about a cool new game or maybe talk about...
SW: No, I didn't see him as a game playing person. Like myself: I was a game player. I grew up, I played lots of sports, I played lots of card games, I played lots of board games, I played games on timeshare computer systems like the Star Trek-- the text based games -- and Wumpus and I loved video games when they first came out. I played them a lot; put a lot of money into it, whereas I never saw Steve Jobs really doing that. Like being in a situation like at a bowling alley and wanting to go play games.
GS: Yeah. Interesting.
SW: I mean, heck, when we did Breakout, I sat up there on the factory floor while he'd be wiring my designs. And I would sit up there and play the games, and got really good at them.
GS: Yeah. I've heard about you and Gran Track 10.