The Atari 2600, or Video Computer System (VCS), introduced in 1977, would ultimately become the first commercially successful video game console that accepted plug-in ROM cartridges, allowing the consumer to expand their library of games without having to buy a new console.¹
In 1979, when this story began, I had not yet completed college and I had never written a computer program. The closest I had come to writing a real program was fooling around with my TI-58 programmable calculator. Here’s a sample of what a program on that device looked like.¹ Not exactly OOP,² huh?
Life is strange.
In the summer of 1982, I spent about three months creating a list of 4,096 numbers, meticulously ensuring that every single number was the right value, and in the correct place in the list. When I finished, the only tangible evidence of my work was that long list of numbers.
When the list was complete, after nearly 1,000 hours of work, the former Connecticut Leather Company¹ put the numbers (in order) into a computer memory chip and plastic case and sold it at stores throughout the country. And people actually bought it.
The list of numbers that I created was known to the public as the Atari 2600 version of the hit coin-op video game Donkey Kong. To create the list, I wrote a computer program in 6502 assembly language in about 3 months, with little sleep. With enormous pressure to submit final code in time for holiday sales, I finished the game with a push of 72 straight hours at my desk, after which I was told that I looked like a zombie. …
Is there anyone left who hasn’t played the game where you remove tiles, one at a time, to clear the board?
Have you ever wondered where it came from? I’ll bet we’ve all seen and/or played a game like this, as it’s probably been put on every computer, game system, mobile device, website, watch, toaster and refrigerator imaginable. In fact, I’m shocked it hasn’t been ported to the entertainment screen of the Tesla, as so many other games have been¹ [Elon, what are you waiting for?].
I would guess that this game, sometimes referred to as Mahjong, has become the most ubiquitous video game in the world, with the possible exception of klondike solitaire. And not only is the origin of the game not widely known, but at least for me, the spelling is equally a mystery; is it Mahjong, Mahjongg, Mah-jong, or Mah-jongg? I’ve seen them all used, and many others as well [in fact, my Microsoft Word spell checker accepts three of the four variations shown to the left, rejecting only the third one]. …
In the 1970’s, Bill Dorhmann had arguably one of the most fun corporate jobs in the world. Bill was the Vice President of Research and Development for Parker Brothers, of Monopoly fame, and one of the most successful toy companies in the work. In the late 1970’s, in my days of developing handheld electronic toys, I had the pleasure of interacting with Bill on a few projects for Parker Brothers.
While I don’t claim to have known Bill that well, I certainly grew to respect him as a brilliant toy executive, with a keen understanding of what would sell in the competitive toy market. …
Adventures in Toy Design: Part 1
We had this toy idea for a voice scrambling helmet.
It was 1979 (or thereabouts). The helmet would cover your face completely (think Darth Vader™), have an internal microphone and headset, and an external microphone and speaker. The child would put it on their head, turn it on, and speak. Circuitry in the helmet would scramble the child’s voice and output the garbled speech through the external speaker. …
When I first saw the Atari 2600 and played a few of the early games, one of the things that stood out to me was just how bad it sounded when a game attempted to play music.
Before I started developing for the machine, as a consumer, I never questioned why it sounded so bad; I just knew that the music was terrible. Clearly, no one at Atari had come to what I thought was the obvious conclusion that, if it’s a choice between out-of-tune music, or no music, no music is preferable. …
I once had the opportunity to sell a $66 million aircraft back to the company that built it. Doesn’t happen very often. Here’s the crazy story.
Let me start at the beginning. Absolute Entertainment was a video game publisher from the early 1980’s through the mid-1990’s. I was one of several co-founders of the company, and the CEO. In 1988, we published a military action game on the Commodore 64 and the Atari 7800 titled F-18 Hornet. For you retro game aficionados who care about such minutia, the game was developed by John Van Ryzin, of H.E.R.O. fame.
As was standard practice at our company, for each title, we had our trademark attorney file for protection of the name of the title. Ergo, in early 1989, we filed a trademark for F-18 Hornet in the category of Computer Game Programs. …