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Steve Cartwright on "Frostbite"

Despite being a video game designer for thirteen years, Steve Cartwright doesn't really play
video games.  Cartwright says, "I don't even own a game system.  I much prefer golf."  While
designing his latest game, PGA TOUR Golf 486, he went to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina and
talked with professional golfers.  "I thought that what they did was so cool.  I play golf for
fun, and they play video games for fun -- so they thought that what I did was cool."
Frostbite was Cartwright's last game for the Atari 2600.  "I think that Frostbite is one of the
most playable games that I ever did," adds Cartwright.  "Towards the end of the game, things
are moving so fast that the player begins reacting on instinct."
"Back then, things were so new that we were always trying to be different and invent new play
mechanics.  We were really just inventing things on the fly.  And those basic elements that we
came up with are still being used today." For example, Cartwright talked about the shark in
Fishing Derby.  "One of the basic play mechanics was what we called the 'Shark Element' because
it was named after the shark in Fishing Derby. It was just a fishing race until David [Crane]
added the shark.   It was a simple addition -- but it made the game.  After that we were always
looking for 'sharks' -- small additions that dramatically improved gameplay -- to put into our
games."
"In those days, the marketing people were not allowed to see work in progress.  We designed a
game and only after it was done did we hand it over to them.  After that it was up to them to
come up with a title.  Back then, we spent most of our time trying to optimize the code to fit
into 4K of ROM and 128 bytes of RAM.  Now we spend most of our time trying to juggle resources
to bring a project in on time and under budget."
Cartwright left Activision in 1986 and for five years designed computer games for Accolade, a
video game company founded by Activision alumni Al Miller and Bob Whitehead.  He lives near San
Francisco with his wife and is now at Electronic Arts where he helped create the Mutant League
series, and has co-designed NBA Live '95, produced PGA TOUR Golf 486, and is working on the
up-coming PGA Tour Golf 96.  His other credits include Activision's Barnstorming, SeaQuest,
Megamania, Plaque Attack, Hacker, Hacker II, and Aliens as well as Accolade's Fast Break,
Search for the King, and Lost in L.A.

Bob Whitehead on "Boxing"

Bob Whitehead, a video game pioneer and one of the founders of Activision, developed a reputation at Atari for designing sports games -- he designed Home Run and Football -- so it was no surprise when his first game at Activision was Boxing. "Maybe I'm a frustrated sports fanatic," said Whitehead. "But, not being blessed by the physical strength for sports, maybe I fantasize about them through my games." Whitehead also designed Chopper Command, Skiing, Sky Jinks, and Stampede for Activision. "The problem in designing Boxing was that the 2600 console was fairly archaic and simple with absolutely no bells and whistles. Most machines now have a very fancy video chip that does most of the work for you, but in those days we had to build everything from the pixel up." "I really enjoyed the challenge of programming, not like the others who were game fanatics. I'd prefer picking up a baseball and bat." Whitehead, who has a degree in Mathematics from San Jose State, helped design the development system that Activision used to program all of their games. "There's no question that I look back on those days with a bit of nostalgia. Even though I was a founder, my focus was game design. It was much simpler." In 1985 Whitehead left Activision to start Accolade, another video game company, with Al Miller, one of the other Activision founders. He designed two more sport games, Hardball and 4th and Inches for the Commodore 64, before becoming Accolade's Vice President of Product Development. "Game designing requires young minds and young bodies and you reach a point where you've done all you can do on the dedicates most of his time to charity.

Bob Whitehead on "Chopper Command"

Bob Whitehead, a video game pioneer and one of the founders of Activision, was also one of the first designers of Atari 2600 games at Atari. "I was like the second guy there. Larry Kaplan was before me and after me came Al Miller and David Crane. I could go home at night and have every line of code in my head, dream about them at night, and practically finish the next day. Very simple, games were only 2K in the beginning -- they were one man projects that were over before they began." Before starting Activision, Whitehead designed Video Chess, the first 4K game -- doubling the memory potential for Atari 2600 games. "I had to modify the chip to make it happen." Chopper Command was Whitehead's only "non -sportsy" game, and also his biggest seller. "Basically, it was like Defender. Defender had been out for a year or so and there was nothing else out like it. Most of my games have high action in a short time frame and somehow I managed to put in the right elements. It just hit the right chord." Chopper Command sold almost a million copies and remains one of the all-time biggest sellers for the Atari 2600. Whitehead also designed Boxing, Skiing, Sky Jinks, and Stampede for Activision. "I look back at those early days with nostalgia. We were at the leading edge of technology and almost everything we did was brand new. The question we kept asking ourselves was, 'You mean we're getting paid for this?' It was literally a lot of fun." In 1985 Whitehead left Activision to start Accolade, another video game company, with Al Miller, one of the other Activision founders. He designed two more games, Hardball and 4th and Inches for the Commodore 64, before becoming Accolade's Vice President of Product Development. "Game designing requires young minds and young bodies and you reach a point where you've done all you can do on the creative side." He recently retired and now lives in California with his wife and three children where he dedicates most of his time to charity.

John Van Ryzin on "Cosmic Commuter"

Cosmic Commuter, John Van Ryzin's first game for the Atari 2600, almost never saw the light of day because it was initially "turned down" by Activision's senior game designers. "The company prided itself on an amazingly high standard of quality," said Van Ryzin. "Once a game was finished all of the senior game designers would play it and then decide if they wanted the game to be marketed. Even if only one of those guys said no, then the game would never be released. And the company's management had to do what these top guys said. That's just the way it was done. A lot of games that were completely finished never made it out of our labs. Even River Raid was a game that was turned down." "I was devastated when they rejected it. I thought, 'Oh God, I've spent all of this time on it.' Months and months. That was the part that I hated because it was so stressful. The game is a sort-of combination of the old arcade games Lunar Lander, Defender, and Moon Patrol. It featured a little bit of each concept and game play style. Who knows why they sometimes didn't like a game. Mainly it was that they weren't interested in anything that was less than a top game. Who cares if the game was fun and made money -- if it didn't have the potential to be the highest-selling game of all-time, then they weren't even interested in it at all." Fortunately, after River Raid was rejected it began to gain popularity among all of the employees at Activision. And not too long afterwards, the senior designers were swayed by the in-house success of River Raid and second-guessed themselves, deciding to release River Raid, which then became one of Activision's hottest-selling titles. Meanwhile, Van Ryzin had designed H.E.R.O. and it not only was accepted, but it also became one of Activision's hottest games. It was the success of both H.E.R.O. and River Raid that prompted the senior designers to take a second look at Cosmic Commuter -- which, of course, passed with flying colors and was finally released. In addition to Cosmic Commuter and H.E.R.O., Van Ryzin also designed the Fireworks Construction Kit for the Commodore 64. He left Activision in 1986 when he co-founded Absolute Entertainment, a video game company that was also founded by other Activision alumni Alex DeMeo and Dan and Garry Kitchen. But he says that he still enjoys designing and programming video games -- he is now a freelance game designer. Some of his recent works include Heavy Shreddin', and Space Shuttle Project for the Nintendo as well as Race Drivin' for the Super Nintendo and Ren and Stimpy Veediots! for the Gameboy.

Dan Kitchen on "Crackpots"

"Dreams do come true," said Dan Kitchen, one of the first Activision designers in the former Activision New Jersey Design Center. "My brother Garry had reverse-engineered the Atari 2600, learning how to program games for it and we were making games in his basement. We put the old Activision catalog -- the one with the pictures of all of the designers -- up on the wall and we kept telling ourselves, 'We're going to work for them someday.' They were superstars and we wanted to be like them." And not too long afterwards, their dream came true as they became a part of the Activision team. After his brother designed Donkey Kong for the Atari 2600, Jim Levy, Activision's President and Tom Lopez, who was in charge of production, went to visit the Kitchens in New Jersey. "Right in the middle of our meeting the gas man had to come down into our basement and check our meter. " But everything went well -- especially after seeing the Kitchens' work -- and they were brought aboard as Activision's New Jersey Design Center. A couple of months later, Dan Kitchen was challenging -- and beating -- other Activision designers at their own games, especially Steve Cartwright at Barnstorming, and Al Miller at Ice Hockey. "Those were the two games that I really excelled at," said Kitchen. The idea for Crackpots came from Kitchen's girlfriend. "My girlfriend at the time like potted plants so I designed one on our 2600 development system and was smashing them -- making them fall down the screen and break. I had to make a game out of it and so it became a sort-of reverse Kaboom!. It was actually a fun, enjoyable game. The biggest problem, though, in designing it was always the Atari itself. Even though the games were 4K games, it took so long -- six months -- to just display the bloody stuff because you had to build the whole screen line by line. But I was very good at that very technical stuff." Dan Kitchen left Activision in 1986 and formed another video game company, Absolute Entertainment, with his brother Garry and Alex DeMeo and John Van Ryzin, all of whom were also Activision game designers. Kitchen also designed the Atari 2600 games Kung Fu Master and River Raid II for Activision in the late 80's. "There was a point," Kitchen said, "where I was the last person in North America -- if not the world -- still programming games for the Atari 2600 machine. I was the last." Kitchen lives in New Jersey and is the Executive Vice President of Absolute Entertainment.

David Crane on "Fishing Derby"

By the time he finished high school, David Crane, one of the founders of Activision, knew the computer languages of Fortran and Cobal, quite a feat in the early computer era. But perhaps more impressive was Crane's first "career" as a Professional Foosball player (yes, there actually was a league). Crane, along with Steve Cartwright, one of the other game designers at Activision, competed in a $250,000 national Foosball tournament with over 500 tables. Crane placed 64th and Cartwright 16th. After that, both Crane and Cartwright went to the DeVry Institute of Technology in Phoenix and later worked at National Semiconductor where they helped design computer chips. "On our computer I made an aquarium with rows of fish. It was mesmerizing, sort-of like an actual aquarium. But, I had to make a game out of it. The great thing about the game is that we were making the 2600 do things through software tricks." Cartwright adds, "We were always trying to be different and invent new play mechanisms. The industry was young and we were inventing game play elements that are still being used today. We were inventing fun. One of the basics was what we called the 'Shark Element' because it was named after the shark in Fishing Derby. It was just a fishing race but then David added the shark. It was a simple addition -- but it made the game. After that we were always looking for 'sharks' -- small additions that dramatically improved gameplay -- to put into our games." Activision also was the first company to give credit to its game designers. It was in direct contradiction to the policy of their ex-employer. "They looked us straight in the eye and told us that we were no different than the assembly-line people who put the cartridges together. So when we started Activision we decided that what we made was a creative product -- like a book, an author has his name on the front and a bio on the back jacket. --and so our credit should be no different because our product was no different." After 18 years in the business, David Crane is still designing video games. He left Activision in 1987 and is now the Vice President of Advanced Technology for Absolute Entertainment, a video game company founded by former Activision alumni Alex DeMeo, John "H.E.RO." Van Ryzin, Dan "Crackpots" Kitchen, and Garry "Keystone Kapers" Kitchen. Besides Fishing Derby, his game credits include Dragster, Freeway, Laser Blast, Grand Prix, Pitfall!, Pitfall II, The Activision Decathalon, Ghostbusters, Little Computer People, Transformers, Skateboardin', A Boy and His Blob, Super Skateboardin', Amazing Tennis, Home Improvement, and a game specifically designed and scripted for the movie Toys that he co-designed with Alex DeMeo.

David Crane on "Freeway"

David Crane, one of the earliest video game pioneers, created video games which were often a little bit wacky and Freeway, the game where the player helps a chicken cross the ro-- er, freeway, is certainly the first one to come to mind. "I was at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) and I was riding the shuttle back to the hotel when I saw someone stuck trying to cross Lakeshore Drive. A chicken trying to cross a freeway came to mind." Crane says that the ideas for games were "a dime a dozen" -- and that it was the technical discoveries and achievements that actually made the game. "Every game had a special programming technique, whether it was bank switching or whatever. Freeway featured a breakthrough -- two vertically moving objects and twenty-four moving sprites. We also discovered that when we used a grey background, the colors became prettier -- they were really better. It's just something that we discovered. But it was those technical discoveries that made the game." Also, Crane managed to make a horn sound that was very realistic -- perhaps it was the most realistic sound ever made on the Atari 2600. It was that sound, combined with the colors, the innovative programming techniques that allowed all of the moving sprites, and the wacky idea of a chicken not only crossing a road -- but a freeway -- which helped to make David Crane's Freeway one of the most memorable Activision titles. After 18 years in the business, David Crane is still designing video games. He left Activision in 1987 and is now the Vice President of Advanced Technology for Absolute Entertainment, a video game company founded by former Activision alumni Alex DeMeo, John "H.E.RO." Van Ryzin, Dan "Crackpots" Kitchen, and Garry "Keystone Kapers" Kitchen. Besides Fishing Derby, his game credits include Dragster, Freeway, Laser Blast, Grand Prix, Pitfall!, Pitfall II, The Activision Decathalon, Ghostbusters, Little Computer People, Transformers, Skateboardin', A Boy and His Blob, Super Skateboardin', Amazing Tennis, Home Improvement, and a game specifically designed and scripted for the movie Toys that he co-designed with Alex DeMeo.

David Crane on "Grand Prix"

David Crane, one of the founders of Activision, remembers the innovation of Grand Prix. First of all, Grand Prix featured the first full-color shaded objects for the Atari 2600. But the innovations didn't stop there... Crane remembers, "We were innovators -- six digit scores? No one was doing that. Sunsets and shading... The word 'Activision' with the rainbow... It was considered to be impossible to do those things before we came along. Jay Miner, the designer of the 2600 chip, saw our games and said, 'I didn't know it could do that.' We were insane back then. The lengths that we would go for perfection was crazy." But Activision wasn't only an innovator in video games, but also in business management -- especially as the company grew. "We realized that we had a group system and that we wanted to expand in groups, not just hire more people. And so with the Kitchens, Alex DeMeo, and John Van Ryzin in New Jersey, we had a ready-made design group. Eventually we had two groups in the San Francisco Bay area, one in Sacramento, one in Pasadena, one in Boston, and one in New Jersey -- each with four or five designers. That system worked very well. Many years later it comes out that a group structure is the hottest thing in corporate management. And there we were -- doing the exact same thing back in the early 1980's." One of the most important things, though, about Activision isn't the technical and corporate innovations but is the fact that Activison was the first third-party software company. Says Crane, "We blew the industry wide open. Atari and Mattel -- they had monopolies. We became the first third-party software company. At the same time, though, we became the razor blades for other people's razors. From the outside it looked as if we were just making easy money. I remember that in 1984 -- in the span between one Consumer Electronics Show and another (six months) over thirty companies were formed. They all became our competition." And it was Activision's continued innovation that helped the company to prosper, despite the immense competition. After 18 years in the business, David Crane is still designing video games. He left Activision in 1987 and is now the Vice President of Advanced Technology for Absolute Entertainment, a video game company founded by former Activision alumni Alex DeMeo, John "H.E.RO." Van Ryzin, Dan "Crackpots" Kitchen, and Garry "Keystone Kapers" Kitchen. Besides Fishing Derby, his game credits include Dragster, Freeway, Laser Blast, Grand Prix, Pitfall!, Pitfall II, The Activision Decathalon, Ghostbusters, Little Computer People, Transformers, Skateboardin', A Boy and His Blob, Super Skateboardin', Amazing Tennis, Home Improvement, and a game specifically designed and scripted for the movie Toys that he co-designed with Alex DeMeo.

John Van Ryzin on "H.E.R.O."

John Van Ryzin joined Activision in 1982, along with Dan and Garry Kitchen, when Activision opened up a New Jersey development office for the three designers who didn't want to move to California. The trio had worked at two other companies in the New Jersey area before impressing Activison with their game designing abilities. The idea for H.E.R.O. came from a weekend outing. "I went out and visited this cave -- Howe Caverns in upstate New York. It's an enormous cave system that this farmer found in his backyard. Then I came up with the idea of having a game about a cave. After I had the setting, I just came up with a superhero." "The greatest challenges in designing the game -- it was always the same: what you want to do versus what the system can do. Actually, though, the game totally turned out the way I imagined, I was quite surprised." The only problem was that the Atari 2600 just couldn't make it look like a cave -- all of the walls were straight and vertical or perfectly horizontal. "So I just changed the storyline: I made it a mine instead of a cave. That way, it explained the man-made look." Despite the technical limitations, Van Ryzin fondly misses the old video game days. "Back then it was simple. One person designed a game, and you could sell a million copies. Now, you have these teams -- its more like a bunch of people making a movie, rather than one person writing a novel." But Activison, Van Ryzin explains, was "designer's nirvana." "To me it was like a fantasy job. They told us, 'You have an idea for a game? Then go off and go do it. Don't come back until it's good.' There were no deadlines, no schedules, just you trying to make something fun." Van Ryzin followed H.E.R.O. with Activision's Cosmic Commuter for the Atari 2600 and then the Fireworks Construction Kit for the Commodore 64. He left Activision in 1986 when he co-founded Absolute Entertainment, a video game company that was also founded by other Activision alumni Alex DeMeo and Dan and Garry Kitchen. But he says that he still enjoys designing and programming video games -- he is now a freelance game designer. Some of his recent works include Heavy Shreddin', and Space Shuttle Project for the Nintendo as well as Race Drivin' for the Super Nintendo and Ren and Stimpy Veediots! for the Gameboy.

Larry Kaplan on "Kaboom!"

Larry Kaplan was always known as the hard-core game player at Activision. Everyone talks about his love of games and renowned hand-eye coordination. Kaplan was one of the first game designers at Atari -- where he designed such games as Air-Sea Battle, Brain Games, and Bowling. "We would sit in the lab and we would play games," says Kaplan. "That was the best part -- we'd play the games, find bugs, and challenge each other. Being a game designer is the weirdest life." "You think that it was going to last forever -- but of course, nothing lasts forever. One day it was like, 'My God, they're over?' And we all spend the rest of our lives trying to recreate those days. You can't just go out and just do a game anymore. We used to spend so much of our time on game play and today's games seem to put too much emphasis on graphics and sound. It's the game play that makes a game fun -- sometimes they forget that." And no other game is as a perfect example of superior gameplay than Kaboom! Its super-simple, maddeningly addictive gameplay is rivaled only by Tetris. "The 2600 is one of those miracles. It was completely serendipitous -- pure coincidence that everything happened the way it did. It was the perfect machine -- it was very simple but allowed for great games. In those days we did everything -- we set up booths at conventions, we did the sound and graphics, we talked with the sales people. We did everything." "Once a programmer, always a programmer," says Kaplan, who left Activision in 1982 for stints at Amiga, Atari, Silicon Graphics, and Worlds of Wonder -- the company that did the Teddy Ruxpin toy. He is now at Microunity, a company that specializes in semiconductors for high-speed computers. He lives in Los Altos, California with his wife, three boys, and ten game systems. When designing games, he says, "It's most important to have fun."

David Crane on "Pitfall!"

David Crane is known as the video game industry's first superstar. He is a pioneer and an innovator of video game technology and is also one of the founders of Activision. His games have a dimension of enthusiasm to them that hooked the majority of the earliest game players. If Academy Awards were given to the creative talent behind video games, then Crane would not only have won his award a long time ago, but he also would have already received his award for lifetime achievement. David Crane's Pitfall! is one of the few games that represents a milestone in game-playing history. Released in 1982, it only took up less than 4K of memory, but it sold more than 4 million copies, making it the hottest-selling Atari 2600 game. It was a shot of adrenaline for the Atari 2600 market and it helped to spawn the game-playing fever of the early 1980's. Crane noted, "When I designed Pitfall!, I knew that there was great potential in 'run, jump, and climb' adventure games, but the result was beyond any expectations. It sold millions of copies, established a new genre of adventure games and spawned hundreds of similar products. There are now more sideview platform video games than any other category." "The origin of Pitfall! was that I wanted to do a game with a running man. I had designed one and I liked the effect, but I had to make a game out of it. So, I thought, 'Well, he has to be running somewhere...' so I drew a path. And then I had to put it into a place -- so I picked a jungle. The idea took all of ten minutes. It was a simple idea -- a man running in a jungle. But, it spawned a genre of side-scrolling games. It was the beginning of a genre. Also, I guess people just remembered it as being neat." "But I never said 'It's a jungle in there' [an early Pitfall! slogan] -- marketing came up with that. But that was part of our secret. Four of us, and then five, worked in this open lab environment where we all shared our two cents on everything. We had a very good synergy and we played on that." After 18 years in the business, David Crane is still designing video games. He left Activision in 1987 and is now the Vice President of Advanced Technology for Absolute Entertainment, a video game company founded by former Activision alumni Alex DeMeo, John "H.E.RO." Van Ryzin, Dan "Crackpots" Kitchen, and Garry "Keystone Kapers" Kitchen. Besides Fishing Derby, his game credits include Dragster, Freeway, Laser Blast, Grand Prix, Pitfall!, Pitfall II, The Activision Decathalon, Ghostbusters, Little Computer People, Transformers, Skateboardin', A Boy and His Blob, Super Skateboardin', Amazing Tennis, Home Improvement, and a game specifically designed and scripted for the movie Toys that he co-designed with Alex DeMeo.

Carol Shaw on "River Raid"

Carol Shaw is not only known for designing one of the most popular games of all time, but also for being the first female game designer. "I really don't like to make a distinction -- other people always made the distinctions for me. I always just liked being one of the designers. When I first started at Atari, I think they thought that I would make games for girls like interior decorating games or something because there weren't really any games for girls. But I liked just making games." "When I first came to Activision, I wanted to do a space game, but people told me that there were too many space games. So then I made a river game. Originally, the jet was going to be a boat -- but the top part of the boat looked kind of funny so it became a jet. The 2600 itself was the biggest difficulty. It was originally designed for Tank and Pong and games like that. It had 128 bytes of RAM and 4K of ROM. I generated the landscape by a pseudo-random number generator. It's all in assembly language and we spent all of our time just squeezing the code down to fit the system." Carol Shaw left Activision in 1984 after designing Happy Trails for the Intellivison and River Raid for the Atari 800 and Atari 5200. Her other credits include Checkers and 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe for Atari. She also worked on Super Breakout and designed Polo, a game by Atari for the 2600 that was never released. She lives in California, and is now retired and married to Ralph Merkle, one of the nation's leading researchers in nanotechnology.

Steve Cartwright on "Seaquest"

Steve Cartwright was the first additional game designer that Activision hired. Cartwright had known David Crane, one of the company's founders, for years -- both went to DeVry Institute of Technology in Phoenix, both worked at National Semiconductor designing linear integrated circuits, and both were once professional foosball players. "It was before video games and we were in Phoenix. It was 110 degrees outside and basically you had your choice -- pinball, pool, or foosball. I played foosball because I had played soccer in high school." There were all sorts of local tournaments, Cartwright said, and if you were good enough you could earn enough to live on by playing foosball every night. But the success of foosball didn't last -- especially after the invention of video games. Cartwright dropped the game after college and was soon designing video games at Activision, a pioneer in the video game industry. "In those days the industry was brand new," said Cartwright, "and we were creating it. Activision was the first software company. In those days, there was no such thing as an experienced game designer -- you couldn't even study microprocessor programming -- it wasn't available in colleges when we first started. That's how new things were." The idea for Seaquest came to Cartwright after watching "Das Boot," a popular movie about a German U-boat. Cartwright added, "There were no submarine games on the market. So I started with a sub, added some stranded divers, enemy attack subs, a depleting oxygen supply, and killer sharks like the one in Fishing Derby." "Looking back on those days with Activision... it was very memorable. We were treated like celebrities. We were driven around in limousines. We were flown in separate airplanes -- in case one crashed. It was fun while it lasted, but game development now is a team effort." Cartwright left Activision in 1986 and for five years designed computer games for Accolade, a video game company founded by Activision alumni Al Miller and Bob Whitehead. He lives near San Francisco with his wife and is now at Electronic Arts where he helped create the Mutant League series, and has co-designed NBA Live '95, produced PGA TOUR Golf 486, and is working on the up-coming PGA Tour Golf 96. His other credits include Activision's Barnstorming, Frostbite, Megamania, Plaque Attack, Hacker, Hacker II, and Aliens as well as Accolade's Fast Break, Search for the King, and Lost in L.A.

Bob Whitehead on "Sky Jinks"

Bob Whitehead, a video game pioneer and one of the founders of Activision, never liked sequels. "I was never a sequel kind of guy, I always wanted to do something new. Especially in those early days when we felt like we were pushing technology forward." However, Skiing, a previous game by Whitehead, was very successful and was also very popular among the Activision designers. And so, Whitehead designed Sky Jinks as a pseudo-sequel -- they were sequels, though only in game play style. The game featured a style that was distinctive to Whitehead -- where the player can sit down and get close to a perfect score in only thirty seconds or so. "I was also accused of having a short attention span. And some of my games certainly show that. That was my style -- games that could take only a minute or so. But the game had to keep up my interest, if only for a short period of time. That's why they were filled with action." "We felt like we were pushing technology forward and at the same time, making games. It was very satisfying. But even though I enjoyed the challenge of programming, ultimately the motivation was the fans -- the gamers themselves. I kept asking myself, 'Is that guy enjoying the game?' In those early days we got fan mail all the time." In 1985 Whitehead left Activision to start Accolade, another video game company, with Al Miller, one of the other Activision founders. He designed two more sport games, Hardball and 4th and Inches for the Commodore 64, before becoming Accolade's Vice President of Product Development. "Game designing requires young minds and young bodies and you reach a point where you've done all you can do on the creative side." He recently retired and now lives in California with his wife and three children where he dedicates most of his time to charity.

Larry Miller's "Spider Fighter"

In addition to Spider Fighter, Larry Miller also designed the popular Activision racing game Enduro.

Dennis Koble on "Atlantis"

Dennis Koble was always fascinated with mystical places told about in ancient times. It is no wonder he created Atlantis, one of Imagic's best-selling Atari 2600 games. "It was the whole mythology aspect - Atlantis, the lost civilization under the ocean!" said Koble. Many people think that Cosmic Ark was simply a spin-off of the game Atlantis, but Koble denies this theory. "Cosmic Ark had a saucer in it, so at the last moment we added in the ship leaving Atlantis to tie in the two products." "Programming was the greatest challenge on the Atari VCS," said Koble. "Remember, this was back when a VCS was made of bailing wire and sticky tape. Everything was more a hardware issue than programming. It was a challenge just to get anything up on the screen!" With all of these obstacles facing him, he was still able to produce a game that sold well over one million units for Imagic. Dennis Koble began working for Atari in 1971, when he was hired as the third programmer in the 40-person company. "I started out working on coin-ops, then went on to hardware games like Touch Me (which was like Simon), eventually working up through the ranks to programming and managing Atari games. Atari then grew from a dinky company into a multi-million-dollar business. It eventually became very bureaucratic and not a lot of fun." In light of this, Koble attempted to start a smaller division of Atari in order to recapture the more pleasurable days of old. Unable to achieve this goal, he and eight other colleagues joined together to create Imagic. Imagic then expanded from a small business composed of nine individuals into a company of over 350 people, known for such games as Demon Attack and Riddle of the Sphinx, both of which have been acquired by Activision. Koble is known for his 40 to 50 coin-operated games including Sprint, Mini Golf and Stocker; Sega games such as Sonic Spinball, Hard Driver, Pit Fighter and Steel Talons; and computer games like the PGA Tour Golf series. Nowadays, Koble works at Polygames, a business he and his partner, Lee Actor, began about seven and a half years ago. He lives in the Bay Area and has a daughter.

Steve Cartwright on "Barnstorming"

One might wonder how the idea of Barnstorming ever came to the designer, Steve Cartwright. "It happened the first week I started Activision," said Cartwright. "On my way driving home, I saw a biplane with an advertisement banner." From this simple image, Cartwright set out to design a game where the player had to dodge geese and windmills, as well as fly through a set number of barns in the shortest time possible. With this idea in mind, he began programming Barnstorming and the rest is history! Like many Atari 2600 games of the period, Barnstorming had an extra feature that other games lacked - a sunset. Most games had fairly simple backgrounds at the time, with the line between the ground and sky nothing more than a straight line. "Barnstorming was the first game to use a sunset in the horizon." Although it appears to be a minuscule addition to the game, it was sometimes difficult to incorporate a lot of colors onto a screen at once. Not only was it a technical achievement, but it actually brought life to a screen that might otherwise be monotonous and lack-luster. Steve Cartwright entered into the video game business because of his acquaintance with one of Activision's original founders. "I had gone to college with David Crane. About one year after Activision started, the company was looking for a new programmer. There really weren't any professional programmers back then, since the video game industry was so young, so [David] said, 'Let's have one of my friends take the job'." From that beginning, Cartwright went on to design such games as Seaquest, MegaMania, Plaque Attack, Frostbite, Hacker, Hacker II and Aliens. In 1986, he left Activision to join Accolade with Alan Miller and Bob Whitehead. While there, he worked on titles like Fast Break, Search for the King and Lost in L.A., before moving over to Electronic Arts. Since joining EA, he has helped design the Mutant League series and NBA Live '95, and produced PGA Tour Golf 486. He is currently a producer at Electronic Arts and lives in the Bay Area with his wife.

Matthew Hubbard on "Dolphin"

Being an animal lover, Matthew Hubbard could not resist making a game called Dolphin about his favorite cetacean. "When I was a kid, I loved studying the animal kingdom, and whales and dolphins especially," said Hubbard. "When I started at Activision, the first thing I did was animate a dolphin and ask if they could recognize it. Obviously, they could, and I went forward from there. . . I tried to include the coolest aspect of dolphin behavior - sonar. I wanted to give sound clues that would help the player know where the next entrance was. It seems primitive now - heck, it was primitive then! - but it is one of the first important audio clues in the history of video games. In some ways, this is the great-grandfather of games like Myst." Although this correlation may seem a stretch to some, many games do have their roots in Atari 2600 games. Like many games of the Atari era, Dolphin had its own particular innovation that set it apart from other games of the time - object size. Generally, objects that represented the players and targets were small blocky shapes. However, Hubbard did not want to be restricted by such conventions. "The Dolphin and the Monster are among the biggest free-ranging objects ever put in a 2600 game. I admit to having some problem getting the 'kernal' to work properly, and I would like to thank Bob Whitehead (whom I acknowledged in the original notes) for finding a better way to do what I was trying to do." This use of a large player and foe gives Dolphin a unique look among the other 2600 games. Matthew Hubbard started out in the video game industry in 1980 working for Atari. He moved on to join Activision in 1982, eventually leaving two years later. Over the years, he has worked at several well-known companies, such as LucasArts and Electronic Arts, and has put out various games, including Defenders of Dynatron City, Road Rash II and Ballz. Hubbard is currently working at Northstar Studios and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

David Crane on "Dragster"

David Crane, one of the most well-known Atari 2600 game designers, created Activision's first Atari 2600 title, Dragster, mainly due to programming achievements. "Many games came about because of the development of new technology," said Crane." Dragster was a culmination of things. Before it was made, games had two scores, one for each player on the left and right of the screen. The score characters were very big and blocky. Then we developed a high-resolution, six-digit score display. Dragster took this development one step further. I created an object from the new score display, converted it into graphics and was able to slide it across the screen. I then had to make the program code move in time with the object (the dragster). This breakthrough gave us the ability to do things that had never been done before! Of course, other companies went out, bought the game, and took the code for their own use." However, this technological development was not the only thing that made the game a hit. "The display was half the battle. The other half was to make the gameplay mechanics work as well. Games are often designed to be completed after 20 or more hours of gameplay. We created a compelling game that would hold interest for hours at a time, even though each game was finished in about six seconds. I remember one day back at the early computer shows, one of my fellow employee's sons, who was about 20, came up to me and pretended like he was going to kill me. Now this man was from an Italian family in Chicago, so . . . But I guess he had been kept up for three nights in a row playing Dragster and was not too happy about it." The addictive quality of the game probably explains why it sold over 500,000 copies and accounted for over half of Activision's first-year revenues. David Crane was one of the original founders of Activision, where he designed such hit games as Freeway, Laser Blast, Grand Prix, Pitfall!, Pitfall II, The Activision Decathlon and Ghostbusters. In 1987, he decided to leave the company and make a brand new start. He later joined Absolute Entertainment, a company founded by several other former Activision employees, where he is Vice President of Advanced Research and Development.

Larry Miller's "Enduro"

Larry Miller is known for designing the shoot 'em up Spider Fighter, as well as the racing game Enduro. He had a PhD in physics and was particularly fond of sailing, skiing and playing the piano. His current whereabouts are unknown.

Alan Miller on "Ice Hockey"

Many people are inspired by what they see on television, including Alan Miller. Living in California, Miller was not really exposed first-hand to the sport of ice hockey. However, seeing hockey players dash across the ice in attempts to score a goal on the TV screen was enough for him to decide to design the Atari 2600 game Ice Hockey. "I definitely wanted to put in the opportunity to knock your opponent down," said Miller. "Ice Hockey was an improved version of Tennis. I'm actually more proud of it than Tennis." There were several technical tricks Miller used to bring Ice Hockey together. "I employed an interesting trick where I made the 'missile' object (normally used as a bullet in most games) into the hockey players' stick in the programming. I moved the object horizontally and then changed its width." Another feat was to make the pants and shirts of both teams different colors, something more difficult to program than it may sound. The third trick was getting four players on the screen, instead of the typical two. Combining all these things together, he was able to create a sports game that is still exciting to play head-to-head. To this day, Miller has in his office the hockey mask that was used to make the Ice Hockey poster. In 1976, Alan Miller was looking for work in microprocessors when he happened to find a job at Atari. He made his first Atari game, Surround, in 1977. Like many former Atari employees, he left the company in order to start one of his own. Joining together with two of his colleagues, Miller became one of the founding members of Activision. His first game from the newly established company was Checkers. In late 1984, Miller left Activision to form Accolade with Bob Whitehead, another Activision co-founder. After 10 years at Accolade, he decided to move on and begin his third company, Trilium, a manufacturer of consumer electronics products. He is now President of Trilium and resides in California.

Gary Kitchen on "Keystone Kapers"

Sometimes the creation of one game inspires the development of another, as Garry Kitchen knows full well. "I had just finished designing the home version of Donkey Kong so my mindset was on a little man character running and jumping," said Kitchen. "Also, I wanted to do a game that was funny. The idea of a Keystone Kop chasing a Krook was both funny and supplied the player with a good guy/bad guy conflict." Using this scenario, Kitchen set out to create Keystone Kapers. In designing Keystone Kapers, there were two major obstacles that Kitchen had to deal with: the ROM size and the number of objects that could be displayed on a scan line of a TV screen. "The ROM size was extremely tight in this game. I probably spent the last month of development (out of five months) cutting bytes and packing the code to fit. It was probably the tightest fitting game cart I ever programmed." Kitchen also developed a new technique that allowed him to display two objects with multiple colors on the same TV scan line. "It wasn't the only game, or the first, with two multicolored objects per line, but the technique allowed some added flexibility in programming the display. I used the technique again later in future 2600 products." By overcoming these technical hurdles, Kitchen was able to produce a game that is fun and challenging to this day. As is the case in many games, there were things that Kitchen had hoped to include in the game that simply could not be done. "I've never had a game where every idea I wanted got in. At one point, Keystone had a really neat old- fashioned car parked in front of the department store as window dressing, but because of memory restraints I had to remove it. Early versions of the game had the Kop scaling the side of a vertically scrolling building, chasing the Krook, who was dropping objects down on [the Kop] - chairs, bowling balls, etc." After talking to David Crane, Kitchen decided to make it a side scrolling game like Pitfall!, since they felt it looked too much like Donkey Kong or Crazy Climber. One can only guess what other Atari 2600 games originally looked like before they were actually put out on the market! Some might say that Garry Kitchen entered into designing video games because it was the family business, since he and his two brothers were eventually all game designers. "My brothers Dan [Crackpots] and Steve [Space Shuttle] and I worked at a consulting firm doing consumer electronics engineering: clocks, calculators, etc. One day we came up with an electronic toy idea and, from that point on, concentrated all our efforts on entertainment. At the same time, Dan and I had bought very early versions of the Apple computer and were programming graphics and games on it in our spare time. When the 2600 became popular, we decided that it would be fun to write games for it." Kitchen is credited with creating Space Jockey (US Games) and Donkey Kong (Coleco) for the Atari 2600 VCS. In 1982, he joined Activision where he designed Keystone Kapers and Pressure Cooker. Kitchen left in 1986 to form Absolute Entertainment, where he is presently the Chairman, President and CEO(!). He currently is living in New Jersey and has "two wonderful little girls: Laurette, age 11, in the sixth grade; and Alyssa, age 6, in the first grade."

David Crane on "Laser Blast"

David Crane designed the game Laser Blast because of an emerging genre and a new technical innovation. "At the time, space games such as Space Invaders and Missile Command were very popular in the arcades. I don't know if I consciously noticed or not, but most of the games had the player defending his own planet. I wanted to have the player trying to reclaim his planet from invaders. The main inspiration for Laser Blast was the creation of a particular type of display that made possible what previously was not possible - the laser. At that time, things shot distinct shots across the screen, like the ball in Pong. I took one of the discrete dot objects, extended it, and moved it across the screen. Eventually, I used this 'laser' to create the vine in Pitfall!. Whereas the laser in Laser Blast had three angles, I was able to give the vine in Pitfall! infinite angles." As one can see, this one breakthrough led to the creation of not only Laser Blast, but also the top-selling Atari 2600 game Pitfall!. As many Atari 2600 game players remember, patches were given to people who sent in photos of their Activision games if they reached a certain score. In Laser Blast, there were two patches available, one for reaching 100,000 points and the other for reaching one million (at which point the score turned to exclamation points). "If a game was very quick, I would put in a game reset so you could just hit the joystick to the side to reset. The one thing I regret is not taking it out of this game." Apparently, Activision received many letters from saddened players who, upon reaching one million points, threw their joysticks down in victory . . . only to reset the game before they could take a picture of their score. Many a mother (and other family members) sent in sworn affidavits that their child had spent the whole day playing the game, reached the score, and accidentally reset the game before a photo could be taken. Activision was sympathetic to the letters and usually sent them a badge for achieving the score anyway. David Crane was one of the original founders of Activision where he designed such hit games as Freeway, Dragster, Grand Prix, Pitfall!, Pitfall II, The Activision Decathlon and Ghostbusters. In 1987, he decided to leave the company and make a brand new start. He later joined Absolute Entertainment, a company founded by several other former Activision employees, where he is Vice President of Advanced Research and Development.

Steve Cartwright on "MegaMania"

Space games were very popular at the time the Atari 2600 VCS was around, and Steve Cartwright definitely noticed this. When he set out to create MegaMania, he decided that he wanted to produce the ultimate game of that genre. "MegaMania is a combination of every space shoot 'em up rolled into one," said Cartwright. Not only did the game have hordes of alien spacecraft descending upon a lone ship, but coming from the sides of the screen as well! "Back then, games were released in pairs somewhat analogous to a hit single and its flip side. MegaMania was supposedly the hit single. And, while it did go on to sell over one million copies, the flip side, Pitfall!, went on to become not only the biggest selling game in Activision's history, but to create the most successful genre in gaming history." Steve Cartwright entered into the video game business because of his acquaintance with one of Activision's original founders. "I had gone to college with David Crane. About one year after Activision started, the company was looking for a new programmer. There really weren't any professional programmers back then, since the video game industry was so young, so [David] said, 'Let's have one of my friends take the job'." From that beginning, Cartwright went on to design such games as Barnstorming, Seaquest, Plaque Attack, Frostbite, Hacker, Hacker II and Aliens. In 1986, he left Activision to join Accolade with Alan Miller and Bob Whitehead. While there, he worked on titles like Fast Break, Search for the King and Lost in L.A., before moving over to Electronic Arts. Since joining EA, he has helped design the Mutant League series and NBA Live '95, and produced PGA Tour Golf 486. He is currently a producer at Electronic Arts and lives in the Bay Area with his wife.

Mike Lorenzen's "Oink!"

Mike Lorenzen was a member of Activision in 1982. He came into the company with a large background in video games and their design. Oink! was the first game Lorenzen made for Activision. His whereabouts are currently unknown.

Steve Cartwright on "Plaque Attack"

Although many games take years to reach consumers after going from conception to market, Steve Cartwright will tell you that Plaque Attack was not one of them. "There were actually several games that we were working on at the time that were not going to be coming out for a while and I was told I had two months to put one together. Normally, a game took six to nine months to make! So I basically took a lot of code from MegaMania and reworked it," said Cartwright. With this time constraint in mind, he set out to create a game that nine out of ten dentists would agree should be endorsed by the American Dental Association. Reflecting back on the game, Cartwright remembers a botched marketing plan that included a commercial for Plaque Attack. "It was the worst TV commercial ever done. It came right at the end of the wave of 2600 games and, in fact, I think it was never even shown on TV because it was so bad. The commercial was supposed to be a 30-second spot that had the tooth fairy show up in a boy's bedroom and promote the game. They spent more time trying to explain why the tooth fairy was in his room (as well as doing away with any moral implications), than talking about the game itself!" Despite the commercial, the game still went to market. Steve Cartwright entered into the video game business because of his acquaintance with one of Activision's original founders. "I had gone to college with David Crane. About one year after Activision started, the company was looking for a new programmer. There really weren't any professional programmers back then, since the video game industry was so young, so [David] said, 'Let's have one of my friends take the job'." From that beginning, Cartwright went on to design such games as Seaquest, MegaMania, Barnstorming, Frostbite, Hacker, Hacker II and Aliens. In 1986, he left Activision to join Accolade with Alan Miller and Bob Whitehead. While there, he worked on titles like Fast Break, Search for the King and Lost in L.A., before moving over to Electronic Arts. Since joining EA, he has helped design the Mutant League series and NBA Live '95, and produced PGA Tour Golf 486. He is currently a producer at Electronic Arts and lives in the Bay Area with his wife.

David Lubar on "River Raid II"

David Lubar was one of the few freelance programmers of the "Atari Age". One day he dropped by Absolute Entertainment, Inc. for some work on Atari 2600 games, since he loved to program for the Atari VCS. Activision had recently contracted Absolute to produce a new product for them, and Absolute decided Lubar was the man for the job. David Lubar was then given the almost impossible task of creating a sequel to the top-selling game River Raid. Although he had his apprehensions, he was able to produce a game with all the best elements of the original . . . and then some. "I knew that River Raid was such a legendary game," said Lubar, "that it would be difficult to fill the shoes I was given. All I was told was to make a River Raid with the plane taking off a carrier. Given the basic concept, Dan [Kitchen] and I would throw ideas back and forth." River Raid II was later born from this collaborative effort. One of the technical achievements in this game was the use of sprites. "We really pushed the machine close to its limits in trying to get the largest number of objects, variety of objects and variety of colors of the objects all on the screen at once." The results are evident in the game, which is packed full of air, sea and ground targets for the player to annihilate. David Lubar's first game was Worm War I, which he created in 1982. It was the first two-player cooperative game, and also the first to implement a game pause feature (by means of the black and white/color switch). He went on to design other Atari 2600 games such as Fantastic Voyage, Flash Gordon and Nexar, as well as Home Alone for the Gameboy. Lubar recently released a computer humor book entitled It's Not a Bug, It's a Feature, which contains various quotes that computer users are sure to enjoy. Presently, he is living in Pennsylvania with his wife and daughter ("who can play games better than I ever could!").

Bob Whitehead on "Skiing"

Everyone who played Bob Whitehead's Atari 2600 games knew what a sports fan he was. Boxing, Home Run and Football are all titles he put out for the Atari VCS. It's no wonder he also designed Skiing. "No, I was not an avid skier," said Whitehead. "It was a process of elimination where we sat down and decided what subject matter we hadn't taken advantage of. Saturday afternoon television was a great source of sports to choose from." Inspired by the "camera eye", Whitehead created a simple, yet addicting game. Whether or not Whitehead skied himself, Skiing is a game that combines all the elements of the sport into a very short game. "I think the style I wanted to use was one that gave the player a flavor of the real ski run. That's what I was really going for. I also wanted to make a game for those with a short attention span, yet it's one of those games where you can play it over and over again." Although some people accused Whitehead of having a reduced attention span himself, it didn't stop him from creating short games with hours of gameplay. Bob Whitehead entered into the business with a little help from a friend. "It was one of those things where I knew somebody who got me in. I had a friend who was a senior manager at Atari. I was one of the few guys who had been involved with microprocessors at the time and could program pretty well. He hired me on as one of the first Atari programmers, and the rest is history!" After working at Atari, Whitehead moved on to Activision. In 1985 he left to form Accolade with one of his co-workers, Alan Miller. Whitehead is now retired and resides in California with his wife and three children.

Bob Whitehead on "Stampede"

Bob Whitehead was a man known for making great sports games for the Atari 2600 VCS and, although some may disagree, a rodeo is a sporting event. Inspired by cowboys ridin' bucking broncos and ropin' steer, Whitehead designed the game Stampede. "I'm a sports fan and sports have always intrigued me. With Stampede, I said 'You know something, let's see if we can find some way of doing this.' I was able to put in all the things I wanted to and give it a unique look. Eventually it all came together." Fortunately for the game players, it came together as an exciting and fast-moving wild Western romp. Like many games of that era, Stampede was only made possible through technical tweaking that allowed a large variety of objects on the screen simultaneously. "Back in those days, a program took a lot of technical prowess. You wanted to try and see what you could pull out of the hardware. On Stampede we pushed the machine's ability to put multiple characters on the screen. If someone asked me which game I felt most proud of, Stampede would be at the top of my list." Bob Whitehead entered into the business with a little help from a friend. "It was one of those things where I knew somebody who got me in. I had a friend who was a senior manager at Atari. I was one of the few guys who had been involved with microprocessors at the time and could program pretty well. He hired me on as one of the first Atari programmers, and the rest is history!" After working at Atari, Whitehead moved on to Activision. In 1985 he left to form Accolade with one of his co-workers, Alan Miller. Whitehead is now retired and resides in California with his wife and three children.

Alan Miller on "Tennis"

Alan Miller had a true love for the game of tennis when he used to program Atari 2600 games. "Dave Crane and I played a lot of amateur tennis tournaments back then. In fact, I'm a lifetime member of the U.S. Tennis Association," said Miller. Using all his experience on the court, Miller was able to design the game Tennis with all the challenge and thrill of the actual game. "I wanted to create an atmosphere where the players felt like they were playing the real game, not just a representation." Unlike many games, the programming of Tennis had less to do with developing a trick no one else had done before, and more to do with adjusting gameplay to produce a realistic environment. "Creating the actual program was rather straight forward. It took more time to polish the game to make it feel like the real game." After playing the computer opponent for a couple of matches, one can see how much time Miller must have put into perfecting the opponent's "artificial intelligence". In 1976, Alan Miller was looking for work in microprocessors when he happened to find a job at Atari. He made his first Atari game, Surround, in 1977. Like many former Atari employees, he left the company in order to start one of his own. Joining together with two of his colleagues, Miller became one of the founding members of Activision. His first game from the newly established company was Checkers. In late 1984, Miller left Activision to form Accolade with Bob Whitehead, another Activision co-founder. After 10 years at Accolade, he decided to move on and begin his third company, Trilium, a manufacturer of consumer electronics products. He is now President of Trilium and resides in California.