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Everything posted by jerryd

  1. Atari forum, A side project given to Lloyd Warman was building some arcades to be installed in shopping centers around northern Cal. These were probably part of the Atari "Leisure-Time Game Center". Lloyd asked me if I wanted to help with this project. I accepted and recruited a couple of the best workers from the model shop. We rented a large empty warehouse on Scott Blvd and got together all the tools we needed. The sequence was we would get the address of the rented space, go there and take very accurate measurements of it's dimensions. Back at the warehouse we would use tape to lay out the exact floor dimensions and build the arcade. It would consist of many Atari games but in custom made cabinets. We had the services of Atari's art department and also full access to Atari's parts department. We built all the custom cabinets right in the warehouse and had custom fiber glass bezels made at a local shop. These cabinets didn't look anything like the games that were shipped from Atari but the electronics inside were the same. We had to make our own front panels, wire harnesses and then assemble everything but we were all old hands at this. We even added some pin ball machines to the mix. We made all the decorations for the arcades and in one we put 4x8 sheets of mirrored plexiglass on the ceiling. For another we built a kiosk for a four player driving game. Somehow LLoyd was able to get the electronics which had been developed at Kee games. We built a small arcade in a few weeks but the larger ones took months. When we finished one we would rent trucks, disassemble everything, load it all into the trucks, drive to the space, re-assemble and install everything. When we got it all done and working we just locked up the arcade and left. Over a several month period we build and installed several arcades. About half way through building the last one Lloyd asked if he could come to my house that night to talk about future ventures. He arrived around 7PM and we sat and talked at my dining room table for enough hours to consume an entire bottle of Tia Maria and a small bottle of gin. I'm pretty sure he stayed the night in my spare bedroom. He asked me all kinds of questions about my education, past jobs and we even talked politics. He must have heard what he wanted because he eventually told me he was moving back to Vancouver Canada, where his mother still lived, to start a new company possibly making video games and he wanted me to come with him. I couldn't answer just then because I had to talk to my wife who had long since retired for the night. When I got up in the morning Lloyd was already gone. I told my wife about his proposal and she was all for it so we talked to a realtor about selling our house and started the processes of getting passports and applying for immigration. Several weeks later Lloyd and I flew up to Vancouver and stayed at his mother's house. We spent a few days driving around the area with no real goal in mind. By the time we flew back to California I realized that he didn't have any concrete plans for starting up a company so I backed out. When we finished the last arcade we closed down the warehouse and me and the guys I had recruited from the model shop went back to Atari. Lloyd moved to Canada. I had been gone from Atari for most of a year and lots of changes had taken place. Since all of Key Games had been integrated into Atari production was moved to the building on Martin Ave in Santa Clara. I went over there to see what was going on and as I was walking around I saw Nolan in the hall and he asked me "how do you like your new diggs?". I wouldn't be there for long. The next day I went back to the Los Gatos building to see if they needed me there. Steve Bristow, who I knew quite well, was now the VP of engineering and there was most of a new crew in the lab. Many of the people I had known had gotten caught in the cross fire between Atari and Kee Games and the place just didn't feel the same. Steve offered me a position where I would do a final inspection of the prototype games made in the engineering lab and maybe I could do something in the model shop. I got the feeling that he didn't want me actually working in the lab. I told him I would look around for something else to do. On the way out I saw an org chart on a board in someone's office and of course Nolan's name was in the box at the very top and there was a line going off to the right to another box with my name in it above everyone else. Nolan had transferred me to his "department" a couple years earlier. I immediately knew this was going to be a BIG problem. I went back to the building on Martin Ave and just wandered around and helped out for a couple of weeks when Steve Bristow came by and said they really couldn't find a place for me. I knew that meant that I was now in the cross fire and that was my last day at Atari. It had been an exciting time working in a virgin industry with people like Nolan Bushnell, Steve Jobs and Ron Wayne and my time there is still one of my favorite memories but it was time to move on. Of course in the long run, as is often the case, it was the best thing that could have happened. Atari had moved on from me and I was anxious to get back into the electronics end of things. After all this was Silicon Valley. As I mentioned in another post that just before I retired I called Nolan and we had a nice talk about the "old days". I also called Lloyd Warman and am currently working on an unrelated project with Ron Wayne. It was a pleasure to share my stories on a site that's dedicated to the history of Atari. I hope they provided some insight to the early days of this unique company. Jerryd
  2. Atari forum, There came a time when Al ALcorn had other things he wanted to do at Atari so he hired Lloyd Warman to take his place as the VP of engineering. Lloyd had been an EE at Ampex so he would often become involved in hardware design and debug. When we were making some version of "Cocktail Pong" there was an assembly problem on the production floor. I happened to be standing near him when he heard about it and he asked me to go with him to look at the problem. There was some part that wasn't mounted good enough. Someone suggested that we glue it and I said bad idea because glue will get all over and it's never a good idea to use glue in a production environment. I volunteered to design a bracket to fix it. On the way back to the lab Lloyd said "you will be my troubleshooter". He and I got along very well at work and socially. We would go out to dinner and visit each others houses. I got to know his wife and kids and he got to know mine. It was typical that a game company would only qualify one distributor in each city. But crafty Nolan Bushnell set up a separate game company called "Kee Games" that seemingly had no connection to Atari. It was run by Joe Keenan a neighbor of Nolan. The "unqualified" distributors were more than happy to buy games from Kee thinking they were "sticking it" to Atari. One day someone showed me an article in the paper that revealed the fact that Kee Games was actually a wholly owned subsidiary of Atari so there was no reason to keep the two companies separate so Kee Games was shut down and many of their managers and engineers came to Atari. After a heated meeting one day with managers from both Atari and Kee Games Lloyd told me someone from Kee Games fired one of Atari's managers. Lloyd had attempted to defend the fired manager but the same person from Kee turned to him and said "you're fired too". Lloyd went to Nolan Bushnell later that day and complained that there was no reason for him to have been fired. Nolan agreed and said he had a side project that Lloyd could do until he found a new job. Next post: BUILDING ARCADES Jerryd
  3. Atari forum, You probably know that Ron Wayne was a founding member of Apple Computer. In fact if you look him up on the Internet he is called "The Fifth Beatle of Apple". He and Steve Jobs worked together in the Atari engineering lab. If you want to know his story you should get his book "Adventures of an Apple Founder". One day Al Alcorn came into the lab and showed us a resume he had received. It was from a man who designed pin ball and slot machines. We all kind of snickered but Al said "I'm going to hire him because he will have a different outlook about games". A couple of weeks later Ron Wayne showed up in his signature sport coat, short sleeved white shirt, tie and slightly gray crew hair cut. He was probably about 40 at the time. Being the "older guys" he and I struck up a friendship. He asked me what I did and when I told him I make the prototype games he suggested that we work as a team where he would make the drawings and I would make the parts. I agreed. For a new game we would start with about 10 possible shapes for the side panels of the arcade cabinet drawn by our art department. Then we would have a meeting, which Nolan Bushnell attended, and try to pick one. This is where I learned that deciding things by committee didn't work. We could get it down to 2 or 3 and Nolan would pick one and that was it, meeting over. Ron would go to work on his drafting board and after a few days start feeding me drawings for parts to make in the model shop. Ron eventually took on the task of selecting the shape of the cabinet sides. One time when I was trying to assemble a game cabinet there was an interference problem. I showed it to Ron and he said "it just proves the physics principal that no 2 solid objects can occupy the same space at the same time". His comment rekindled my interested in physics which is still alive today. After that I often bugged him for more "pearls of wisdom" about physics. A game that Ron and I worked on together was Gran Trak 10, the first driving game. But due to some electronic design problems and miscalculation of the cost of manufacturing it was not one of Atari's instant financial winners although it eventually became a huge success. Later I think I made the cabinet for Gran Trak 20 which was a 2 player version. When the prototype of "Gran Trak 10" was done we spent a few days checking it out and then I put it in my station wagon on a Friday afternoon and took it to Rooster T. Feathers. It's a sports bar on El Camino Real in San Jose. I think it's still there. Atari had a deal with them where we could put a game in there for a few days and split the take. Al Alcorn had done a similar thing at Tapp's Tavern with one of the early Pong games and got a call late at night complaining that it was broken. When he got there he saw that the coin box was overflowing and the quarters had jammed the coin acceptor. He knew they had a winner. I came back later that evening and there was a line of people waiting to play Gran Trak 10. I got in line and when I started to play a lot of people gathered around to watch me use the gas pedal, shift lever, brake and steering to skid around the corners. After all I had been playing it for weeks. I emptied the coin box before I left, came back twice on Saturday to empty it again and picked it up on Sunday. The management wasn't too happy to see it go. The game shown in the advertising flyer for Gran Trak 10 on Wikipedia is the original prototype designed by Ron Wayne, built by me in the model shop, taken to Rooster T. Feathers and ended up in Bushnell's office. Ron eventually became a very important part of the Atari team. Besides being a design engineer he invented and implemented a complete part numbering and stocking system, moved into marketing and traveled all over the world qualifying video game distributors and was tasked with preparing an analysis of what it would take to produce a new generation of pin ball machines. Ron and I have recently reconnected after 40+ years and are working on a project together. It has nothing to do with video games, slot machines or pin ball machines. Jerryd
  4. Atari forum, There was kind of a celebration in the lab one day when Nolan came in and told us that he had been awarded a patent for a "Video Image Positioning Control System for Amusement Device." He said "this makes Atari the official originator of the video game". The only video games being made in those days were the large arcade type and Atari sometimes shipped up to 100 a day. Every single one contained a TV. There were no monitors then so we might receive 100 televisions every day. We had a department called "TV MOD" where the picture tube and it's chassis were removed from the plastic case which was thrown in a large dumpster. We eventually got a crusher to compress the plastic cases. The chassis was then modified to accept the composite sync signal. TV mod was just one guy who wore his complete band uniform, including high hat and shoulder Epaulettes, to work every day. He had an area against one wall about 15 X 30 feet, and began to surrounded himself with gray metal shelves. After he had put shelves all around his area he covered the back of them with the cardboard from the TV boxes. When that was done he used a black felt tip marker to draw brick shapes on all the cardboard. He had left an opening to get in and out and even that had cardboard doors with a cardboard spire on the top. The whole thing looked just like a castle. We eventually had to take it all down because we suspected there was some dealing going on in the castle. We had a bomb scare one time where we all filed out into the parking lot. While the building was being searched there were a lot of parties going on in Volkswagen buses. Nothing was ever found but there were rumors that it was an excuse for NARCS to conduct a search. It was the 70's in California. One summer the air conditioning went out and it couldn't be fixed for some time. Nolan Bushnell came out to the production floor with his bull horn and announced that we would leave the large loading doors open, install some fans and that everyone could wear whatever they wanted. The only exception was the people who were soldering had to have a towel on their lap. The next day all the young girls wore bikinis. The air conditioner was fixed in record time much to the dismay of many of the young guys. I see there is a picture of Nolan with his pipe tagged on the end of one of administrator Justin's posts. We remodeled Nolan's office one time and put a large vent over his desk for all the pipe smoke. I can still smell it now. Jerryd
  5. Atari forum, One time Al Alcorn came into the lab and introduced a new engineer dressed in a toga and sandals named Steve Jobs. He must have been about 19. Like me he didn't seem to have a specific job for the first few weeks and just hung around the lab. Then he started working on "Breakout". Sometimes he would take his pad and go down to the local park for hours. I think he came out to lunch with us a few times but he wasn't very social. His bench was right next to mine but he was different and a tough person to get to know and get along with. Nolan Bushnell would often talk to us about his plan to get video games into people's homes using their televisions which eventually happened with the 2600. This could have sparked some of Steve's ideas. I know he asked Nolan to back him financially with his plan to start a company and build a computer but Nolan wasn't interested. I went to see Steve years later when he was trying to get "Next" computer up and going. As soon as I walked in he said "I don't have any jobs available". I told him I wasn't looking for a job and started to talk about the old days at Atari but he just wanted to talk about what he was into now and where he thought it was going. He was always marketing his new ideas. Many years later I was working for a company that was supplying some test equipment to Apple and I was loaned out to them for over a year. I worked in Apple's Milpitas building. I ran into Steve a couple of times but we didn't have much in common. I was working there during the big earthquake that stopped the world series in 1989. It was an "earthquake proof" building so is rocked and rolled the whole time with almost no damage. Steve ultimately proved to be one of the best marketers ever. I'm glad to have known him. Jerryd
  6. lance, In those days we didn't use microprocessors so the games were all hardware and no software. Jerryd
  7. Atari forum, One of the games I worked on was Qwak!. It was a duck shooting game and I don't recall if I made the original cabinet but Al Alcorn called me into his office one day to talk about the gun used to shoot the ducks. He had found a source for the rifle stocks in Mexico and knowing I had once been a machinist asked me to fly down there to check it out to see if they could supply up to 100 per day. I had never done anything like this before but it was Al Alcorn asking so I boarded a plane at the San Jose airport a couple days later carrying a rifle stock wrapped in brown paper. I had to change planes in LAX for a plane to Lindbergh field in San Diego. When I put the stock through the xray machine the operator motioned to a guard who came over, and with gun drawn, ordered me "up against the wall". Apparently they didn't like me bringing a gun onto their plane. I explained what it was, what I was doing and showed them my Atari badge. They unwrapped the stock and inspected it for several minutes and sent me on my way. From San Diego I drove a rent-a-car across the border to the wood shop which wasn't much more than a barn with a dirt floor. There were 10-12 tracer lathes all running and all producing the same part. There were boxes and boxes of finished parts stacked around the barn. The man who owned the shop spoke perfect English, took the stock I had, set it up in one of the tracer lathes and made one in a few minutes. I knew they could supply all we needed. I left the stock there not wanting to get put "up against the wall" on the way back. After that the gun became my project. All the electrical engineering had been done but I worked on the cable harness, holster and a method of securing it to the cabinet so it wouldn't get stolen. When that was done I got the game ready for production. Qwak! only sold about 250 units even though it was a good game. When a duck was shot out of the air it spun down to the bottom of the screen and a dog would run along the bottom, grab the dead duck and drag it off the screen. I heard one time that the biggest complaint was that the player couldn't shoot the dog. Jerryd
  8. RickR, I don't have any pictures from those days but you can type in GRAN TRAK 10 and go to Wikipedia. There is a picture of the flyer made for that game. I'm in the fire suit and the girl is a secretary, I think her name is karen. The article mentions that "it was initially sold to distributors at a loss". My contribution to that problem was to have the door, door frame and coin slot made at a local sheet metal shop for about 1/2 of what we had been paying for it. Jerryd
  9. Atari forum, Nolan Bushnell was about 30 at the time and a fun, interesting, charismatic guy. The kind of person who, when he walked into a room everyone would stop and look in his direction. He would often ride his bike to work and enter the plant back by the loading doors. Then he would wheel his bike all the way through the assembly area to his office. My wife, kids and I were at a restaurant in San Jose one Saturday morning when Nolan walked in. We invited him over and he ate breakfast with us. He knew my kids because I often brought them with me when I went into work on weekends. My kids were quite young, maybe 4 or 5, when they first started to come with me. I would put a chair in front of the games for them to stand on and show them how to trip the coin acceptor switch to start the game. They had the run of the building and must have thought it was a magical place. At one point we expanded Nolan's office and when I was finished with a game prototype I would put it the expanded part so I spent a lot of time in his office. After a while it looked like his own private arcade. He liked it because he had managed an arcade while he was in college. He wanted to teach me the Japanese game of Go but we never got around to it. When I was in there one day I told him I was trying to buy my first house. He immediately said "I can't give you any money but I can give you a raise". "You will have to transfer to my department and get your pay checks from accounts payable". This was fine with me and actually nothing really changed as far as me working in the lab and reporting to my boss Don. Being in the same department as Nolan would eventually prove to be a big problem for me. On Halloween Nolan would wear a pig costume and walk around in it all day. It was pink suit, kind of like the one Ralphie got for Christmas in the movie "A Christmas Story", Nolan's also had and plastic pig head. One year for his birthday we wanted to get him a large stuffed animal that looked like a pig but could only find one that looked a little bit like Mickey mouse. It was almost 4 feet tall and stood up. Nolan liked it and named him "Chuck". He put it in the hall right outside his office door. Sometime later Nolan told me he was going to start a new venture, not video games, and wanted me to be part of it. I said "I'm in" and that was the last I heard about it. He would go off sailing for months at a time, he actually won some races to Hawaii, and I eventually left Atari. I walked into a restaurant a few years later and saw Nolan and Joe Keenan at a table. I sat with them and Nolan said "you could have been part of this". It was "Chuck e Cheese". Over the years I would run into him at electronic shows and other events and he was always the same bigger than life guy. When I retired, many years later, I called him up and we had a nice long talk about "the old days". I forgot to ask him if he still had "Chuck". Sorry to post these like short stories but I'm trying to keep them in chronological order and I'm also trying to remember them as accurately as possible. Jerryd
  10. Atari forum, My boss in the lab was Don and the first thing he did was put a small aluminum box on my desk and said "see what you can do with this". It was about 4 X 4 X 2 inches, had an on/off switch on the side and a panel on the top with 4 leds and 4 buttons. It was the first prototype for the "Touch Me" game, the forerunner of "Simon". I played it all day. It wasn't a very successful game but we had an arcade size prototype in the lab and we would play it as a 4 player game. Each player was assigned to a button and as the game progressed everyone would forget when it was their time to press their button. It was a hilarious. Later that week I attended an in house class that taught all new engineers the circuity used in Pong, concentrating on the composite sync signal. I think the instructor's name was Mac. I had a basic understanding of electronics including integrated circuits and transistors but much of this was new to me. On the wall in the classroom was a clock that was upside down, the face was a mirror image and it ran back words. I thought "welcome to Atari" which was starting out to be different than any other place I had ever worked. After the class I was pretty much left alone to figure out where I could best contribute to the success of this amazing company. The production floor at Atari similar to most. It was a large open area with a flow solder machine and pc board assembly on one end and final assembly for the cabinets on the other end. There were probably about 100 people working in that area. During break time the final assembly workers played foosball on a machine set up in their area. On the final assembly end of the building there was a model shop run by a guy named Holly. He had 5 or 6 young men working for him making parts for the game currently in production. In the shop there was a lathe, milling machine, router, thermal forming machine, table saw, etc. Most of this equipment was very familiar to me because I had been a machinist at one time. Holly and I struck up an instant friendship and I had the run of the shop. There was a large fish tank in the lobby made of inch thick plexiglass. I later learned that it was made in this shop. With all this equipment available to me I convinced my boss that I could build the cabinet, mount the TV, make the wire harness, install the coin handling, and basically make the first complete prototype for any new game. I would just need help with the graphics on the cabinet because I have no art gene. This became my function but it didn't make our mechanical designers or draftsmen very happy because when I completed a prototype game I would put it next to their drawing board and have then measure what I made and make drawings. There was no thinking or creativity left for them to do. I'll post more as I try to recall events from over 40 years ago. Thanks for viewing. Jerryd
  11. Atari forum, I don't know how many people check this site but if there are some views I will post some stories about when I worked at Atari in the very early days. Here's how I got hired. In 1973 I found an ad in the San Jose Mercury News want ad section for a production job at Atari. I didn't know what they did but the ad mentioned soldering and wiring and I had electronics training in the Navy. I went to the factory in Los Gatos and got an interview right away. The lady doing the interview said that before we got too far along she wanted to show me the production floor to see if I could work in that environment. On the way I saw my first Pong game in the hallway. It had just gone out of production. As we toured the plant I could see why some people might not feel comfortable working here. At the time I was 30 and most of the workers were much younger than me and many were dressed like hippies. They were making "Gotcha". At one end of the production floor there was a large sign that read "SUB ASS" short for sub assembly. On the other end there was a moving assembly line for final assembly. It all looked exciting to me. Back in her office she asked me a lot of questions and at one point said "I think I'm going to have you talk to our VP of engineering, Al Alcorn". His office was down at the far end of the building right outside the engineering lab. He was an imposing figure who I instantly realized was very sure of himself and very into his job. He saw on my resume that I had worked at a small start up company, there was a lot of them in those days, so he was very proud to tell me how he was Atari's first engineer when it was just a start up. We had something in common. We talked start ups for a while and then he drew some circuits on his black board, yes it was a black board not a white board. I stumbled my way through that, he showed me around the lab and offered me a job. I started the next day. If there is much interest I will post more. Thanks, Jerryd
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