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Q&A w/ Howard Scott Warshaw


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Is July 30th marked in your calendar? It should be. July 30th is Howard Scott Warshaw Day! Not only is it HSW's birthday, it's a day to celebrate the works of one of Atari's most prolific game designers. To celebrate, we're posting an interesting Q&A video with HSW.


If you're unfamiliar with Howard Scott Warshaw, he's quite a fascinating dude. The one-time Atari programmer turned "Silicon Valley Therapist", oft-referred to simply as "HSW", comes across as a renaissance man and raconteur, deeply genuine and having earned the "legend" title. HSW has been responsible for some of the 2600's best selling and most culturally significant titles including Yars' Revenge, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, and Raiders Of The Lost Ark. An unfinished game, Saboteur, was released at Philly Classic 5 in 2004. It seems like there's always a great backstory to be told about the creation of HSW's games. Not to mention the quotes about Spielberg. HSW is featured as the protagonist in the upcoming documentary Atari: Game Over.


Warshaw is fascinating to listen to. He's chock-full of random bits of knowledge and openly shares his story with passion. One such storytelling took place at the Philadelphia Airport Hilton in Philadelphia, PA on June 28th, 1997. Filmed at the 1997 Electronicon Show and made available on YouTube by Scott Stilphen, HSW shares his amazing story of life at Atari, discusses his video "Once Upon Atari", and answers questions from the crowd. Some interesting highlights include:



  • Programmers spoke in terms of working titles. Time Freeze was Yars' Revenge and Kings in the Corner was Warlords.
  • HSW: "To me there is no game without a storyboard."
  • Yars' Revenge was intended to be the first of a Yars' Trilogy. The next game would've been Yarian Olympics.
  • HSW was in the car smoking a joint with Steve Wright when they came up with the Swordquest idea.
  • Yars' Revenge almost became an arcade game designed by Dave Theurer.
  • Yars' was the first game with a full-screen explosion, first with a death animation, first to allow start by pressing the fire button which became an Atari programming standard, and became the largest-selling original game for the 2600.
  • The guy who was the head of the VCS department tried to kill Yars' Revenge. Nobody really knows why.
  • All three of HSW's games are bestsellers - all are in the Top 20, and they've all sold over a million copies.
  • Atari's marketing dept. on making a game for women: "Can't you do, like, a shopping cart?"
  • Money. Lots and lots and lots of money. "Hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars."
  • Security had orders to keep everyone, including the police, away from the game designers. They were allowed to do anything they wanted.
  • Jack Tramiel chatting with HSW: "Your wife works? She should be at home in the slippers waiting for you when you get home."


Part 1 of 5 is shown below. The entire playlist can be seen on the Blog here: http://www.atari.io/?p=1891





Scott Stilphen's interview with Howard Scott Warshaw is still available at 2600 Connection and can be found here: http://www.2600connection.com/interviews/howard_scott_warshaw/interview_howard_scott_warshaw.html
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Fascinating fellow indeed, what a legacy and great work he did for Atari! I would go mad over all the crap pushed on E.T. all these years and maybe even more so today lol, personally I loved the game (along with Raiders of the Lost Ark) and got them upon initial release, sure those games through me for a loop being used to pick up and play library of the 2600 but you know once I dug into the instructions and being the stubborn fellow I was I found I was soon enjoying the challenge and did indeed manage to get our little alien friend home and completing Raiders? Man I felt like I was Indy himself! So while many go on and on about how supposedly bad these games were I have nothing but fond happy memories that I would not trade for anything, I think the challenges of E.T. and Raiders taught me early on that games could be tough, even brutal but persistence paid off and was very satisfying and rewarding.  THANKS HSW ! 

I am Rob aka MaximumRD aka OldSchoolRetroGamer and THIS is my world http://about.me/maximumrd

"For you, the day Bison graced your village was the most important day of your life. But for me, it was Tuesday."

 - M. Bison

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