When John Salwitz [co-creator of coin-op classic Paperboy] left Atari, he had a T-shirt made saying ‘Golden Boy’ and gave it me as a parting gift,” Ed Logg says, grinning. “I think he started that. And when I was at Tengen, I was heading to my first CES and they said I needed a business card. They asked what I wanted as my job title and I said I didn’t care. A producer, Howard Lehr, suggested ‘Super Duper Game Guy’. I said, ‘Fine.’”
Monikers to be proud of, indeed, but then when you’ve created Atari’s bestselling coin-op, Asteroids, along with such iconic titles as Gauntlet and Centipede, they are perhaps to be expected.
It didn’t start out like that, though. When Logg joined Atari in 1978, he was assigned to a project already in development, Dirt Bike, and later joined the team working on Wolf Pack, an ambitious submarine commander game featuring a hulking periscope you could rotate 360 degrees. Neither went into production. After all that, did he ever wonder whether he’d made a mistake getting into the fledging world of videogame development?
“Oh, I had no doubt I’d made the right decision,” he says today. “You make something and it doesn’t always work. Games can look good on paper but you take them to the public and they don’t always like them.”
Logg’s early games were literally drafted on paper, such was the state of game development in those frontier days, but he stayed in the videogame business through the next three decades, producing dozens of titles for both the arcade and home consoles. In 2012, he was presented with the Pioneer Award by The Academy Of Interactive Arts & Sciences. Here, he takes us on a journey that begins in Sunnyvale, CA among piles of paper tape.
Developer/publisher Atari, Inc Format Arcade Release 1978
I remember playing the original Breakout at a pizza parlour in San Jose when it came out [in 1976]. I thought it was really fun and I put quite a few quarters in. A few years later, when I was at Atari, I was talking to Owen Rubin, one of the programmers, over lunch and he said Nolan [Bushnell – co-founder of Atari] suggested he do an update of Breakout, with multiple balls and so on. I said, ‘I can do that!’
Back then, we were using 6502 processors and we had a black box which we fed paper tape into. That loaded code into memory and simulated the EPROM. You wrote up your program on paper and gave your listing, with instructions to make any changes you needed, to some gals in the office who would type it up on a PDP system. They’d give you a new printout and paper tape after a few hours and you could feed that back into your box. That meant I had time between making the changes and when I got the new listing back, so I ping-ponged between Dirt Bike and Super Breakout.
The original Breakout was all done in TTL [discrete logic] so there was no code to look at and I didn’t have any notes from [Breakout project manager] Al Alcorn or anyone else about the algorithm for the ball angle or the speed. I wrote it in 6502 Assembler from scratch and tried to mimic it as best I could.
I came up with six different versions and I remember I had versions with side collision which didn’t make it into production. They picked three to use in the final game and the most popular was Progressive. I think it was because of the anticipation of the bricks getting closer and closer and then there was that moment when you got the ball between two layers of bricks and it was ping-ponging around, racking up the points. That was very satisfying.
It was good to have a successful game out there. I could tell when I was playing Progressive it was going to be a winner. And when I saw Arkanoid years later, I thought, ‘My God, I should’ve done that!’”
Developer/publisher Atari, Inc Format Arcade Release 1979
Asteroids really started with a conversation I had with [Atari head of engineering] Lyle Rains. We’d both played a game being made by [Atari engineer] John Ray’s team and we’d both done the same thing. There was a large asteroid in the middle of the screen and you had your ship, so you shot at it – everyone who played the game did. But it didn’t do anything! Lyle said, ‘What if the asteroid blew up?’
I said, ‘OK, what if it split into smaller and smaller parts, because then you bring in some strategy?’ You’re OK with a few big asteroids but if you have tons of smaller ones, that’s chaos. And I knew I needed something to stop you just sitting in one place, doing nothing, so that’s why I put in the saucers, to shoot at you.
Lyle wanted me to do it in raster but those screens were 320x240. I’d already done the alphanumeric [font] for Lunar Lander so I was familiar with the X-Y monitor we had at the time and knew it was 1024x768, so it was umpteen times better. I’d also played Spacewar! back at the Stanford AI lab [when I was in college] and really wanted that higher resolution. A lot of the inspiration came from Spacewar!
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