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INTERVIEW
Nolan Bushnell


Nolan Bushnell, CEO and founder uWink.com, Inc. is best known for bringing "PONG," Atari Corporation and Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theater to the masses, and is justifiably revered as the "Father of the Video Game Industry."


MT> Rumor has it that you once destroyed the family garage in an explosion. What is the REAL truth behind the story?
NB> I was working on a liquid fuel rocket engine. The main fuel tank broke and sprayed alcohol all over and the whole garage became a ball of fire. Thankfully it just flashed and nothing other than some papers actually ignited after the flash.

MT> The dictionary describes Syzygy as, "The nearly straight line configuration of three celestial bodies (as the sun, moon, and earth during a solar or lunar eclipse) in a gravitational system." Originally, you had wanted to name your game company Syzygy. Why?
NB> I thought it was a cool name when I found it in the dictionary --- no vowels --- really different.

MT> The second name that you chose for your company was based off the Chinese game, Go, which is now dominantly a Japanese game. 'Atari' was used as an announcement that an opposing unit has only one liberty, that one's group (of one or more stones) is in immediate danger of being captured. Why Go? Why Atari?
NB> I love the game "GO," am an avid player even now, and I thought Atari was a good warning to the competition in the gaming industry.

MT> When you hired Al Alcorn, you misled him in believing that you had a contract with General Electric. What was Al's reaction when he discovered the truth? Do you think that the sudden success of Atari effected his reaction?
NB> He really didn't seem to care since the game was a huge success. Had it not been, then maybe the reaction would have been different.

MT> Atari named many of its projects after female employees. Was this your idea, and what ever happened to Darlene, the employee that the pong project was named after?
NB> We were all young, it was the '70s it seemed like the right thing to do. I think it was actually started by the engineering dept. --- not by me.

MT> You once stated, "Can anyone really envision the year 2000 without robots running around the home?" Sadly, this has still not arrived. However, you once ventured into building electronic pets and servants. Androbot products, such as TOPO and BOB, did not fare very well at the time. However, today virtual pets have become a fad with the arrival of Tamagotchi, Furby, and the coming robotic products by both Sega and Sony. Why do you think that products such as TOPO failed then, and current similar products are succeeding now? Do you think that it has to do with the year 2000 finally arriving?
NB> The computing power in those days was very primitive and power problems were huge (remember, there were no laptops then). The cost of technology was a lot different then as well --- much more expensive. The technology is now closer to being available and financially feasible to making robots a more commonplace occurrence in our everyday lives.

MT> You have eight children. It is obvious that family life is important to you. Was that a major factor with creating Chuck E. Cheese, and do your children actively play electronic games?
NB> It played a bit of a part when creating Chuck E. Cheese (however, at that point in time, most of my children were just a gleam in my eye --- they were either not old enough to play or not here yet), but the more dominant factor was that in those days there wasn't a friendly environment for children where they could play video games. Mostly just arcades and bowling alleys for the older crowd. It seemed a good fit to start Pizza Time and have another outlet to place Atari games. All of my children are avid game players. My youngest kids started on computers when they were 18 months old.


MT> You once created a device called Video Music, which was an organ that connected to the television and made pleasing images. Similar ideas have been used within modern cd-rom based consoles such as the 3DO, Playstation, and most notably, the Atari Jaguar CD Virtual Light Machine. Basically pushing controller buttons instead of organ keys, and taking data from a music cd. Why do you think that your pioneering ideas still have life to them?
NB> We did a lot of amazing things that are still viewed as being cool today --- some retro, some with a whole new twist. Some of them will have life again (stay tuned...).

MT> Since you helped birth the industry, and have been involved so actively within the field since it's conception, you must have numerous stories to bestow. Please share a memorable game-related anecdote?
NB> One day we were testing driving games at work, and when I got into my car to drive home later that day, I found that I instinctively drove the same way. Since I lived up a canyon at the time, taking the corners in 4 wheel drifts was something that seemed normal. Then I realized that if I went over the edge I could not just hit the "new game" button. It was a strange blending of the world of simulation with the world of reality.

MT> You have founded almost 20 distinct companies. Which endeavors have been the most enjoyable and rewarding, not financially, but personally fulfilling?
NB> Each company represented a new learning experience. It is very hard to choose. It is almost like when your kids ask you, "Which of us do you like the best?" and you respond, "I love you all the same."

MT> Your business ventures have sent you all over the world. Where have you felt most amazed and how does that locale compare to your hometown of Clearfield, Utah?
NB> I remember being in Spain driving up a dirt road to a walled town on the top of a hill. I felt like I was perhaps the first American to ever go there. Then I walked into the cafe and one of my games was there. It was very shocking.


Read Nolan Bushnell's Entire Biography



Good Deal Games would like to thank Nolan Bushnell for his major part in creating
our favorite hobby, and for the hours of joy he has brought to our families and friends.


Visit Nolan Bushnell's uWink.com to learn more about his current ventures.

A BIG thank you to Loni Reeder of uWink for her help and pleasantries.

 

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