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.
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?
I thought it was a cool name when I found it in the dictionary
--- no vowels --- really different.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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?
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...).
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
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.
You have founded almost 20 distinct companies. Which endeavors
have been the most enjoyable and rewarding, not financially, but
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
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?
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.
Nolan Bushnell's Entire Biography