Sometimes that amazing crossing of paths happens and you just get so excited that you have to jump on it. That opportunity came for our publisher, Ryan Burger at CES this past year when he ran into Tyler Bushnell who is working to make his place in the gaming industry just like his Dad, Nolan Bushnell did 40+ years ago (Check out PolyCade.Com for more information on what Tyler is doing). What follows is the first part of a 2 part interview done by Old School Gamer with Nolan Bushnell with thanks to Tyler Bushnell.
OSG: Our readers would like to hear some early stories from Syzygy to Atari. Perhaps a nugget or two that hasn’t been rehashed again and again in the history books. Your time in school, working at the Lagoon Amusement Park, that kind of stuff. What was your inspiration?
NOLAN: I feel like I was probably the only guy who was both an engineer and a carnie. My amusement park experience was in early college from 1963 to 1968. I went from actually working on the midway to being a department manager for three years.
I’ve always considered my management time as my MBA. It was “hard knocks”, because I was managing 150 kids: hiring, training, firing. I managed merchandise percentages, labor costs, the whole thing. I was essentially running a $3.5 million business, or $12 million run rate, because it was $3.5 million over a summer, a four-month summer!
Inside, I had a couple of kids who reported to me. They gave me the understanding of the economics behind the coin operated games business. That knowledge was really instrumental in being able to create the first coin-op video game, because I knew the math. I knew what it had to become.
OSG: You understood what the operators were pushing. At that time, they were mostly dealing with pinball and jukeboxes. Money wise, giving half of the proceeds to the venue, keeping half of it – the whole shuffle.
NOLAN: The whole nine yards.
OSG: Okay. So how did that transition from seeing Steve Russel’s Spacewar and inquiring, “Hey, this could be something more than just what geeky engineers do”? If I could simplify it…?”
NOLAN: Only if I could drop the cost. When I was playing Spacewar it was on a $500,000 computer! Clearly the math on that didn’t work. I knew there had to be a different way. Following graduation, I worked at Ampex and honed my digital skills – my understanding of how to create digital circuitry, digital timers, and others. All of a sudden it all fell together, giving me the skillset that I needed to build Atari’s first game, Computer Space.
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