Allan Alcorn is a one of the wizards of Atari and one of the fathers of the video game industry. Back in the early 1970s, he got together with Nolan Bushnell to create coin-operated video games, such as an arcade version of the early game Spacewar! Bushnell asked Alcorn to make a simple ping pong game, a version of the Magnavox Odyssey’s tennis game, under a contract from General Electric.
The contract didn’t actually exist, as it was just a training exercise. But Alcorn was convinced he had to do a good job on the game. He started in June, 1972, and it took him three months. He had to figure out how to get the score digits to work. When it was done, Bushnell thought it played well. They decided to put it in a cabinet and mount a coin box on it. They put it into Andy Capps’ Tavern in Sunnyvale, Calif. The game’s coin box filled up over and over again, and they knew they had a big hit.
Now that video games are a $21 billion industry in the U.S., Alcorn said, “It wasn’t my intention. I’m just as surprised as the next guy.”
Back then, Atari was able to take a lot of risks. With 200-person teams, it’s too risky to try to experiment. Alcorn says that when you have a big team, you have to know what you’re doing and you have to play it safe. That eliminates a lot of experimentation. Still, Alcorn says that if developers focus on creating a new kind of game, they might get lucky.
We caught up with him at the opening of the Revolution exhibit at the Computer History Museum today. Check out our video interview with Alcorn below. Revolution opens in Mountain View, Calif., on Jan. 13.