Confessions of The Game Doctor

"Confessions of The Game Doctor"
by Bill Kunkel

Hi Steve, not sure if you remember me, but I'm Bill Kunkel. Arnie Katz (who did that Today Show with you) and I created ELECTRONIC GAMES magazine back in '81 (it qualifies as the first game zine -- we even made it into the timeline in TIME magazine last week). Anyway, I met you in Sunnyvale at Atari just as you were finishing off Championship/Pele Soccer. I am now writing my game-related memoirs "Confessions of The Game Doctor" for Rolenta Press and wondered if you'd take a look at the section of a chapter you appear in:

game doctorI never much cared for Atari's Adventure but I couldn't get enough of Superman and Championship (later Pele) Soccer on the 2600 (how about that fireworks display when you scored a goal was that awesome or what?).

Speaking of that Atari VCS Soccer game (Atari acquired the Pele license after the game had initially been released as Championship Soccer) brings to mind one of my favorite game designer stories from the early years. I was up at Atari at some point doing God only knows what when I wound up interviewing Steve Wright, one of the most delightful, creative guys who ever worked at Atari during the 2600 years.

Of course, back in those days, there were no individual designers, artists, programmers, sound fx guys and composers. In fact, on my first visit to Activision, David Crane assured me that there would never be such a diversity of talent involved in the creation of videogames because only a lone programmer (well, maybe an assistant to handle the small stuff) could work with such small amounts of memory and keep everything balanced. I knew he was wrong because somehow he seemed to have no idea that these systems would grow exponentially to the point where the creation of a single game would begin to rival the production of a motion picture.

Anyway, Steve was showing off his soccer game and I admitted to being blown away.

"I've never seen vertical scrolling on the 2600 before," I observed, causing a smile to break out across Steve's face.

"Funny you should mention that," he told me. "I'd been fiddling with the vertical scrolling for quite a while before I finally nailed it. So I went to one of the programmers upstairs and told him that I was doing a vertically scrolling soccer game on the 2600. He just shook his head. 'You can't do a vertical scroll on the 2600,' he informed me. 'The machine can't execute it.'

"I just smiled and said: 'Glad we didn't discuss this last month!' And I thought to myself how happy I was that I hadn't known I was attempting the impossible or I might never have accomplished it."

I discovered that there were two kinds of game creators in those days the guys who had a list of things you could do and couldn't do on the system for which you were developing and the guys who decided what they wanted to do and figured out a way to do it.

Like Steve Wright, our group decided we wanted to write about videogames and totally ignored the voices of experience who assured us that nobody wanted to read about Pong machines. What could you say about a bunch of bleeps and bloops and stair-step lines? And besides, there weren't enough games to write about.

- Bill Kunkel
Excerpt from "Confessions of The Game Doctor"