Ed Logg Interview

Ed Logg is legendary in the industry, having created the classic Asteroids, Centipede (with Dona Bailey), Millipede, Gauntlet, Xybots, the list goes on. Recently, Ed is working under contract with Atari Games, having ported over Wayne Gretsky Hockey, and San Francisco Rush 1 & 2 to the N64. Read on!

 

What led you to Atari? Was game design a desire of yours or did you just kind of "fall" into it?

Actually I am a programmer by trade and I have always done games on the side up until I joined Atari in 1978. I had been doing games in high school starting around 1964 or so. Of course, my games were limited to checkers, chess, slot machines, etc. Later I was doing games on the side while at Control Data Corp. Atari Games was just across the street and when a friend suggested that I consider interviewing it sounded like a good idea. Little did I know the effect this would have on my life and for that matter the world.

Name some of the first few games you did. Did you do any games that were unreleased or unfinished? What are some examples?

My first few games were Super Breakout (1978), Video Pinball (1978-1979), Atari Football (not the original by Mike Albaugh but the sequel kit and the 4 player version) and then came Asteroids (1979). Centipede came later in 1981.

As a general rule almost 50% of the coin operated games do not make it to production. So I have had many games fail and some of which I killed myself. When I first started at Atari I worked on a game called Dirt Bike which had been started by Dennis Koble. In any case it earned so-so at the arcades. Not enough to make it to production but not poor enough to be true failure either.

What was the design process like at Atari? How did a game go from idea to finished product? Where did the concepts come from?

Several games had different "design processes". Asteroids was suggested to me by the VP of Engineering Lyle Rains. So I [did] that without any formal process. Centipede was an idea that came from a brainstorming session Atari would have every year. The 2600 version of Othello I did on the side until my boss caught me at work once making the final changes before it went into production. Tetris for the NES came when I saw the game on an Atari ST. I told the management we "had" to license this game for the console market. All of my games come with their own story.

In general, the company tries to have a "concept approval" which means approving the type of game. This would be followed by an initiation which would outline all the specifics like hardware, personnel, and dates. There would be several reviews over the course of a year (and now much longer) before we have a focus group. Field tests would be the untimate test. This is where we would place a product in an arcade or street location to see how well it earned. Finally there would be manufacturing phase.

What were the development systems like then?

We have had several different development systems. The original method was the "black box". We would write down our code on paper and it would be entered into a PDP by our high speed typists. We would get back a listing and a paper tape. We would then read the tape into the "black box" which would allow us to debug in a primitive fashion.

Later came the "blue box". Of course we were not using paper tape any longer. This was another Atari designed development system.

Later we came to use Xterms connected to a VAX. We had our own compiler and assembler from the old days which we carried forward.

Now we use PC's or SGI's rather than dedicated systems for compiling and debugging. Our systems are highly networked to get data from the artists and other programmers.

Were there any interesting tricks or tweak that were added to Asteroids during it's development that made it more interesting? Anything that was removed?

Actually Asteroids had very few changes from the vision I originally had for it. I did make one small change that had a major effect on the game play. Originally the saucers would enter the screen and shoot immediately. People felt that this was unfair because you often did not even hear the warning before a shot was on it's way. I added a small delay before thay took their first shot. Of course, all the players that use the "lurking" method to play indefinitely would not have been able to do so without this "fix".

Actually come to think of it, there was another issue. The monitor had a "spot killer" which was a piece of circuitry that prevented the electron beam from burning a hole in the phospor of the tube. I added the copyright message at the bottom of the screen to keep the spot killer from turning off the beam. On some monitors, you might see the screen fade away when there is only one rock and it comes near the center of the screen. So now you know...

Who did the code modifications for Asteroids Deluxe? Did you have any input into this?

Asteroids Deluxe was done by Dave Shepperd, who is still at Atari by the way. I did not have any input into this game other than the original code he worked from.

How did you handle the big video game crash of the 80's? Any thoughts of moving on to something more stable when it occurred?

The big "crash" refers more to the consumer side of the business than the CoinOp. The CoinOp market had a slump too but that happens in all industries. I kept working on games trying to find some magical "killer app".

I worked on Millipede which was a great success. The laser disks started in late 1983 so I tried Road Runner on the video disk. Of course the fall of the laser disk games killed that idea. Management asked me to port Road Runner to standard video hardware. I told them I had a better game in mind. That is where Gauntlet came in.

Gauntlet was the first arcade game of it's kind when it was released in 1984. It seemed to be inspired by some of the computer games that were available at that time. How did the design evolve as you worked on it?

Actually I think Gauntlet was released in 1985 (NOTE:Oops! And I thought I knew my history!).

Remember, at the time DND was the rage. There was also a game called Dandy which had a major influence on me. Out of those two concepts came the game Gauntlet.

Xybots was another game that seemed inspired by computer games. Any sticky technical problems designing the "3d" interface?

Actually there were several sticky issues. We had no 3D hardware. We had no bit map hardware (ala Robotron) either. This game was done on a hardware that had 8x8 stamps for the background. The monsters and shots were done with motion objects which had been around since 1977. So the trick was to build a maze just using these 8x8 stamps.

As time went on, you evolved with the technology, always keeping up with the lastest advances (i.e. Steel Talons, Space Lords). What keeps you working in game design, despite the polarized genres? What do you enjoy most about game design?

As I said earlier, I am a programmer by trade. So I look forward to a good challenge on the programming side. I also love creating things and playing games, so I look for something creative that sounds fun to play. I happen to be very skilled at running a project too.

What is some of your recent work?

Most recently I have been working on the Nintendo 64. I have turned out Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey, San Francisco Rush and Rush 2 in the past three years.

Are there any old Atari alumni still with Atari Games?

Yes, there most certainly are. Unfortunately, I am probably one of the last of the old timers still doing games. Most of the others are in management (like Dan Van Elderen the President Of Atari Games) or on other technical assignments (like Mike Albaugh and Dave Shepperd).

Any recent games that have impressed you? Do you play any recent PC or console games?

Actually, there are a lot of games that look and play very good. Although I rarely have time to play anything for the past three years.

Do you have any of your arcade games in your possession at home?

Actually I have several games at home. My wife owned Asteroids before she even met me (that is another great story). I also own several of the original prototypes: Centipede (caberet cabinet), Asteroids, Millipede, Maze Invaders (one of only two in the world), Gauntlet, and Super Breakout. I also own a Robotron (one of my favorite games) and a caberet Tempest.

 

Thanx Ed!!!!!