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Transcript from Rusty Dawe chat at Coinopspace.com

Just this past month we had yet another arcade game legend stop by Coinopspace for a live chat with pinball and arcade enthusiasts alike. Russel ‘Rusty’ Dawe spent over two hours reminiscing and sharing some stories about his time at Atari. Over his ten year tenure, Rusty helped develop a whole slew of well known arcade games. A number of interesting items came out, like where to find easter eggs in a number of his games and the real story behind Firefox’s dubious appearance at the AMOA.

Russel 'Rusty' Dawe Live Chat at Coinopspace.com

Here is the formatted version of that transcript. You can view the raw chat log with Rusty at Coinopspace.com. I have taken the information relevant to our conversation with Rusty Dawe and formatted it so that the arcade history is more easy to pick out. The original chat was over 17 pages so paring this down was imperative for anyone serious about reading 🙂

Rusty Dawe – Questions and Answers

Finding information about Rusty and his career at Atari wasn’t all that difficult. Rusty worked at Atari for over ten years, and maintains a personal website that touches on that tenure. However, I didn’t see any previous interviews with Rusty, and as the chat extended to the two hour mark it came out that this was one of the first times Rusty has gotten to share about his experiences at Atari.

As always, thank you to all that came by and asked some interesting questions and were respectful of our guest. Again, for simplicity stake, all questions will be asked by Coinopspace and all answers are by, of course, Rusty Dawe.

Coinopspace
What was the reason that Accelerator never saw the light of day? I heard that it might have been a budget issue at the time.

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
No, it was not a budget issue. The game was really fun to play as long as you had two people who were about evenly matched. Dennis Harper, the other developer (who went on to do Toobin’, and others) and I had some fabulous times playing the game. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t as much fun alone, or with someone who was radically different level.

Coinopspace
So, it didn’t test well then?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Accelerator tested just “ok”, but at that point, due to the financial issues, all games really needed to be stellar to get into production.

Coinopspace
How many test locations was it on?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
It was in just one location. We never made more than one of them. We did a lot of work to try to equalize the levels (if you were too far ahead, “bad things happened”, etc, put in more jump pads for the behind player, etc., but just not compelling enough unless you were head-to-head.

Coinopspace
You know where that one is right Rusty? Scott Evans currently has it; he’s bringing it to California Extreme this year.

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Very cool. Had a lot of fun doing the game, even though it never made it.

Coinopspace
Did you put any Easter eggs in any of your games, such as your name, initials, or hidden messages?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Oh yeah, let’s see… Well, Cloak & Dagger had all the hidden teleporters… Not quite easter eggs, but a start. Paperboy has many things show up if you hit hidden targets (the submarine periscope, gopher, etc.) In Race Driven’, if you crash off the cliff in a certain way, you may see the designers initials in the sky . Very rare though. You have to roll the car to see the sky, so it isn’t easy or obvious. We weren’t supposed to put in easter eggs back then that weren’t directly connected to the game play.

Coinopspace
The hut, was that the name of a hang out? In Race Drivin’, the small building behind a house has a sign that says “The Hut” on it

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Ah, no, I believe that it got that name from the artist who created it – it looked like a hut… I could be wrong here though – long time ago and far, far away

Coinopspace
Any other easter eggs in any other titles you worked on?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Not really…

Coinopspace
You receive a ‘special thanks’ on the credits screen in 720°. What was your involvement with that game?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
I was only peripherally involved with 720, but it was otherwise the same team that did Paperboy (which I was much involved with). Still, I helped out with some of the design issues and a couple of game play sequence issues, plus was one of the patsy skateboarders who got banged up on our half-pipe we built in the warehouse . I created the motion-object engine used by 720 and a batch of other titles that came out then, too.

Coinopspace
Rusty, there are random blue flags that pop up in Skate City and award the player points. Are those in fact ‘random’ or are they based on something else? (i.e. your previous skate park performance, etc.) It’s been a topic of much debate.

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
They are NOT random. They were placed there carefully by Dave Ralston. (Who did that playfield, along with Paperboy) However, the timing of when they show up is hidden deep in the recesses of his and John Salwitz’s (the programmer) devious minds.

Coinopspace
Of the titles you worked to create do you have a favorite?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Well, I really liked Agent X / Cloak & Dagger. But very close is Paperboy. Certainly, for me, Paperboy was the financial winner . But C&D was lots of fun to create both technically, and game-wise.

Coinopspace
What was the relationship like with Universal when you were the main point of contact for Cloak and Dagger? Were you really just there to play the game and nothing else?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
It was a fabulous relationship between us. They came looking for a “spy game” and we had Agent X already well along in development. The two were a nice match, so the royalty scheme didn’t favor either company. We sent them a cabinet and when I went down I worked closely with the editor of the movie, who was my “escort” the whole time.

We discussed everything from syntax used in the move (the word “tape” was already recorded and so couldn’t be replaced with ‘cartridge’ for example) to how credits could be done with a game motif. (like flashing on/off/on, etc.)

I was the one who actually plays the game in the film, though it looks a lot like the boy is playing. That was tough! I had to play on the cabinet, but they removed the monitor so that it could be filmed. The monitor was down and to the right of where I was standing, not in front! Try to get the world’s high score that way!

Not only that, but the movie frame rate is 24hz, the game is 30hz. So, if you closely watch the movie, you’ll notice the action is a bit slow, and the sounds a bit low. We put in the “Final scene” in C&D with the secret stolen plans, just so they could film it for the movie. Course, it didn’t do the game any harm either. I had a blast the week I was at Universal, got to wander over most of the lot at will.

Coinopspace
Did you see anything of note on the Universal lot?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Not too much, except for Dabny Colman and … Thomas filming a couple of scenes. There wasn’t much happening there at that moment. On the other hand, my trip to Mexico to talk with the Dune staff (incl. David Lynch & Rapheala) for a game we didn’t do was full of stuff. But that is another story .

Coinopspace
Do you currently own any games? If so which ones?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
I owned 13 titles when I left Atari, but I’ve moved 5 times since and dropped a couple with each move . I’m now down to a sit-down Star Wars, a prototype Paperboy, and one I didn’t do – A “signed” Ted Nugent pinball (that sees ALOT of play). Actually, so does the Paperboy.

My daughter (12) holds the world record (unofficial) for all three roads on that. When she’s 13, I’ll submit a video so it’ll be legit. Every time I’ve beaten her, she just comes back and thrashes me again. She’s found at least 3 easter eggs I didn’t even know were there.

I miss my C&D, and Roadblasters, out of the ones I sold off.

Coinopspace
Which ones?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
There’s a gopher on hard way that comes to mind. Have to ride next to a house to get it. It’s hard to get out without losing a life though.

Coinopspace
If you were designing a coin op game today, what genre would you like to work in? Also would you make it a button masher like most are today or would you keep it a little more linear like the classics?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
I’d do a good driving sim (I enjoy those) that involved the need for some stunt work (jumping bridges, etc.) if there was a good theme to go along, like a “Bond racer” or some such – or something that had humor and strategy as a part. The Dune game I proposed but didn’t do comes to mind.

It actually would have had you try to become “prescient”, to know the future, by giving you subtle hints and highlighting the colors of these differently so you would look on the screen in a special way. It would be cool with today’s graphics. No button masher, no intense violence, no shoot-em-up. Humor and strategy – that is what I like. The story, the graphics, the fun are the thing!

I spent a lot of time after Atari doing social on-line environments. Taught me a lot about interaction when you have a limited “tool set”. I think I could do some fun games again these days. Too bad the money aspect isn’t there like back in the day.

Coinopspace
How old were you when you worked at Atari?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
I was 29 when I joined Atari, left there when I was 39. Most fun job I ever had! It was a great group of guys (& girls) to work with.

Coinopspace
I know the plan for the System II cabinet was to have more than just 2 games become available for it. Were there any other games besides Paperboy and Championship Sprint on the drawing board for that cab before it was deemed that there wouldn’t be anymore?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Not really. They turned Paperboy into a System II only because they couldn’t get many pre-sales. Paperboy tested uniquely for a video game. Most games do spectacular for a week or two then drop off. Paperboy started at a mid-level and never dropped off. But it was hard to convince the arcade owners it was a win proposition. By turning it into a “system” game, they thought they could make a better sales pitch.

Championship Sprint was the solution to doing another game on it to satisfy the folks who bought a system game that it really was a system. Supersprint used the same processor and basic technology, so the conversion was relatively easy. Of course, Atari made out like a bandit with Paperboy. It was the only game they ever did a profit share on with the arcade owners (Let us put this in your arcade, we share profits 50-50, you never have to buy it). Because it never fell off in its revenue, Atari made more than 10x as much as they would have if they’d sold them outright! That is trusting in your own market research!

Coinopspace
Not a bad model for certain games. I didn’t know it was a profit share title.

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
The only one. Need to be very picky there.

Coinopspace
I bet the distributors were not happy with that

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Those owners who didn’t want them anymore after awhile returned them and those were turned into Championship Sprint. No, the distributors were not pleased, but then, had they sold them, we wouldn’t have done that!

Coinopspace
Any other awesome insights into Paperboy and its history?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Well, Paperboy almost never saw the light of day. I took over as project leader when I first became a manager for Atari, and it was scheduled to die based on the previous project lead. We changed it to a humorous game instead of a “psycho” game, worked well.

Coinopspace
I’ve heard rumors that Atari had considered making Indiana Jones a laser disc game. Since you worked on Temple of doom I’m wondering if you had any info on this or had even heard of this? If there is any truth to the rumor do you have any clue what stage of development this got to?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
That one is news to me as well, heard about it first here. Sorry, no insight to add there.

Coinopspace
My favorite System 1 game is Indiana Jones. What was your involvement on the game? Was anything dropped? Any bugs or easter eggs? Did you know anything about the laserdisc version?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Again, for Temple of Doom, I did the motion object driver (quadrupling or more the number of items the game could display). Had fun with it though!

Coinopspace
What game do you really love but would like to own?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
My favorite game I’d LIKE to have – Robotron 2084.

Coinopspace
Cloak & Dagger was inspired by Robotron, correct?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Yes, C&D was my salute to Robotron — lots of stuff moving around, the dual-joystick controls; have to be very “zen” to play it. Very tough! I believe I have a set of original side panels from C&D, but I can’t bloody find ’em right now. Buried in the basement somewhere, I’m guessing.

Coinopspace
Were the cabinet sides really drawn with marker directly on the cabinet? Or hand drawn?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
No, they would run off these printouts on these monstrous decals that were the size of the cabinet. They were hand drawn and colored by our art staff, like all the other artwork. However, they were going for a certain “style” that made it look that way. Solid colors, blocked shapes, etc.

Coinopspace
What is the reason you went with the crystal castles cab for C&D instead of an original design?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
That was the production staff’s call. I was more interested in the audio quality, etc. and wasn’t too critical of the cabinet for that game, anyway.

The Crystals Castles cab worked, and besides, we were only doing a pre-prod run of 20. So, we used what was on hand.

Coinopspace
How hard was it to bring I, Robot to market what with all its hardware complexity and the technological “1sts” it brought to the table?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Atari held 3 patents on that technology. It had the first large-scale custom ICs, it had two “quad-pokeys” — a new way of getting more sound effects in, challenging! Not only that, the market was going through one of its cycles which is always a tough time for innovation.

Coinopspace
What are your thoughts on (Atari’s) Batman?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Well, I thought it was pretty weak. They were being rushed to get it out and some of the more subtle game play features never made it in, and the graphics were also rushed. The team did an amazing job considering the timeframe. Most games took 12-18 months. Batman took 6.

There were going to be additional goodies to pick up that would let you fly, etc. There was a whole scene that never made it with aerial stunts. Kelly and Norm did Batman (also SuperSprint, Vindicators). They were a good team.

Coinopspace
Ah, we have heard similar things in the past 5-6 chats, those darn licenses.

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Yup, license issues.

Coinopspace
We might have already covered this in the Robotron reference, but, what is your “holy grail” arcade machine if you could only own one?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Yup, Robotron. I really got into that game. Had an ongoing challenge with another developer and we really got deep into that game.

I have a top score around 3M, stopped moving the eyes – just kind of blank stared and moved the controls. Amazing.

Coinopspace
Did you work on Marble Madness II: Marble Man at all?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Nope, Marble Madness II happened after I left. Not sure if that was only being done to support the home market, either. Some games like Paperboy II were done for that. Mark Cerny did Marble. Fabulous designer. Really brilliant.

Coinopspace
I didn’t understand the gap in release btw Marble Madness 1 & 2.

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Me neither. I was there at least 5 years after Marble and it never came up as something to do seriously (almost all games get talked about a little that way).

Coinopspace
Do you have any crazy late night Atari stories similar to Eugene Jarvis’s wild parties and game creation sessions?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Hehehe. Well, have you heard the Firefox team’s version of what went down before the show yet?

They had a very cool proto cabinet that looked like the Firefox fighter cabinet, but they were having serious issues getting the laserdisc to behave. So they sent the cabinet on to San Antonio with the hardware while the team stayed behind to finish programming. However, even with a multi-day 24 hours non-stop effort, they still didn’t have it done, so Warner sent their private jet to wait for them in San Jose to bring the ROMs.

But, they still didn’t get it (even after calling in some of the rest of us from other projects to help — which IMHO only made things worse )… Planes can’t take off from San Jose after 11, so they moved the jet to Oakland.

The team still wasn’t done at 4am and the show opened at 10am, so they stole the EPROM programmer and PAL programmers from the chip lab, took all their computers, hardware, etc. and got on the plane. On the way, they called ahead for pizza to Albuquerque where the plane landed and picked it up for them and met ’em on the runway. Calling ahead for pizza from the plane is a classic.

Got to the show before it opened, but still couldn’t get it to work right. They went one day, then two, then the whole show with this incredible cabinet that people got to sit in BUT NO GAME. It was a huge success. The rest of us decided we didn’t need to do games anymore!

Let’s see, then there was the Pole Position rehab for me. I was playing that one in the lab after hours A LOT! Had it very wired, held record on every track in the labs. So, with Pole Position, after playing for about 3 hours one night, I drove home. At that time I was driving a Porsche 924S… I only lived about 3 miles away, BUT here I am on Montague Expressway and there is an “S” curve with two cars sitting on it.

It was identical to the PP setup on one of its curves – speed limit of 50 with 3 lanes. Shot between the two cars and was going 140 when I came out the other side. Zipped through the signal (green, thank god) and realized what I’d done. Needless to say, no more Pole Position for me for awhile, had to do some rehab! Also fortunately, no cops in the area. Kept telling myself after that “This is NOT Pole Position!”

Coinopspace
Did you come up with the idea for the game play of Rampart? It’s pretty inventive; many have described it as Missile Command meets Tetris.

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Ah, Loved Rampart. It was actually a takeoff on a game we were playing in the labs at the time (much simpler game, and not the same, but had the “lobbing” effect). When the ships were added, it really took off – another Salwitz / Ralston creation. But I would say I certainly had a piece of that one too, as I was living in that lab for awhile.

In a way, you could say it was inspired in part by the old 2600 Game Warlords. The multi-player action was what we were after that Warlords gave.
That, plus the old 800 games Mule and Archon still get play in our house.
Thought about linking (the two games) them. About a year ahead of being able to do it easily, though.

Coinopspace
Did you design more than 6 levels for Marble Madness, and just ended up using 6 because of RAM limitations?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Time limitations more than anything else, had to button it up and sell it.

Coinopspace
How long did it take to make a level of Marble Madness?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Well the first one took 6 months to figure out the physics and game play devices we could use. After that, about 1-2 months each. I believe there were 12 that had been designed. I remember a black hole obstacle that didn’t get used.

We had also recently gotten the Yamaha music chip to use (and I programmed to add to the RPM sound board), so our audio group was going wild with it (Marble Madness and Paperboy being two of the first to use it). RPM = Rusty’s Pokey Music (which later became the defacto standard all Atari music/sound effects. RPM was a predecessor to MIDI. Would have used MIDI if it had been around .

Coinopspace
What happened to the unfinished Marble Madness levels? Is it something somebody has copies of the code still? Were the other levels playable / finished?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Marble Madness was Mark Cerny’s baby. I was Project Lead for about the first half or so of its lifecycle (Mark became his own lead at that point as I was getting bogged down with I Robot, Paperboy, and others).

He would have the answer to that, but I believe that a couple of levels were in production but never finished, and the rest just jotted down as potentials.

I seem to remember one level having been mostly done, but was nearly unplayable by most folks, so it was canned in the interest of time and playability, both – “expert only” level if there ever was one.

Part of the problem of Marble Madness (besides keeping the two players in sync) was that it was SO easy to make it too hard.

Coinopspace
Mark Cerny has come up on my radar as someone we might try to get, maybe we’ll make more of a push now.

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Ask him about “Quack” .

Coinopspace
Do you wish you could’ve worked under Nolan (Bushnell)?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Hehe. Not really a big issue, would have been okay with that too. His legacy lived on with the Arcade group for years. Though, I think they were “mostly” more responsible after his departure . We still had many recreational moments, so-to-speak.

I was at Stanford nearby when Nolan did his first Pong, played it at the local bar in fact.

Coinopspace
How was it to work with Dave Theurer on I, Robot, and also, who were some of your favorite people to work with during your 10 year tenure?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
I loved working with Dave – he was very serious about his work but still had fun. Dennis Harper and I collaborated on a couple (like Accelerator) and I really liked working with him. John Salwitz and Dave Ralston and I teamed up for a couple – lots of fun. I’d have to say I enjoyed nearly everyone there I worked with. All of ’em were talented, a bit whacked (a good thing), and enjoyed it.

Ed Logg is another that comes to mind. Had a lot of games of Spaceward Ho over our local intranet with him .

Coinopspace
Did you know the head of the Atari graphic department, George Opperman, at all before his tragic passing in 1985?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Yes, worked with him on several titles including C&D, really had an eye for color and style. He left his mark on almost all the early Atari arcade titles.

Coinopspace
Did George have a huge team to work with or was the dept. more close-knit?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
He had between 5-8 really talented folks. Between them they turned out incredible work, game graphics, marketing graphics, sales brochures… Did any of you see the “R” rated Centipede poster?

It’s an incredible art poster. They made 10k of them but got cold feet about putting ’em in the game as a promotion and ended up destroying all but a couple hundred that they game to engineering and other staff.

Coinopspace
The rumor is that girl worked in the HR dept. at Atari, that true?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Heard that about the girl too, not sure if it’s true.

Coinopspace
Any tricks or hidden stuff on Toobin’? What role did you have in creating it?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Toobin’ was Dennis Harpers baby. My role was (again) supplying the motion object driver, but also to play test and help suggest some game play fixes/mods to help in certain situations that could cause players to get stuck. Dennis and I had just come off doing Accelerator, so were still good game-playing buds.

I remember that there ARE easter eggs in Toobin’, but couldn’t tell you where they are or even what they are anymore, been awhile since I last played it.

Coinopspace
Were there other ideas for the controls? Or was it always a buttons-only plan?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
We tried a couple controls in the lab – trackball being a fav, but the buttons lent a certain panic to the game that played (and tested) well.

Coinopspace
Talk about the Atari key club concept that never came to be.

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
That was marketing’s idea to try to get repeat play. C&D was a game that they felt it could be applied to that was currently approaching production, so we fixed up one cabinet with it to give it a try.

Coinopspace
How did it work though?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
It was basically a flash PROM stick — could hold a whopping 1k of memory. (or was that 256 bytes).

Either way, it showed promise, but not for a game like C&D so much. It would have been better tested on a role-playing type game, or something that you really needed multiple sessions on to complete.

Coinopspace
Shouldn’t need too much (memory), right? And the player would by it and bring it with them, plug it into the front of the game or something?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Yup, it allowed the player to save their current state of the game. They gave away a bunch of keys to players at that Arcade. About 1 in 10 actually used it. Gauntlet or any adventure based game would have been good. Even Tempest could have used it!

Coinopspace
How much would they have cost? (Either wholesale for Atari or for the consumer?)

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
They were about $30 for the reader and about $3 per key. Today it’d be about $10 for the reader and pennies for the key.

Coinopspace
I would have thought more expensive, interesting.

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
They were planning to let the individual arcade owners sell/give away the keys. That (price) was “in bulk”. The test reader we used was close to $100. Keys were about $3.75

Coinopspace
What was the Atari parts dept like?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Candyland! Loved to wander through there. Picked up old controls, cover plates, you-name it that was in their scrap piles. An amazing set of rows and shelves. Have a bowling-ball sized trackball still out in the garage from there .

Coinopspace
Rusty, can you dispel the myth of 500 I,Robot(s) being dumped into the Pacific Ocean?

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
Not true. Total myth. I would have LIKED to dump about 500 I Robot controls into the Pacific – they were a nightmare, but that didn’t’ happen either. We were using the Hall Effect.
We had an arcade in Seattle we were testing and it was playing itself sometimes! Turned out the arcade was next to a scrap yard with a monster crane magnet – was playing the game from 100 yards away! Turned out the control needed to be separately grounded (and shielded) to the PC board. All the production controls that used the hall-effect did that after that test.

Not sure which arcade, but we kept exchanging controls with them for months and never found the problem until they explained where they were located. Finally, the mechanical group just grounded the SH*T out of it and it started to work.

Coinopspace
Twin Galaxies will want to go thru your Paperboy with a fine tooth comb!

Breighton (Rusty) Dawe
No problem, maybe they can find the intermittent loose chip I’ve got .

Coinopspace
Just wanted to say thank you for inviting me to your chat! This has been great fun. This is the first time after all these years I’ve been able to chat about these games. Thank you all! Enjoyed your questions and feedback. Rare chance to connect with like-minded folks .

Look for my daughter come November to hold the Paperboy records, she really is an ace at it. I enjoyed it. Bye all!

Thank you Rusty for all your creative contributions to a great hobby. Over the years I am sure there have been many requests made for your time and questions repeatedly asked about the history of these games. We just appreciate that you are still so accessible and willing to talk about the past and keep this hobby alive and going. If you liked this chat, you might also check out the transcript from our chat with Data East programmer John Carpenter.

The next creator chat is with Warren Davis (Creator of Q*Bert), on June 27, 2009 from 2-3 EST. Don’t miss it. RSVP at Coinopspace.com or on the Coinopspace.com Facebook page.

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