You were designing games before all the hype and developer worship. What made you get into it?
I became aware of videogames when I was working as an assembly-language programmer for microprocessors in Cadillac engines at a GM-Delco plant in Santa Barbara, CA. My best friend was very into new music, and he played the first Pretenders’ album constantly. That album had an instrumental song called “Space Invaders” on it. I didn’t typically like instrumentals, but I heard that one so much, I started really liking it. Finally one night, I asked another guy who was standing around what that song was about, what the title meant, and he got wildly excited and explained it was about this great game called Space Invaders. He said there was one in a bar close to where we worked, and I should go there with him at lunch some day to check it out. We went, he put in quarters, I got killed before I could figure out what I was supposed to do (I remember how frustrated I felt at being unable to even discern what I “was” on the screen), I recognized how much the game display looked like the climate control display I programmed on the car back at work, and that’s how I fell in love with video games.
At the time, I never ended up liking Space Invaders as much as I loved Galaga, which was also called Galaxion sometimes. Galaga was my favorite game at the time I started working on Centipede.
I ended up moving to Sunnyvale, CA in 1980. I don’t remember how I learned Atari used the same 6502 microprocessor I had programmed at GM-Delco, but I believed it was a sign for me to work there after I found out.