Atari, Inc.Corporate Research - April 1982 - March 1984Research Staff

 

http://www.atari.com


Was a member of Research Engineering in the Corporate Research group under Alan Kay.Wrote software for multiple groups as well as designed products for use by game developers of which some were spread to other parts of the company. Quite often I was working on several projects simultaneously. Initially was assigned to one group then bounced around a tad until finally wound up attached to the robotics group.

 

I was pleasantly surprised to actually find someone had published the proprietary Atari documentation related to some of the projects Iíve worked on despite its being at least twenty years old! But obviously during that time a lot of stuff is missing or deemed not worth while. Fortunately, I still have some copies of photographs and images that were given to me before the companyís redirection. The finding of stuff I have done over the years on the internet actually motivated me to dig through my own archives to find what I might still have. It has been twenty years since I opened my Atari boxes. It took an hour or so to get the Atari 800 running again and took a good portion of a day or so to examine every floppy and see what programs were there.

 


Aspect Ratio corrected Graph Paper

 

I had designed graph paper designed specifically for the Atari consoles and computers. It was aspect ratio corrected and contained timing information for color clocks on scanlines, and was printed on paper sizes B and D. Size D was way too big, and B was too small so in retrospect size C would have been a lot better! I designed it, had our CAD people create the prototype and then it went to the printers. The paper was great except for one little problem. In my excitement of seeing the blue-line version I rushed it to the printers not realizing that there was a tiny mistake where the Cad person accidentally skewed the last few clock cycle numbers. There was never a reprint because it took a long time to get through 2000 sheets of the paper. Back then we didnít have scanners and so complicated images needed to be hand digitized using a light table and a drawing under the graph paper. In case anyone was wondering. The image is a hand digitization of a caricature that an artist did of one of my past bosses.

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Antic HSync DMA Cycle Timing Diagram

 

While employed at Atari I stumbled across a very old disintegrating blueprint of the Antic Horizontal Sync Timing Diagram used by the 800 series Personal Computer as well as the 5200 console. With my knowledge of how the Atari 2600 functions I found it to be a diamond in the rough. It had some mistakes and was incomplete so I recreated it on graph paper then handed the graph paper to Julie Solomon in the Corporate Research Cad Cam group. She entered it so that it could have perfectly straight lines and also be mass producible.

 

It contains the various graphics modes supported by the Antic Chip and shows where the CPU clock cycles and the graphics DMA cycles occur allowing the processor to have a display list interrupt at the beginning of a scanline and with proper cycle counting, you can visibly see on the graph paper at what pixel the instruction would execute. With that, the players & missiles could be repositioned, or the color palette could be altered in essence increasing the number of viewable colors displayable on a scanline!

 

It was never released as being too proprietary but the Warlords project I worked on utilized the timing information contained within it! Fortunately for you I have a 19 year old photocopy of a plotter output that I was able to scan and is available here!

 


 

A.I. Fish Tank Project

 

Animated Coral

Ann Marionís A.I. Fish Tank

 

Designed an animation system for use with the Atari computers, which made smooth on screen animations. I donít remember if they asked me or if I needed something to do, but I wrote a very high quality animation module. I hand animated flowing ferns on an animation stand, hand digitized it using my custom graph paper, and built a marine coral bottom. It was to be joined with a the lower resolution artificial intelligence fish being developed by Ann Marionís group which would swim around and interact with a user on an Atari computer. Valerie Atkinson did the hand digitization of the fish and its programming. The joining of both art and code sets never occurred.

 


 

Wrote Octorabi (never finished as it went on a back burner). I point to this game being the reason I now wear glasses because I had numerous Atari 800ís in my office just for this project in which almost all used television monitors.An eight player Hanarabi game idea from Chris Crawford who was also part of our group. It used two Atari 850 interfaces where one of them was specially modified so it could be addressed as ports 5 through 8. It was being written for the Atari Computer Camps summer program. Also one of the first local area networking games on Atari.

 


 

Symbolic Reverse Assembler and Kangaroo

 

Kangaroo (800 Disk APX)

Qix (800 Disk Internal)

Pole Position (Project Puffer)

My Reverse Assembler

 

While working there I built a really cool reverse assembler (disassembler) for myself. It was a two pass and was given the symbolic table for a 2600 as well as a 800 and 5200. With it I was able to automatically rip game cartridges back into labeled source code. Iíd then go through it and clean up the data areas. I used it to rip the 5200 Kangaroo cartridge, and port the game over to the Atari 800 in a day. Since Atari had no plans to sell an 800 version of the game I sent it over to the APX program they got approval and put it in their catalog as a disk based game. Some time after that the Atari-Computer group came out with the same game. You can tell the difference between the two versions because on mine, I corrected for the color burst differential so my strawberries are red, not purple colored like theirs.

 

Just to clarify. I did NOT write the 5200 versions of these programs! I merely ripped them into source code and ported to the 800 platform for projects being worked on within Atari. The credit is mostly to the tool I wrote and to the original programmers of these three games. The images above are of the post rips!

 

Another 5200 game that was ripped and ported for the good of the company was QIX but there was a bug that I never had the time to solve and so it wasnít published. And lastly the third game was an 800 Cartridge version of Pole Position needed for Project Puffer.

 


 

Project Puffer

 

Wrote several demonstration programs such as ĎJungle River Cruiseí and ĎTumbleWeedsí as well as modified the existing version of pole position for "Project Puffer", an exercise cycle controller interfaced to an Atari Computer.Jungle River Cruise was essentially a riverboat where you picked up people along the rivers edge and dropped them off at a dock. The faster you peddled, the faster you moved. Buttons allowed steering. Tumble Weeds was an earlier (not so fun) project where you peddled along and avoided tumbleweeds. Great fun was playing pole position. You moved left and right and peddled faster and slower. I donít remember if you could shift gears or not!

 

Old Controllers running Tumbleweeds.

New controllers running Tumbleweeds.

 

On the linked website related to Project Puffer, they are missing images of the first generation controller, which you see above on the left here. It had a rotary control and was bad for the wrist. Follow the "Link"! They even shows some snap shots of the D sized graph paper I had designed. There is only one little problem with their remarks. I donít remember creating a 5200 version of either program. It was on the todo list but I donít ever remember getting around to it!The image is a setup as the Atari 800 barely visible inside the tv cart is actually the machine running the display. I remember specifically making sure that it was just barely visible so as to not be totally deceptive.

 

The river boat game was more colorful then just the browns used in desert terrain of Tumbleweeds!

 

There were two compiled versions of both games. One with a normal standard input such as paddle or joystick and one with the pulsed input of the exercise cycle sensor. Tumbleweeds pictured here was boring and dangerous. If you really got into the game trying to duck and weave to the left or right to avoid a tumbleweed, you ran the risk of pitching the bike over, which I did upon occasion. Besides, I wanted something cooler.

 

I liked Salmon Run from APX and thatís what gave me the idea for the paddle wheel river boat. The guys at the top of the graph paper in their scans are imagery ripped from the Pit Fall Harry cartridge for fun. I learned a lot of stuff over the years by ripping apart others code and art imagery. So you see, it didnít look like him, it was him! But he was way too big for the little itty bitty guys needed for the boat and so he was not used in the game. The idea for those little guys actually came from the 800 game Choplifter.

 

The same Reverse Assembler I used on Kangaroo was used on the 800 Pole Position game and modified for this project as well. This one was a big hit but I donít remember if a gear shift was implemented or not!

 

Another application that was ripped and modified for this project was Mrs. Pacman. It had a very short lifespan because it was an example of what didnít work well with this project.

 


 

Warlords

 

Was working on a high quality Warlords cartridge for the Atari 800 and 5200 using specialized unpublished graphics modes and very custom optimized display list interrupts to actually put more colors and sprites on the screen then thought possible. A form of reincarnation of motion objects (players & missiles).

 

This may not look like much now but per scanline the number of objects and colors were exceeding those specified as the capabilities of the hardware. The multicolored shields were controlled by paddles to protect the castle. The art is nearly identical in appearance to that of the coin-op machine except in this case I had to correct for the difference in resolution between the 800 and that of a coin op. The dragon would fly through the scene while the multicolored fireball would bounce around the screen similar to that of pong. I ripped the Warlords coin-op roms to extract the art data which was character arranged then had to use a puzzle mindset to reassemble the pieces. The dragon was the most complicated of all due to the number of pieces it required. I transferred to my custom graph paper then scaled to fit the ANTIC/GTIA chipset.

 

As a hobby Iíve dusted off some old eighteen year old code targeted for the Atari 800. The Atari 5200 source version was long gone by way of disintegrating bits. Well have introduced new programming methodology and continued to bring the demo version up to game playability. Worked on it during my months of unemployment during the end of 1992. Even designed and built a special emulation control system along with a couple other tools. Not quite an I.C.E. (In Circuit Emulator) but the next best thing! Those of you with pirate ROMS wonít be happy but have written the code in such a way that current emulators canít run it properly and thereís currently no non-standard hardware! On the plus side it has features such as auto-centering jiggle reduced joysticks.

 

Iíve snatched the following game screen images from the internet so that you can see the difference between my version above and the others below.

 

Warlords Coin-Op

Warlords 2600

 


 

During all my time there I had an official Kontron Future Data 2600 development system with the TIA manual that I had to have Alan Kay sign in blood to get from Atari Administration. That was really cool as it turned out that when I had reverse engineered the 2600 before I came to Atari that I was about 92% correct. The other 8% of the hardware was rarely used and I had never encountered their use. Unfortunately, I didnít wind up doing a lot of 2600 work while at the company.

 

Wrote maze traversal software for Omni-Wheel, a toy robot ball as well as computer generated labyrinths for it to traverse.

 

Wrote Data I/O eprom burner interface program in conjunction with Dave Mathes for uploading and downloading eproms. Not so much fun but I was attached to his group and he was my manager.

 

Digitized Logo

Color Bars

 

I recently found a very old Atari header file that I had written and that someone posted on the internet!

http://www.azstarnet.com/~jeffryj/equates.txt

 


 

Was laid off in one of the massive layoffs just before Warner sold the company to Tramiel.

 

A month or two after being laid off, Tramielís staff contacted me to convert the Atari Writer from cartridge to disk but after several weeks of working with the original source code, I found this was not easily possible because rom space sat above ram and thus took advantage of the 48K of ram. By moving the rom code down into ram the memory was being drastically reduced and thus didnít have enough left over to run the word processor. A ram cartridge would have fixed the problem but the company wanted to reduce costs thus have only a disk version. Having a ram cartridge would have defeated the reason for the project of disposing of the expense of a cartridge. So I explained the reasoning and resigned the project.

 

The End of an Era!

 


 

Oh and before you send more emails requesting and/or demanding (yes Iíve had a few) that I send my stuff to you, etcetera, etcetera. I am under a twenty year old Non-Disclosure Agreement with Atari and so when they told us to just pack up everything and leave because we were being dissolved. I archived everything essentially creating a time capsule. All the projects I had ever worked on were sealed individually in envelopes for the Atari Vaults. We were instructed to pack up everything else and take it with us when we go home. So inadvertently Iíve been dragging around for the last eighteen years a much smaller backup of the time capsule. The current owner of Atari, Infogrames has given me permission to distribute some of whatís in my possessions to legitimate Historical groups and not commercial groups so that it will be freely distributed to all Atari owners and so I will release what I have over time to those groups.

 

So no more trying to strong arm me please!Thank you!

 

I hope you found my Bio Script on all the pages of my website enjoyable as well as informative. Please buy my brothers or my books as a way to help support us.

 


Other Atari Links:

 

Atari Gaming Headquarters

http://www.atarihq.com

 

Atari Historical Society

http://www.atari-history.com

 

Atari Magazines

http://www.atarimagazines.com

 

Atari Archives Org

http://www.atariarchives.org

 

Classic Gaming Expo

http://www.cgexpo.com