Nolan Bushnell founded Atari, and when he left the company he tried his hand at a myriad of start-up attempts. He had a particular obsession with robotics, from developing the animatronic animals in his Pizza Time Theatre restaurant chain, to household robot company Androbot, to the Axlon company responsible for the oddball scheme he is shilling here in the picture used for today’s What Nolan Said:
The picture is of Bushnell presenting a “Petster” to a crowd at the New York Toy Fair in 1985. You can see the Catster version rolling around at the bottom of the image; they also released a dog, hamster and even spider edition of the toys. The idea was to sell robotic animals to people who want to have a pet, but don’t care for the shedding or the pooping or the bringing of dead mice to the door as an offering to the master. At the time, Bushnell was barking up the wrong tree, and the prohibitively priced Petster line went nowhere. Petster did, however, help sow the seeds for spatially aware household robotics such as the Roomba and other robotic vacuum cleaners.
In the picture, even Nolan seems perplexed he’s standing there trying to sell the idea that people would have this particular want. I’ll leave you with a TV spot showing the Petster in action. At the end of this article, find a YouTube video of a Petster advertisement.
Nolan Bushnell founded Atari in 1972, sold it to Warner Communications in 1976, and was eventually ushered out of the company in 1978. The writing had been on the wall for awhile, for the man who had kept Atari alive by constantly innovating, by constantly swimming forward in a sea of ravenous competitors. By then, Atari had gone from a company about innovating to a company about marketing past successes, and that attitude eventually helped sink the entire industry in 1983-84. What Nolan Said:
Today is Nolan Bushnell’s 70th birthday. Before co-founding Atari and the video game industry, a previous job he had held while a student attending the University of Utah was as a carnival barker. It was a job he ended up doing his whole life. In today’s What Nolan Said, Bushnell states the ultimate goal he had on the midway of the Lagoon amusement park back then:
There has been a long-standing debate between Nolan Bushnell and Ralph Baer as to who was the inventor of video games. Speaking strictly chronologically, one would have to give the title to Baer, who developed a TV video game system at defense contractor Sanders Associates in 1968, a system which was bought by Magnavox, named the Odyssey, and produced as a commercial home video game system in 1972. Based on its novelty, the Odyssey sold fairly well but didn’t exactly set the market on fire. That same year, however, Bushnell founded Atari and produced Pong, a similar, coin-operated video ping-pong game who’s runaway success firmly established the video game industry. To muddy the waters further, there is evidence that Bushnell was influenced by Baer’s invention when he conceived of Pong.
So for our purposes, we consider Baer to be the inventor of video games, and Bushnell to be the father of the video game industry. Such semantics and differing definitions of which is what gets muddled as time advances on, and so we are left with sniping of the sort we see in today’s What Nolan Said:
The quote is taken from an 2007 interview of Bushnell by the online arm of famed German newspaper Der Spiegel. The link points to the English version of the interview. The image is of Bushnell at the Bay Area Maker Faire in 2011, a festival celebrating invention and DIY culture hosted by Make magazine. It comes from cclark395’s flickr feed.
Nolan Bushnell helped to form the video game industry by creating Atari and PONG. These days he’s like the curmudgeonly neighbour who sits on his porch shaking his fist at people passing by and making pronouncements like in today’s “What Nolan Said”:
The quote is taken from yesterday’s Bloomberg’s “Inkblot” session with Bushnell, a kind of word-association interview they occasionally conduct. It’s not too surprising that he would disparage Rockstar’s notorious flagship title, as he has always shown a distaste for violence and sex in video games. In a mini-interview conducted by Newsweek in 2003, Bushnell noted a rule under his tenure at Atari, that while a programmer could destroy tanks and cars in a game, never a human figure directly. Perhaps this is his Mormonism peeking through.
During the Bloomberg interview, Bushnell’s one-word response to an image of stacks of GTA IV cases was “Dystopian”.