Monthly Archives: May 2014

Breakout: How Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak Built a Smash for Atari

Soon after dropping out of Reed College, in 1974 Steve Jobs became employee #40 at an up-and-coming company in California called Atari. He was a scruffy young man, who’s abrasiveness and questionable personal hygiene led management to put him on the night shift, so as to ruffle as few feathers as possible.

Even so, Jobs still managed to tick off a lot of people at Atari. Possibly seeing a lot of himself in Jobs, company co-founder Nolan Bushnell kept him around regardless. One day in 1976 he approached the young maverick and asked him to put together the hardware for a new variation of the company’s landmark game, PONG. In this new version, instead two players knocking a ball back and forth with paddles, a person could play alone, hitting the ball up against a wall of bricks at the top of the screen. Jobs was offered $750 for the job, with a $100 bonus paid for every microchip shaved off the design, therefore making the game cheaper to build.

It was Job’s friend Steve Wozniak who actually created the design for Breakout, spending four nights putting the game together with Jobs, all the while holding down his daytime job at Hewlett-Packard. The game turned out to be a big hit for Atari, and the two Steves would eventually break out on their own to create a little computer company called Apple Computer. The computer landscape would never look the same again.

For more information on the making of Breakout, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.