The Untold Story of Atari Founder Nolan Bushnell's Visionary 1980s Tech Incubator

February 17th, 2017 by Benj Edwards

The Story of Nolan Bushnell

Up now on FastCompany.com is my latest piece in a series of deep-dives into little-known tech history. (I wrote this last year - it's been simmering on the backburner for quite some time.)

My article is about Nolan Bushnell's Catalyst Technologies, a pioneering high-tech incubator in the 1980s:

In the annals of Silicon Valley history, Nolan Bushnell's name conjures up both brilliant success and spectacular failure. His two landmark achievements were founding Atari in 1972—laying the groundwork for the entire video game industry—and starting Chuck E. Cheese's Pizza Time Theatre in 1977. But there’s another highlight of Bushnell's bio that has long gone undocumented: pioneer of the high-tech incubator.

In 1981, Bushnell created Catalyst Technologies, a venture-capital partnership designed to bring the future to life by turning his ideas into companies. In the era of the TRS-80, Betamax, and CB radio, startups funded by Catalyst pursued an array of visionary concepts—from interactive TV to online shopping to door-to-door navigation—that created entire industries decades later. "I read science fiction, and I wanted to live there," Bushnell explains.

In researching the history of Catalyst, I found that it was far more successful than most people think, and that Bushnell's post-Atari track record, despite several high-profile failures, is not as bad as one might assume from the negative media coverage he once garnered. It's time to reconsider his post-Atari legacy, in my opinion, and this article is the first stop in doing so. Hope you enjoy it.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

VC&G Anthology Interview: What Makes a Video Game? A Short Conversation with Nolan Bushnell (2011)

October 23rd, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Nolan Bushnell HimselfBack in 2011, I wrote an article about the creation of Nutting Associates' Computer Space on the occasion of its 40th anniversary. If you'll recall, Computer Space was the world’s first mass-produced and commercially sold video game. It started the video arcade game industry.

While researching the piece, I conducted extensive telephone interviews with Ted Dabney and Nolan Bushnell, the co-creators of the game (who went on to become the co-founders of Atari). During my conversation with Bushnell, we touched upon some other topics too — when you have a guy like Bushnell on the phone, you tend to ask whatever you need when you have the chance.

VC&G Anthology BadgeWhile looking through the transcript of that 2011 interview again recently, I came across a section near the end where Nolan and I talked about what it really means to be a video game. During our conversation, Nolan hit on something that I think is rather profound, yet completely obvious in hindsight. I thought other folks might find our conversation, and its resulting conclusion, interesting.

I've kept this transcript nearly verbatim because I feel it reflects the spontaneous, free-flowing nature of the conversation. We were talking as he was driving home from a business appointment, so he was slightly distracted at the time.

[ Continue reading VC&G Anthology Interview: What Makes a Video Game? A Short Conversation with Nolan Bushnell (2011) » ]

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Steve Bristow (1949-2015)

February 24th, 2015 by Marty Goldberg

Steve Bristow in Memoirum[The following news comes to us via video game historian Mary Goldberg, who has allowed VC&G to republish his Facebook announcement here so more people can see it. –Benj]

It is with a sad heart that we announce the passing of Atari legend and friend Stephen D. ("Steve") Bristow, who died this past Sunday, February 22, 2015 at the age of 65 following a short illness.

Bristow was one of the originals, helping Nolan Bushnell out during the development of the world's first commercial arcade game, Computer Space, while an intern at Ampex.

He then moved to Nutting Associates, the publisher of Computer Space, as an intern. At Nutting, he soon took over for Nolan Bushnell when Bushnell and business partner Ted Dabney left to form Atari.

In the early 1970s, Bristow joined up once again with Bushnell at Atari for a short while before being tapped to form secret Atari subsidiary Kee Games with Joe and Patricia Keenan. There, he lead the creation of several groundbreaking arcade games such as the full-color multiplayer Indy 800 and the seminal game Tank.

Bristow occupied many positions at Atari throughout the 1970s an 80s. Upon the merger between Kee Games and Atari, he oversaw Atari's Coin Engineering as well as later projects like the Electronic Board Game Division. He later became Plant Manager of Pinball Production at Atari before moving to VP Engineering, Consumer and Home Computer Division, then VP Engineering of Atari's Consumer Game Division in the early 1980s.

From there, Bristow moved to VP Advanced Technology, then VP Engineering, AtariTel Division (which produced telephone products). Then finally, he joined Atari's Engineering Computer Division as VP and became an Atari Fellow before leaving Atari all together in February 1984.

Bristow continued with an impressive electrical engineering career afterword, but it's his time and accomplishments at Atari (and all the fun he brought us) that are the reason we're all here. He will be sorely missed.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

VC&G Interview: Nolan Bushnell, Founder of Atari

December 12th, 2007 by Benj Edwards

Nolan BushnellEarlier this year, I had the chance to interview Nolan Bushnell, career entrepreneur and nigh-but-legendary founder of Atari. For the last seven years, Bushnell has been pouring most of his energy into his latest venture, uWink — a sort of Chuck E. Cheese restaurant for adults.

Of course, being the history buff I am, I wanted Bushnell to clear up some things regarding articles I was working on at the time. Accordingly, we touched on a variety of topics, such as the origin of the term "video game," Steve Jobs at Atari, his "feud" with Ralph Baer, the Atari 800, and his wife's love of the Wii, among other things. Despite being such a grab bag of topics, I figured the interview was worth publishing in its entirety while it still feels relevant. Bushnell's thoughts deserve to be heard, especially since he took time out of his busy schedule to share them.

This interview took place on March 30th, 2007 over the telephone.

[ Continue reading VC&G Interview: Nolan Bushnell, Founder of Atari » ]

Tags: , , , , ,