Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Annotated Atari Depositions - Part 5

Today, we continue with Nolan Bushnell's depositions from January 13 and 14, 1976.
MR. WILLIAMS: Q. As I understand your prior testimony, the game which eventually was known as Pong was· developed after you entered into the agreement with Bally Manufacturing?

A. That's correct.

Q. And Mr. Alcorn did not start working on the game until after that agreement was entered into?

A. That's correct. I think so, yes. I can't remember the exact chronology, but it was in the space of a week or a month or something like that.

Q. I have here a copy of Bushnell Exhibit 2 which was marked as an exhibit during your deposition in July of 1974. The first…

<26 lines missing>

Q. Have you ever seen a demonstration game sold by Magnavox under the name Odyssey?

A. Yes. I have.

Q. When did you first see such a game?

A. I saw it at some kind of distributor meeting or showing that they had in I think it was the Airporter Hotel by the San Francisco Airport, I don’t remember the exact date.

[Note - The exact date was May 24, 1972 at the Airport Marina Hotel in Burlingame. Below is a photo of Nolan's signature in the guest book for the event - taken from Goldberg and Vendel's Atari Inc.]

Q. Do you remember the approximate date?

A. No. I think Magnavox probably knows when it was better than I do.

Q. Do you recall whether it was prior to the time that you entered into the written agreement with Bally?

A. Yes, it was prior to that. It was while I was still employed at Nutting.

Q. So you must have seen it prior to the time that you instructed Mr. Alcorn to develop the game which subsequently became Pong?

A. That’s true.

Q. Did anybody else go with you to the distributor meeting?

A. Yes. I think it was either Mr. Ralston or Mr. Geiman or maybe both.

[Note the two other Nutting employees who attended were Rod Geiman and Charles Fibian.]

Q. Ralston?

[Note - the transcript misspells his name. It was actually Dave Ralstin (with an "I")]

A. Yes. He was the sales manager for Nutting.

Q. How do you spell Geiman?

A. G-e-i-m-a-n, I think.

Q. Did you go there as part of your employment with Nutting?

A. Yes, I did.

Q. Were you asked to go there?

A. Yes.

Q. By whom?

A. I think it was by Bill Nutting. I mean, either him or Geiman. They had heard about it, that it was a video game, and since we thought we were the only show in town we thought we would like to see what was happening.

Q. Do you recall what you saw at the demonstration?

A. Yes. I saw a game. I believe I saw a handball game or, you know, the thing that they called handball and the ping pong game.

Q. Did you see any other games at that demonstration?

A. They had the rifle there, but it wasn't working.

Q. Did you see any other games operating other than handball and ping pong?

A. No, I didn't.

Q. Could you briefly describe the ping pong game that you saw?

A. Well, it was, you know, the light spot that moved back and forth when you hit it with the paddles.

Q. The light spot was on the face of the television screen?

A. Right.

Q. And the paddles were also displayed on the face of the television screen?

A. Right.

Q. How did they appear?

A. They were square blobs

Q. Were there any other objects on the screen other than the paddles or the light spot?

A. Not to my knowledge.

Q. Was there a line down the center of the screen?

A. I don't remember.

Q. Did you play the game that you saw?

A. Yes, I did.

Q. Was there just one Odyssey unit being demonstrated or were there a number of them?

A. I believe that there was only one.

Q. Which one of the games that you saw did you actually play?

A. I think I played both of them.

Q. Do you recall how long you were at the show?

A. No, I don't., It wasn't very long. A half-hour.

Q. Did you discuss what you saw at the show with anybody associated with Nutting?

A. Yes, I did.

Q. Who did you discuss it with?

A. Mr. Ralston, Mr. Geiman.

Q. . Did you  discuss it with Mr. Nutting?

A. I think on returning I did.

Q. What was your discussion with Mr. Nutting?

A. Oh, I just said that it was, you know, a home unit, not very interesting to play, no competition.

Q. Did you have any further discussion with Mr. Nutting about the Odyssey unit?

A. Concerning that? Oh, I can remember telling him that I didn't think that it used the kind of circuitry that we had. The motion was a little too erratic to be digitally manufactured.

Q. What did you discuss with Mr. Ralston relating to the Odyssey unit?

A. Pretty much the same thing, that I didn't consider that it was--you know, that it would ever be competition for us in the coin-op. That it was, you know, not a good game.

Q. What did you discuss with Mr. Geiman?

A. Pretty much the same thing.

Q. Did you discuss the features of the games as might be applied to coin-operated games?

A. No, I did not.

Q. When did you first meet Mr. Ted Dabney?

A. I guess the first day that I interviewed with Ampex.

Q. Did you discuss the Odyssey unit with Mr. Ted Dabney?

A. I must have. I mean, he was working at Nutting at the time

Q. Do you recall what that discussion was?

A. No, I don't.

Q. What was Mr. Ted Dabney's position at Nutting at the time?

A. I think he was an industrial engineer.

Q. When did you first meet Mr. Alcorn?

A. While he was employed at Ampex.

Q. Was Mr. Alcorn employed at Nutting also?

A. No, he wasn't.

Q. Was he employed at Ampex up until the time he started working for Syzygy?

A. No. Well, I hired him from Ampex, but from the time i knew him at Ampex he was on a work·study program and I think he, upon graduation, went to work for another company in Los Angeles before returning to Ampex.

[Note: the company Al worked for was Peripheral Technologies, Inc.]

Q. Prior to the time you saw the Odyssey game at the distributors' meeting you were just referring to, had you learned of the existence of that game?

A. Through word of mouth somebody said that there was a game going to be shown up there. I believe it was Mr. Nutting who had learned of it first.

Q. When did you first learn of that game?

A. When Mr. Nutting told me.

Q. Can you place that in time, say, with relationship to when you went to the distributor meeting?

A. It was probably like a week in advance.

Q. What did Mr. Nutting tell you when he told you about the game?

A. He says, "There's a TV game by Magnavox I've heard of." He didn't know what Magnavox had on their mind. We were afraid they were going to compete with us in the coin-op. He.thought we should find out what's happening.

Q. Did he describe the types of games that you could play on the Odyssey unit at that time to you?

A. I don't believe he knew. I'm not sure. I really don't remember.

Q. Prior to the time when Mr. Nutting told you about the Magnavox game did you have any knowledge of any activities of any other companies in the field of video games?

A. None. Oh, let me take that back. There was a company that was attempting to do a Spacewar using a mini computer, and I believe we were aware of that. Somebody in Menlo Park.

Q. Do you know the name of that company?

A. No, I don't.

Q. Do you know the name of anybody associated with that company?

A. A guy named Bill Pitts.

Q. So as of the time when Mr. Nutting told you about the Odyssey game you had no knowledge of any activities by any companies other than Nutting or the company of Mr. Pitts relating to video games?

A. Correct.

Q. When did you first learn that Sanders Associates was doing work in the field of video games?

A. I believe that was subsequent .o my finding out that Magnavox had a patent and upon seeing the patent I saw that it was assigned from Sanders Associates.

Q. When did you find out that Magnavox had a patent?

A. It was sometime after I came back from Chicago. I think one of the guys from Bally said that there was a Magnavox patent.

Q. Was that after the time that you went to the distributor meeting and saw the Odyssey game?

<31 pages missing>


A. It was after.

Q. As I understand your testimony yesterday, the game apparatus which you commenced building in 1970 along the lines indicated in your prior paper that you wrote while at the University of Utah was intended to use a raster scan cathode-ray tube display system?

A. That's Correct

Q. When did you first decide that you wanted to use a raster scan cathode-ray tube display system in that apparatus?

A. Probably it was coincident with the time that I decided to pursue this on an active basis.

Q. What time was that?

A. It was the early spring.

Q. Of 1970?

A. Yes.

Q. For what reason did you decide to use a raster scan cathode ray tube display instead of some  other t:rpe of cathode ray tube display system?

A. I felt cost, and, you know, it was a consumerized manufacture version rather than a scientific item. It was just a more cost effective solution.

Q. That is, the cost of the raster scan system was more cost effective than some other type of scan system you might have used?

A. Any other system I knew of.

Q. In the monitor system which you did actually build what apparatus did you use for the cathode-ray tube display portion?

A. Oh, I used an old--it was either a Dumont or a Sears, Roebuck television set and I also used a small Miratel monitor. I really used both of the units in the development.

Q. Did you use the TV set that you referred to in the first part of the development and then switch to the Miratel monitor, or did you use them both at the same time?

A. I think the Miratel was used first.

Q. Was there a model number on that?

A. There probably was. I have no idea what it was. It was gray, about that long (indicating) and had about a 10-inch screen.

Q. About how long did you indicate?

A. About two feet.

Q. Where did you obtain the Miratel monitor?

A. We bought it from a surplus scrap dealer in Mountain View.

Q. Why did you stop using the Miratel monitor and go to the Dumont or Sears, Roebuck TV set?

A. Well, the Miratel was a high resolution 525 line machine and I think it had like a 10-megahertz video amplifier in it and we wanted to see what our machine looked like on a crappy standard consumer--we also wanted a bigger screen.

Q. Was the TV set which you used one which was capable of receiving television broadcast signals, at least prior to the time you started using it?

A. Before we got it, yes. After that we disabled the other junk in it.

Q. What part of the TV set did you disable?

A. Well, we just tied into the video amplifier. That's so that the IF and RF sections were not used.

Q. Did you make any other alterations to the TV set?

A. I think we used the audio amplifier as well.

Q. Did you modify the audio amplifier any?

A. I can't remember. I think the set was slightly over-scanned.

That's the end of the testimony I have from January, 1976. I also have depositions from 1974 and March 1976. I will probably start with those next time.
In the meantime, here are a few photos.
First, here's Bill Nutting from 1944:
Here are some marquees from some unreleased Bally/Midway games that I found on the web (I think the first two are from Arcade Heroes).

Speaking Willie Lump Lump, here's a picture of a promotional keychain for the game that sound designer Bob Libbe sent me.


Here is some concept art for Mothership and Earth Friend from Bill Kurtz's Encyclopedia of Arcade Video Games. At least Kurtz calls it concept art. The first one looks more like a marquee to me.
 The idea for Mothership came from Marvin Glass & Associates - a toy firm that did some video game design work for Bally/Midway. Mothership later turned into Kozmik Krooz'r by Midway's internal design team.

Earth Friend (aka Earth Friend Mission) was designed at Dave Nutting Associates but never released - though it was tested in the Chicago area.  It was supposedly a color vector game.
 Here is some concept art for another unreleased game called TankMaze that artist Steve Ulstad sent me.


 Finally, here is a cabinet for another unreleased Bally/Midway game called Aerocross. At least one is from Craig's List.



  1. Got excited when I saw that picture and it said "Nutting". I was like "Oh boy, is there finally a picture of Dave Nutting that's not from a few years ago?". Bah.

    Anyways, thanks a ton for the transcription. I find the way that Nolan actually went about defending himself quite interesting. He is definitely that kind of guy with a certain demeanor to him, so you can clearly hear his voice through these transcriptions.

    Are there any particular interesting things that you've received and not yet shown?

    1. I actually do have a couple of photos of Dave Nutting, but they are from before his years in the video game industry.
      One is from 1949 when he was attending Culver Military Academy in Indiana and the other is a wedding picture from 1953.

      I'll have to check and see if I have one from his video game years, but I don't think I do.

    2. Thanks for giving the look anyhow. Maybe in a future update you could post the wedding one. I don't have need of it any time soon, I just like getting the question out there.

      I mean, I recognize how incredibly odd it must be to ask some folk for personal photos for a sense of portraying them. Most of what we have either comes through eager archivists like the Atari Inc. writers, random photos preserved in libraries, or from magazines. Britain is, of course, chief of the latter.

      Given that I've got it in my mind to start doing another project where I'll actually be talking to designers first hand, I do wonder how difficult a subject that is to bring up. Whether it be "Do you have the old paper tape of your game?" or "Are there any photos you have from around that time?", I can imagine that it's hard for some to comprehend why such things would be important. Hoping that I won't come off too brash when I ask things like that.

    3. I noticed you like to quote the book, Atari Business Is Fun, as the source for some of your information in these articles, but you might want to check with books that Leonard Herman either wrote or was involved with. For example, the photo of Nolan's signature in the Airport Marina Hotel guest book actually came from Ralph Baer's book, Videogames, In The Beginning (pg. 81).

  2. Actually no, the photo we used was given to us by Ralph during my visit to him in 2010 when I stayed at his house for five days. Besides the 12 banker boxes full of legal and documentation materials he gave for us to archive and scan, he also loaded up some thumb drives full of digital material for us to use, which included that photo. Which btw actually came from David Winter. He has the actual book and sent that image over for Ralph to use.

    1. Actually, unless you can prove otherwise (which you can't), the fact is it was published by Leonard Herman first