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Aug. 18, 2003
Fast Chat: It’s All Fun and Games

In the beginning, Nolan Bushnell created Atari, and it was good. So good that it made its inventor, now 60, into a cult figure for videogame enthusiasts. In advance of his scheduled appearance at last weekend’s Classic Gaming Expo in Las Vegas, the man who gave us Pong, Breakout and Asteroids took questions from NEWSWEEK’s Steve Friess:

What are your favorites?

I was proud of Breakout and Asteroids. Whether youíre knocking out all the bricks or getting rid of all the asteroids, people like to complete something.

How do Atari games compare with what theyíve spawned?

Since we were so limited with graphics then, we had to focus on gameplay. We developed a philosophy that the games should be easy to learn, impossible to master. Some classic games are much better balanced between the risk and reward of play. In Pong, the hardest shot to return was also the hardest shot to make. Does the graphic nature of todayís games concern you? I donít like the ones that glorify antisocial behavior, like Grand Theft Auto and Vice City. We actually had a rule at Atari, which seems kind of quaint now, that you could blow up a tank, a plane, a caróbut you couldnít do violence against a human.

How did you go from Atari to founding Chuck E. Cheeseís?

At the time, the only places to play videogames were bars, arcades and bowling alleys. Those werenít good places for kids to be. So I created a pizza parlor where families could have a good time together and kids could play games, all under the watchful eye of an eight-foot robotic rat. I think I accomplished giving kids a good time, although Iím not so sure how I did by the parents.

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