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Apple Businesses Entertainment Games

Woz Talks About His Gaming Past 64

Posted by Zonk
from the world-of-wozcraft dept.
Gamasutra has up a rare article with founding Apple visionary Steve Wozniak about his love of games, and his history with the medium. The article discusses Woz's prototype for the title Breakout prior to his involvement with Apple, the gaming habits of Steve Jobs, and the influence that videogames have had on the personal computing industry. " The reason Atari wanted me to design [Breakout] is they were tired of their games taking 150, 200 chips, and they knew I designed things with very few chips, so we had incentives for getting it under 50 or under 40 chips. That was my forte. Now I designed it, but it was... To save parts, I'll make no part go to waste and have tricky little designs that are hard for just a simple engineer to follow. Once you understand it, it's very easy because there's so few parts, it's easier to understand. But they had trouble understanding it."
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Woz Talks About His Gaming Past

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  • For someone with such a reputation you would expect him to be more interesting.
    • If you ever get the chance, talk to the guy. He'll frighten you with his interestingness.
    • For someone with such a reputation you would expect him to be more interesting.



      Yeah, but it's a casual, nostalgic discussion by a geezer looking back on how many chips went into his only two arcade video games, both as it happens involving colorless bouncing 2d blocks. That's never going to be a chat with Stephen Hawking, I'm afraid.

    • by mshurpik (198339)
      After reading this interview I think he's underrated.

      Good reductionists make the best engineers. Likewise, his obsession with games is revealed as wholly intuitive.
    • Woz has always been the quiet workhorse. The other Steve is the one to look to for "interesting". Give the guy a break, he was a much bigger reason for Apples earlier success the the more famous Steve.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by iroll (717924)
        Yeah, because having designed the Apple he would have done exactly what with it?

        Apple suceeded because more than one person was in the right place at the right time. The story about how Jobs schmoozed investors and suppliers is just as interesting as the elegant design of the early Apples. To say that one is more important is like saying "yeah, my heart is cool, but my brain is the really important part--can't do without my brain."
  • SnghxxxzzZZZzzz (Score:3, Informative)

    by keenada (1018094) on Friday May 04, 2007 @02:21PM (#18992197) Homepage
    To summarize the interviewer: "That was cool, back in the day, and stuff like that..."
  • Snood! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MalleusEBHC (597600) on Friday May 04, 2007 @02:22PM (#18992243)
    Woz gave a talk to my class a few years back. Just like the references to Breakout in the article, you could always tell that his driving force was making the impossible possible. Using as few chips as possible (I distinctly remember him mentioning this multiple times), making a personal computer that could do $foo and $bar, etc. For him it was all about the challenge.

    And as if Woz wasn't already the idol of longtime Mac users everywhere, he further cemented his status by professing his love for Snood! All hail Woz, we bow down before your puzzle level skills.
  • by us7892 (655683) on Friday May 04, 2007 @02:42PM (#18992567) Homepage
    I read page 1, then 2, then 3, then 4, waiting for the interview to pick up some steam...never really happened.

    Maybe it was the interviewer? Woz needs someone to probe his mind for comments and insight. A good autobiographer could ask the questions that get more interesting responses. It might take 10 months of questions to get enough good material to sift through...
    • by 7Prime (871679)
      Actually, he did a fairly good interview with Charlie Rose a few months back. Charlie's become about 200% better after he had his heart surgery... he no longer interrupts everybody every 3 seconds. I can't tell you specifically what Woz said, but it was all pretty inspiring and interesting.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mshurpik (198339)
          Woz said that he never wanted to be famous or super rich; he wanted to be an "average guy" career-wise who was the best in his field (maybe a bit naivete there :)

          He said he and Steve Jobs were great friends once who talked about music and philosophy; but Jobs regarded himself more as a Shakespeare/Einstein hero type.

          He said Jobs was essential to the success of Apple because Steve Jobs had a better grip on simplifying technology for the masses (whereas Woz simplified technology for its own sake).

          He said that
          • by 7Prime (871679)
            I think it's good for Charlie. Charlie's one of the better interviewers out there (he's no Bill Moyer, but still), he asks not only the tough questions (who doesn't, everyone does), but the thought-provoking ones as well, and usually is able to get people saying interesting things for long periods of time. The only problem is, he LOVES to interrupt them, it's one of his very favorite things to do. You can tell that it's not because he isn't listening, but because he's incredibly into the conversation... sti
        • by Raenex (947668)
          Interesting that Jobs wouldn't write the foreword for the book, not even for old times' sake.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by antifoidulus (807088)
      A good autobiographer could ask the questions that get more interesting responses.

      So you are suggesting that Woz should interview himself?
  • And I don't mean a PC inside an updated Apple II enclosure. I think he would be the perfect person to design and sell a new computer targeting the home electronics hobbyist. Something very slow, like ~25Mhz, that could allow one to wire-wrap a daughterboard and just plug it in. Like people used to do in the '70s.

    Strictly for fun.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      And I don't mean a PC inside an updated Apple II enclosure. I think he would be the perfect person to design and sell a new computer targeting the home electronics hobbyist. Something very slow, like ~25Mhz, that could allow one to wire-wrap a daughterboard and just plug it in. Like people used to do in the '70s.

      These pretty much already exist. Google "Chumby" (designed by Bunnie Huang of Xbox 1-hacking fame).

      Also, the amount of fun you can have with a $20 ATmega128 board and a free copy of AVR-GCC is pret
  • I give Woz mad props, no doubt about it. Looking back on things like the IWM... If they had not been able to make the ]['s floppy system so cheap it's doubtful it would have been as successful as it was.

    Still, Woz's love of tricky, simplified hardware simply moved the complexity into the soft/firmware. Operating the floppy drive (at the lowest levels) was an exercise in bit-banging and tight timing loops. In some cases, you had to make sure your code was page aligned (we're talking about 256 byte pages here
    • Re:Tradeoffs (Score:4, Informative)

      by greg1104 (461138) <gsmith@gregsmith.com> on Friday May 04, 2007 @04:00PM (#18993787) Homepage
      Simplifying the hardware saves you real dollars per device. But tricky, touchy drivers and firmware costs you in support, debugging and developer training.

      It's really not fair to evaluate the design using modern standards like that. Back in the era where individual chips cost real money, being able to pull down the hardware costs by cutting them made the difference between a computer that people could afford and fit in their home and one that was priced or sized out of reach.

      As far as the complexity introduced, there was a point in my life where I had a good working knowledge of the entire ROM of the Apple II at the source code level. When it's possible to fit the whole software design of the machine in your head, whether the approach used makes for tricky drivers isn't so relevant.

      By the way: if you think needing to page align data such that there's no byte rollover makes for difficult to write code, you should take a look at Atari 2600 programming. What you have to do in software to work around the hardware constraints of that clever-so-it-can-be-cheap 6502 design make Woz's Apple design look downright elegant and user-friendly.
    • by geekoid (135745)
      You make the mistake of thjinking in modern terms.
      This was prttey much 1st Gen stuff they were doing.

      "support, debugging and developer training."
      not really an issue at the time.

      Bear in mand that his designs made it possibe to have a home computer. Otherwise the system would cost 10K a piece.

      The only trade off was between being able to sell one, or not.
    • by LKM (227954)
      More hardware: Costs for every PC sold.
      Harder software: Costs once to write it.
      • by nsayer (86181) *

        Harder software: Costs once to write it.

        And almost always has tons more bugs, which cost a LOT more to fix.

        • by LKM (227954)
          It only has more bugs because bugs can't be fixed and thus more testing is needed, which also costs more, but during another time in the lifecycle.
  • by the_arrow (171557) on Friday May 04, 2007 @03:10PM (#18993023) Homepage
    According to Chuck Peddle (in the book "On the edge"), Woz didn't really understand how the 6502 or its chipset worked when creating the Apple II, so Apple had to hire an engineer to rework it so it worked properly. They also couldn't handle radio emission according to FCC standards for home use either.
    And talking about BASIC, the BASIC language they first created for the Apple II wasn't good either, so they had to buy it from MicroSoft, but at double the price of Commodore.

    But then, I know I could never create a computer almost from scratch (apparantly Woz had one of the early 6502 boards from MOS), so he is good deal better than me! But I think I would be able to write a descent BASIC though... ;)
    • by greg1104 (461138) <gsmith@gregsmith.com> on Friday May 04, 2007 @03:47PM (#18993589) Homepage
      They also couldn't handle radio emission according to FCC standards for home use either.

      According to the Apple II History [apple2history.org] page the FCC issues were related to the RF modulator design used. I don't think anyone has ever claimed Woz was an RF engineer.

      And talking about BASIC, the BASIC language they first created for the Apple II wasn't good either, so they had to buy it from MicroSoft, but at double the price of Commodore.

      Then hit that page again and read the part starting with "An interesting bit of trivia about Wozniak's Integer BASIC was that he never had an assembly language source file for it. He wrote it in machine language, assembling it by hand on paper". One of the things Microsoft had going for them when they were working on their BASIC was that they access to much better development tools running on a larger system, and were essentially cross-compiling from there to generate the code for the home PC. Anybody can write a BASIC interpreter, fitting one into a tiny space in the era before there were even good assemblers available was a different thing altogether.
      • by bjb (3050) *

        Then hit that page again and read the part starting with "An interesting bit of trivia about Wozniak's Integer BASIC was that he never had an assembly language source file for it. He wrote it in machine language, assembling it by hand on paper".

        Don't get me wrong, I've been a fan of Woz for the last 25+ years. However, the "by hand" part that Woz did with Integer BASIC (or "Game BASIC" as the article said) was a fairly common activity back in the early hobby days. Ever hear of punch cards or the term "c

    • From what I understand, and I may be very wrong, the MOS 6502 CPU was very similar to the Motorla 6800 (the 6800, NOT the 68000), it was also 1/6 the price of 6800 or the Intel 8080. I think I also read that MOS was selling these CPUs out of a punch bowl at some electronics conference. Woz was estatic, bought one or two, and started to develop a very simple computer around it (the original Apple I). There was no evaulation board from MOS, there was no "chipset", it was just a simple CPU that was easy to und
      • I no longer have any good references, but the 6502 was similar to the 6800. It was also used in the Commodore Pet, but the Radio Shack TRS-80 used the Z80. (Those were the three main "consumer" systems of the day, with built-in keyboards.) At the time, some people considered it a pretty hot chip (yes, we are talking 1 Mhz 8-bit), but MOS missed out on the transition to the later chips. Some later Apple //s used the 65816, IIRC, but that's as far as it went.
      • by the_arrow (171557)

        There was no evaulation board from MOS, there was no "chipset", it was just a simple CPU that was easy to understand and easy to implement.

        Chuck Peddle also designed a periphial chipset for the 6502, and a kit-computers using all chips called KIM-1 [wikipedia.org]. Some other companies also made kit-computers.
    • by Sketch (2817)
      Woz is Insanely Great.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      According to his book, iWoz, Woz created the BASIC for the Apple II based off of the BASIC for HP's computers. Most everyone else was using one based off of Microsoft's, which was based off of DEC's version of BASIC. So there were some incompatibility issues.

      He also says in there that most of what they talk about in those other books about what went on is wrong. And that he's very unhappy with them.

      It's a very interesting book to read, should check it out.
  • " The reason Atari wanted me to design [Breakout] is they were tired of their games taking 150, 200 chips, and they knew I designed things with very few chips, so we had incentives for getting it under 50 or under 40 chips. That was my forte. Now I designed it, but it was... To save parts, I'll make no part go to waste and have tricky little designs that are hard for just a simple engineer to follow. Once you understand it, it's very easy because there's so few parts, it's easier to understand. But they had trouble understanding it."

    I know Woz is a super geek and everyone adores him. I do. I think he's a cool guy. But dammit he's hard to follow and generally rambles about things that don't matter. It's no wonder they had trouble understanding you, man! He's so full of thought, and has so much to say, that he can't get it out fast enough and he's on to something else.

    • That's why for pieces like this it's the interviewer's job to provide some direction for the piece, some gentle nudges in the right direction if necessary, encouraging the subject, and giving the whole thing a bit of structure. This particular interviewer didn't do the best job of that in the world.

      Woz can be a great interview, but you have to be a good interviewer.
      • by LoudMusic (199347)
        Well that for sure. And maybe some editing? (:
        • Yeah. Yeah, that's cool. Yeah, maybe, do you think some editing would maybe, help the whole article out or not? Do you think, that sort of thing would make the whole, article or piece, a bit more readable, in any way? Exactly that sort of thing? Yeah. Interesting.
    • by geekoid (135745)
      I think that's ebcause he's bored with the interview.
      I mean, come on, breakout?
      oh and it was called 'Simon'.

      That interviewer was really amaturish.
      • by iocat (572367)
        Atari's version was caled Touch Me. And it came out before Simon, which was made by Ralph Bear -- who made a pong-like game before Pong. Simon was Ralph's poetic justice success for having Nolan rip him off for Pong.
  • by dannycim (442761) on Friday May 04, 2007 @03:39PM (#18993451)
    That's cool.

    That's cool. [...] like conferences and stuff like that?

    Did they have like a sketch of the way it would look on the screen or did you just interpret it yourself?

    That's where I stopped reading.
  • is usually the correct one.

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