written down the
titles of the papers of the people.
Q. I gather you have
ordered a copy of the transcript from the University of Utah?
Q. And have you
corresponded with Dr. Atwood to try and get a description of the course?
A. I have been attempting
to get ahold of Dr. Atwood, but he is not full-time at the University any more.
It's been a little tough getting ahold of him.
Q. Do you have any
idea when you expect the transcript to arrive?
Q. As best you can
recall at the present when did you take the Senior Thesis course?
[Note – This section
concerns a senior thesis Bushnell claims to have written in which he describes
an arcade game consisting of a central computer connected to six terminals
Nolan may well have
written such a paper, but no copy of it has ever turned up and likely never
will so it’s probably impossible to verify the claim.
I see nothing
suspicious in the fact that Nolan didn’t keep a copy of the paper (how many of
you kept copies of your college papers? I know I didn’t). I’m not sure if
anyone ever asked his professor about it either, but I wouldn’t have expected
him or her to remember it either. Still, without the paper, or someone to
corroborate its existence, the story remains unconfirmed and given the disputes
over some of the other facts in question, some are going to be suspicious of
the paper’s existence.]
A. I think it was the
spring of '67.
Q. Can you describe
in a little bit more detail what was included in that paper? You said it as a
block diagram. Can you reproduce the block diagram?
A. Sure. These are
monitors and then I had controls feeding back to the computer. I mean, it was
not a technical exercise. It was more of a written exercise.
Q. Was that the only
diagram that was included in the paper?
A. I think so. It
wasn't a very long diagram. Or, I mean, it wasn't a very long paper. I think
that's the only picture that was there.
Q. Did the paper say
anything about what would be contained in the box which you have labeled on the
diagram you just drew as "computer"?
A. Computer? It was a
general-purpose time-sharing type computer. I will have to admit this is very
foggy recollections on some of this.
Q. You have drawn six
small boxes connected by lines to two parallel lines and I gather you have
meant to indicate that each one of those six small boxes--
Q. What do you mean
by the word monitor?
A. What do I mean now
or what did I mean then
Q. What did you mean
A. I think I just
meant the type of display that I was familiar with at the school.
Q. You mean an XY
A. I don't know what
Q. You mean the type
of display used in conjunction with the Univac or the IBM 7094 that you were
A. Yes. Let me take
that back. I don't really know what kind--you know, it was just a monitor that
you could play games on for an amusement park.
Q. Did the paper
include any description of the types of games that might be played don it?
A. Yes, it did.
Q. What kind of games
A. Space War.
Q. The Space War
similar to the Space War which you played on the computer--
[NOTE – Obviously if
it could be proven that Nolan could not have seen or played Spacewar at the
University of Utah, it would throw doubt on his account here. Conversely, if a
copy of the paper ever turned up and it did in fact include a description of
Spacewar it would confirm that Nolan had encountered the game by this time
(though not necessarily at University of Utah)]
A. Yes. Hangman,
which is a word game. The question and answer game, you know, which question
will flash up and you had a multiple choice answer. A baseball game.
Q. Any other games?
A. I think those were
the only three that I described.
Q. Would you describe
what the baseball game was, how you intended it to be played?
A. I intended it to
be played similar to the machines that I was operating at the time in which
there was a ball and a bat and you were to attempt to hit targets.
[Note – Again, Nolan
is describing a “pitch-and-bat” game here, as discussed in the first post in
Q. How would the ball
appear at the plate?
A. I didn’t go into
Q. Did you describe
in the paper the game baseball in greater detail?
A. I just said a game
that simulates the game of baseball in which a ball is pitched to a batter and
the batter is controlled by the player. The attempt is to hit the ball straight
back to get a home run. If you deviate from the center, then you can get
anywhere from a single run to an out. Three outs—and it was a dime in those
days. Three outs and you had to put in another dime to play.
Q. Did you state in
the paper whether you expected that there be a symbol on the screen which a
player could maneuver somehow?
A. Well, I mean, if
you’re going to have a ball on the screen I suppose that would be symbol. I
don’t think I used that verbiage.
Q. Was the bat to be
moved on the screen?
Q How was that to be
A. By pushing a
Q. What would occur
when one pushed the button?
A. The bat would
Q. Was this described
in the paper?
A. I really don’t
remember. I just remember that I described a video version of the games that
were around at that time.
Q. Did anyone other
than you and Dr. Atwood and your wife see the paper?
A. I really don’t
Q. Do you think other
persons might have seen the paper?
A. I think it is
possible. If I knew who they were I would know by now. I mean, I would have
talked to them by now.
Q. So you have
searched for other people or attempted to recollect who they might be?
A. I have tried to
get some confirmation on that, yes.
Q. Have you talked to
your wife concerning whether she remembers the contents of that paper?
A. Oh, yes,
Q. Does she remember
what was in that paper?
A. Not in great
Q. Does she remember
the description of the game baseball?
Q. Did you ask her if
she read the description of the game baseball?
A. No, I didn’t.
Q. What is your
wife’s present residence?
A. 3872 Gibson. Santa
A. Paula Bushnell.
Q. I assume that you
and your wife are divorced?
A. Yes, we are. I’m
not sure if that means you’ve got a friendly witness or not.
Q. How many monitors
did you contemplate could be attached to a single computer for the playing of
A. I thought six
was—the speeds and the kinds of information at that time.
Q. Did you have any
thoughts as to what was the capacity of the computer would have to be to play
A. It had to do an
awful lot with how much refresh you had to do, so it meant how smart the
computer was. Or the terminal I should say.
Q. Did you do any
calculation to figure out what the correlation might be between the capacity of
the computer and, as you put it, how smart the monitor was in order to get an
A. No. I think I just
wet my finger—you know, I was trying to get the paper out and I didn’t care
about technical excellence because I knew I was going to get graded on
punctuation. The nice thing about schools is that you don’t have to build
anything that you design.
[NOTE – This raises a
semi-important point. From a legal standpoint, even if Nolan did write such a
paper, I do not find it likely that it would have constituted an instance of
“prior art” that would invalidate Baer’s patents. A mere description of a
system in which a central computer controlled remote terminals, even one that
included descriptions of games that involved imparting motion or detecting
coincidence, probably would not have sufficed. He (IMO) would have had to have
described the system in sufficient detail that it could have been built –
including a description of exactly how he was going to detect coincidence and
impart motion And (again, IMO) he would have had to have described how to do so
with a raster display. I’d also imagine he’d have to have done so in a manner
similar to that used by Baer.
From a historical
standpoint, in regards to establishing who was the “father of the video game
industry”, I’m not sure this paper would be of much use either. By his own
admission, Nolan’s idea (if it existed) did not have the makings of a viable
commercial product at this time. Its main value, I think, would be in
establishing when Nolan first got the idea that eventually led to Computer
Q. Did you ever build
an apparatus as it was shown in the paper?
A. I attempted to
later on. I mean, a time-sharing system.
Q. When did you
attempt it or when did you first start to attempt it?
A. I would say the
middle of 1970 or early 1970.
Q. Did you complete
building the apparatus as described in the paper?
A. No, I didn’t. I
just got to a paper design.
Q. Is there any
particular reason why you stopped working?
A. Yes, I found a
A. Well, in the using
of a computer and a monitor, the calculations you were talking about, I kept
going through them finding that I was running out of time doing the kinds of
things on the six monitors that I wanted to. So then I cut it back to four monitors
and in doing more interface and more software I found that I was again running
out of time. Since I decided that we had to design the monitor because the
terminals at that time were very expensive, I was building my own monitor, a
special-purpose terminal for this thing. Each time I would find in the computer
that I was running out of time I’d take some of the functions out of the
computer and put it into a slightly more intelligent terminal. After I went
through the loop two or three times and each time finding conditions in which
the computer would run out of time, I took a look at the terminals and I said,
“Gee, they’re getting so smart, why do I really need that? Let’s throw away the
mini-computer and put it all in the terminal.” That’s really now the
stand-alone games evolved. I was really happy because it made a lot more
economic sense, you know, once you can split them apart so that your
stand-alone units, limiting you market to the large amusement parks, you know,
that would have to take the six or seven terminals to make it justifiable
[NOTE here that Nolan
doesn’t claim to have actually built a system with multiple terminals (as some
seem to have erroneously concluded). This was all done on paper.]
Q. As far as you know
was it ever actually done in 1969 that the games were played on a raster scan
A. To the best of my
knowledge, no, they weren’t
Q. I believe you
stated that in early 1970 you attempted to build an apparatus for playing games
similar to the one described in the paper which you wrote at the University of
Q. Prior to that did
you do anything or attempt to construct or interest anybody else in
constructing the apparatus as described in that paper?
Q. did you ever show
the paper to anybody at Lagoon Corporation or Amusement Services Corporation?
A. No. I think I
talked to some of the people at Lagoon saying you know, “Gentlemen, it would be
neat if we could have a computer out here and hook it up.” But, you know, it
was one of those things where when you’re talking about six games that would
cost as much as a roller coaster, it was kind of an academic kind of
Q. How much did you
think six games would have cost at that time?
A. Using that system
probably a quarter of a million dollars.
Q. At that time would
that have been an economic investment as far as you know to get six games?
[NOTE - I may be missing something obvious here but it seems that Bushnell could have built a cheaper system using the DEC PDP-8 (generally considered the first successful, mass-produced minicomputer), which had been released in 1965 and cost around $18,000. Perhaps it initially cost more than that or perhaps it was impractical or incapable of driving multiple displays, or maybe he just wasn't aware of it.]
A. I don’t know. The
question then becomes if you had six of them—well, let’s put a pencil to it. If
you could get fifty cents a game and it plays in two minutes, that would be $15
times six, that would be $90 an hour. If you amortized the thing over three
years, what does it come out to? Say that you want a ten-percent return on your
capital. A quarter of a million dollars and a ten-percent return. If you have
two years which is 24 months--this says that you would have to make $11,000 a
month. $11,000 a month at $90 an hour, let's divide 24 into that. That is $490
a day. So that says that you could just barely make it if you could keep the
machine going full tilt for five hours a day or six hours a day, rather. So it
was marginally doable based on some good assumptions.
Q. At that time was fifty cents a game a
A. Well, I'm saying that games were
really great. The market at that time was 25 cents. So it says that you would
have to keep the game going for 10 or 12 hours. I don't think I would invest my
money in it.
Q. Do you have any documents relating to
your attempts to build the system of your paper in early 1970?
A. Yes, we do. They are right here
Q. You have pointed out two files, one
labeled "Data General" and the other one labeled "System
Planning, Nova Interface.”
Q. And those are the only two files?
A. That's all that I could find. They
were down in the bottom of a box of all kinds of junk.
MR. WILLIAMS: I would like to have the
Reporter mark as Atari Exhibit 39 a manila file bearing the label "Data
General,' and as Atari Exhibit 40 a
manila file bearing the legend "System Planning, Nova Interface."
I think maybe, Mr. Reporter, if you
could mark each paper in each one of these files as in the case of Exhibit 39,
39-1 through 39 whatever it takes, and likewise with Exhibit 40.
(File folder labeled "Data General 'I" was marked Atari Exhibit 39-1 through 39-7 for Identification.)
(File folder labeled "Legend System
Planning, Nova Interface" I was marked Atari Exhibit 40-1 through 40-18
[NOTE – This section deals with the Data
General Nova. I’m sure most of you already know this, but the seeing an ad for
the Nova was what convinced Nolan that his idea might be practical. Data
General was founded by several former DEC employees in 1968 to produce low-cost
minicomputers. The Nova was a minicomputer that was introduced at a base price
of $3,995 (far cheaper than DEC’s PDP-8, considered by many the first
MR. WILLIAMS: Q. Mr. Bushnell, I hand
you Atari Exhibit 39 and the document which has been marked 39-1 and ask if you
can identify that document for me.
A. It's a letter that I was going to--
No. It's an envelope. It's a letter in which-
Q. You are referring to 39-2 as the
A. Yes. 39-1 is an envelope. --in which
we were going to order a Data General computer.
Q. You say, "We were going to order
a Data General computer"?
A. The company. The Syzygy Company at
Q. And Syzygy at that time was a
partnership; is that correct?
Q. Consisting of you and Mr. Dabney?
Q. How did this relate to your
infiltration of the system of your prior paper?
A. Well, we had gotten to a point where
we felt that we had feasibility on the system and so we needed a machine to
actually build one.
Q. The letter-- A. Well, what it was, we
wanted to get the best price we could so we ordered six of everything except
for one item which I guess we needed more than that. Because we didn't have any
money. So we wanted to, you know, give the impression at least that we
were high rollers.
Q. Was that letter ever sent?
Q. It appears to bear the date January
[NOTE – this letter seems to indicate
that Nolan still hadn’t entirely dropped the idea of using a Nova as of late
Q. Was it written on or about that date?
Q. Prior to the time of writing that
letter had you built any devices for the playing of games using a cathode-ray
tube according to your system of your prior paper?
A. Yes. We had put some stuff together
as far as a monitor goes. See ,wi1h this system we were building terminals to
hook on which this would drive and we had established at that point that we
could get a tube hooked up to a raster scan responding to that and I think we
moved some objects around.
Q. Well, on January 26th of 1971, you
were considering using a raster scan display on your system?
Q. You say you put a monitor together
prior to that January 26th, 1971 date. Was the monitor as you had built it
useful for playing games?
A. Well, the way we had done it, it possibly could have been. We were
trying to build--Spacewar was the game that we were trying, and Spacewar needed
some very complex calculations and the device that we lashed up didn't have the
ability to do complex calculations. It was more of a display device.
Q. You say it could have been used for
playing games, but was it used for playing games prior to that January 26, 1971
A. Well, if you mean we moved objects
around on it and had a little bit of fun, yes, we did. It goes into our definition
of what is a game. It wasn't anything that kept score or that I said,
"Whoopee, I beat you.'' But we did move objects on it.
Q. How did the objects that were moved
appear to the participants?
A. Well, one was we had a rocket ship
that would move up, down, right or left. I guess before that we had ~ a
square that would move up, down, right or left. Then we hooked in a diode
matrix and turned the square into a rocket ship.
Q. How did the participant effect this
motion up, down, right or left?
Q. Was there only one rocket ship or
square as the case might be on the screen at a time?
A. Well, at what point in tine are you
Q. Prior to the January 26th, 1971 date.
A. Yes. It was just one object. Just a
second, I'm going to ~ take that back. There was only one
independently moving object. In developing the objects you can gate them in and out and there were, you
know--during the first gating, you know, there could have been 48 objects and
then you gate it out again and it turns--or I guess it would be 64 and then it
goes down to 32 and the more gating that you do the fewer things until you
finally get down to just one object. But we had beaucoup objects on the screen
Q. As I understand it, even though you
may have had many objects on the screen at the same time, if one moved they all
Q. I show you a document which has been
marked 39-3 and 39-4 and ask if you can identify that?
A. That's a listing that came from one
of the trade journals, and I don't remember which one it was, which listed all
the mini computers that were on the market at that time, their approximate
costs and how fast the cycle time was and what the architecture of the machine
was. It was sort of a thing that we went through to see if there wasn't a
cheaper system that we could buy that would do essentially the same thing.
Q. Essentially the same thing as what?
A. The same thing as the
Data General unit that we felt probably was as good a buy on the market at the
time for what we wanted.
Q. I notice that those two documents
bear the dates August 1970. Were these documents that you were considering
after the date of January 26, 1971 or prior to that time?
A. Well, it was prior because, you know,
obviously we had made a decision at the time this letter was written as to
which computer we wanted and we had been looking at this quite a bit before
August 1970 and was very happy when they published this because it made us
evaluate a lot more units.
Q. You said you were looking into it
quite a bit before August of 1970. I gather from your prior testimony that all
of your activities were during the year of 1970 with respect to the building of
A. That is true, in terms of
actually putting any hardware together or, you know, drawings.
Q. ·I will hand you Exhibit 39-5 and ask
if you can identify that?
A. It's just basically a little further detail on the Nova computer
Q. This was the computer series that you were
in your system?
Q. Was that the Nova 1200 as described
in this exhibit?
Q. I show you Exhibit 39-6 and ask you
if you can identify that?
A, It's an OEM blanket quantity and
cumulative discount agreement. That was the thing that we were planning to I
really buy a bunch of these things so we wanted to get the
price out of the chute that we could.
Q. Can you identify Exhibit 39-7?
A. It's a Super Nova pricelist and it
goes through the options and the things that you want. It's essentially the
source document that allowed us to write this other letter.
Q. That is Document 39-2?
Q. 39-2 appears to include a list of
various components and associated prices. I ~ender if you might go through
this list and tell us which each one of the items identified by a number
is, such as 3101, 8102, et cetera.
A. It's been a long time. I would just
have to go through these things. They are essentially parts to a mini computer.
Q. So far as you know the
identifications given in 39-7 of the various type numbers I believe are the
same type numbers referred to in 39-2?
Q. Is the description given in Document
39-7 of each of those type numbers accurately reflective of the description of
the items listed in the letter of 39-2?
A. I think so, unless we made a mistake.
MR. HERBERT: I object. I don't think there
is any description of an item on 39-2, nothing more than a type number.
THE WITNESS: But the description is in
MR. WILLIAMS: Q. Do the descriptions of
the type numbers shown in document 39- 7 accurately describe the units listed
Q. Are the prices shown in 39-2 opposite
the corresponding units a unit price?
A. I think that was an OEM discount
based on the quantity, discount price.
Q. That was the price you expected to
pay for the units if you had actually purchased them from Data General at the
Q. So that, for example, one 8101 would
have been $1,617?
Q. At the time of the preparation of the
letter 39-2 did you have an estimate of what the cost per game would be in the
system you were constructing?
Q. Do you know wb.at that estimate was?
A. I think it was around $1,000.
[NOTE – This price, if accurate, makes
more sense to me. At the prices that are quoted for the Nova in most sources, I
don’t think Nolan’s idea would have been practical. Wikipedia claims that the
base price was 3995 price (ca $27,000 in 1913 dollars, depending on which method
you use), which I think is still far too expensive for a practical arcade game
(not to mention Wikipedia’s claim that the base unit was all but useless
without adding core memory, which added another $4,000 to the price).
I am not sure what model the $3,995
price referred to. From the pricelist above, it might have been for the 4001,
which was more expensive than the 8101 that Nolan was apparently considering.]
If Nolan could have got a volume
discount that lowered the price to $1,000 per game, it would make for a much
more practical product. Whether or not he could really have gotten that price I
Q. At that time were you considering using
six games on each system?
A. It was either six or eight. I think I
started out with eight and then backed into six as I started running out of
tir.ie on the computer.
Q. Did you ever order any computers from
Data General for this system?
Q. Did you order computers from anybody else for this system?
Q. Did you ever complete building
Q. I hand you Atari Exhibit 40 and ask
you if you can identify Document 40-1?
A. This is a letter from Bob Washburn
who was the sales engineer in the area for Data General. We had
kind of been stringing him along because we weren't
ready to commit the dollars and we had sort of told him, "Yes, the order is coming. The order is coming."
I think this letter is to just sort of jack us up and trying to push us into a close. It was during this
period that I had pretty much decided
that I was not going to go the direct computer route but was
going to go to a single stand-alone unit.
[NOTE – so it seems that sometime
between these two letters [i.e. between January 26 and February 16], Nolan and
Ted had decided to go with a single computer.]
Q. During what
this that you just referred to?
A. Between I got that. the time of composing that letter to the time
that Because it was--I was almost ready to go but I just wanted to go back and
check to make sure that the system as I had configured it made sense. I wanted
to make sure the thing was doable, and so I wanted to get closer-- I had
found a place where I could rent a Data General computer and I had gotten a
little bit closer to a guy that was there who was trying to sell me some time on the machine. He pointed out
something that I had failed to take into consideration on my initial
calculations and it scared me into thinking that maybe I wasn't even going to
be able to get four monitors to go. So at that point I decided that I really
needed to change one of my design at that time and that pushed me into the
thinking of just doing it all hardware
and not doing it software with the computer.
NOTE – I am not sure what the
“something” was that Nolan had failed to take into consideration. Perhaps it
was the fact that the system needed extra memory to be useful. That is pure
speculation, of course, and I really don’t know the actual issue was.]
Q. And the period during which this
occurred that you are referring to was the period between the dates of 39-2 and
Q. What was the date on 40-1?
Q. I show you a document 40-2 and ask if
you can identify that, please.
A. This was the interface unit that took
the data from the computer and displayed it on the TV screen, part of the
Q. Was that part of the monitor which
you were considering?
Q. Was that apparatus ever built?
A. No, it wasn't. well, parts
of it were. This part was never built (indicating).
Q. What is shown on 40-7?
A. This was basically the part that made
the monitor talk to the computer.
Q. Was there a name for that part?
A. I didn't put it on. I think I always
called that the interface card. This other one would probably be called the
Q. What document are you referring to?
MR. HERBERT: It would be called what?
THE WITNESS: The address card. I'll be
darned if I know what 40-3 is. I would have to think about it for a minute.
MR. WILLIAMS: Q. Is 40-3 another diagram
associated with the monitor of a diagram of a portion of the monitor?
A. Yes. All of these have to do with the monitor.
By "all of these”, you are including--
A. 40-6, 40-8, 40-10,
40-11, 40-14, 40-15, 40-17. Portions that were built were the sync generator
Q. Do you know which diagram the sync generator
A. I'm not sure. Frankly, I don't see
the sync generator diagram here.
I think the only reason that we have these documents are these are the parts
that ended up not being used in the ultimate system and the other stuff got
reworked and used and ultimately in the
filing system and where they are heaven only knows. I was actually surprised I
even found these things.
Q. By "the ultimate
system" you mean the stand-alone games?
Q. Do you think that the drawings that were
reworked into the stand-alone game still exist?
A. I just have no way of speculating on that.
Q. Did you look for them?
MR. HERBERT:· These are among the things
that I have asked Mr. Bushnell's secretary to go through and try to
find and she has indicated that for all of the games there may be the files of
20 different engineers. She is going to try to get the beginning ones for those
two games tomorrow and try to zero in on this particular one after that.
MR. WILLIAMS: Q. You started saying that
you had built the sync generator?
Q. Which other portions did you build?
A. Some motion
and a scanning matrix, video amplifier.
Q. What was the purpose of the sync
A. Well, to get the scans going. You
have to have a frame of reference.
Q. This was to generate the scan for the
cathode-ray tube display?
Q. What was the purpose of the motion
[NOTE – the issue of who designed the
motion circuit for Computer Space is one of the major bones of contention
between Bushnell and Dabney. Ted claims the design was entirely his while Nolan
says it was his. I will not get into the merits of the claims here.]
A. To put the objects on the screen and
move them around. Actually,
we used at that time were more exercisers to take the
place of the computer because the way
we had it was that the computer would put out an address word that would
tell the monitor where to display the object and by putting
in counters you could simulate that address word and move objects around the
screen. That turned out to be the essence of the way it
of being an exerciser ultimately taking the place of the
computer it replaced the computer. Did I make sense en that?
Q. What do you mean by the term
A. Well, to get your hardware working a
lot of times you need a very predictable signal so that you know that your
hardware is working so that if you get information out of the computer you can
make sure that it's not--you know, you have a problem sometimes whether it's
the computer that's fouling up or whether it's your
So you develop a little very simple computer, you would say, which we call an
exerciser which would essentially be partitioned outside of the system, but to
the system would look like a computer but without all the bells and whistles as
far as the capability that the computer would have.
Q. Was an exerciser to be used with the
monitor when the monitor was attached to the computer as you intended in your
A. Initially, no. The exerciser would be
taken off and the computer would be hooked where the exerciser
Q. But at some later time it was to be used with the
monitor as it was attached to the computer?
A. When I decided to not
go with the computer system the exerciser was modified so that it did more
things. What essentially happened is I made a very sophisticated exerciser
which ended up playing the whole game instead
of the computer doing it.
Q. What as the purpose of the
scanning matrix circuit?
A. It's relatively easy to just put square
blobs on the screen. The matrix was to turn the blob into a rocket ship.
Q. That the diode matrix?
Q. What was the purpose of the video
A. To make it talk to the television set
at levels it could see.
A. The signal, the output of the
MR. WILLIAMS: Let's take a brief recess.
To be continued.
Sine I didn't have many photos for this one, here are a couple of Atari-related ones I came across recently.
This one is from Atari's 1978 distributor meeting. This one had an old west theme. Unfortunately it doesn't identify who the people are. Front and center (in the loud pants) is Frank Ballouz. Behind him, I think, is Steve Bristow. I think that's Gene Lipkin in the sombrero. One of the females may be Lenore Sayers or Sue Elliot.
This one appeared in the February 1974 issue of Oui.