What significance does the number 2000 have for Atari and E.T.? Howard Scott Warshaw explains all…
Two thousand weeks ago, I was making games at Atari. This is significant because 2K was a big number at Atari. The original 2600 games had to fit in 2048 bytes of ROM and 128 bytes of RAM. Squeezing an entire game into that little space? Good Lord, that was painful! Which reminds me…
I was in Jerusalem a while ago, and even though I’d never been there before, the whole scene was eerily familiar to me. The intriguing thing about Jerusalem is that everywhere you look, you’re struck by the contrast between the old and the new, not unlike working in video games. And if you consider the old temple industry, well, it was booming for a while, then there was the great crash, and then it was rebuilt and resurrected, not unlike the beginning of the video game industry. Then when you consider Jews, Muslims, and Christians, you’ve got three major factions competing for market share. Then I think about Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo… as I said, it’s just eerie.
Now consider that 2K years ago, it was Assyrians, Babylonians, and Egyptians. It seems like there have always been three factions competing for market share in Jerusalem, just like 2K weeks ago there was Atari, Coleco, and Mattel slugging it out. Astoundingly, none of the tour guides mentioned this remarkable parallel.
It was also 2K weeks ago that I made another great pilgrimage east, only not quite so far. That time I went to London. It was December 1982. I was there for the première of the movie E.T. and the debut of the (not yet, but soon to be ignominious) E.T. video game. This was the first movie première I’d ever attended, and it was very cool. I even got to ride to the theatre in a limo with my cohorts. We pulled right up to the theatre. Under a canopy, the red carpet and velvet ropes beckoned. I responded, traversing the gauntlet of waiting photographers and onlookers. It was a resplendent moment indeed. As I walked up the carpet, I could hear voices saying, ’Who is that?’ and, ‘He doesn’t look like anybody’. It was a unique and amusing moment, basking in anonymity.
Once inside, we were escorted to our seats. The theatre was lavish and grand; spectacularly appointed. The seats were so comfortable it was all I could do to keep my jet-lagged eyes open. After a little while, I gazed all around to take in the rest of the audience and the ornate details of the room. As I did, I noticed Steven Spielberg sitting three rows directly behind me with his two friends, Prince Charles and Lady Di. I remember thinking to myself, ‘There they are. They look just like themselves’. I’m glad I didn’t say it out loud. It was an amazing highlight during a magical trip.
Though I came to England as an emissary of Atari, I did find time to visit Harrods of London for my own part. There I managed to acquire a lovely silk smoking jacket which I still have, although I’m afraid it seems to have shrunk quite a bit. It used to afford me a good deal more room for inhaling. I also spent time at Windsor Castle where I had a very special moment with one of the guards.
I was standing behind the line that says ‘Do not cross this line’, some 25 feet from a guard standing ramrod straight at his post, gun at his side. I called out to him, and, in proper fashion, he totally ignored me. Then I said to him, ’Look, I’d really like a picture of me standing next to you. If I run over there for a moment while my friend takes the picture, will you shoot me?’ He stood perfectly still for a moment as if he hadn’t even heard me. Then, with the faintest of gestures, he crooked one finger a couple of times, indicating I should do it and do it quickly, which I did. He was a fabulous guard and I hope he never changes. (And in case you are wondering – no, he didn’t shoot me.)
That trip to England was one of the highlights of my life. I must confess to being something of an Anglophile in the first place, and a trip like this didn’t do much to change that. I’ve been to England a few times since, but there’s nothing quite like your first time. Still, each visit only serves to reaffirm my affection for Great Britain and for great Brits (I particularly enjoy the pubs). Consequently, I’m not only pleased and honoured, but right chuffed as well to be writing for an English publication now.
I do enjoy writing. In fact, 2K days ago I was writing my book, Once Upon Atari…, which is a compendium of my experiences 2K weeks ago. This column, however, is a very different animal indeed. It always has a train of thought, and it definitely has a schedule, but I’m not always sure about the destination until I get there. This time, I guess it’s about insights and moments. I’m fortunate to have had many, and I’m excited to be sharing more of those with you in the months ahead.
Why am I so excited about this? I can think of thousands of reasons… 2K, to be exact. Cheers.
While in Israel, I had the chance to visit a dear friend of mine. When his children heard I was coming, all they wanted to know was if I had any games for them. Video games are huge in Israel. My friend’s wife used to be a tremendous Yars’ Revenge fan back in the day. In fact, she told me she’d become so good at the game that she started playing it with her feet just to increase the challenge. One time, while they were visiting me in California, I set up the VCS and she gave me a demonstration. She placed the controller on the floor and used her right foot to move the controller and her left foot for button hits. I thought I’d seen everything about Yars’ Revenge, but I was mistaken.