Insider's story about Atari

Fun first-person account of designing the cartridge version of Donkey Kong for Atari, written by Landon Dyer, who was 21 years old when Atari hired him.

The Atari Program Exchange (a captive publishing house) was holding a contest. The grand prize for the winning game was $25,000. I'd spent a semester of college blowing off most of my courses and doing almost nothing except work on Myriapede. I finished it with a week or two to spare and submitted to the contest.

A few weeks after I mailed Myriapede off to the contest, I got a letter from Atari that said (1) they were very impressed with the work, but (2) it looked to them like a substantial copy of Centipede (well, it was) and that they'd rejected it for that reason. The subtext was they would probably sue me if I tried to sell it anywhere else, too. I was crushed. I wound up going to a local user group and giving a couple copies of it away; I assume that it spread from there. I hear that people liked it ("best download of 1982″ or something like that).

A few weeks later I got a call from Atari; they wanted to know if I was interested in interviewing for a job. I was practically vibrating with excitement. I flew out and did a loop, and made sure to show Myriapede to each interviewer; it was a conversation stopper every time. Until they saw it they kind of humored me ("yeah, okay, you wrote a game"), then when the game started up they started playing it, got distracted and ("ahem!") had to be reminded that they were doing an interview! One of the guys I talked to was the author of Atari's "official" Centipede cartridge. He said on the spot that my version was better than his.