Re: [stella] Stella @ 20

Subject: Re: [stella] Stella @ 20
From: Glenn Saunders <cybpunks@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 10 Aug 2000 05:26:18 -0700
At 06:01 PM 9/10/2000 -0500, you wrote:
I finally got to watch both volumes of "Stella at 20" last week while
visiting friends in Atlanta.  I watched volume 1 with a EE friend of mine,
while volume 2 was was a Ph.D Computer Science friend.

How old are your friends?

Both really liked the tapes.  I though Glenn's editing was very effective,
and I really liked the animated displays on volume 2 explaining some of the
graphical tricks.  While watching that one, my friend V kept getting

I really wish I could have done more of that sort of thing. I built a script for Newtek's Aura that would "draw" an image one scanline at a time from left to right which would have been cool to see. But without Joe's voiceover and with time running short, it fell through.

astonished at the elegance of the system.  I think he's going to order a set
for the Georgia Tech Graphics, Visualization, and Usability Center library.

I'd gladly donate a set for this purpose.

The Doug Neumbauer interview on volume 1 was cool, although I'd love to hear
more from him on how he did the original Star Raiders (not too 2600 related,
alas).  Everyone I watched it with was shocked to learn that there were new
2600 releases in 1990!

Doug really didn't have a lot to say about Star Raiders, surprisingly. He gave a better interview on the subject in Analog or Antic in the mid 80s. For whatever reason, his memory is a little hazy on this stuff, which is why he comes across as so, how shall we say it, folksy rather than purely technical (like the way he always refers to sprites as "guys" that seem to have a life of their own, rather than being simply an expression of his own programming routines.)

He did say that the game was written as a benchmark for the 400/800 hardware, and not at all as an official title to be developed for Atari. It was heavily playtested by everyone in Atari and it became clear due to its popularity in-house that they had a great game on their hands.

It's certainly true that the best creative works happen when there is no pressure or creative constraints. This was definitely the case both with Star Raiders and Solaris.

I didn't learn too much from the tapes, having read this forum for the last
few years, but they were a lot of fun.

To me it's not really about what they are saying as much as how they are saying it. It's the process of putting faces and personalities behind the hardware and software. Here were people who worked hard for (initially) not much pay and who created an industry almost by accident, and in most cases never got the recognition they deserved.

I mean, to this very day people are misspelling people's names (like Joe "Decure" and Steve "Meyer" in Zap!) or only giving partial credit to people. Curt Vendel's site still misspell's Jay Miner as "Minor".

As you can imagine, I've got high hopes that Supercade will be a great book...

(BTW, we tried watching the Once Upon Atari tape I'd picked up from HSW, but
it really wasn't too watchable -- the editing was annoying, and there wasn't
enough background on who the people were and why you'd want to listen to
them.  Maybe the second episode on the tape is better.)

These people were largely Howard's friends from that particular era of Atari, which is why you don't see people like David Crane or Al Miller being interviewed, since they had long gone off to found Activision by the time Howard started at Atari. Nolan had left too, which is probably why he isn't featured prominently.

So Howard's piece is pretty narrow in focus to looking at the 82-84 era, and he only devoted a half an hour to the technical stuff (the volume I haven't seen). The rest is all personal anecdotes, which tend to be different ones vs. the ones I got in my documentary. Quite amazing ones, actually. I think these people were more reserved and more intent to take credit for their accomplishments rather than talk about their wild antics for me... Howard got them to open up and admit some very embarrassing stuff. I set out to celebrate these people, not get them in trouble, which is why I took it easy on Tod Frye (although the dissolve from Mame Pac Man to 2600 Pac Man is worth a thousand words).

I have to concede that I think Howard put on more of an entertaining "show" than my videos. The editing is snappier, and his narration does help glue the piece together. But most all of his interviews were individually shot over a fairly long timespan, whereas Stella was mostly group interviews (done in a very much GUERILLA style) which has a really unique vibe to them. In many ways it presented challenges to edit, but in other cases I didn't have to edit in order to juxtapose what one person is saying next to another because the other person is in the room next to them responding to it right there. I think Howard shot most of his stuff in '96 (with Nolan's stuff looking to like it was shot in 98), whereas I shot in '97 and drove home the 20th birthday celebration message, so I think I was able to get a more memorable retrospective than Howard did, because of the milestone. But Howard had some very good stuff. I remember the shot where Carla Meninsky is almost crying talking about how Atari was the best experience of her life and that it will never happen again. That's pretty intense stuff. But I got some pretty intense stuff from Nolan too.

It's really not a competition, though. I do think that collectively, Howard's videos and mine present a very complete look at the Atari's most important history (with the exception of the coin-op stuff).

But if I were to pick just one video as representing the entire gamut, I'd say Stella at 20: Volume 1.

Glenn Saunders - Producer - Cyberpunks Entertainment
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