HSW: Well, you turn robots into bad guys or leave them as robots. We had a Mr. T head, the main character was a giant Mr. T head, so that was a great design for you. In the following screens you are riding in a jeep and trying to avoid being stopped before reaching a base to disable the missile destroy button. But it was about trying to stop the people who are trying to blow up a city and create a world war. This is the scenario of A-Team. But yeah, it was basically a graphical change and a few other things, but it wasn’t much of a change in the core gameplay itself. However, this delayed the game’s release long enough that it didn’t do so until Atari was shut down.
WIRED: You write towards the end of the book: “The AND the game did not cause the video game to crash. It is, however, symptomatic of the thought that caused the crash. I see it as the crowning achievement of this state of mind. Do you think, with hindsight being 20/20 of course, that Atari could have avoided the crash if they had locked down the 2600 so that third-party developers couldn’t make games for it, and they didn’t haven’t tried to wring every penny on him?
HSW: Absolutely. I think they could have avoided the accident. Because the truth is, there wasn’t a crash in Japan or a lot of other places, right? Of course, an accident happened in the United States, and what happened? What happened was that after a relatively short period of time the next generation of systems started to hit the market, but the particular lesson everyone got was, oh, there’s a product lifecycle involved in these things, and you need to protect your platform. So you don’t have just anyone dropping bullshit on it. I think if they had locked the system down they really would have kept their quality products. And if they had just paid David Crane and these guys a little more money than they were asking for, they wouldn’t have gone running … and a “third-party developer” might not have. been a thing for a while. There were a lot of things Atari did that were a little short-sighted. I don’t think the accident was absolutely necessary, but it was inevitable.
WIRED: Yeah, it seems that with a few minor decisions here or there, they could have really stemmed the tide. You mentioned Japan. Nintendo approached Atari to release the NES in America in ’85, I believe. Do you think it could have saved Atari as well?
HSW: Some of Atari’s best stories were the things they said no to. They blew up Jobs and Wozniak, who wanted to make a personal computer. They blew up VisiCalc, the original spreadsheet. They came to present this one to Atari, and everyone at Atari was like, “What is this? You can’t play a game with it. Why are you showing us this? ”
WIRED: They wanted to put VisiCalc on the original Atari computer lines? The 400 and 800 and others?
HSW: Yeah, they came up with that. Atari blew them away. Then they blew up Nintendo. Atari was determined to get to exactly where they presented themselves. You know, there is an old Chinese proverb that says if you don’t change direction you will end up where you are headed. Nothing was going to deter them, it seemed.
WIRED: You participated in the Angry video game nerd movie, which focused on the Nerd finally reviewing AND, and that is by far the best part of this movie, IMO. Your role was originally much larger [rewritten as the mad scientist in the desert cabin]. Why did you think this role was not “suitable” and ask for it to be rewritten?
HSW: To be honest, you know, that was back when I was just becoming a psychotherapist. And so when I thought about this movie coming out and people saw it, I thought, “I have clients that I’m trying to help with serious issues, and they’re going to go, Oh, yeah, that’s my therapist. He’s a madman who lives in a cabin in the desert and likes to shoot government agents. It really wasn’t the image I wanted to project for my practice.
WIRED: Any interesting stories from that experience or the shoot, or did you just show up and do your thing and that was it?
HSW: It was fun to review the script. I was really grateful that they were open to my ideas. I must be one of the first actors in history to argue for a smaller role!