Ted Richards

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This is a transcript of an audio interview. This transcript may contain errors - if you're using this material for research, etc. please verify with the original recorded interview.

Source: ANTIC: The Atari 8-Bit Podcast

Source URL: http://ataripodcast.libsyn.com/antic-interview-67-ted-richards-atari-connection-magazine

Interviewer: Kevin Savetz

KS: I’m Kevin Savetz, and this is an interview episode of Antic, the Atari 8-bit podcast. Ted Richards was editor-in-chief of Atari Connection magazine, Atari’s in-house computer magazine, and was marketing communications manager for Atari Home Computers, where he worked on print and package design, where he worked from 1981 to 1984. This interview took place on April 19, 2015. Check the show notes at Ataripodcast.com for links to Atari Connection magazine scans, “40-Year-Old Hippie Brings the Computer Age Home” comic strip, and Ted Richards’ website.

KS: So before you started at Atari, you were a cartoonist. Is that correct?

TR: Yes, full-time.

KS: For background, please tell me a little bit about that, if you will

TR: I had been a cartoonist, part of the early underground movement, I got started in underground newspapers. So that goes back into like ’69, ’70, and I came out to California and worked on the Berkeley tribe, and hung out in Berkeley, and crashed around in various of communes, or whatever you want to call them… crash places. Went over to San Francisco, met up with Gilbert Shelton, creator of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. Hung out with him, and then I went to a Pop Festival in late August, called the Sky River Pop Festival, and I met with Dan O’Neill; Met up with him. I had heard about him. He was kind of breaking a lot of rules as a daily syndicated cartoonist. He was one of the youngest syndicated cartoonist ever. I was hanging out with a cartoonist and Bobby London. That in turn became… evolved into the Air Pirates. Which did a series of comic books called Air Pirate Funnies, that parodied Mickey Mouse, and the Disney characters and so forth, and that became part of a big lawsuit. So I went on from there… prior to all that, when I was living in Cincinnati I had started in underground newspaper called the Queen City Express, and I created a comic strip called “Dope and Dan.” This was like a Vietnam Beetle Bailey. That caught on, so I was already, you know, had some following when I started all this. So when the Air Pirates kind of ended, I published “Dope and Dan,” and that was a huge hit… it sold hundreds of thousands of copies, and so forth. So that launched my career as an underground cartoonist. Although I never really did heavy dope stuff, or sex or what have you. It was mainly satire about the military… Political satire, and so forth. I modeled myself off of a cartoonist from World War II called Bill Mauldlin. He became a famous editorial cartoonist. He did an early series of single panels called “Willy and Joe.” So I had a series of books I did. “The 40-Year-Old Hippie” became the one that was syndicated in college newspaper syndicates and so forth, and that did very well. Then I also had a comic strip… my foray out into the mainstream, called “Mellow Cat.” This was a skateboarding comic strip, and it was in skateboarder magazine. It was modeled off of… kind of a pseudo-science concept of surfing on gravity waves. That’s actually my most popular comic strip. I still get emails and so forth. I made an e-book out of the series. I also have e-books for “The 40-Year-Old Hippie” and so forth. So anyway I was very interested in computers… the early Apple. I always had like a scientific-side to me; and technical-side, and I followed all of the developments of personal computers. When I was in the Air Force prior to all this. I worked in computers, I worked in personnel, and I did computerized records for people and so forth. Anyway I started a comic strip called “Clydes’ Computer.” A friend of mine, Felix Dennis, who was a comics aficionado, who became quite famous. He became a billionaire, so to speak. But at the time he had a computer magazine. There wass a convention in San Francisco; so he started running my comic strip, “Clydes’ Computers,”, so I manned the booth…

KS: What computer magazine was this ?

TR: Oh God... It wasn’t which computer. I can’t recall the name offhand. We can look it up. Anyway, he started this… He made his first fortune doing Bruce Lee magazines and posters and so forth, but he was also a big underground comics fan. So he invited me out to this convention in San Francisco and his magazine had a booth there, and I just kind of manned the booth and hung out and so forth. You know right next to me was a lot of Apple computers… well it was an Apple Computer convention, is what was. It was an Apple II convention in San Francisco. A woman from Atari named Sally Bowman, they had just started this Atari Home Computer division; she came up to the booth and was talking to me… I also was an editor, so to speak, I made money on the side doing editing, ‘cause I am creative writing graduate, so to speak, from San Francisco State. So we got to talking, and yeah, I was an editor. I didn’t tell her I was a cartoonist. So she invited me to… She asked… she called up, I think a day or two later to an interview. So I went down and interviewed at Atari. It took three months, and they finally decided to hire me as editor of Atari Connection; this magazine that she had started, she was the marketing communications manager there. They were looking for an editor that also had some experience or background with kids, and so forth. So I told her I had worked for “Skateboarder” magazine, and I was listed as a contributing editor. I had a friend named Steve Reese who had an alternative G.I. newspaper, military newspaper, called “The Enlisted Times,” and I was running “Dope and Dan” in there, but it was a new kind of 80s… early 80s version of “Dope and Dan,” called “Today’s Army with Dope and Dan.”

KS: In the 80s they did coke instead of pot right?

TR: It was just implied, right? So he coached me on how to be an editor for the interview. So I went down and kind of talked my way into the job; and I got the job! It was like an amazing transformation to this… you know I had like this underground… like a comic studio south of Market, and so forth. So I went and I bought some clothes at Macy’s. Even prior to all of that, I had actually worked in business, I had worked in a finance company, so I knew something about that, right, how to get along in that world. So they hired me, so I was editor of the Atari Connection. There was this cool new place down there in Sunnyvale, this new building, and they had cubes, and I had never seen cubes before… and I thought that they were…

KS: Oh you mean like cubicles?

TR: Yeah cubicles. I thought “wow, these are pretty neat.” So I had a cubicle. I had an Atari computer, and I had VisiCalc on it, and it had this program primitive word-processor on it, and you’d lose all of your stuff all the time… you would write all day long and it would disappear. So it was very, very early days of computing. So the magazine… I took over, and focused it on home computers. How they… You know, where you put them in your house? We even had a photo contest about “my home computer,” and where people had put their Atari home computer, and how they placed it in their home. The winner was the “cockatoo computer.” Someone had their computer near their cockatoo bird. Then I had a feature called “Find the Bug.” That was early programming. So we would publish a program. I would get these programmers to write a program that had a bug in it, if they could find the bug, they submitted the bug and about usually about 20 to 30 people found the bug, then we’d have a drawing and win an Atari Computer. Then we had a lot of articles about… educational kind of stuff… I can’t even remember. A lot of famous people at that time were contributors. Then I edited it all and put it all together. Eventually we evolved into a newsstand magazine, and Antic was a competing magazine at the time, and I forget the editor’s name, he was quite a guy...

KS: Jim Caparell was the publisher.

TR: Yes, Caparell. He was always meeting with Atari executives trying to persuade them to shut down our magazine. Well, we had a better advertising story…because we went out… everybody who bought an Atari computer got a copy of our magazine, so the advertisers preferred to be in there, and so forth.

KS: So wait; before you go on… to clarify… when you say you “went to a newsstand magazine,” are you talking about “Atari Explorer” at that point? Or was “Atari Connection” now a newsstand?

TR: It was Atari Connection, and it was on the newsstands, and it was a quarterly. We had newsstand distribution and the whole nine yards. Now that’s an early… That’s a pre-newsstand version you’re holding up there…

KS: At this early… I’m looking at the … we’ve got the spring ’82 here… this was… It’s fun to read, but it’s clearly a marketing arm of the, of the company.

TR: Yes, exactly, right.

KS: I mean it’s all… There’s no ads, unless it’s for Atari stuff, and it’s just… “computers are great,” and “you should have them in every room of your home!” and it’s just very…

TR: Yeah, then there are all these photo shoots of kids using the computer. That was a big thing. In fact, that was a very early version. That was primarily being done by an ad… not an ad agency, but a design agency… Heinrich Shakely something. But it was like a high-end… Hold that one up a minute… my daughter might be in that one.

KS: This is the Christmas episode… issue.

TR: That’s my daughter on the computer… That’s Miranda Lee Richards, touching the computer. That was kind of the “last hurrah” for that kind of version there. She has gone on to be a singer-songwriter. You can Google her and all that… she’s on iTunes, she writes songs, and …

KS: So this is for the… I need to say it for the… because this is an audio podcast… This is the winter ’81-‘82 issue, and there’s this happy family cuddled around their Atari 400. There’s a Christmas tree, and there’s little Miranda, trying to type on the terrible keyboard.

TR: Actually Miranda was quite good with the computer, she…

KS: Yeah?

TR: Yeah, she was an early user. She was like five years old at the time, I believe.

KS: She’s adorable.

TR: Yeah she modeled for a long time. She did work for Macy’s and Nordstrom’sm and people like. As a singer-songwriter she doesn’t want anyone to know that.

KS: So you are saying you had an outside publicity company doing...

TR: No, it was a design agency. It was all exactly what you say. It was all marketing sales forces. Transformation came when they were cutting budgets, and what have you. Give credit… They hired… We hired a publisher, and we decided to have the magazine pay for itself. So that it made its’ own money, so it transformed from that kind of look-and-feel to an editorial. There you go, that’s the newsstand…

KS: More of a newsstand…

TR: Yeah right, and that is… in fact we worked hard to not have… It’s all cool and great and all that… Logo versus BASIC, yeah Logo, yeah…

KS: So by fall 1983 it’s not a marketing… well, not so much marketing material, and there’s advertisements, and it’s a lot thicker.

TR: Yes. From a design standpoint, Julie brought in a magazine designer, that designed magazines, and in a broad sense, that’s called editorial design, and that’s designed to be read. It doesn’t win a lot of design awards, but it’s editorial approach, okay. I was full-on with that. When I basically inherited the magazine, I thought it was exactly what you said it was not… You know… Something that endeared you… you know…

KS: Right. It started off as a glorified catalog… and thus…

TR: Yes exactly. Well you can’t blame them. I mean why not? They were under the auspices, or under the direction, of this design agency Heinrich… JPH and S. Johnson, Peterson, Heinrich, and Shakery. Neil Shakery was a well-known designer, you know; like New York class, graphic designer, and I didn’t get along too well with those people at all.

KS: Why not?

TR: Well you know, they were like the antithesis of the world I had come from. So I was still trying to reconcile having “sold out” and all that kind of...

KS: “Working for the man?”

TR: Yeah work… But at the same time part of the rationale was, “ok, I’m a storyteller satirist, a humorist right?” Boy, I couldn’t get… I’m right in the middle of this I’m… my colleagues so to speak, in cartooning, they hadn’y been close to this. In fact it was sort of a “walled-garden” kind of community. They hadn’t really seen other parts of the world and how it really worked. So I thought it would bring more authenticity to my material. So… the compromise, to me, was when we went more to a newsstand magazine; we actually had to get subscriptions. Like, renewals? You know the thing with an editor is you can be you can be a cool editor and all that, but if you don’t get renewals… you’re out. It’s just that simple. So you’re judged by how well your magazine is getting renewed. That means people are reading it, and they want to keep getting it. Back in that day, that was the model for that. So anyway that’s getting up to the Atari thing, and some background on being a cartoonist.

KS: Awesome. Tell me more about being editor of the Atari Connection. It sounds like we have kind of two… Let’s talk more about the early years, a little more, when it was more of more of the marketing arm. Were you directed, “ok, we’re going to be pushing the modems now,” and you needed to write articles about.. Were you directed what to do by someone higher up, or was it just……

TR: Amazingly, it was not that directed. Just by default, you had new products. So you covered all the new products, but what was more important was… the direction I was getting… can you create… have stories about how people are using these products. I was more focused on how they’re really using them rather than specifications, or kind of the precursor to the “user experience,” what they call these days…

KS: This guy that clearly runs a flower shop and is covered in flowers…

TR: Yes exactly, yes we would find subjects like that and ctually go out on a photo shoot, and shoot them. The I tried to dial back on the photographers that we used. I used editorial photographers. Not a lot of lights, not a lot of stuff. Fast finger I called it... You get that “one shot” that was very natural-looking. That was like real people really using the computers, rather than the stuff we get from JPH and S, which is very staged, and about 15 umbrellas in the place, and light umbrellas, and lighting and everything.

KS: That flower shop, for instance, is a beautiful shot, but it clearly took three hours to get.

TR: Yeah we would… It was like it was fast... I forget the name… we used this one photographer… he would just blow through film. He would take like 30 shots, and only one would be good. But that one good one was 100 times better than anything that JPH and S guys would do, with all their staged stuff, because it would look natural and real; it was like real people. That was the idea was to “bring it home,” so to speak. This is people engaging with the entirely new technology in their homes, that allows them to you know… there wasn’t a lot of applications at the time. It was mainly finance stuff, and keeping your books, and running spreadsheets, and doing word processing and letters, and things like that. There was no Internet, I don’t even think… what was that… the early…

KS: Arpanet?

TR: Well it was not a net, but it was like an email kind-of-service… Compu..

KS: CompuServe?

TR: CompuServe, yeah. That had just started. That was the only real kind of communication. There wasn’t real file-sharing and things like that. So we were hard-pressed to find farms… actually farmers… we found farmers using these things, and all of these customer programs that were written in Basic, that manage their crop yields, or fertilizer and things like that. If we’d had to do a monthly, we would’ve quickly run out of stories. Where someone like Antic was more focused… you can do that monthly, with programming things… we didn’t really have a big programmer following with the Atari Connection. Which I was wasn’t averse to, I picked up programming a bit hanging out there.

KS: So tell me more about your adversarial relationship with Antic? They just didn’t like you because…

TR: Well it wasn’t that… I didn’t consider it that adversarial… Now forget his name again

KS: Jim.

TR: Jim, yeah. I thought he was really bright. You know he had a good idea about how to do his magazine, and so forth. I really didn’t feel any real animosity towards him. I thought it was complementary, in a sense. We could cover the human-side, the people-side, and he could cover the technology-side, which was burgeoning, and the user groups in the early… these were the early-days of programming and development, and software. He was really well-versed in that, and I thought he did a good job. So it wasn’t that adversarial. Although he was more, I thought, competitive, ina sense. You know… I didn’t want… I didn’t really take it that way..

KS: Okay so then it became more of a newsstand magazine…

TR: Yes

KS: With ads and things. Is there anything else to say about those days about the changes? Where did your writers come from?

TR: Yeah we also… part of when Julie came in, and worked with me, she got a budget for writers, and that was part of my… she asked me “what do you need?” She was from classic publishing, in which “here’s your editor,” “you’ve got to support your editor,” “what do you need to make this thing go.” Then she put it together in terms of the financials. That’s one of my favorite issues, in which I wrote a great… I think I wrote a little editorial piece in there that…

KS: This is the winter ‘84

TR: The “Art Meets Science?”

KS: Sorry, I’m distracting you by showing you things while you’re talking I’m sorry but…

TR: Great memories. A lot of the covers, those were ideas I did. With van Gogh.

KS: This beautiful...

TR: You got an “Art Meets Science?”

KS: Yeah.

TR: The idea to do that was Russell… He went on to go to Adobe… He was… We got some early software… early high-level graphical computer systems that could do paint. So we did we digitized all that… we actually did some real innovations in terms of technology in print… So he came up with that…

KS: Russell Brown?

TR: Yeah Russell Brown. He wanted to… I said yeah, let’s get van Gogh on the cover. Is it was all impressionistic to me anyway in those days with the resolution and everything, so that was… in terms of my art influences, and history, and background, I’m... love the French Impressionists. I never was a modern art fan. Maybe Jackson Pollock. Because he actually try to paint things. But anyway… so that was some of the directions we were going in. These computers can take you into new realms of art. Not just science, you know and technology. The right-side of the brain… this could move you into a whole new realm there… so that was kind of the idea behind that.

KS: Nice. Okay what else did you do at Atari besides editing the magazine?

TR: I got promoted to like a marketing manager, in which I managed all the packaging. We did some pretty innovative packaging at the time. We had a deal with Lucasfilm, and we worked on… like instead of the instructions, we actually created stories. I actually wrote one of them something on frac... frac?

KS: Rescue on Fractalus?

TR: Yeah I wrote the introduction to that; and then Ball-Blazer was another one I wrote that too.

KS: One of my all-time favorites, Ball-Blazer.

TR: Well that introduction, I got Lowell Coehn, from the San Francisco Chronicle, to write the introduction.. Where he was narrating a game. If you read the instruction manual, that’s the from the San Francisco Chronicle… he didn’t even charge us that much… It wasn’t just me, and then I wrote Rescue on Fractalus. I wrote all that introduction… some of those concepts, I actually did some storyboards for it, that they used, at Lucasfilm, on some of their illustrations. You know the vehicle itself. I actually did a sketch of that vehicle, what it would look like. So we did all of this packaging and manuals. I directed eight designers, and about eight writers and so forth. It was a pretty big group of almost 30 people I demanded everyone have an Atari computer. You’d have all of these people working on Atari products, and none of them have the damn product in their cube, you know what I mean. So use the product. Get involved with it. Become more intimate with what you’re designing about, and creating manuals about, and so forth. We pioneered quick-start guides, things like that. Like how to make these things really easy to use for people, average people, and now early ideas of personas start defining who you know person ABC and D that has this computer, and what are they looking for? What do they want to do with this? Paying attention to that. So we did a lot of innovation there. It was amazing kind of background, and how it came to be. A lot of it with a precursor to modern things that you see now….

KS: Yeah. Alright, so you worked on the LucasFilm stuff. Did you do like catalogs, you know I mean…

TR: Yeah the Atari catalog. It was my group that did that…

KS: That’s another thing where the design is, again, like, the with early Atari Connection, the design on these is just like brilliant. Someone somebody thought…

TR: Well, we had a really good design group. At the time Atari attracted a lot of top-talen. It was very competitive creatively. You had to be good. There was a lot of energy towards you know... We were using a lot of state-of-the-art print technology, at the time, with color-overlays…I forget all the terms for the technology. A lot of stuff was all done in film. We didn’t have the tools we have today. It was tedious. Lot of proofing. A lot of back-and-forth with the printers. The film-shop that did your film; that was a key thing. There were groups that had more advanced-technology scanners and things like that. Scanning was a new technology. Scanning in things with drum scanners, and the resolution they would scan in at, and all that. So we were on top of all those kind of things. I was always interested in technology, so I stayed on top of that.

KS: What else did you work on?

TR: That was pretty much it. The magazine… I hired a managing editor, to kind of take over a lot of that. I still directed a lot of the creative on it… Paul, Paul, Paul… he was brilliant. He kind of ran it the last of three quarters of a year.

KS: Paul Cohen?

TR: Cohen, yeah Paul.

KS: Helps when I have the magazine in front of me, I can just cheat.

TR: Yeah, thank you. Paul came from the magazine business. He had been an editor at, I think, San Francisco magazine. A managing editor is kind different from an editor-in-chief. A managing editor is more like the project manager, who has to have a sense of the creative, the editorial, the edit, they called it. He has to have a good feel for that… get along with all of the writers, but move it all along. You know what I mean. You’ve got you’ve got writers, photographers, illustrators, they all have to arrive at certain dates, and in certain formats, and you know production-ready, and all that kind-of-stuff. So he did a brilliant job. There were several other people, I forget their names… that were working on it at the time. So it evolved to a staff that paid for itself, we actually made money, and you know kept going.

KS: Do you remember… where you still there … You know why the magazine shut down?

TR: Well… everything shut down when Commodore took over.

KS: When Jack Tramiel…

TR: Yeah when Jack Tramiel came in, and he… I called somebody that was on vacation down in LA, when it all happened, I said “the Klingons have boarded the enterprise.” I mean it was rough. I mean it was like everyone was out of there the next day. It was it was totally chaotic. Totally crazy. It was like suddenly it was all over. You know like overnight; to an extreme. Not just like another kind of media-company taking over but, this kind of like brutal 42nd-street photo of… it was really it was the antithesis of… Funny story there. I had hired a guy. Arnold Walstein, who went on to be a fairly high-level guy at SoundBlaster. I hired Arnold as a production manager. He was brilliant. He was Jewish from the garment district in New York. He had dropped-out, and was a total hippie up in… hanging out in Canada… and had moved back to Seattle, and my first wife at the time, knew his wife, and knew them in their hippie days. So Arnold really wanted to try to break-in. So I somehow finagled, and got him a job there. Because I knew he was brilliant at getting things done. He did construction and all that kind of stuff, and he was very, very smart. So he turned into this incredible production manager. I mean he kept the whole place running. All that packaging, and all the appointments with the printers, and the scheduling and all that kind of stuff. Absolutely brilliant, everybody loved him. So when the Tramiel’s came in, they confronted him and they asked him “who are you?”, and Arnold says “WHO ARE YOU?”, you know. It’s like “

him we like, he stays.” He is one of the only guys they kept.

KS: Wow.

TR: So Arnold stayed there for two or three years, and eventually got out of there, but he was… It was a funny story.

KS: Was it because he was Jewish or because he had attitude…

TR: Oh yeah. He knew the vernacular. He had grown up with these guys. So “who are you?” So he stayed there. In fact he was the only guy in my whole group that kept his job, you know. I mean they just… everybody was gone instantly. Boom.

KS: So you were laid off?

TR: Actually, I timed it exquisitely. I technically was laid off. I went off and was just going to put in my resignation that day, to join a startup, in creating presentation software, that was just started up with Pete Schaefer, former vice-president of sales at Atari. So I was going to be a product manager, which I always wanted to be. If I was going to do this. I had gotten a great offer. So I was quitting. I was out of there. I knew it was going down anyway. I didn’t know it was going to go down like that. So I just didn’t turn in my resignation, and got this really weird, big severance-package and left. But I was literally working within four or five days at a new job, so I slipped right out of there, perfect timing.

KS: Nice. Did you work with Atari machines at your new job in any way, or was that more…

TR: No, I went to IBM, a real computer…

KS: Hey !

TR: Well you know we actually had made… You know IBM had like WordStar. It had, I mean… Lotus 1-2-3 came out and all that. So immediately, within a couple of weeks, I had an IBM computer with a hard drive, inside it.

KS: Nice. So the modern Atari people on the forums… this was actually question sent to me, for you, by a listener. The modern Atari people, when they’re talking about Atari back in the day, tend to blame everything on management, and marketing. Do you think that the marketing people get a bad rep, at Atari?

TR: Yes, I think that in a sense, the executive management, that was brought in by Warner, they had no value for anybody with any background in technology. Like that comic strip I did, “The 40-Year-Old Hippie Brings the Computer Age Home”, and the second part of that, I had the executives in the “40-Year-Old Hippies” making a presentation for the crunchy computer, and he likes the… the head of marketing likes it and said “that’s the best thing I’ve seen since I was at Sick-em dog food.” You know there we were going after the guy… had something to prove. That said it all to me. Their mindset for how to market, or sell, these computers was so misplaced I can’t even…

KS: That’s a nice analogy… the dog food thing is a real analogy to Ray Kassar, who was in coats, right, and he was in garment manufacturing…

TR: Yeah. Part of the whole… what we had known, at the marketing-level, the production, get it done, put stuff in packages, and talk about how to use it. Those people… we understood that this was a deep engagement with people on an entirely new level, with this technology. It was all about the user experience. We understood that before it was you know the ‘customer experience,” or the “user experience,” before those things were codified into marketing books and classes, and all that kind of stuff. We understood that you had to engage with the people. At the top-level, they had no clue about that. A lot of their background had no real engagement with the customer. Who’s actually using your product? How are they using it? What are they looking to go? How can you meet them with halfway with innovation, but also listen to them, about things? Apple wrote the book… ended up writing the book on that. We were more influenced by Apple. I mean everybody, like when Jobs lost his launched his Macintosh, my whole department went to it, except me. Oh yeah, excuse me, I had an IBM, but I also bought one of the first Macintoshes. I used the Macintosh to design screens for software. You could lay out the screen using paint, and you could print it on this printer, and actually… and actually figure out a way of in 80 columns so he could do it on an IBM, but I used a Macintosh. We are more in tune with the way Apple was engaging, at that time, was engaging with their customers. So that’s where we were coming from. Our executives had no clue about that. They were like from New York. They didn’t get it. That was kind of the attitude. It was almost like zero-respect, and very little direction. I mean, it was just… you got no guidance. We were kind of like the lunatics were running the asylum. That’s how I looked at it. I’m not blaming anybody, per ‘se… you know blame game. You know there’s a recent documentary that came out about the Atari cartridges that were buried …

KS: In Alamogordo, right?

TR: You the ET game that ruined Atari; you know the worst videogame of all time. I was there when all that happened. We didn’t get the game on the computers. They didn’t have a version for the Atari computer.

KS: No, not at first, but eventually they did.

TR: We were all into Eastern Front. We thought that was brilliant, by Crawford. In terms of games that you could play on the computer

KS: What else did you play?

TR: I didn’t play many games. People are kind of amazed, because I’m a cartoonist and storyteller. “Why haven’t you ever gotten into computer games?” I just never have. Actually I will explain one way… As a storyteller, humorist, satirist, and so forth. I went to like San Francisco State, and studied a lot of Mark Twain, and a lot of you know humorists and writers and so forth. I took it real seriously. You were like in the Jedi Knights or something. You had a role… integrity, all this kind of stuff. I considered the games as kind of like activity that did nothing. Like there’s people hungry out here… you know what I mean? There’s people that need… kids that need guidance, they need mentors; they need father figures, mother figures, what have you. Then you just hold up intrigue… this thing… and it goes back to when I was growing up, I was in a model airplanes, and I was really into them. I built flying model airplanes. Not the scale models, things that actually flew. When I got older I thought “you know there’s too much importance in the world to be doing this,” because I’d meet these model airplane guys, and that’s all they did, was these model airplanes. Or trains. I had electric trains. They were like obsessed with it, and go to conventions and meetings. They don’t think of, or do anything else. There’s so much more in the world. So I’m kind of editorializing against video games. I never really let my kids get into them too much. In fact, Miranda we didn’t even have a TV, until I went to Atari, because I had to have a TV in order to bring my computer home right?

KS: Maybe that’s why she looks like she’s in awe in that picture. She’s like “I get to touch a computer, there’s a television.”

TR: Well yeah, she didn’t have… we didn’t even have a TV, and then… We were given… we could take home one of these Sony 13 inches and that was our monitor back then back then. That was your monitor. So we had this TV, and it was color. It wasn’t a big one. She got introduced to television. Then my son Sam, who is a PhD candidate now; finalizing his PhD in philosophy. He didn’t actually play that many computer games. He’d get into some of the Star Wars things. He was a Star Wars guy growing up. We never had a Nintendo, and all that right? He had friends that did. There would be like a lost week. They’d go to spend the night over there at a friends’ house, and he would come back like a zombie. That’s all they would do. So anyway going off on a tangent there with the computer games.

KS: So did you sneak any of Sam’s pictures into the catalog or magazines?

TR: No, he wasn’t even born then. You know I met my wife, Marqueen, at Atari. She was a marketing writer.

KS: Really?

TR: She had come from… she was recruited from Photographic Magazine; Peterson magazine.

KS: I love the stories of Atari love.

TR: I tell you, at the time, just in background, that was probably the first time where all these young people got together. Now you see it all the time like in start-ups, and all that kind of stuff. They all remind me of the early days of Atari. There’s all this stuff going on, and going out to drink after work, in bars, and ski trips, and hanging out, and all this. It was kind of the first time that it coalesced that the Boomer generation getting into it, and had been freed from the hippie thing, you know the decade before, the “lost decade.” You’d been freed from all that. Here we all were. Almost everybody I worked with had some story, or background in, done this or hung out there, or dropped out. Almost everybody had done drugs, you know, done at least marijuana, if not cocaine, and this and that. But there wasn’t a lot of big drug usage at Atari when I was there. That wasn’t that wasn’t “a thing”, it was still little bit corporate. A lot of MBAs. A lot of people coming from… we had MBAs from Harvard, from Stanford. My boss was a Harvard… was a Stanford MBA. Most of the product managers I worked with were Yale or Wharton or Harvard. It was like top talent that they had recruited to work there. So at that level… those people were really engaged and very bright. They were “on it” about the customer, and market research, and “what are they using,” and “how can we grow it in here,” and this way, that way.As opposed to someone you talk to someone like the CEO… they were like clueless…

KS: So what did you say your wife did ?

TR: She was a marketing communications writer.

KS: So did she work for you?

TR: Yes she actually worked for me.

KS: Oh, Sir! Drinking from the company well, sir.

TR: Actually we never dated never had anything. It was after it all shut down that we got together.

KS: Are you still together?

TR: Yeah, she’s the mother of my son, Sam.

KS: Excellent. Maybe when we’re done, maybe she could tell me about her time at Atari?

TR: Oh she’d love to. She was right in the thick of it.

KS: Excellent.

TR: I remember, overall it was a very exciting, positive time in my life. I wasn’t even.. Some of my cartoonist friends thought “oh, you must be depressed or...” But it was a great adventure. It was like going aboard some starship. I went someplace that they had never been. Also, I did have this “boy-scientist” part of me. When I was growing up, chemistry sets, and built rockets, and model planes and all that. Loved astronomy. I’m still in astronomy buff today. I love telescopes. I’ve built my own telescope when I was 12 years-old. So that part of me got kind of… came welling out. It was structured. It was manifested in an actual technology, with these computers that would actually do things. A lot of the areas I ended up working in professionally, in my career, kind of generated out of that. I can remember my later days at Atari, fooling around with the graphics, and so forth, and I was thinking, “you know this could be you know like interactive storytelling.” I had kind of the first ideas about interactive. I could actually sell you something, or entertain you in a more literary-type way, rather than a game. I could engage with you with real characters; that have a plot. Something you had to do in their life, or some challenge they had overcome, or the heros’ journey or what have you. So I had my early ideas about that. When I left Atari, just within a couple of years, I designed and developed the first interactive floppy disk for Buick. That was just within three or four years…

KS: Like a demo disc that they’d set up?

TR: Yeah a demo disc it was for Buick.

KS: That looked like this?

TR: Yes. I was behind that, yeah.

KS: Oh come on! I had it right here! I didn’t even know. But no, it was sitting here. No, I got this... This is a disk… I want to know how you guys did this.. it’s a floppy… I want to describe it for the listeners… It’s a floppy disk… it’s a picture disc… which this is very rare… there’s a beautiful picture of a Buick Riviera on the disk… instead of it just being black, or just single color, there’s a picture on here. I’ve had this since back in the day, because I got it for free. You sent away for it, they sent a couple disks, and then you reformat it, and use it for whatever you want.

TR: Exactly. Those were the whole demo disc. The first one was on the Mac, for Buick. That’s really rare. I have that. I don’t know if… In fact about 10 or 15 years I could still make it work on a Mac. But when I left that company, it was called the Softdac Group. I was one employee number one. Paula George Thompkins, she called… she was the founder of that. Our first client was Buick. We went on to Ford, was the big one, we ended up going to Ford. I did a floppy disk you might be able to dredge-out called Ford Simulator; that was based on Flight Simulator. You push the keys, and so forth, like Flight Simulator. You could drive a Ford. Then you’d get specs, and so forth. That was… I launched my career in interactive you know. Then eventually the Internet showed up, and so forth. So now I’m a UX designer. Like an information architect, all these fancy… an XD-writer, “experience-design” writer, all these terms that have evolved. But A UX designer… before that it was web designer. But user experience is an actual practice now. I mean how you design a user experience, and so forth. But anyway, that’s what I do. I stay employed because there’s… not many people can really do this, do a good user experience. You’re like an old director, you can still make films, so I stay pretty much in-demand.

KS: Nice.

TR: I think that pretty much covers it. I don’t have lot of negative things, negative feelings. Time-Warner didn’t really ever get it about signing the right talent to manage the company.

KS: I guess… about that. I feel like maybe I haven’t asked enough about print and package design. We talked about the magazine a lot, but the package designs were just so beautiful and just so…cohesive. They told a story. I just wanted to A) complement you, and B) just ask if there’s anything to say about it?

TR: I don’t deserve all the credit. There were some key designers there, John… can’t remember John’s last name. I used to commute with him. Joe Miller? I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, he was an early Marcom person there, that brought this kind of direction there, that level. A lot of very talented designers were engaged with it, and you know I had a role when I took over some of that stuff directly, of innovating in that field, I think some of our best work was done in our later years. But overall, we had a high standard. JPH and S actually deserve credit for that. That’s what they were good at. That kind of design. It wasn’t appropriate for a magazine. They were brilliant package designers, and branding before “branding” was “branding.” They were really onto that… and just the level of design, the typography. Apple was also an early innovator in that same field, and we considered ourselves competing with Apple. That’s how we looked at… We went to work every day we admired their work. And Electronic Arts is another company that was innovative in packaging. They were… we admired them. But yeah we were fierce competitors, we felt really competitive. We interfaced well with top groups, like LucasFilm our design group went to LucasFilm, and we held our own. We were considered equals in a sence. That was kind of something I was proud of. That we engaged, we understood what we had to do to work with them, and we were we responded appropriately. In fact, one of the things one of the jobs I got after Atari, was with a company that did games you know that strictly on the fact that I had a relationship with LucasFilm. Because they had taken over… what was the name of the company? it was another videogame gaming company… Anyway, that was the whole reason they hired me because, I knew a lot of key people there, and had a really good reputation with them.

KS: Okay last question. If you could send a message to the Atari computer users that still exist, and you can right now, what would you tell them?

TR: Have fun. Have fun. Engage. I mean… I don’t… There are people that actually use Atari computers still, are they?

KS: Yep, that’s who listens to this podcast. There are actually thousands of them.

TR: Well, enjoy. A lot of work went into what you’re still using. A lot of smart people really cared about it. They cared about you. They really did. They thought about you. I’m surprised to hear it still ongoing, and congratulations.

KS: Thank you. Thank you so much Ted, this was great.

TR: Yeah, you too Kevin, I enjoyed this - this was a lot of fun.