reviewed Breakout



A technical marvel of computer wizardry by Steve Wozniak. However, as I have seen it reiterated time and again, most recently in the (so far) excellent ATARI 50, I wish to stress that Steve Jobs had minimal (read: no) involvement with the development or design of Breakout.
I think it's an interesting enough tale that you should dive into it yourself, but here's the basic rundown:
Wozniak was working at Hewlett-Packard, and got a call from Jobs about the work he was doing at Atari. Jobs' job was to give Atari's games a final test for any tweaks necessary. Bushnell assigned Jobs the task of making a single-player Pong-like where the player would break bricks. Jobs was to receive a ~$750 bonus for every chip under fifty since Bushnell disliked how many chips Atari's games were using. Bushnell offered the job to Jobs because he had heard Jobs' friend Wozniak had made a Pong-clone using only 30 chips. Jobs only told Wozniak that there would be a $700 bonus for getting things under 50 chips, and $1,000 if they were under 40. Jobs told Wozniak they would split that $700/$1,000 fee. To meet the four day deadline, Wozniak worked four nights straight at Atari while performing his main job at Hewlett-Packard. Jobs would breadboard Wozniak's designs and wire the chips. Jobs and Wozniak ended up with mononucleosis. With a finalised design at fourty-four chips, Jobs paid Wozniak half the $700 he told Wozniak they would earn. The actual bonus earned was $5,000, and Wozniak wouldn't find out the truth until years later. In his own words:
"[...]we were kids, you know. He got paid one amount, and told me he got paid another. He wasn't honest with me, and I was hurt. But I didn't make a big deal about it or anything. Ethics always mattered to me, and I still don't really understand why he would've gotten paid one thing and told me he'd gotten paid another. [...] I never let stuff like what happened with Breakout bother me. Though you can disagree -- you can even split from a relationship -- you don't have to hold it against the other. You're just different. That's the best way to live life and be happy."
For further reading, I suggest Steve Wozniak's biography iWoz, this interview from the December 1984 edition of BYTE magazine, and this Q&A from Wozniak's website.

Reviewed on Nov 14, 2022