Atari Breakout’s Curious Link to Steve Jobs & Apple


Apple Co-Founder Steve Jobs was tasked by Atari to create the game

(Ping! Zine Web Tech Magazine) –  Web surfers have scrambled to type “Atari Breakout” into Google image search: An easter egg developed by Google to celebrate the game’s  37th birthday (Performing such a task transforms Google images into a playable version of Breakout).

What many do not know, however, is Breakout’s link in history to Apple co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

The story was previously chronicled in Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s autobiography iWoz.

In the late 1970’s Jobs was a technician at Atari. The early game developer was looking to transform the arcade title Pong into a single-player game – something that had been initially around as a two-player title (You can see a YouTube video of Pong here).

That’s where Jobs came into the picture. Pong designer Allan Alcorn of Atari offered Jobs $750 dollars to design a prototype of the single-player version. In addition to that, Jobs would receive an additional $100 for every fewer chip used (as long as it was under 50).


Atari Breakout (as it appears as a Google easter egg)

For help, Jobs turned to future business partner and eventual Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak who at the time was working at HP. Why? Wozniak possessed exceptional skills at developing more compact chips – something that would help the project fall under the 50 chip ratio.

Without a definitive design of what the game would be like, Woz set out to design Breakout. Wozniak and Jobs split the $750 two amount two ways ($375). One interesting note, though: Jobs didn’t tell Wozniak about the extra $100 bonuses for the fewer chips.

The end product was a single player version of Pong that only used 42 TTL chips. In the end, however, it proved too hard for Atari to manufacture.

Atari later went with its own version, and that’s how the Atari Breakout we’ve grown to know and love today was born.