Mike Hally and Rich Adam:
  Interview with the designers of Gravitar    

Have you ever wondered who designed Gravitar for Atari?

Well, turns out it was Mike Hally, and it was his first of over 20 games he produced and designed for Atari/Midway -- What a way to start a career !

Mike Hally was the Project leader, and Rich Adam did all the program coding for Gravitar.

So I emailed Mike about the Gravitar site and possibility doing an interview...
-- below is the correspondence and the interview.

In addition to the interview, Mike has graciously offered to send his original Gravitar project binder, including drawings, documents and a photo or two for display on the site (The binder arrived via Fed Ex on 3/17/04, and of course we will return the material).

It will be great for people interested in Gravitar and Atari to have a glimpse at what goes into designing a classic arcade game. I will post the information to the site as scans and photos, etc. are completed.

Dan Coogan

    Update: December 30, 2006
    Rich Adam sent his responses to the interview and I have added them to the page ~ thanks Rich.
jump to the Interview

Subject: Gravitar - Atari designers/programers
Date: Tue, 03 Feb 2004 12:28:02 -0700
From: Dan Coogan
Organization: Coogan Photographic
To: Mike Hally
References: 1

Hi Mike,

I got your email address from Joe Magiera and Jed Margolin.

I've recently posted up a web site for Gravitar
- dedicated to the 1982 Atari classic video arcade game Gravitar.
Hints and playing tips with screen captures, etc. included...

Now that the site is complete (with the addition of the final screen captures and hints for all the planets) I wanted to contact you, in case you had not seen the site.

After reading an interview that Derek Litton did with Chris Oberth I thought this would be a great idea to interview the principals involved in developing Gravitar.

So I wanted to ask if I could email some questions regarding the game and you
could respond when you have a bit of time.

I read at the link above that "Gravitar was designed by Mike Hally, who went on
to be the designer for Atari's smash arcade hit, Star Wars."

Also I didn't know the procedure for how you worked on the games at Atari -- in
Jan 2002 I emailed Owen Rubin and he said he "thought Gravitar was developed by
Rich Adam." -- it would be great to get responses from any of the principals involved in developing, designing, programing and producing Gravitar.

-- last year I got the blessing for the site from Ray Mueller, world record holder for Gravitar.

I'm also planning on adding a page about Lunar Battle to the site, but I'll probably do that after the interview, if you agree to it. I have permission to use some of Callan Hendricks photos (though he sold the game to Scott at safestuff.com out in California)

Thanks for all the hard work you put in at Atari -- you guys made the best games on the planet.

Dan Coogan


Subject: Re: Gravitar - Atari designers/programers
Date: Tue, 03 Feb 2004 12:58:36 -0800
From: Mike Hally
To: Dan Coogan
References: 1

Hi Dan, Your Gravitar web site is pretty impressive as I had forgotten some of the scoring design that I created for this product. Rich Adam was the programmer! This was the first of over 20 games I produced and designed for Atari/Midway. My career ended last year with Gauntlet Dark Legacy for the PS2 as my final shipped product. I came across some of those little folding ships as I packed up my life at Atari and I also have some posters and pins. Scott Evans (safestuff.com) bought my entire collection of games but I still have all my t-shirts and other assorted tid bits. I have all my original design doc's and all my maps that I drew for each planet. I will try and answer your questions as best as I can remember. I had a 27 year career at Atari.....wow. Once again, a tremendous effort on the Gravitar web site.

Michael Hally


Subject: Re: Gravitar - Atari designers/programers
Date: Tue, 03 Feb 2004 14:29:01 -0700
From: Dan Coogan
Organization: Coogan Photographic
To: Mike Hally
References: 1 , 2

Hi Mike,

I'm glad you like the site -- my goal was to make the most complete Gravitar site on the web, and so far the "classic arcade community" is giving it a welcome response.

I appreciate any insights with the history of the game or images you could provide (I'd love to see one of the posters) -- I've also been in email contact with Scott Evans and he said he will send some pics and or documentation about Gravitar.

Once I finished the last of the screen captures/hints for the planets, I figured the next step would be to interview the people responsible for the game -- after a bit of research and emails that's how it happened. Do you think Rich Adam would be interested in an email interview?

I'll finish up the questions and email them to you this week. btw, Lunar Battle is tough too.



Subject: Re: Gravitar - Atari designers/programers
Date: Fri, 06 Feb 2004 02:36:56 -0700
From: Dan Coogan
Organization: Coogan Photographic
To: Mike Hally
References: 1 , 2

Hi Mike,

I've attached the interview questions as a text document. Feel free to combine any questions if you feel an answer is more appropriate for several questions.

-- I'm not a journalist, so interviewing is not my forte -- I'm a commercial photographer in Phoenix (take a look at my photography site if you have a few minutes) -- I added some comments into the mix, along with urls if I referenced information, so this may "look like more" than it really is.

Also I have Rich Adam's name in the interview, as if both of you are responding (is it possible to contact him?) -- if he is not able to, I understand, but it would be great to get his input if possible.

Before posting the interview to the site, I'll email you with the page url (not linked to the site for the public) for any editing or feedback from you. (I don't plan on much editing though -- maybe take out some of my comments or the web references -- those are mainly just to support the questions for the interview).

Thanks again.

Dan Coogan


Subject: Gravitar......
Date: Fri, 06 Feb 2004 09:45:39 -0800
From: Mike Hally
To: Dan Coogan

Hi Dan, I got your e-mail and read through it. I will have to go under the house and find my project binder on Gravitar to help me with some of the specific dates and assorted information that I just can't remember. Maybe I can find the Gravitar mobile that was produced to hang from the ceiling to attract customers to the game in arcades. I will be down in LA until Sunday night so I won't be able to get to your questions until next week. I believe Scott might have Rich Adams contact information. I last saw and talked to Rich at the last game developers conference in San Jose. Take care and I look forward to digging up some information for your terrific web site. I played a little Gravitar two weeks ago when I helped a friend get rid of all her classic Atari games.... Scott Evans bought them all! It was like riding a bike..... you just don't forget how to do it but I was a little rough with my flying techniques.

Michael Hally


Subject: Re: Gravitar......
Date: Fri, 06 Feb 2004 15:34:20 -0700
From: Dan Coogan
Organization: Coogan Photographic
To: Mike Hally
References: 1

Hi Mike,

I just read the excellent interview with Eugene Jarvis on wayoftherodent.com

Mike Hally wrote:

> Hi Dan, I got your e-mail and read through it. I will have to go
> under the house and find my project binder on Gravitar to help me with some
> of the specific dates and assorted information that I just can't remember.
> Maybe I can find the Gravitar mobile that was produced to hang from the
> ceiling to attract customers to the game in arcades.

Thanks for taking a bit of time to do this, I appreciate it.
-- Under the house huh? watch out for Pooka and Fygar.

> I will be down in LA until Sunday night so I won't be able to get to your
> questions until next week. I believe Scott might have Rich Adams contact
> information. I last saw and talked to Rich at the last game developers
> conference in San Jose. Take care and I look forward to digging up
> some information for your terrific web site.

Hopefully Rich can do the interview too, if you can get a hold of him that would be great. I've tried to design the site to really honor a game that I love -- I'm receiving a few emails a week now that people are finding the site -- I need to post a page with feedback, comments, etc...

> I played a little Gravitar two weeks ago when I helped a friend
> get rid of all her classic Atari games....Scott bought them all! It was like
> riding a bike.....you just don't forget how to do it but I was a little
> rough with my flying techniques.
> Michael Hally

Hey, it's a great game -- and who doesn't like to ride their old bike now and then.



Interview with Mike Hally and Rich Adam, designers of Gravitar

Friday, March 12, 2004 (updated 12/30/06)

Welcome Mike Hally and Rich Adam, principals responsible at Atari in developing, designing, programing and producing games -- and specifically for the 1982 classic video arcade game, Gravitar.

I think by now most fans of the Atari video game Star Wars are aware that Mike worked on that (though few probably understand the technical aspects to what you do), but most fans of Gravitar are probably unaware of your work on it -- so thanks for the opportunity to ask some burning questions about the amazing and awesome game of finesse and skill, Gravitar.

Some people love it, some hate it. I’ve read that it’s the perfect video game. I like the fact that it's not going 100 MPH like some games -- sure I love a lot of fast games like Tempest, Robotron 2084 and Defender too, but Gravitar allows the player to take a deep breath and then attack. The gravity is tough and the 4 universes allow for a long and challenging game.

Now, on to the interview --

Q: Before you started at Atari what were you working on, and what lead you to Atari? What projects were you working on at Atari before Gravitar?

    Mike Hally: I was recruited out of college to join Atari Corp. pinball division as a mechanical engineer to work on their new wide body pinball machines.

    · I designed various components for Space Riders, Middle Earth, Superman and the massively oversized Hercules machine.

    · I received my first patent (4,235,438) on Nov. 25, 1980 for the pinball game spinning target that was used on Superman.

    · One year was spent in pinball R&D researching the feasibility of constructing the play field and cabinet out of plastic by using structural foam until efforts to relocate the division were abandoned.

    Rich Adam: Sorry I am a bit late; I was caught in career traffic.

    I was working as an intern at NASA Ames Research Center in Mt. View. I was lucky enough to work with the group that did world-class astronomy by viewing the heavens from a 16-inch telescope mounted inside a C-141 airplane flying at an altitude of 45,000 feet. It was called the Kuiper Airborne Observatory. They were part of the team that discovered rings around Uranus.

    My project there was to help with a microprocessor based telescope control system for a 60-inch telescope on the top of Mt. Lemon in Arizona. My mentor Peter Manley, taught me how to program in assembly language. That knowledge helped me get a job at Atari writing code for pinball games. At that point, I looked at Atari as a job that I would take for a couple of years and then go get a real job.

    Before Gravitar, I did a couple of pinball games and I was the junior programmer on Missile Command. Missile Command was Dave Theurer's game, but I wrote some of the graphic primitives like the text output routines (I am certain that Dave reviewed every line of code I wrote and optimized them), and I did all of the sounds on Missile Command. I learned a lot from Dave, he was extremely hard working and totally meticulous.

    After Missile Command I tried a 2 player version of Missile Command that didn't work as a game idea. At least I couldn't make it work.

Q: Did the classic age of games feel like it at the time (the early 80’s) or do people always feel that way 20+ years later? I remember going to various arcades at the time, thinking they would always be around.

    Mike Hally: I think it is human nature to think things are always going to be around forever. Pinball had been around for years so we all figured that these new video games would follow a typical path, changing with technology but keeping core elements the same.

    Rich Adam: At first, it was just a job to me. But after Missile Command, I got caught up in the possibilities of making fun games, not to mention the possibilities of getting bonus money. It was a really fun job. We were doing stuff that nobody had ever done before we understood that. Plus we were operating at the highest level that the industry had. At Atari coin-op we had custom hardware, custom controls which was huge, we were making everything up from scratch, and there were so many game ideas that were possible. Today, designers have trouble coming up with a new game idea that hasn't been done before. That is why I respect games like Katamari Damacy, because they extend the form not just repackage it.

    The coin-op engineering department run by Lyle Rains, Dan VanElderen, Steve Calfee, and Dave Stubben, was the best-run engineering group I ever worked with. The talent there was top flight and the management let us have our head. We had an incredible amount of freedom to play games in development (while we were "waiting for a listing"), offer suggestions, and manage our own time. The culture there would not have worked if the staff did not have the professionalism to balance work and play, and many didn't in later years. But the old timers hired in the late 70's had a pretty good track record.

    As in all "classic ages" as you called it, we had no idea that we were in the middle of it. If we had, we probably would have screwed it up. We were young people having and making fun together.

Q: How did the concept for Gravitar come about? -- it seems to have elements of Lunar Lander (obviously for the gravity) meets Asteroids (for ship control, thrust and firing).

And of course Lunar Battle was obviously the prototype for Gravitar. I’ve played Lunar Battle in Mame and it definitely seems a bit tougher -- with stronger gravity and the enemy attacks are relentless. I noticed there are some different sounds and different shapes for the bunkers. I also noticed there was not a 3rd Solar System in Lunar Battle, so that seems to be a major improvement for Gravitar -- as I love the 3 planets in the 3rd Solar System.

    Mike Hally: The concept was based on a combination of Lunar Lander and Asteroids. I wanted to travel in the little ship from planet to planet and explore different solar systems.

    Rich Adam: There was a process that coin-op had for employees to submit game ideas. The idea submissions were saved in a binder that teams looking for a project could take inspiration from. Lunar Battle was an idea submitted by a guy named Mike Jang I think. The idea was simple. What if you took Lunar Lander and made into a game that you had to fight your way down to the surface? The idea seemed like a natural to me. There was another game idea that Mike was also interested in that had to do with weather and a dam and some railroad bridge or something. But we decided to do Lunar Battle.

Q: What was the process and some of the challenges involved for developing the game and game play? (i.e. team “brain storming“ sessions, etc...)

    Mike Hally: Like many games back in the 80's the biggest challenge was trying to draw as much on the screen as possible and have enough processor power to handle the calculations. We were also confined to memory size vs. cost!

    Rich Adam: Technically, the hurdles were learning how to exploit the hardware, adapting it to this particular concept, and balancing difficulty vs. fun. There was a lot of talk in the lab about the game being too hard. I was very hard headed about it. Some of the staff would tell me it was too hard, but I would shoot back that Defender was really hard and that this game had the same control set up as Asteroids. Plus, we did have a game time issue on test. In the end, the game probably was too hard for the masses.

Q: What was the timeline from first discussions of the game until you had the final playable game being put into production?

    Mike Hally: The project was started in March of 81 and went into production July 82.

Mike Hally sent his Gravitar project binder to me -- I asked him this question in a follow-up email, so it's appropriate here:
One thing I notice as I look through the documents is, all the discussions about possible name changes from Lunar Battle -- which actually seems to be a pretty cool and appropriate name for the game -- so I guess the question would be, why change the name at all, if Lunar Battle was working?

Also, I've seen the marquee on the Lunar Battle prototype and it's great, so why the change? Except that Gravitar's marquee has the Gravitar man on there too, which is even better.

    Mike Hally: The game name was as difficult to agree upon as it was doing the entire game. This was the era when the marketing and sales staff got involved and determined that it was their job to approve of the game name. As you can see (in the project documents) I went through some procedures and spent money doing searches and still the name changed! The reason you change from Lunar Battle is that it was tested and the results were so-so. Rumors in the field are bad and by changing the name it gives it a new life. Look at the status reports to determine when the name switch was made. I don't recall seeing any official documents in the binder about the name change. Oh well.

    The guy they added to the artwork is Gravitar. Atari wanted to have a character in the game, (kind of) since character games were becoming popular! As you can see I had to deal with more than just designing a game that people would put money in to play!

    Rich Adam: The name was a marketing driven decision. We couldn't come up with a name that sparked in engineering. I remember leaving Mike a note one night with the name that I was really excited about "Firepower", but he burst my bubble telling me that it was taken by some mechanical shooting game. I was never turned on by the name Gravitar. It just did not talk to me about what the game was.

Q: Who designed the layout of the planets and the configuration of each planet’s landscape? Did you work on this alone, or as a team? Did different people design the planet landscapes? Did you work from sketches etc...? Were there any other landscapes that were rejected? If any why -- too simple or difficult?

    Mike Hally: I would think of shapes in my head and then just start to draw landscapes that I felt would be fun to fly in. The planets evolved one by one and were created based on the required difficulty needed. I plotted each landscape on paper and then entered in the data. I would take a concept and make it work so that we did not have any wasted layouts. We played the game alot and much of the design evolved from trial and error.

    Rich Adam: Mike did all of the planet layouts and base positioning. I probably moved a few bases a little. Each of the bases had an angular range that their shots could fire within. I did not do collision detection between the enemy shots and the land, so I limited their shot trajectory and range to keep the shots from going through the ground. I just randomly selected a shot trajectory from within that range.

Q: Was there any discussion as to the placement of a particular planet in the solar system it resides in? Was it based on the difficulty of game play?

    Mike Hally: We must of changed the order of planets based on the difficulty of playing each of them in order.

Q: Are the shots fired from the bunkers completely random? After playing many, many games it seems that some bunkers are much more accurate and a few don’t even try to shoot you (depending on your proximity) -- were some bunkers more sensitive to the vicinity of the players ship, and then fired more shots as you got closer?
    Mike Hally: I created vectors for the bunkers to fire in so that they would not travel into the land. Each bunker had a max. shot distance and a frequency that we could tweak. Bunkers did not start shooting until the player ship was with-in a certain distance. (I think this is accurate)

    Rich Adam: Well, some of that I covered already. But Mike is right about the fact that I would not activate a base to fire unless you were close to it. I think that there might be an advantage going left to right vs. right to left, or I might have ultimately fixed that issue. Some bases were probably harder because their shots had a short range so they reloaded faster. The frequency of fire was based on how far into the game you were if my memory serves. Other than those conditions, the God of Randu (our term for the random number generator) was in control.

Q: I love the fact that you can fly your ship and hover inside a bunker, then fire a shot and destroy it -- of course it takes some skill to be able to get close enough to try this little trick -- any comments?

    Mike Hally: We could not afford the processing time to check ship vs. bunker collision so that was one of those "oh well" sort of realities. Most players would be traveling too fast and explode on the landscape.

    Rich Adam: I should fix that.

Q: I’ve read about (but never experienced) the cheat/bug -- is it a reality and if it is, where does it occur in the game? -- 2 explanations below:

    Mike Hally: Yes, the game had some difficulty with certain adjoining angles that allowed shots and ship to pass through the joints of connecting lines. It made for some interesting game play with the bunkers and traveling as the design never intended for this to be a possibility. I can't remember where it was the easiest to reproduce.

    Rich Adam: I think the circular planet had this bug. It had to do with a seam in the landscape being right at 0 on the X axis. I should fix that too.

(ROGER:) “A well known gravitar cheat/bug is as follows... At a joint between two vectors (>90 degrees), position yourself below and shoot straight up. If you can align yourself just right, the shots will travel through the walls at the joint. Without moving from side to side, just thrust up and voila, you are now inside the wall. You can now move around and shoot the gun pods from behind. This is especially useful if you can get under the world!”

(David Brown notes:) There was a bug we used to use with Gravitar. It's been a while, so the details are sketchy, but on one of the planets (visible, positive gravity) there was a place where the vectors of the planet didn't meet quite right. If you allowed your craft to land very gently ("like a cotton ball" we used to say) on that break, it would go right through. You were then inside the planet and could shoot the bad guys from inside. We never worked out a way to get out or to do it on the negative gravity planets, so it wasn't really useful, but it was a fun trick.

Q: I love the art work on the cabinet (the Atari cabinets always had great art work) -- I read that George Opperman (1935-1985) was the first artist hired by Atari and the creator of the Atari logo. Mr. Opperman did nearly all the cabinet artwork for Atari (until his death in 1985).

Do you recall if George Opperman is the artist that illustrated the Gravitar cabinet? Did he also illustrate the cover of the flyer and the art for the operating manual? Any interesting stories or tidbits about George you would like to share?

    Mike Hally: George was a great guy and had his hand in everything. I do believe that George had another artist create the art for Gravitar. **I was going to guess his name but since I am not 100% sure I will decline until I find some documents.

    Rich Adam: George was a good man. Brad Chaboya did the cabinet art for the game, which is why his initials are in the game.
** Additional information:
Upon further investigation, we have discovered the artist for the Gravitar cabinet is Brad Chaboya, graphic artist. I spoke with Brad today (March 16, 2004) after a little web researching...

I asked him about George Opperman and the relationship of George, Atari and himself. He said George was the Art Director for Atari's art department, but that he did a lot of the graphics for the Atari cabinets including Gravitar. He was genuinely pleased to hear about the Gravitar site.

After our conversation, I emailed Brad and asked if he would write up some of his thoughts about the art he created for Atari and the process of how he worked on the games creating the art, a bit of info about George Opperman and how the art dept. worked, etc... and of course Gravitar specifically. I will add this information page about Brad and the process he went through creating the art to the Gravitar site when I receive it.

Dan Coogan

Here are a few references I found on the web about George Opperman:

My latest creative project to occupy my free time is to try and create a series of illustrations based on classic arcade game genres. No specific titles, just genres. You know, racing games, space games, fantasy games, whatever. Inspired by the artwork of George Opperman (Early Atari artist & designer of the original Atari logo in 1972) and others, the goal is to create illustrations that are in the same style of the early Atari arcade cabinets like Centipede, Asteroids, and Gravitar.
-- Dave Dries

George Opperman (1935-1985). Mr. Opperman was the first artist hired by Atari and the creator of the Atari logo.

When the company name changed, Bushnell and Dabney decided to update the logo too.  They incorporated the "S" from Syzygy and the "A" from Atari into the new design, and if you look at the logo above, you can see both letters.  George Opperman (who worked for Atari) designed the original "Fuji" logo in 1972, but it was not until later, as the company became increasingly successful, that an advertising agency redesigned it into a slicker, and now famous Atari logo - the "Fuji" or Stylised "A" design.

Q: Who wrote up the copy for the manual and flyer?
After writing up my own set of hints for the Gravitar web site, I can appreciate the need to explain the game to help people unfamiliar with it.

    Mike Hally: I did the game related copy for the manual and was in charge of proofing all print material for the game.

Q: How did you decide on the scoring points for the different obstacles? Seems like the score for a complete game is around 400,000 points, so was there a conscious effort to keep each universe around the 100,000 point mark?

    Mike Hally: Yes, I liked the 100,000 mark and loved doing score design. It seems so simple now that it is completed but it was actually alot of hard work to make it turn out the way it did.

Q: The Gravitar High-Score Lists names are interesting -- though I now think the name for the score above 800,000 should’ve been GOTTA-BE-SKILLED -- any comments?

Name of List Points
ACE PILOT100,001-200,000
KILLER PILOT201,001-400,000
PONTIUS PILATE 400,001-800,000
GOTTA-BE-LUCKY above 800,000

    Mike Hally: PONTIUS PILATE was my idea.....wow, I was a bit twisted!

    Rich Adam: Actually, I remember coming up with Pontius Pilate. But in the fog of history who really knows? The "Gotta-be-Lucky List" was originally the "F$^%*ing Lucky List", but Mike made me change it for obvious reasons. I was not dumb enough to argue.

Q: The concept of the invisible landscapes seem to be totally unique (I don’t recall any other games having this concept) -- how did the decision to incorporate that element come about?

I really like how the fuel cells and bunkers can sometimes represent an important landmark (or guidepost, if you will) -- a method of finding your way around the screen -- ** This is especially important in the invisible landscape planets. ** I think this is brilliant the way you chose to place the elements in their locations on the planets.

    Mike Hally: We played the game so much and we learned to warp deep into the game so I wanted more at the end of the game. I disliked games that just ended or just repeated so we tried the invisible landscape and it turned out to be pure genius. The elements were spaced to allow your mind the ability to see the land even though it was turned off until you exploded into it. This also helped me sometimes to regain that picture in my head.

    Rich Adam: We used to have Friday beer parties that started around 4:00. I was a few beers into the party with some of my colleagues and we were talking about whether changing the color of the landscapes would add anything to the game ala the levels in Missile Command, when a light went on in my head that making the land black would be an awesome difficulty level for very late in the game. I was so excited, that I went straight to the lab and patched the game to make the land black to see how it looked. It was awesome to play, but it became immediately apparent that I should "turn on the lights" when you died. When I put that in, I really believed that nobody would ever max out the game, how naïve.

Q: Since I play Gravitar all the time, one thing I noticed is you can't collect more than 25,000 fuel units. Even if you are at 24,000 fuel units, when you collect another fuel cell (each is worth 2,500 fuel units) the total will be back up to 25,000 (actually more like 24,950). So I wish there was a way to store the extra fuel -- of course my car only holds so much fuel, so maybe that's why you designed the game that way -- as it's more realistic that you could only carry so much fuel in your ships fuel tank.

    Mike Hally: The reason that the fuel design / fuel capacity has a limit was that it was our fail safe system to make sure that a player could not somehow stock pile a large amount and then play deep into the game in some sort of unplanned way! ...by having a maximum limit it changed the way in which you play, as you never wanted to "waste" fuel by losing what you could not hold!

    Rich Adam: I remember that this is something that Mike really wanted. I resisted, thinking that it was artificial, but he was right.

Q: The real-time dynamic zooming perspective is also very unique to Gravitar (though this sort of game play would become popular ten years later with the advent of scaling fighting games like Art of Fighting, but Atari’s Gravitar had it first -- how did this element of game play come about?

    Mike Hally: As I recall it was what we wanted to do in the game and we had developed this circuitry for another application and had it added to our hardware. It seemed to create a better transition and give you a feeling that the travel you were involved in was real.

    Rich Adam: Actually, this started by accident. There was a single value that you could set in the hardware to scale the image being displayed. Very early, when I was just trying to bring up an image, I had a bug where I was incrementing this value causing the landscape to grow from a dot to a full screen image. It looked really cool, so we decided to use it to enter a planet and for the zoom feature too. It is also used in the logo screen.

Q: The Red Planet is extremely difficult after the first couple solar systems and seems impossible to complete after that -- also I noticed the countdown timer does not return to the 23 seconds (remains at 9 seconds for the maximum minimum start time) if you complete the game -- Was this decision to make that aspect of game play even more difficult for the players who completed the game?

    Mike Hally: The reactor tube planet was so valuable to warp deep into the game and I wanted to make sure that it became impossible at some point in time to achieve. Learning to fly full speed in the tube was very difficult. I had a special mode where I could play it repeatedly and did so for hours on end. Do I shoot the bunkers or use the shield? How fast can I go and just slide by the wall at the best angle? It was a rush screaming for the exit with the timer getting low!

    Rich Adam: We did not want this to be a cheat for somebody to max the game. This concept was the heart of a color vector game done by Owen Rubin and Lyle Rains called Major Havoc. Of course, we probably lifted it from the Star Wars Death Star sequence to begin with.

Q: I’m glad you awarded an extra ship every 10,000 points -- even I would not have been able to complete the game on just 5 ships if you had designed the game that way - any comments on the bonus ships?

    Mike Hally: It was a pretty typical design feature for the time. The game option switches allowed for the operator to adjust many elements in the game. Have you ever played around with any of the options?

Q: Have you ever played Gravitar completely through all 4 universes?
-- Eric Clayberg -- one time World Champion Tempest and Zoo Keeper player, says he "only knows about 4 or 5 people that have been able to complete the entire game."

    Mike Hally: I have played through every planet in every mode but not without cheating. I have gotten close (many years ago) but the reverse gravity in darkness on the planets in the 3rd solar system are rough and it takes a long time to get there.**

    Rich Adam: I have never maxed out my own game without cheating. That was for the game playing gods like Mark Cerny, Doug Snyder, and Erik Durfey.

** My comment:
No Kidding, it took me over 18 months playing Gravitar every day to complete the game.
Dan Coogan

Q: Were the game designers generally good at playing and completing (if the game had a completion point) the games they designed?

    Mike Hally: Mark Cerny and I played the game everyday early in the morning. I then tested it the rest of the day. Playing is one thing but testing is completely different. When testing you are trying things to try and break the game. Fun in a different way. I played the game so much that I got sick of it being so long.

    Rich Adam: That depended on the individual. Usually, the guys I mentioned before could be as good at a game as they wished. There are probably a few others that I have forgotten.

PC Games: Interview with Mark Cerny
GameIndustry.com: Interview with Mark Cerny

Q: There are a few places in the game where you are unable to see the bunker you are shooting at (specifically the final bunker in the North West planet of the 3rd solar system) unless you move your ship closer to the bunker -- was this a conscious decision to make the game play more difficult?

    Mike Hally: I do not think I did that on purpose. It just happened due to the placement on the particular terrain and the scrolling code.

    Rich Adam: We certainly knew about it. We left things in the advanced levels that we knew were diabolically difficult.

Q: Did you ever think any players would score over a million points on the game? (personally, I wish the game recorded a 7th number in the score)

    Mike Hally: I knew that it was possible but score inflation was a hot topic around Atari. I figured that it would be a rare occurrence if it ever happened.

    Rich Adam: As I stated earlier, I did not believe that any mortal would survive negative gravity in a dark universe. We always released a game that we though nobody would ever max, and they always did.

In the attract mode, (a screen used to attract players to the game) whose initials are represented on the high score list (I’m going to venture a guess on a few here) -- and do the scores posted represent anything or were they randomly chosen?

* my guess
1 ACE009900
2 SDM009250
3 MEC008000
4 RDA007500*Rich Adam
5 MLH007250*Mike Hally
6 JOE005350
7 ORR003800*Owen R. Rubin
8 BRD001350

    Mike Hally's answer:
    1 ACE009900
    2 SDM009250
    3 MEC008000Mark Cerny

    Only the top three scores were held in eerom so that is why Rich is number 4 and so on.

    4 RDA007500Rich Adam
    5 MLH007250Mike Hally
    6 JOE005350Joe Coddington (tech and hardware designer)
    7 ORR003800Owen R. Rubin
    8 BRD001350Brad Chaboya, graphic artist

Q: Have you had a chance to look around the Gravitar web site? Is there any content you would like added to the site?

- dedicated to the 1982 Atari classic video arcade game Gravitar.
Hints and playing tips with screen captures, etc. included...

    Rich Adam: You have gone totally insane in putting this together. I applaud you for the massive amount of work you have put into it. I am genuinely flattered.

Q: Anything else you would like to add to the Gravitar discussion?

    Mike Hally: I could send you my project binder** (loan it to you) and you could look through it for additional tid bits.

    Rich Adam: We had a lot of fun making it. Thanks for your continued interest in the game.

**The Gravitar project binder (over 350 pages) has been scanned and added to the site.

Q: Do you own any arcade games? -- which ones?

    Mike Hally: Scott Evans bought most of my games. I still have a Relief Pitcher, Centipede, Milipede, Freeze, Gauntlet Legends, Gauntlet Dark Legacy and a Hoop It Up!

    Rich Adam: My wife Linda got a Tempest during her Atari tenure, and I have a Gravitar. My prototype Missile Command croaked.

Q: What are you currently working on?

    Mike Hally: Retired....may be doing another coin-op game in the near future!

    Rich Adam: I am the CEO of a little studio that develops games; Mine Shaft Entertainment, Inc. My partners Ed Rotberg (BattleZone and many other games) and Dennis Koble (Sprint II and many others) are still making games with the help of some very talented people. Our website is www.mineshaft.org.

(I got this next question from Derek Litton - who I bought my Gravitar from)
http://arcade.thelittons.net/oberth.htm - Derek Litton’s interview with Chris Oberth.

Q: What is your favorite coin-op game from the classic period not developed by you and what about it makes it number one in your book?

    Mike Hally: Missile Command was my favorite! Developing the sequence of explosions was awesome!

    Rich Adam: Asteroids. I remember seeing that game in the lab for the first time and thinking that it is going to earn a hell of a lot of quarters.

    Rich Adam "...recalled his own first encounter with Asteroids: "I'll never forget going into the lab and seeing that game for the first time. It was like an adrenaline rush. . . I'm out flying this spaceship and it's the miraculous escape. I've got this situation where I've got tons of these boulders flying around the screen, I have almost nowhere to go. I get to blast my way out of it and cheat death one more time. . . . That's a good fantasy. . . You've got all these things flying around and yet you're able to survive."

    "Asteroids fulfilled the fantasy of being out in space, with no gravity, and free floating. The spaceship had a very elegant grace. A lot of motion in the game had grace, even the way the boulders floated around."

Q: Would it be possible to get a couple photos of Mike and Rich for the interview page?
-- current pics or while at Atari would be great.

    Mike Hally: I could send you my Atari badge from the Gravitar era that you could take a picture of.

Thanks very much for your time. I’m sure Gravitar fans around the world will appreciate your insights to this amazing game of finesse and skill.

After Mike sent the email interview, I formatted the text and read it over a couple times, then gave him a call. We talked for about an hour and he added a lot to the Gravitar story for me -- I didn't record the conversation, but it was great hearing Mike talk about the early days of Atari and of course the development of Gravitar, etc.

12/30/06 update:
I also spoke with Rich Adam on several occasions. He answered a major question for me: Why is the game resetting? (frustrating, when you are playing for more than 10 hours and going for the world record, and suddenly it's "game over" ). Once the game stores more than 128 ships in it's memory, it can reset. Rich advised me to keep the total number of ships in reserve below 128 -- I did that and was able to break the Gravitar world record.

This page last updated: 12/31/06