Breakout, the video game without which Apple would never have existed

A few months before the creation of Apple, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were working at Atari on a title that has become cult.

It is no mystery to anyone. In 43 years of history, Apple has repeatedly attempted a foray into the video game market. Created in 1996 in close collaboration with Bandai, the Pippin was a bitter commercial failure despite a very nice technical sheet inherited from the computers of the time. More recently, in 2019, the Cupertino company launched its Apple Arcade subscription service. With a catalog of more than 100 mobile games, Apple Arcade seems to have a bright future if it regularly welcomes new titles.

Not many people know it, but Steve Jobs’ foray into video games dates back to well before 1996 and the Pipp! N. Indeed, shortly before the creation of the company that would later become the richest in the world, Steve Jobs worked for another electronics giant: Atari.

Steve Jobs was only 18 when he got a job at Atari in 1974. Building on the enormous commercial success of Pong, the American company has more than 35,000 arcade machines sold and a turnover of nearly $ 40 million. Nolan Bushnell, founder of the company, sees in the young Steve an enormous potential and quickly makes him his little protégé, to the chagrin of his collaborators.

Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari.

After a seven-month sabbatical that took him on a pilgrimage to India, Jobs returned to Atari. The American firm, which no longer designed hit capable of selling in the thousands since Pong, is looking at a new game, Breakout. This new title would be based on the same principle as Pong, but would not require a second player. Bushnell then entrusts the design of the printed circuit of the title to Steve Jobs, with the main mission of reducing the number of chips as much as possible. Indeed, the games of the time had approximately 150 of them, and each additional component in the circuit of a game costs $ 100,000. The interest is therefore twofold for Atari which, in addition to reducing its costs, could count on a new best-seller. For this achievement, Nolan Bushnell promises Jobs a bonus proportional to the number of components removed.

To help him in his task, Steve Jobs called on a friend of 5 years his senior, Steve Wozniak. It will ultimately be the latter who will work on reducing the number of chips in Breakout, while Steve Jobs will work on the arcade machine. This one would obviously be very similar to that of Pong. The screen remained in black and white, but a cover was placed on it to give a monochrome tint to the bricks. The game benefits from two levels, a novelty for the time. Wozniak completes the design in record time, 4 days, and manages to reduce the number of components by more than a third, finally reaching 44 chips. Jobs then offers his sidekick to cut the pear in half and receive $ 350 each. In fact, Steve Jobs received a total of $ 5,000, which went towards the creation of Apple Computer a year later.

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Identical reproduction of what Breakout looked like on an arcade machine.

Breakout was finally released in May 1976 and was an incredible success. More than 11,000 arcade machines equipped with Breakout were produced at the start of production. Its solo playability contributed to its success, although it was always possible to play two. Two years later, Breakout will be adapted as a cartridge version on the Atari 2600, and will be part of the system-seller from the console. A sequel would later be produced, under the name Super Breakout. Sold as a launch game for the Atari 5200, Super Breakout offered 3 different game modes.

If the epic Steve Jobs within Atari will give him great experience, it also allowed him to meet many people. He thus became friends with the designer Ronald Wayne, who was with Jobs and Wozniak co-founder of Apple and the designer of the first logo of the headed firm.

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