The History of Games in Sunnyvale

This exhibit was presented to the public at the Sunnyvale Library, and an updated version was displayed at the Fall Classic Games Tournament 2011.


Atari was formed in 1972 by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, with Al Alcorn soon coming on as chief design engineer. Although the first location was in an industrial park at 2962 Scott Boulevard, Santa Clara, Atari later had both corporate offices and manufacturing in Sunnyvale. Most Atari equipment was produced in various locations in Asia, but the Pong consoles, the paddle controllers and some early console systems were produced in Sunnyvale.

The seminal event in Atari’s history took place at Andy Capp’s Tavern on El Camino (157 W. El Camino Real, now Rooster T. Feathers, a comedy club). After Alcorn had finished designing and building the first Pong game, it was installed with a coin-op slot at the tavern. The instant popularity of the game encouraged Bushnell to go into production himself at a nearby deserted roller-skating rink, hiring local students and drop-outs to work on the assembly line.

Prior to 1976, Atari produced arcade games and home Pong games. To raise capital for the production of a new cartridge gaming system, Bushnell sold Atari to Warner Communications. He was named Chairman of the Board. After disagreements over the direction the company should take, Bushnell left Atari in 1978. There followed numerous re-structures, name changes and buy-outs, and Atari is now a subsidiary of the French holding company Atari SA, formerly known as Infogrames Entertainment. In 2010, it was announced that Bushnell would join the company’s Board of Directors.

Atari equipment and games have a devoted fan base. Libraries in the Davis area host Atari Parties, and there are active listservs and user groups. Game systems and games are actively sold on eBay and traded among collectors.

Atari occupied several locations in Sunnyvale. Among them were:

  • 1265 Borregas Avenue, Atari headquarters.
  • 1195 Borregas Avenue, Consumer Division.
  • 1340 Bordeaux Drive, Customer Service Department.

On display:

  • Atari 400. Released November, 1979.
  • Game cartridge. ET, Phone Home.
  • Paddle controllers, manufactured in Sunnyvale.
  • Classic Atari Joystick controller.
  • Star Raiders Touch Pad controller and game manual. Back of manual: “ATARI, INC., Consumer Division, 1195 Borregas Ave., Sunnyvale, CA 94086” Copyright 1980.

All Atari material on loan from Ben J. Corr.

Red Octane

Red Octane started as the world’s first video game rental service. Founded by brothers Kai and Charles Huang, they saw that American customers loved Japanese rhythm games like Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution but were frustrated by the poor quality of peripherals available. In response they began marketing their own line, including dance mats, drum sets, and arcade controllers. Red Octane developed “Ignition” dance mats which sold for up to $100, five times the cost of the competing products. The popularity of these mats showed that gamers would pay premium prices for high quality equipment. They marketed peripherals from 2002 to 2004.

Wishing to be less dependent on Konami games, Red Octane contracted with Massachusetts-based Harmonix to develop a guitar-based rhythm game. Potential investors had no faith in the marketability of the game, or in “. . . two random brothers with a plastic guitar.” Unable to get the $3 million needed to stock store shelves, the Huangs borrowed from friends and family, used their credit cards, and got second mortgages on their homes. Guitar Hero debuted in November, 2005, for the PlayStation 2. Eight months later (June 2006), Red Octane was acquired by Activision for $99.9 million.

As sales of controllers saturated the market and no new game play was developed, revenues for the Guitar Hero franchise declined. Activision closed the Guitar Hero division in February, 2011.

Sunnyvale location: 955 Benecia Avenue, Sunnyvale, CA 94085

On display:

  • Red Octane Ignition dance pad for Dance Dance Revolution, circa 2005.
  • Guitar Hero controller and box, for PlayStation2, circa 2005.

On loan from Ben Wilhelm

For more information:, a talk by Charles Huang.

SSI (Strategic Simulations, Inc)

Founded in 1979 by Joel Billings, SSI is generally considered to be the first company to publish a professionally written and packaged wargame, Computer Bismarck . Initially specializing in military strategy games, SSI included maps, well-developed characters, professionally printed user’s manuals and other items in their games. Billings was primarily the producer and publisher of SSI games, the earliest of which were written in-house by John Lyons and Ed Williger. In 1982, the company branched out with the Rapid Fire line, which were games written by third party authors and marketed by SSI, followed in 1984 by role playing games. In 1987, SSI acquired the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons license from TSR and eventually published 30 AD&D titles.

In 1994, SSI was sold to Mindcape, which then became part of Mattel. The SSI brand was acquired in 2001 by Ubisoft and the brand name was retired.

Sunnyvale location: 675 Almanor Ave, Sunnyvale, CA 94085

On display:

  • Computer Ambush, 2nd Edition. Programmed by Ed Williger Commodore 64. 1985.
  • Cyber Empires. Developed by Silicon Knights. Commodore Amiga. 1992.
  • Imperialism. Developed by Frog City Software. Windows 95 & MAC OS. 1997.

Gifts of Jeff Strickler