Orphaned Computers & Game Systems

Vol. II, Issue 6    October 1998

A Conversation with Rob Fulop

by Chris Federico

"Mr. Fulop?"


"Hi. It's an honor to meet you. My name is Chris. You're one of my heroes."

"Oh! Well, thank you."

That was how it started. I guess I kind of stole him from Keita Iida, the convention's organizer, with whom he'd been chatting. I didn't ask him, "How about an interview?". I just talked with him. He's an incredibly nice, approachable guy. He's hilarious, too. Brown-bearded and somewhat studious-looking, he's got a northeastern U.S. demeanor that renders him direct and energetic.

Donald A. Thomas, Jr., a marketing manager with Atari during the company's later years, came by and interrupted our conversation (politely) to ask Mr. Fulop if he'd be staying in town through the next day (Sunday). "No; just today" was the answer. "So I'd better get a couple of cartridges together for you to sign today," Mr. Thomas said. "It's nice to meet you, by the way." They shook hands and had a little business-oriented conversation.

"What are the Tramiels doing now?" Mr. Fulop asked. "Besides trying not to get lynched?" I interjected. They laughed politely. (Yeah, dorky ol' me.) "Oh, just enjoying life at this point, kind of hidden away," Mr. Thomas replied.

CF: All of this must be flattering, to an extent.

RF: Sure. But it was so long ago; this is kinda weird, y'know? Before I decided to make a few copies of Cubicolor for sale, I had no idea. I mean, I just had no idea. I'm glad this culture still means something to so many people. It's neat to think that there are people who were kids when the first games came out, who decided to get into computers because of those games. They became programmers because they were inspired by that stuff.

CF: I love Fathom.

RF: You like Fathom? That falls so short of...I don't know.

CF: But think about that game. There's no other game like it.

RF: What, you mean, kind of Adventure-like stuff, except...

CF: But which you had to apply your memory to. And it's an action game as much as an adventure game.

RF: Oh. Well, thank you.

CF: And Cosmic Ark. You were among the best.

RF: Thanks for saying that, but it's funny: Cosmic Ark is my least favorite game. Out of my own games, I mean.

CF: Are you kidding? That game's incredible!

RF: But it could have had more.

CF: Well, I imagine that for that machine, you had to go back and crunch your code once you were done...

RF: Oh, they were shrink-to-fit games. That's exactly it.

CF: Like, "What do I take out?"

RF: Right. You had to decide what to leave out. And you just go at it until you're sick of the thing, and you get it out there.

CF: Adam and I, but especially Adam, the guy who co-writes this newsletter with me [indicating the issue that I've plopped onto a nearby Pinball table], are endeavoring to learn Stella programming. Adam even modified a game. He's the one who knows a lot about machine language already. He wants me to help him study the stuff, but the 2600 seems so hard to program...

RF: You're doing that now? Why are you interested in programming the 2600?

CF: Just from an ongoing fascination with the machine. It hasn't diminished; it's grown.

RF: Hmm. That's really neat. It's neat that kids were inspired to get into the field because of the old stuff. How old are you?

CF: 26.

RF: So you were a kid.

CF: I was nine, or in there somewhere. You should meet Adam. He's mostly doing that stuff. I'm the observer and the student, to an extent, at this point. He's around here somewhere...

RF: The 2600 is a weird machine. It really is. It's weird to program.

CF: Like the control you have over the screen lines...

RF: Yeah, you have to pay attention to a lot.

CF: Do you agree that Demon Attack opened a lot of eyes to what the 2600 could do?

RF: What Demon Attack did was to prove to a lot of people that the 2600 was capable of good arcade-type games.

CF: It seems like you really put your heart and soul into those games...

RF: Yeah, I did. I really did.

CF: I mean, that was 1982. Compared with the other games around at the time...

RF: Right. It proved that it could be done. It was all just craftsmanship.

CF: Well, you sure had it down. I remember seeing that when I was a kid. My jaw dropped open.

RF: [Laughing] Well, it's neat that so many people still like that stuff. I had to buy this today. I didn't have a copy [removing a black-and-white, boxed copy of Night Driver from his bag].

CF: [Laughing] You didn't have a copy of your own game?

RF: No. There's a bug in it. Did you know that?

CF: No; I'm not aware of any.

RF: If you turn the paddle all the way to the left, and then turn it right really fast, the screen wraps.

CF: Really?

RF: Yeah. It was a long time ago, and I didn't know how to prevent little things like that. I also had to get these to play it [removing a packaged set of paddles from his bag].

CF: [Laughing] Rob Fulop has to buy paddles at conventions!

RF: Yeah, I don't have any!

CF: I'd be honored if you'd take a copy of our newsletter. You're mentioned in this issue [indicating the newsletter again].

RF: Of course I'll take it. Thank you. I'm in here [flipping through it]?

CF: Yeah, in an article about Easter eggs.

RF: [Finding it] Ohh, yeah. Look -- Missile Command.

CF: That's a great thing, the "RF" popping up out of the city...

RF: Yeah. Y'know, we were the first group of programmers to do that. To sign the games.

CF: A bit rebellious.

RF: Well, sure. We didn't get credit. It was ridiculous. [Discovers the Raiders of the Lost Ark Easter-egg section] Oh, here's Howard!

CF: I assume you knew him back when....

RF: Oh, sure. I just [recently] stopped by.

CF: Really? This is so cool!

RF: Well, great! I'm glad this sort of thing is happening. What do you think [indicating the tables of stuff around us]? Pretty well done, huh?

CF: Oh, yeah. It's a well put-together convention.

RF: Right? I mean, hard work.

CF: Definitely.

RF: Well, it was nice meeting you.

CF: You, too! Thanks so much for talking!

RF: Well, of course.

Adam met John Harris, and had him sign an Atari 8-bit Frogger cart. These guys were so nice, so willing to talk. There was no ego vibe there at all. After several e-mails, a mailed paper issue and a phone call, I'd been able to get Richard Tsukiji, one of the WOA organizers, to allocate space on the table in front of the main room so that we could give out the piles of Vol. II, Issue #5 that we'd brought along. Keita then let us bring half of them into the main room itself and set them out, along with our subscription forms, at the Atari Headquarters table. Neat people, one and all! -- CF