Marty Goldberg is a man of many talents; for instance, he is a gaming historian, author and martial arts instructor. What do they have in common? An obsession to do things accurately and deliberately. That’s exactly how Marty has led his life and that is why he is considered one of the best in the game when it comes to ensuring that video game history is accurate down to the most minute detail.
We recently had a chance to sit down with Marty to discuss his life, passions and incredible book Atari: Business is Fun
For those that aren’t familiar with your significant role in the video game industry, tell us a little about yourself?
I don’t know if I’d call my role significant, the people I document are the significant ones. I’m just a person who’s had a passion for archiving the past history of video games for future generations, combined with a fixated (if not obsessive) need to get everything as accurate as possible. I’ve been doing it on a professional level since 2000.
The intense amount of research you do must mean you have a collection of materials that spans the course of gaming history. Is this all archived anywhere?
I started the formal E2M (Electronic Entertainment Museum) Archive in 2004 for the purpose of formally organizing materials that had already been acquired and provide an infrastructure to support the continued influx of materials since then. I’m also a partner in the Atari Museum archive started by co-author Curt Vendel back in the mid-90s, and I’m also a member of the International Game Development Association’s (IGDA) Game Preservation SIG ( a hub and community for those interested in digital game preservation and history which includes professional museums and archives from around the world). In addition, I regularly assist researchers, museums and other archivists with source material and provide consulting services as well.
Where did this passion for writing start?
My writing background in the industry started back in ‘99 when I started writing for one of GameSpy’s (later IGN/GameSpy) sites called ClassicGaming.com. I eventually moved up to site director, and then on to freelance writing on video game history for various sites and magazines. I’ve been freelancing for Retro Gamer Magazine out of the UK for six years now and more recently started writing for Retro magazine in the US. I’ve contributed to several books as well, though then there’s of course the Atari Inc. book I co-authored.
I’m a huge fan of your critically-acclaimed Tome “Atari Inc. Business is Fun.” Can you tell us what that experience was like?
The research portion was simply awesome and exciting for a fan of Atari and video game history in general. Accumulating the resources, going through them and discovering new things or answering age old questions, getting to meet and interview everyone from well known legends to not so well known people, etc. It’s why we do what we do.
The experience of getting the book itself out was pure hell. Being self published, it’s a total DIY thing. That combined with the fact we were hell bent on getting it out for the 40th anniversary of the brand meant an insane timetable that at one point was 20 hours a day seven days a week for me. The end product was worth it though, and I’m really happy with a number of standard book conventions I was able to target and break with that book. One of which was the massing of all pictures in the middle of the book like a ghetto of images, or interspersing them in the chapter itself which has always annoyed me because it breaks the flow of the read. I came up with the idea of adapting what college textbooks do with an end of chapter review, and we did a review in pictures at the end of every chapter to give a sort of visual summation. Another was to write a sometimes very technical history in a style that was far more accessible (and entertaining) to the non-technical reader. Robert Cringely (Mark Stephens) was actually very influential to me in those regards.
The accelerated timeline also produced some casualties though. We had three sets of eyes combing through for factual, grammatical and typo errors and still unfortunately missed a lot. But in the end we are still very happy with the end product and judging by the review so are the bulk of everyone that has read it. Any complaints have really been confined to editing issues and gaffes, something that’s been addressed with our forthcoming second edition. We also took almost all of our proceeds for the previous year and dumped them into getting an incredible new cover painted up by Lukas Ketner, who simply did an amazing job. It really captures the spirit of Atari Inc. and that era.
Any inside stories you could share about the process of putting the book together?
Well, to make our Kickstarter funds last we stayed in a s..tbox of a hotel when we were out in the San Francisco area to conduct interviews for over a week (about 8-10 a day). I’m surprised there wasn’t a cadaver outline on the floor from the previous occupant. But it was made all worth it on the first day out when Atari co-founder Ted Dabney knocked on our door to join us for the day. We spent the day driving around with him to all the old homes and locations where he and Nolan helped create history. Everywhere from his old house where they did a good portion of the work on Computer Space to the roller rink manufacturing facility they used when they had to scale the manufacturing of PONG in ‘73. And the 14 hours days of driving all over the Bay area like a ping pong ball were made worth by the openness of all the ex-Atari employees and their desire to openly share their memories of the roles they played.
I think the memory that stands out the most was when we were completing day one of a two-day set of group interviews with ex-game programmers in front of the old Consumer Division programmer building that most of the console programmers used to work in. The building is still there, but it’s been remodeled and split in half with the half we were in front of being unoccupied at the time. As we’re wrapping up, the building manager shows up to go inside and check on some things in this unoccupied section. One of the ex-Atari people goes up to him and proceeds to inform him this used to be an Atari building they used to work in and could we all come in and look around. Being an older gentleman who was most likely an immigrant given his thick accent, he had never heard of Atari but was willing to let us walk around. So Curt and I got to walk around the hallowed halls where all the ‘82-’84 games for the 2600 and 5200 were created, with some of those very same people. Where Howard Scott Warshaw walked around with a fedora hat while cracking a bullwhip to get in the mood for coding Raiders of the Lost Ark and where Tod Frye literally climbed the walls.
Outside of the book world you also contribute to Retro Gamer Magazine. Can you tell us more about that?
Sure, I started out there as a fact checker (since at that point in time they were sorely in need of one for the 70s and early 80s era history) and very quickly expanded into writing feature articles for them. Darran Jones has done a stupendous job building up the quality of that magazine compared to where it was before Imagine Press bought and rebooted it. There’s a lot of talented researchers and writers involved in putting it out.
I also started writing for the US based Retro magazine, which famously launched via Kickstarter in 2013. That’s another great group of people, and it’s interesting to see that magazine as it move to define it’s identity. So far I’ve done an article on the 8-bit computer game M.U.L.E. and an exclusive on the original burial of the Atari games in Alamogordo and the events surrounding it.
Being the multi-talented person that you are, you have a hand in developing games on top of everything else. What’s that like?
It’s been great, but also full of insane deadline stories. This work has been primarily through Curt’s company Syzygy Co. (formerly Legacy Engineering) and revolving around coding games related to classic IP. It’s a unique experience to be on both sides and understand what these guys did from a historical standpoint while getting an appreciation of the technical side first hand. We’ve also done work as consultants related to rebooting of classic IP as well.
Aside from gaming, what are your passions?
Building and creating. Whether it’s a new company, a new project, or even helping people achieve their own creative aspirations. Oh, and martial arts. I guess you could the full passion list would be building, creating and destroying then, lol.
Any words of advice for our readers who want to do what you do?
As far as historical research, take it seriously. It doesn’t consist of going by what’s easily available on the internet, throwing in a few citations from old magazine and newspaper coverage and topping it off with a few quotes from interviews. That’s how myths, legends, and stereotypes get regurgitated. I can’t tell you how many times writers take things at face value and simply (lazily?) repeat information as if pressing play on a recording and walking away. You have to apply critical thinking towards everything and debate facts if need be. Really get in the minds of the people you’re interviewing and the subjects and events you’re researching. Otherwise the most important questions will never be asked, new information will never be discovered, and you’ll have an endless cycle of of authors generating inbred citations all leading back to the same few sources. Most of all, you need a passion for the subject matter.
Any parting shots?