Why Breakout is the iPod’s default game

Breakout was initially an Easter Egg (hidden) within the original iPod (5GB and 10GB) versions and has since been added to the iPod’s Extras/Game menu as of MacWorld NYC 2002. Why Breakout of all games? Well, the legend goes like this: in 1976, Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari and the man who gave birth to Pong itself, conceived of a more advanced form of Pong where players would break a wall of bricks by hitting a ball into them which would generate a score. According to the legend, Bushnell assigned the development of this brick-busting game to an Atari engineer named… drumroll please… Steve Jobs.

Now it gets murky. Various reports abound and remembrances are muddled with time, but the best we can piece together goes like this (correct us if you think we’re confused): integrated circuits (IC’s) were an expensive item within video games at the time and Bushnell had estimated that it would require about 80 of these IC’s to make Breakout. Jobs had boasted to Bushnell that he could design this game in four days, which was why he was assigned the project in the first place. Bushnell also offered Jobs a $100 bonus for every IC he could save from the 80 Bushnell had estimated – which was a pretty penny for a $5/hour Atari engineer like Jobs. As soon as he got into it, Jobs realized that he was in over his head and he’d never finish it in four days, so he called in his friend… drumroll again please… Steve Wozniak.

Supposedly, Woz and Jobs worked on the Breakout for four days and nights, without much sleep, with the brilliant Woz doing the bulk of the engineering. When it was finished, Woz had done it with about 30 integrated circuits. Saving 50 IC’s netted a $5,000 bonus. According to most accounts, Jobs never told Woz about the $100 per IC bonus plan, instead telling Woz that he’d split what he got paid, $700, with him. So, Woz got $350 and Jobs got around $5,350. Woz still doesn’t seem to want to believe this, as you can see here. We think it’s probably generally true, since Jobs is, after all, a billionaire now – and you don’t get to be a billionaire without certain capitalistic traits.

Another funny thing is that the Breakout game Woz designed turned out to work very well, but was too complex for the Atari engineers (including Jobs) to figure out. So, they couldn’t test it for mass production and eventually had to redesign the game from scratch. Anyway, the addition of Breakout to the iPod is Steve’s little nod to his early days with Woz or it’s someone on the original iPod design team’s nod to the two Steves’ work on Atari’s original Breakout game back in 1976. Click “Games” here to see the iPod’s Breakout game in action.


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