Robert A. Whitehead (born November 1, 1953) is an early game designer and programmer. While working for Atari, Inc. he wrote two of the nine Atari Video Computer System launch titles: Blackjack and Star Ship. After leaving Atari, he cofounded third party video game developer Activision, then Accolade. He left the video game industry in the mid-1980s.
Whitehead worked for Atari in the late 1970s developing games for the Atari 2600 (or VCS for video computer system). There, he developed several games, including a VCS implementation of chess, a feat many other programmers considered impossible for the system. He and his co-workers David Crane, Larry Kaplan, and Alan Miller became informally known as the "Gang of Four", a group of developers who felt inadequately compensated for their work despite being collectively responsible for 60 percent of the company's profits from VCS cartridge sales.
Whitehead is sometimes credited as co-author, together with the rest of the Gang of Four, of the operating system for the Atari 400/800 computers.[a] It has been however clarified both by Al Miller and by Whitehead himself that he was not involved in the OS development, although he took part in developing applications for the computers.
Eventually the Gang of Four, disgruntled by the management's decline to provide more recognition and fair compensation to the developers, decided to leave Atari and start their own business. Whitehead together with Miller, Crane and Kaplan co-founded Activision, the first third-party video game developer, in October 1979.
There, with others, he created a VCS development system with an integrated debugger and minicomputer-hosted assembler. It was used for most of Activision's VCS titles. He also developed a "venetian blinds" animation technique: an algorithm that horizontally reused and vertically interlaced sprites several times while rendering each frame, to give the illusion that the system had more than the maximum number of sprites allowed by the hardware.
In 1984, he and other founders of Activision became disillusioned with their company. Their stock had dwindled in value and morale was low. They thought that diversification to the home computer market — such as with the Commodore 64 — was the key to success. He left Activision with Alan Miller (another co-founder of Activision), and they founded Accolade. Soon after, Whitehead left the video game industry for good.
Whitehead left in order to "give back to God and spend time with 'the fam'". After leaving Accolade, Whitehead says he helped with "low income families, getting non-profit religious start-ups going, [and] spending time in the garden."
Of the current[when?] state of the industry, Whitehead said that it is:
Too dark and derivative for my taste. The console and computer gaming business is too narrowly defined by the 14 [year old] male mentality and all his not-so-honorable fantasies. It's being driven by what has worked and afraid of what a 10 million dollar development bust will entail. It has lost its moral compass.
- Home Run (Atari)
- Football (Atari)
- Blackjack (Atari)
- Casino (Atari)
- Star Ship (Atari)
- Video Chess (Atari)
- Boxing (Activision)
- Stampede (Activision)
- Chopper Command (Activision)
- Private Eye (Activision)
- Skiing (Activision)
- Sky Jinks (Activision)
- Interview with Bob Whitehead from DigitPress.com
- Flemming, Jeffrey (30 July 2007). "The History Of Activision". Gamasutra. Archived from the original on 19 August 2019. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
- "Operating System sources". XL Addendum - Atari Home Computer System - Operating System Manual - Supplement to ATARI 400/800 Technical Reference Notes (PDF). Atari, Inc. 1984. OS listing p.1. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
- Thomasson, Michael (n.d.). "INTERVIEW - David Crane". Good Deal Games.
There is a period at Atari when there were no games coming from Larry Kaplan, Alan Miller, Bob Whitehead, and myself. As the most senior designers at Atari we were tasked with creating the 800 operating system. This group, plus two others, wrote the entire operating system in about 8 months.
- Kindig, Randy; Savetz, Kevin; Arnold, Brad (25 February 2016) [Conducted 23 October 2015]. "ANTIC Interview 136 - David Crane, Pitfall!, Atari 400/800 OS". ANTIC The Atari 8-bit Podcast (Podcast). Event occurs at 15:56. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
You know we had a - I guess that we had the four of us - Larry Kaplan, Al Miller, Bob Whitehead and myself; we had a couple of contractors who were brought in who had done communications with hard drives and things, floppy disks, things like that.
- Decuir, Joe (6 May 2019) [Recorded 5 May 2019]. Atari 800 Series Computers: 40 Years. Vintage Computer Festival East 2019. Event occurs at 1:12:36. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
BIOS Software: Al Miller, David Crane, Larry Kaplan, Bob Whitehead & Howard BornsteinCS1 maint: location (link)
- Saunders, Glenn (1997). "Tape 08 - David Crane, Al Miller". Stella at 20 - An Atari 2600 Retrospective. Event occurs at 4:45. Retrieved 27 September 2019.
So there's this one year period where Atari actually took its most productive VCS programmers and put them on the 400/800 computer. I'd say most productive with the exception of Bob [Whitehead] - Bob continued to work on VCS carts.