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Atari, Atari Adventure, Industrial Design, Videogame Arcades, Peter Takaichi, Ken Hata, Michael Jang

Atari Adventure

An Oral History

Henry Lowood (Stanford University) and Raiford Guins (Indiana University)


During the early 1980s, Atari created several game centers as integrated environments for its coin-op arcade games. Atari Adventure was the brand name for this arcade chain. The first arcade opened as Atari Video Adventure at Marriott’s Great America [theme park] in Santa Clara, California, in July 1982. It was followed by arcades at several other locations, including Atari Adventure, which opened at the San Francisco Airport North Terminal in June 1983 and the Central Terminal in July 1983. Raiford Guins, in his book Atari Design: Impressions on Coin-Operated Video Game Machines (London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2020), describes the Atari Adventure project as “not simply an arcade chain but a total reimagining of what an environment for the company’s products could be” (174).

What follows are excerpts from a series of interviews Guins conducted with Atari industrial designers as part of his research for Atari Design. These excerpts provide documentation about the rationale and design of Atari Adventure as well as its framing as a “futuristic” setting. Guins’s analysis of Atari Adventure in the context of the history of industrial and graphic design at Atari appears in chapter 4 of Atari Design, “A Kinesthetic World of Shapes and Color.”

Transcripts of the interviews are available online via the Stanford Libraries as “Atari Design Interviews, 2015–2017,” at The excerpts here have been edited and arranged for clarity and focus on the Atari Adventure project. The excerpts were taken from recorded and email interviews made with Peter Takaichi, 9 Nov. 2015 (identified as PT); Ken Hata, 16 August 2017 (identified as KH); and Michael Jang, May-June 2017 (identified as MJ). Guins is identified as RG. These interview excerpts have been lightly edited for clarity and legibility.


Raiford Guins [RG]: … going back to the document [an archival document from The Strong Museum listing Atari personnel involved in the Atari Adventure project] I showed you when I came in—this seems to be an area that you actually had a lot of control over, that you were sort of the lead on Atari Adventure.

Peter Takaichi [PT]: No, not really.

RG: Was it actually built?

PT: Atari Adventure—

RG: At San Francisco Airport?

PT: Okay. Yes, it was built. I have some photographs.

RG: All right.

PT: Yeah, these are the plan drawings. Ken Hata was the designer.

RG: Ken?

PT: Hata, H-A-T-A. … A fellow named Dick Needleman who has passed on was the one who was doing all the negotiating and the setting up of these things. But design wise, Ken Hata did it. And you can see here—here’s a concept drawing and there’s the actual thing.

RG: That’s interesting. You have non-Atari games and Atari Adventure as well.

PT: Yeah.


RG: I wanted to ask you about your involvement on the exterior design of Atari Adventure at SFO. I’ve been in contact with Ken Hata, and he’s provided me with a lot of images and really insightful feedback on my questions. I’ve also worked with related materials collected at The Strong. I revisited your interview this morning and noticed that Atari Adventure did not come up there. If you have the time, I welcome any insights you can provide on the work that you did—especially the futuristic motif of the design. It’s my understanding that your involvement was limited to the exterior, is that correct?

Michael Jang [MJ]: On the Atari Adventure project almost all the credit should go to Ken Hata. By the way, his last name is spelled with a T not D. I only did the concept sketch of the exterior. I didn’t even have to follow up on the construction of it, like Ken had done with the interior. The exterior concept was done, then an architect took over the project. My rendering had an angled shape on top of the arcade exterior. That was to mirror an angled shape I saw of the architectural rendering of the entire building.


RG: So my first question is what design work did you do exactly? Did you only work on the exterior?

KH: My primary focus was the interior design. Once the floor plans were secured from the San Francisco Airport Commission, architectural information was double-checked by site inspection on both locations, the North and the Central [terminals]. Before 1983, there were basically two main terminals, the North Terminal and the South Terminal, but they have converted and renamed the Central as the International Terminal. Mike Jang worked on the exterior facades, and I worked on the interior layout and details.

RG: Where did the concept for Atari Adventure come from?

KH: I do not know. Maybe you can ask the Atari Adventure marketing operations. We worked closely with Lenore Sayers and Dick Needleman.

RG: Why set up an arcade at SFO? I actually have a copy of the lease agreement with (then) mayor Dianne Feinstein.

KH: I do not know. Someone thought that it was an excellent opportunity to have a great exposure at a premium/prestigious location. An arcade at Rodeo Drive would have been great.


PT: Atari Adventure, I believe there were two of them built. One up at San Francisco Airport and one down …

RG: American Adventure in Santa Clara.

PT: Oh, Great America?

RG: Great America. There was one there.

PT: Is there one there? There was one here [San Francisco Airport?] that was much more mundane.

RG: But this, I mean, you’ve got this amazing, I’m going to say and I want to get your sense of the word futuristic because it appears a lot in your documentation here—or notes really.

PT: Well this is—I believe this is Ken—Ken Hata’s [referring to an industrial rendering of Atari Adventure].

RG: I have your name on this somewhere.

PT: I think I recognize my writing in comments. Okay, but the way this project was handled was we didn’t have the manpower when this project came up.

RG: Why did it come up? I mean, let’s start with that question.

PT: You know, I don’t really know. I mean, I guess the company sort of wanted to have these showcase locations so that they could take distributors there, you know, and say well this is the type of location you ought to be trying to push your operators into.

RG: Really?

PT: I’m speculating here.

RG: Yeah, that’s really interesting, because this is high end.

PT: Yeah. I think they were trying to lift up the reputation of arcades.

RG: And look at the clothing people are wearing in that photograph, right?

PT: Yeah, because in the early eighties, there was a lot of growing resistance to video games. And so I think this was, in part, response to that and saying okay, we have got to put the coin-op business on a better footing.

RG: George [Opperman] said in one of the interviews he did that the mantra of all of the graphic design work is the company concept of “fun in the future.” So I’ve been asking your colleagues what does future mean in this time period for Atari? What did modern mean because the word modern comes up on so many of the promotional materials for cabinets? What did this word mean for you in this time period?

PT: As an industrial designer, it would probably mean contemporary, getting back to the clean look, a little futuristic sort of look. I mean this—I don’t know when this was in relation to Star Wars.

RG: This would be more Empire Strikes Back era because this is 1982.

PT: Okay.

RG: I mean, I’m just judging by Ms PacMan and Xevious being present.

PT: Yeah. I mean, you have a better recall of the time frames.

RG: I’ve been looking at this stuff for so long!

PT: But my involvement actually with Atari Adventure was pretty limited. I remember having discussions, being involved in meetings early on, but it was more they wanted industrial design to come up with concepts for these locations, and we were just busy with trying to support coin-op’s requirements. And what I actually brokered with management was okay, what if we do this? Ken Hata, who came from a background in exhibit design—which fits right in with this stuff—is the ideal person to work on this. However, he’s working on this project, da, da, da, da, da, and it was important, a project where nobody was going to pull him off of that. I said, what if we do this? What if—let me approach him and even though he was an exempt employee, we’ll let him work on Atari Adventure after hours on weekends, as much time as he can afford to put in on it. And obviously he has to get compensated for it. So reluctantly they went along with it. I mean, my boss, Dan Van Elderen, supported it. The finance people were all up in arms that we can’t do this. And eventually it went up to the president of coin-op and he said we want to get this done. This is the fellow to do it. Pay him.

RG: Who was the president of coin-op in that time period?

PT: That was John [Farrand]. Well, I mean, Atari coin-op had a number of presidents over the years, Gene Lipkin being one of the most prominent ones. Probably a lot of legal documents. But the fellow I’m thinking of was actually, I believe he was a distributor in the UK and joined Atari and became president.

RG: Well, you said something that really kind of intrigued me so that this—the point of this once, and you’re speculating, of course, but the point of this was a place to bring distributors, right, to look at the, you know, here’s what arcades can be, right? Here’s a new era of the arcade. And something Bob [Flemante] said to me that I never—it never crossed my mind before—when he was talking about the graphics for cabinets, when we talked about the white sides, the black T-molding, and he said, you know, all of that was really for the operators. It was so that the operators would have an attractive package. It was a selling point. That never occurred to me because I always put it in the context of the user, as you’ve said. Bob says this as well. You’ve got three seconds to see that marquee, it’s got to excite, it’s got to attract. I never thought about it in the context of the owner-operator who’s going to purchase this. When you were doing cabinet work, did you ever see what you were doing in the context of packaging? Did you ever think of it in that way? With graphics, I can see that but was that something that ever occurred?

PT: Yeah. Cabinetry, you know, we’re packaging, yeah.

RG: But it’s also—but when it’s ergonomic though, I mean, you’re thinking about glare, it’s more than packaging then.

PT: Well it’s, yeah, it’s more than just the shell that you’re putting around this thing. But, you know, in a general overview, it’s packaging.

RG: And was that a term that you used at the time? I mean, was that like a word that was in circulation because Evelyn [Seto] said, you know, I never used that word then but I can completely see why we would think of it now.

PT: I don’t recall whether I used it per se, but I would not have disagreed had somebody said it. On this project Ken was doing this. He was meeting with Dick Needleman and making notes and then he would come back and we’d sit down and go over the notes with him. So basically I was aware of the direction of the project and how it was going, was it on track, were we going to be on budget? Were we going to be on schedule?

RG: Was it on budget?

PT: I think, for the most part, yeah.


RG: In your conceptualization [of Atari Adventure] were you ever prompted to think of your design in terms of a style that would connote, “Hi Tech” and “Futuristic”? In the documents that I am working from these two terms are used to describe the atmosphere that Atari wished to create at SFO.

MJ: Yes, I would say futuristic and high tech did apply to our work on Atari Adventure SFO. Thinking back, I would say every project in that era of Atari was futuristic and high tech. If we worked on a game that was of a decades-old sport, like football, we would pay homage to a tradition, but always with a modern, contemporary twist on it.

In my humble opinion, the Star Wars movie made high tech and the future very popular with the general public.

Ken and I also worked together on the Star Wars project. I designed the Star Wars sit-down cabinet; Ken designed the Star Wars upright cabinet.


RG: How would you describe the theme for Atari Adventure? I have a handwritten document dated December 21, 1982, with the following themes highlighted: “Hi Tech,” “Futuristic,” and “Fantasy.” Under “Futuristic” phrases like “space oriented” and “gravity free” are written down … how would you describe your design work—its shape and form? What function did it have in relation to these themes ... that is, how did it work to embody them?

Ken Hata [KH]: It is typical to have phrases like “Hi-Tech and Futuristic” present in most of our cabinet project description. Cabinet designs try to embody the main game theme by incorporating the subjects to the physical enclosure. Actual interpretation of final design is governed by the budget and the schedule. Considering both locations at San Francisco Airport, we placed more emphasis on the North Terminal location since Central Terminal was considered as a thoroughfare connecting the North Terminal and the South Terminal, although the terminal was ready to accept international travelers.

It is kind of strange that we did not explore the aviation factor as a theme with artifacts and wall murals. I guess that would not satisfy what had been requested by our marketing group. For the North Terminal, a half-dome structure suspended by three faceted walls was chosen for the final design. It housed a monitor in the center which ported video from one of the three games below that were nested against the vertical facets. Fluorescent down lights were filtered through black and chrome light baffle incorporated under the half dome gold canopy/header and accentuated the massive round structure. Lights were arranged in a way to accentuate the upper structure and subdue the lower supporting structure to visually suspend the half dome. By incorporating mirrors on the walls and mirrored ceiling tiles, the half dome visually transformed into a three-quarter-size UFO with help of a mirror. Surfaces of the half dome and the canopy/header were laminated with gloss black and anodized gold to reflect lights to energize the arcade. Typical linoleum flooring found in arcades was replaced with thick padding under a quality Karastan high traffic carpet. In order to portray high-tech and futuristic environment, chrome, gloss, and mirrors were used to embellish the structure.

Structures were built in our proto wood shop. Monitors and lighting fixtures were all installed in the units as if they were standalone video games. Meanwhile, contractors prepared both sites to our specs, which included exterior, interior ceiling lighting, mirrors, electrical outlets, game monitoring phone line, etc., to our specifications. There were endless amounts of coordination with various departments within our company to deliver the contents for both arcade locations. I think a total of forty-eight individuals were involved in this project. Their names and their respective departments are documented in my acknowledgment print.

RG: In an interoffice memo from February 28, 1983, a handwritten note states “More Dramatic Facade: Etched Sliding Glass Doors.” Was that realized in the final design that you did?

KH: I personally did not receive this request. Too bad, that would have been nice but I think we have shutters for the main entry that were opened during business hours. Yes, it would have been nicer, but due to budget and time constraints, their request got lost.

RG: Can you describe the interior layout? How were the games arranged?

KH: The North location layout veered from the traditional-style side-by-side game arrangements in order to give more character to the individual games by exposing side-panel graphics. The proposed arrangement also offered each game to stand out and offered more information to the player, like a book cover in addition to cabinets’ backlit attractions. Probably this type of approach will be unique to normal arcade installation where ROI [return on investment] takes precedence. Luckily, there was no objection from the marketing group.

The Central location layout followed the traditional banked arrangement, but physically and visually the banked games were separated with a retaining partition to support the header/facia to create more class to the arcade. Right in front of the arcade entrance, three games angled to each other were planted as a showcase to attract passersby.

RG: A few additional questions not related to Atari Adventure: what games did you work on while at Atari?

KH: Liberator, Xevious, Star Wars, TX-1, Gauntlet, 720, Hard Drivin’ (upright), Pot Shot, Toobin’, Stun Runner, Badlands, Hydra, Gumball Rally, Road Riot 4WD, Steel Talons, Moto Frenzy, Police Trainer, Hard Drivin’s Airborne 1993, kiosks, exhibit design, arcade design.

RG: Where did you do your training in industrial design?

KH: I graduated San Jose State University in San Jose, California.

RG: What years were you at SJSU? And when did you start at Atari?

KH: Graduated San Jose State in 1976 with bachelor of science in industrial design. I joined Atari in March of 1981.