Xbox Co-Creator Assembles Atari “Dream Team” in iOS Game Startup

When Apple announced, four years ago, that they would be releasing an iPhone SDK (for free) and opening an App Store where developers far and wide could peddle their creations, it became immediately clear to us that iOS (née iPhone) gaming was going to be huge. As developers jumped on board and began crafting titles for the platform, many noted that a game creation environment emerged that harkened back to the early-’80s home computer days when a single developer could sit down with an idea, bang out some code, and sell his game at the store down the block — a floppy wrapped up nicely in a zip-lock bag. The barrier to entry was, again, nil.

Plenty of major studios began porting iOS versions of their large console titles over, sure, but it’s really been the wonderful indie developers out there, following that development model of olde, that have contributed most of what’s really special to iOS gaming. It’s also worth noting that a great many of the true App Store gems adhere to the gameplay model that was the standard back in those early days of video games, both in the home and in the arcade: simple gameplay that’s instantly engaging, delivering “just one more game" fun in short play-sessions. They really knew how to do it way back when — fields of encroaching Asteroids, a furiously barreling Centipede, the quick thinking demanded of a Missile Commander, and the battle with gravity that is Gravitar. Wonderful stuff.

I’m thrilled to report that something incredible has just been revealed that stands to generate gameplay opportunities for iOS gamers that marry that white-knuckle gaming excellence of decades past with the here and now of a particular mobile gaming platform. In perhaps the biggest news ever to come out of an iOS game studio, Seamus Blackley, co-creator of the Xbox, has formed the startup Innovative Leisure and has pulled together a team of famous designers from the Atari of the ’70s and ’80s to create original, new games for the “new arcade," which is this team’s term for the iOS platform.

The veteran Atari developers in question, or “Jedi Council," includes Ed Rotberg, creator of Battlezone; Owen Rubin, creator of Major Havoc and Space Duel; Rich Adam, creator of Gravitar and co-developer of Missile Command; Ed Logg, co-creator of Asteroids and Centipede; Dennis Koble, creator of Touch Me and Shooting Gallery; Bruce Merrit, creator of Black Widow; and Tim Skelly (of Cinematronics, not Atari), creator of Rip-Off. In all, 11 developers of olde, along with several young interns, make up the group. “This is the dream team from Atari," says Blackley.

As Blackley told VentureBeat,

“We had that big collection of games, and we love the history of game design,” Blackley said. “I’m lucky because I love games and following that love has always done me well. Once we figured out the iPhone is the new arcade, that games from the old days fit this new audience and their on-the-go lifestyle, we knew what to do. There is already a group of people who know how to operate and innovate in this space. They had the longest string of hit games in history. And they wanted to get back together again.”

Blackley’s partner in the venture, chief executive Van Burnham, came to know many of the early Atari game designers in writing her 2003 book Supercade: A Visual History of the Videogame Age 1971-1984. She introduced them to Blackley, and the like-minded group formed a close relationship. During this time, Blackley and Burnham created their own arcade in an LA warehouse, which they called the “Supercade," filled with rows and rows of vintage cabinets, gathered to illustrate the history of gameplay, as viewed by its curators. And, it is within this arcade in LA that the team of designers will work together on their new iOS creations, so as to gather inspiration by the games that surround them.

To start, the team came up with 30 game ideas in all, narrowed the list down to the 10 best, and pitched them to the publishing house THQ, who indicated they wanted them all. Right now, seven of the titles are in development. (THQ has first right of refusal on all of the team’s titles, in exchange for funding, but Blackley indicates he can shop around any ideas the publisher dismisses.)

As a particular retro game lover — and lover of those titles that stay close to that lean formula of decades past — this news excites me in ways not easy to express. And, I have a feeling I won’t be the only one whose hair stood up on the back of their neck in hearing it. Rest assured we will bring full coverage of any and all news out of Innovative Leisure, including further details the team will be sharing at next week’s DICE Summit in Las Vegas.

Read the full interview story over at VentureBeat, and the photo gallery at Time is worth a look.