On November 6, 2019 at “80s in the Sand”, a cruise-stop destination in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, podcast show hosts John and Heidi from Sunny 93.3 recorded an interview with game developer Andrew “Drew” Becker, a man who made a startling confession. He claimed that he had created the initial code for Atari’s 1980 Centipede when he was only 13-years old and that he sold it in secret to Steve Jobs in 1981. Andrew Becker is the owner of Insectware.
As most people know, Dona Bailey, a 26-year old programmer for Atari, created Centipede alongside Ed Logg and the game released in 1980. The video below provides details of her fine career.
So this bit of “secret history” –if I may momentarily be merciful and give Becker the benefit of the doubt- struck many as shocking if not exceedingly in poor taste. Personally, I was offended by Becker’s story. I take my video game history very seriously. Because lies give power to weaker influences and deprive real innovators of cultural strength, in turn denying anyone the ability to determine what mattered and at what time, non-factual data and revisionist history shenanigans contribute nothing to preservation efforts but instead threaten the very foundation that the history of video games rests upon. Therefore I find it reprehensible to not only partake in revisionist history either for kicks, hype marketing strategy or financial exploitation, but to also suffer it to live. It needs to be identified, corrected and dismissed as a falsehood and erased.
Of course, there are still things being discovered in video game history by researchers and archivists every day and for the very first time although they occurred decades ago. We certainly do not know everything. Many things were missed or lost from the days of the paper-file. Also something true in 1980 may not be true in 2019. So when we hear such spectacular confessions as Andrew Becker put forth, about being a 13-year old boy who sold the Centipede game code to Steve Jobs, this claim should be examined first before calling it bogus -no matter how difficult that may be. And let me tell you, taking it seriously is rather difficult for me.
Check it out. This one’s a doozy.
Andrew “Drew” Becker’s Story of The Jersey Centipede
According to Andrew Becker, he was only a 13-year old schoolboy at a private school in Northern New Jersey when he and a school friend created the code that would become Atari’s Centipede.
Becker claims that during computer lab, he and his friend saw a centipede run across the floor and this prompted to them think how cool it would be to design a game around the concept of shooting at a centipede. So they wrote a code for a game. Becker told his father, who just so happened to be a physician who knew Steve Jobs’ physician in California. A meeting with Steve Jobs and the teenage Becker was arranged. Steve Jobs covered the bill, flying both Becker and his father out to California, picked them up from the airport and took them to his house. Much to Becker’s shock and awe, in Jobs’ garage he met Toru Iwantani, the creator of Pac-Man, Bill Gates, the creator of Microsoft and “the girl who created Frogger”. Apparently they were there to sell game ideas. Jobs, who Becker claims was obviously not getting along with Gates, under a sworn secrecy paid Becker $10,000 for his Centipede code and, according to Becker, the year was 1981. Centipede came out in 1980.
If you find this hard to swallow, cue up the following link at 02:31. It’s even more entertaining when you hear it being told by Becker himself.
(Transcript Provided Below)
Host: Sunny 93.3, thank you so much for listening. We’re broadcasting from 80s in The Sand. We got Drew (Andrew Becker) here now…this is kinda cool. I finally have a chance to meet Drew. We’ve been friends on Facebook for a little while and I’ve known of you for the last few years because you’ve been coming to 80s In The Sand from the beginning, haven’t you?
Becker: I have. I have and it’s just an amazing event and getting to meet all the stars and just walking around and being able to just talk to them. It’s just fantastic.
Host: And something’s that kind of neat, Drew (Becker) is a bit of a star to a lot of people here as well because you invented a game that a lot of us probably played, and if we haven’t played it then we certainly have known somebody else who has, Centipede. Now tell me, how in the world did that come about?
Becker: Well, It’s an interesting story. Primarily we -a friend of mine and I- at age 13, we were in a private school in Northern Jersey, and we’re sitting one day in the computer lab and here -you know, we’re talking about computers, talking about Apple computers; you know, from the beginning?- and we said to ourselves, we were looking at the ground, and we saw this centipede crawling on the floor and my friend said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to create a game where we could actually shoot at a centipede?’ And that’s how we created it. And we created it in such a way that it could be accepted by any platform in the entire country.
Host: And that was kind of a unique thing to do, wasn’t it?
Becker: Yeah, it was all 1s and 0s and it’s all binary language and all open source. So anybody could have taken it and run with it and put it on any platform that they had.
Host: Open source was not widely accepted. It wasn’t something that everyone was doing back then, was it?
Becker: No, actually open source was just newly formed and Centipede is what got it started.
Host: That’s really cool. Now this game has gone on to do amazing things, but you actually sold it to Steve Jobs, is that right?
Becker: That’s correct. I sold it to Steve Jobs in 1981. Steven Jobs and I met up because my father who was a physician met his physician, and Steven Jobs heard about it through his physician and called my father to tell him he wanted to see what the game could do.
Host: That’s awesome. Now you were telling me the other day about a meeting where you had the chance to meet some makers of some other games like Pac-Man…
Becker: Amazingly enough, when I got out there on Steven Job’s dime, he sent a plane ticket for my father and I to go out there and when we got out there, Steven Jobs met us at the airport and drove us to his home. He was still in the garage, of course. He wasn’t as big as he was as he progressed, but there… standing there were 3 people that would blow your mind -the guy who invented Pac-Man had presented his idea to Steven Jobs, the girl who invented Frogger and…and…Steven Jobs was best friends with Bill Gates and I got to meet Bill Gates at that time.
Host: So think about that…and now back at that time they weren’t nearly as famous as they are now but they were famous back then because they were kinda entrepreneurs that were doing something that nobody knew if this was going to catch on (sic) but did you know… did you kinda have an inkling back then of what a big deal that meeting was?
Becker: Well, it was interesting because when we met I saw the division starting to happen because I could see that Steven Jobs wanted to go one way and Bill Gates wanted to go another. So you could see the competitive edge starting to form when they first got together, and it wasn’t until maybe 2, 3, 4, years later when Steven Jobs presented Centipede to Atari to pick it up in 1982 and that’s when Atari put it out in their own version of it. Steven Jobs made five-hundred-thousand dollars to (sic) selling it to Atari. Now none of this you’re going to be able to find on the internet. None at all. All of this was all private meetings, and all behind closed doors. Now there’s a reason for that. And that reason was because PONG was so popular at the time. Steven Jobs didn’t want anything to happen to that reputation of that game so none of this was documented, none of it was. I got a handwritten check from him for ten-thousand-dollars.
Host: Oh wow…how old were you at the time?
Becker: I was 13 years old…
Host: 13-year old kid. And ten grand to a 13-year old kid…
Becker: I mean, ten Grand back in 1980 is almost 100 grand now. (Note from author: It’s only 31K)
Host: But the other thing is, think about this, the idea that you and your friend had. Hey we could shoot these centipedes, that was such a good idea because it’s an iconic game that everyone knows Centipede: Now the cool thing is, you’re working on a new version of Centipede now.
Becker: I am. But there’s a secret that I’m going to tell you about…
Host: Oh, what’s that?
Becker: And that secret is that I am buying the rights back of (sic) the old game, gonna upgrade it and put it out with a 40th anniversary of Centipede coming out in 2020. And it’s going to blow people’s minds.
Host: So 2020 there’s going to be a new version out?
Becker: A new version of the old game And a new version of my new game that’s coming out and it’s all 3 dimensional and it’s using cutting edge technology that has never been used in a phone app before. All experimental.
Host: And we were also talking a little bit ago… you said there’s some movie things that you’re working on potentially, having like a Hollywood blockbuster type movie with the game kind of being at the center of that as well?
Becker: Yeah, we… I’m talking with a couple of the WWE and a few others about possibly having Centipede as a representation of an idea about alien centipedes coming in during The Cold War. So we’re thinking about that. We’re kind of putting it together and then also in addition to that were looking at… I’m looking at having it discovered by Electronic Arts games and Oculus. We’re in the process of talking about it right now.
Host: Well… we gotta stay in touch…
Many video game “historians” and “eye witnesses to history” are liars. You really need a good set of instincts and a love of engaging in research to deal with the absolute bullshit people offer you.
Ever since I wrote about the mythological 80s video game Polybius back in 2012 I’ve received the most arcane confessions from strangers online who claim they were once a victim of a game that technologically couldn’t have existed at the time. They are nameless, faceless people, oftentimes claiming to be former military or government personnel. They all share similar stories of being kidnapped from their beds and thrown into the back of government vehicles; of being subjected to brainwashing that involves flashing lights, dis-harmonic sounds, strange video games and drugs. Always drugs. Never sex and violence, though, which I find very telling since the first and most prevalent fear that most people experience when they are abducted and face a real loss of power over their body is that they’ll be killed, beaten or raped. I have never heard that fear expressed once by anyone claiming involvement with Polybius. “Polybius people” seemed fixated on achieving some form of social power for having been involved with this urban legend, either as a player, a co-conspirator or as a victim of abduction. They will lie to achieve that recognition to no end, tell incredible multi-tiered stories, all without one shred of truth.
The tales vary on who perpetrates these acts of kidnapping and torture. Sometimes it’s the FBI. Other times it’s “The Russians”. Even NASA in cahoots with Stanford University and the US Marine Corp have been cited by some as “Polybian suspects”. One energetic Polybian even sent me a full scan of what he claimed was a 1981 “Polybius dossier” stolen from The Vatican, where he claims he was imprisoned by “black saints” for over two years. He sent me this “dossier” created with a vintage dot matrix type I easily found on the site Urban Fonts. I had a pretty big laugh over it.
So when it comes to colorful characters, like Becker, trying to write revisions into gaming history these days, nothing shocks me. I’ve literally seen it all. The good. The bad. And the embarrassing. From historical gaming competitors being revealed as longtime cheaters, to people, like Becker, who claim they created something they didn’t, I honestly don’t put anything past anyone anymore. I expect deception and, unfortunately, I find it continuously.
My verdict on Becker’s story is this: I don’t believe him. I tried to contact him and he acted very strangely. Evasive. Suspicious of my intentions. He answered me using the symbols “thumbs up” and “thumbs down”. He didn’t want to answer my questions using full sentences.
The top major problems I have with his story are as follows:
*Dona Bailey created Centipede for Atari. Period.
*He claims he sold the code to Steve Jobs in 1981. Centipede came out in 1980.
*His descriptions of people and places don’t fit, either. For starters he claims “the girl who created Frogger” was at Jobs’ house. There was no “girl” who created Frogger that anyone has any information on.
*His lack of knowledge of basic video gaming history is apparent as well as his lack of knowledge on coding.
*The emotional tone of his voice lacks confidence, vision and inner-reflection. When he speaks, he is clearly not recalling vivid memories but rather relying on a rehearsed rhetoric he doesn’t trust. He literally sounds like someone who’s terrified of not being able to sound convincing because he doesn’t believe it himself.
Andrew Becker’s story is a total fabrication unless one wishes to believe that Steve Jobs was luring underage programmers to his home to steal their gaming codes for a song so he could sell them to Atari for big bucks. If you believe that, then there’s no hope for you.
Until next time, may all your quarters be red ones