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Feature: 'The Original Gaming Bug: Centipede Creator Dona Bailey'

Dona Bailey, creator of 1980 arcade classic Centipede at Atari, was a trailblazer -- the only female software engineer at the company during its early peak, and in
August 27, 2007
Dona Bailey, creator of 1980 arcade classic Centipede at Atari, was a trailblazer -- the only female software engineer at the company during its early peak. Now an educator, she's set to deliver the keynote for the Women in Games International Conference -- and Gamasutra caught up with her to speak about the past and future of women in games in this exclusive interview. But how did Bailey make the move from assembly language programming at GM to designing a game for Atari? She explains: “It was while I worked [at GM] that I saw the first Space Invaders game that I had ever seen. I really liked the Pretenders song “Space Invaders,” and I was asking my friends, “what’s that about?!” It was impossible to figure out, and I had no idea what the concept was. A friend of mine played that album all the time, and I finally said “what is this?” and another friend of mine just freaked out and said, “you have to go to lunch with me” -- to this crummy bar, where they had a cocktail model of Space Invaders. He dragged me down there during lunch the next week at work and gave me a quarter. I promptly got myself killed, and was just standing there and thinking. I had discovered while I was working at GM that I liked the display programming, the climate control, things with a visual readout. And I remember standing there thinking “God, this looks a lot like what I do.” And I started to find out, “where did they do this? Is this the only one?” Now people know so much more stuff because of the Internet. Nowadays, I would have Googled it, but there was just no information back then, nothing written about this programming. One of the things at Atari that was so hard -- there’s nothing to read. I had so many questions about what to do, and how, but there was nothing to read and nobody to talk to.” You can now read the complete interview, which includes more from Bailey on a variety of topics, from game design and her career, to the state of the industry and even her opinion on whether or not games can be considered art (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from external websites).

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