Read an exclusive excerpt from Insider's new interview with Mike Hally, project leader on the arcade classic.
Forty years ago this May, Star Wars fans were given the opportunity to relive Luke Skywalker’s epic attack run on the Death Star thanks to Atari’s Star Wars arcade game. In Star Wars Insider #218, hitting newsstands next week, writer Dan Brooks speaks with Mike Hally, architect of the seminal coin-op machine to mark this landmark anniversary; read on for an exclusive excerpt, in which Hally tells of he came to take arcades to the galaxy far, far away...
In 1977, the year of Star Wars: A New Hope’s release, Hally was a mechanical engineering student at Santa Clara University in California. Atari, the gaming giant behind arcade megahits like Space Invaders, was located in nearby Sunnyvale. As Hally neared graduation and needed to find a job, a seemingly fated opportunity would arise. “In my senior year, Atari sent a representative to my college to recruit people,” Hally says. “One of those guys was recruiting mechanical engineers for their pinball division, so I applied.” After attaining his degree, Hally accepted a job offer and joined the company.
Hally cut his teeth on pinball games like Middle Earth, Time 2000, and Superman, but after a couple of years the California pinball division was shuttered, and Hally was transferred to the coin-op arcade games group. “I loved games and liked to design stuff, so they must have seen something in me,” he remembers. “I joined them as a project leader.”
In 1982, Atari and Lucasfilm reached an agreement to produce arcade games based on the entire Star Wars trilogy. Hally—a rising star at Atari and a fan of Star Wars himself—was determined to get the gig.
“We had a research group led by Rick Moncrief, and a guy on his team named Jed Margolin was developing this hardware called ‘warp speed.’ It was 3D vector hardware that wasn’t really being built for a game, but I took a look at it and thought, ‘Man, this would be perfect for Star Wars.’ So, I worked up a proposal, and Atari approved me being in charge of it,” Hally smiles. “I remember getting to work and being very excited.”
When it came to the game’s concept, Hally’s vision was clear almost from the beginning. “To me it was really, really simple. I mean, the whole climax of the movie was about Luke Skywalker flying his X-wing, shooting TIE fighters, trying to get down to the Death Star past the gun turrets, and then diving into the trench to get to the exhaust port,” he says. “It was perfect for a videogame.”
Read more in Star Wars Insider issue #218 and subscribe to Star Wars Insider now for more of the latest news, in-depth articles, and exclusive interviews in every issue!