A slice of pizza and a slice of MOS

chuckecheese_thumbThe MOS 6502 CPU and its family members have been instrumental in the rise of the computer industry. Without the 6502, the world of Commodore, Apple, Atari and even Nintendo would have been quite different.
The 65xx line of chips has been part of almost all of the major early home computer systems and its low cost made it possible for an audience of millions to enjoy the wonders of computing.
With all these historical landmark computers running the 65xx, one could almost forget that the versatility of the 65xx also meant it was the ideal CPU to run many peripheral devices and specific specialized equipment.

But perhaps the strangest and most wonderful use of the 65xx outside of its traditional habitat of computers and peripherals was that which happened in 1977, and it was in a pizza restaurant!
Nolan Bushnell, Atari’s founder, had created a place of wonders, where parents could enjoy a quick meal whilst their kids could play, enjoy themselves and have fun on the numerous arcade systems and VCS’s that were scattered all over the restaurant. It was a place where kids could act like kids without someone asking them to be quiet.

Nolan had founded the Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre, where next to the cheap food and Atari arcades, everyone could enjoy a Disney styled animatronics show, featuring Chuck E. Cheese and his merry friends. It’s in this animatronics show, that we find the 6502 processor, acting as the “brain” of the numerous displays.


As Larry Emmons (Atari’s head of R&D) recalls in the book “Atari Inc. – Business is fun”, by Marty Goldberg and Curt Vendel (which is a must read for any retro computer enthusiast) :
“We did all the animatronics for the first Pizza Time at Cyan (Cyan Engineering being Atari’s think tank). A generalized computer board, based on the 6502 processor was used for each ‘display’. The audio and computer info was recorded onto a Teac 4 track semi-professional tape recorder with a PDP-11/70. Playing the tape produced all entertainment in a synchronized way. The mechanical things were all pneumatically actuated using mechanical music technology or modern air cylinders. It worked great and was reliable. There was no mini-computer, only streaming data from the tape and distributed 6502 controllers.”

Going through some turbulent times, and a name change, the concept still lives on in more than 500 locations. And although the shows have changed and are using modern technology, I can’t help but feel nostalgic that back in the 70s and 80s, you could enjoy a slice of pizza with a slice of MOS Technology.

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