Meet the Unsung Female Programmer Behind Atari’s Centipede


centipede is a video game that I programmed for Atari I was one of maybe a handful of women in America who had a simply language experience at all I don’t want history to die untold I’m Donna Bailey and I was the software developer software engineer on centipede I don’t know what the creator really is I always felt that I was a programmer it feels weird to say that I was a pioneer but I guess I was a pioneer I was living in Santa Barbara and I had a best friend who owned a record store so the pretenders had their first album that there was one track that I really grew to like it and the title is space invaders and I tapped him on the arm and said what is the space invaders and he said space invaders is this amazing video game and they said what is a video game so he picked me up and drove me down to the grass shack my friend Phil gave me a quarter I put the quarter in and things started moving and I got killed three times Bam Bam Bam I couldn’t tell what to do I couldn’t tell what I was but when I could was that the display of space invaders looked a lot like the display that I worked with Aegean on the Cadillac so I thought I don’t want a program for a GM anymore I want a program for Atari discover a world beyond your wildest dreams discover Atari I knew that I wasn’t nearly as technically experienced as many of the guys that I worked with but I knew that I was one of maybe a handful of women in America who had had assembly language experience at all and I felt like that made me one of the most qualified women in America to be hired by Atari to try to make a game so we’re gonna go to Z 82 retro arcade in Sherwood I haven’t been to an arcade in 20 years maybe knowing that she was one of the first female programmers is really awesome because I’m an up-and-coming female in a industry that is dominantly male I’m not your typical female I like working with electronics I like building things that’s me some people did and some people didn’t want to hire a female designer I always say it’s the closest to working in a frat that I’m never gonna get to their method of getting me started was here’s your cubicle they’ll make a game and I didn’t have a game idea Atari would take people on brainstorming and there was one idea described in one sentence as a multi segmented insect crawls onto the screen and is shot by the player it didn’t seem bad to shoot a bug and so that was the one that that I picked and and that was the beginning of it after you do something people think that you knew what you were doing but we had no idea we were just doing stuff and some of it worked out some of it centipedes and it came out sort of because I don’t like spiders this that’s a lot of how that happens and and the spider in that is very cartoonish and mischievous and irritating really and I like I like you know having my way over a spider women make up 10% of the work force in video games at this point and that really isn’t much growth after 30 years I think that the best thing that ever happened to games is the app I play fruit ninja occasionally candy crush I think that programming apps would be a lot more fun because a woman could actually get really good at that and not have to involve a whole lot of other people I hate that women have to fight against something instead of just being able to do their work

99 thoughts on “Meet the Unsung Female Programmer Behind Atari’s Centipede

  1. The best thing to happen to gaming is apps? Yeah, we've got a moron on our hands.

    She was one of two programmers (the other on Centipede was Ed Logg), she admits that there were better qualified people than her and she got hired because of the novelty (at that time) of her gender. Look at the other games she worked on. Nothing of note. Why are celebrating a one hit wonder? Nothing to see here.

    And, I'm going to drop it on you. Centipede was always overrated. It's not a true classic. It was just a Space Invaders ripoff with a trackball.

    Crappy mobile apps are probably the worst thing to happen to gaming since its inception. What a joke.

  2. Hate the whole thing of that females need to fight more to get jobs in that industry when it's a load off bullshit yeah there is only 10% but that's just down to them!

  3. I love how stupid these menamist comments are. She's talking about 30 years ago, not yesterday! She even said she hasn't entered an arcade in 20 years – women's rights have progressed since then…butthurt boys crying about their lack of 'special treatment'

  4. 10% of women are part of the software development community because 90% of them choose not to go into that profession.  its quite simple really.

  5. Coming from a girl who thinks Candy Crush hurts the gaming industry more than helps it, it really saddens me she thinks shovel-ware is the best thing to happen to the gaming community. Also, gender doesn't matter when it comes to making games, it's obvious that even with the new generation of abstract game dev, most girls still don't find this art form interesting. BUT THAT'S OKAY!

  6. Christ, it's amazing how little it takes to get people's knickers in a twist. Most early gaming developments were driven by men so it's nice to hear about a woman who had some sort of a part in it, however big or small. The fact that she is a women is completely relevant to the piece given it's historical context.

    Also I think some folks should take a second to appreciate that the mental capacity and functionaity of both men and women's noggins is essentially identical. So given that programing/gaming is a cerebral activity it'd be fair to expect nearly equal involvement from both sexes if the cultural playing field was truly equal.

  7. I programmed in Assembly, back in the '70s and '80s… but thought it was just too much of a Mind Grind, so I let it go, in favor of the 4th GLs… Like Pascal, COBOL, etc… It's been a long time since I even heard the words "Assembly Language"… 🙂

  8. Co-developer and one of the programmers. The bulk of the game's programming and design was done by project head Ed Logg. Donna was added to the project by him to help with coding the plotted graphics and a few other things.

  9. Not to be rude, but what exactly was the purpose of this video? I understand Dona Bailey is suppose to be a programmer and all, however the only thing this video accomplished was stating Bailey is a female, which can be very easily researched, and that she feels programming app games "would be a lot more fun because a woman could get really good at that, and not have to involve a whole lot of other people." If you really wanted to spread this message that there needs to be more female workers in the gaming industry, then why did you not get other female programmers or other female employees in this video alongside Bailey? All-in-all, this seems like the usual videos about women in this industry that have been seen before, instead of actually taking the time to interview Dona about how she went about thinking of the level designs. But instead, you people decided to focus on what was in her pants.

  10. Maybe the purpose of this is to encourage women going into the gaming industry who might be intimidated by the fact that, yes, it is a male dominated industry. Maybe the point is to show them that it doesn't matter if you're a girl, you can be just as successful as anyone else. But hey, what do I know…

  11. awesome!!! as a new developer/engineer glad to see one of the women that created content for an amazing company. although I don't play pc games anymore, that where it all started… wanting to know how to make that for others to enjoy

  12. I think anyone regardless of gender who is talented and passionate about their work should work as what they want and honestly that industry is rather difficult to get into for both genders and there is money to be had if developers expand female gaming not destroying male games but co-existing with female games or unisex games and alot of developers generally go to kickstarter or a program that can help fund new games so if you really REALLY want to be a developer and you are really passionate about that kickstarter and programs like that are available and you should get into them…just don't put more crappy games on the market

  13. I'm surprised no one mentioned how much more exciting Centipede is from Space Invaders. The trackball controls were amazing. Keeping track of the spider, the centipede, and the obstacles atop the screen made it a very difficult, but exciting game to play. And assembly language is some of the most difficult to program in the world. I didn't know who programmed this, or that it was a woman. This is the point of the video.

  14. It would be cool if you guys had asked her more questions about the development and history behind the game.
    Its really great that the men at Atari were not sexist and all. But I already assumed that, so its kind of a non story.
    I'm not saying its not worth mentioning that women were and still are a minority in the industry, But the work she did is far more interesting to me.

    Its like if, for example, you interviewed Warren Spector.
    I'd much much rather hear him talk about the development of Deus Ex, System Shock or Ultima Underworld than watch a short 5 minute clip of him talking about how he's Jewish and how no one at Ion storm or Looking Glass was antisemitic.

  15. why did this have to subscribe itself to feminism? why could you just have interviewed her as a programmer, not a female programmer?

    what is so remarkable about her being female??

    maybe you should interview male nurses too!!

  16. Yeah, sure, Dona Bailey is about as "unsung" as every other programmer behind Centipede. Who cares she's a woman?

  17. She admitted to being ignorant. Thirty years later she's kicking around the idea of making an app….uhhhh.. what?

  18. "women make up only 10% of the workforce in video games" hmm… LOL no shit!. It's  a male dominated field. There isn't nearly as many women playing video games as there are men,plain and simple!. How many women go to school because its there dream to make video games lol?… However i'm fairly certain that if more woman wanted to pursue this as a career choice they would have no problem succeeding…Just as there isn't many men who work in cosmetology, if we actually wanted to do it we would succeed as well…

  19. This is cool and all. But why do woman get so weird about, "I'm the only female in my office" or "I work in a male dominated environment at my workplace." Like holy shit. Your human. Plus males are afraid of woman in the work place. A guy can say "wow you look so sexy," and walk off. The next day he is called to the boss's for being offensive to that woman. These girls are so insane. Literally. And the girl who was being interviewed, today's generation of upcoming gamers who code, why does she sound so sad, your doing something you love. I can't explain how irritating it is when woman feel shut down that they are the only female or are among a group of females in a male dominated workplace. Man dont think that way. Why the heck should they. Plus man live in a world not a little 2 story office. A WORLD WHERE MEN ARE PUNISHED, PUNISHED ALL THE TIME, JUST BECAUSE OF A WOMAN. DIVORCES ARE BULL SHIT, AND MEN CANT DEFEND THEMSELVES WITHOUT GETTING JAIL TIME OR FINED. I saw this video. This young man 17years. Was being beaten by 5 girls, 5 girls. Oh shit he was hurt so bad. He probably get brain damage. Because he cheated on those girls best friend. His ex GF. Plus these dumb as bitches posted it on the web and shared among friends at school. These girls went savage on the young man. He do t deserve that shit. MAN LIVE IN A WORLD THAT DOESN'T SEEK THE RIGHT PUNISHMENT FOR WOMAN.

    Its pure BS! Plus some girls murder their own child. Omg WSHH has a video of a baby in a trash crying and beaten up with black eyes. And back in 2005 or 2006 or 2007. Some girl killed two of her own babies, she is still in the street. The Scarborough rapist got lifetime in jail 100's of years. His wife who killed her own sister and sacrificed her vergintiy got led then 2 decades in jail. She help murder more than 3 woman. 3 humans.

  20. this is the video that made me subscribe to mothrboard.
    I love how humble she is, she truly is a pioneer

  21. I don't men any disrespect but screw Miyamoto, screw Bushnell she needs to be honored at the next VGAs.

  22. I never heard of her before today. I'd only been aware of Carol Shaw, the programmer for Activision's hit River Raid.

  23. She is an "unsung programmer" but, as far as I can tell, so are the guys that developed this game – I have no fuckin' idea who the guys that made this game are. Then again, I have no idea who just about anyone that's involved with the creation of the games I loved are.

    So is this gonna' be a series, 'cuz it's gonna' be a really fuckin' long one. Almost all programmers are "unsung" unless they're loudmouths and/or get themselves involved in controversy. I know the programmers for FEZ, Depression Quest (if that qualifies as a "game"), and God of War – All of these people either did shit they shouldn't be proud of, and/or are obnoxious and loud.

    The one exception to this rule is Hideo Kojima – That guy has made a name for himself without being a jackass. Gaming is not a career to pursue for personal notoriety – If you pursue a career in gaming, your main sense of gratitude [should] be from watching others enjoy and appreciate the world you've brought to life for them.

    In my opinion, this video does more to belittle the men that worked on this project than it does to celebrate this womans' contributions. I now know of her, but the others on the project – I still have no idea who they are. Then again, I suppose it really doesn't matter. Afterall, there's so many men that contributed to this, why would we want to focus on any of them – It's not like their story or personalities are going to differ much at all anyways, since they're men, right?

  24. I used to play Centipede aaaaallll the time. Though I don't really think being an Atari developer is very impressive at all, now it certainly was back then. So good on you! You have a commercial.

  25. Can any of you name a programmer who have made any recent games in 2000 – 2015 can you without looking them? No you can't unless you're really into that kind of thing so many programmers are left to be background noise with little to no attention except being recognized at the very end of the game as a name and nothing else. Why focus on one person who happened to be female why not focus on all who have worked all their lives to give us wonderful entertainment both male and female. Enough gender bullshit lets give everyone what they deserve.

  26. HEY FEMALES, GUESS WHAT!?

    WE DON'T CARE ABOUT YOUR GENDER. WHAT'S IMPORTANT IS HOW GOOD YOU ARE AT WHAT YOU DO!

  27. Why does motherboard take the easy position of assuming prejudice in the video game industry? That is painfully regressive.

  28. Such bullshit, acting like "she" is "unsung".
    Okay, go ahead and tell me the name of the guy who created Adventure…or Joust…or Defender…or Tempest…or Robotron…or Dig Dug…or Mappy Mouse
    I love all of those games and I have no idea what the name's of the developers are.
    ALL the old game developers are unsung.
    Doesn't matter if you have ovaries or testicles…unless you're a sexist who thinks female developers should get extra consideration just because of their gender.

  29. This isn't entirely true…Atari had claimed a female made Centipede for a marketing ploy targeting female arcade players as they were for fewer than their male counterparts. Atari thinking if a female made the game would bring more females to the arcades. 

     "Actually, Ed Logg had a lot more to do with Centipede than Dona Bailey. In an anonymous Atari designers words: "Dona Bailey couldn't program her way out of paper bag…" Remember the famous 8-6-4 GM cadillac engine from 1980-81 that used to catch fire?? Guess who designed this, and used to work at GM before they got 'fired', and ended up working at Atari? I feel it was smart marketing by Ray Kassar and Frank Ballouz to advertise the game as being designed by a woman, but I'd only give her a very slight amount of partial credit for the concept only and no code in Centipede….

  30. If Dona Bailey was born a male would this segment be named "Meet the Unsung Male Programmer Behind Atari’s Centipede" ?

  31. If Dona was so unsung (and I heard all the old stories about Atari and their wild escapades at the office), why was she so recorded in the FUCKING 80's, and WHY DID I KNOW HER NAME 30 YEARS AGO?? Dona had her vision and followed it. Clearly it worked out for her since she DID THE JOB, failed to mention Ed Logg as her partner in the game (he's a man, fuck him), or Carol Shaw. She WAS given ink about it plenty of times, particularly that she was a woman. Maybe she got senile over the years and forgot the articles by Gamasutra, Computer Programming Magazine (in the 80's), etc.
    Why aren't more women programmers? Because women don't gravitate towards that education of their own accord. THEY make that trend. That's on NOONE but THEMSELVES, the girls club sub culture women created for themselves and their ROLE MODELS. I have met only two young women who said "I wanna go to school to make GAMES.". Neither did, they got better paying jobs in things such as engineering designing brakes for Mercedes on CAD.
    Like the Rangers, there's only so many who WANT to do it. You can't force women to do it just to justify your feminazi world view. That would be human trafficking, which women can only be the victims of from what I hear.
    Speaking of sexism, why is it every Human Resources and Payroll office I've ever had to set foot in is 100% female staffed? I've heard more than 1 statement that women have a "natural affinity and people skills that men don't possess".
    If feminists are so spun up about being the dominant sex in everything, then why don't more of them stop campaigning and start studying the field? Oh thats right, because claiming you're a feminist doesn't actually require training or effort, and would cost you your soap box.
    #ALLHAILTHEPERPETUALGYNARCHY

  32. when i was applying for a job someone actually asked the boss "are you sure you wantvto hire a girl?". good thing he said "as long as she knows how to code." 😮
    it's really troublesome though that there are many people oit there who think you can't code because you're a woman.

  33. –She.. is.. ADORABLE !! Hecka kute for an "old lady". But we'll just say mature.. in that distinguished way. Thats how you want your wife to maybe look when you two are grand parents.

  34. –Just a note.. back in her day, it was Hard for a female to get a job.. period.. and more rare with a level of power.

  35. Great to see her interviewed but that aint Santa Barbara at the start – that's the amusement arcade/carousel building on Santa Monica Pier…

  36. "The best thing that ever happened to games is the app." And the worst thing that ever happened to games is the microtransaction.

  37. a lot of the comments are being mad that "female" was added to the title as they believe it's a feminist move to do something like that, when if you actually pay attention to what most women say, they dislike that men are "programmers" and they are "female programmers" they'd rather be called programmers as well. you know… equality

  38. Anyone else notice the video gets reversed at the 3:05 mark? Trackball is shown on the left instead of the right and the Atari logo is backwards.

  39. Centipede is an awesome classic, no matter who programmed it. Thank you Ms. Bailey for helping to create this masterpiece. You were truly a pioneer in this industry!:)

  40. you can do feminism in two ways,
    the first is at 2:04, where being a woman isn't a restricting factor, in any possible way,
    the second is at 2:45 where being a woman is a restricting factor because the industry is "dominated" by males.

    Dona is an example of feminism done right, she didn't need to 'feel oppressed' by any male to achieve her goals, she stopped programing for Cadillac, to work for Atari, GREAT
    with al due respect for womans be like Dona Bailey

  41. Videography 101: You don't make older and especially women have dramatic lighting. Throw up some soft boxes or kino flos and call it a day. It's not flattering to the subject being all dark and contrasted. Brings out the wrinkles. The shadows end up making them look older than they appear.

    0:37 framing is off. Zoom out a bit and put her more in the center. She's looking almost sideways as well. Redo. Background brings nothing to the table. Why not shoot it in a garden or outside, something more to do with centipede?

    0:38 weird cut, put an insert in. then the pointless dog walking shot.

    Then, why is there a shot of a dog licking itself? Cut that out. Dumb. A video this short, each shot needs to have meaning. If you need more consulting get a hold of us. $100 per 10 minutes. Danke.

  42. I think of Centipede [1980] as the movie Alien [1979]
    and when I play it, I think of Rebbie Jackson's song Centipede [1984].

    That's how "feminine" the game is.

  43. hi, I loved your video. do you have brain storming videos from Atari or nintendo from 70s or 80s ? thanks

  44. So many male gamers play at being gender-blind but instead they rather unfortunately froth at the mouth when gender is mentioned anywhere in proximity to their precious hobby

  45. "I'm an up and coming female in an industry that is dominantly male" are you fucking serious? Maybe if women were more interested in programming you wouldn't be saying that it's "dominantly" male.

  46. The programmers behind other great Atari games are also unsung. Like Warren Robinett who made Adventure, or Toru Iwatani who made Pac-Man. Why don't you do a video on them? Ohh, you won't do them because they are male? Make sense.

  47. She was far from unsung. As a 12 year old boy in Sweden 1983, I know who Dona Bailey was! She was marketed by Atari as the first female game designer and as a consequence I read about her in Swedish gaming & computer magazines and even in a 1982 book about video games which was translated into Swedish. But I DIDN'T know about Ed Logg who was the main designer of Centipede and many other Atari classics like Asteroids and Gauntlet. I would say almost all game programmers back then were unsung – all BUT Dona Bailey, and perhaps Eugene Jarvis and Jeff Minter too. Right … I used to read about Carol Shaw back then too…

  48. "women only make up 10% of the work force in video games" Simply because most women are not interested in the industry, not because anyone is stopping them. Forced equally is pathetic.

  49. I recall reading about her in an 80's gaming mag. I recall she said something that she liked pastels for the color palette, or something of that nature. Which is why Centipede is so vibrant in color.

  50. Don't feel bad Dona, American Minorities make up about the same amount or less at this point in the Video Game industry.

  51. Throughout this whole biography,

    Dona Bailey didn't tell us WTH is that humanoid head from Centipede that is the playable character.

  52. The most supportive thing you can do for women today is buy a centipede machine. Dona I just bought one. Will you autograph my marquee??

  53. The best retro video game of all time. Ah, the old days when feminists actually did what they want instead of complaining no other women were.

  54. I appreciate her contribution to the industry. But in the early 80's if you took a survey in the mall – Hey, lady do you like computers? No.
    Hi little girl, do like electronics? No.
    How about you gals, do you like programming? No.

  55. I think it's awesome she invented Centipede. I love that game. But, I don't really care about what her gender is. I just see a bad ass programmer.

  56. Another wamyn whose importance is over inflated cause she has a vagina when men who had the exact same skill level go largely ignored cause penis is bad today. She didn't come up with the idea of Centipede i want to here about that guys story

    Ed Logg created Centipede but because this wamyn worked on it Dona Bailey gets the credit as well, and this is why men don't want to work with women today they have no respect for another mans work

  57. Does anyone have any idea how to deactivate the kill screens in the original stand up centipede games? High scores are really limited by how often the game throws kill screens at you in the higher levels.

  58. Wow woke people’s we found a female that did something other than being a housewife! TAKE THAT MEN!!

    Hahahahaha!

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