Saying Goodbye To The Legendary Video Game Pioneer Bernard Stolar

Born on Oct 9, 1946, there was no way Bernard Stolar’s parents could ever have known they had just changed the world forever. It would be many years before the dark-haired, brown-eyed boy would turn into the man who would become a legend. Young and ambitious, he would start his career in the humble field of coin-operated machines. Pinball had been introduced commercially in the 1930s, and by 1971, the world of video games was beginning to emerge. Computer Space was the first commercially released coin-operated video game machine, and at the time, it was widely held as a failure. However, the tides were just on their way, and they would wash over the world like a flood. As he was better known, Bernie is remembered as both headstrong and often divisive in the gaming industry, and his early years were no exception. He created an arcade game himself called “Shark Attack,” only to be met with a lawsuit by Universal Studios, who had featured a game with the same title in the hit movie “JAWS.” Not to be swayed, Bernie followed through with the lawsuit, eventually reaching an agreement that if he only created no more than 1,000 machines, he could maintain the name without paying any royalties to Universal. Creating 990 units, he found minimal success with the title and moved on.

However, the attempt would not go unrewarded. Stolar was recruited by Atari to first their coin-op division and later to the home entertainment division, where he was instrumental in creating the Atari Lynx. When company ownership changed in late 1989-early 1990, he became President of Atari till 1993. While accepting his newly earned position, Atari’s primary competitor, Nintendo, signed contracts with a lightweight company in the electronic and gaming industry. The lightweight was called SONY, and the system was to move gaming from cartridge format to the new and more popular disc format. However, this did not come to pass. The two famously fell out over a contract disagreement where Nintendo would essentially claim all of the credit and profit margin for any game released under the new system. SONY called for a revisit on the issue, but Nintendo’s Hiroshi Yamauchi chose to call it quits. Now SONY, left adrift in the sea of gaming, was looking for a new strategic outlet.

In 1993, Sony brought their idea to Stolar, who became Executive VP and founding member of SONY COMPUTER ENTERTAINMENT AMERICA. The brand went on to make timeless classics such as Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot, and countless other games that still maintain fandom to this day. From his new position, he helped perfect the PlayStation console and ensured its successful launch on Sept 9, 1995. Having chosen not to incorporate RPG games into the initial release and instead focus on fighting games. He lined up Mortal Kombat 3 as the system’s first title release, and it proved a stroke of genius. The PlayStation was off and running, becoming one of the most active and popular consoles in gaming history. In 1997, Bernard, ever seeking the next golden ring of gaming, moved to Sega, helping in the final details, planning, and launch of the DreamCast. The system was a failure, and Sega’s last mainstream system release, blipping in and out of the mainstream with little splash to be heard. However, the system is often referred to as just ahead of its time rather than a complete failure. Had it been saved until technology fully supported the idea, it may have even been a success. Essentially the modern MMO structure is based on the bones of DreamCast’s design strategy. He left the company shortly after several of his most respected co-workers and mentors were ousted in a company overhaul.

Over the next several years, Stolar worked for several companies, including Google, where he left over a dispute about trying to push the company into the gaming industry. Bernard’s suggestion that Google creates a network to purchase major titles from publishers and then distribute them online to users was deadpanned. It never got a chance. Fourteen years later, Google launched “Stadia.” A cloud service that did exactly what Bernard had suggested years before, and the success was undeniable, but Stolar would receive no credit for it. He remained active in the industry as a background figure until the pandemic would force most out of the mainstream world and into quarantine. Stolar died from a heart attack on Jun 23, 2022, at 75 years old. We will never forget the monumental changes at his hand that has shaped the gamer world we know and love today. Nor will we ever forget his “never give up and I will not accept less” attitude that took him from a simple coin operator to a god among legends in the gaming industry. May everyone remember him every time we turn on our PlayStations, send our love and prayers out to his family on waves of well wishes, and keep the legend alive. He shall be missed.

Bernard Stolar

10/9/1946 – 6/23/2022

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