Carol Shaw programmed one of Atari’s best-known shooter games. 

Carol Shaw was born and raised in Palo Alto, CA. Always excellent at math, it wasn’t until she inherited her brothers’ model railroad that Shaw began tinkering with electronics: “I actually designed some circuitry … with some transistors and stuff that would turn on the signal light for various blocks showing there was a train up ahead.”

Fresh out of Berkeley’s Computer Science graduate program, Shaw accepted a position at game-maker Atari in the late 1970s. Wearing thick-rimmed glasses and flannel, she biked 10 miles each way to design and program video games.

Eventually landing at Activision, Shaw programmed one of the Atari’s best-known shooter games, River Raid. For the first time, gamers could experience an inordinate amount of non-random, repeating terrain despite constrictive memory limits. River Raid was the first game that allowed the shooter to accelerate and slow down all over the screen.

Shaw’s work as a pioneer game designer has made her a legend to two generations of tech pros and gamers.

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