Joust was developed by Williams Electronics, with John Newcomer as the lead designer.
Newcomer conceived Joust as a “flying game” with co-operative two-player gameplay. Rather than emulate the popular space theme of previous successful flying games like Asteroids and Defender, he wanted to offer an alternative to spaceships. To that end, Newcomer made a list of things that could fly: machines, animals, and fictional characters. After evaluating the positive and negative of each idea, he chose birds, believing that they would have a wide appeal. Newcomer also felt that birds were a good fit as he was familiar with fantasy and science fiction media featuring birds. To further increase his understanding, Newcomer went to the library to study mythology. He felt that the primary protagonist should ride a majestic bird. The first choice was an eagle, but the lack of graceful land mobility dissuaded the designer. Instead, Newcomer chose an ostrich because he thought a flying ostrich was more believable than a running eagle. To differentiate between the first and second player characters, the developers picked a stork, believing the proportions were similar to an ostrich while the color difference would avoid confusion among players. Newcomer chose vultures as the main enemies, believing that they would be recognizably evil.
“At the time Joust was done I was hoping to get a broader audience who may want to try a different skill. There were already plenty of shooting games they could play. I wanted to break some new ground. I felt I was already giving the player new things to do like having to flap, run and become so adept at flying that it would be the determining factor in how you collided and defeated an enemy. The cleanest thing I could think of to visually determine a winner was height.
Luck can be a factor in making games like Joust. And that luck was in the form of bringing the likes of Pfutz, Python and Jan Hendricks to one team and having a supportive Director of Engineering like Ken Fedesna at the helm making sure that the game go to completion despite some raps it was taking behind the scenes. This sort of thing was the magic of working at Williams and then Midway.”