In the beginning, there was darkness. But then some enterprising fellow invented the first video game. Who, you might ask? Well you’ll just have to watch and see.
What’s up everybody, welcome back to the Devils in the details I’m BD, and let’s pop a quarter in this sucker.
Video games have become a $20 billion dollar a year industry, but where did it start, and when?
Would you believe me if I told you that the same man that helped invent the nuclear bomb, is the same person that created video games.
In 1958, a man named William Higinbotham, was working for the Brookhaven national Laboratory in Long Island New York as head of the instrumentation division.
He is largely referred to as the grandfather of video games, he created a computer game called Tennis for Two, for the laboratory’s annual exposition.
It was a tennis simulator displayed on an oscilloscope, the Game is credited with being one of the first interactive analog electronic computer games to use a graphical display.
The game took Higinbotham only a few weeks to complete, and was a popular attraction at the show.
It was such a hit in fact, that Higinbotham created an expanded version for the 1959 exposition.
This version allowed the gravity level to be changed so players could simulate tennis on Jupiter and the Moon. Higinbotham never patented Tennis for Two.
And it’s probably a good thing that he didn’t seek out a patent, given his current employer, the game would’ve belonged to the government.
Higinbotham remained little interested in video games, preferring to be remembered for his work in nuclear nonproliferation.
Shortly after Higinbotham’s Tennis for Two was created, in 1961, an M.I.T. Student and pioneering hacker named Steve Russell spent 6 months tapping into a 120 thousand dollar computer at M.I.T to create a punchcard driven video game called Spacewar..
The game spread to universities across America on an earlier version of the Internet.
But considering that it was being played on such an expensive computer, there was no way that it was going to be available commercially, not for a while anyways.
And just like Higinbotham, Russell did not bother securing a patent for his game.
So if Higinbotham was The grandfather of video games, then who was the father?
Well that would depend on who you ask, but certainly one of the founding fathers of the video game industry would be Rudolph Heinrich Baer.
A German-born American inventor, game developer, and engineer.
Although born in Germany, he and his family fled to the United States before the outbreak of World war II.
Once in the U.S, he would change his name to Ralph H. Baer, he then later served the American war effort.. Afterwards, he pursued work in electronics.
Baer is considered by many to have been the inventor of video games, specifically of the concept of the home video game console.
In 1951, while working at Loral, an electronics company, he proposed the idea of playing games on television screens, his boss didn’t agree, and rejected the notion.
But the idea never left him, and came back to him in 1966 while working at Sanders associates.
He wrote a four-page proposal with which he was able to convince one of his supervisors to allow him to proceed.
He was given 25 hundred dollars and the time of two other engineers, Bill Harrison and Bill Rusch.
They went on to develop eight hardware prototypes.
The last two were the Brown Box video game system and its extension, they named it the brown box because of the brown tape in which they wrapped the units to simulate wood veneer.
Baer re-counted that in an early meeting with a patent examiner and his attorney to patent one of the prototypes, he had set up the prototype on one of the televisions in the examiners office and within 15 minutes every examiner on the floor of that building was in that office wanting to play the game.
He knew he had something.
He began seeking a buyer for the system, turning to various television manufacturers who basically didn’t have any interest in the unit.
In 1971, Sanders Associates licensed it to Magnavox, and after being renamed Magnavox Odyssey, the first video game console which could be connected to a television set, was released to the public in May of 1972.
And although it was one of Sanders’s most profitable lines, selling over 340,000 units, many people at the company still looked down on game development.
Baer also contributed to the development of other consoles and consumer game units, he is also credited for creating the first light gun and game for home television use, sold grouped with a game expansion pack for the Odyssey, and collectively known as “the shooting gallery”.
The light gun itself was the first peripheral for a video game console.
In February, 2006, he was awarded the National medal of technology for his groundbreaking and pioneering creation, development and commercialization of interactive video games, which spawned related uses, applications, and mega-industries in both the entertainment and education realms.
he would go on to create the basis for the first commercial units, among several other patented advances in video games and electronic toys.
But it wasn’t until Atari’s arcade game Pong popularized video games that the public began to take more notice of the emerging industry.
By autumn 1975, Magnavox, bowing to the popularity of Pong, cancelled the Odyssey and released a scaled-down version that played only Pong and hockey, the odyssey 100.
A second, higher end console, the Odyssey 200 was released with the 100 and added on screen scoring, up to four players and a third game called Smash.
Almost simultaneously released with Atari’s own home Pong console through Sears, these consoles jumpstarted the consumer market.
During this time, many other electronics companies started flooding the market with cheap or inexpensive games, that although they looked different externally, they were still playing exactly the same games internally.
Only a few companies continued to push the envelope like newcomer Coleco, Magnavox, and Atari.
And that’s where Nolan Bushnell comes in.
In 1969, Bushnell and colleague Ted Dabney formed a company named Syzygy with the intention of producing a clone of Steve Russell’s Spacewar, re-naming it Computer Space.
Dabney built the prototype and Bushnell shopped it around, looking for a manufacturer.
They made an agreement with Nutting associates, maker of coin-op trivia and shooting games, who produced a fibreglass cabinet for the unit that included a coin slot mechanism.
Computer Space was a commercial failure, although sales exceeded $3 million, Bushnell felt that Nutting associates had not marketed the game well, and decided that his next game would be licensed to a bigger manufacturer.
In 1972, Bushnell and Dabney set off on their own and incorporated under a new name. Atari.
They opened an office in Sunnyvale California, contracted with Bally Manufacturing to create a driving game, and hired their second employee, engineer Allan Alcorn.
Shortly there after, Bushnell and Dabney parted ways.
After attending a Burlingame California demonstration of the Magnavox Odyssey, Bushnell gave the task of making the Magnavox tennis game into a coin op version to Alcorn as a test project.
He told Alcorn that he was making the game for General Electric, in order to motivate him.
But in actuality he planned to simply dispose of the game.
Alcorn incorporated many of his own improvements into the game design, such as the ball speeding up the longer the game went on, and Pong was born.
Pong proved to be very popular, Atari released a large number of Pong based arcade games over the next few years as the Mainstay of the company.
Atari went on to become a pioneer in arcade games, home video game consoles, and home computers.
The company‘s products, such as Pong and the Atari 2600, helped define the electronic entertainment industry from the 1970s to the mid-1980s.
And to think, it all started with a little bouncing cube.
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