Tuesday, 19 October 2010

A history of computer games, part one: 1950s - 1970s - Personal Gaming History Included!

Although there were inventions like the Cathode-Ray Tube Amusement Device as early as 1947, the first patented electronic game displayed on a monitor. Many do not consider it an actual video game as it does not use any programming or computer generated graphics, it is purely mechanical. 

There was a graphical computer game developed in 1952 by Alexander Shafto Douglas using AI, called OXO (Noughts and Crosses) the game used the EDSAC Stored-Program Computer, located in Cambridge, as an opponent. 
Because the computer was unique only to Cambridge, OXO did not have widespread popularity.

Then, in 1958 'Tennis For Two' was developed by Physicist William A. Higinbotham. The first publicly displayed computer game.

Its strange when you read about William A. Higinbotham's association with video games.  
Especially when you discover that he worked on the components for the first atomic bomb. 

That is quite a stark contrast. 

One bringing joy and entertainment, the other raining hell and devastation on the unfortunate souls to be exposed. 

Another contrast being that it took him, planing aside, about two weeks to produce 'Tennis For Two' and he dedicated 47 years of his life towards awareness of Nuclear Armaments and the risks they posed to our world.

Understandable really. 
You could look at Tennis For Two and say "that was really good fun, quite successful, I think!" 
Then, compare the effects of an atomic bomb and, well, I doubt any one witness stood up and said "that was hoot!", 
"Can I have go?" 
I think a reassessment of ethics would be in order. 




Oh my! This was a bad idea!
It's quite sad when you read his obituary and half the body of text is about a video game, then one tiny paragraph states: 

"But throughout his career, controlling nuclear arms was Mr. Higinbotham's primary interest. 
The Federation of American Scientists planned to honour him next month by renaming its headquarters in Washington Higinbotham Hall." 

Now, that must be quite an honour but it is completely over-shadowed by the main focus of his obituary. 

On further investigation, Ralph H. Baer proclaims himself as the "Father of Home Video Games" and fervently disputes Higinbotham's title and association towards video games. 

I think this is where the distinction between a computer game and a video game originates. 

Clearly William A. Higinbotham created an interactive Computer Game. 
Ralph H. Baer created the "Home Video Game System".

A system offering several different games to play. Two sets of colour screen overlays (wow) and a 'light-gun' 
(not to shabby for console originally named the "Brown Box"). 

The newly renamed Magnavox Odyssey was certainly a commercially viable product compared to Steve Russell's "Spacewar!" computer game, which ran on a PDP-1 computer, costing $120,000 and was about the size of a refrigerator. 
Russell also neglected to patent or copyright his work still, he must have a stake in the title for "Father of Computer Games", surely? 
For it was widely distributed amongst the computer community.
Despite its public limitations 'Spacewar!' was still the first popular computer game. 


With Baer's home gaming console selling near 2 million units, its clear that 1972 is the beginning of the video games industry. 

Following the success of his inventions, a National Medal of Technology in 2006 and having the initial insight to develop the technology to begin with, Ralph H. Baer, has earned the right to be addressed as "Father of Video Games". 


"W" and the "Baer"

Another candidate for the title would be Nolan Bushnell of Atari. 
But Atari themselves did not make a "Home Console" until 1975. 

Instead Bushnell, with his invention "Computer Space" in 1969, takes the title of "Father of Arcade Games!" 
Which is really just a divergent branch of the video game tree. Albeit a very lucrative divergence.

Arcade games became increasingly popular throughout the 70's and Atari provide a lot of break through games advancing the technology within the machines to provide a better experience for their 'gamers'. 

Although it is Midway's Licensing of the Japanese hit game 'Space Invaders' in 1978, that provides the most mainstream hit up to that point. 

to be continued...........80's - 90's.

(I realise I may have gone over this already so I will elaborate a little more)
This is my earliest memory of a video game: 

PONG (essentially Tennis For 2.0)


The console belonged to my dad. He brought it home one evening and we played it for hours! 
For some reason we had the TV resting on the floor. I have no idea why!?
(I think it may have originally belonged to one of his friends!)



It was a simple yet exciting form of entertainment because I couldn't quite understand how I was able to control the image on screen. I couldn't have been very old maybe 4 or 5.
This would have been around 1984-85.

I do remember a Grandstand console and an Atari home Console quite soon afterwards. 
My dad must have been keen to try something more current.

Atari 2600
And this guy!  
But I think they must have been broken because me and my family never played with them again. Probably full of Gremlins!

There were brief gaps in my encounters with computer and video games. 
Lots of climbing trees, Karate, BMX and Skateboards. (I am rubbish at Skateboarding).

I didn't really start getting into computer and video games until the late 80's which I will elaborate more on in my next Blog.

1 comment:

  1. All my images were corrupted! I have reloaded them

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