Monday, 24 November 2008

The history of computer games (part 1)

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By Leonard Herman, Jer Horwitz, Steve Kent, and Skyler Miller
Edited by Hooloovoo
Part 1:
In 1949, a young engineer named Ralph Baer was given an assignment to build a television set. He wasn't supposed to build just any television set, but one that would be the absolute best of all televisions. This was not a problem for Baer, but he wanted to go beyond his original assignment and incorporate some kind of game into the set. He didn't know exactly what kind of game he had in mind, but it didn't really matter because his managers nixed the idea. It would take another 18 years for his idea to become a reality, and by that time there would be other people to share in the glory, like Willy Higinbotham, who designed an interactive tennis game played on an oscilloscope (aptly named "tennis for two"), and Steve Russell, who programmed a rudimentary space game on a DEC PDP-1 mainframe computer. And then there was also Nolan Bushnell, who played that space game and dreamed of a time when fairground midways would be filled with games powered by computers.

Today, with interest in classic games gaining steam once again, players of video games are reminded of the rich history of the industry. Crave's Asteroids 64 is a modern version of a game that came out in 1979. And the original Asteroids was merely an updated version of Nolan Bushnell's Computer Space, which was really a jazzed-up copy of Steve Russell's Spacewar. Space Invaders, Centipede, Frogger, and Pong are once again on store shelves, and Pong is but a polished variant of the game Willie Higinbotham displayed on his oscilloscope.

The history of video games is not just about people. It's also about companies and ironies. Atari was an American company with a Japanese name, and the Japanese company Sega was started by an American. Magnavox, the company that started it all, is owned by Phillips, a company that is over a century old, and Nintendo, the company that made video games popular again, is just as old. And who would have ever thought Sony, the company that invented all types of electronics, from transistor radios to video recorders, would release a video game console that would become its top-selling product of all time?

In today's world, where video games are often cited as a source for teenage violence, it's interesting to see that the first home console also had a light rifle as an optional peripheral.

The world of video games continues to evolve. By reading about the past, perhaps you'll also get a glimpse of the future.

(end of part 1)