[ VC&G Anthology ] Video Games Turn Forty (2007)

Monday, May 15th, 2017

Note: this article was originally published on 1UP.com on May 15, 2007 under the title “Videogames Turn Forty.” (Original URL: http://www.1up.com/do/feature?pager.offset=0&cId=3159462).

Since 1UP is no longer with us, I decided to republish the article here for historical reference. I have learned quite a bit about video game history in the decade since this was originally published, and naturally some of my conclusions have changed. But this is still a great overview of the work done by Baer, Harrison, and Rusch in the 1960s. I plan to republish my other 1UP articles on VC&G as well in the near future. — Benj

Video Games Turn Forty 1UP Screenshot

The nineteen-inch screen flashed in waves of blue and black as two normally reserved professionals threw themselves into a competition destined for the history books. Mashing furiously at hand wired buttons, each battled to be the first winner of a unique contest never before played by man: the contest of the video game.

VC&G Anthology BadgeIn 1967, a bold engineer with a vision led a small team to create the world’s first electronic games to use an ordinary television set as a medium. Wary of naysayers from within, the video mavericks sequestered themselves behind closed doors, and for good reason: they worked under the payroll of Sanders Associates, a giant Cold War defense contractor.

As hippies on the streets of San Francisco stuck flowers in the barrels of guns, three men in snowy New Hampshire crafted the future of electronic entertainment deep in the heart of a commercial war machine. In May of 1967, the world’s first video games — as we know them today — made their quiet, humble entrance into the world.

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Remembering Ralph Baer (1922-2014)

Monday, December 8th, 2014

Ralph Baer, inventor of TV video gamesIn Memoriam: Ralph Baer (1922-2014),
co-inventor of TV video games and the home video game console

Our dear Ralph. What a man. 92 years old. A life full of technology, audacity, and gumption (with equal measures wise prudence). He died on December 6, 2014 at his home in Manchester, New Hampshire. May he rest in peace.

Just summarizing Baer’s biography with keywords sounds impressive: Germany, Kristallnacht, WWII Service, small arms expert, Lee De Forest, TV technician, Sanders, engineering, Apollo, inventor of TV video games, game console, Odyssey, cable TV, patents, Simon, toy inventor. The list could go on and on. He achieved quite a bit and lived a very full, very fulfilling long life.

Ralph Baer at Sanders, Circa late 1960sOf course, he is most well known for inventing the concept of television video games and co-inventing, with William Rusch and William Harrison, the world’s first video game console during his time at Sanders in the mid-late 1960s. The prototype console that the trio finished in 1968 later became the Magnavox Odyssey (1972), the world’s first commercial video game console.

But there was much more to the man, and I count myself lucky to have known him.

[ Continue reading Remembering Ralph Baer (1922-2014) » ]

Inside the Magnavox Odyssey (40th Anniversary)

Monday, May 28th, 2012

Inside the Magnavox Odyssey Teardown Slideshow

Believe it or not, it’s been almost two years since I did my last tech teardown slideshow for PC World. After 11 visual disassemblies with my haggard workbench as a backdrop, I figured I’d give the series a rest until an interesting new venue came along.

Fast forward to April 2012 — it was a beautiful spring day outside, and I had decided to take apart a 1972 Magnavox Odyssey (the first commercial video game console) in honor of its 40th anniversary. I walked out to my back yard, sat down on the moss, and the result is now up on PCWorld.com.

I hope you enjoy it.

Here are my previous tech teardowns: Nintendo NES, Atari 1040STf, Atari 800, Commodore Amiga 1000, Commodore 64, Nintendo Game Boy, Nintendo Famicom, Apple IIc, IBM Model M Keyboard, TRS-80 Model 100, and Macintosh Portable.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Odyssey Manual

Monday, May 28th, 2012

Magnavox Odyssey Manual Cover Scan - 1972“We’ve got a lot of space here, Fred, and I’m tired.” [stamps 7 times] “Fixed.”

Forty years ago, Magnavox lifted the veil on the world’s first commercial video game console, the Odyssey. Designed to work with a home TV set, the Odyssey blazed a trail that every game console follows today.

While the Odyssey had first been revealed to the press in April 1972, the Odyssey reached the market at $99.99 (about $548 in today’s dollars) in August of that year.

Magnavox’s console relied on technology originally developed by Ralph Baer, Bill Harrison, and Bill Rusch at Sanders Associates in the mid- to late 1960s. Baer’s invention, together with Atari’s work during the same period, founded an industry.

Even though I’ve been writing about the work of Ralph Baer for over five years now, I still am amazed that the commercial video game console is now 40 years old. But 40 years is a long time in technology, and it’s easy to see how we’ve come so far if you keep that time scale in mind.

By the way — in honor of this anniversary, I recently took apart an Odyssey console for PC World. You can read about that adventure in another post.

[ From Odyssey Installation and Game Rules, circa 1972, cover ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever played an original Magnavox Odyssey console? Describe how you felt about the experience.

The Panoramic World of Ralph H. Baer

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

Ralph Baer holds a Simon toy in his basement, May 2012Two days ago, I flew up to New Hampshire to visit Ralph H. Baer, the Father of Video Games, at his home in Manchester.

During my brief stay, Baer was a gracious host and a gentleman to the highest degree. We discussed life, philosophy, WWII, video games, and more. Best of all, he showed me an archive of his inventions that he keeps in his basement.

I made the trip because Baer, along with two associates, invented home video games in 1967. That work culminated in the Magnavox Odyssey, the world’s first commercial video game console, in 1972.

Baer, who turned 90 in March, has also been a freelance toy and game developer since the late 1970s. His biggest hit in that field is no doubt Simon, a toy which you might know by its iconic saucer shape and playful electronic melodies.

After examining some of his creations, I challenged him to a game of Ping Pong on a replica of the Brown Box (the 1968 video game prototype that inspired the Odyssey). We didn’t keep score, but his hands are surprisingly nimble. By the way, he’s a very good driver too. Even at 90, his mind seems twice as sharp as someone one third his age.

Yesterday morning, just before I left to fly home, I took the following panoramic shots around Ralph’s house with my Sony camera. He gave me permission to publish these images, so I thought you might enjoy them.

The geometry in each photo is warped because the camera flattens about 180 degrees of perspective into a rectangular image. Still, I love the effect. Here they are:

Ralph Baer's OfficeRalph’s office, where he writes and checks his email. He likes Macs.
Ralph Baer's Basement Electronics LabRalph’s basement lab, where he has worked on his inventions for over 50 years.
Ralph Baer's Basement Toy DisplayRalph’s main basement. To the right sits his shelved display of toy inventions.

Overall, it was an amazing trip. I am not the first journalist, nor will I be the last, to visit him. But I still feel lucky that I had a chance to explore the world of a renowned inventor up close.

Some time in the future, I will write about the visit in more detail. But for now, I thought you might enjoy checking out these photos.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Humble Beginnings

Monday, May 14th, 2007

Humble BeginningsFrom the instruction manual of the first video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey.

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