Tuesday, 18 October 2011

A history of computer games, part one: 1950's - 1970's

The concept of the computer game began as early as 1947 when Thomas T. Goldsmith, Jr and Estle Ray Mann requested the production of a device they called the "cathode ray tube amusement device". It consisted of a video screen which displayed a blue light meant to represent a reticule, a knob used to maneuver the dot and a button used to fire; which resulted in a blurring of the dot if the target was hit. They produced a simplified target-firing simulation in which an overlay made to resemble a World War 2 radar was placed over the display unit. The object of the game was to destroy the planes, which was achieved by swiftly lining the reticule up with enemy planes and firing at them. This was the precursor to future video game development.

In 1952 A. S. Douglas produced an interactive noughts and crosses game on a similar device called a EDSAC computer which also utilized cathode ray tube. This, however was not intended as entertainment but rather to support a thesis on "human-computer interaction". The game involved challenging the computer to a game of noughts and crosses, which demonstrates an early use of artificial intelligence in gaming.

In 1958 William Higinbotham created "Tennis for Two": a game which utilized an oscillioscope, an analog computer and two primitave controllers; a closer set-up to modern gaming components. It displayed a side-view of a tennis court and a ball that needed to be hit over the net from both sides. Whats interesting is that the ball actual encorporated an accurate physics engine. Unlike the previous two entries this game was produced purely for entertainment purposes; a concept carried through to modern game producting.

By 1962 Steve Russel produced "Spacewar!", said to be the first video game intended for use on a computer. Russel didn't think to copyright his game at the time since the computer the game was played on was roughly the size of a refrigerator and cost $120'000 to run, however, Spacewar! became the blueprint for countless future video games. The game introudced more advanced gaming mechanics: two players controlled a ship each where the goal was to shoot eachothers ships whilst avoiding being shot themselves. The game also encorporated a representation of a 3D playing field which hadn't yet been attempted.

In 1966 Ralph Baer and Bill Harrisson invented the first game system that could be hooked up to a standard television set along with the first form of the light gun. Both huge strides in video game technology. They produced a game called "Chase" which involved a square chasing another square along with 6 other games including a target practice game.

In 1968 the DGC Nova minicomputer was created, which involved putting all of the computer parts into a single box - the same principle applied to video game consoles as well.

1972 saw the release of what is widely believed to be the first real video game and the first to reach wide mainstream appeal. Pong, produced by Atari, took the same concept as "Tennis for Two" and produced a 2-dimensional interface displaying two paddles and a line down the centre of the screen representing a net. Two players would take part in trying to hit the ball past the opposite side of the screen to score. It ran on the Magnavox Odyysey: the first home video game console. Iterations of Pong would later be ported to numerous future consoles and was the game that initiated the start of the video games industry.

After this point in time more video game consoles and computers were being produced and released: examples of these were the Altair 8800 (1975), the Apple 1 (1976) and the Commodore pet (1978). But probably most notable of the time period was the release of the Atari 2600, which many recognise as the first commercially successful video game console. It was also the first system to introduce the joystick, which would form the archetype for future controllers and later, analog sticks.

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