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Old 03-07-2008, 07:48 AM   #1
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First true video game

The landmark game that eventually led to the launch of both the college mainframe tradition and the video arcade game was conceived at MIT in 1961 by a group of friends including Steve Russell, Wayne Witanen, and J. Martin Graetz, members of an organization called the Tech Model Railroad Club, interested in science fiction novels and movies.

When MIT replaced its aging TX-0 mainframe computer with a DEC PDP-1, which had a built-in monitor, Russell, Witanen, and Graetz wanted to create a program that would test and tax the new computerís capabilities and drew on their love of science fiction in deciding to make a game involving spaceships.

Russell was primarily responsible for the design of the game, which was finished in 1962. Called Spacewar!, the final product featured two ships dubbed the "Wedge" and the "Needle" for their shapes that two players controlled and moved around the screen while firing torpedoes at each other until one ship was destroyed.

The game became more complex as Russellís friends continued to modify it, with the most important additions being accurate gravity effects centered around a sun and a hyperspace function that would teleport the ship to a random part of the screen. DEC decided to distribute Spacewar! as a demo program with each PDP computer it sold, exposing university students across the country to the game.

After Spacewar!, there was little advancement in computer games for the rest of the 1960s. While it is likely that other innovative games were created during this time period, no reliable method existed to distribute them across the country, as there was little standardization across computers and no good way to port games from one system to another. Spacewar! itself would likely not have become a national phenomenon (in university computer labs at least) if not for DECís decision to bundle the game with its computers. In the end, these games disappeared into oblivion as old machines broke down and old tape was erased.

Early commercial video games

In 1971, two Stanford University Students exposed to Spacewar! became the first individuals to release a commercial video game product when they hooked up a PDP-11 computer running Spacewar! to a monitor and a coin slot, named it Galaxy Game [3], and placed it in the student union with a cost of ten cents per game. After being briefly pulled for fixes, the game was in continuous operation from 1972 to 1979 when it was dismantled after the monitor began acting up. A far more important Spacewar! clone was created in 1971 by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. Bushnell had been exposed to Spacewar! at the University of Utah in the 1960s and also had a vision of arcades full of video games rather than mechanical ones developed after working a summer at an amusement park arcade.

Through parts obtained from their employer, Ampex Corporation, Bushnell and Dabney constructed a custom dedicated system that played Spacewar! called Computer Space and then entered into a deal with a small coin-op company called Nutting Associates to create a production run of 1,500 units.

The game had pages of instructions and complex controls and did not translate well from the computer lab to a mainstream audience, ending up a failure. Undaunted, Bushnell and Dabney established Atari Inc. on June 27, 1972 to continue making video arcade games.

While Nolan Bushnell was still in school, Ralph Baer, the head of the Equipment and Design Division of defense contractor Sanders Associates was able to pursue an idea he came up with during the early 1950sóthe idea of playing a game on a television set.

In 1966 he assembled a small team to make his concept a reality, and in 1967 they came up with a chase game in which a player represented by a dot chases another player represented by a dot through a maze. Next, a light gun was designed to shoot at a dot on the screen, and then paddles were added to manipulate the dot to create a tennis game.

The final prototype was soon created that could play several games by using a series of switches to change the screen output and demonstrations were held for all the major television companies. Magnavox ended up buying the system and distributed it as the Magnavox Odyssey starting in 1972.

Like the prototype, the system could play multiple games, mostly variations on the chase, shooting, and paddle games developed during design, but instead of switches, the Odyssey used circuit cards, which did not have the actual games programmed on them but controlled screen output.

The system could not produce sound, had black-and-white graphics, and only contained enough processing power to create dots, paddles, and a few lines, so color overlays and accessories such as cards and dice were provided for some games. The controller consisted of three dials for horizontal movement, vertical movement, and spin, and a light gun shaped like a rifle was also sold separately.
Retailing for around $100, the system was marketed poorly by Magnavox, which left consumers with the false impression that the system only worked on Magnavox televisions, and sold around 100,000 units over its lifetime.
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