History of Video Games - The First Video Game...

By: Ian Blake
As a vintage video gaming enthusiast, I’ve always been particularly interested in thehistory of video games. Even more specifically, a subject that I am very passionate about is “Which was the first video game ever created?"... So, I started a deep investigation on this subject (and making this article, the first in a series of articles that will cover in detail all video gaming history). The question was: Which was the first video game ever created?The answer: Well, as many other things in life, there is no easy answer to that question. It depends on your own definition of the term “video game". For example: When you refer to the term “the first video game", do you mean the first video game that was commercially-made, or the first console game, or maybe the first digitally programmed game? Because of this, I made a short list of video games that in one way or another were the pioneers of the video gaming industry. You will notice that these original video games were not created with the idea of getting any profit from them (back in those decades there was no Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, Sega,? Atari, or any other video game company around). Actually, the sole idea of a “video game" or an electronic device which only purpose was “playing games and having fun" was impossible to conceive by more than 99% of the population back in those days. But thanks to this small group of geniuses who walked the first steps into the video gaming revolution, we can enjoy many hours of fun and entertainment today (not to mention the creation of millions of jobs during the past 40-50 years).? Without further ado, here I present the “first video game nominees":1940s: Cathode Ray Tube Amusement DeviceThis is considered (with official documentation) as the first electronic game device ever made. It was created by Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann. The device was assembled in the 1940s and submitted for an US Patent in January 1947. The patent was granted December 1948, which means that it is also the first electronic game system to ever receive a patent (US Patent 2,455,992). As described in the patent, it consisted of an analog circuit device with an array of knobs used to control a dot that showed in the cathode ray tube display. The video game was created after how missiles appeared in WWII radars, and the idea of the game was simply controlling a “missile" that should hit a target. In the 1940s it was virtually impossible to show graphics in a Cathode Ray Tube display. So, only the actual “missile" appeared on the display. All other graphics including the target were showed on screen overlays manually placed on the display screen. It’s been said by many that Atari’s famous video game “Missile Command" was created based in this gaming system.1951: NIMRODNIMROD was the name of a digital computer device from the 50s decade. The designers of this computer were the engineers of an UK-based enterprise under the name Ferranti, with the purpose of showing the device at the 1951 Festival of Britain (and after some time it was also showed in Berlin). NIM is a two-player mathematical game of strategy, which could be originated in the ancient China. NIM game rules are easy: There are a certain number of “heaps" (groups of objects), and each group contains a certain number of objects (a common starting array of NIM is 3 heaps containing 3, 4, and 5 objects respectively).

Each player remove objects from the heaps in turns, but all removed objects must be from a single heap and at least one object is removed. The player who takes the last object of the last heap is the loser, however there is a variation of the game where the player to take the last object of the last heap is the winner.NIMROD used a panel full of lights as a display and was designed and created with the sole purpose of playing a game called NIM, which makes it the first digital computer device to be designed exclusively for playing a game (although the main idea was to show and illustrate how a digital computer works, rather than as a way of entertainment and having fun). Since it doesn’t count with “raster video equipment" as a display (a TV set, monitor, etc.) it is not considered by many people as a real “video game" (an electronic game, yes… a video game, no…). But once again, it really depends on the definition given to a “video game".1952: OXO (“Noughts and Crosses")This was a digital version of “Tic-Tac-Toe", created for an EDSAC (Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator) computer. It was designed by Alexander S. Douglas from the University of Cambridge, and one more time it was not created for entertainment, it was part of his PhD Thesis on “Interactions between human and computer".The game was played under the rules of a regular Tic-Tac-Toe game, player against the computer (it didn’t have an option for player vs. player). The device used as input was a rotary dial (like the ones in old telephones). The output was showed in a 35x16-pixel CRT display. This game was never very popular since the EDSAC computer was only available at the University of Cambridge, so there was no way to install it and play it anywhere else (until many years later when an EDSAC emulator was created available, and by then many other excellent video games where available as well…).1958: Tennis for Two“Tennis for Two" was created by William Higinbotham, a scientist working at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. This game was assembled as a way of entertainment, so visitors at the laboratory had something interesting to do while they were waiting on “visitors day" (finally!... a video game that was created “just for the fun of it"…) . The electronic game was very well designed for its time: the ball behavior was modified by several factors like gravity, wind speed, position and angle of contact, etc.; you had to avoid the net as in real tennis, and many other things. The video game hardware also had two “joysticks" (two controllers with a rotational knob and a push button each) connected to an analog computer, and an oscilloscope as a display. “Tennis for Two" is considered by many the first video game ever created. But once again, many others differ from that idea stating that “it was a computer game, not a video game" or “the output device was an oscilloscope, not a “raster" video display… so it does not qualify as a video game". But you know… you can’t please everyone…It is also rumored that “Tennis for Two" was the inspiration for Atari’s mega hit “Pong", but this rumor has never been supported by Atari representatives… as expected. 1961: Spacewar!“Spacewar!" electronic game was programmed by Stephen Russell, with the help of J. Martin Graetz, Peter Samson, Alan Kotok, Wayne Witanen and Dan Edwards from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. By the decade of the 60s, MIT was “the place to be" if your plan was to do computer research and development. So this half a dozen of innovative guys wanted to take advantage of a brand-new computer that would be arriving campus very soon (a DEC PDP-1) and started thinking about what kind of hardware testing programs would be made. When they discovered that a “Precision CRT Display" would be installed to the system, they instantly decided that “some sort of visual/interactive game" would be the demonstration software that would be perfect for the PDP-1. And after some debating, it was soon decided to be a spaceship fighting game or something similar. After this was decided, all other ideas started coming out very fast: like rules of the game, designing concepts, programming ideas, etc..So after about 200 man/hours of design and programming, the initial version of the game was finally ready to be tested. The game showed two spaceships (affectively named by players “pencil" and “wedge") shooting missiles at each other with a sun in the middle of the display (which “pulls" both spaceships with its gravitational force). Each spaceship was controlled by a set of console switches (for rotation, speed, missiles, and “hyperspace"). Each spaceship have a limited amount of fuel and missiles, and the hyperspace function was like a “panic button", in case everything else fails (it could either “save you or break you").“Spacewar!" was an instant hit between MIT students and programmers, and soon they started making their own updates to the video game (like real star charts for background, center star “on/off" option, background disable option, angular momentum option, etc.). The game code was emulated to several other computer platforms (since the game required a video display, a very scarce option in 1960s computers, it was usually emulated to newer/cheaper DEC systems like the PDP-10 and PDP-11)."Spacewar!" is not only considered by many as the first “real" video game (since this game counts with a video display), but it also have been proved to be the true predecessor of the first arcade game, as well as serving as inspiration of several other video games, consoles, and even video gaming companies (as the once industry leader Atari). But that’s a different story, both arcade games and console video games were written in another page of the history of video games (so come back for more on these subjects).==========So these are the “First Video Game" nominees. Which one do you think is the first video game ever created?... In my humble opinion, I think all these games were pioneers of its time, and should be credited as a group as the starters of the video gaming revolution. More than trying to decide which one was the first video game, what should be important is that all these games were created, and that’s the bottom line. Like Stephen Russell, creator of Spacewar!, said: “If I hadn't done itFree Reprint Articles, someone would've done something equally exciting or even better in the next six months. I just happened to get there first".

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