by January 12, 1999 0 comments

Dedicated gaming consoles are not a hot item in this
country. They aren’t available through proper channels, and many don’t even know
about their existence. But those of us who do know about them are bound to ask–a
computer to just play games?

Worldwide, these consoles are making major waves. What
started off as a venture to draw more crowds to a normally boring museum tour, has ended
up as an industry in itself.

Gaming itself has had an interesting evolution. It all
started way back in 1949, when an enterprising young engineer thought of putting a game
into a TV. Here, we present a trip down the gaming lane.

1949: Games in a TV! You must
be joking
Video games were conceived in 1949, when a young engineer Ralph Baer was
assigned the job of designing a television that would be the best in the world. He thought
of building a game into this TV, but his idea was shot down.

1958: Video games are here
The first video game was developed by Willy Higginbotham of Brookhaven
National Laboratories, New York. The game was similar to table tennis and played on an
oscilloscope. A year later, he displayed this game on a 15” monitor.

1961: The first computer game

The first game that could be played on a computer was created by Steve
Russel, then a student at MIT. It was called Spacewar and ran on a DEC PDP-1–a
mainframe computer.

1966: Baer’s at it again
Ralph Baer joined Sanders Associates, and this time managed to convince
his employers to allow him to develop an interactive game for television. Working with a
team of engineers, Baer developed two games in 1967 and patented them in 1968.

1970: Game development goes
commercial
Sanders Associates licensed Baer’s game to Magnavox for commercial
development. In the same year, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney developed the first dedicated
gaming machine that could run an arcade version of Spacewar. They called this Computer
Space. Nutting Associates–an arcade game manufacturer–purchased it, and the
first commercial version was released by Nutting the next year.

1972: Baer’s creation
sees daylight
Magnavox named Baer’s creation as the Odyssey, and displayed it
publicly for the first time at a convention in Burlingame, California on May 24, 1972. The
Odyssey had over 300 parts, and included hand controls, dice, playing cards, and play
money. It came pre-programmed for 12 games and was priced at $100 each. It was an instant
success and is estimated to have sold over 100,000 units in the first year.

Bushnell decided to build a simpler version of Computer
Space, as the first version was perceived to be very complicated and didn’t sell
well. He left Nutting, and started his own company along with Dabney. The company was
Atari. Al Alcorn joined Atari, and was assigned the job of developing the game. He named
the project Darlene after a female co-worker. What he developed was a simple game of
tennis, called Pong. Pong was a success, and more and more companies, including
Nutting,
started creating similar games.

1975: Pong goes home
With decreasing sales in the arcade market, Atari decided to build a home
version of Pong that would connect to the normal television. Sears, Roebuck and Company
joined up with Atari to market the product. Later that year, another company–Midway
Games–released the first “computer game” called Gunfighter. It used a
microprocessor and LSI (large scale integrated) circuits.

1976: Cartridges and
microchips
Using the new microprocessors, Fairchild Camera and Instrument released a
new gaming machine called the Video Entertainment System. This was later renamed as
Channel F. Fairchild developed a library of game titles on cartridges, and a player could
change cartridges to swap games.
This was also the year when violence came to games. Exidy Games released a new game called
Death Race 2000 that involved squashing static figures of people. After much public hue
and cry, the game was pulled back.

1978: Nintendo arrives
Nintendo entered the video-game fray with Computer Othello, based on a
board game of the same name.

1981: Activision is born,
Pac-Man comes in
To make up for the declining sales of Odyssey, Magnavox released Odyssey 2
with a built-in membrane keyboard. It was programmable and could take cartridges. Several
disgruntled programmers left Atari, because the company refused to give credits, and
started their own company called Activision. This was the first third-party game
developer, and is one of the largest today.

Namco released Pac-Man. Initially titled “Pack
Man”, this is the most popular arcade game of all time.
1981 also saw the first video-game magazine–Electronic Games, founded by Arnie Katz
and Bill Kunkel.

1982: A new computer to play
games
Commodore released the Commodore 64–an inexpensive but powerful
computer designed just to play games. It outperformed all other game consoles in display
quality, but was quite costly.

Nintendo released Famicom (Family Computer). Designed as a
toy, it was packed with a number of popular Nintendo titles. Nintendo also tried tying up
with Atari for distribution of Famicom in all countries except Japan, but the deal fell
through.

The market was slow between 1982 and 1984. A few titles
were released by various vendors, but all of them failed to make a mark. The race was to
make as many Pac-Man clones as possible, but nothing could beat the popularity of the
original.

1985: A slow rise from a deep
lull
Video games made a comeback with the release of the Nintendo Entertainment
System (NES). It was test-marketed in New York amidst lots of skepticism.

A Russian programmer Alex Pajitnov designed Tetris, a
simple puzzle-game for PCs. Tetris went on to become an all-time favorite.

1986: The year of
entertainment systems
The NES was a success, and it was made available across the US. Sega and
Atari jumped into the fray with Sega Master System and Atari 7800 respectively. Nintendo,
however, had made its mark, and was the most popular of them all.

1989: Games in your hand
In 1989, Nintendo released Gameboy. It was a tiny hand-held gaming device,
and sported a monochrome LED screen. The first model was on Tetris, and spirited by its
success, a few more models were released.

Not to be left behind, Atari purchased the distribution
rights of the newly-developed Handy Game by Epyx, and released it in the market as Lynx.
The Lynx sported a color console.

1992: Sony and Nintendo part
ways
Nintendo scrapped its previous deal with Sony, and tied up with Philips to
develop the CD player. Sony scrapped the PlayStation that it had initially developed with
Nintendo, and started out to build a 32-bit CD-only game machine.

1992-93: The 32-bit era
This period saw a boom in the 32-bit game console market, with various
players releasing consoles based on 32-bit processors. Atari jumped ahead, and released
Jaguar at 64 bits (actually, two 32-bit co-processors). Nintendo and Sega released their
own 64 bit consoles later that year–Project Reality and Saturn respectively.

1995: PlayStation is back
On September 9, 1995, the Sony PlayStation was launched. It was a CD-only
gaming machine, as Sony had promised. Though competitors like Saturn from Sega existed,
the PlayStation turned out to be the darling of the masses.

1998-1999: A peek into the
future
On November 27, 1998, Sega released Dream-cast in Japan. It was launched
in the US and other countries on September 9, 1999. It’s a 128-bit system and was
earlier code-named Katana. Sony launched its next-generation PlayStation–PlayStation
2, also based on a 128-bit processor, on September 13, 1999, in Tokyo. With other
competition being more or less absent, the market is now split between PlayStation and
Dreamcast. PlayStation 2 is very new, and with stocks of the
original PlayStation still around, it’s yet to make its mark.

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