Out to Launch Video Games

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5… COUNTDOWN TO SUCCESS!

Have you ever wondered who was there to press the button to start One Big Video Game – which would become the world-changing, video game industry? For starters, here are two who had a finger on it.

During the 1960’s, people and companies were trying to cash in on the possibilities of computer science. Although the major players were qualified, real-life competition resembled a multi-player, multi-level, mind-numbing creative cage match of the future. But because serious money was being invested in creating and doing business with computers, understandably, the mindset had absolutely nothing to do with playing any games at all.

However, that was about to change. During the late summer of 1966, while waiting for a friend to arrive at a bus terminal in New York City, television engineer Ralph H. Baer was suddenly struck with a thought. Actually, the idea overwhelmed him as he quickly began writing down notes and sketches for a brand new invention. The idea: a “game box” that had the potential to allow playing games on a TV set.

Fascinated with the design, his boss invested money for research and even assigned other employees to work with him. Ralph and his team continued their usual work of course. But then, in a specially equipped workshop, they obsessed with their labor of love, sacrificing family and leisure time while working overtime on the top-secret game box project.


Success finally arrived! After several years of attempts, prototypes, models and testing, Mr. Baer and his team invented a gadget that could connect to most standard American television sets. It enabled two players to control square onscreen images pursuing each other, by today’s standards a primitive game that he called “Chase.” Baer named the gadget “Brown Box” and in 1973, together with his employer-turned-partner, was granted the first video game patent. Adding a 12-game capacity and a light gun to operate the screen at a distance,1bvg Image The Brown Box Baer and his partner licensed the gadget to TV manufacturer Magnavox.

Thereafter, Brown Box evolved into Magnavox Odyssey, forever to be known as the “First Home Video Game Console.”1bvg IMAGE Odyssey-Motherboard

Magnavox Odyssey’s motherboard:

Among various other awards in his lifetime, Mr. Baer was honored with the National Medal of Technology and admitted to the Inventors National Hall of Fame.

Meanwhile, at that same time Mr. Baer was starting, over on the West Coast, a young electrical engineer destined to become a world-renown technology pioneer and respected scientist, began to make his mark in the world of video games.

While in college, Nolan Bushnell could often be found passionately playing the1bvg IMAGE Bushnell computer-space simplistic game, ‘Spacewar!’ using very large early mainframe supercomputers. During high school years, Bushnell had worked at an amusement park where he admittedly fell in love with arcade games. After college, working with a friend, he even created an arcade-style game. Unfortunately, ‘Computer Space’ proved to be ahead of its time. Even so, he had a dream and a determination to succeed that refused to take “no” for an answer.

In 1972, his never-ending love for games and arcades would inspire Nolan Bushnell to launch Atari Inc., ‘PONG’ = the first commercially successful arcade video game machine. And at the same time as Magnavox Odyssey, both helped establish what would become the video gaming industry. In 1977, Mr. Bushnell also launched the Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza-Time Theater chain. And the rest is history.

An entrepreneur (he’s created dozens of companies) and celebrated motivational speaker, Nolan Bushnell is widely known as the ‘father of the video arcade industry’ and amongst many other honors, he’s been inducted in the Consumer Electronics Association and the Video Game Hall of Fame.

While it could be, and often is said that both of these brilliant players had a finger on the button that became the video game industry – the button-pushing digital-title may actually belong to another.

Many recognize “Tennis for Two” created in 1958 for public visitors at the Brookhaven National Laboratory by employee William A. Higinbotham as the first truly interactive computer game. Check this story and video (and you be the judge):