tirsdag 25. oktober 2011

A history of computer games: 1950s - 1980s

Videogames have roots as far back as the early 1950s. It is difficult to pinpoint excactly when and who started this all.

Technology developed in leaps and bounds. Computers shrunk from taking up entire rooms and into little boxes. The military was a natural driving force of development and research; the cold war and the threat of atomic warfare blanketed the world during this time-period. The chase for the technological upper hand eventually accumulated into the space race. Technology developed so far it was possible to launch things into orbit. Private parties did a great deal of research too. Technology and computing were used for logistics, banking, mathematics… the possibilities and visions were endless. 

Clearly, the best thing to do was to use this new, amazing technology for entertainment purposes

The first geniouses to patent an entertainment system were Thomas Goldsmith, an engineer and professor of physics, and Estle Ray Mann. In 1947 they patented ”Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device.” This was a simple missile shooting game. It didn’t project an image on a screen but instead used a printed overlay on the screen to define the playing field. As such is not a video game, but it is one of the first examples of using technology for pure amusement. Due to production cost it was never released to the general market. 

The earliest graphical computer game known to exist was developed in 1952. A. S. Douglas wrote his PhD on Human-Computer interraction, and developed a Tic-Tac-Toe game to demonstrate his thesis. As such it was not created for pure fun, but I can imagine the students at the University of Cambridge spent many an hour playing this game and stomping their feet in frustration when the computer outsmarted them. 

The first multiplayer-game was developed by William Higinbotham. It was called Tennis for Two, and is exactly what you think it is; an early, sideways version of Pong. Perhaps a bit more advanced than Pong, even, seeing as it featured gravity. It was an interactive exhibit in the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, which visitors could play with. 

Spacewar! was developed in 1961 by three Massachusetts Institute of Technology-students. If you want to play tennis or tic-tac-toe you can do that without fancy technology, but very few of us can easily participate in alien warfare in space. Spacewar was the first game to emulate something which does not actually exist in our physical world, the first game in the video game tradition we know today. 

Spacewar! had features such as gravity and varying luminosity. How realistic!

From 1950-1970, games were developed by scientists or students at universities for research purposes, or by hobbyists. Computer hardware was not available to the common man. However, games became more accessible during the 70’s, trough arcades and home systems. 

During the same year, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney created Computer Space, an arcade version of Spacewar. 1500 Computer Space-machines were produced, making Spacewar the first mass-produced video game, and the first video game offered for commercial sale. Bushnell and Dabney formed Atari in 1972, and then created Pong, which became a commercial arcade success. 

The first home consoles were developed during the 70s too. The Magnavox Odyssey was released in 1972, and came with cartridges allowing it to play several different games (most of which were probably Pong-clones). A landslide of home-consoles and Pong-clones followed, making video games more accessible to everyone. 

Magnavox Odyssey: Available with games like Pong, Pong, Pong and Pong! 

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