History of video game consoles (first generation)
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The first generation of video game consoles began in 1972 with the Magnavox Odyssey (which began development in 1968 by Ralph Baer under the code name "The Brown Box"), until 1977, when "pong"-style console manufacturers left the market en masse due to the video game crash of 1977 and when microprocessor-based consoles were introduced.
Some defining characteristics of first generation consoles include:
- Discrete transistor-based digital game logic.
- Entire game playfield occupies only one screen.
- Players and objects consist of very basic lines, dots or blocks.
- Black and white (or extremely limited color) graphics.
- Either single-channel or no audio.
- Lacked the features of second-generation consoles such as microprocessor logic, flip-screen playfields, sprite-based graphics, and multi color graphics.
Television engineer Ralph Baer created "The Brown Box" in 1968. Baer conceived the idea of an interactive television while building a television set from scratch for Loral in 1951 in the Bronx, New York. He explored these ideas further in 1966 when he was the Chief Engineer and manager of the Equipment Design Division at Sanders Associates. Baer created a simple two-player video game that could be displayed on a standard television set called Chase, where two dots chased each other around the screen. After a demonstration to the company's director of R&D Herbert Campman, some funding was allotted and the project was made official. In 1967 Bill Harrison was brought on board, and a light gun was constructed from a toy rifle that was aimed at a target moved by another player.
Bill Rusch joined the project to speed up development and soon a third machine-controlled dot was used to create a ping-pong game. With more funding additional games were created, and Baer had the idea of selling the product to cable TV companies, who could transmit static images as game backgrounds. A prototype was demonstrated in February 1968 to TelePrompTer Vice President Hubert Schlafly, who signed an agreement with Sanders. The Cable TV industry was in a slump during the late '60s and early '70s and a lack of funding meant other avenues had to be pursued. Development continued on the hardware and games resulting in the final "Brown Box" prototype, which had two controllers, a light gun and sixteen switches on the console that selected the game to be played. Baer approached various U.S. Television manufacturers and an agreement was eventually signed with Magnavox in late 1969. Magnavox's main alterations to the Brown Box were to use plug-in circuits to change the games, and to remove the color graphics capabilities in favor of color overlays in order to reduce manufacturing costs. It was released in May 1972 as the Magnavox Odyssey.
The Magnavox Odyssey is a digital console, the same as all other game consoles. However, like all video game consoles up until the sixth generation, it uses analog circuitry for the output to match the televisions of its era, which were analog; also, like all later consoles from the Nintendo 64 onwards, it features analog game controllers. Due to these two facts, many collectors have mistakenly considered the Odyssey to be an analog console, with the misunderstanding becoming so widespread that Baer was eventually led to clarify that the Odyssey is indeed a digital console: all of the electronic signals exchanged between the various parts responsible for gameplay (ball and players generators, sync generators, diode matrix, etc.) are binary. The type of digital components used feature DTL, a common pre-TTL digital design component using discrete transistors and diodes.
It was not a large success due to restrictive marketing, although other companies with similar products (including Atari) had to pay a licensing fee for some time. For a time it was Sanders' most profitable line, even though many in the company had been unsupportive of game development.
Many of the earliest games utilizing digital electronics ran on university mainframe computers in the United States, developed by individual users who programmed them in their spare time. In 1962, a group of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology programmed a game called Spacewar! on a DEC PDP-1. In 1970 Nolan Bushnell saw Spacewar! for the first time at the University of Utah. Deciding there was commercial potential in an arcade version, he hand-wired a custom computer capable of playing it on a black and white television. The resulting game, Computer Space, did not fare well commercially and Bushnell started looking for new ideas. In 1971 he saw a demonstration of the Magnavox Odyssey, and hired Al Alcorn to produce an arcade version of the Odyssey's ping-pong game (using Transistor-transistor logic), called Pong.
Home video games achieved widespread popularity with the release of a home version of Pong in the Christmas of 1975. Its success sparked hundreds of clones, including the Coleco Telstar, which went on to be a success in its own right, with over a dozen models.
The first generation of video games did not feature a microprocessor, and were based on custom codeless state machine computers consisting of discrete logic circuits comprising each element of the game itself. Later consoles of this generation moved the bulk of the circuitry to custom "pong on a chip" IC's such as Atari's custom Pong chips and General Instruments' AY-3-8500 series.
|Name||Magnavox Odyssey||Magnavox Odyssey Series||Atari/Sears Tele-Games Pong||Binatone||Coleco Telstar||Nintendo Color TV Game|
|Manufacturer||Magnavox||Magnavox||Atari||Binatone TV Master||Coleco||Nintendo|
|Launch price||US$100 (equivalent to $564.00 in 2014)||US$100–230 (equivalent to $438.00-$1.01 thousand in 2014)||US$98.95 (equivalent to $434.00 in 2014)||£35 (equivalent to £249.00 in 2014)||US$50 (equivalent to $207.00 in 2014)||¥8,300 - ¥48,000
(Roughly $100 – $594.80 USD Today)
|Media||Cartridge||Various||Inbuilt Chip||Inbuilt Chip||Inbuilt Chip (most models) / Cartridge (Telstar Arcade)||Inbuilt Chip|
|Accessories (retail)||Light gun||n/a||n/a||Paddles and light gun||Controller styles||n/a|
|Sales||330,000||150,000||n/a||1 million||3 million|
Pong on a chip
 The table lists only the most known consoles and relative used chip.
|AY-3-8500||1976||General Instrument||No (1)||Tennis, soccer, squash, practice, 2 rifle games||Telstar (Telstar, Classic, Deluxe, Ranger, Alpha, Colormatic, Regent, Sportsman)
Radio Shack TV Scoreboard
Philips Tele-Spiel ES2203 and ES2204
Videomaster (Strika, Strika 2,ColourScore 2, SuperScore)
APF TV Fun (Model 401)
|AY-3-8510||1978?||General Instrument||Yes||Tennis, hockey, squash, jai alai||Telstar Colortron
|AY-3-8512||1978?||General Instrument||Yes||Tennis, hockey, squash, jai alai, skeet, target||Telstar Marksman
|AY-3-8600||1977||General Instrument||No(2)||8 games with balls and paddles||Telstar Galaxy
Philips Tele-Spiel ES2218
|AY-3-8610||1977||General Instrument||No(2)||8 games with balls and paddles + 2 rifle games||Videomaster Sportsworld
Philco/Ford Telejogo II
|AY-3-8550||1976?||General Instrument||No(1)||The same of 8500 but with the addition of horizontal movement of player||Philips Tele-Spiel ES2208|
|AY-3-8700||1978?||General Instrument||4 games with tanks||Telstar Combat!
|MPS-7600-001,002,003,004 (3)(4)||1977||MOS Technology||The four versions of chip usually support 4 games.||Telstar Gemini(only version 004).
Telstar Arcade(all 4 versions).
Commodore TV Game 2000K/3000H (only version 001).
|MM-57100/MM-57105(PAL)||1976||National Semiconductor||Yes||Tennis, Hockey, Squash||National Adversary
Philips Odyssey 2001
Videomaster (ColourScore, VisionScore, ColourShot)
|MM-57106/MM-57186(PAL)||1977||National Semiconductor||Yes||Tennis, Hockey, Squash, Breakout, Flipper e Football.||Philips N30
Philips Odyssey 2100
|F4301||1976||Universal Research Labs||N/A||Two games with balls and paddles and two games of car racing||Indy 500 system (Video Action 4)
Sears/Atari Speedway e Speedway IV
Interton Video 2800
MBO Tele-Ball VIII
|SN76410N||1977||Texas Instruments||N/A||Six games of balls and paddles||Tele-Match 3300R
Ricochet Super Pro (modello MT-4A)
Venture Electronics Video Sports VS-5
|3659-3||1975||Atari||No||Pong||Atari PONG Doubles
Sears PONG IV
|C010073-3||1976||Atari||No||4 Pong games||Atari/Sears Super PONG|
|C010073-01/C2607||1976||Atari||N/A||10 Pong games||Atari Super PONG Ten|
|C010765||1977||Atari||N/A||Atari Ultra PONG
Atari Ultra PONG Doubles
|C011500-11/C011512-05 (4)||1977||Atari||N/A||7 games (example: Pinball, Basketball and Breakout)||Atari Video Pinball|
(1) Colors could be obtained adding the AY-3-8515 chip
(2) Colors could be obtained adding the AY-3-8615 chip
(3) PAL version code is 7601
(4) Advanced chip compared to classic Pong-in-a-chip: include a microcontroller and a little RAM.
- Wolf, Mark J.P. (2008). The Video Game Explosion. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. Page xviii. ISBN 0-313-33868-X. ISBN 9780313338687.
- Moore, Michael E.; Novak, Jeannie (2010). Game Industry Career Guide. Delmar: Cengage Learning. p. 7. ISBN 1-4283-7647-X. "In 1966, Ralph H. Baer .. pitched an idea .. to create interactive games to be played on the television. Over the next two years, his team developed the first video game system—and in 1968, they demonstrated the "Brown Box," a device on which several games could be played and that used a light gun to shoot targets on the screen. After several more years of development, the system was licensed by Magnavox in 1970 and the first game console system, the Odyssey, was released in 1972 at the then high price of $100."
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- Herman, Leonard (1997). Phoenix: the fall & rise of videogames (2nd ed. ed.). Union, NJ: Rolenta Press. p. 20. ISBN 0-9643848-2-5. Retrieved 16 February 2012. "Like Pong, Telstar could only play video tennis but it retailed at an inexpensive $50 that made it attractive to most families that were on a budget. Coleco managed to sell over a million units that year."
- Sheff, David; Eddy, Andy (1999), Game Over: How Nintendo Conquered the World, GamePress, p. 27, ISBN 978-0-9669617-0-6, "Nintendo entered the home market in Japan with the dramatic unveiling of Color TV Game 6, which played six versions of light tennis. It was followed by a more powerful sequel, Color TV Game 15. A million units of each were sold. The engineering team also came up with systems that played a more complex game, called "Blockbuster," as well as a racing game. Half a million units of these were sold."
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