Early history of video games
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The history of video games spans a period of time between the invention of the first electronic games and today, covering a long period of invention and changes. Video gaming would not reach mainstream popularity until the 1970s and 1980s, when arcade video games, gaming consoles and home computer games were introduced to the general public. Since then, video gaming has become a popular form of entertainment and a part of modern culture in most parts of the world. The early history of video games, therefore, covers the period of time between the first interactive electronic game in 1947 and the rise of early arcade video games with Pong and the beginning of the first generation of video game consoles with the Magnavox Odyssey, both in 1972. In between these two points in time was a wide range of devices and inventions; there are numerous debates over which game should be considered the "first video game", with the answer depending largely on how video games are defined.
1947 saw the invention of the cathode ray tube amusement device, the earliest known interactive electronic game to use an electronic display, though the device was never released. It was followed by Bertie the Brain and the NIMROD computer in 1951 and 1952, the first arcade video games, both featuring lightbulb-based displays and running on specialty-built computers to play one game each at a public festival. OXO followed in 1952 as the first software-based game to have a true video display, and 1958's Tennis for Two featured moving graphics on an oscilloscope connected to a general-purpose analog computer. Interactive graphical programs then began to be created for experimental computers, leading up to the release of Spacewar! in 1962 as one of the earliest known digital computer games to be available outside a single research institute.
Throughout the rest of the 1960s, digital computer games were created by numerous programmers and sometimes sold commercially in catalogs. The early history of video games transitioned into a new era in the early 1970s with first the release of Galaxy Game, the first coin-operated arcade game, and the first widely-available arcade game Computer Space, and then in 1972 with the release of the immensely-successful arcade game Pong and the first home video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey.
Analog and lightbulb games
The cathode ray tube amusement device is the earliest known interactive electronic game to use an electronic display. The player simulates an artillery shell trajectory on a cathode ray tube (CRT) screen connected to an oscilloscope, with a set of knobs and switches. The device uses purely analog electronics and does not use any memory device, digital computer, or programming. The device was invented by Thomas T. Goldsmith, Jr. and Estle Ray Mann in 1947; the patent was filed on January 25, 1947 and issued on December 14, 1948. The patent, the first for an electronic game, was never used and the device never manufactured beyond the original handmade prototypes. Around the same time as the device was invented, Alan Turing, a British mathematician, developed a theoretical computer chess program as an example of machine intelligence. In 1947, Turing wrote the theory for a program to play chess. His colleague Dietrich Prinz later wrote the first limited program of chess for Manchester University's Ferranti Mark I, in 1951. The program was only capable of computing "mate-in-two" problems and was not powerful enough to play a full game. Input and output were offline, and there was no "video" involved.
The first publicly-available electronic game was created in 1950. Bertie the Brain was an arcade game of tic-tac-toe, built by Dr. Josef Kates for the 1950 Canadian National Exhibition. To showcase his new miniature vacuum tube, the additron tube, he designed a specialized computer to use it, which he built with the assistance of engineers from Rogers Majestic. The large metal computer, which was four meters tall, could only play tic-tac-toe on a lightbulb-backed display, and was installed in the Engineering Building at the Canadian National Exhibition from 25 August–9 September 1950. The game was a success at the two-week exhibition, with attendees lining up to play it as Kates adjusted the difficulty up and down for players. After the exhibition, Bertie was dismantled, and "largely forgotten" as a novelty. Kates has said that he was working on so many projects at the same time that he had no energy to spare for preserving it, despite its significance.
Nearly a year later on May 5, 1951, the NIMROD computer, created by Ferranti, was presented at the Festival of Britain. Using a panel of lights for its display, it was designed exclusively to play the game of Nim. NIMROD could play either the traditional or "reverse" form of the game. It was based on an earlier Nim-playing machine, "Nimatron", designed by E.U. Condon and built by Westinghouse Electric in 1940 for display at the New York World's Fair, being patented the same year. "Nimatron" had been constructed from electromechanical relays and weighed over a ton. Around this time, non-visual games were being developed at various research computer laboratories; for example, Christopher Strachey developed a simulation of the game draughts for the Pilot ACE that ran for the first time on 30 July 1951 at the British National Physical Laboratory.
Interactive visual games
In 1952, Alexander S. Douglas created OXO, a software program for the Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (EDSAC) computer, which simulates a game of tic-tac-toe. The computer filled an entire room, and included three 35×16 dot matrix cathode ray tubes to graphically display the state of the computer's memory. As a part of his 1952 Ph.D. thesis on human-computer interaction, Douglas used one of these screens to portray other information to the user; he chose to do so via displaying the current state of a game. The player entered input using a rotary telephone controller, selecting which of the nine squares on the board they wished to move next. Their move would appear on the screen, and then the computer's move. The game was not available to the general public, and was only available to be played in the University of Cambridge's Mathematical Laboratory, by special permission, as the EDSAC could not be moved. OXO is the earliest known game to display visuals on a video monitor.
While further games like draughts, checkers, and chess were developed on research computers, the next milestone in video games game in 1958 with Tennis for Two. The computer game simulated a game of tennis or ping pong. Created by American physicist William Higinbotham for visitors at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, the game ran on a Donner Model 30 analog computer and displayed a side view of a tennis court on an oscilloscope. The player controlled the angle of the shot with an attached controller, and the game simulated hitting the net as well as hitting the ball back to the player. The game was first shown on October 18, 1958. Hundreds of visitors lined up to play the new game during its debut. Due to the game's popularity, an upgraded version was shown the following year, with enhancements including a larger screen and different levels of simulated gravity.
In 1957–1961, a collection of interactive graphical programs were created on the TX-0 experimental computer at MIT. These included Mouse in the Maze and Tic-Tac-Toe. Mouse in the Maze allowed users to use a light pen to place maze walls, dots that represented bits of cheese, and (in some versions) glasses of martini. A virtual mouse represented by a dot was then released and would traverse the maze to find the objects. Tic-Tac-Toe used the light pen as well to play a simple game of noughts and crosses against the computer.
Digital computer games
In 1962, MIT students Martin Graetz, Steve Russell, and Wayne Wiitanen created the game Spacewar! on a DEC PDP-1 mini-computer which also used a vector display system. The game was copied to several of the early mini-computer installations in U.S. academic institutions, making it potentially the first video game to be available outside a single research institute. The two-player game had the players engaged in a dogfight between two spaceships against a randomly-generated background starfield. Spacewar! was reportedly was used as a smoke test by DEC technicians on new PDP-1 systems before shipping, since it was the only available program that exercised every aspect of the hardware. Russell has been quoted as saying that the aspect of the game that he was most pleased with was the number of other programmers it inspired to write their own games.
A year later, a number of games could be found available for purchase in an April 1962 IBM program catalog. These included board games, "BBC Vik The Baseball Demonstrator", and "Three Dimensional Tic-Tack-Toe". Further computer games were developed and distributed over the next few years. These included: a question and answer game, the Socratic System, designed to teach medical students how to diagnose patients by Wallace Feurzeig at BBN (Bolt Beranek and Newman) for the PDP-1 in 1962; a dice game by Edward Steinberger for the PDP-5 in 1965; and a baseball simulation game written in BASIC by John Kemeny and later edited by Keith Bellairs in 1965. By then, video games were beginning to be written in general programming languages, rather than for specific machines, and were distributed widely throughout the programming community. They were followed by a BASIC bingo game by Larry Bethurum, from the Phillips Exter Academy in 1966; a basketball simulation game written in BASIC by Charles R. Bacheller in May 1967; a baseball game that simulates the 1967 World Series written in BASIC by Jacob Bergmann in August 1967;  Space Travel, written by Ken Thompson for a Multics system in 1969, and which led to the development of the Unix operating system; and Hamurabi in 1969, a text-based game and one of the first strategy games ever made.
A new industry
At the beginning of the 1970s, video games existed almost entirely as novelties passed around programmers and technicians with access to computers, primarily at research institutions and large companies. The early history of video games transitioned into a new era soon into the decade, however, with the rise of the commercial video game industry. In 1971, Bill Pitts and Hugh Tuck developed the first coin-operated computer game, Galaxy Game, at Stanford University using a DEC PDP-11/20 computer with vector displays; only one unit was ever built (although it was later adapted to run up to eight games at once). Two months after Galaxy Game's installation, Computer Space by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney was released, which was the first coin-operated video game to be commercially sold (and the first widely available video game of any kind). Both games were variations on the 1962 Spacewar!. Pong, also by Bushnell and Dabney, used the same television set design as Computer Space, and was released in 1972 a year after Computer Space. Released by the pair under the new company Atari, Inc, it was immensely commercially successful, and led to the popularization of the medium, and under some definitions kicking off the golden age of arcade video games.
That same year saw the release of the Magnavox Odyssey, the first home video game console which could be connected to a television set. The inventor, Ralph Baer, had initially had the idea in 1951 to make an interactive game on a television set. Unable to do so at the time, he began work on the console in 1966, and the "Brown Box", the last prototype of seven, was released in May 1972 by Magnavox. The console and its games featured numerous innovations: it was the first game to use a raster-scan video display, or television set, directly displayed via modification of a video signal; it was also the first video gaming device to be displayed in a television commercial. Pong and the Odyssey kicked off a new era of video gaming, with numerous other competitors starting up in the video game industry as it grew in popularity.
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- Game emulation
- EDSAC Emulator (to play OXO)
- NIM Interactive Simulation for Be OS operating system
- Spacewar! Java Emulation
- Tennis for Two Simulation