Saturday, 22 October 2011

A History of Computer Games Part 1: 1950's ~ 1970's

'It is important that we know where we come from, because if you do not know where you come from, then you don’t know where you are, and if you don’t know where you are, then you don’t know where your going. And if you don’t know where you’re going, your probably going wrong.'

I thought id start off this latest blog entry with a quote that’s one of my personal favourites by the author, Sir Terry Pratchett. Its relevant, as im going to be looking into the history and origins of videogames and the technology that was critical in laying the foundations of the games industry we know today. Knowing the history of something is pretty much a must if you want to work in the industry of your chosen profession, and so here I begin with my look into the Videogame history 1950’s - 1970’s.

Before the idea of videogames was even comprehended there were those who were already making steps towards early computing devices; one of the most important being what is called the ‘Difference Engine’ Created by Charles Babbage in 1849. This wasn’t technically a computer, more a mechanical device powered by nothing more than a crank handle, that’s main purpose was to remove the human error from calculating mathematical tables.

It wasn’t until nearly 100 years later until other notable devices started to appear that each focused on more specific areas, but would each show early signs of computing. The HP Audio Oscillator 200A was a device that was experimental at testing audio levels, though was only really utilised by the entertainment industry (Walt Disney being a big client who used these devices). This device was notable at being the first creation of Hewlett & Packard, a well established company in today’s computing market.
Many inventions were being pushed between 1940’s and 1960’s, though these were aimed at government and military matters more than entertainment. Failed flight simulator ‘Project Whirlwind’ (1943), the now famous ‘Colossus’, a code breaker utilised to try and break the enigma code during World War II, and the UNIVAC (1951) the first computer to allow users to store and retrieve data on magnetic tape.

The 1950’s were an important decade in the beginnings of computers as a form of entertainment, as in 1951 Ralph Baer who worked as a TV engineer at the TV company Loral was challenged with creating the best television set in the world. As designing TV sets was an easy task to Baer, he decided to take it further, and implement playing games on the television set. This was the first instance of the ‘Videogame’ concept that we know, though wasn’t created at the time due to Baer’s boss refusing the idea.
In 1958, another computer game was created called ‘Tennis For Two’ by Willy Higginbotham, which could be played by two people using hand controls, a sign of things to come. Then in 1961, what could be called a ‘proper’ precursor to videogames was created at the MIT (Massachusetts Institute Tech), ’Space war’ utilised vector graphics to create an authentic space themed environment with which you had to battle it out against a rival spaceship.

Many innovations in the next few decades would lead up to what we know as the ‘golden age’ of the videogame industry, such as the streamlining of computers to form the first ‘desktops’ (HP 2115 - 1965), Computers aimed at hobbyists (TV Typewriter - 1972) and computers that enabled the use of image processing (Super paint - 1973). 1972 Was the year when ‘Pong’ was created, and became the trademark game to all new ‘Games Consoles’ that would go on to be created in the following years. As Soon as Atari entered this new market became instrumental in bringing games into our homes, on such consoles as the; Atari VCS Prototype’ (first games console) and the Atari 2600, as well as the classic game ‘Space Invaders’ (1977).

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