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Prologue: Games People Played


umankind has gamed throughout its history. Whether we look at the dice and primitive board games from 2000--2000 B.C., that is. They can be found as shareware on the Internet. You can download shareware versions of games from ancient history. Games like the Moorish Quirkat, Mayan Bul, Chinese Shap Luk Kon Tseung Kwon, and other games from ancient cultures ranging from those of the Egyptians to the Vikings. Each game comes with a lot of background and a guided tutorial, since you probably have never seen these games in your local toy store. King Tut's tomb or the graffiti representing game boards used by waiting patricians in the Roman forum, people have left artifacts indicating play as part of their legacy. Is it any wonder that as our technology has changed, so has our capacity for play? Remarkably, it is now possible to play the hottest games of the year

Ancient Egyptian Senet board and Windows version of Senet.

Ancient Egyptian Mehen board. The Forbidden Game of the Snake and a screenshot of the Windows version.

Top Left: Patolli Top Right: Quirkat Bottom Left: Bul Bottom Right: Ur





Landmarks of Electronic Game Prehistory

wide conglomerate that owns Leather Company and creates leather products for shoes. Under the guidance of Leonard and Arnold Greenberg, begins making dollhouse furniture. Mattel ultimately creates a game division and manufactures the first handheld games and, later, the Intellivision console. Still later, they find success with their line of games based on the Barbie franchise. --see pages 30 and 70 game companies in the world. --see page 283


The Marufuku Company is established in Japan by Fusajiro Yamauchi to make Hanafuda playing cards, and by 1907 they expand to Western playing cards. In 1951, the company becomes the Nintendo Playing Card Company. Nintendo translates as "leave luck to heaven." --see page 230

electronics companies, music labels, and much more, including Magnavox, the company that produces the first home video game, the Odyssey. Philips also develops the audiocassette and shares the honors with Sony for the development of the CD. Later, they also create the CDI system. --see page 18


Service Games, created by Korean War vet David Rosen, is formed to export coinoperated amusement games to Japan. Later, deciding to create his own games in Japan, he purchases an old jukebox


The Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Company is founded

The original Connecticut Leather Company building.

and slot-machine company. The name of the company becomes Sega, for SErvice GAmes. Sega produces many coinoperated arcade games and eventually becomes Nintendo's chief competitor in the home console business during the late 80s and early 90s. --see page 232

1918 1891

In the Netherlands, Gerard Philips begins to manufacture incandescent lamps and other electrical products. Philips eventually becomes a worldThe Matsushita Electric Housewares Manufacturing Works is established by Konosuke Matsushita. Matsushita is the parent company of Panasonic, who manufactures the first 3DO consoles and also has their own game development company in the 90s. --see page 254

by Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka. They rise to prominence when they license transistor technology from Bell Labs and create the world's first pocket transistor radio. For worldwide marketing, they change their name to Sony, taken from the Latin word sonus,

Maurice's sons, the company expands into plastic swimming pools, home toys, and eventually games and game systems under the name Coleco. --see pages 32 and 94


Naming their picture frame business, Harold Matson

which means "sound." Ultimately, Sony becomes a giant in the world of electronics and introduces their PlayStation to the U.S. in 1995, establishing themselves as one of the most important

Sega's founder, Dave Rosen in 1966


Russian immigrant Maurice Greenberg starts the Connecticut

and Elliot Handler combine their names and end up with Mattel. Using scraps left over from making the frames, Elliot

Sony's PlayStation


Homage to Pinball


full treatment of pinball games is beyond the scope of this book. Indeed, whole books have been written on that subject alone! We include this brief retrospective, however, because for many of us pinball was the precursor to our addiction to video and computer games.

1871 REDGRAVE PARLOR BAGATELLE The first game to use a spring-loaded plunger. 1876 REDGRAVE ORIGINAL PARLOR BAGATELLE Montague Redgrave's 1876 model. 1898 REDGRAVE "TWO BELL" PARLOR BAGATELLE Note the slot in the spring-loaded shooter housing.

1932 BALLY BALLYHOO The game that started Bally Corporation.

1933 PACIFIC AMUSEMENTS CO. CONTACT First game to use electricity instead of just gravity. First game to have an electrical ringing bell. First game to be designed by Harry Williams, who later founded Williams Pinball.

1932 THE PRESIDENT Released in February 1933. It is nearly identical to the Mills official Pin Table which was released in July 1932.



1936 BALLY BUMPER The first game with scoring electric bumpers.

1947 GOTTLIEB HUMPTY DUMPTY The first pinball game to use flippers, forever altering the direction of pinball games.

STAR SERIES Early mechanical baseball game from Williams.

U.S. MARSHALL U.S. Marshall was produced by Mike Munves Company in the 1950's. It is very similar to the ABT Challenger gun game series produced since the 1930's. The game shot small ball bearings at targets (detail to right).


1931 AUTOMATIC INDUSTRIES' BABY WHIFFLE Generally regarded as the first production "pin game."

1931 GOTTLIEB BAFFLE BALL Gottlieb's first pin game. The game that launched the entire pinball industry.

1932 MILL'S OFFICIAL First game to be advertised as "pinball." The name has been used ever since.


1890 article in Scientific American showing Hollerith's machine.

Early Technology

Advancement to the Information Age


hile the concept of a computing device may not be as ancient as that of playing games, one of the earliest which were designed to automate mathematical calculations. Babbage was never able to build either one, but his colleague and patron, Augusta Ada Byron, wrote and published several papers describing Babbage's work. Byron, the future Lady Lovelace, was the daughter of Lord Byron, and arguably the first computer programmer. Even though the Analytical Engine was never built, Byron wrote instruction sets for the solving of mathematical problems.

such devices, dating back to at least 300 B.C., was the counting board, later the abacus. This was a storage device used to help keep track of numbers. Not true calculating devices, these are still the earliest known aids to

Herman Hollerith's census tabulating machine in 1890.

mathematical calculation. Much, much later, but still as early as 1645, Blaise Pascal invented a mechanical adding machine, for which he received a patent from King Louis XIV. This could hardly be called a computer, but it was a calculating device and a very early step on the road to the computers of today.

Only Logical

In order for computers to evolve, many key concepts had to emerge. The idea that logic could be represented by machinery was one such concept. An expert on George Boole's work of the mid-1800s, American logician Charles Sanders Peirce was able to see that simple true/false calculations of Boolean algebra could be emulated by electrical circuitry, which could be switched between "on" or "off" states. By 1880, Peirce had devised a "switching circuit" that could be used to switch states and therefore emulate Boolean conditions of true/false, on/off. Up to this point, any attempts to make a computing device had relied entirely on mechanical components. Using electrical switches made possible smaller, faster, and somewhat quieter machines.

Charles Babbage and Augusta Ada Byron

Back in the early days of the Industrial Revolution, the idea of a computer that could think intrigued a few intellectuals, but frightened most people who even bothered to consider the idea. One man who was particularly obsessed with the concept of computing machines was Charles Babbage, a British inventor, astronomer, and mathematician. As early as 1833, Babbage was working on the problem.

Charles Babbage and Augusta Ada Byron

Babbage conceived of two mechanical computing devices, the "Analytical Engine" and the "Difference Engine," both of



Humble Beginnings

Hermann Hollerith's 1890 census tabulating machine may not seem important to you, but if you play games on a Windows machine, consider that this humble invention was more or less a direct ancestor of the original IBM PC. Hollerith's company became the International Business Machines Corporation, known more simply as IBM. In the 1930s, IBM funded the development of an electromechanical computer known as the Mark I. By the time it was completed in 1944, however, it was already obsolete. Already, the speed of innovation was outstripping the speed of development.

several major innovations in computing including the use of binary arithmetic, regenerative memory, parallel processing, and separation of memory and computing functions."* For many years the patents and glory went to John Mauchley and J. Presper Eckert, the designers of the ENIAC, which for years was considered to be the first all-electronic computer. It wasn't until 1973 that a court ruled in favor of Atanasoff as creator of the first electronic computer. ENIAC was impressive, however, if only for sheer size. Consisting of 30 separate units, it weighed in at more than 30 tons and contained 19,000 vacuum tubes, 1,500 relays, and hundreds of thousands of other pieces. Its electrical consumption was a whopping 200 kilowatts, and it required a forced-air cooling system. Despite its monstrous size, ENIAC was a modern, pre­solid state computer, whose model for computer design is the basis for modern computers.

*Source: Iowa State University Web site at IBM's original logo, c. 1924. Above: Vacuum tubes from the ENIAC era.

General Purposes

Like Hollerith's census tabulation device, early computing machines were designed to accomplish a specific task. However, in the 1930s, British mathematician Alan Turing envisioned a machine whose entire function would be described by the instructions it was given. Instead of a machine dedicated to one purpose only, Turing's machine would be useful for multiple purposes. Turing's concepts bore fruit in the hands of another mathematician, John Von Neumann, who created the concept of the stored computer program.


While the Mark I was under construction, John Atanasoff and Clifford Berry were conceiving the first electronic computer, which used vacuum tubes in place of the mechanical relays used in previous devices. Their ABC, or AtanasoffBerry Computer, "was the world's first electronic digital computer. It was built by John Vincent Atanasoff and Clifford Berry at Iowa State University during 1937-42. It incorporated

Left: 1946 photograph of ENIAC.


1947: A Tiny Breakthrough

Based on experiments in quantum physics, researchers became intrigued by the predicted behavior of certain crystals when electricity was run through them. These crystals behaved neither as conductors nor insulators, and came to be known as semiconductors. William Shockley headed one team of researchers that included Walter Brattain and John Bardeen. The trio of Shockley, Bardeen, and Brattain ultimately discovered how to run and modulate electricity through a semiconductor and created the first transistor.

The transistor was perhaps the single most important development in the history of electronics. Now electronic devices that once required a forklift to move could be held in the palm of your hand. They were more reliable and produced less heat. The electronics revolution truly began with the development of the transistor. In 1955, Shockley founded Shockley Semiconductor in Palo Alto, California, which ultimately set the stage for other semiconductor companies to move into the area. Because of its flourishing semiconductor industry, the area came to be called Silicon Valley.

The first transistor.

Shockley and his team at work.

Believe it or not, the monstrosity above is a transistorized calculator.



A Look at Nearly 30 Years of Integrated Circuits

The transistor led to the development of the integrated circuit, or IC, which combined several transistors on a waferlike board, called a "chip." ICs became smaller and more complicated over the years. Originally intended for specific purposes, such as calculators, they evolved into fully programmable, highly miniaturized devices incorporating millions of transistors and very complex, almost invisible circuitry--the foundation of modern computers.

1985: Intel 80386 Clock speed: 16-33 MHz 275,000 transistors

1971: Intel 4004 Clock speed: 108 kHz 2,300 transistors

1972: Intel 8008 Clock speed: 200 kHz 3,500 transistors

1974: Intel 8080 Clock speed: 2 MHz 6,000 transistors

1982: Intel 80286 Clock speed: 6-12 MHz 134,000 transistors 1979: Intel 8088 Clock speed: 5 MHz 29,000 transistors

1997: Intel Pentium III Clock speed: 450-600 MHz 9,500,000 transistors

1993: Intel Pentium Clock speed: 60-133 MHz 3,100,000 transistors In the Background 2000: Intel Pentium IV Clock speed: 400+ MHz 42,000,000 transistors

1989: Intel 80486 Clock speed: 25-50 MHz 1,200,000 transistors

1993: Intel Pentium Pro Clock speed: 150-200 MHz 5,500,000 transistors

1997: Intel Pentium II Clock speed: 233-300 MHz 7,500,000 transistors

Tennis for Two: The First Electronic Game?

Willy Higginbotham was a renowned physicist working at Brookhaven National Laboratories in the 1950s. As a designer of electronic circuits for the Manhattan Project during World War II, Higginbotham came to Brookhaven when it opened in 1947. In 1958, as head of instrumentation design, he decided to put some pop in the annual visitor day by creating a little interactive game using an

This is the setup at Brookhaven with several displays, including Tennis for Two (right).

"Tennis for Two" is the earliest known electronic game. Tennis for Two was a big hit, and lines formed to get a chance to play it. However, Higginbotham had no interest in marketing the idea. For one thing, he later said that if he had patented the idea, it would have been assigned to the U.S. government and he would have made maybe ten dollars on it. In any case, Tennis for Two remained operational for two years and was finally dismantled in favor of an exhibit that showed cosmic rays. The whole thing would probably have been forgotten except that teenager David Ahl saw it on a field trip to Brookhaven. Ahl later founded Creative Computing Magazine, the pioneer magazine of the electronic age, and wrote of his experience with Higginbotham's game.

oscilloscope, an analog computer, and some basic push buttons. The result was a simple tennis game, more than a decade before the advent of Pong. Willy Higginbotham's






BY WILLY HIGGINBOTHAM The display showed a twodimensional side view of a tennis court. A horizontal line, below center, represented the floor of the court. A shorter vertical line in the center represented the net. Before the start of play the ball was shown at a fixed position above one or the other end of the court. Each player had a small box, which he held in one hand. On the box were a knob to aim at the ball (up, down or level) and a push button. To start play, the person with the ball at his or her end of the court would select an angle and push the button, whereupon the ball would proceed over the net or hit the net and bounce back. If it went over the net, the other player would select an angle and attempt to return the ball. He could hit the ball as soon as it passed the net or after it bounced, or wait and see if it landed beyond the end of the court. There was some wind resistance, as some energy was lost in each bounce. The racquet was not shown and the strike velocity was pre-set. We had controls for velocity but judged that a player would have trouble operating an additional control. Willy Higginbotham and his schematic diagram for Tennis for Two. At left, Higginbotham's own description of how Tennis for Two was played.



In the summer of 1961, Steve "Slug" Russell* and some friends were trying to figure out how to best demonstrate the new PDP-1 computer that was being installed at MIT. In a time when most computers received input and delivered output in the form of punch cards or paper tape, the PDP-1 was remarkable in that it had a monitor display. In a 1981 article in Creative Computing Magazine, J. M. Graetz, one of those involved in brainstorming the idea for Spacewar!, reported that they came up with the following three precepts:

G It should demonstrate as many of the computer's resources as possible, and tax those resources to the limit; G Within a consistent framework, it should be interesting, which means every run should be different; G It should involve the onlooker in a pleasurable and active way--in short, it should be a game.

In Spacewar, two B-movie­style rocket ships (called the "Wedge" and the "Needle" because one was shaped like a fat cigar and the other looked like a long slender tube) battled in computergenerated space. Players would flick toggle switches to make the ships change direction, and the ships would respond much like the zero-G Asteroids ships that would animate coin-op and Atari 2600 screens almost two decades later. Each ship could fire up to 31 torpedoes that would, in turn, appear as little dots traveling in the direction of the other ship. If the dot actually managed to intersect the shape of the other ship, it "exploded" and the ship disappeared. There were no particle effects and no stereo sound effects to mark the explosion. The other ship simply disappeared and was replaced by a mad scramble of dots to represent the debris of the destroyed ship. Even in 1962, the programmers/designers were discovering the trade-offs between realism and playability. Peter Samson decided that the random-dot star map that Russell had originally programmed was insufficient. He used a celestial atlas to program the star map as the actual galaxy down to fifth magnitude stars, calling it (with typical hacker humor) "Expensive Planetarium." Another student added a gravity option. Another added a hyperspace escape option, complete with a nifty stress signature to show where the ship had left the system. The problem with hyperspace was

Inspired by E. E. "Doc" Smith's The Lensman and Skylark novels, Spacewar was the first real computer game, as opposed to Higginbotham's Tennis for Two, which used hard-wired electronic circuitry, not a computer, to achieve its goals, and a model of great game design that's still fun to play today. The game was programmed into the PDP-1 in 1962, and for several years after that it was disseminated to college campuses across the country, ultimately spawning a number of rather significant ripples in the fabric of space/time or, more importantly, in the history of electronic games. Among the many whose first influence could be traced back to Spacewar are Nolan Bushnell, founder of

A PDP-1 terminal.

Atari, and Joel Billings, founder of SSI.



Screen from original Spacewar.

you never knew where you'd end up, and if you reappeared too close to the Sun and couldn't escape its gravity, well, you were toast. Later, "Slug" himself messed


with the reliability of the torpedoes, but this was not well received by players, who liked their torpedoes to be accurate and reliable. Russell's refinements had leaped beyond his audience's ability to appreciate them. Spacewar remains one of the truly great milestones in electronic game history. It directly influenced several of the great pioneers who came later. It was created before there was an industry, on a computer whose $120,000 price tag made it an unlikely commercial product. And yet, it remains a true gem of a game, as much fun to play today as it was then.

*"Slug" was Russell's nickname because, according to coworker Graetz, "he was never one to `do something' when there was an alternative."

Steve "Slug" Russell and friends playing the original Spacewar game.

Reputed to be the original PDP-1 of Spacewar fame, now residing at the Computer History Museum at Moffet Field in Mountain View, California.


In the late 60s or early 70s, while hanging around at the Stanford University Student Union, I happened upon a machine that was the closest I had come to science fiction in real life. It was an electronic game, but not a pinball game. It consisted of nothing more than a TV-like screen and some buttons. It was, in fact, Spacewar, although by that time, the original toggle levers had been replaced by buttons. It also featured other improvements, including sun/no sun and negative/positive gravity (or none with no sun). My friend Steven and I played it pretty much undisturbed at the beginning of the summer break. By the end of that summer, though, there were crowds six deep around the machine, and a satellite monitor had been mounted high on the wall so people could watch the games in progress. I wish I had understood what Nolan Bushnell had known when he saw the same game at the University of Utah. It represented the beginning of a new era. (RDM)

Galaxy War, a version of Spacewar, appeared on the Stanford University campus in the early 70s and may be the first coin-operated electronic game, as it may have been on display and open for business even before Computer Space and Pong.


Games on the TV?

Today it seems obvious that television sets were designed for playing games. Right? Well, in the early days of TV it wasn't , obvious--except to one engineer, Ralph Baer. Baer is a consummate inventor, and, convinced that games and TVs were made for each other, he became the "Father of Video Games." After a stint in Army Intelligence in World War II, Baer obtained a degree in television engineering. His goal was to build television receivers. By 1951, he was working at Loral, then a small military contractor. He was given the job of building the "best TV set in the world." At that early date,

The original notes from the bus station where the first idea of video games was formally documented.

Fox and Hounds

"With that simple arrangement, we played a `Chase Game' in which we pretended that one spot represented a fox and the other spot represented a `hunter' or a `hound.' The object of the game was to have the `hound' chase the `fox' until he `caught' him by touching the `fox' spot with the `hound' spot. It was primitive, all right, but it was a video game, it was fun, and we were encouraged to forge ahead."

Baer was already thinking about building TV sets with games built in. "Somewhere along the line I suggested that we might include some novel features, like adding some form of TV game! That got the predictable negative reaction, and that was the end of that!" It wasn't until 15 years later that Baer gave serious thought to the matter, but in 1966, he was still just about the only one doing so. Working at the time for another military contractor, Sanders Associates, Inc., he scribbled some notes in a bus station in New York, and on Sept. 1, 1966, he wrote


Until this point, the entire effort was unofficial and had nothing at all to do with the work he was supposed to be doing. But Baer figured that he now had something to show, so he invited Herbert Campman, the company's corporate director of research and development, to see what he and Tremblay had created. The response was positive, and Baer received his first funding for the project--$2,000 plus $500 for materials. Bill Harrison joined the team in January 1967. Baer's next innovation involved a toy gun, and Harrison designed some circuitry that allowed it to shoot the dots on the screen. "Now we could `shoot' at that spot, and when we `hit' it, the spot disappeared from the screen. Having the other player move the spot rapidly and randomly around the screen gave us a moving target. Gun games were born!" The gun was a hit with Campman, too, and the team got more money and time to develop. New ideas and directions continued to flow, including some initial work with creating games to be played over cable TV. New people joined the project, including Bill Rusch, who had

Below: Ralph Baer surrounded by his inventions.

a four-page paper outlining his ideas for a TV game system. Within five days, he had completed a schematic of his proposed system. The first task was to make something appear on the screen. One of Baer's early decisions was to send the signal through the antenna input (the only one available) and to use channels 3 and 4, which are the channels still used today for video game consoles attached to the TV . Baer got Bob Tremblay involved, and Tremblay built a vacuum tube device that could place two movable spots on the screen.



the idea to turn the video spot into a ball. "We batted around ideas of how we could implement games such as Ping-Pong, hockey, football, and other sports games. I am not sure that we recognized that we had crossed a watershed, but that's what it amounted to."

Brown Box

By November 11, 1967, the team had produced a working two-player Ping-Pong game. What followed was a system for programmable games, culminating in what Baer calls the "Brown Box." What remained was to find a way to market the device. After showing it to all the major TV makers, a negotiation started with RCA. However, the RCA

The "Fox and Hounds" game hardware. Above: Ralph Baer's 1971 patent for "Television Gaming and Training Apparatus." Above left: Ralph Baer with Odyssey Game, 1972.

deal fell apart. But Bill Enders left RCA and joined Magnavox. At Magnavox, Enders championed Baer's game product, and ultimately the deal was struck. The first home video game system, the Magnavox Odyssey, was launched in 1972. The Odyssey's legacy was farreaching. Although it was a marginal

The Brown Box system that became the Odyssey.

commercial success, partially hampered by Magnavox's marketing strategies, it may have been the inspiration for Nolan Bushnell's introduction of Pong. (See the story on page 19.) Ralph Baer didn't stop with the Odyssey. He helped develop Coleco's Telestar gaming system and invented Simon, Maniac, and a lot of other games and devices. He holds many patents and is still consulting.


out. I originally planned to do it based on a Data General

Sometimes a Great Notion


he first part of Nolan Bushnell's story takes place in the mid-1960s. The day Nolan Bushnell first encountered Spacewar was the day that may have changed history. It was on the campus of the University of Utah. The discovery was especially fortuitous because Bushnell not only recognized a good game when he saw it, he knew what it could become. Bushnell reveals, "In some ways I was smitten by Spacewar not just because it was fun to play, but I also saw commercial opportunity; I knew how much good games earned. But it was something I put at the back of my mind. It was running on an IBM 7900 or something like that. A big IBM machine. Certainly too expensive to be feasible economically. "Now fast-forward to me coming to California in 1969 to work at Ampex," continues Bushnell. "I was an amateurranked Go player, and one of the guys I played Go with worked up at the AI lab at Stanford. He told me about the Spacewar game they had and I told him, `I played that in college. I'd like to see how it works.' So he took me up there one evening and we played a lot of Spacewar. That rekindled my enthusiasm for the game and my belief in its commercial potential." Bushnell's first project was Computer Space, a singleplayer version of Spacewar that he created in his spare time. For his workshop, he converted his daughter's room, and two-year-old Britta slept in the living room. "My original plan was quite different from how it turned

1600--to have a minicomputer running multiple games. My technical addition, as I originally saw it, was going to be a very cheap monitor. Then what kept happening, the computer kept running out of cycle time--it was so blindingly slow. I thought the cost of the machine would outstrip its ability to earn. I almost gave it up. I cut down to four games, but that put the economics on the edge. I kept having to make the monitors smarter, taking over tasks. Then I had my real epiphany. `Hell,' I thought, `I'm not going to use the Data General. I'll do it all in hardware.' So I went from using a $4,000 computer to maybe $100 worth of components." Ultimately, he completed the design of Computer Space, creating the whole thing in hardware. But he still had to find a way to market it. How that came about was another bit of serendipity. "I had a dentist appointment and my dentist had another patient who worked at Nutting & Associates. I was chatting with the dentist through a mouthful of cotton about what I was working on. He said you should talk to this guy. And that's how I first heard about Nutting. They were a company who had done one product and were in trouble. They were not particularly successful at that time; they were looking for anything, so they jumped at it. Maybe a stronger company would not have taken the risk." Computer Space released in 1971. It is widely considered an unsuccessful debut, but it did make money, and, more importantly, it gave Bushnell some idea of the demographics of video arcade games at a time when there was no such thing. "Computer Space did very well on college campuses and in places where the education level was higher. However, there weren't any arcades as such back then. You had to put machines in bowling alleys and beer bars. That was the market. If you couldn't do well in Joe's Bar and Grill, you had no chance. Computer Space did horribly in the typical American beer bar."




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