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Leicester, United Kingdom
Studying BA (Hons) Game Art Design at De Montfort University. It continues to be challenging as much as rewarding. Primary outcomes include 2D and 3D projects and 2am coffees.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Video Game Flashback: 50's-70's

Before sitting down in Critical studies last week I assumed the earliest form of video games dated back to Pong and other arcade games from the 70’s, but learning that it dates back to the mid-19th century? Woah!

As we moved through the timeline, it became a question of which device was considered the first video game. This was probably when they eventually begun to resemble the consoles which we use today- features such as screens and the ability to control and navigate the game. It’s no surprise that the earliest models were so large and chunky due to the huge amount of data that the device had to store. Over the years this data issue has been resolved with data being compressed down into the slick small devices we carry around with us today. This trend is likely to continue into the future as hardware and software evolves.

Throughout the late 20th century there have been notable creations which have become the foundations to many genres of games that exist today. An example would be Simulation (commonly flight) which is used in the game development, as well as in the military. These can prepare people for the real thing and gives them a general idea of what is in store for them. Examples include flight simulators, used for leisure, the Air Force, space travel, and fairground rides etc.

In 1947, Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. co-invented a machine which simulated the firing of projectiles at flying targets. It was referred to as ‘cathode ray tube amusement device’ and game play was achieved by pressing a number of buttons and turning knobs. So from my perspective this was the point of creation for a handheld console. In the late 50’s, students at MIT created graphic programs such as virtual Tic-Tac-Toe and Mouse in the Maze. Eventually in 1961 they created Spacewar!, which is recognised as the first influential computer game. I have to agree. The idea of pitting two people against each other through interaction on a screen is a brilliant idea. I mean multiplayer is a hell of a lot of fun, competing against each other to see who’s better and all that. Also I believe it was this that initiated or at least gave ideas about possibilities of science fiction as a genre, which has become a very popular theme in film, television and of course games.

From here, a major turning point arose within the industry. The arrival of distribution for public purchase changed everything. In 1966 Ralph Baer and Bill Harrison worked together to create the first game to be displayed on standard television sets. Along the way they also created the light gun, which continues to be used today in the classic arcade games that we see at the bowling alley and arcades. After working on this project for three years, the first games console was ready to present to manufacturers and as the 70’s approached, the first generation of games consoles were released for public sale. Baer and Harrisons project was licensed by Magnavox in 1972 and the Magnavox Odyssey was unveiled. Nevertheless, this console was quickly overshadowed by the release of Pong, which proved very successful despite its primitive simple layout. However, Pong was so successful that the number of clones that were created soon became overwhelming and this caused a video game crash in '77, resulting in very few companies surviving. Despite this disaster, Space Invaders was launched and became a huge success and marked the start of what was called 'the Golden Age of arcade games'.

Looking back on these classic games, it occurred to me that back then these games didn’t have a definite ending to them. Playing the game was like a test of endurance to see how long you could last. With no obvious ending and increasing difficulty, the only sense of accomplishment that was felt was when you got your name against the high scores.

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