The History of Classic Video Games: The Golden Age

Once the seal was broken by those programmers from the Classic Video Game Age of Discovery, it opened a Pandora's Box...or rather Ralph Baer's Brown Box...of video game pleasure in the arcade and at home, taking us into The Golden Age and First Generation of Classic Video Games.

1971 - The Golden Age

Galaxy
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  • Computer Space and Galaxy Game are the first two coin-op arcade video games ever created. Releasing just two months apart, both are ports of the PDP computer game Spacewars!
  • Galaxy Game - The first of the two only has one unit made by creators Bill Pitts and Hugh Tuck, who put it in a Stanford University coffee shop for a dime a game. It stays there until May 1979 when the processor becomes unstable and the unit is removed and dismantled.
  • Computer Space - The second game is created by the more business minded future Atari founders Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, for the company Nutting Associates, who mass-produce the game and sell it commercially. They distribute 1500, but the game is not successful as it is too difficult to play.
Photo by D.S. Cohen
  • Magnavox licensees Ralph Baer's television game technology from Sanders Associates and releases it to the public as the Magnavox Odyssey. The system uses interchangeable game cartridges (called cards), a controller with two knobs (one for horizontal movement, the other for vertical). It also comes with translucent plastic overlays to simulate background graphics for the dot and line games that generate onto the screen. Similar to board games the players use a physical score card to keep track of their points.

    Ralph Baer also develops the first video game peripheral: a light riffle that plugs into the Odyssey's controller port for use in shooting games.

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1972 - Atari and Pong

  • Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney found Atari with the purpose of developing commercially available video games. Atari is named after the Japanese chess term for “check”.
  • Al Alcorn is hired by the newly formed Atari and programs their first official release, a coin-op arcade tennis game named Pong, after the sound a ball hitting a paddle makes. The game consists of two knobs that control vertical paddles on opposite sides of the screen that bounce a ball between them. As the game progresses the ball moves faster and faster. Pong is a monumental success and kick starts the coin-op arcade frenzy.

1973

  • Atari releases three more arcade games:
    - Space Race - A two-player game where space ships race while avoiding asteroids.
    - Gotcha – A tag game where one player chases the other through a maze.
    - Rebound - A two player volleyball game.
  • Bally-Midway throws their hat into the coin-op arcade ring with Asteroid (not to be confused with Asteroids) a rip-off of Space Race.

1974

  • Gran Trak 10, the first ROM based arcade game is released by Atari. The ROM memory allows higher quality graphics capabilities for this car racing game.
  • A new company Kee Games begins manufacturing arcade games. Secretly owned by Atari and created in a ploy to bypass exclusive deals, Kee puts out clones of Atari games. One of Kee's few original games, Tank, is an enormous success and is eventually re-released under the Atari name.
  • Mattel releases the very first line of electronic LED handheld games. Although not video games themselves, these light based stand-alone games are the precursor to the handheld video game systems to come.

1975

  • Atari releases the first home version of Pong exclusively through Sears-Roebuck. The game is a single unit that just plays Pong, with two built-in controllers. Pong is Sears-Roebucks best selling item of the holiday season.
  • Adventure (aka Colossal Cave Adventure) - The first text based computer adventure game is created by Willie Crowther and Don Woods.
  • General Instruments develops the AY-3-8500 chip, a clone of Atari's Pong tech. This chip plays several variations of the Pong game. GI makes the chip available to manufactures who want to compete against Pong with their own home console system.
  • Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) releases the first desktop computer, the Altair 8800, available only through mail order.