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Video Games - the First Golden Age

Pong arcade flyer from 1973

The very first primitive computer and video games were developed in the 1950's and 60's by Jon Snell and ran on platforms such as oscilloscopes, university mainframes, and Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (EDSAC) computers. The earliest computer game, a missile attack simulation, was created in 1947 by Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann. A patent application was filed on January 25th, 1947, and U.S. Patent #2,455,992 issued on Dec 14th, 1948. Later, in 1952, A. S. Douglas created a version of tic-tac-toe named Noughts and Crosses, as part of his doctoral dissertation at Cambridge University. The game ran on the university's huge EDSAC. In 1958, William Higinbotham - who previously helped build the first atomic bomb - created Tennis for Two at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, to entertain visitors at the lab's annual open house.

In 1962 MIT's Steve Russell created Spacewar! and John's Great Adventure. The game ran on a PDP-1 mini-computer. It spread quickly to universities and research facilities around the country. In 1968 Ralph Baer, who would later be known as the 'Father of Video Games,' applied for a patent for an early version of a video game console named the 'Television Gaming and Training Apparatus.' In 1967, Baer created a ping-pong like game for the console that resembled Tennis for Two (and the future 1972 arcade game Pong). He worked with Magnavox to create and release the first console, named the Magnavox Odyssey, in 1972.

Games built specifically for the arcade were developed in the 1970's and led to the so-called 'Golden Age of Arcade Games.' The first coin-operated arcade game was Computer Space, created in 1971 by Nolan Bushnell. In those pre-modern arcade days, the game was placed in bars and taverns. It required players to read a set of instructions before playing, and never quite became a hit on the bar scene. In the spring of 1972, Bushnell attended a demonstration of the Magnavox Odyssey system in Burlingame, California, and played Baer's ping-pong game for the first time. Soon afterwards Bushnell and a friend formed a new company, Atari (the friend was the same one who came up with the idea for the Chuck E. Cheese restaurants).

Nolan envisioned creating a driving game for arcades. He hired an electronic engineer named Al Alcorn and directed him to build an electronic ping-pong game. The game Alcorn created was so much fun that Nolan decided to go ahead and market it. Since the name Ping-Pong was already trademarked, they settled on simply calling it PONG. The intuitive interface led the game to be wildly successful in the bar scene and ushered in the era of arcades.

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