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Video Game Uber Fun Fun List: Pre-history

Author: Philippe
Posted: 01 Apr 2005

Well, for a small change of pace from the rest of the articles, I'm going to delve a bit into the early, early days of video gamedom. The reason it's different is as follows: it would be very hard to write an article on the top nine games of the Pong console. Even if you were really stretching your imagination and considered playing while upside down as a viable number 4 on the big list, I feel you'd have considerable trouble figuring out the order for the rest of the list.

So, for the benefit of those who get more enjoyment out of the history part of the Uber Fun Fun List articles, I present 3 mini console histories, all in one convenient article-type package.

http://www.thetoque.com/031202/pics/pong.jpgFirst up on the list, we have the incredible, the legendary, and oft-copied game Pong (Atari, 1975). Yes, a full four years before I was born. Pong, of course, was not the first video game. That honor goes to Tennis For 2, which was made on an oscilloscope in 1958. The game was very popular among all of Willy Higinbotham's friends, and never went on to do anything of real note.

A few magical years later, Spacewar appeared -- another oscilloscope game made by a gent named Steve Russel. Russel was a part of MIT's rather famous Model Train Club, one of those genius-level entry type of clubs that you're bound to find in droves at MIT. Buddy found the oscilloscope in a basement somewhere and figured "Hey, neat. A giant oscilloscope. I'm a man who can do something with a giant oscilloscope" (Ahh, the days of MIT when it wasn't just about what type of new designer drug to invent). Spacewar was commercially released in 1971 by Nolan Bushnell, but was somewhat of a failure because the controls were tricky to handle. Bushnell looked at his failure but knew there was something there with these crazy video game machines, so he decided to make a game that was fun and had ridiculously easy controls.

Enter Pong. With a smashing release of the "arcade" version. Bushnell eventually released the home version, which became the best-selling item in the Sears catalog and also opened up a slew of lawsuits from the next guys on our list, Magnavox.

http://www.forskning.no/Bilder/1077877931.38/1077877931.38_content.jpgNumber 2: The Magnavox Odyssey. The Odyssey was actually released before the Atari Pong system and was invented by a cat named Ralph Baer. Ralph Baer was a visionary but, unfortunately, he simply didn't have the technology on his side. Not his fault, really; it was the early seventies.

The Odyssey was released with six cards, with two games to a card. He also sold a light rifle and six additional cards for the system, named Game Cards 1-12, and then a brief description of the game. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the technology would be too expensive to make color games. As such, the Odyssey came with all these plastic films of different colors that would go over the TV. So, for example, in the football game, you'd have a green film with some lines on it.

The system was lame, but Magnavox did put a patent on the video game concept and sued everyone that tried to get into the market after that, up to about the NES, when the court said they couldn't do it anymore. Anyway, the system was lame, but it was huge that you could change the cartridges. Though, in actuality, all the circuits were built into the Odyssey for the games. The first true cartridges with completely seperate circuitry for each game was number 3 on the list, the Channel F.

http://img.epinions.com/images/opti/b8/de/gameHardwareClassicConsolesAllFairchild_Channel_F-resized200.gifReleased in 1976, the Channel F had game cartridges with actual computer chips inside. That was Fairchilds' gift to the world. The system also sported joysticks that were OK. Really, what they did that interests me was force Nolan Bushnel to make his soon-to-be-released Atari VCS better than he had planned on it being. He did, and with Channel F and Atari both out, they caused a little mini-video game crash the next year. They had effectively made every other console obsolete and dumb.

Unfortunately, the Atari had better marketing behind it and basically destroyed the competition (which, at that point, was the Channel F; no one else even came close to being called competition).

So there you have it. Three systems without a top nine list of games for said systems. Though, I suppose, I could do a quick one. 9, 2, 4, 3, 1, 5, 7, 6, 8. In that order. Remember? They just named the cartridges by number.

In any case, I'll see you back here next time with a much better system! Have fun.

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