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Early history of video games

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History of video games

The early history of video games dates back to 1947, with a missile simulator that uses analog circuitry.[1]

The origin of video games lies in early cathode ray tube-based missile defense systems in the late 1940s. These programs were later adapted into other simple games during the 1950s. By the late 1950s and through the 1960s, more computer games were developed (mostly on mainframe computers), gradually increasing in sophistication and complexity.[n 1] Following this period, video games diverged into different platforms: arcade, mainframe, console, personal computer and later handheld games.[2]





  • The earliest known interactive electronic game was created by Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann on a cathode ray tube.[3] The patent was filed on January 25, 1947 and issued on December 14, 1948. The game was a missile simulator inspired by radar displays from World War II. It used analog circuitry, not digital, to control the CRT beam and position a dot on the screen. Screen overlays were used for targets since graphics could not be drawn at the time.[1]


Alan Turing and colleague D. G. Champernowne wrote a chess playing algorithm. At the time, there was not a computer powerful enough to run the algorithm. The algorithm was tested two times by human versus algorithm matches. The algorithm won once and lost once.[4]


In March 1950, Claude Shannon devised a chess playing program that appeared in the paper "Programming a Computer for Playing Chess" published in Philosophical Magazine. This was the first article on the problem of computer chess, published before anyone had programmed a computer to play chess.


  • On May 5, 1951, the NIMROD computer was presented at the Science Museum (London) during the Festival of Britain. Using a panel of lights for its display, it was designed exclusively to play the game of NIM; this was the first instance of a digital computer designed specifically to play a game.[5] NIMROD could play either the traditional or "reverse" form of the game.
  • TV engineer named Ralph Baer was asked by the chief engineer at Loral to build "the best television set in the world". Baer came up with an idea for playing games on the television set, but the idea was turned down.


  • In 1952, one of the first video games ever made, OXO (also known as Noughts and Crosses) by A. S. Douglas. OXO was written for the EDSAC computer. The game was a Tic-tac-toe based game, played against the computer, and although OXO never gained any real popularity, because the EDSAC was available only at Cambridge, it was still a milestone in the history of video games.
  • Christopher S. Strachey created a program on the Ferranti machine which, by the summer of 1952, "could play a complete game of draughts (checkers) at a reasonable speed". Arthur Samuel built on his work to make a checkers-playing program for the IBM 701, which ran at the end of the year.


  • Tennis for Two was a computer game developed in 1958 on an oscilloscope which simulated a game of tennis or ping pong. It was created by William Higinbotham. Unlike Pong and similar early games, Tennis for Two shows a simplified tennis court from the side instead of a top-down perspective. The ball is affected by gravity and must be played over the net. The game was controlled by an analog computer and "consisted mostly of resistors, capacitors and relays, but where fast switching was needed – when the ball was in play – transistor switches were used".


In 1959-1961, a collection of interactive graphical programs were created on the TX-0 machine at MIT:

  • Mouse in the Maze: which allowed users to place maze walls, bits of cheese, and (in some versions) glasses of martini by way of a light pen interacting with the screen. One could then release the mouse and watch it traverse the maze to find the goodies.
  • Tic-Tac-Toe: Using the light pen, the user could play a simple game of naughts and crosses against the computer.


  • A DEC memo M-1098 from March 31, 1961 references a Kalah game playing program developed for the PDP-1.[6]


  • Later, a program called Expensive Planetarium (referring to the price of the PDP-1 computer) was incorporated into the main code, replacing the randomly generated star field. The program was based on real star charts that scrolled slowly: at any one time, 45% of the night sky was visible, every star down to the fifth magnitude.


  • First ever baseball simulation game written in BASIC by John Kemeny and later edited by Keith Bellairs on January 13, 1965.[7]


  • Larry Bethurum, from the Phillips Exter Academy, submitted the BASIC source code of a bingo game to the DECUS user group. Comments in the code suggest the game was written on January 23, 1966.[8]


  • First basketball simulation game written in BASIC by Charles R. Bacheller in May, 1967.[13]
  • A baseball game that simulates the 1967 World Series written in BASIC by Jacob Bergmann in August 1967.[14]
  • Taito released an early electro-mechanical arcade game, Crown Soccer Special, a two-player sports game that simulated association football, using various electronic components, including electronic versions of pinball flippers.[15]


  • Sega's Missile was an electro-mechanical shooter and vehicle combat simulation that featured electronic sound and a moving film strip to represent the targets on a projection screen. It was also the earliest known arcade game to feature a joystick with a fire button, which was used as part of an early dual-control scheme, where two directional buttons are used to move the player's tank and a two-way joystick is used to shoot and steer the missile onto oncoming planes displayed on the screen; when a plane is hit, an explosion is animated on screen along with an explosion sound.[21]


  • A number of games programmed in BASIC can be found in the DECUS library back-up tapes. Unfortunately, most games do not include the name of the programmer or the date when the program was written.[22]
  • Sega released Jet Rocket, an electro-mechanical combat flight simulator featuring cockpit controls that could move the player aircraft around a landscape displayed on a screen and shoot missiles onto targets that explode when hit.[23]
  • Sega's electro-mechanical Misile game was released in North America as S.A.M.I. by Midway.[21][24]


Notable releases

Early video game industry (1971-1977)

The first commercially viable video game was Computer Space in 1971, which laid the foundation for a new entertainment industry in the late 1970s within the United States, Japan, and Europe.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Pong Story: Main Page
  2. Radoff, Jon (2010), "Brief History of Social Games". Retrieved on 2011-01-18.
  3. U.S. Patent #2,455,992
  4. Alan Turing. Retrieved on 19 January 2010.
  5. Nimrod Game Computer
  6. Kalah game..
  7. basbal.dem..
  8. bingo.gam..
  9. 9.0 9.1 Steven L. Kent (2000), The First Quarter: A 25-Year History of Video Games, p. 83, BWD Press, ISBN 0970475500
  10. Brian Ashcraft (2008) Arcade Mania! The Turbo Charged World of Japan's Game Centers, p. 133, Kodansha International
  11. Steve L. Kent (2001), The ultimate history of video games: from Pong to Pokémon and beyond: the story behind the craze that touched our lives and changed the world, p. 102, Prima, ISBN 0761536434
  12. 12.0 12.1 Mark J. P. Wolf (2008), The video game explosion: a history from PONG to Playstation and beyond, p. 149, ABC-CLIO, ISBN 031333868X
  13. bskbal.gam..
  14. baseba.gam. baseba.gam..
  15. Crown Soccer Special at Museum of the Game
  16. D.S. Cohen, Killer Shark: The Undersea Horror Arcade Game from Jaws,,, retrieved 2011-05-03 
  17. 17.0 17.1 1969 Sega Duck Hunt (Arcade Flyer). Retrieved on 2011-05-03.
  18. Duck Hunt (1969) at Museum of the Game
  19. Grand Prix at Museum of the Game
  20. Bill Loguidice & Matt Barton (2009), Vintage games: an insider look at the history of Grand Theft Auto, Super Mario, and the most influential games of all time, p. 198, Focal Press, ISBN 0240811461
  21. 21.0 21.1 Missile at Museum of the Game
  22. decuslib10-01..
  23. Jet Rocket at Museum of the Game
  24. S.A.M.I. at Museum of the Game
  25. Stahl, Ted (ed.) (2005). Chronology of the History of Video Games / Golden Age. The History of Computing Project. Retrieved on 15 February 2006.
  26. 26.0 26.1 The Galaxy Game. Computer History Exhibits (2006). Retrieved on 26 August 2006.
  27. 27.0 27.1 Hunter, William (2005). Player 1 Stage 1: Bits From the Primordial Ooze. The Dot Eaters. Retrieved on 24 August 2006.
  28. Martin Picard, The Foundation of Geemu: A Brief History of Early Japanese video games, International Journal of Computer Game Research, 2013
  29. Namco History (English summary). NAMCO WonderPage (2001). Archived from the original on 10 January 2006 Retrieved on 15 February 2006.
  32. GameSpot Editorial Team (2004). The Greatest Games of All Time / Jimmy Has Dysentery. GameSpot. Retrieved on 15 February 2006.
  33. Conclusion. Game Design Workshop: Designing, Prototyping, and Playtesting Games. Retrieved on 15 February 2006.
  34. Markowitz, Maury (2000). Star Trek: To boldly go... and then spawn a million offshoots. Games of Fame. Archived from the original on 9 February 2006 Retrieved on 15 February 2006.

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