History of video games/Early games
Earliest electronic games
The earliest known computer gaming system is the cathode-ray tube amusement device, a device which enabled the user of a CRT screen-enabled analog computer or oscilloscope to project an electron beam on targets positioned on the screen. The game was designed by Thomas T. Goldsmith, Jr. and Estle Ray Mann, who patented it in 1947. A later analog computer game, Bertie the Brain, was released by Josef Kates on August 25, 1950. Bertie the Brain was a tic-tac-toe simulator, in which the user played against the computer a tic-tac-toe game, while John Makepeace Bennett and Raymond Stuart-Williams's Nimrod computer, manufactured by Ferranti and based on Edward Condon's "Nimatron" machine, was a huge analog computer released on May 5, 1951 designed to play Nim against the user. Instead, in the same year, Dietrich Prinz wrote the first computer chess simulator on a Ferranti Mark I machine, followed by Christopher Strachy's 1952 draughts simulator for the same computer. This games were mainly experiments to demonstrate the potential power of computing machines and to develop AI, more than entartainment software.
First interactive games
A Tennis for Two replica in action for the game's twenty-fifth anniversary.
Meanwhile, A S Douglas developed and realized the tic-tac-toe software OXO (or "Naughts and Crosses"), it was a computer-user game based on screen vision running on the electronic delay storage automatic calculator (EDSAC, a stored-program computer housed in the University of Cambridge's Mathematical Laboratory), in other words, the user (after receiving a special authorization to use the EDSAC) could, for one of the first times, see the game on the computer's screen. Six years later, in 1958, the first known entertainment computer game, the tennis simulator Tennis for Two, or "Computer Tennis" (designed by Los Alamos nuclear scientist William Higinbotham and built by Robert Dvorak at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, where it was shown every year). Tennis for Two, which could be played by two players using two early controllers (each with a button to hit the ball and a knob to change the angle of the trajectory), ran on an analog computer with an oscilloscope as screen and had the following gameplay: a horizontal line represented the tennis court as seen by its side, a vertical dash in the center represented the net and, once the first player started the game, the ball (a dot of light) could be used to play. The ball could hit the net, land inside or outside the yard and, when it was on one's side, he or she could use the button to virtually hit it again, but the game did not have any points nor an "end": users simply had to play.
Spacewar! and mainframe games
Spacewar! runs on the Computer History Museum's PDP-1.
In the first years of the 1950s most mainframe computers were unsuitable for gaming, being relatively weak in memory and speed, but, in the early decade, an MIT Lincoln Laboratory research team, with Jay Forrester as head, developed, to the US Navy's gain, the perfectioned and more powerful Whirlwind I. Inspired by their work, researchers Ken Olsen and Wes Clark built the prototype machine TX-0 (Transistorized Experimental computer zero, nicknamed "tixo"), based on early transistor technology. Clark and Harlan Anderson soon founded the Digital Equipment Corporation, or "DEC", and tixo was updated to be publicly sold under the new name "PDP-1" (Programmed Data Processor-1, one of the most notable computers in the hacker culture). In 1962, on the MIT's own PDP-1, used by later MIT students and professors, Steve Russell created Spacewar!, the first widespread video game. Spacewar! was another two-players game, in which's two-dimensional world each user controlled a spacecraft with a rear thruster (with limited fuel), yaw variation capabilities and a frontal weapon, orbiting a gravity source against a starfield background; the craft were destroyed (but soon regenerated) if the were shot by the other's weapon or they collided (with the other's ship or with the gravity source), generating explosion effects, but could also use the gravity to their advantage, jump into hyperspace to reappear in a random point of the battlefield and use the warp screen effect ("exiting" the screen to reappear on the opposite side) to travel between two opposite points of the screen in brief time (thus avoiding the gravity source). Other notable mainframe games (mainly written in various FOCAL dialects) include Witold Podgórski's 1962 Marienbad (an Odra 1003 Nim computer game inspired to the film Last Year at Marienbad), Doug Dyment's 1968 text-based game Hamurabi (a PDP-8 game, rewritten in BASIC in the 1973 book BASIC Computer Games, in which the player impersonated Babylonian king Hammurabi and had to participate in ancient politics) and Ken Thompson's 1969 Space Travel (a multi-platform non-war spaceflight simulator).
Early arcade games
In 1971, the first arcade games (usually coin-operated video game-based machines) were presented: they were the Computer Space by Syzygy Engineering ("Sygyzy" was the name of the partnership between Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, originally born, inspired by Spacewar!, to found a computer games-equipped restaurant, later destined to become Atari, Inc.), though manufactured by Nutting Associates, and the PDP-11-based Spacewar! clone Galaxy Game by Bill Pitts and Hugh Truck (a two-player arcade which enabled to play, though in with lower video and reaction quality, a multi-mode re-creation of the 1962 game, built at Stanford University). Arcades were soon seen as a notable way to earn money easily, and, soon, other famous video game cabinets manufacturers were born: in 1972 Atari itself realized the table tennis simulator Pong by Allan Alcorn, one of the first best-selling games, as well as the inspiration for the first video game consoles. Pong's gameplay consisted of two white-on-black segments (four in the Pong Doubles variant) moving one-dimensionally on the two edges of the screen with a small, white ball. On the top of the CRT screen, divided by a discontinuous line, a system counting the points earnt by each player out of a maximum, a display that was copied by many and many developers over the years.