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History of video games/First generation of video game consoles

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The First of Generations[edit | edit source]

Home game consoles as they are known today have to start somewhere and this is it. Though there are a number of definitions of which generation a console belongs to from here on out, most at least agree that the home consoles here belong to the first generation. After this definitions quickly get out of sync with each other Keep in mind that people classify game console generations as more of an art than a science, and there is no formal industry or academic organization which classifies consoles by their generation. While console generations are arbitrary, they still help with understanding consoles historically, so this book uses them.

Going forward in this book this book will generally share its console classification system with the system used by Wikipedia. This is because the system used by Wikipedia is widely used casually by the general public and news outlets. However it's important to note that this system is by no means the only one, and it definitely isn't the correct one in many academic contexts.

Trends[edit | edit source]

As stated previously, console generations are fairly arbitrary. However they aren't entirely baseless either. Besides time of release, generations are typically classified using factors such as the technologies used, social factors, economic conditions, and other influences. When a generation is mentioned in this book, prevailing industry movements will be brought up under Trends. Though these are not always universally true for a generation, they help give a big picture impression of what the industry valued at the time, and how things were changing.

The Bare Minimum[edit | edit source]

As an emerging technology, designers struggled to simply make an interactive device that plugs into a television, let alone design complex games for them. Systems this generation are often capable of drawing just a few lines or dots on a television screen, and little more. Systems often made more with less by asking players to attach overlays to their television sets, and other tricks to make the most out of limited hardware capabilities.

Features many would consider fundamental today, such as automatically keeping scores, are not a given and are frequently left for the player to keep track of. Other features such as color graphics, single player modes, and the ability for a console to generate even a simple beep for audio were sometimes included, but were by no means universal. Keep in mind that this console generation started less than two decades after the first consumer color television broadcast.[1] In fact, in 1972, when the Magnavox Odyssey kicked off the first generation of home video game consoles, Color Television adoption had only just reached over 50% in the United States of America,[2] and many important nations had yet to launch color TV broadcasts.[3]

Dedicated systems[edit | edit source]

Most first generation consoles were only able to play the games built into them, with the Magnavox Odyssey being the primary semi-exception by using jumper cards used to manipulate console internals for desired results.[4] Other consoles such as those in the PC-50x family, were simply adapters for cartridges which effectively contained the entire console. Proper cartridges used as game software media would not appear until the second generation with the Fairchild Channel F.[5]

Late in this generation, the industry also saw the first TV-Game console combination unit, in the 1977 ITT Schaub-Lorenz Programmable Television.[6][7] This trend of integrating consoles and displays would continue in following generations as a niche market.

Battery power[edit | edit source]

Most home game consoles this generation were powered by batteries, despite needing a television to play games. This reduced the upfront cost and complexity of the system because an AC adapter was not needed and consistent DC power would be supplied by the batteries. Some consoles did have an optional power adapter available for purchase.[8]

It is important to note that during the 1970's power supply technology was undergoing rapid advancements, and efficient switching power supplies were only starting to see adoption in consumer products by the end of the decade.[9]

Home Consoles[edit | edit source]

There were a staggering number of console in the first generation with over 900 models of them sold across the globe.[10] What's even more staggering is that most of them were based on standardized "pong on a chip" designs,[10] playing almost the exact same games as a result. Furthermore, the gaming industry is notoriously bad at preserving its history, and many of these consoles are known by little more than their names. Therefore this part of the book lists only the most notable among these multitude of consoles, for which substantial references still exist.

External Resources[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Timeline Events in the History of Broadcasting". https://chip.web.ischool.illinois.edu/people/projects/timeline/1951moses.html. 
  2. "Facts-Stats". 31 July 2008. https://web.archive.org/web/20080731144259/http://www.tvhistory.tv/facts-stats.htm. 
  3. "Timeline of the introduction of color television in countries" (in en). 10 February 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_introduction_of_color_television_in_countries. 
  4. "Video Game Firsts: The First Home Video Game Console - The Magnavox Odyssey - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.". http://www.warpedfactor.com/2015/08/video-game-firsts-magnavox-odyssey.html. 
  5. Edwards, Benj (22 January 2015). "The Untold Story Of The Invention Of The Game Cartridge". https://www.fastcompany.com/3040889/the-untold-story-of-the-invention-of-the-game-cartridge. 
  6. Manikas, Pantelis. "ITT Schaub-Lorenz Programmable Television" (in en). https://gamemedium.com/console/schaub-lorenz-programmable-television. 
  7. "ITT Schaub-Lorenz Programmable Television – The Video Game Kraken". http://videogamekraken.com/itt-schaub-lorenz-programmable-television. 
  8. Voskuil, Geplaatst door Erik. "Nintendo Color TV-Game 6 (カラー テレビゲーム 6, 1977)". http://blog.beforemario.com/2011/04/nintendo-color-tv-game-6-6-1977.html. 
  9. "A Half Century Ago, Better Transistors and Switching Regulators Revolutionized the Design of Computer Power Supplies" (in en). https://spectrum.ieee.org/computing/hardware/a-half-century-ago-better-transistors-and-switching-regulators-revolutionized-the-design-of-computer-power-supplies. 
  10. a b "List of first generation home video game consoles" (in en). 14 January 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_first_generation_home_video_game_consoles. 

Arcades after the golden age · Second generation of video game consoles