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History of video games/Platforms/Magnavox Odyssey

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History[edit | edit source]

Background[edit | edit source]

A 1939 Station Guide for the New York City Subway, where Ralph BBaer was inspired to pursue an education in Electronics.

The Magnavox company was founded on the 5th of July in 1917, and mainly produced products such as radios, speakers, and televisions for consumers and the military.[1]

Ralph Baer was born in 1922 in Germany, where he was soon denied an education under the increasing power of the Nazis.[2] Baer and his family fled to the United States as refugees, fleeing persecution in Nazi Germany.[3] A chance encounter on a subway in 1938 lead Baer to gain an interest in technology.[4] Baer later was drafted into the American army to fight the Nazis in World War II.[5][3]

Development[edit | edit source]

1969 TV Game Unit #7 / Brown Box prototype

Ralph Baer, now an engineer who specialized in television, thought of an interactive television game in 1966.[6] In 1967 a prototype unit called TV Game Unit #1, which allowed a dot to be manipulated on a television screen.[6] This test system used vacuum tubes instead of transistors, but was still compact due to its simplicity.[7]

The following prototype TV Game Unit #2 allowed for two players, and was referred as the "Pump Unit" because of its unique up and down handle controller.[8]

Ralph Baer with a reproduction Brown Box in 2010.

Baer convinced company leadership to fund his project with a $2000 budget.[9] The TV Game Unit #7 prototype, called the "Brown Box" could play multiple games, and had two controllers with a design that, while unrefined, was quite similar to the gamepads used in the third and fourth generation of consoles.[10] A prototype 1968 controller featuring a real golf ball on the end of a sturdy joystick was made, allowing the use of a standard golf club to be used in a golf game.[11] A prototype plastic lightgun was also made for shooting games.[12] Program card overlays served as a sort of game medium, indicating which switches needed to be pressed to access specific games. [13]

Magnavox contracted Nintendo, then a Japanese company that made a number of consumer goods including toys, to produce the light guns for the Magnavox Odyssey in 1971, adapting an existing Nintendo light gun toy for this purpose.[14][15][16]

On January the 27th, 1972 production of the Magnavox Odyssey began.[17]

The name Odyssey was chosen as a nod to the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey.[18]

Launch[edit | edit source]

Magnavox launched the Magnavox Odyssey in May of 1972.[6][17] The cost of the Odyssey was $99.95,[18] which included 12 pack in games.[19]

For reasons unrelated to the Odyssey, Dutch company Philips acquired the American company Magnavox in 1974.[20][1] The Philips company was founded in 1891, making it among the oldest companies to have a large involvement in the gaming industry.[21][22]

The Magnavox Odyssey 100 was released in 1975, with used four integrated circuits to greatly simplify hardware.[23]

Legacy[edit | edit source]

Production of the Magnavox Odyssey ended in 1975.[24] The console was followed by the Odyssey series of dedicated consoles. The console would later receive a proper followup in the Magnavox Odyssey².

The Magnavox Odyssey sold less then 100,000 consoles it's first year and about 350,000 total[25] due to poor marketing.[6] Magnavox salespeople would often incorrectly imply that a Magnavox Television was required to use the console to sell more Magnavox televisions, despite it's compatibility with nearly all televisions.[26][27]

The Magnavox Odyssey would inspire Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell to have his company make Pong, eventually leading Magnavox to take legal action against Atari.[27][28]

In 1973, following the launch of the Odyssey, Baer demonstrated a concept All Purpose Box console pioneered a number of concepts which are now common.[29] The Multimedia Box would run games, including some which could be advertiser supported, educational content, and mail order shopping.[29]

In 2021 Handball for the Brown Box prototype would be the first video game to be depicted on currency produced by the United States Mint.[30]

Because it is commonly recognized as the first home game console, the Magnavox Odyssey is also nearly universally categorized as a first generation console.

Preservation[edit | edit source]

Due to it's wildly different technical architecture, and a reliance on physical objects, accurate emulation of the Odyssey relies on much different techniques compared to standard emulators.

In 2017 a team at the University of Pittsburgh began working to preserve Odyssey related materials.[31]

Technology[edit | edit source]

Table Tennis on the Odyssey. Overlays were used to make the limited graphical capabilities of the Odyssey more expressive.

The Magnavox Odyssey lacked a computer, instead using analog circuitry and game cards that manipulate internal jumpers to achieve desired results.[32][33] Display output was limited to a line and three white blocks[27], so color overlays and physical items were used to enhance gameplay.[34] Overlays attached to the CRT televisions via either the static electricity generated by the television, or manually with tape.[35]

The system is powered by six C type batteries.[36], though an optional AC adapter was available.[37] Inserting a game card turned on the power, so the unit lacks a power button.[38]

Games[edit | edit source]

Because the Odyssey lacked a computer, and was primarily a graphics generating device, games for the Magnavox Odyssey were simple, and were often versions of real sports like tennis.[39] Other games included a US Geography quiz game, and a roulette game.[39] No matter the game, the Odyssey relies a lot on its players to use their imaginations, as well do things like keep score or enforce rules.

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Console[edit | edit source]

Controller[edit | edit source]

Accessories[edit | edit source]

Technology[edit | edit source]

Marketing[edit | edit source]

Odyssey wordmark.

External Resources[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. a b "Timeline". https://magnavoxhistory.com/timeline/. Retrieved 17 November 2020. 
  2. "Because of Her Story". https://womenshistory.si.edu/spotlight/the-father-of-the-video-game-the-ralph-baer-prototypes-and-electronic-games/biography. 
  3. a b "Inventor Ralph Baer Was An American Success Story" (in en). https://www.npr.org/2014/12/08/369402079/inventor-ralph-baer-was-an-american-success-story. 
  4. Sullivan, Gail. "The 1938 subway ride that led to the invention of video games". Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/12/08/the-subway-ride-that-led-to-the-invention-of-video-games/. 
  5. "Motherboard TV: Oral History of Gaming: Ralph Baer and his All-Purpose Boxes" (in en). https://www.vice.com/en/article/yppwaj/motherboard-tv-oral-history-of-gaming-ralph-baer-and-his-all-purpose-boxes. 
  6. a b c d "Video Game History" (in en). https://www.si.edu/spotlight/the-father-of-the-video-game-the-ralph-baer-prototypes-and-electronic-games/video-game-history. Retrieved 24 October 2020. 
  7. "TV Game Unit #1, 1967" (in en). https://www.si.edu/object/tv-game-unit-1-1967:nmah_1301993. Retrieved 24 October 2020. 
  8. "The Pump Unit, 1967" (in en). https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1301996. Retrieved 24 October 2020. 
  9. "Early Home Video Game History: Making Television Play - The Strong National Museum of Play" (in en). https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/early-home-video-game-history-making-television-play/1gISMn3lzjV8JQ. Retrieved 25 October 2020. 
  10. "The Brown Box, 1967–68" (in en). https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1301997. Retrieved 24 October 2020. 
  11. "The Brown Box Golf Game Accessory, 1968" (in en). https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1302398. Retrieved 24 October 2020. 
  12. "The Brown Box Lightgun, 1967–68" (in en). https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1302000. Retrieved 24 October 2020. 
  13. "The Brown Box Program Cards, 1967–68" (in en). https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1301998. Retrieved 24 October 2020. 
  14. "Nude Clan: A Video Game Podcast". https://nudeclan.libsyn.com/2016/04. 
  15. "Nintendo: the history behind the gaming pioneers". 29 July 2015. https://www.maxxor.com/blog/nintendo-gaming-pioneers-history/. 
  16. Voskuil, Geplaatst door Erik. "Nintendo Light-beam games Kôsenjû SP and Kôsenjû Custom (光線銃SP, 光線銃 カスタム 1970-1976)". http://blog.beforemario.com/2011/02/light-gun-games-kousenjuu-sp-and.html. 
  17. a b "Magnavox Odyssey - First Home Video Game System in 1972". https://www.cedmagic.com/history/magnavox-odyssey.html. Retrieved 17 November 2020. 
  18. a b Range, Peter Ross (15 September 1974). "The space age pinball machine (Published 1974)". https://www.nytimes.com/1974/09/15/archives/the-space-age-pinball-machine.html. 
  19. "Inside the Magnavox Odyssey, the First Video Game Console" (in en). PCWorld. 27 May 2012. https://www.pcworld.com/article/256101/inside_the_magnavox_odyssey_the_first_video_game_console.html. Retrieved 24 October 2020. 
  20. Koshetz, Herbert (29 August 1974). "North American Phillips Seeks Magnavox Shares (Published 1974)". The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1974/08/29/archives/north-american-phillips-seeks-magnavox-shares-an-offer-is-made-for.html. Retrieved 17 November 2020. 
  21. "Our heritage - Company - About" (in en). https://www.philips.com/a-w/about/company/our-heritage.html. Retrieved 17 November 2020. 
  22. "Philips CD-i Retro Gamer". https://www.retrogamer.net/profiles/hardware/philips-cd-i/. Retrieved 17 November 2020. 
  23. "Magnavox Odyssey 100 Teardown" (in en). 30 August 2010. https://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/Magnavox+Odyssey+100+Teardown/3531. Retrieved 24 October 2020. 
  24. "Video game:Magnavox Odyssey 2 The Voice Series Sid the Sepllbinder - Magnavox Company" (in en). https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/video-game-magnavox-odyssey-2-the-voice-series-sid-the-sepllbinder-magnavox-company/ggFd4UCCJGvaew?hl=en. Retrieved 28 October 2020. 
  25. "From Wind-Up Dolls to Handheld Computers, Toys Follow Evolution of Tech". 21 December 2015. https://insider.si.edu/2015/12/from-wind-up-dolls-to-handheld-computers-toys-follow-evolution-of-tech/. Retrieved 24 October 2020. 
  26. "Magnavox Odyssey Video Game Unit, 1972" (in en). https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_1302004. Retrieved 24 October 2020. 
  27. a b c "A Video Game Odyssey: How Magnavox Launched The Console Industry". Hackaday. 14 September 2017. https://hackaday.com/2017/09/14/retrotectacular-a-video-game-odyssey/. Retrieved 24 October 2020. 
  28. Wawro, Alex. "Looking back at one of the very first video game rivalries" (in en). www.gamasutra.com. https://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/233898/Looking_back_at_one_of_the_very_first_video_game_rivalries.php. Retrieved 24 October 2020. 
  29. a b Cifaldi, Frank. "Video game inventor demonstrates multimedia box...in 1973" (in en). www.gamasutra.com. https://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/175505/Video_game_inventor_demonstrates_multimedia_boxin_1973.php. Retrieved 24 October 2020. 
  30. Bulfinch, Chris (11 June 2021). "Coin Honors Inventor and the Birth of Videogame Culture". CoinWeek. https://coinweek.com/modern-coins/coin-honors-inventor-and-the-birth-of-video-game-culture/. 
  31. "It was a financial dud, but the first video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey, may be getting a new life" (in en). Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. https://www.post-gazette.com/business/tech-news/2019/02/24/magnavox-odysssey-pitt-vibrant-media-lab-fortnite-juju-smith-schuster-steelers-video-games/stories/201902170007. 
  32. "Inside the Magnavox Odyssey, the First Video Game Console" (in en). 27 May 2012. https://www.pcworld.com/article/256101/inside_the_magnavox_odyssey_the_first_video_game_console.html#slide7. Retrieved 24 October 2020. 
  33. "It was a financial dud, but the first video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey, may be getting a new life" (in en). Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. https://www.post-gazette.com/business/tech-news/2019/02/24/magnavox-odysssey-pitt-vibrant-media-lab-fortnite-juju-smith-schuster-steelers-video-games/stories/201902170007. Retrieved 24 October 2020. 
  34. "Magnavox Odyssey Video Game Unit, 1972" (in en). https://www.si.edu/object/magnavox-odyssey-video-game-unit-1972%3Anmah_1302004. Retrieved 24 October 2020. 
  35. "In Search of the First Video Game Commercial". 10 January 2018. https://gamehistory.org/first-video-game-commercial/. 
  36. "Inside the Magnavox Odyssey, the First Video Game Console" (in en). PCWorld. 27 May 2012. https://www.pcworld.com/article/256101/inside_the_magnavox_odyssey_the_first_video_game_console.html#slide6. Retrieved 24 October 2020. 
  37. "Inside the Magnavox Odyssey, the First Video Game Console" (in en). 27 May 2012. https://www.pcworld.com/article/256101/inside_the_magnavox_odyssey_the_first_video_game_console.html#slide5. Retrieved 24 October 2020. 
  38. "Inside the Magnavox Odyssey, the First Video Game Console" (in en). 27 May 2012. https://www.pcworld.com/article/256101/inside_the_magnavox_odyssey_the_first_video_game_console.html#slide3. Retrieved 24 October 2020. 
  39. a b Cifaldi, Frank. "Happy 40th birthday, video games" (in en). www.gamasutra.com. https://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/176677/Happy_40th_birthday_video_games.php. Retrieved 25 October 2020.