As videogame designers rush forward in their perpetual quest to revolutionise the gaming experience, perhaps the most astounding achievement is just how far we've come in one lifetime. Modern videogames are nearly unrecognisable compared to the early days of simple flashing lights and monotonous beeping. Here are 10 electronic games from the not-too-distant past, including Pong, Nintendo's short-lived Virtual Boy and the awkward beginnings of online multiplayer. Whether the goal is paddling a ti
The Playful Machine
This “one-ton electric brain” challenges players to the ancient Chinese game of “nim.” After a user turns off a chosen number of lights from the first row, the machine turns out its own choice of lamps. The player to extinguish the last light wins. According to the article that originally went with this image, the only way to beat the game is to call upon the “powers of two of the binary system of numbers.” If defeated, the machine offers up a pocket token as a reward to the clever victor.
Games Computers Play
In 1970, the most advanced games could be played right on a “computer’s TV screen.” Author Sam Shatavsky visited computer graphics firm Information Displays to try out the latest technology, including touch-screen billiards and chess. “I was playing chess with a computer,” he writes breathlessly. In fact, the field of computer graphics was advancing enough that - just maybe - it could soon be used in applications like air-traffic control, he says.
A Revolution Born
Compared with the revolution it would spark, Pong’s first appearance in PopSci was lacklustre. William Hawkins says the sounds are a “fun gimmick” for both children and adults. In an eerie foreshadowing of generations of addicted gamers, Hawkins writes: “If you think this is one of those novelties that everyone will shortly get tired of, you may be right. But I've been challenging visitors to TV tennis for a month now and haven't worked up an apathy - or a sweat - yet."
Just months after its first mention of Pong, PopSci got the memo that video games were more than a gimmick. With Americans under the spell of "electronic wizardry," experts predicted sales could soon exceed those of pocket calculators, digital watches and CB radios. Imagine! But why limit this technology to just fun? Videocart, a “solid-state memory device,” could perhaps store teaching aids, recipes or phone numbers. “The future possibilities are much greater than just a game of chance.” Much greater, indeed…
Not Just A Fad
In his latest installment, William Hawkins writes that microprocessors are fast changing the entertainment landscape. “Some of these games border on humiliating.” One wrong move, and an “electronically synthesised voice” will call out your folly. Milton Bradley’s Microvision is like a primitive Nintendo Game Boy with its five centimetre screen and variety of plug-in games while others, like Mr. Challenger from Texas Instruments, teach children pre-Internet skills like spelling.
“Before me, on my IBM PC, is the Microsoft Flight Simulator, an amazingly realistic program that duplicates actual flying conditions.” By 1984, adults were enjoying classics like Flight Simulator and Temple of Apshai on home computers. Text-based fantasy and role-playing games delighted geeks everywhere, while Roklan’s Lifespan, a “sociological simulation,” let players create characters that grow up, get jobs and make friends.
Oh, the magic of 16 bit. In “Video Games Aim at Reality,” Robin Nelson writes that 16-bit games “are a new generation of hair-raising, adrenaline-pumping realism.” Sega, NEC and Atari were wowing US players with colourful, smoother animation, while children in Japan skipped school in droves to play Nintendo’s Super Famicon. The end of the article mentions a growing public health concern: “the potential for obsessive game playing.” Ominous words indeed.
Along Come CD-ROMs
By 1992, the most cinematic games were on CD-ROMs. The characters and scenes were so realistic, “it’s as if the actors in a movie turned to the cameras and spoke directly to you, in your living room.” CD-ROMs stored 500 times more data than conventional cartridges and featured CD-quality audio. Industry experts predicted that “video-game soundtracks… will be sold someday soon in music stores as they are in Japan.”
The Virtual Boy
Nintendo’s 32-bit Virtual Boy was sadly discontinued after less than a year on the market – the world wasn’t ready for true 3D gaming. Place the battery-powered device on a tabletop and press your face into the mask to block out external light. The red-on-black LED graphics seem to move toward you as you play Mario’s Tennis or Nester’s Funky Bowling. Link two Virtual Boys to play against a friend. Then go lie down, because you probably have vertigo.
“Your next opponent is only thousands of miles away” with the gaming service Total Entertainment Network. The service hoped to bring together millions of gamers on the “far-flung Internet," charging $9.95 per month for five hours of play time or $29.95 per month for the unlimited package. How can you limit yourself with options like Duke Nukem and Doom? Fast-paced games were hard to keep running smoothly, though. After all, everyone knows “the Internet was designed to be a dependable tortoise, not a speedy hare."