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ExtraMana's Blog. Includes my YouTube videos and written articles.

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Video Game History - Computer Space (Atari)

Computer space art


In the 1950's the cold war between the East and West raged on. The US invested massive amount of money into technology. Money was poured into the development of new missiles, aircraft and of course computers amongst many other things. In 1958 Willy Higginbotham was working at the Brook haven National Laboratories. Higginbotham had been a designer of electronic circuits for the Manhattan project and was a renowned physicist.
He wanted to create an interactive game for the Laboratories annual vistor day. The result is he would end up creating the world's first video game: 'Tennis for two'.

To make this game he used an oscilloscope, and analogue computer and some push buttons.
The visitors where very intrigued by Higginbotham's invention. For the game he created a 2d view of a tennis court with a single horizontal line on the middle being the centre. To control the game each player had a small box with some controls on it. The ball in the game was affected by both gravity and wind resistance.
The game only had a 5 inch monitor. The game was later re-showcased in 1959 but this time with a larger 17 inch monitor. 

Tennis for Two (World's first videogame)

Despite the attention Higginbotham received for his invention he did not make a single penny from it. For one thing he never tried to market it, and for another had he tried to patent the invention it would have become property of the US government.In the mid 1960's Nolan Bushnell was attending the university of Utah it was there he learned about computer games. One of the games at the University was called 'Spacewar'. 
Bushnell learned to program so that he could start making his own games. With the help of other students Bushnell created several games including tic tac toe, 3-D tic tac toe and a game called Fox and Geese. All of these early games where very primitive.

However in 1969 Bushnell was hired by an engineering firm called Ampex Corporation. It was there that he was able to get hold of some parts to help make his next game 'Computer Space'. 'Computer Space' was heavily influenced by Steve Russell's game Space War from 1962. What Bushnell would do differently is that he would make it a coin operated game, the first of it's kind. The original space war game had been made on a PDP-1 a computer that cost $120,000 dollars meaning it was completely unmarketable. It was Bushnell who would take games out of universities and make them marketable to the public.

Bushnell partnered with Bill Nutting to manufacture 1500 computer space machines. Not all of the machines sold and there was another problem. Bushnell had made a complex instruction manual for the game. This put a lot of potential players off as not many people wanted to have to learn all the instructions just to play the game.
It was 1971 and there simply wasn't anything on the market like Computer Space. The game was distributed in bars, bowling alleys, and college campuses but it did not do very well. After the failure of Computer Space Bushnell decided it was time to form his very own games company. He partnered with Ted Dabney who had been an engineer at Ampex. Ted Dabney and Bushnell put in the modest sum of 250 dollars each to form their games company: Atari. Bushnell didn't know it yet but he was about to become the father of the multi-billion dollar industry of video games.

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