The Magnavox Odyssey was the brainchild of German-American engineer Ralph Hendrikson Baer , the “father of video games,” who would be 100 years old on March 8 if he were still with us. Now 50 years ago — on January 27, 1972 — the Magnavox Odyssey began production and would be marketed by Philips in the United States in May of the same year. Its appearance today is quite retro: a brown, black and white box, with many straight lines and with two controllers connected by cable. A month later the Magnavox Odyssey was launched in Mexico. It entered the European market in 1973 and it would arrive in Spain under the name of Overkal in 1974 and through Inter Electrónica SA In 1976 the Valencian company Togisa launched the Teletenis Multijuegos video game console.
The first video game console in history had several years of research behind it. The first prototypes were developed in 1966, while Baer was working for Sanders Associates, a defense contractor. With the help of three other engineers, in 1969 he presented his seventh prototype, the Brown Box , a name that alluded to the color (brown-brown) of the box that protected the circuits. The prototype was presented to several TV manufacturers and it would be Magnavox who would agree to produce it in January 1971. In the first year on the market they managed to sell 69,000 units and would sell up to 350,000 when they stopped manufacturing in 1975.
The Television Gaming and Trailing Apparatus patent was filed by Baer in March 1971 and published in April 1973. And luckily they had a patent, as we will see below.
On the other hand, Baer did not like the way the Magnavox Odyssey was launched, as it was intended to be sold only through Magnavox stores, sending the false message that it only worked with their TVs. On the other hand, the initial sales pack of the Baer game console included transparent sheets that simulated complex graphics and it went up to $100. Magnavox was founded by Edwin Pridham and Peter Jensen, who invented a loudspeaker in 1915 that gave the company its name.
This first game console gave rise to the Odyssey series of dedicated consoles. A dedicated console is one that contains a fixed game or set of games, which cannot be changed because they are integrated. The first generation video game consoles are those that were marketed between 1972 and 1983. In addition to the Odyssey series and Atari Home Pong, it would include the Coleco Telstar series and the Color TV-Game series, ending the generation with Computer TV-Game. The first generation consoles could not display more than two colors and had audio limitations or no sound at all.
Pong is a registered trademark of Atari and is a video game created by Nolan Bushnell, from the first generation of game consoles released in November 1972. However, Magnavox Odyssey had a similar game , that is, Atari copied Baer’s idea and other manufacturers did the same. Despite this, Pong was the first commercially successful video game and constituted, together with Magnavox Odyssey, the trigger to definitively launch the video game industry. Since then, we have been playing in front of a screen for 50 years and we have not stopped.
According to the patent, in 1971 the video game concept belonged to Baer and Magnavox. The patent begins as follows:
The present invention is an apparatus and method in conjunction with standard monochrome and color television receivers for the generation, display, manipulation, and use of symbols or geometric figures on the television receiver screen for the purpose of simulating training. , to play games and to participate in other activities for one or more participants”
Nolan Bushnell was the founder of Atari and also the one who lost the Magnavox Odyssey lawsuit for infringing Baer’s patent. Magnavox showed off the game console at private business meetings before its official launch. But Bushnell managed to sneak into one of those presentations and even played. But it turns out that on that occasion the security guard made him write down his name, which was proof that he knew Baer’s invention perfectly. Atari had to pay $1.5 million for the Pong license, but it was only part of the more than $100 million Manavox generated from lawsuits against various companies that also jumped on patents.
The first video game console in history had twenty-eight games, such as ping-pong or volleyball. They had no sound and no way to memorize scores, so players had to use pencil and paper. This first video game did not contain a central unit or RAM memory, it was only made up of transistors, resistors and capacitors. Its successor, the Magnavox Odyssey2 (1978) already had a microcontroller and RAM memory, as well as sound.
Actually the first video game is not the work of Baer, but of William Higinbotham, an American physicist. He was a member of the team that developed the nuclear bomb, although he would later be a leader in the atomic weapons non-proliferation movement. Higinbotham built a tennis game with an oscilloscope using different amplifiers and relays. It only featured a horizontal line (field) and a vertical line (net), plus a moving point that represented the ball. The so-called “Tennis for Two” was devised in 1958 and was not patented by its inventor. However, some experts give OXO the honor of being the first video game in history, a 1952 version of three-in-a-row created by Alexander Douglas for the EDSAC computer.