Before PC-based gaming platforms like today’s Portal 2, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Minecraft —-even before disc-based systems like PlayStation, Xbox and Wii and as far back as Pac-Man and Donkey Kong became the obsession of millions of electronic gamers, it was Ted Dabney, one of the founders of Atari and also a creator of PONG who first made it possible to play a variety of video games at home on your TV. Mr. Dabney passed away recently, but he and his colleagues used a handful of inexpensive TV components to create the first commercial video game, Computer Space in 1971.
That game never really took off but in 1972, they created another game, that by today’s standards would seem simple even for a child under 5, in which there were small vertical paddles on the far left and right of your TV screen (no computer necessary—they were too slow anyway to perform at video rates) with a small white dot (we were in black and white then) that traversed back and forth across the TV screen with, as Alcorn stated, “One moving spot, two score digits, and two paddles”—just two-dimensional graphics.
Ted Dabney is seen at the left of a PONG console for arcades shown here in 1973 at the Atari office in Santa Clara, CA with Nolan Bushnell, Fred Marincic and Alan Acorn (left to right from the PONG console) (Image courtesy of Al Acorn, Computer History Museum)
I had just graduated from New York University in 1972 with my BEEE degree, the Vietnam war was winding down and the draft lottery was instituted and it wasn’t too long after that Atari released the first PONG game. Being the geek that I am, in 1975, when a TV-version of PONG appeared, I rushed to the Sears store to buy one. What a neat product! The 1975 home device connected to where the antenna input was on the TV. We played this simple game often because it was such a novelty. But later, I found arcade console-based games more of interest. That was until Chuck Peddle came along with the 6502 microprocessor. The PONG game was just really an innovative step towards the Atari Video Computer System (VCS) released in 1977 which by 1983 was one of the most successful microprocessor-based products ever at that time with 12 million systems sold at $140 each.
The VCS interface adapter was 180 x 160 mils. Mirror symmetry was used throughout the design like in the position counters seen at the top of this diagram, as well as the player graphics, and the horizontal motion registers in the center of the image above. The collision detectors seen at the lower right sampled the outputs of all the graphics registers in order to determine if the screen objects were colliding or not. (Image courtesy of Reference 1)
Peddle had earlier designed the Motorola MC6800 microprocessor and later, at MOS Technology, developed the 6502 microprocessor in 1975. Peddle announced that he would sell them ‘by the barrel for $8 each’. The 6502 had the minimum specs that met a blue-sky design for a programmable video game that Cyan Engineering had come up with. Cyan was Atari’s private consulting company. Thus, began the revolution in video games—the rest is history.
VCS hardware was quite simple and it enabled programmers to delve into their software creativity and imagination with so many possibilities for different games. The hardware had ROM in cartridges, 128 bytes of RAM, the 6502 microprocessor, and the television interface adapter (TIA).
Thus, began the revolution in video games—the rest is history.
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1 Design case history: The Atari Video Computer System, Tekla S. Perry, Paul Wallich, Associate Editors, IEEE Spectrum, March 1983