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It was in 1971 that Nolan Bushnell changed the world, when he and Ted Dabney created the first ever commercially sold arcade game, Computer Space. It may not have been a great success, but a year later arcade games would change forever when Bushnell and Dabney added two words to our language, Atari, and Pong. Pong was the first real success story, a simple game where you would control a paddle and and hit a ball from left to right until somebody missed it.
Now these may not have been the first ever computer games, for that we need to go all the way back to 1952, when A. S. Douglas made a graphical version of Tic-Tac-Toe on a EDSAC vacuum-tube computer. But it was games like William Higinbotham’s Tennis For Two, made in 1958 in a US nuclear research lab on a Brookhaven National Laboratory oscilloscope, and 1962’s SpaceWar, using a MIT PDP-1 mainframe computer that influenced the first ever arcade games.
It was in the Seventies that arcade game business began to grow. 30 games came out between 1971 and 1973, between 1974 and 1975 there were 57, and then suddenly in 1976 there were 53 releases.
During this time, a certain college drop out got a job at the newly formed Atari. The young Steve Jobs lasted just one semester at Reed College, before becoming employee number 40 at the Atari Los Gatos facility. Soon he was sneaking his friend Steve Wozniak into the place so they could play the arcade machines late at night. The two were instrumental in the hardware for another variation of the pong game, the very successful, Breakout. Jobs and Wozniak would of course go on to form the Apple Computer Company, which is a whole other story.
Up until 1974 most video games used simple block graphics, but then Atari introduced ROM chips to store graphical data and the first game to use this was called Tank. In 1975 Midway would be the first to use microprocessors, as they released the Western game, Gunfight. Many of Midway’s games were developed by Taito in Japan, a growing force in the industry.
These game were mainly found in bars and arcades until Space Invaders, licensed by Midway from Taito. In 1978, the invasion was also into new spaces. This game was popular that suddenly every shop wanted it, and little corner stores began to carry the games. Atari’s answer to Space Invaders was Asteroids. It would go onto become the biggest selling game of all time.
1979 would introduce color for the first time and then in 1980 Toru Iwatani would design a game based on a Japanese folk-tale that would change everything. It would have TV show spin-offs, clothing and even breakfast cereals, and live on until today. That game of course was Pac Man. The following year Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto, most recently acclaimed for designing the Wii, gave us Donkey Kong and the one character that could rival Pac Man’s popularity, Mario.
In 1981 Atari introduced Centipede to the world, and this was the first game to be co-designed by a woman, Dona Bailey. Interestingly it was also the first game to have a big female player base.
In 1982 Midway made a game based on the movie, Tron, which has just had its sequel released in 2011! This game would end up producing more profit than the movie.
These were the early days that led to the revolution of the Eighties that would see the games evolve with computer technology. Today, arcade games are as popular as ever, fighting, racing and interactive dancing games that these early creators could not even imagine. But without their work, none of it would have been possible.
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