How Computer Games Began

While very crude games can be traced back to 1948, the first fully-functional game was Spacewar. In 1961, students at MIT developed Spacewar for the PDP-1 Minicomputer. Eventually it had gravity, an accurate star field, and enemy-tracking missiles.

In 1971, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney created the Spacewar-based Computer Space, the first arcade game to come to market. It was a failure due to its complexity, so the following year they released the much simpler Pong, beginning the era of arcade gaming.

While students were working on Spacewar, engineer Ralph Baer worked on creating a home game using the equipment he tested televisions with. In 1972 Baer's idea became the first home console, Magnavox's Odyssey. It was a failure in part because many people thought it required a Magnavox TV.

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The major breakthrough for home gaming came with the Atari VCS, later called the 2600. In 1997 it cost $199, nearly $700 in today's dollars. Since none of the console's parts were copyrighted, competitors were able to release their own game cartridges and system adapters. At first this was a boon to Atari, expanding their game library far beyond that of their competitors, but eventually even Quaker Oats was developing video games, creating a glut in the market.

Inundated with terrible video games, the industry crashed in 1983. Arcades nearly faded out of existence, coming back only a couple times with hit games that were hard to emulate at home, like Street Fighter II and Dance Dance Revolution.

After this fiasco, retailers were skittish about selling video games. Nintendo, who recently introduced the Famicom to Japan, decided if they were to sell their new console in America, they needed to give it an image far from systems in the past. The answer was the Nintendo Entertainment System, a gray box that could be hooked to the Robotic Operating Buddy (R.O.B.) and happened to play the Famicom's video games. While this was enough to get the system into stores, it was their line of hit games, including The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Super Mario Bros. that brought the American public back to video gaming.

Learning from Atari's mistakes, Nintendo included a lock-out chip, allowing only approved cartridges to be played on the NES. Since only Nintendo made these cartridges, they were able to tightly control third-party games, keeping quality high. This set the standard for all future systems.

Nintendo worked with Sony to create a CD add-on for their own Super Nintendo, later to announce that they were working with Phillips on a similar project. Sony developed the unit into a stand-alone system called the Playstation.

In 1988, Ozark Softscape released Modem Wars, the first multiplayer network game. Five years later, Doom would popularize networked games with its deathmatches. On-line play finally reached consoles in 2000 with the X-Box's Live service.

While consoles of the past were replaced every five years, today we have reached a standstill. Programmers are still getting more and more out of the current generation of consoles, while the hight cost of game development and the current economic climate has reduced the desire for new, more complex hardware. Instead, the focus has shifted to changing the way we interact with the games with the Wii's numerous motion peripherals and Microsoft's Project Natal.