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Classic Games (Games) Entertainment Games

Anatomy of the First Video Game, Born 1958 137

Posted by timothy
from the go-ahead-and-present-your-counter-theories dept.
afabbro writes "Fifty years ago, before 'Pong' and 'Space Invaders,' a nuclear physicist created 'Tennis for Two,' a 2-D tennis game that some say was the first video game ever. Built in 1958, it was 'gynormous.' 'In addition to the oscilloscope screen and the controller, the guts of the original game were contained in an analog computer, which is "about as big as a microwave oven."' 'We have to load it into the back of a station wagon to move it. It's not a Game Boy that you put in your pocket.'"
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Anatomy of the First Video Game, Born 1958

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  • Writing quality? (Score:4, Informative)

    by stonecypher (118140) <stonecypher AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday October 23, 2008 @07:35PM (#25490743) Homepage Journal

    The prefix "gyn" means female. Maybe you meant "ginormous", but even so...

  • by erroneus (253617) on Thursday October 23, 2008 @07:43PM (#25490827) Homepage

    Sounds like a great game!

    And I don't want to play pong tennis. I want the whole analog computer emulated in some way and the oscilloscope's vector graphics too.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Depends how anal you want to be - you could write code that would put out the relevant signals from a soundcard using 3 channels - one for X, one for Y, one for Z (brightness), or perhaps add another channel and run dual-trace with the second one generating the net along the bottom. A standard old dual trace scope for £50 from eBay would be fine for the display.

    • I actually really want an emulator for this as well.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      I want the whole analog computer emulated

      Computers are like sound recordings: analog ones have noise, digital ones have rounding errors and aliasing. Are you going to emulate the noise, too? And how will you do away with the rounding errors and aliasing?

    • by mangu (126918)

      I want the whole analog computer emulated in some way and the oscilloscope's vector graphics too.

      Here it is [brorson.com]

  • "Built in 1958, it was 'gynormous.' 'In addition to the oscilloscope screen and the controller, the guts of the original game were contained in an analog computer, which is "about as big as a microwave oven."' 'We have to load it into the back of a station wagon to move it. It's not a Game Boy that you put in your pocket.'"

    Guess no one had the foresight to invent baggy pants. Youngsters have it easy now.

    • Even so, your pocket would have had to be the size of a small country to accommodate the original GameBoy.
    • So the game was almost as big as an actual tennis court, because station wagons in those days doubled as aircraft carriers.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Weedlekin (836313)

        That's because marine aircraft were smaller in those days. You wouldn't more than three of today's planes into the back of a 1950s station wagon, and even they'd be a tight fit.

  • This shows video of the game [thedoteaters.com] and other's, along with the History of each.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by omar.sahal (687649)
      Sorry jumped the gun there is video in the article, but the article I linked to has
      Spacewar! - mistakenly said to be the first video game ever.
      Magnavox - first ever commercially available home videogame
      Nolan Bushnell's - Atari
      All with more detail than the main article, along with video.
      • by LingNoi (1066278)

        It depends how you measure the first video game. I count tenis for two as the first computer game because that's what it is. Just because space war was played by more people doesn't change anything.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Novus (182265)
          Figuring out what the first video game [wikipedia.org] or first computer game is quickly becomes a matter of definitions. If you allow games that could be played without a computer, e.g. Noughts and Crosses, OXO on the EDSAC in 1952 appears to be the first computer game. U.S. patent #2455992 [pong-story.com] from 1947 describes an early electronic game (arguably a precursor to Missile Command) implemented using technology similar to Tennis for Two.
          • by theaveng (1243528)

            Although "Tennis for Two" is clearly a game played on a video monitor, I don't find it too useful to buy something that can only play one game, and nothing else. The first *reprogrammable* videogame would probably be the Fairchild Channel F in 1976. There's no limit to how many games a Channel F can play, except the programmer's imagination.

            TRIVIA:

            The Atari VCS/2600 was the longest-lived console in history. It arrived in 1977 and officially discontinued manufacturing in 1992, giving it a span of almos

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        as always, the first varies by the definition of "first". this could be the first graphical game, but turing was playng chess in the early '50 (http://www.geocities.com/SiliconValley/Lab/7378/comphis.htm [geocities.com]) on univac.

        spacewars was the first game on something recognizable as a "computer", and so on.

        if stretching the definition of computer to include oscilloscope is valid, then I propose as first video game gladiators fight, which uses swords as controller and display the game trough a high fidelity real real
  • by Dzimas (547818) on Thursday October 23, 2008 @07:51PM (#25490929)
    I've seen this story bouncing around the media all week. It's wrong. The first video game was Sandy Douglas' Noughts and Crosses, which took advantage of a 35×16 pixel CRT connected to the EDSAC mainframe at the University of Cambridge in 1952. Unlike Tennis For Two, the computer was digital and you played against the computer - a far more sophisticated effort, actually.
    • by Neon Aardvark (967388) on Thursday October 23, 2008 @08:06PM (#25491111) Homepage
      And your suggestion is in turn the third oldest according to wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_video_game [wikipedia.org]"
    • by Rakishi (759894)

      a far more sophisticated effort, actually.

      No it's not, tic-tac-toe is a trivially solved game and anyone can tie (or win) if they following something like nine rules. It'd actually be sad if you couldn't write an AI to play it perfectly given that.

      The rest of the game wasn't exactly complex either since it didn't have to actually compute much (ie: a bunch of if loops were all it really needed). Computing the physics, edge cases, etc. for something akin to pong is on the other hand can be a major pain in the ass (if done in hardware, for example).

      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        No it's not, tic-tac-toe is a trivially solved game and anyone can tie (or win) if they following something like nine rules. It'd actually be sad if you couldn't write an AI to play it perfectly given that.

        OK, so tell us how you'd write an AI that follows "something like nine rules", please? I'm dying to see someone code that.

      • by Dzimas (547818)
        Tennis for Two was implemented on analog hardware, which is a bit of a cheat. Noughts and Crosses was coded on a primitive digital mainframe which initially had only 512 18-bit words of storage (later expanded to 1024), implemented in mercury delay lines. The digital logic predated the transistor, so it was all tube-based. Douglas had to cram the code to display a raster image of the board and moves on a CRT, along with key debouncing routines and game logic into less than 1K. And he didn't have an assemble
        • I was surprised that the courts weighed in on what is a "video game" - (excerpt from Magnavox Odyssey [wikipedia.org]):

          In 1985, Nintendo sued Magnavox and tried to invalidate Baer's patents by saying that the first video game was Higinbotham's Tennis For Two game built in 1958. The court ruled that this game did not use video signals and could not qualify as a video game. As a result, Nintendo lost the suit and continued paying royalties to Sanders Associates.

          "Tennis for Two... did not use video signals" - wtf? TV vs CRT? I'm surprised that made a difference.

          • by protektor (63514)

            Welcome to the world of judges and courts. They rarely understand the technical cases they rule on, so most of the time it never makes any common sense to the people who understand the technology that is involved in these cases. Just chalk it up to more clueless judges who don't bother to spend the time to learn about the technology.

  • Not the first (Score:3, Insightful)

    by 4D6963 (933028) on Thursday October 23, 2008 @07:51PM (#25490931)
    "It wasn't the first video game" post in 3.. 2.. 1..
  • "Back when the original âoeTennis for Twoâ was built, Higinbotham used a vacuum tube analog computer"

    So it's not a game boy you put in your pocket, or a big truck?

    It must be a series of tubes!

    • It is nice that the summary informs me that something the size of a microwave is, in fact, NOT a gameboy and I can't put it in my pocket. I woulda never figured that out.

    • Oops, apologies. I duplicated your post above, just now.
  • One time I bought this handheld game for 50 cents at a garage sale - it had the same oscilloscope screen, and for some reason i think it was a soccer game - I was 9 at the time. Anyways, I tried it out and of course didn't like it, so I returned it and said it was broken. I am always curious if that thing was worth any money as an antique.
  • Good to see where US tax money spent in past.
    • Yeah, because video games haven't contributed anything to the economy, created any jobs or in any way driven forward our technological development.

    • by pcolaman (1208838)
      As many other industries are struggling, gaming is actually booming. So really, we probably should have more US tax money invested in the gaming market. Hell, I say subsidize a television and game console for every family in America that cannot afford one. It's a good thing I'm poor (or at least that's what I'm going to tell the gaming board when they call to find out if I qualify for a free console).
    • by British (51765)

      Good to see where US tax money spent in past.

      And think of how much revenue & jobs it has created for US companies many years later. I would say it was a damn good investment.

    • by AtariKee (455870)
      Imagine what would have happened if the government patented the game...
      • by anagama (611277)

        The video on the TFA answers that. Apparently, the game was strung together with demos in the instruction book regarding bouncing balls or ballistic missiles. Higinbotham hadn't even considered it to be patentable before being asked because he felt it was an "oh so obvious" thing to do. Also, the gov't would own the patent.

        What was interesting though was his "oh so obvious" thought -- 50 years later and we have companies patenting breathing, eating, and sleeping. I guess not all social values of the 50s

  • The article contains the word "gynormous" and not in a quote from someone. Is that an acceptable word in a published article? I'm usually pretty lenient on grammar and word choice but that word just seems like something a junior high kid would use.
  • Built in 1958, it was 'gynormous.'

    Come on, /. editors, I'm pretty sure the proper English word is "ginormous" (as in gigantic), not "gynormous" (as in a big thing that spins really fast). Look it up.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by emandres (857332)
      Actually, "gynormous" is the way they spelled it in TFA. Blame MSNBC.
  • "These trials defined a video game as an apparatus that displays games by manipulating the video display signal of the raster equipment: a television set, a monitor, etc. The previous computer games did not use a video display, so did not qualify as such in the courts."

    sorry folks you'll have to wait until the middle of Hilary's second term in order to celebrate 50 years of video games.
  • Games as inspiration (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PhotoGuy (189467) on Thursday October 23, 2008 @10:41PM (#25492559) Homepage

    I remember the first computer I ever saw, on display in a mall, circa 1975-76. Some homebrew thing, probably about as beefy as a VIC-20. It was playing the old "guess the card" game: think of a card? Is it red? Is it a spade? Is it higher than 8? And so forth, guessing your card fairly quickly (basic binary search).

    At 9 years old, I thought that was pretty cool. My dad bought me a few computer mags of the day (Creative Computing and the like), and I got the gist of basic. I remember writing out my first "program" in a Hilroy scribbler, trying to clone what that computer did. Basically 52 or so IF/ELSE statements for every case. Brute force, but hey, I was 9. When I learned that I could use variables to reduce it to a few lines of code, I was hooked; there was no going back.

    Got my first computer, an Exidy Sorcerer (Z-80, 1Mhz or so), and had a great time learning the ins and out, writing and selling a few games, pimping it out, and pushing it to the limits. Even got a job (at 11) working on an APL Interpreter for the Z-80. (I was basically paid in hardware :).

    On through the PC generation, university, 286, 386, a career in programming, emergence of the Internet, founding a .COM (worth $100M on paper at one time, whoo hoo, damn paper :), and two more subsequent companies.

    But it all really started seeing that 8080 play a simple game of "guess the card." If it weren't for seeing that, and getting inspired, who knows where the career might have led.

    I'm not sure if today's games could inspire kids in the simple way that old game did for me. The skills and techniques involved in a modern rendered game are so far beyond the grasp of the average kid, the inspiration might be lost, requiring too great a leap to "get it."

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Kirth Gersen (603793)

      PhotoGuy:

      I'm not sure if today's games could inspire kids in the simple way that old game did for me. The skills and techniques involved in a modern rendered game are so far beyond the grasp of the average kid, the inspiration might be lost, requiring too great a leap to "get it."

      I read a sf story about 25 years ago about a human expedition to a planet with a humanoid civilization at a roughly mediaeval level. They identified a native scientist who was on the brink of discovering Newtonian mechanics, and be

    • your post reminds me of my good old days . I was only 5 when I started with a vic-20 in 1983, 8 when I got a commodore 64, I used to spend hours punching in the BASIC from "Compute's Gazette" magazine. Then the "covox voicemaster" came out and I could write BASIC to have my computer move a sprite on screen with voice recognition. Then the Amiga exploded into my life in the early 90's let me do simple 3d graphics,fractal landscapes and animation , then I got an imac running bryce around 1999, soon switched t
  • In the future, consoles may weigh no more than 1.5 tonnes.
  • because an oscilloscope screen is not the same as a video screen. It is the first oscilloscope game, but not the first video game.

    A video screen is like a TV set or Monitor, an oscilloscope screen is something quite different. It shows waves not pixels. Video games have pixels. Even vector video games still use pixels and not waves. It is like saying that a curved line is the same thing as a square or dot, or that a screwdriver is the same thing as a hammer. While they may have things in common, they are no

    • by scoot80 (1017822)
      You've never use a screwdriver as a hammer? I certainly have!
    • by bhtooefr (649901)

      And even if it were a video screen and not an oscilloscope screen, it still wouldn't be the first, as OXO in 1952 on the EDSAC predated it.

      (Yes, there was NIMROD, but that didn't use a video screen. Although, sounds like the first computer game ever, in 1947, a missile simulator game (going from wikipedia here) used a vector video screen.)

    • by Subgenius (95662)

      Wow. Where did you get that definition of a video game? "video games have pixels"

      Simply amazing.

      • Pixels are used as a standard of measurement on a video screen. Pixels are drawn via the video game software.

        Everyone should know that. Even a subgenius. :)

        They are usually call sprites or player missile graphics by Atari.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mzs (595629)

      Man do you fail. "Vector" games used CRTs much like oscilloscopes. Some even used storage scopes. The video in video game does not need to be a raster display.

      • But vectors still use pixels, they are just pixels in the form of a line or shape.

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      This is so completely stupid and wrong.

      A raster display on a cathode ray tube is created by scanning the electron beam in horizontal lines from top to bottom, while varying the beam intensity.

      A vector display uses the electron beam to draw lines directly on the screen. They were popular in early CAD applications and Atari used them for several 3D games (e.g. Star Wars) because they were capable of much higher resolution than the raster displays of the time.

      In other words, an oscilloscope is much the same t

  • I broke the slashdot rule and decided to RTFA. I even watched the movie of the game in action. However, I still couldn't figure out one thing.

    How does a player know where they are standing on the tennis court? If you watch the movie you can see that they can volley the ball back from multiple positions on the court, but I couldn't see where the player was standing on the court.

    Anyone know? I have some colleagues that are out at Brookhaven the next few days, but I doubt they'll have time to stop by a
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You aren't, as such. Your controls are a potentiometer to set an angle, and a button to hit. You can hit the ball at any time that it is on your side of the court. There was a better article about it linked here about a year back, had a version that had been rewritten for modern machines and even network play.

  • Anyone out there remember a CRT based display at the Hitachi exhibit that modeled a ride into Space? I suspect it was a very simple analogue circuit or computer.

    If so, any references to it on the web?

  • by mqduck (232646)

    Look, I have no idea how it happened - I'm just really sleepy and can barely keep my eyes open - but when I first read the story title, I thought it said it was a "Vice President Game". Which I assume would consist of starting up the game and waiting upwards of four years for a dialog box to pop up letting you choose between "Yea" and "Nay".

  • by Casandro (751346) on Friday October 24, 2008 @12:35AM (#25493581)

    It'S not a video game, it has nothing to do with video. It's just an analog computer game, that's all. No video involved. And computer games are in fact probably even older, even digital ones.

    • by AtariKee (455870)
      I think this argument will continue forever. I will say that your point of view makes more sense than the "it's not programmed, so it's not a true video game" argument that I attempt to rebuff here [slashdot.org]. I still think it's a question of semantics that all depends on ones point of view. Therefore, I won't argue semantics and stick to my "programmed vs hardware" point of view.
      • by Casandro (751346)

        Wait! If it's programmed it includes a computer which makes it a computer game.

        There are only very few video games around. The most famous one is Pong. Games on consoles like the 2600 or the Nintendo NES are computer games as they are completely done in software executed by a computer.

        • by AtariKee (455870)
          "Wait! If it's programmed it includes a computer which makes it a computer game."

          Exactly my point. Tomato, toemahtoe :)
    • by LingNoi (1066278)

      That's because we're talking about the first computer game and you're confusing the issue.

      The first computer game is a game that is computed. Hence tennis for two is the first computer game, or video game if you want to use American slang.

    • by Meathe (1393147)

      It'S not a video game, it has nothing to do with video. It's just an analog computer game, that's all. No video involved. And computer games are in fact probably even older, even digital ones.

      If there is no video involved, please explain the images I see there. Video simply means a visual display. 'Video' is a latin word, the first person singular present tense of the verb videre, 'to see'. Even an array of LEDs would qualify (as they did in some 80's handheld games). Its an animated display of a computer game. Therefore, its a video game. If you disqualify this based on a vector display, then you've just knocked out Asteroids as a video game. If you disqualify it because its analog, you'

  • I'm really fuckin' glad I started gaming in 1985 instead.

    MTW
  • Before Tennis for Two at MIT back in 56 a game was created on the huge machine, operated with a bunch of switches, was an asteroid-like game but multiplayer against each other, not asteroids.

    I need to re-read Stephen Levy's "Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution" again, that's where I read about it.

    • by AtariKee (455870)
      You might be right about the GENESIS of Spacewar!, which is the game you're referring to. But it wasn't actually completed by Steve Russell until 1962. Hackers has an extensive story about the MIT model train club and how some of those guys ended up hacking the PDP-1 or whatever it was they wrote Spacewar! on.
      • by Khyber (864651)

        PDP-1 was it, yes. The original incarnation was made on the PDP-1 back in I think 56, maybe 57 (gotta find that book!)

    • by LingNoi (1066278)

      Spacewar came after not before.

  • "Device to allow one or more persons use a computer for recreational activity"
  • I remember playing tic-tac-toe on a big honkin mainframe in the 60s. The bastard machine beat me too.

  • by pluther (647209)

    In 1958, a computer that could fit into the back of a station wagon wasn't enormous. Hell, if two people could lift the entire thing, including the display, that was practically a microcomputer.

    Obnostalgia:
    My first computer was a Tektronix 4051, from around 1975ish. The marketing brochure billed it as a "portable graphics computer" and had a picture of two people putting it in the trunk of a buick. It could actually be lifted and carried by one, weighing only about 40 pounds or so...

There's got to be more to life than compile-and-go.

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