First generation of video game consoles

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History of video games

The first generation of video game consoles began in 1972 with the Magnavox Odyssey (which began development in 1968 by Ralph Baer under the code name "The Brown Box"), until 1977, when "pong"-style console manufacturers left the market en masse due to the video game crash of 1977 and when microprocessor-based consoles were introduced.[1] In Japan, the generation continued until 1980 with the Color TV-Game series.[2][3]

Some defining characteristics of first-generation consoles include:


Interactive television[edit]

Television engineer Ralph Baer created "The Brown Box" in 1966. Baer conceived the idea of an interactive television while building a television set from scratch for Loral in 1951 in the Bronx, New York. He explored these ideas further in 1966 when he was the Chief Engineer and manager of the Equipment Design Division at Sanders Associates. Baer created a simple two-player video game that could be displayed on a standard television set called Chase, where two dots chased each other around the screen. After a demonstration to the company's director of R&D Herbert Campman, some funding was allotted and the project was made official. In 1967 Bill Harrison was brought on board, and a light gun[4] was constructed from a toy rifle that was aimed at a target moved by another player.

Bill Rusch joined the project to speed up development and soon a third machine-controlled dot was used to create a ping-pong game. With more funding additional games were created, and Baer had the idea of selling the product to cable TV companies, who could transmit static images as game backgrounds. A prototype was demonstrated in February 1968 to TelePrompTer Vice President Hubert Schlafly, who signed an agreement with Sanders. The Cable TV industry was in a slump during the late '60s and early '70s and a lack of funding meant other avenues had to be pursued. Development continued on the hardware and games resulting in the final "Brown Box" prototype,[4] which had two controllers, a light gun and sixteen switches on the console that selected the game to be played. Baer approached various U.S. Television manufacturers and an agreement was eventually signed with Magnavox in late 1969. Magnavox's main alterations to the Brown Box were to use plug-in circuits to change the games, and to remove the color graphics capabilities in favor of color overlays in order to reduce manufacturing costs. It was released in 1972 as the Magnavox Odyssey.[4][5]

Digital electronics[edit]

Like other game consoles Odyssey is a digital console. However, like all video game consoles up until the sixth generation, it uses analog circuitry for the output to match the televisions of its era, which were analog; also, like all later consoles from the Nintendo 64 onwards, it features analog game controllers. Due to these two facts, many collectors have mistakenly considered the Odyssey to be an analog console, with the misunderstanding becoming so widespread that Baer was eventually led to clarify that the Odyssey is indeed a digital console: all of the electronic signals exchanged between the various parts responsible for gameplay (ball and players generators, sync generators, diode matrix, etc.) are binary.[6] The type of digital components used feature DTL, a common pre-TTL digital design component using discrete transistors and diodes.

This was also the first involvement of Nintendo in video games. According to Martin Picard in the International Journal of Computer Game Research: "in 1971, Nintendo had -- even before the marketing of the first home console in the United States -- an alliance with the American pioneer Magnavox to develop and produce optoelectronic guns for the Odyssey (released in 1972), since it was similar to what Nintendo was able to offer in the Japanese toy market in 1970s".[7]

The Odyssey was not very successful, although other companies with similar products (including Atari) had to pay a licensing fee for some time. For a time it was Sanders' most profitable line, even though many in the company had been unsupportive of game development.

Pong arcade version

Early mainframe games in the United States were developed by individual users who programmed them in their spare time. In 1962, a group of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology programmed a game called Spacewar! on a DEC PDP-1. In 1970 Nolan Bushnell saw Spacewar! for the first time at the University of Utah. Deciding there was commercial potential in an arcade version, he hand-wired a custom computer capable of playing it on a black and white television. The resulting game, Computer Space, did not fare well commercially and Bushnell started looking for new ideas. In early 1972 he saw a demonstration of the Magnavox Odyssey, and hired Al Alcorn to produce an arcade version of the Odyssey's ping-pong game (using Transistor-transistor logic), called Pong.

On September 12, 1975, Epoch released Japan's first console, the TV Tennis Electrotennis [zh], a home version of Pong, several months before the release of Home Pong in North America. A unique feature of the TV Tennis Electrotennis is that the console is wireless, functioning through a UHF antenna.[7]

Home video games achieved widespread popularity with the release of a home version of Pong in the Christmas of 1975. Its success sparked hundreds of clones, including the Coleco Telstar, which went on to be a success in its own right, with over a dozen models and the Binatone TV Master by British company Binatone.

Japan's most successful console of the first generation was Nintendo's Color TV-Game, released in 1977.[7] The Color TV Game sold 3 million units,[8] the highest for a first generation console.

The first generation of video games did not feature a microprocessor, and were based on custom codeless state machine computers consisting of discrete logic circuits comprising each element of the game itself. Later consoles of this generation moved the bulk of the circuitry to custom "pong on a chip" IC's such as Atari's custom Pong chips and General Instruments' AY-3-8500 series.[9]

Home systems[edit]


Name Magnavox Odyssey Magnavox Odyssey series*
(11 consoles)
TV Tennis Electrotennis Home Pong
Manufacturer Magnavox Magnavox, Philips Epoch Co. Atari, Sears Tele-Games
Image Magnavox-Odyssey-Console-Set.png Odyssey-300.png TV Tennis Electrotennis.jpg TeleGames-Atari-Pong.png
Launch price US$100 (equivalent to $586 in 2018) US$100–230 (equivalent to $456–1048 in 2018) ¥20,000[7] (equivalent to $339 in 2018) US$98.95 (equivalent to $451 in 2018)
Release date
Media Printed circuit board Various Inbuilt chip Inbuilt chip[10]
Accessories (retail) Shooting Gallery n/a Wireless controller[7] n/a
Sales 330,000[11] n/a 10,000[12] 150,000[13][14]

* = Does not include the separately-listed Magnavox Odyssey and the second-generation Magnavox Odyssey 2.

Name Binatone TV Master Telstar series
(14 models)
Color TV-Game series
(5 consoles)
Manufacturer Binatone Coleco Nintendo
Image Binatone TV Master Mk IV.jpg Coleco-Telstar-Colortron.jpg Nintendo-Color-TV-Game-Blockbreaker-FL.png
Launch price £35 (equivalent to £231, or $341, in 2018) US$50 (equivalent to $215 in 2018) ¥8300–48,000 (equivalent to $119–688 in 2018)[2]
Release date
Media Inbuilt chip Inbuilt chip (most models)
Cartridge (Telstar Arcade, 1977)
Inbuilt chip
Accessories (retail) Paddles and light gun Controller styles n/a
Sales n/a 1 million[15] 3 million[8]

Pong on a chip[edit]

[9] The table lists only the most known consoles and relative used chip.

Chip code/name Year Manufacturer Colors Games Consoles
AY-3-8500 1976 General Instrument No (1) Tennis, soccer, squash, practice, 2 rifle games Telstar (Telstar, Classic, Deluxe, Ranger, Alpha, Colormatic, Regent, Sportsman)
Odyssey (300,2000,3000)
Binatone TV Master
Radio Shack TV Scoreboard
Unisonic Sportsman/Tournament
Philips Tele-Spiel ES2203 and ES2204
Zanussi/Seleco Play-O-Tronic
Videomaster (Strika, Strika 2,ColourScore 2, SuperScore)
APF TV Fun (Model 401)
BSS 01
AY-3-8510 1978? General Instrument Yes Tennis, hockey, squash, jai alai Telstar Colortron
AY-3-8512 1978? General Instrument Yes Tennis, hockey, squash, jai alai, skeet, target Telstar Marksman
AY-3-8600 1977 General Instrument No(2) 8 games with balls and paddles Telstar Galaxy
Odyssey 4000
Philips Tele-Spiel ES2218
AY-3-8610 1977 General Instrument No(2)[16] 8 games with balls and paddles + 2 rifle games Videomaster Sportsworld
Philco/Ford Telejogo II
AY-3-8550 1976? General Instrument No(1) The same of 8500 but with the addition of horizontal movement of player Philips Tele-Spiel ES2208
AY-3-8700 1978? General Instrument 4 games with tanks Telstar Combat!
MPS-7600-001,002,003,004 (3)(4) 1977 MOS Technology The four versions of chip usually support 4 games. Telstar Gemini(only version 004).
Telstar Arcade(all 4 versions).
Commodore TV Game 2000K/3000H and Colorsport VIII (only version 001).
MM-57100/MM-57105 (PAL) 1976 National Semiconductor Yes Tennis, Hockey, Squash National Adversary
Philips Odyssey 2001
Videomaster (ColourScore, VisionScore, ColourShot)
Philco/Ford Telejogo
MM-57106/MM-57186 (PAL) 1977 National Semiconductor Yes Tennis, Hockey, Squash, Breakout, Flipper e Football. Philips N30
Philips Odyssey 2100
F4301 1976 Universal Research Labs N/A Two games with balls and paddles and two games of car racing Indy 500 system (Video Action 4)
Sears/Atari Speedway e Speedway IV
Interton Video 2800
MBO Tele-Ball VIII
SN76410N 1977 Texas Instruments N/A Six games of balls and paddles Tele-Match 3300R
Ricochet Super Pro (modello MT-4A)
Venture Electronics Video Sports VS-5
3659-1C/C2566 1975 Atari No Pong Atari PONG
3659-3 1975 Atari No Pong Atari PONG Doubles
C010073-3 1976 Atari No 4 Pong games Atari/Sears Super PONG
C010073-01/C2607 1976 Atari N/A 10 Pong games Atari Super PONG Ten
C010765 1977 Atari N/A unknown Atari Ultra PONG
Atari Ultra PONG Doubles
C011500-11/C011512-05 (4) 1977 Atari N/A 7 games (example: Pinball, Basketball and Breakout) Atari Video Pinball
M58815P and M58816P 1977 Mitsubishi (for Nintendo) Yes 15 Pong games Nintendo Color TV Game 6[17]
Nintendo Color TV Game 15[18]

(1) Colors could be obtained adding the AY-3-8515 chip
(2) Colors could be obtained adding the AY-3-8615 chip
(3) PAL version code is 7601
(4) Advanced chip compared to classic Pong-in-a-chip: include a microcontroller and a little RAM.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wolf, Mark J.P. (2008). The Video Game Explosion. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. Page xviii. ISBN 0-313-33868-X. ISBN 9780313338687.
  2. ^ a b "History of Consoles: Nintendo's Color TV Game Consoles (1977-1979) | Gamester 81". Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  3. ^ a b DeMaria, Rusel; Wilson, Johnny L. (2003). High Score!: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games (2 ed.). McGraw-Hill. pp. 363, 378. ISBN 978-0-07-223172-4.
  4. ^ a b c Moore, Michael E.; Novak, Jeannie (2010). Game Industry Career Guide. Delmar: Cengage Learning. p. 7. ISBN 1-4283-7647-X. In 1966, Ralph H. Baer .. pitched an idea .. to create interactive games to be played on the television. Over the next two years, his team developed the first video game system—and in 1968, they demonstrated the "Brown Box," a device on which several games could be played and that used a light gun to shoot targets on the screen. After several more years of development, the system was licensed by Magnavox in 1970 and the first game console system, the Odyssey, was released in 1972 at the then high price of $100.
  5. ^ Willaert, Kate (January 10, 2018). "In Search of the First Video Game Commercial". Video Game History Foundation. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  6. ^ Bub, Andrew (June 7, 2005). "The Original GamerDad: Ralph Baer". GamerDad. Archived from the original on February 13, 2006. Retrieved November 10, 2006.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Martin Picard, The Foundation of Geemu: A Brief History of Early Japanese video games, International Journal of Computer Game Research, 2013
  8. ^ a b Sheff, David; Eddy, Andy (1999), Game Over: How Nintendo Conquered the World, GamePress, p. 27, ISBN 978-0-9669617-0-6, Nintendo entered the home market in Japan with the dramatic unveiling of Color TV Game 6, which played six versions of light tennis. It was followed by a more powerful sequel, Color TV Game 15. A million units of each were sold. The engineering team also came up with systems that played a more complex game, called "Blockbuster," as well as a racing game. Half a million units of these were sold.
  9. ^ a b "PONG in a Chip". Pong-Story. Retrieved September 13, 2010.
  10. ^ "Atari home PONG systems". Pong-Story. Retrieved September 13, 2010.
  11. ^ "Magnavox Odyssey, the first video game system". Pong-Story. June 27, 1972. Retrieved November 17, 2012.
  12. ^ toarcade (September 12, 2015). "Japan's 1st Video Game Console was released 40 Years ago!". Toarcade. Retrieved January 18, 2017.
  13. ^ Ellis, David (2004). "Dedicated Consoles". Official Price Guide to Classic Video Games. Random House. pp. 33–36. ISBN 0-375-72038-3.
  14. ^ Kent, Steven (2001). "Strange Bedfellows". Ultimate History of Video Games. Three Rivers Press. pp. 94–95. ISBN 0-7615-3643-4.
  15. ^ Herman, Leonard (1997). Phoenix: the fall & rise of videogames (2nd ed.). Union, NJ: Rolenta Press. p. 20. ISBN 0-9643848-2-5. Retrieved February 16, 2012. Like Pong, Telstar could only play video tennis but it retailed at an inexpensive $50 that made it attractive to most families that were on a budget. Coleco managed to sell over a million units that year.
  16. ^ "??" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on March 16, 2012. Retrieved November 17, 2012.
  17. ^ Subramanian, Annapoornima M; Chai, Kah-Hin; Mu, Shifeng (2011). "Capability Reconfiguration of Incumbent Firms: Nintendo in the Video Game Industry". Technovation. 31 (5).
  18. ^ "【任天堂「ファミコン」はこうして生まれた】第2回:電卓をあきらめてゲーム機ヘ". (in Japanese). Nikkei Business Publications, Inc. 2008-09-30. Retrieved 2015-02-24. こうして任天堂は1977年に、価格9800円の「カラーテレビゲーム 6」と、価格1万5000円の「カラーテレビゲーム 15」を売り出すことになる。

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]