The first video game was invented by Willy Higginbotham. Willy was no teenage computer wizkid, however. In the early 1940s he worked on advanced radar displays for B28 bombers and went on to work for the Manhattan Project where he designed the timing mechanism for the first atomic bomb. In 1958, bored by the displays of the Brookhaven National Labs annual open-day exhibition, Willy designed a tennis game simulation, the world’s first video game. It was called Tennis For Two. Willy did not take out a patent but even if he had the royalties would have been paid to the US government.
Game development on main frame computers continued through the years, with Spacewar! being one of thefirst and certainly one of the most known games. Launched in 1962, it was programmed on a DEC PDP-1 by Steven Russell.
The first game console was called the Brown Box, created by Ralph Baer in 1966 to control a video home console ping-pong game. Baer sold the console to Magnavox Odyssey and went on to design the first game light gun for the Shooting Gallery game.
The first coin-operated video arcade game, Galaxy Game, was launched in September 1971 by Bill Pitts and Hugh Tuck. However, it was beaten to the commercial market by Computer Space, launched two months later by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. In November 1972 Bushnell launched PONG for his Atari company. It would become the first significantly successfull coin-operated video arcade game. Atari would continue with releases, including the famous Asteroids shooting game (pictured), legandary amongst ardent arcade gamers.
The Woz, breakout, and jail break
Before Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak created the Apple computer in 1976, they designed a popular arcade game for Atari called Breakout. By then, Steve “the woz” Wozniak was already famous as a white-hat hacker, bypassing phone systems – known as phone phreaking – to make make free long distance calls.
The woz went on to concentrate on computers but it is rather apt that the company he co-owns returned to the phone market in such a big way in the form of the iPhone, launched in July 2007. One can only smile that the title of their early game resembles the terminology for hacking the iPhone; jail break.
The other game guys
During this time of exciting arcade game development, another famous computer personality had other programs on his mind. In his early years Bill Gates (b. 1955) formed a company to sell a computerized traffic counting system to cities, making $20,000 its first year. Business dropped sharply when customers learned Gates was only 14 years old. By the time he was 17, Gates had partnered with Paul Allen to form a new venture and, when he was 20, they launched Microsoft (at first spelled with a hyphen: Micro-Soft). It was this company that would create the most played computer games – PC, not arcade – of all time: the card games that come pre-installed on Windows operating systems.
All said and done, none of the above mentioned computer geniuses developed the very first coin operated system or the very first graphical computer game. The latter was created in 1952 by Alexander S Douglas. It was, and still is, called OXO, also known as Noughts and Crosses, or simply as a Tic-Tac-Toe game. The first coin-operated system of any kind was developed in the first century by Hero of Alexander – it was used to dispense holy water.