Take an emulation pilgrimage and try out the first four video games

From the early days of computing, games were always an interesting idea with potential. The cost of operating early mainframes was so high that formal games weren’t really a possibility, and the idea that they could be a profitable medium was probably unheard of!

However, there were some early academic projects that we can easily consider games in their proper form. The really cool thing I hope to highlight here is how these early experiments form the basis for the first generation if arcade games and computer games. If alway been under the impression that pong and joust were among the first games, by there is way more history leading up to those games.

The term video game could apply to many things, but for this article, we are gonna look at anything that had graphics of some form. I’m not counting anything that is text-based, or just a electronic version of a board game. These don’t represent the interactivity of a video game as we use the term. This rules out early chess, tic tac toe and text choose your own adventure games.

Tennis for two

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Features: physics for bouncing ball, two player interaction
Released: 1958
Granddaddy of: Pong, breakout, tennis games
Emulate it: http://www.gamersquarter.com/tennisfortwo/

Tennis for two utilized code that was meant for calculating missile trajectories on an analog computer to make a two player tennis game. The coolest thing is how they hijacked an oscilloscope to be the games display and graphics. This would be like rigging your car stereo’s station display screen to display a game of pong. This game sets up future physics based games like pong and breakout.

Mouse in the Maze

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Features: graphical maze, overhead mapping, tiles, user designed levels, path finding ai
Released: 1959
Granddaddy of: Pacman, Gauntlet, Zelda
Emulate it: http://bitsavers.informatik.uni-stuttgart.de/bits/MIT/tx-0/mouse/

While it could be argued that this isn’t a game, since there is no way to “win” per se, Mouse in the Maze represents a stepping stone for path finding ai and level design. In the game, you draw a maze with light pen and place bits of cheese. Then a computer controlled mouse heads out to find them. You have to admit, it even looks like Pacman a little bit.

Space War!

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Features: realistic physics, gravity, space battles, collision detection
Released: 1962
Granddaddy of: Asteroids
Emulate it: http://spacewar.oversigma.com

Space War is arguably the first space shooter. It even “looks” like a classic video game, except it comes on a sweet circular monitor. You can see lots of familiar concepts here: space battle, collision detection, ai, gravity simulation and more. It also had many game modes, a feature now common to almost any genre.

Magnavox Odyssey console

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Features: controlled, standardized console that reads cartridge games
Released: 1972
Grandady of: Nintendo entertainment system, NES Zapper, joysticks and virtually every other modern console
Emulate it: http://www.zophar.net/odyssey2.html

Here’s where pong finally appears…Nope, that’s not some early model Atari, it’s the only game console you could have bought when Led Zeppelin was the biggest band in the world. While it mostly had simple black and white sports games, it pioneered standardized controls and game formats, and even the light gun if nes fame.

Investigating this had certainly raised my level of knowledge and appreciation for the field of game development. Enjoy!

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