I wonder where we'd be right now if Ralph Baer hadn't have designed
TVs for a living and Willy Higginbotham hadn't had the idea to produce a 'tennis'
style game using his oscilloscope as a display back in 1956? His was slightly
different to the later 'Chase' game produced by Ralph Baer of Sanders Associates
in that it was modelled on a proper tennis court, viewed from the side, complete
with net! A circuit was wired up to produce a 'pong' noise and that's as far
as the idea went. Shift forward a few years and Ralph builds more prototype
chase and bat'n'ball games which resulted in the production of the 1972 Magnavox
Odyssey - a console that had discrete circuitry that was capable of moving white
squares round a TV screen in response to the controllers, and plug in 'cartridges'
that could modift the blocks' behaviour thus producing game modifications.
Confusion arises with the Odyssey only being marketed with Magnavox
TV sets, so people think the game only works on Magnavox TVs! Nolan Bushnell
begins a bandwagon by starting Atari and bringing in Alan Alcorn to produce
the world's first Arcade 'Pong', resulting in the world's first videogame based
lawsuit when Magnavox sues Atari! Settling out of court, both went their separate
ways and produced other pong games.
Come 1975 and General Instruments release the chip which changed
Pong consoles almost overnight - the AY-3-8500. Known as 'pong-on-a-chip' it
could play 6 games, tennis, football, squash, solo, practice and 2 target games
for use with a lightgun. Within a year there were several hundred pong consoles
available, all doing the same thing!
'Rebadging' was rife - an anonymous company would build a console
and license it to other manufacturers to put their own badges on, and obviously
these varied from country to country; typical European rebadgers were the likes
of Interton, Adman (later Grandstand), Tandy, Interstate, Videomaster and many
more. Others, like Binatone and Voltmace, built their own consoles.
The next stage was colour pongs, either through discrete components
or with a single National Semiconductor MM-57105 chip.
Finally there were programmable or cartridge systems, which contained
enough circuitry to draw a background, scores and player sprites. The games
came on ROM cartridges which provided the game variants; the first system of
this type was the Fairchild Channel F released in 1976, though it wasn't a really
big success since it was more expensive than a traditional Pong system.
In 1977 Atari released the CX2600 - the Video Computer System
or VCS. Remembered now as 'the console that started it all' it wasn't that popular
when it was released and other consoles appeared; Magnavox Odyssey 2 (Philips
G7000 over here), Bally Astrocade etc. The Astrocade was actually a much superior
machine (and I want one!), but the VCS' popularity exploded when Atari licensed
and released 'Space Invaders' followed by other arcade classics. VCS based machines
weren't killed off till 1992!
Another prolific board builder of the time was Radofin, based
in Hong Kong. Not only did they design and build their own machines, they also
licensed the design for either rebadging or total redesign. Systems like the
Radofin Telesports, Acetronic MPU1000 and 2000, Prinztronic Tournament etc were
compatible with each other, but a company better known for their joysticks in
the 80s, Voltmace, bought the design, built their own hardware and released
it as the 'Videomaster Database.'
Other manufacturers like Hanimex and Grandstand produced compatible
systems too, based round the General Instruments AY-3-8600 chip.
Despite the popularity of pong and cartridge systems, the sudden
rise in popularity of the home computer and the Japanese entry with the Sega
Master and Nintendo Famicom systems effectively killed off most of the systems
by the late 80s.