back to article Happy 60th birthday, video games. Thank William Higinbotham for your misspent evenings

The forerunner of today's video games celebrated its 60th birthday last week as the anniversary of William Higinbotham's Tennis for Two rolled around. Tennis for Two was built by Higinbotham as a way of injecting a bit of life into the somewhat non-interactive nature of US-based Brookhaven National Laboratory's annual …

  1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    Ahhhh... Atari 2600 had a tennis/pong clone in its Video Olympics games cassette.

    Hours of fun.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      I'm surprised anything more complicated than Pong ever came out on the Atari as the thing only had one one-line background sprite and five player one-line sprites which were positioned just in front of the TV's scanline. Which explains Pacman.

      1. ThomH Silver badge

        It has: two player objects, either of which can be stretched or automatically repeated a few times. Other moving objects are two missiles (one for each player) and a ball. There's also a background, for which the programmer supplies 20 bits, for repetition twice or so that the right side is a mirror of the left. If memory serves, the player objects can be triggered multiple times in a line. All in a glorious 128 colours (in NTSC, anyway).

        The programmer is perpetually racing the beam, i.e. generating state changes in the graphics hardware during the active display to effect immediate changes. Think of the Amiga Copper, or the Atari 8-bit computers' ANTIC but all directly on the 6507. It's not quite as hard as it sounds, as there's an address you can hit to sleep until the end of the line and thereby restore your phase with the frame; you don't need to come up with exact-cycle loops if you don't want, just make sure they're short enough, that you wait at the end, and that you remember to signal vertical sync. Horizontal's automatic, but vertical is up to you.

        So Pong is a use case they had directly in mind, as is Combat. Pitfall is starting to get pretty clever, with the actual player, the other player image being the scorpion, alligators and logs, and the sprite and missiles filling in for ropes and ladders, while altering the background every line for the trees and ground. And Solaris is just plain wizardry.

        The thinking was obviously that the main thing that defines a video game is, you know, the video part. So the programmable component can do the stuff they used to design circuits for in terms of arranging bits of video. Then there's some time in the border for gameplay. Obviously life gets easier once there's enough storage and bandwidth for a static data structure to describe the display rather than requiring a function that produces it, but there wasn't in 1977. It's actually a pretty brilliant design for the era, all constraints considered.

        Like many of us, Pacman may have been a bit of a duffer but his missus was a lot more attractive (albeit slightly less so in that example, where the emulator author or video capture card has decided that the best way to resample a high frame rate is, ummm, to throw a bunch of them away).

        1. el_oscuro

          I'll just leave this:

          https://stella-emu.github.io/docs/debugger.html

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            > https://stella-emu.github.io/docs/debugger.html

            That is seriously impressive. The 6502 will live forever.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tanks

    The first video game I owned I assembled from a kit I bought from a company in Watford in the 1970s. It was a 2-player tank battle game and you had to solder the parts together before you could connect it to a TV set. It seemed pretty amazing at the time and a couple of colleagues asked me to build kits for them as well.

    The company supplying the kits was run by some Indian guys operating out of a private house somewhere near the football stadium. I did wonder if they were the people that went on to create Watford Electronics.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Tanks

      I built something similar from a kit for my nephews in the 1970s. Such a novelty caused much excitement. It would be interesting to know how much they cost - adjusted for subsequent inflation.

      1. Simon Harris Silver badge

        Re: Tanks

        Based around the the AY-3-8700 I suspect. There were quite a few AY-3-8xxx chips around back then with different game selections hardwired into them.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3ZWlirjdNoM

        1. Stoneshop Silver badge

          Re: Tanks

          Based around the the AY-3-8700 I suspect.

          Elektuur (the magazine that later went international as Elektor) once published a schematic for Pong built with 74xx TTL. Someone gave me a built but not working circuit, about the size of an A4 sheet, asking if I could fix it. From what I remember the ball and paddles were built around 74121 one-shots, two for their horizontal and vertical size, and another two for the h and v position. Plus of course a pile of standard logic for detecting whether the ball timing pulse matched either of the paddle timing pulses, and then changing the direction and v speed of the ball. No net, no borders, no on-screen score, but ISTR a follow-up article that outlined a score counter using nixies (quite likely cheaper than 7-seg LED at that time).

          It took over 3 amps at 5 volt.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Tanks

            "[...] but ISTR a follow-up article that outlined a score counter using nixies (quite likely cheaper than 7-seg LED at that time)."

            In the late 1960s I built a counter out of 74xx J-K flip-flops on a large piece of Vero board. Makes me appreciate the components that can be bought nowadays for almost nothing.

            In the 1960s an old guy at the radio club would describe his early radio experiments. An interesting one was the practice of removing the "plastic" base from a thermionic valve. The valve was then hung upside-down in a glass jam jar - supported by its now freed wires over the rim. The point of the exercise was to reduce the stray capacitance and thus raise the achievable working frequency to a few mHz. Those were the days when "breadboard" construction was quite literal.

  3. }{amis}{ Silver badge
    Happy

    Chuckey Egg FTW!

    Ahh the number of hours i must have blown on my Amstrad CPC 464 play Chuckey Egg

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Chuckey Egg FTW!

      I bought my Apple II from New Bear on the last day of 8% VAT for such things. It cost GBP1800 for 48KB with a 5.25 floppy and only B&W video. The equivalent nowadays of at least GBP6k.

      Played the addictive "Breakout" until I cleared the screen of bricks in the small hours. Have never played a computer game seriously since then.

  4. bombastic bob Silver badge
    Devil

    would you like to play a game? How about global thermonuclear war?

    it's what I thought of when i read the bootnote...

    1. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: would you like to play a game?

      How about withdrawal from the Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty?

      What do you mean that sounds risky? What's the worst that could happen?

    2. Benchops

      Re: would you like to play a game? How about global thermonuclear war?

      Joshua!

    3. el_oscuro
      Mushroom

      Re: would you like to play a game? How about global thermonuclear war?

      You can try this:

      https://www.introversion.co.uk/defcon/

      Didn't even make it through the first level

  5. SVV Silver badge

    Thank William Higginbotham for your misspent evenings

    Why? Did he invent beer as well?

    1. Richard Wharram

      Re: Thank William Higginbotham for your misspent evenings

      Or wanking?

      1. Glen 1 Bronze badge

        Re: Thank William Higginbotham for your misspent evenings

        They said *misspent* evenings

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Right on, Commander!

    This made med check the dates and I see next year is the 35 year anniversary for Elite. Feeling old yet?

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Solarflare

        Re: Right on, Commander!

        "You are only as old as the woman you feel."

        Be that as it may, that's unlikely to work in front of a judge.

  7. Wedge2
    Thumb Up

    Spacewar

    I remember playing SpaceWar on a PDP-8 in 1972, I think SpaceWar goes back to 1962.

    1. Roj Blake Silver badge

      Re: Spacewar

      I too was under the impression that Space War was the oldest game.

    2. Dr. Ellen
      Thumb Up

      Re: Spacewar

      I played Spacewar on the PDP-1 at MIT, in '62 or '63. (The TX-0, which could be thought of as the ur-PDP, was in the same room. Next door was a paper-tape teletype which somebody had taught to play tic-tac-toe.) It was so much fun I ported it to the CDC-3100 at the university of Minnesota. There's an online emulator at https://www.masswerk.at/spacewar/minnesota/.

  8. GlenP Silver badge

    If we move away from graphics the first "game" I can remember playing was the "guess the animal"* one that seemed to be a mainstay of demonstrations at the time. First played it on a primary school visit to the local college, so around 1974/75, from a terminal with an acoustic coupled modem (not sure where the mainframe was situated). The Science Museum had the same "game" running on a terminal well into the early 80s.

    Glen

    *For anyone too young to remember the computer would ask you to think of an animal and then ask a series of questions to guess the answer. If it guessed wrongly it would ask you for an additional question to distinguish it's guess from your answer, early machine learning?

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge

      I remember playing the one in the Science Museum.

      It's ability to learn new animals may have been turned off though - that might have attracted plenty of humorous additions to its menagerie.

      1. Simon Harris Silver badge

        re: my last post...

        Bahhh - awaits incoming from the apostrophe police - oops.

      2. egbert

        Man (well, school children) vs Machine

        When I was a student working in London during summer holidays in the mid 70s, I used to hang out at the Science Museum quite a bit. By chance, I met a chap from whichever University the Science Museum terminal was attached to. It may have been Imperial College but I'm not sure.

        He told me that that there was an arms race between the programmers and the visitors. As other have said, when the program got to its last node on the tree, it would ask, for example "is it a chimpanzee". If the user said (typed) "No" then the program would ask what it was and for a distiguishing question like "Does it have four legs".

        Unfortunately, many visitors liked to put in animals with colourful adjectives, so that the final question would be "Is it a f*****g giraffe?".

        The programmers put in a list of swear words that were banned but, of course, the visitors responded by interspersing the letters with spaces or * characters or by using foreign swear words or words that just sounded rude.

        In the end they had just resorted to manually reviewing a list of newly added animals each day.

    2. Baldrickk Silver badge

      Not really sure it could be callled machine learning.

      More like adding an additional node to a binary tree.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Not really sure it could be callled machine learning."

        Why not? Expert system were a part of artificial intelligence research.

        Modern machine learning employs similar mechanics, albeit a bit more fuzzy. And they try to train themselves on pre-classified datasets.

  9. frank ly Silver badge

    Foresight

    "However, as his employer, any licensing cash would have headed the government's way."

    That's why you get your brother (or similar person) to 'invent' it and then appoint you to the board.

  10. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    An Instant Classic Humility :-) .. is Almighty Deprecation to XSSXXXX :-)

    Higinbotham observed: "Whether or not inventing video games is something to be proud of is another matter."

    :-) When it generates as much and so little as a smile is it eternally worthy, methinks and believes.

    And Thus Is. ? ! .... with Suitably Prepared IntelAIgent Territories in Live Operational Virtual Environments ExtraOrdinarily Rendering Future Existences with Global Mass Multi Media Presentations Working with ITs Virtual Reality AI ProgramMING Projects.

    Now Who's following Whom and/or What in that Starting Point?

    And yes, I admit to having travelled a tangent there and here but El Reg might be interested to know of Certain Specifics Possible with/for DeepMinded AI Research Resources ..... which have Reflecting and Deflecting Mirrors everywhere throughout Inhabited Planet Areas.

    And Defaulted to be Resources in Competition and Opposition rather than in Concert and Support is not a Great Starting Point Default. Such would seem to be a Fundament Base Flaw to be Expertly Exploited, Effecting and Infecting any System you might care to mention.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: An Instant Classic Humility :-) .. is Almighty Deprecation to XSSXXXX :-)

      And Defaulted to be Resources in Competition and Opposition rather than in Concert and Support is not a Great Starting Point Default. Such would seem to be a Fundament Base Flaw to be Expertly Exploited, Effecting and Infecting any System you might care to mention.

      That would be allmighty fine and dandy amfM ‘if’ that was explained from the very outset ....

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: An Instant Classic Humility :-) .. is Almighty Deprecation to XSSXXXX :-)

        That would be allmighty fine and dandy amfM ‘if’ that was explained from the very outset .... ... Anonymous Coward

        And so it has been since forever at the Outset of these NeuReal Beginnings ..... with AIdDrivers in NEUKlearer HyperRadioProActive IT Providing Universal Control Communications.

        Do you have a Particular Program for the Future you would like to See and Hear and Feel has been Perfectly Presented and Immaculately Realised?

        That would be at least two then with acres of lodes more easily enabled to ably follow with unbridled support platforms for Prime AIdBase Space Stations ....... Doing Heavenly Messaging Services.

        Fancy Bare Neural Networking type stuff you can garner and utilise from https://arxiv.org/pdf/1511.06279v3.pdf Thanks, Scott Reed & Nando de Freitas/Google DeepMind London, UK

        And surely certain to be a Firm Fancy Bear Favourite in ExtraPolations of ProgramMING Directions.

        Quite whether an Invincible Tool and Almighty Weapon in President Putin's NEUKlearer Cupboard and COSMIC Arsenal, is the question asked clearly here for Schneller Vorsprung durch AI Technik Programs/STRONTIUM Projects/Renegade Pogroms.

        Opportunity Knocks with Any and All Answers Submitted and Surrendered for El Reg Registration and Universal Sight.

  11. Avatar of They
    Mushroom

    Would he have bothered?

    If he knew it would one day lead to Candy crush?

    1. Marketing Hack Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: Would he have bothered?

      If he had reservations about shark-jumping in the genre he created, I am sure it would have happened way back when with "E.T.: The Video Game"

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Would he have bothered?

        If he had reservations about shark-jumping in the genre he created, I am sure it would have happened way back when with "E.T.: The Video Game"

        While ET:TVG was universally excoriated, no doubt because it was indeed complete crap, I have to admit that my brother and I put some hours into it, generally laughing hysterically as we tried to make it all the way across the screen without needing to levitate out of more than half a dozen pits.

        I'm pretty sure we never won the game, unlike the bad-but-playable Raiders of the Lost Ark game. We also had the 2600 Superman game, which was pointless but did feature an idiosyncratic 2-player mode: One person controlled Superman's flight, and the other his various powers. This, too, lent itself to some hilarity.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Would he have bothered?

      "If he knew it would one day lead to Candy crush?"

      I've never actually played it, it but isn't it just a sort of bastard love child of Breakout and Tetris?

  12. Christian Berger Silver badge

    Yeah although that wasn't a _Video_ game as such

    It was more of a computer game. Video games involved other kinds of techniques which made games different. In a video game you have concepts from television, like "collissions" which occur when 2 picture elements (i.e. ball and player) are scanned at the same time and therefore appear to touch or overlap.

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge

      Re: Yeah although that wasn't a _Video_ game as such

      I'd say that what defines a video game is the real time representation of players' characters on a video device that respond to some form of real time control device along with other game features (e.g. balls, aliens, missiles, etc) rather than the exact technology used to render the video image.

      I've seen Asteroids rendered both on a vector display and on a raster display - essentially the same game on both in terms of the user experience, but by your reasoning one would not be considered a video game, and the other would. While the rasterising process may be used to detect collisions between sprites when it simultaneously tries to rasterise two or more, collision detection can be done in software (or in the case of the original tennis game with analogue comparators) instead where hardware sprites are not supported.

      1. Christian Berger Silver badge

        Re: Yeah although that wasn't a _Video_ game as such

        Well Asteroids clearly is a computer game, it was not designed to be implemented without a computer, while Pong, the prime example for a Videogame, can be easily implemented without any computer.

  13. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Welcome, Larry .... WTF kept you away and outside for so long?

    Fancy Bare Neural Networking type stuff you can garner and utilise from https://arxiv.org/pdf/1511.06279v3.pdf Thanks, Scott Reed & Nando de Freitas/Google DeepMind London, UK .... https://forums.theregister.co.uk/forum/1/2018/10/22/tennis_for_two_at_60/#c_3637197
    ...... is a copy/clone/drone/future development of .......
    A key component of the infrastructure is providing a bare-metal server, he said.

    This contains none of the database giant's own cloud management code, and ring-fences customer's software into zones on the bare-bones box. If a subscriber is more security conscious, and presumably also cash rich, they can rent one or more such machine just for themselves. These bare-metal servers are controlled separately by an Oracle-powered system. In effect, Oracle has kinda rebranded bare-metal servers as "second generation."

    And Larry will know IT's Attractions are Heavy Fuel Heavenly Fuelled.

    Aint that correct, Larry, with the Gospel according to Satyrs and Nymphs celebrated in song here ....... Heavy Fuel Dire Straits are a Perverse Invention and Signify Hopeless Manic Desperation

  14. 40th.com

    Creative Computing October 1982

    "Who Really Invented the Video Game?" from Creative Computing, October 1982

    https://40th.com/first_video_game/higinbotham_CREATIVE_COMPUTING.pdf

    ...Blueprint picture, with the caption:

    Note the date of the blueprint: Oct 1958. This date has been verified.

    The PDF also includes a letter from the editor, David Ahl, to Mr. W.A. Higinbotham, dated June 23, 1983. The PDF has the article itself.

    1. 40th.com

      Re: Creative Computing October 1982

      Also available from archive.org, minus the letter, and the whole mag. rather than just the article. Starts on pg 190.

      https://archive.org/details/creativecomputing-1982-10/page/n191

  15. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

    Cathode-ray tube amusement device... I like it.

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