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Golden Age

Chronology of the History of Videogames

editor: Ted Stahl

Raster vs Vector graphics

History of Video Games

The Early years

The Golden Age <- you're here
The Modern Age
The "Next" generation

History of Computing

pre history
pre-industrial era
Industrial era

History of the Internet



When his project is completed, Nolan Bushnell sells it to Nutting Associates and they market the game as Computer Space. 1500 units are manufactured and due to the game's complexity, it intimidates people and makes virtually no money. The first arcade videogame is a financial failure.



Magnavox begins production on the Odyssey. They sell 100,000 units in its first year.

Nolan Bushnell leaves Nutting Associates and forms Atari. Originally he wanted to name the company Syzygy, but it was already taken.

Al Alcorn joins Atari as its first engineer and develops Pong. Unlike Computer Space, Pong becomes a worldwide sensation. Learning from the original mistake, Bushnell wanted a game that was so simple no one could be intimidated. Hence, the brief but accurate instructions:

"Avoid Missing Ball For High Score."

Pong accompanies Dragon's Lair and Pac-Man as one of the three videogames on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., U.S.A.

Magnavox sues Atari for Pong because of its similarity to their video tennis on the Odyssey. The court agrees with Magnavox and Atari is required to pay a licensing fee for Pong.

Gregory Yob creates Hunt The Wumpus. Though essentially a maze-based puzzle game with a text interface, it allows the player to attempt to track a beast through a series of caverns based on simple clues (ie., "I smell a wumpus").
Boston University's Scientific Computing and Visualization Group maintains a playable version of the game online at: http://scv.bu.edu/htbin/wcl

Will Crowther begins coding Adventure (aka Colossal Cave) in FORTRAN on the DEC PDP-10. This is an effort that he makes to try to simulate the sense of adventure in exploring caves to share the experience with his daughters. Though not the first text-based computer game, it proves to be the first truly immersive electronically-mediated interactive experience. It becomes the template from which all text-based adventure games take their shape including the classic Infocomm titles like the Zork series.
Canada's National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics provides a playable version of the game online at: http://sundae.triumf.ca/pub2/cave/node001.html



Magnavox ceases production of the Odyssey. In spite of the public's interest during its first year of production, the second year of sales plummet.



Atari begins working on a home version of Pong.



Atari begins selling Pong under the Telegames label through Sears.



Atari begins selling their own version Pong. Throughout the next two years, multiple incarnations follow including Super Pong, Pong Doubles, Super Pong Ten, and Ultra Pong.

While working for Atari, Steve Jobs creates Breakout. It is believed that much of the work on the title was done by his friend Steve Wozniak. Whatever the means, Breakout is another arcade success for Atari.

Coleco introduces the Telstar, their first foray into videogames. This console is essentially a bargain version of Pong that sells well because of its $50 price tag. Though not revolutionary, it paves the way for their future endeavors.

Mattel Electronics introduces a LED-based hand-held electronic game entitled Missile Attack. This is the beginning of their line that would include such titles as Armor Battle, Baseball, Basketball, Football, and Sub Chase.

Fairchild revolutionizes home video games with the release of their Video Entertainment System. This console made two significant contributions to console design. First, it's primary controllers were separate devices connected with cables. Previous systems (like the Odyssey) had offered certain peripherals (ie., guns) as connected controllers, however the primary input devices were always a part of the console itself. Secondly, the Video Entertainment System is the first console to utilize cartridges that house additional games. Although the Odyssey enabled users to plug cartridges into the system to access different games, these merely unlocked the particular title that already existed within the machine. The Odyssey's cartridges were more like keys that unlocked existing code within the unit. Fairchild's VES offered users true expansion through new titles on cartridges. This was to become the paradigm that consoles would follow for the next two decades.



Atari releases the VCS (Video Computer System), later known as the 2600. This cartridge-based system becomes the industry standard for years to come and provides a home for the largest library of software for any console during the Golden Age of videogames. It is known for such classic titles as Adventure, Asteroids, Combat, Joust, and Space Invaders. Equally, it becomes notorious for some less stellar titles including the VCS versions of Pac-Man and E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial.

Mattel Electronics introduces arguably its most popular handheld title, Football. Though its lack of passing and inability to let the player run backwards limit the games overall realism, it offers a mesmerizing challenge to a generation quickly becoming fascinated with electronic entertainment. (As a testament to this game's impact, Mattel re-issued the game in the year 2000.)



Mattel Electronics releases their handheld LED-based Baseball. Though, like their handheld Football, it seems a bit simplified, its gameplay proves engaging enough to make it exceptionally popular. Particularly the homerun light show that the game provides is a favorite treat for many players. (Mattel also re-issued Baseball in the year 2000.)

Bally releases the Bally Professional Arcade as their answer to the home videogame market. It offers significantly better graphics than the competition, but at a much higher price.

Taito unleashes Space Invaders in the arcades and the first blockbuster videogame sweeps the world. It contributes two firsts to the videogame industry. It implements the first use of animated characters in a videogame and Space Invaders is the first arcade game to display a high score. Its impact can be measured by the sheer quantity of spin-offs and remakes that continue to be produced year after year.

Magnavox re-enters the home console market with the Odyssey². Its primary distinction was an integrated keyboard. With the eventual release of development tools, the Odyssey² became a personal computer. This proved to be of great interest to parents who were recognizing the potential importance of exposing their children to personal computing.

Cinematronics brings vector graphic technology to the arcades with Space Wars. Though this title is essentially a remake of Nutting Associates Computer Space, which was Nolan Bushnell's remake of Spacewar!, it offers a different graphic experience. The by using a vector graphic display, the graphics appeared to be much sharper. Later titles would take advantage of this technology with even better results.



Atari demonstrates that Taito isn't the only company that can make popular shooting games by releasing Asteroids into the arcades. Atari improves upon Cinematronics' use of vector graphics to display the outlines of the asteroids and space ships. Atari also betters the Space Invaders high score function by being the first game to enable players to enter their initials along with a qualifying score.

Milton-Bradley releases the Microvision - the first handheld game system with interchangeable cartridges. The system has a 16x16 monochrome LCD screen. Jay Smith, who eventually creates the Vectrex, designed the Microvision for Milton-Bradley.



Mattel enters the home console market with the debut of the Intellivision. The system competes directly with the Atari VCS and has significantly better graphics. However, providing the improved visuals requires sacrificing some overall power of the machine. Whereas the Intellivision provides better images, the VCS is capable of updating the video display more frequently. The result being that Atari appeared to have a faster system while Mattel had the better-looking graphics. Intellivision is known primarily for its impressive sports titles like Baseball, Football, and NHL Hockey. The system also boasts an excellent port of the quirky arcade game Burgertime.

Namco introduces Pac-Man to the arcades and begins one of the longest running videogame franchises. Particularly of note is the interest that the game is not only of interest to male gamers. Many speculate that Pac-Man's less violent puzzle-based gameplay is of more interest to women. In order to further tap into this market, Namco later releases Ms. Pac-Man. Pac-Man accompanies Dragon's Lair and Pong as one of the three videogames on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., U.S.A.

Williams redefines the shooter with Defender. Eugene Jarvis designs an arcade game that balances destroying enemies while protecting colonists. The gameplay is fast and the graphics are extraordinary. Defender utilizes the new gaming concepts like smart bombs and an onscreen radar.

Atari releases Battlezone into the arcades and uses vector graphic technology to create the original first-person realtime 3D shooter.



Atari introduces Tempest to the arcades. It is the first multi-color vector graphic game. Though not quite as popular as Atari hoped, it becomes a classic and is considered by many to be one of the most unique arcade games of the Golden Age.

Nintendo puts Mario into the arcades for the first time in Donkey Kong. This title becomes the prototype for future "platform games." It provides a series of individual screens each with their own unique challenges. Rather than conquer the same screen repeatedly with accelerated difficulty (ie., Pac-Man or Space Invaders), Donkey Kong provides the player with a variety of screens through which he or she cycles while playing, thus adding a diversity to the gaming experience.



Milton-Bradley buys out General Consumer Electronics just before they release the Vectrex. GCE's Vectrex is the only vector graphic home videogame system ever made. The unit includes a built-in black & white vector monitor and utilizes tinted transparent overlays to create the illusion of colored graphics. Though its original library grew to about three dozen titles, it is known for almost perfect ports of the classic Cinematronics vector titles: Armor Attack, Space Wars, and Star Castle.

Coleco releases the Colecovision. It competes head-to-head with both the Atari VCS and the Intellivision and has the best of both worlds. It provides high-quality graphics that were Intellivision's strength while maintaining the speed and gameplay that Atari offered. Furthermore, recognizing the importance of recognizable licensed titles, Coleco offers the best home versions of arcade favorites like Donkey Kong, Defender, Frogger, Joust, Spy Hunter, and Zaxxon.

Williams introduces Joust to the arcades. Two player cooperative and cutthroat matches ensue worldwide.



In spite of numerous obstacles, Coleco begins shipping their Adam computer system based on the Colecovision.

Cinematronics releases Dragon's Lair, the first laserdisc-based arcade game. Though Rick Dyer programmed the game and it was his brainchild, the game's success is due to the excellent animation talent of Don Bluth and his team (The Secret of NIMH, An American Tale, Titan A.E., etc).

Nintendo releases the 8-bit Famicom (short for Family Computer) in Japan and it sells out quickly. Rather than compete directly with Atari, they negotiate to make Atari the worldwide distributor of the system outside of Japan. Unfortunately, Atari succumbs to the changing marketplace along with the rest of the videogame industry.

The videogame crash has begun, but from its ashes the 8-bit machines will usher in the Modern Age of videogames.




Go Backmain page Last Updated on 13 September, 2004 For suggestions please mail the editors