The Father of the Video Game: The Ralph Baer Prototypes and Electronic Games
By the 1960s, millions of Americans had invested in televisions for their homes, and it soon became clear that this technology could be used for more that passively watching television shows. In 1966, while working for Sanders Associates Inc., engineer Ralph Baer began to investigate how to play games on a television. Between 1967 and 1969, he and colleagues Bill Harrison and Bill Rusch created several video game test units. This result was the “Brown Box,” a prototype for the first multiplayer, multiprogram video game system. Sanders licensed the system to Magnavox. In 1972, Magnavox released the design as the Magnavox Odyssey, paving the way for all video game systems that followed.
Ralph Baer donated his video game test units, production models, notes, and schematics to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in 2006. His papers are kept in the Museum's Archives Center. In 2014, the Museum collected his workshop to become the landmark object for its Innovation Wing.
"The Father of the Video Game: The Ralph Baer Prototypes and Electronic Games - Introduction" showing 1 items.
- The Father of the Video Game was also the inventor of Simon.
- Inventor Ralph Baer is best known for developing the first video game system, but he accomplished far more. In 1975, Baer started an independent consulting business and began to work in association with Marvin Glass & Associates in Chicago, the toy design firm responsible for some of the most successful American toys of the 20th century. Baer’s job was to develop electronic toys and games. The best-known result of this partnership was Simon.
- Named for the children’s game of “Simon Says,” the game was inspired by an Atari arcade game called Touch Me. Baer and Howard Morrison, a partner at Marvin Glass, first saw Touch Me at a trade show in 1976. Both agreed that while the execution of the arcade game was horrible, the game itself—trying to repeat a musical sequence the machine created—was worthy of exploration. The two set about creating a handheld game around the same concept.
- Like Touch Me, Simon had four different colored buttons. Each button played a unique note. Players had to be able to repeat an increasingly long string of tones that Simon created. If you got the order wrong, you lost. Baer was aware that choosing Simon’s four tones was a critical decision. He and Morrison both felt that one of Touch Me’s main failings was that its sounds were unpleasant.
- But how to choose four notes that could be played in any sequence and not hurt the ears? Baer found the answer while looking through his children’s Compton's Encyclopedia. He discovered that the bugle can only plays four notes. So, Simon would play those same four bugle notes.
- Simon was released by Milton Bradley in 1978 with much fanfare, including a midnight release party at Studio 54, the elite disco in New York City. An instance success, the game reached its peak during the 1980s and continued to sell for decades thereafter.
- Baer was very careful to document in his patent application that Simon was based on Atari’s Touch Me, given his past history with the company. Years earlier, Atari was sued for patent rights infringement. At the center of the controversy were the video game prototypes invented by Ralph Baer. With Simon, Baer found himself on the other side of the story. His patent was to protect his innovations, rather than an original game idea.
- Currently not on view
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- Baer, Ralph H.
- Milton Bradley Company
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- National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center