Wednesday, 9 April 2014

A Brief History of Video Games [PART 1]- Where do we even begin?

The history of Video Games could be considered a very short one if we start from when the first video game was made, but to be honest I would like to start with a brief history of computers themselves, and how they led to the development of video games and consoles.
The question “When was the first computer was made? “Is not an easy one to answer because of the different classifications of what a computer is. Do we start at the first concepts of computers that we have today? The first computer to be commercially sold to the mass market, the first programmable computer, how about the first digital computer? We could even look to the word itself. The (recorded) use of the word computer goes all the way back to 1613 when computer was used describe a human who performed calculations or “computations” (Braithwait 1613.) a definition that stuck until the end of the 19th century when it became apparent that it was in need of an update. So let’s start with the definition of a computer and why it went from:

1. (noun) A human who performed calculations or computations
2. (noun) A device that computes, especially a programmable electronic machine that performs high-speed mathematical or logical operations or that assembles, stores, correlates, or otherwise processes information.(Oxford dictionary)

So when, and why did feel the need to make the shift from humans, to devices? In 1821 Charles Babbage proposed the concept for his Difference engine, an automatic mechanical calculator designed to calculate polynomial functions.1 His concept was created out of the need to produce error free mathematical tables, which beforehand were written by teams of human "computers".

Close up of The Difference Engine
Now I've had my own personal battle with mathematics, polynomials, trigonometry and algorithms a like and I am very familiar with human error when it comes to maths. So I can see the need for this machine, but the algorithms themselves don’t impress me as much as the fact that the completed machine weighs five tonnes, and measures 11 feet long by 8 foot high. It consists of 8,000 parts of gears, rods, levers and springs. Cast in Bronze and steel. Where every turn of the machines carry lever moves said part to release precisely aligned number wheels through a helical arrangement of steel bars. (Swade 1991) Now that is pretty damn awesome, what is even more impressive is that this machine was never made in 1820. This was only a concept, which was later built to exact specifications in modern times but Babbage's concepts had begun the industrialization of calculation, the foundation of all computers and was a stepping stone to modern day programming.

As great as the difference engine is, it is not built to be changed or reprogrammed once built,this only changed over a century later in 1944 the Havard Mark 1 computer was built, the first reprogrammable computer. From then onwards computers advanced, once only being used for military purposes, such as the Colossus machine in ww2 computers were quickly making the shift from military to business and finally personal use. In terms of video games the early-mid 1900s marked the beginnings for the companies responsible for the games and consoles we know and love today. (Herman et al 2002)

Harvard Mark 1
In 1889 Fusajiro Yamauchi establishes the Marufuku Company to manufacture and distribute Hanafuda, Japanese playing cards. The company changed its name to The Nintendo Playing Card Company in 1951.

In 1918 Konosuke Matsushita establishes the Matsushita Electric Housewares Manufacturing Works. During the next 70 years, the company established a multitude of companies, including Panasonic.
In 1947 Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka set up the Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Company. In
1952, Ibuka and Morita barely raise the $25,000 fee to become one of the first foreign companies to
license the transistor patent from Bell Labs. They then use the transistor to create the world's first pocket-sized battery-powered radio. The transistor radio is a success in Japan, and Ibuka and Morita begin looking at marketing their products in the United States and Europe. Realizing the English translation of their company name is too cumbersome for English-speaking people to remember, they changed their coperate name to Sony.

in 1954 David Rosen sees the popularity of mechanical coin-operated games on US military bases in Japan, so he starts Service Games to export these games to Japan. In the 1960s, Rosen decides to make his own coin-operated games, so he purchases a Tokyo jukebox and slotmachine company. The name SEGA, short for "SErvice GAmes," is stamped on the games that Rosen produces, and eventually Rosen adopts it as his company name.

Now, in 2014 computers are everywhere, in our homes, on the street, in our pockets. You’re staring at one right now (unless you have decided to print out a hard copy of this post to spite me, if so you are a bit strange). In the next part of these posts I'll focus on the development of computers and games consoles, and the video games crash of 1983

1. Braithwait, Richard "The young man's gleanings" (1613)
2. Swade, Doron. Charles Babbage and His Calculating Engines. London: Science Museum, 1991
3. Leonard Herman, Jer Horwitz, Steve Kent, and Skyler Miller. "The history of computer games" 2002

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