May 30th, 2014, 00:24 Posted By: wraggster
Year: 1972 Manufacturer: Magnavox Original Cost: US $75
The Magnavox Odyssey was the world’s first home video game console. Its Kubrick-esque logo and smooth curved white and black casing, like the dashboard of a newly born space shuttle, was pure science fiction, a far cry from the mythological poem from which it borrowed its name.And yet, what better word with which to launch both an entirely new entertainment medium and a reimagining of what was possible with the television set? An odyssey: a journey into the long unknown, a voyage fraught with danger and peril, wonder and triumph, the very same words that articulate the base appeal of the video game itself. Indeed, the Odyssey’s own journey to life started around such words, although, in this instance, the danger and peril were far from virtual.August 1938. Ralf Baer, a 16-year-old Jew, and his family fled Germany, three weeks before Kristallnacht saw the Nazis turn cold oppression to hot violence and genocide. Upon his safe arrival in New York, Baer studied television and radio technology, before securing a job at the military contractor Loral Electronics. It was here, in 1951, that Baer and some colleagues were asked to build a television set from the ground up. A piece of test equipment used in the building of the technology drew horizontal and vertical lines across the screen, filling them with colours. Baer could move these lines up and down and wondered whether the test should be built into the set, not necessarily as a game, but as something to do when the owner grew tired of the network television shows. The idea was dismissed by the team but Baer never forgot the concept.Fifteen years later and Baer’s career trajectory had taken him to head of instrument design at New Hampshire-based military contractors Sanders Associates. In August 1966, on a New York business trip, the seed of the idea he had in 1951 broke through the topsoil of his consciousness. While waiting at the East Side Bus Terminal after the day’s work, Baer started to formulate the idea for a game-playing device that plugged into a television set. The problem was that Sanders Associates only developed military technology, so Baer used his senior position to start work on the project, which he dubbed ‘Channel LP’, or, ‘Let’s Play’, in secret. Procuring a room on the sixth floor of his office block, Baer set Bill Harrison, a technician at Sanders, to work on the project. A few weeks later, Baer invited Bill Rusch to join as chief engineer, and the three men worked together in secret.Ralf Baer, developer of the Magnavox Odyssey. This feature is an extract from an Illustrated History of 151 Videogames.
Baer took the prototype to Herbert Chapman, corporate director of research and development, who gave the team a $2,000 grant and five months to turn the idea into something marketable. But despite Baer’s small victories, Sanders was unable to find a company with TV expertise with whom to partner, and the project was placed on hold. In late 1969, Baer presented the Brown Box to a host of television manufacturers – General Electric, Magnavox, Motorola, Philco, RCA and Sylvania – in the hope that the similarities in components between the console and television sets would inspire one to jump on board. None did.Soon after, Bill Enders, one of the RCA execs who had been present at the meeting, moved across to Magnavox, and convinced his new employers to take another look at the system. Baer, Harrison and Rusch presented their machine again and this time Magnavox said yes. The TV manufacturer signed a preliminary deal in January 1971, before redesigning the casing and renaming the project Skill-O-Vision before settling upon Odyssey.The Magnavox Odyssey launched in May 1972, bundled with 12 games including Ping-Pong, the tennis game, which would inspire Atari’s Pong. To Baer’s dismay, his original price tag of $19.95 had ballooned to $99.95 but despite the tall cost, 200,000 consoles had been sold through Magnavox dealerships by 1974.
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