Atari flashback



Video games evolve in the digital era
text / image: Juan Reyes


From the first clunky, wood-grain vinyl gadget to the technologically advanced sleek black boxes, video games have evolved since their conception more than 40 years ago.

With the hype surrounding the release of Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One this month, some folks forget where gaming started.

In 1967, German engineer Ralph Baer designed and developed the first video game console called the Brown Box. It had a measly 1 bit black and white graphic display with dots representing the players on the screen and a single-channel or sometimes no audio at all.

Once Brown Box was licensed to Magnavox, people got a taste of what it was like to play video games from the comfort of their own living rooms. The company used the same technology Baer used and launched the first official video game home console called The Odyssey.

The white-and-black-trimmed box was a cartridge-based console that came with a pair of controllers and a light gun. Games such as hockey, table tennis and Cat & Mouse were available but not very popular.

Gavin Higham, a computer science major and president of the Game Dev Club at SJSU, said his first experience with old games was on an Apple computer on a black and white screen about a decade ago.

With scheduled releases of the new consoles out this month, Higham said not a lot has changed as far as developers experimenting and recreating vintage games that many grew up playing.

“We can do more but the interesting thing is some people still make video games the old way,” Higham said, meaning people still use programs such as Game Maker in which they’re able to use the same structures and codes game developers first had to figure out in the days of the 4-bit Atari 2600 and 16-bit Sega Genesis.

“A lot of people have a nostalgia for those kinds of games and that kind of process for making games,” Higham said.

For SJSU senior Danny Nguyen, his first experience with 2D video games was on a Super Nintendo. Nguyen said video games were part of his life because he was not allowed to leave the house due to the bad neighborhood.

“It’s getting too real graphic-wise when you go from pixels,” Nguyen said. “Then you start getting people who go crazy saying, ‘Oh, this game affected my life,’ like GTA. The game has evolved a lot from a cardboard box to 3D models.”


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