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"Videogames: In The Beginning"

By Ralph H. Baer

The Inventor of Home Videogames

We take much for granted in our technological era. What was once expensive and for the well-to-do is now in the hands of children. Computers that would have been the equivalent of supercomputers and cost millions, now sit on our laps and instead of being used to track sub-atomic particles are used to play the latest version of whatever-game-is-most-popular-now.

Or, being used to play ever-accurate simulations of older arcade games!

As Moore 's Law continues on, technology and technological progress marches forward. It's hard to imagine what life was like before so many of our modern gadgets were available: cell phones, personal computers, and of course, videogames.

But, one thing that doesn't change is human nature. And, people still do things since the Creation. Only, the technology changes. But despite that, some books have been written that are as timely today as when the day they were published.

One book that comes to mind is Tracey Kidder's book "The Soul of a New Machine." Mr. Kidder went underground to write the actual trials and tribulations of a computer design team at Data General. The book, published in 1980, is still referenced in college textbooks on project management and software engineering. No punches are pulled, everything that was written actually happened and nothing was embellished. I have one of the first editions, in hardback, and the newest include "where are they now" additions.

Ralph H. Baer's book "Videogames: In The Beginning" is another.

I believe that despite the limted printing of the First Edition, this book will find its way into classrooms or courses. The trials and tribulations that Mr. Baer, and his associates, had to endure are an example of perseverance, skill, luck, and old-fashioned hard work. People today, ad tomorrow, can learn from his book.

If Mr. Baer had only developed his '480 patent, he would still be remembered for his pioneering work.

But, he's done much more. So much more.

He holds about fifty U.S. patents. I counted 23 alone related to videogames that he listed in Apendix 5, page 197, of his book. And, he also holds over one hundred patents worldwide. His inventiveness is a testament to his curiosity, his intelect, and his perseverance-especially when confronted by nay-sayers.

Some background information on Mr. Baer. He was born in 1922 in Germany, and came to the United States in 1938. He even served during World War II. It was because of his service in the U.S. Army, and the G.I. Bill of Rights, that in 1948 he graduated with a B.S. in Television Engineering. For well over fifty years, he's been involved with electronics and electronics design.

This book, Videogames: In The Beginning, deals with the early years of when everything was new, and he and his associates were the pioneers.

A disclaimer here. There are basically three types of people who will enjoy reading this book. They are: techs and engineers, videogame historians, and legal types looking into the patent law field. The casual gamer may enjoy this book if they find videogame history and human behavior/interaction worthy to be studied. Otherwise, there is quite a bit in this book that they may find un-interesting or difficult to understand at all.

The book can be divided into several parts. The Background, which details his education, some legal matters and his views, and a couple of other game pioneers is the first.

The second part, and most interesting to me, deals with the "Eureka Moment" when the concept of videogames was born and all of the work that had to be done to bring that dream to reality. It also included the very human part of innovation and design, including the resistance met when trying to interest others in a new technology. At times, it was like reading a real-life version of Dilbert!

I would also include the years after the release of the Odyssey as the second part. One can get a sense of frustration from Mr. Baer as he trys to convince one upper management to the next on the validity of his ideas. A great "what if" can be said for the fact that Magnavox had to be pushed hard to continue on with improved videogame technology. It's as if 350,000 sales of a totally new entertainment medium were not enough to convince them to continue on. And, at times it was one step forward and two back as other companies licensed the technolgy and went forward while Magnavox kept working with the original designs.

It's the stories of what they had to go through to get Coleco to pass FCC requirements, the products that never came to the light of day such as "Monday Night Football" and their, Sanders Associates, arcade games based on very sophisticated physics simulations; using circuits developed years before.Or, the funny story of how they worked with Centronics and got stopped by the Mafia!

But through it all and despite the many lawsuits that Mr Baer, with Sanders Associates and Magnavox, had to endure-he never gave up designing and inventing.

It's the lawsuits and their stories that can make you discouraged, but once you see how he kept on going, now that is encouraging!

He also lists his work on interactive video for training and simulation with the U.S. military. While Mr. Baer's videogame inventions have influenced millions, his military work has also influenced me everytime I go to Camp Perry for Range Fire.

If I mig ht add one item to this without giving away too much, remember that the early pioneering work was accomplished through analog and discrete technology! No integrated circuits or microprocessors were used!

Finally, the third part of his book has eight appendices that deal with everything from Simon to his designs. For the techie, schematics are also included, and made available through a companion CD that can be ordered separately. So not only do you get a history lesson in this book-you get to recreate it on your own!

You'll also find chronologies, videogame patents and their descriptions, many notes, and Mr. Baer's firsts and many designs.

In summary, Videogames: In The Beginning, is not just a book on videogames and their beginnings, but a very human story of how one man, Mr. Ralph H. Baer, had an idea one day and saw fit to bring that idea to reality.

In the entire book, I only have one disagreement with Mr. Baer, and it's mostly based on a worldview difference. On page 4 he mentions how genes are involved with his inventiveness. I'll politely disagree and say unashamedly that Mr. Baer was incredibly blessed by his Creator with a gift of creativity and the gift to invent. It's obvious that he chose to use those gifts in an enduring way and millions have been blessed because of it.

Buy an autographed copy of In The Beginning!

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