How Video Games Invaded The Home TV Set – Chapter 3

September 6, 1966 – Genesis!

Five days later, on September 6, 1966, I put to work my somewhat dormant television receiver and transmitter design knowledge and drew up an elementary schematic

s_story_baer03aIt shows the circuit building blocks required to place two spots on a TV screen and manipulate the spots so that they can be moved anywhere on the screen, allowing two players to “chase” each others white “spots” around the screen … the most basic of game actions! My schematic also shows the use of two sets of “vertical” and “horizontal” control knobs for use by the players; and it indicated just how these “spot generators” modulate a transmitter tuned to channel 3 or 4 so that the game signals can enter any old TV set by way of its antenna terminals. Finally, I also showed in that schematic how color could be added to the playing field.

Shortly thereafter, I assigned Bob Tremblay, one of the technicians in my division, to the job of building up a vacuum tube circuit to prove that we knew how to move spots or lines around the screen. Why vacuum tubes? Simple … transistors had not been around long enough for me to be comfortable with designing them into hardware.

Bob Tremblay finished the job early in February of ’67 … and presto! … we could move reactangular spots around the screen, we could change their shape and colors, and we felt sure that we now knew how to design simple, basic TV game hardware.

Obviously, this unofficial effort had absolutely nothing to do with the normal business of developing complex military electronic systems in my division. However, since I was running such a large operation, I could afford to experiment with this stuff without even rippling the division’s substantial overhead. So I just did it! Needless to say, it could not remain that way indefinitely. Either I had something that was worthwhile pursuing which the company should support officially, or I didn’t.

By December of ’66 I decided that the best course of action was to demonstrate the concept of home TV games to likely source of company funding: Herbert Campman, the company’s corporate director of research and development. Herb looked at our crude demo and liked what he saw! He asked me to write a request for funding of further TV game development work. I did that with a memo I sent to him on 12/20/66. As a result, we got some official R&D money: A grand total of $2,000 for direct labor and $500 for direct materials … not exactly a princely sum, but enough to make us “honest” and keep the project going.

Not much happened over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday period.

Off and on during January, Bob Solomon, Bob Tremblay and I would get together and come up with ideas for simple games: chase games, “bucket filling” games, skill games … we had an ever lengthening list that looked technically feasible and was, hopefully, fun to play. I also went out and bought an RCA 19 inch color TV set for future experimental work. Tremblay finished the feasibility chassis and went off to other assignments.

1967 – Early TV Game Development

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