The First Game Developers

part 4

The First Game Developers

As their first order of business in the new lab, Baer and Harrison began work on a TV quiz game using a light pen as an input device. The player wielding the pen pointed it at one of several coded white spots on the screen, each corresponding to a different answer in a multiple-choice quiz. If the player pointed the right answer, a green light on the pen device turned on. A wrong answer registered as a red light. Baer and Harrison designed their light pen to work in conjunction with a specially prepared videotape that would effectively become "interactive" when combined with this technique. Promising as it was, work on the project soon screeched to an abrupt halt as Sanders management recalled Harrison to complete a pressing military project. TV games would have to wait. Meanwhile, life went on as usual at Sanders.

During the hiatus, Baer first met with Bill Rusch, a brilliant and eccentric R&D engineer at Sanders. Rusch and Baer brainstormed on dozens of game ideas, all of which they documented in an amazing illustrated memo dated May 10, 1967. The landmark memo includes descriptions of Pole Position-style and overhead racing games, Combat -style chase games, maze games, roulette games, baseball games (among other sports), a Sabotage-style shooting game, golf putting, horse racing, and even more. Despite the long list, their best idea was yet to come.

On May 2, 1967, Bill Harrison returned to the fold, and work on the TV games project resumed. Baer and Rusch parted ways while Rusch continued work on another project. Over the next few weeks, Harrison built all the hardware necessary to split a TV screen horizontally into a black half on top, and blue half on bottom using a single "spot generator" circuit whose spot was stretched to fill as much of the screen as necessary. This became the basis of the first "pumping game" created by the pair. Baer whipped up an opaque overlay with a bucket-shaped cutout in the center and taped it over the screen of their modest TV. Known as the Bucket Filling Game, one player pushed a button rapidly, attempting to "pump" the blue water all the way up to the top of the bucket, while another player did the same, but controlling the top black half and attempting to pump all the water out. "There was some heavy breathing going on while we whacked away at those dumb buttons," wrote Baer in Videogames: The Beginning, a book that details the events. "It was primitive, but it was a beginning, and it was fun, at least for a short time." After the game was over, Bill Harrison made an entry in his notebook dated May 15, 1967:

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