It’s strange to fathom those dark ages prior to the advent of the home video game, but civilization waited until 1972, when we were forever changed by the release of the Odyssey. We owe our thanks to a man named Ralph Baer (who would later introduce us to a beloved electronic memory game called Simon). He was the mastermind that teamed with Magnavox to change the world forever and make home gaming the preferred recreational activity of children and adults alike.
Baer and his associates began delving into video games in 1966, but it would take five years before they could receive the backing and funding of a major corporation and make their dream a reality. The result was the Magnavox Odyssey, and by today’s standards, it was pretty archaic. Some of the proposed features proved too expensive to implement so black-and-white won out over color, although a Mylar overlay was provided to give the illusion of color on the television screen. Furthermore, memory was such a scarcity that players couldn’t even keep score when playing a sports game. And the controllers? Two knobs, one that moved the cursor horizontally and one that moved it vertically.
Many of the first games available for the Odyssey were sports-related, with titles such as Table Tennis, Hockey, Football and Skiing. Eventually realizing that not everyone might be in the sporting mood, they start offering games like Submarine, Cat and Mouse, and that old Vegas favorite, Roulette. A light gun was eventually sold as the “Shooting Gallery Electronic Rifle”.
Sales were strong for the Odyssey system until a formidable competitor arrived on scene named Atari, who offered an enormously popular game called Pong on their new 2600 system. Magnavox countered with the Odyssey 2, which featured an integrated alpha-numeric keyboard. Still, they could only offer clones of the most popular Atari games, such as Alien Invaders Plus! (Space Invaders) and K.C. Munchkin, a popular facsimile of Pac-Man that was eventually pulled from store shelves following an infringement lawsuit from Atari. The company struggled to remain in the marketplace, but when the 70s came to a close, so did the Odyssey.
And yet, even with the plethora of advanced video game systems on the market today, there are still many among us with a fondness in their heart for this true innovator, the patriarch of every Playstation, Genesis and Wii ever produced – an invention with the dubious distinction of pulling many a kid off the playground and plopping them on the couch forevermore.
If you first got your electronic gaming on with a Magnavox Odyssey, maybe even have a few favorite titles that you fondly remember playing to this day, we’d love to hear your memories in our comments section.