Play Games
Site Info
In Dutch


Welcome to the nostalgic history of home and game computers

(Part 2 - click here for Part 1)

Magnavox Odyssey tennisBaer began thinking about combining television technique and gaming again only fifteen years later, in 1966. Meanwhile he had climbed on the professional ladder; he had a leading function at Sanders Associates in New Hampshire, a company for military electronics.

Bus terminal
Baer: 'There were about 40 million TV sets in the USA alone at that time. They were literally begging to be used for something other than watching commercial television broadcasts!' One of those days, waiting at a bus terminal, he wrote down some notes; within a week he made, based on those notes, an elementary schematic for the projection of two movable spots on a television screen. One of his important decisions was to use the antenna input of the TV set to put the signal through and to let the 'pictures' appear on channel 3 or 4; a decision that was followed in almost the whole console and home computer industry.

Pre-Odyssey: Brown BoxFun
Tangible result was a vacuum tube device in October 1966, a kind of chase game in which one player with his dot had to chase the dot of the other player, and to try to touch it. Baer: 'It was primitive, all right, but it WAS a video game, and it WAS fun.'

Although this little project had nothing to do with military technique, Sanders Associates allowed him to go on. Even more, Baer got a small team and some funds, although he had to spend most of his time at his regular activities.

Brown Box
In 1967 the idea took shape to add a third element to the screen: the ball. At the end of that year the prototype appeared of the first working ping-pong game. The year after that Baer and his assistants Bill Harrison and Bill Rusch improved the technique so that several games could be played, with colours. Result was eventually the 'Brown Box', the prototype of the Odyssey.


Now the device was a technical success, it was important to make it a commercial success, too. Pressure on Baer's team increased because the patience at Sanders was wading. Many board members believed that Baer was wasting his time with all this pottering. Baer first thought about cooperating with cable companies. At the end of the 60s all those companies were in financial trouble, and Baer thought they might use a fresh impulse. His idea was that a cable company provide the games with coloured backgrounds, for example by sending a top view of a tennis court, with stand, to the receiver of the consumer. But negotiations failed.
 Magnavox Odyssey overlays

Later, negotiations started with several television set manufacturers. But only negotiations with RCA were serious, and after months of talking they also failed. Coincidence paved the way to the consumer market: an RCA-employee who was enthusiastic about the device became a vice-president at Magnavox, were he succeeded to convince the board to take another look at the Brown Box. With success: Magnavox decided to take the box in production.
The prototype of the Odyssey at Magnavox was ready in 1971, and distribution started in 1972. Eventually some 100.000 Odysseys were sold.

'Bad decision'
Baer has mixed feelings about the way and the form in which his invention appeared on the consumer market. He considered it as an 'excellent decision' that the switches on the original Brown Box were replaced by 'cartridges', which saved the player from putting switches off and on when choosing another game. But he called it a 'bad decision' that Magnavox removed the possibilities for colour from the system and replaced them by the overlays.

Magnavox televisions only
The fact that the first Odyssey never became a big commercial success, is mainly caused by the bad marketing by Magnavox. In commercials the company made consumers believe that the Odyssey only functioned when plugged on TV sets from Magnavox. The game system was only distributed through Magnavox dealers, and additional cartridges that appeared later were put on almost invisible spots in the stores. The worst thing in Baer's opinion is the price Magnavox asked: $100. When he made his notes, waiting at the bus terminal, Baer wanted to develop a game device with a retail price of about $20.

Tell a Friend


Play games online on this site, and enter your name and high score. No need to download, play Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Asteroids and Snake simply on the screen.

Gameshop - Atari, NES, SNES and SEGA games for sale

nintendo nes en snes games

View results from last poll:how many games you have? (3127 votes)


History of Home and Game Computers, by Erik Klooster, the Netherlands

With 4 computers, this site participates in the Cancer Research Project. Worldwide, already 1.5 million people make time on their computers available. Join our team: Mrs. Dynamite. Thank you very much!