It’s a sad day for video gamers, particularly those who remember or know well the industry’s history and roots on this side of the world. Ralph Baer, a luminary in the video game world and creator of the Magnavox Odyssey, passed away December 6 at a ripe and well-lived age of 92. Baer received the National Medal of Technology from then President George W. Bush in 2006 and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2010.
Like many pioneers of the gaming industry back in the 1960’s, Baer wasn’t working on games per se, as there was barely an industry during that period. Instead, he started working on what would be the “Brown Box” during his employment as an engineer with a defense contractor, Sanders Associates. Sanders applied for a patent for Baer’s work and eventually licensed it to Magnavox, who then transformed it into the Odyssey, considered to be the predecessor of modern game consoles like the Xbox and the PlayStation.
It’s easy to take for granted such inventions today, but back then, it revolutionized computer gaming. What was once exclusive to computers that were as large as cabinets and were so expensive that only universities and huge corporations could afford them could now be enjoyed right at home in the living room. Sadly, the Odyssey only had five years in the market before it was overshadowed by the now more iconic Atari 2600 console.
But making a gaming console wasn’t Baer’s only call to fame. He would later develop the light gun, the first video game peripheral and the great, great, grandfather of many non-gamepad controllers today. He also designed several games himself, including the electronic memory game Simon, of which many clones now exist. And although popularly attributed to Nolan Bushnell, the iconic game Pong was “inspired” by Baer’s original Odyssey work.