When video game history called, Player One was ready

By TOM MARINER //

Video game sales are a $ 179 billion industry these days, more revenue than the global motion picture ($ 100 billion) and North American sports ($ 75 billion) industries combined. Names like Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo reign supreme. None were there at first.

But Long Island was – in fact, one of the first pillars of the industry, Mattel’s Intellivision console, was invented here.

One of the first video game demonstrations took place at Brookhaven National Laboratory, when William Higinbotham programmed an analog computer to display a “Tennis for two” game on a laboratory oscilloscope. A public performance in 1958 drew a lot of attention – the lines were on the doorstep.

It is well known that Nolan Bushnell launched the video game giant Atari in 1972. Bushnell commissioned an employee, Alan Alcorn, to transform the video game concept into an arcade console, which gave birth to the revolutionary machine. Pong, who ate quarters in bars and other public spaces.

Bushnell also thought the concept would work at home and approached the Hicksville-based company. General microelectronics of instruments on the integration of the electronic guts of Pong in an integrated circuit. GI Micro agreed – provided that when sales volumes hit a certain level, it could market and sell its own home consoles.

Tom Mariner: Smart vision.

The company began to develop higher performance integrated circuits, requiring new programming and a “television interface circuit”. A friend of mine knew about the business and looked for me, and I was immediately intrigued.

I had been involved in writing the mainframe operating system for real-time banking in the United States; at the time, i was advising national hospitals on integrating new computer systems, and it was getting boring. Instead, I would help with programming for the new video game company.

Every year since 1967, the major players in consumer electronics have set up shop in Consumer Electronics Fair to attract buyers. When I strapped my cart to the GI Micro star, I wasn’t sure where the video game industry was going, so when I attended the next CES I implemented a system that contained a ” personal computer ”, a new video game, a communications console and an accounting system, with a quick animated display explaining everything. (My first attempts at animating elicited laughter and even some anger from the GI Micro board, so I hired an animator Hanna-Barbera to get it right.)

Also at this particular CES, the American multinational toy company Mattel, who became curious about how the GI Micro integrated circuit system compared to the chips and custom software that Mattel had spent millions of dollars to develop with the circuit maker. integrated Californian National Semiconductor (now part of Texas instruments).

What would become the standard television interface chip was, at the time, a cabinet full of non-integrated circuits, all “wired blue” together on one-square-foot boards. Mattel sent a newly hired engineer to judge GI Micro’s IC system, and we hit it off right away.

THIS IS your grandfather’s video game: Mattel’s Intellivision console from Long Island.

He told me about Mattel’s plans for a football video game, at the time a great graphic innovation in animation. While the rest of the CES hardware geeks showed off their cards full of chips, I immediately got busy saving the rude animations into computer memory.

By breakfast the next morning, I had put together a test code – two animated runners, one light blue, one dark blue, on a green background, mimicking what I thought was Mattel’s big idea. The little figures chased back and forth across the screen, flipping at each edge and back up the other way (an engineer noted that if I “put blond hair on the one being chased, we might have a good game there “).

Soon a group of technicians from GI Micro got together and cheered on the lively little runners. The impressed and excited guy from Mattel phoned his boss, explaining what he was seeing and the big reaction.

Suddenly he took the handset out of his ear, stared at the phone with a puzzled expression, then sheepishly asked, “What?”

Someone was clearly screaming on the other end, and the engineer turned white as a sheet.

“He said to turn off the device nowhe croaked.

It turns out that the idea for a soccer video game and the animation I quickly created was the famous toy company’s biggest secret. And they thought it would take months to organize such a demonstration, not a single morning.

But they had forgotten to tell their man to shut up.

And that turned out to be a fluke for GI Micro and for me. Within days, we signed the contract to develop what has become Mattel’s revolutionary and hugely popular Intellivision system, one of the foundational branches of the entire video game tree.

Tom Mariner is the COO of Stony Brook based SynchroPET and the founder of Bayport LLC Marketing.

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