Gaming History 101

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Gaming To-Go Part 1: Single Game Devices

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Portable gaming is almost as old as console gaming, developers attempting to harness the technology of video games in any shape or form they could.  This tangential development is most likely the result of experimentation in the early days of figuring out just what and how video games would work.  With the first handheld video game premiering in 1977, the same year as the VCS (Atari 2600) and about 5 years following the premiere of the Pong consoles (and clones), gaming has always had a portable option.  The biggest difference between console gaming and portable gaming is that consoles require additional devices for video, audio, and often for controls, whereas a portable contains all three of those attached.  Early portables, much like early consoles, were mostly restricted to a single title on very basic displays.

Mattel’s Auto Race – Released: 1977
It’s difficult to pinpoint the actual release of Auto Race, especially considering it was far less popular than Mattel’s immediate second portable, Football.  According to Gamasutra, it was on store shelves in 1977 (others claim 1978) and although Football released the next year, it is often miscredited as the first handheld.  The design was simple: you were given 99 seconds to get your car from the bottom of the screen to the top in a 3-lane road.  Cars would get in your way and you had to dodge them while also shifting between the four gears.  If you collided with a car it would push you back towards the bottom until you got out of the way.  The shifter and on/off switch were located on the left side of the portable while the screen takes up the right and the lane changer switch occupies the bottom.  This game was a whopping 512 bytes (that’s 1/2 KB nowadays, which is roughly 500 characters in basic text format.  Since I have not found one of these myself, I don’t know what batteries it takes, but I’d imagine a AA or AAA will do the job on this basic portable.  I also couldn’t find a retail price but Michael Katz at Mattel claimed more than $400 million in sales of Auto Race and Football combined.  Just like Pong, many clones of both titles exist.

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Written by Fred Rojas

December 8, 2011 at 1:47 pm