VIDEO GAMES IN EUROPE: THE EARLY YEARS

1972: Born in the USA…

If 1972 marked the beginning of the American home video game industry, a couple of years would pass until video games reached homes in Europe. In May 1972, Magnavox released the first home video game, the Odyssey, in the United States; sales began in September the same year. Odyssey was a big success in the USA, but Europe was not yet ready for disputing tennis matches on TV. Video games reached the arcades earlier than people’s homes (Atari exported PONG Doubles around 1973 or 1974, Computer Space machines were also put in a few bars, and many PONG clones appeared at around the same time.)

The home video game was a very new concept; people were not used to playing games on their TV sets. Also, the video game market was neither dominated by large manufac- turers (like Magnavox, Coleco, and Atari in the United States) nor governed by money as it is today. Back in 1974, European home video games were almost nonexistent; they were expensive and produced in a limited amount by small manufacturers, making their promotion difficult.

1973–1974: In the USA, Why Not in Europe?

The first attempts at bringing video games into Europe were the importation of the Magnavox Odyssey and the creation of clones. Thus, the Odyssey was imported into the United Kingdom in 1973, and into 12 European countries in 1974 in very limited numbers. The same year, ITT Schaub-Lorentz released the ‘‘Odyssee’’ in Germany. The German ITT had every word translated in German. The Magnavox version replaced it in late 1974 or very early in 1975. The French ITT version was announced in French magazine Sciences Et Vie (January 1974) as being released by ITT-Oce ́anic and Schaub- Lorentz for the first half of 1974. Later, a ‘‘Kanal 34’’ clone was advertised in Sweden in 1975. One ITT was found in Sweden, which may have been an alternative solution to the Kanal 34, as it had two Swedish manuals in addition to the German ones.

Back in 1974, less than five manufacturers were distributing home video games in Europe. Magnavox exported the Odyssey in a slightly modified version that played 10 games (instead of 12 like the U.S. release), while Videomaster released their ‘‘Home T.V. Game,’’ a British system which originally sold for £20. This latter is the most interesting as it marked the beginning of the European home video game industry. Videomaster’s Home TV Game played only three games: Tennis, Football, and Squash. There was no on-screen scoring. But for the technology of the day, it was quite advanced. Seleco, a trade- mark of Zanussi (Italy), released the Ping-O-Tronic in late 1974 (possibly for Christmas).

At the same time, hobbyist construction articles began to appear in electronics maga- zines. Nowadays, it would be impossible to build a modern video game system on one’s own since technology has changed considerably. However, it was not difficult for a hobbyist to build a video game in the 1970s, since such games were mostly designed with discrete components (as opposed to chips containing entire games). The earliest European construction articles, dated July 1974, were published by Practical Wireless andTelevision Magazine. One article, split over seven issues because of its length, proposed not only a video game project, but also a color video game project that could be upgraded (color television sets were still very expensive in Europe in 1974). The system used discrete components and initially played only one game: Football. Special improvements could be made to add sound effects, on-screen scoring, and game variants. The last section of the article was a discussion of the most interesting aspect of the project: ‘‘Superman’’ was a plug-in module that replaced one player to give the impression of playing against the machine. This was the first home video game to offer this feature. A few arcade games did this, but no commercial system would offer this feature before 1976. A hobbyist who read the entire article could easily modify his system to add more players, change the game rules, and why not, add more graphics!

Figure 1: The Magnavox Odyssey. Originally developed by Ralph Baer at Sanders Associates between 1967 and 1969, and finalized by Magnavox between 1971 and 1972, the first commercial home video game console was sold between fall 1972 and mid-1975.

1975: Early Yet, But Ruling!

Videomaster understood that there was something to do in the video game domain, so they released 15 systems between 1974 and the late 1970s. Their next attempt was to improve the 1974 Home T.V. Game in an inexpensive manner, which gave birth to two systems in 1975: the Rally Home T.V. Game and the Olympic Home T.V. Game. Both used very simple electronic circuits [discrete components including a couple of comple- mentary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) chips, which consumed less power and were more tolerant to voltage drops, allowing the games to be played even with weak batteries]. The former played two game types (more by creating different game rules). The latter played four game types and came with two metal balls to place on the system case for marking the scores; archaic, but cheap. These three Videomaster systems marked the beginning of the video game industry in the UK.

Another obscure system appeared in the UK the same year: the VideoSport MK2. This system, supposedly released in 1974 and advertised in 1975 used a very basic design: two CMOS chips and discrete components. Transistor circuits generated everything displayed on the screen. The VideoSport MK2 played three games: Tennis, Football, and Hole-in- the-Wall. In release until 1977, it is believed that only a couple thousand units were sold. Mecstron released a clone of this system in 1976, which played three additional games. In Argentina, another clone called Teyboll Automatico appeared in 1975–1976 but played only the three initial games. Finally, one U.S. company advertised a game which used the same case as the Mecstron but played only the three initial games. It is possible that this one preceded the Mecstron or that Mecstron imported the U.S. game and improved it.

Figure 2 : Interton Video 2000 (Germany, 1975). The first ball-and-paddle game to use car- tridges after the Magnavox Odyssey, the Interton Video 2000 used discrete components and several logic gates; it had no dedicated chips and no processor. Only five cartridges were designed for it. This system also was cloned in Spain around 1976 under the TeleTenis name.

1976: Still Analog, But Not for Long

Analog systems (those made with discrete components) were still popular in 1976 and more construction articles appeared in magazines. Several systems were released and played almost the same games, and some manufacturers imagined more variants of the popular ball-and-paddle games. Philips released the Tele-Spiel ES-2201—a small cartridge system that played strange games like Pigeon Shooting and Auto-Slalom (the games were very different from what almost all similar systems played; tennis was supplied with the system but you could buy four other cartridges offering games derived from the ball-and-paddle concept, which used the same characters differently so as to provide games outside of sports). Clones also appeared, for example. the Spanish TeleTenis Multi-Juegos system (in English: TV Tennis Multi-Games) based on the Interton Video 2000 released in 1975 in Germany. Cartridges had the same case, but almost every game was different because the system used a simpler electronic design. Eight games were announced for this system, and two of its games, Car Racing and Naval Battle, neither of which was ever produced, would have been the most advanced games designed for an analog system. In France, Lasonic released the Lasonic 2000, which played three games. Orelec released the PP 2000, with two games, and some manufacturers sold video game kits that played advanced games such as Breakout variants and Car Race, still using discrete components. As the technology improved, a few systems started displaying on-screen scoring using squares, lines, and even digits. However, this required additional compo- nents, hence a higher cost. An additional board was sold which could be added to the MK3 model to provide on-screen scoring and sound effects.

Figure 3: The VideoSport MK2. Advertised by Henry’s in early 1975 in England, the VideoSport MK2 is believed to be the second oldest system from the United Kingdom and remains one of the earliest European games after the first Videomaster Home T.V. Game (1974–1975). Almost entirely analog, it uses discrete components and only two very simple chips.

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