TENNIS FOR TWO is a sports video game developed in 1958, which
simulates a game of tennis , and was one of the first games developed
in the early history of video games . American physicist William
Higinbotham designed the game for display at the Brookhaven National
Laboratory 's annual public exhibition after learning that the
government research institution's Donner Model 30 analog computer
could simulate trajectories with wind resistance. He designed the
game, displayed on an oscilloscope and played with two custom aluminum
controllers, in a few hours, after which he and technician Robert V.
Dvorak built it over three weeks. The game's visuals show a
representation of a tennis court viewed from the side, and players
adjust the angle of their shots with a knob on their controller and
try to hit the ball over the net by pressing a button.
The game was very popular during the three-day exhibition, with
players lining up to see the game, especially high school students. It
was shown again the following year with a larger oscilloscope screen
and a more complicated design that could simulate different gravity
levels. It was then dismantled and largely forgotten until the late
1970s, when Higinbotham testified in court about the game during
Ralph H. Baer over video game patents.
Since then, it has been celebrated as one of the earliest video games,
and Brookhaven has made recreations of the original device. Under some
Tennis for Two is considered the first video game, as
while it did not include any technological innovations over prior
games, it was the first computer game to be created purely as an
entertainment product rather than for academic research or commercial
* 1 Development
* 2 Presentation
* 3 Legacy
* 4 Notes
* 5 References
* 6 External links
In 1958, American physicist
William Higinbotham worked in the
Brookhaven National Laboratory in
Upton, New York
Upton, New York as the head of the
instrumentation division. Higinbotham had a bachelor's degree in
Williams College , and had previously worked as
technician in the physics department at
Cornell University while
unsuccessfully pursuing a PhD there. He served as the head of the
electronics division of the
Manhattan Project from 1943 to 1945, and
began working at Brookhaven in 1947, which focused on researching
peaceful uses of atomic power. Once a year, the government research
facility held an exhibition for the public, with one day each for high
school students, college students, and the general public. The
exhibition largely consisted of tours and static displays, with some
attempts at making displays with "action", so for the 1958 exhibition
Higinbotham decided to make an interactive display to entertain the
visitors. While reading the instruction manual for one of
Brookhaven's computers, a Donner Model 30 analog computer , he learned
that the computer could calculate ballistic missile trajectories or a
bouncing ball with wind resistance, and he decided to use this ability
to form the foundation of a game. He later recalled his intentions
were that "it might liven up the place to have a game that people
could play, and which could convey the message that our scientific
endeavors have relevance for society." Modern recreation of the
Higinbotham designed a game that used an oscilloscope to display the
path of a simulated ball on a tennis court viewed from the side. The
attached computer calculated the path of the ball and reversed its
path when it hit the ground. The game also simulated the ball hitting
the net if it did not achieve a high enough arc as well as changes in
velocity due to drag from air resistance. Two aluminum controllers
were attached to the computer, each consisting of a button and a knob.
Pressing the button hit the ball, and turning a knob controlled the
angle of the shot. Originally, Higinbotham considered having a
second knob to control the velocity of the shot, but decided it would
make the controller too complicated. The device was designed in a few
hours with the help of colleague Dave Potter and was assembled over
three weeks with the help of technician Robert V. Dvorak. While most
of the circuitry was based on vacuum tubes and relays , the circuits
to display the graphics on the oscilloscope used transistors , then
beginning to replace vacuum tubes in the electronics industry.
Excluding the oscilloscope and controller, the game's circuitry
approximately took up the space of a microwave oven.
The setup for
Tennis for Two as exhibited in 1959
Tennis for Two was first shown on October 18, 1958. The game was
rendered as a horizontal line, representing the tennis court, and a
short vertical line in the center, representing the tennis net. The
first player would press the button on their controller to send the
ball, a point of light, over the net, and it would either hit the net,
reach the other side of the court, or fly out of bounds. The second
player could then hit the ball back with their controller while it was
on their side, either before or after it bounced on the ground.
Hundreds of visitors lined up to play the new game during its debut.
Higinbotham claimed later that "the high schoolers liked it best, you
couldn't pull them away from it." Due to the game's popularity, an
upgraded version was shown the following year, with enhancements
including a larger screen and different levels of simulated gravity.
Players could set the game to simulate the gravity levels of the Moon
or Jupiter. Higinbotham referred to the game as
Tennis for Two,
though a placard attached to the 1959 version titled it "Computer
Tennis". After the 1959 exhibition, the game was dismantled so its
components could be put to other uses.
After being dismantled,
Tennis for Two was largely forgotten. It
remained virtually unknown until the late 1970s and early 1980s when
Higinbotham was called on to testify in court cases for defendants
Magnavox over the video game patents of
Ralph H. Baer .
Having discovered the game, the lawyers for the defense unsuccessfully
attempted to have the game declared prior art to invalidate Baer's
patents on television video games, resulting in attention being given
to the nearly 20 year old game as possibly the first video game. It
received further attention as the subject of articles in Creative
Computing and Video
Replay in 1982 and 1983 highlighting its possible
status as the first video game; the editor of Creative Computing,
David H. Ahl , had played
Tennis for Two at Brookhaven in 1958, and
dubbed Higinbotham the "Grandfather of Video Games". Higinbotham
himself felt that the game was an obvious extension of the Donner
Model 30's bouncing ball program and therefore not worthy of patenting
or a large part of his legacy; he preferred to be remembered for his
post-World War II nuclear nonproliferation work. 1997
recreation of the original
Tennis for Two setup
In 1997, a team at Brookhaven recreated the game for Brookhaven's
50th anniversary. The reconstruction took about three months,
partially because the parts were not readily available. This
recreation was also displayed at the 2008 celebration of the 50th
Anniversary of the original game. The replica implemented an analog
computer using solid-state operational amplifier devices instead of
vacuum tubes as the original Donner Model 30 did. In 2010, it was
replaced with a restored Donner Model 3400 analog computer. In 2011,
Stony Brook University founded the William A. Higinbotham Game Studies
Collection, dedicated to "documenting the material culture of
screen-based game media", and "collecting and preserving the texts,
ephemera, and artifacts that document the history and work of early
game innovator and
Brookhaven National Laboratory scientist William A.
Higinbotham, who in 1958 invented the first interactive analog
Tennis for Two."
Tennis for Two is considered under some definitions to be the first
video game. Other candidates with stronger candidacies from a
technological standpoint include the 1947 cathode-ray tube amusement
device , the earliest known interactive electronic game , though it
did not run on a computing device; the 1950
Bertie the Brain , the
earliest known game to run on a computer, though it used lightbulbs
for a display; and
OXO and a draughts game by
Christopher Strachey in
1952, the earliest digital computer games to display visuals on an
Tennis for Two, though it contained no
technological developments to separate it from earlier games, has the
distinction of being the earliest known computer game with visuals
created purely for entertainment purposes. Prior games were
created primarily for academic research purposes or to demonstrate the
computing power of the underlying machine, with the exception of the
non-computer based cathode-ray tube amusement device. This, therefore,
Tennis for Two the first video game under some definitions from
a philosophical viewpoint rather than a technical one and a
distinctive moment in the early history of video games .
Stony Brook University 's statement that
Tennis for Two was
"the first interactive analog computer game" is likely correct
depending on the definition of "game" used, but only due to the
"analog computer" constraint; several games, including the 1950 Bertie
the Brain and 1952
OXO , were previously developed for vacuum
tube-based digital computers. One prior game run on an analog computer
was Hutspiel, a 1955 war simulation game by the Operations Research
Office , but the Goodyear Electronic Differential Analyzer computer
had no display, and it is unclear if the computer ran the game or was
only used to run requested calculations.
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