The Magnavox Odyssey is the first commercial home video game console. It was developed by a small team led by Ralph H. Baer at Sanders Associates and released by Magnavox in the United States in September 1972 and overseas the following year. The Odyssey consists of a white, black, and brown box which connects to a television set and two rectangular controllers attached by wires. It is capable of displaying three square dots on the screen in monochrome black and white, with different behavior of the dots depending on the game played, and has no sound capabilities. Players place plastic overlays on the screen to create visuals, and the one or two players for each game control their dots with the three knobs and one button on the controller in accordance with the rules given for the game. The Odyssey console came packaged with dice, paper money, and other board game paraphernalia to go along with the games, and a peripheral controller—the first video game light gun—was sold separately.
The idea for a video game console was thought up by Baer in August 1966, and over the next three years he, along with Bill Harrison and Bill Rusch, created seven successive prototype consoles. The seventh, known as the Brown Box, was shown to several manufacturers before Magnavox agreed to produce it in January 1971. After releasing the console in September 1972 through their dealerships, Magnavox sold between 69,000 and 100,000 units by the end of the year, and 350,000 by the time the console was discontinued in 1975. The console spawned the Magnavox Odyssey series of dedicated consoles, as well as the 1978 Magnavox Odyssey². One of the 28 games made for the system, a ping pong game, was an inspiration for Atari‘s successful Pong arcade game, in turn driving sales of the console. Baer’s patents for the console and the games, including what was termed by a judge as “the pioneering patent of the video game art”, formed the basis of a series of lawsuits over 20 years, earning Sanders and Magnavox over US$100 million. The release of the Odyssey marked the end of the early history of video games, and the rise of the commercial video game industry along with the start of the first generation of video game consoles.
“When most people think about the first video game, they think of Pong, the ping-pong arcade game released by Atari in 1972. However, months earlier, Magnavox had released its Magnavox Odyssey, a home video game system based on the “Brown Box,” a prototype invented by Ralph Baer. Additional games and accessories, like a lightgun, were sold in separate packages.
Since the Odyssey had limited graphic capabilities and displayed only a few small white blocks and a vertical line on the screen, Magnavox included translucent color overlays to provide settings and layouts for the games. Perhaps most surprising to modern gamers, the Odyssey also came with nonelectronic game accessories such as dice, decks of cards, play money, and poker chips. These accessories were possibly included to make the Odyssey more like the physical games that existed at the time.
With approximately 350,000 units sold, Magnavox Odyssey was not considered a commercial success, especially in comparison with Pong’s runaway popularity. Among the contributing factors, poor marketing played a large role. Many potential consumers were under the impression—sometimes encouraged by Magnavox salesmen—that Odyssey would only work on Magnavox television sets. Despite these setbacks, Magnavox Odyssey made its mark by starting the video game console industry.”
A total of 28 games distributed on 11 different game cards were released for the Magnavox Odyssey. 13 games were included with the console—a set of 12 in America and a different set of 10 in other countries—with 6 others available for purchase either individually for US$5.49 or in a pack for US$24.99; the additional games primarily used the same game cards with different screen overlays and instructions. Another game, Percepts, was available for free to players that sent in a survey card. A light gun accessory, Shooting Gallery, was available for purchase, and included four games on two cards that used the rifle. A final four games were released for sale in 1973, designed wholly or in part by Don Emry. The games do not enforce game rules or keep track of score; that is left up to the players.
|Title||Game card||Description||US version||International version|
|Table Tennis||1||Two players use paddles to knock a ball back and forth on a screen; does not use an overlay||Included with console||Included with console|
|Ski||2||One player moves a dot representing a skier back and forth as they go down a mountain path; players must keep track of their own time and penalties||Included with console||Included with console|
|Simon Says||2||A three player game where two players must race to touch the body part of their chosen character’s picture when the third player tells them to, based on a deck of Simon Says cards||Included with console||Included with console|
|Tennis||3||Two players use paddles to knock a ball back and forth on a screen; uses an overlay of a tennis court and players are intended to follow the rules of tennis||Included with console||Included with console|
|Analogic||3||A math game where players can move to either squares depicted on the overlay based on if the number on the square is even or odd and is the sum of the other player’s move and another number||Included with console||Included with console|
|Hockey||3||Two players use paddles to knock a ball back and forth on a screen; uses an overlay of a hockey rink and players score only if the puck reaches the opponent’s goal on the overlay||Included with console||Included with console|
|Football||3, 4||Two players use a combination of on-screen movement, dice, and play cards to simulate a game of football; kickoff, passing, and punting plays use Card #3, while running plays use Card #4||Included with console||N/A|
|Cat and Mouse||4||A two player chase game played on a grid, with the mouse attempting to return to its house before the cat catches it||Included with console||Sold separately|
|Haunted House||4||A two player chase game played on a haunted house overlay, with the detective trying to collect all of the clue cards without being caught by the ghost||Included with console||Sold separately|
|Submarine||5||A target shooting game, with one player moving a submarine along shipping lanes and the other player using their spot as a torpedo||Included with console||Included with console|
|Roulette||6||A game of chance where players bet with chips, and randomly spin their controller dial to launch a spot at a roulette wheel overlay||Included with console||Sold separately|
|States||6||An educational game played with an overlay of the United States and a deck of fifty trivia cards with questions about each state||Included with console||N/A|
|Fun Zoo||2||A racing game using an overlay of a zoo, with a third player drawing animal cards for the players to race to||Sold separately||N/A|
|Baseball||3||Two players use a combination of on-screen movement, dice, and play cards to simulate a game of baseball||Sold separately||N/A|
|Invasion||4, 5, 6||A combination of strategic moves made on a separate game board and tactical combat resolved on the screen; different assaults use different cards||Sold separately||N/A|
|Wipeout||5||A racing game using both a track overlay and a game board; the game board keeps track of laps and the second player’s dot along with the ball dot keeps time||Sold separately||Included with console|
|Volleyball||7||Two players use paddles to knock a ball back and forth on a screen; uses an overlay of a volleyball court, and players must knock the ball over the net for scores to count||Sold separately||Included with console|
|Soccer||8||Two players use paddles to knock a ball back and forth on a screen; uses an overlay of a soccer court and players score only if the ball reaches the opponent’s goal on the overlay||N/A||Included with console|
|Handball||8||Two players use paddles to knock a ball back and forth on a screen; uses an overlay of a handball court, and players are both on the same side of the screen with a wall on the other side||Sold separately||N/A|
|Prehistoric Safari||9||One player sets their dot on overlays of prehistoric animals, while the other player attempts to shoot the dot with the light gun in as few shots as possible||Sold with light gun||Sold with light gun|
|Dogfight!||9||One player moves their dot along a flight path on the overlay, while the other player attempts to shoot it with the light gun||Sold with light gun||Sold with light gun|
|Shootout!||9||One player is a bandit in an Old West town, and moves along a path, stopping at windows for the other player to try to shoot with the light gun||Sold with light gun||Sold with light gun|
|Shooting Gallery||10||The overlay contains rows of shooting gallery targets, and the player attempts to shoot the computer-controlled dot with the light gun as it moves over them||Sold with light gun||Sold with light gun|
|Percepts||2||A racing game in which the overlay has squares containing patterns and symbols on them; players race to the correct square when the corresponding card is drawn from a deck||Free with survey||N/A|
|Brain Wave||3||A complicated strategy game using cards and dice||Sold separately (1973)||N/A|
|W.I.N.||4||Players move their dot to symbols on the overlay to fill out their “Win card”, while their dot is invisible until the reset button is pressed||Sold separately (1973)||N/A|
|Basketball||8||Two players use paddles to knock a ball back and forth on a screen; uses an overlay of a basketball court||Sold separately (1973)||N/A|
|Interplanetary Voyage||12||The player guides their dot, which has momentum, to planets to complete missions given by cards with a maximum number of moves allowed||Sold separately (1973)||N/A|
[sources: wikipedia.org, americanhistory.si.edu]
“Assembled” by Christos Doukakis