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The Father Of Video Games, Ralph Baer, Has Passed Away

Some very sad news this evening: Gamasutra reports that Ralph Baer, widely regarded as the father of the video game industry, has passed away at the age of 92.

A renowned inventor, and holder of over 150 patents, Baer's most famous work was designing the machine that would become the Magnavox Odyssey, the world's very first home video games console. Every console and handheld that's come since, well, you can trace it all back to the Odyssey. You can see footage of Baer testing the Brown Box in 1969.

Born in Germany in 1922, Baer's family fled the Nazis only two months before the infamousKristallnacht attacks on Jewish stores and homes. From Holland they moved to America, where Baer's work in electronics would culminate in 2006 with him being awarded the National Medal of Technology by President George W Bush for his work in pioneering the video game industry.

The Father Of Video Games Fled The Nazis, Fought Them Then Took All Their Guns

Ralph Baer is widely acknowledged to be the "father of video games", thanks to his work in the 1960's pioneering the device that would become the Magnavox Odyssey, the world's first ever video game console.
Unlike most men and women in the industry today, though, his background is not that of a comfortable middle-class kid. No, Baer's early years were a little more exciting.
Ralph H. Baer was born on March 8, 1922 to Jewish parents in the town of Pirmasens in south-west Germany. This was an...inopportune time to be growing up Jewish in Germany, as Baer's early years run parallel to the rise to power of the National Socialist Party.

In 1933, Baer was expelled from his school. Not because he was a trouble-maker or a bad student, but simply because he was Jewish. Forced to transfer to a new, all-Jewish campus, it was quickly becoming clear that Germany was becoming an unsafe place for people of his family's ethnicity/faith to reside, so in 1938 - and just two months before the infamous Kristallnacht attacks on Jewish stores and homes - the Baer's fled first to Holland, and then to the United States.

Once safe in America, it didn't take Baer long to begin work in the field of electronics, graduating as a radio service technician from the National Radio Institute in 1940. For the next three years he ran a store in New York City servicing and repairing not just radios, but PA systems and early television sets as well.

Baer is considered to be the inventor of video games; in 1966 Baer, an employee of the defense-electronics company Sanders Associates inNashua, New Hampshire (now part of BAE Systems Inc.), started to explore the possibility of playing games on television screens. In a 2007 interview, Baer said that he recognized that the price reduction of owning a television set at the time, had opened a large potential market for other applications, considering that various military groups had identify ways of using television for their purposes. On coming up with creating a game using the television screen, he wrote a provisional patent and then along with Bill Harrison and Bill Rusch, developed the "Brown Box" console video game system and several other prototypes. In 1971, it was licensed to Magnavox, and after being renamed Magnavox Odyssey, the console was released to the public in 1972. For a time it was Sanders' most profitable line, though many in the company looked down on game development.

Baer is credited for creating the first light gun and game for home television use, sold grouped with a game expansion pack for the Odyssey, and collectively known as the Shooting Gallery. The light gun itself was the first peripheral for a video game console.

The success of the Odyssey led to competition from other companies, in particular Atari Inc., led by Nolan Bushnell at the time. Bushnell saw Baer's successful devices and was able to create the first arcade machine in 1973 based on Baer's Table Tennis idea, resulting in Pong. Sanders and Magnavox successfully sued Atari for patent infringement over Baer's original ideas, but Bushnell would continue to push to lead Atari to become a leader in both home and arcade video games. This led to a lenghthy conflict between Baer and Bushnell over who was the true "father of video games"; Baer was willing to concede this to Bushnell, though noted that Bushnell "has been telling the same nonsensical stories for 40 years".Baer would help both Magnavox and later Coleco to develop competitive units to Atari's products including the Odyssey 100 and the Odyssey 2.

During 1978–79 he with others created three popular electronic games. Baer, along with Howard J. Morrison, developed Simon (1978) and its sequel Super Simon (1979) for Milton Bradley, electronic pattern-matching games that was immensely popular through the late 1990s. Baer also developed a similar pattern-matching game "Maniac" for the Ideal Toy Company (1979) on his own, though the game was not as popular as Simon; Baer considered that Maniac was "really hard to play" and thus not as popular as his earlier game.

By the time of his death, Baer had over 150 patents in his name.

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