Ralph Baer, the 91-year old inventor of the world's first home console, the Magnavox Odyssey, is pretty sure his legacy is intact, despite various claimants to the honor of bringing video games into the world.
In a new interview with Ars Technica, the retired engineer looks back at some of the earliest attempts to make video games, including academic experiments Tennis for Two and Spacewar, neither of which, he said, had any influence on his commercial work in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
He reserves his most cutting remarks for old rival Nolan Bushnell, who released the Pong arcade machine a year after the launch of Magnavox Odyssey, and later lost a patent infringement case with Magnavox. Bushnell is often credited with being the 'father' of video games. "[He] has been telling the same nonsensical stories for 40 years," Baer said. "He just cannot let go of them because they affect his legacy. As for how I feel about that? Life's too short to hold grudges."
In 1966, while working for electronics company Sanders Associates, Baer created the 'Brown Box', which later served as the core technology behind the Odyssey console, which was launched by Magnavox. The Odyssey was an instant success when it launched in 1972, although Magnavox was soon eclipsed by rivals like Atari and Intellivision. In 2006, Baer donated all his prototypes to the Smithsonian.
Baer does not seem to have any insecurities about his own contribution to gaming and to engineering. "In view of the fact that the President of the United States of America hung the National Medal of Technology around my neck in a White House ceremony in 2006, and in view of my having been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, I really don't feel neglected," he said.
As for the form of entertainment that he did so much to create, he believes its future is very much assured. "Video games are an art form. Like any other art form, video games express themselves in a huge variety of formats," he said. "The industry will continue to grow like the movie industry and produce large quantities of 'interactive movies' of a dozen different genres. Playing relatively simple but entertaining games will survive. That's especially true for mobile games that are taking over much of the casual game business."