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GOT GAME ?

Connect the dots: a brief history

In the beginning, there was Tennis for Two -- Willy Higinbotham's crude electronic game consisting of an oscilloscope, analog computer and push-buttons -- at a 1958 government open house. By the '60s, inventor Ralph Baer was working on projects that would make him the Father of Video Games. But it wasn't until the '70s that the game was truly on ...

November 24, 2005

1970s

1971: The first video arcade game, Computer Space, debuts. Not a hit, but it makes money, and its developer, Nolan Bushnell, goes on to found Atari.

1972: The first home system, designed mainly by Ralph Baer and dubbed the Magnavox Odyssey, debuts. Plugging into a TV set, it features a game with two on-screen paddles (moved with controller knobs), a ball and a center line, but has no sound effects or scoring. Add-ons such as a light gun make it possible to play a dozen games.

Meanwhile, Atari spawns the first arcade smash: the ball-and-paddle game Pong.

1976: Home consoles take off, thanks to a variety of manufacturers and the previous year's must-have Christmas item: the home version of Pong, sold as a console with built-in controllers.

1978: With the 1977 movie "Star Wars" on everyone's minds, the game Space Invaders storms U.S. arcades from Japan. The next year, Asteroids also blasts its way to mega-hit status.

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1980s

1980: The arcade scene reaches critical mass. An estimated 100 new game titles appear in the U.S. and Japan. Leading the way is Pac-Man, whose protagonist becomes the first video game superstar, with licensing deals galore. The next year, Ms. Pac-Man eclipses her mate's success.

1982-84: Suffering from overexpansion, the console industry crashes. But Mario Bros., Star Wars et al keep arcades hopping, and PC gaming enters its infancy.

In Russia, Alexey Pajitnov invents the falling-puzzle-piece game Tetris, but it won't become a Cold War craze till the late '80s.

1986: Home consoles return in a big way with the Nintendo Entertainment System. Powered by titles such as Super Mario Bros. and the Legend of Zelda, it quickly dominates the market.

1989: A movable feast: Nintendo Game Boy debuts, squelching many an "Are we there yet?" complaint.

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1990s

1990: Improved graphics from 16-bit machines such as the Sega Genesis and next year's Super NES -- along with PCs -- continue to put the focus at home. Street Fighter II breathes new life into arcades, though, and fighting games become the rage across the board.

1994: Doom, first for PC, makes the first-person shooter game big. But the overall rise of violent content spurs Senate hearings, and the industry creates a rating system in response.

1996: Tomb Raider helps establish the Sony PlayStation as a leading console and pumps up the popularity of 3D action worlds. Lara Croft becomes the first gaming sex symbol, Ms. Pac-Man notwithstanding.

1999: Massively multiplayer online role-playing games hit mainstream consciousness with the 3-D sword and sorcery game EverQuest.

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2000s

2000: Home consoles become more sophisticated with the DVD-compatible PlayStation 2. The next year, Microsoft's Xbox debuts with a hard drive, and Nintendo's GameCube uses fast-loading optical discs.

2001: Halo redefines the first-person shooter genre with its multiplayer mode, which enables 16 players to connect via a local area network. In 2004, Halo 2 takes the battle online.

2005: The next generation of home consoles starts with the Xbox 360, to be followed by PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Revolution in 2006. Online gaming continues to break out.

What's next? Count on graphics indistinguishable from broadcast TV. Judging by how far we've come, the future will be here sooner than we realize.

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Research: Scott Sandell, Los Angeles Times. Sources: "High Score! The Illustrated History of Electronic Games," www.gamespot.com

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