On May 7, 1967, Ralph Baer played the first game of Fox & Hounds….and lost.
Who is Ralph Baer and what is Fox & Hounds? These are two very important topics for anyone who is or ever has been crazy about a video game. Ralph Baer is THE father of video gaming. I know that many will argue that Steve Russell was first with his Space War game. However, while very cool, this game ran on a ‘PDP-1’ mainframe that filled a room. Therefore, Steve Russell was a founding father of computer gaming. Another father of video gaming, Nolan Bushnell crossed paths with Baer when Magnavox (owner of the Odyssey games console) sued Atari over a PONG related patent infringement. Ultimately, Atari became the first Magnavox sub licensee.
Baer’s technology was created to play on TV sets in people’s homes. He began developing this technology as early as 1951 while working on pattern generators for high-class projection television sets for Loral, a military defense contractor. Later in 1966, while working for Sanders Associates, another defense contractor, he solidified his plans for creating a gaming system to be played on TV sets across the land. Eventually, his patented gaming system was taken into development by Magnavox. The resulting product was the Odyssey. Later many Odyssey clones rushed the market.
He not only came up with the idea of playing games on TV sets, he also came up with the earliest games and accessories. By 1967, Baer had already fully developed his light pen technology and started placing it in cheap toy plastic guns to be used in target games. This technology using optical receivers still exists in modern games. He developed a game called Pumping Game that required the player to extinguish a fire by shooting water at the flames. It was the first “button basher” game. He also designed a golf putting device which consisted of a joystick with a drilled out golf ball stuck on top. When the player struck the joystick with his putter, the action on the screen would react accordingly. Does this sound like Wii to anyone?
Just a couple of his other inventions are Simon (the tabletop electronic game) and Smarty Bear…not to be confused with Teddy Ruxpin. The Smarty Bear interacted with videos and interacted directly with children. It also would laugh when tickled and fall asleep when ignored. Mr. Baer’s papers covering the development of the TV video game system are currently housed at the Smithsonian.
Mr. Baer left our world last December at the age of 92 and I can’t help but think he still had some tricks up his sleeves. I have only scratched the surface of what this man accomplished during his time here on Earth. He certainly lived a full life from his beginnings in Germany; to his family’s immigration to America in 1938; his service in the US Army during WWII and his incredible inventions that have given us the incredible world of video games we know today.